Title: Pandora's Box

Disclaimers: The characters aren't mine. I just borrowed them for play time. Promise. I'm not making any money.

Warnings: This is an adventure story, so violence and swearing will be featured. It will also eventually be slashy, so please, if you don't like that, don't read it.

Feedback: Is quite wonderful, and most appreciated.

Summary: Draco asks Ron for help with taking out the Death Eaters. While trying to save the world, they both realize that there may really be more to life than shadows.

I've got to thank Bec from the get go, for being such a wonderful beta for me throughout this story. It just wouldn't be the same without her.


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"Everything that is done in this world is done by hope."
- Martin Luther


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Ron woke to a light tapping on his door. "Ron, honey? Are you awake?" His mother's voice filtered through to him, and he mumbled an affirmation as he rolled out of bed. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, casting odd shadows about the room.

"There has got to be more to life than this," he whispered groggily as he shed his boxers and climbed into the shower. ~I hate my job, and I hate waking up this fucking early for it.~ The warm water streaming down his body enlivened his tired muscles, and afterwards he dressed hastily, ignoring his reflection in the closet mirror.

He shuffled down to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of tea. Fred came in behind him and slapped him on lightly on the back.

"G'morning sunshine!" he chirped.

Ron glared at him. "Shut up, Fred. It's too early, and I'm not in the mood. And why are you here anyway?" The twins had their own flat, and yet they always seemed to be at home.

Fred raised an eyebrow and took a step back. "Whoa, easy cobra. I just came over cause I miss listening to you whine so much. Hope I didn't ruin your perfect little pity party."

Ron felt his cheeks burning with anger, wishing he could think of something to say. Just then, their father walked in and Fred began talking to him about some meeting with the ministry. ~I guess that's why he's here.~ He turned his back on them and apparated to work.

He picked his way through his tiny, cluttered office, opening the curtain on the only window in the room. He sat down at his desk with a sigh and looked forlornly at the piles of work stacked before him. The small window cast barely enough light to read by, but using another light spell was out of the question. Mr. Thompson would not have his employees wasting valuable resources when there was a perfectly bright sun available.

Picking up a stack of folders, he set to work filing. He mumbled a few choice curses in the direction of an aide bringing in yet another pile of work. ~I'm gonna go blind in here~ he thought as he strained to read a tiny label. "This is ridiculous," he grumbled but kept going.


**********


Harry opened the door to Ron's office and quietly stepped in, trying not to disturb him. Ron glanced up, recognizing his presence with a brief nod, and then turned back to his work. Harry took a moment to look around the small room, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light. He noticed a number of small charred areas where lighting spells had burnt out. ~How can he read like this? ~ The office was scattered with files and crumpled up pieces of paper. He turned back to Ron and sat down in the only other chair.

Harry was worried about his friend. Ron had been acting strangely ever since he had gotten this job; he very rarely cracked jokes and didn't even talk very often. Over the last five months he had become more and more detached. Harry had been very busy working, but he had still had time to notice that Ron had stopped socializing entirely.

"Why don't you put on another light?" Harry asked, trying to make conversation.

Ron glanced up at him and looked around the room. "They don't work too well, and I want to save them for when I really need them. Like evenings. Plus I'm not allowed to."

Harry shook his head. Ginny had compared Ron's work ethic to Percy's not long ago, something that would have seemed impossible just half a year ago at graduation. This Ron seemed to care almost too much about his work.

"So, Ron, how has work been treating you lately?" Harry asked cautiously. He got an instant response, and was a little surprised. His best friend hadn't reacted to anything in such a long time that the quick jerk of his hand and the snap of his head were like lightning. Ron was staring down at his now folded hands, and a dark line had formed between his eyebrows.

"It's all right, I guess," Ron said, shrugging. "Mr. Thompson said that it should get more interesting after a few months. I guess I'll just have to wait it out. Or quit. I might do that instead."

Harry couldn't believe that Ron just said that. "You...you wanna quit? Just like that?" he asked, too surprised to say anything else. After all the work that Ron had done for this job, Harry couldn't believe that he would want to just give it up.

Ron raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, I wanna quit just like that. When I got this job I thought it would be something that I could earn advancement in. Something that would eventually pay off. This isn't one of those jobs. Besides, Harry, I don't think that you have the slightest idea how it feels to be stuck behind a desk all day reading letters from idiots who have nothing better to do than complain. You have a job that at least requires small amounts of movement." He shook his head and stared down at his desk.

Harry knitted his brows together, sadness welling up inside of him. He looked at the small painting just over his friend's head. "Ron, you don't have to quit your job just because it's boring. Think this through with me for a minute. You're eighteen years old. You're six months out of school. What kind of job were you expecting to get? There isn't much else out there. I only got my job because of public relations, Ron. That's it. They don't want me for anything else. So cheer up, man, it's not so bad, ya know?" He thought he had done pretty well with that, and looked down at Ron. His best friend was studying him intently.

"Yeah, you might be right. I just get really frustrated. It's hard." Ron shrugged, and Harry sat back in his chair, pleased that he had been able to help his friend.

"Well," he said solemnly, "now that that's settled, I've got some bad news." Ron rolled his eyes and sighed. Harry continued, ignoring the interruption. "Malfoy died last night. There was some sort of explosion in his house. The ministry thinks it was probably a group of angry Death Eaters out for some midnight revenge. It's hard to know, though."

Ron snorted and reached for his cup, holding it out in a parody of a toast. "Well, here's to the biggest jackass in the history of the world. May he rest in everlasting damnation." Ron took a long drink of water, his eyes glinting sarcastically. Harry frowned. Despite Draco's temper and inherent nastiness, he had been cleared of all suspicion. However, Ron still hated him. It didn't follow too well, Harry thought, and it made him angry.

Ron sobered when he noticed Harry's disapproval. "Hey, I'm sorry. I know the old boy was a good sport at times. He will be truly missed. I haven't got anyone to piss and moan about anymore. Wow, I feel...bereft." Harry shook his head and stood to leave, more angry and worried than he had before. He said goodbye quickly and hurried from Ron's dark office. ~Why is this bothering me so much? It makes no sense.~ His thoughts rambled aimlessly as he walked back to the Ministry.


**********


Ron glared at the door as it closed behind Harry. He knew that he was being petty, but he didn't care. It was just so damn hard. He'd helped Harry through every life-threatening situation he had encountered since they met. And here he was, tossed aside for the sake of some public relations crap. He balled his fists and rested his forehead on them. He had a pounding headache.

"Why is it," he whispered, "that I can do everything right, and still get shoved out of the way like a worthless thing. Harry wouldn't be alive to take that PR job if it weren't for me and what do I get? Nothing!" He pushed a stack of papers onto the floor, watching one drift down to join its scattered brothers. He stood and began to pace in front of his desk, avoiding the mess he had just made.

~What would I do if Harry weren't here? I wonder what I would be. Everything I've ever done has been a result of his friendship. I wouldn't even have this job. I'm not even entirely me. But who isn't a product of their peers? I just wish...no, I don't, it's pointless to waste time with wishing. I need to be more realistic. I guess things could be a lot worse. And this light can't be good for my eyes.~ He sighed and stopped pacing, stooping to pick up some of his papers. He sat down and stared at the maps on his walls, thinking about what his life had turned into. He missed being in school, when the only thing he had to worry about was what evil thing Malfoy was plotting. Now he didn't even have Malfoy, a fact that didn't seem to fit right. Sure, the prat had been a complete waste of perfectly breathable oxygen, but then again...he just shouldn't be dead. Ron's thoughts wandered off, and he didn't get any more work done that day.


**********


Ron looked at his watch as he unlocked his office. "2:34 in the morning. Why do I always remember things in the middle of the night?" He shook his head, stepped inside, and released a startled curse as he slipped on a discarded piece of paper. Stooping to retrieve it, he found Draco's obituary. "Why is this here?" he asked out loud, furrowing his brow. ~Harry must have left it.~

"Maybe you couldn't bear to let me go, Weasley," a cold voice drawled from across the room. Ron yelled and jumped backwards, accidentally slamming the door shut with his shoulder.

"What the *FUCK* are you doing here, Malfoy?" Ron yelled. Silence descended upon the room, giving the air a thick, heavy feeling. He recovered slightly from the shock and whispered a light spell, creating jumping shadows. Draco was setting in the chair behind Ron's desk, his gray eyes studying Ron intently. Ron shook his head, surprise replaced with seething anger. "I asked you a question. What are you doing here? Also, how did you know I'd be coming here tonight?" His voice cut through the silence like a razor.

Draco smiled coldly. "I was going to wait for you to get here in the morning, actually. I just got lucky. And I need your help, Weasley." This statement threw Ron off balance for a moment, and he inhaled sharply. Draco continued, seeming not to notice the slight interruption. "Oh, believe me, if there were anyone else in the universe that I could ask, I would. Unfortunately, there isn't." He paused and looked up at Ron, who still couldn't believe that Draco had come to him for help.

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously and stepped towards the desk Draco sat behind. "What could a dead man possibly want help with?" he asked, pressing his palms into the wood of the desk and leaning forward to look Draco in the eye. "And why should I trust you?"

"I'm not dead, idiot, in case your skills of observation haven't improved since we left school," Draco said, sneering. Ron rolled his eyes and sat down heavily in the chair Harry had sat in earlier.

"This is gonna take awhile, I see," he said getting more comfortable. Draco glared at him.

"Quiet, Weasley. Anyway, what I'm really aiming for here is the destruction of the Death Eaters. I mean if you think about it, they're Voldemort's source of power. Without them he's nothing. And there isn't really any reason you should trust me. Don't ask stupid questions."

"Wait, wait. I find it hard to believe that you are suddenly so interested in saving the world and fighting for peace and justice, Malfoy. So come on, what are you really wasting my time for? And that wasn't a stupid question." Ron sat back folding his hands together and watching Draco's thin mouth twist into a grin.

"Not as thick as all that, are we now?" He laughed shortly at Ron's angry countenance. "Well, you would be right to assume that I've got ulterior motives. Why shouldn't I? What I really want is to be remembered forever. Immortality, after a fashion."

"So why don't you go with Voldemort? Isn't that one of his little deals? 'Stick with me and live forever'?" Ron interrupted.

"Uh huh, yeah, his idea of living forever is serving him your whole miserable existence. I'm not really about that. Draco Malfoy really only fights for Draco Malfoy, along with the occasional innocent kitty or baby duck." Ron gave a snort of laughter. Draco glared at him for a moment, then smiled.

"Right," Ron said after a moment, "this brings us back to the original question. What does this have to do with me?" He enunciated each word as he said the last sentence. Draco nodded.

"Well, the way I figure it, every superhero needs a sidekick. That's what it has to do with you. Come on, you aren't actually happy here, are you? Working a menial job, watching everyone that you have ever known advance and get wonderful expensive things? I might have been a jackass most of the time that we were in school, but I paid attention, too. Your wonderful pal Harry was constantly overshadowing you." Draco paused for a moment, and Ron was too shocked to reply. ~How could he know that? I never even told my friends about that. And I *like* my friends."~ He felt a headache forming behind his eyes.

Draco continued with a small smile. "When I started planning all of this, I realized that I would have to have help, and not from any old idiot either. You struck me as being the logical choice, simply because you haven't got much to lose, and you have experience in dealing with these sorts of situations. Of course, you'll have to die like I did. There's no getting around that one, sorry. But it's not so bad after you get used to it. Come on, it'll be an adventure that you can call your own, not Harry's."

Ron stared into the corner, his thoughts turning back to their days at school. He couldn't think of a time that he had gone on an adventure without Harry. But then, they were best friends, why shouldn't they have done everything together? He rubbed his chin, deep in thought. ~Can I just leave everything? Can I stay?~

"What are you planning to do, Malfoy? Why should I leave everything I have just to help you out? I don't trust you as far as I can kick you! Make me believe you." Ron stared straight into Draco's eyes, trying to get a glimpse of feeling in those cold gray eyes. Draco grinned.

"You don't trust me? Why ever not?" He paused as Ron laughed shortly. "Anyway, what I plan on doing first is getting some polyjuice potion. During my years living with a Death Eater, I was able to gather quite a collection of bits and pieces of my father's friends."

Ron grimaced. "That's really sick and weird, Malfoy," he interrupted.

Draco glared at him. "Shut up, Weasley. Anyway, there are an infinite number of possibilities with that." Ron rolled his eyes. Draco saw him and grinned. "Hey, to prove to you that you can trust me, I'll give you the name of my source for magical plants. Neville Longbottom. Go ask him anything you want, he knows most of my secrets. Oh, and show him this." Draco reached inside his robes and pulled out a creased photograph. He reached across the desk, handing it to a startled Ron.

Looking at the picture, Ron did a double take. Smiling up at him and waving were Draco and Neville, surrounded by tall ferns and sunshine. Ron could make out greenhouse glass in the background. He had never seen either one looking as happy and *alive* as they did in that picture, their eyes bright and warm. He looked up at Draco, hardly believing that the person sitting in front of him was the same person. "You...you and Neville are this close? But I thought you hated him!" Ron said as he looked back down at the image in his lap. Draco smiled, this time softly and almost sadly.

"Yes, well, I didn't know him then. I never would have imagined it, trust me, but he is the easiest person in the world to talk to about things. Plus, he grows the best selection of illegal plants in the country. But don't tell anyone that! He'd be pissed as hell." Ron couldn't believe what he was hearing. Draco Malfoy actually got along with Neville Longbottom? Fumbling, bumbling, silly, Neville? ~Has the whole world gone insane? What the Hell is Neville doing selling illegal plants?~

"How did you guys meet?" he asked, looking up across the desk at Draco. Draco shrugged.

"Well, he helped me out of a crunch at a bar not long after graduation. I figured I'd give him a chance to get along with me, and it worked. Despite the fact that he thinks I'm an insensitive prig most of the time." He shrugged. "What does he know?"

Ron sat very still, trying to get a grasp on the situation. ~What was Neville doing in a bar?~ The thought of Neville stumbling around drunkenly made Ron snicker. He just couldn't image quiet, mild-mannered Neville helping Draco. With anything. Ever.

And yet, it was insane enough to make sense.

Ron closed his eyes. His head was starting to hurt worse. After a few minutes, he reached across the desk, handing the photo back to Draco. "All right, I'll do it." He said suddenly, surprising himself with the steady tone in his voice. His whole body shook.

Draco looked stunned for a moment. His eyes grew wide, and his jaw fell. "Whoa, you don't want to like sleep on it or anything? This is a pretty big decision to make, you know. I haven't even told you a fifth of the details you need. And...."

"Hey," Ron interrupted, shaking his head, "don't discourage me, I've had a long day. If I've changed my mind in the morning I'll tell you. Besides, anything beats this job, even spending time with a bastard like you." He smiled and stood. He stared into Draco's eyes for a moment. "Oh, but none of that 'sidekick' bull. Partners 50/50, got it?"

Draco shook his head. "I'll owl you tomorrow, then," he said, and disapparated, leaving Ron alone in his office to contemplate the decision he had just made. ~Good God, I'm in for it now. I can't believe I agreed to that.... Well, at least I won't be bored any more.~ Ron felt oddly alive for the first time in a long time. He smiled and picked up the papers he had come for, whispering the light off as he left.