Breaking out of my old fanfiction routines and posting something that's neither Stargate SG1 or a crossover...
Thank you to my friend and beta Clare, who first proposed the idea to me with the challenge to include Ron Weasley, Draco Malfoy, and the time jar in a fanfiction together. Here's chapter one and most of it is now written while Clare faithfully nags me to finish it. I hope you enjoy it.
Ron Weasley snorted as his head slipped suddenly off the hand on which it had, until recently, been propped and he woke with a start. He looked furtively around but soon determined that the only person who'd caught him napping at his work was the fellow Auror who was chuckling in the cubicle next to him.
"Piss off Harry." He yawned, ignoring the reproachful look that the picture of Hermione endeavoured to give him, standing on tip toes to peer over a wanted poster for a small-time Dark Artefacts dealer. "You'd fall asleep too if you had to read this three-foot report on Rogue Dementor Activity in Remote Indo-China. Honestly-"
From the other side of the wall, Harry finished the sentence for him; "'You'd think that helping defeat Voldemort and his Dark Army would have stood for something.'"
Ron let out a great sigh and swung back, balancing on the rear two legs of his chair. "Yeah, I know; we all have to start at the bottom but... I've just had enough of being everyone's skivvy!"
Harry didn't get a chance to comment before a harsh voice bellowed loudly; "WEASLEY!!"
Ron's ears turned bright pink as he let the chair fall back down with a heavy thunk. "I swear, nothing I ever do is good enough for that power-mad little-" He paused for a moment, half-way out of his chair, as he heard a shifty scuffle of feet behind him, before finishing with a wince. "-wife of mine." Hermione was going to kill him for that, but not as much as she would if he got into trouble for more inappropriate comments; as Hermione never failed to remind him, they wouldn't be able to cope with the baby on the way if he went and lost his job.
"Hullo Mr. Conrad." He resigned himself to a sound bollocking; Conrad seemed to go out of his way to find a way to criticise Ron but instead his heart sank as he recognised the pale and pointed face of Draco Malfoy hovering behind that of Conrad.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow and gave Ron a long, contemptuous look. "Weasley," he sneered.
"Ferret-face." It may have been nearly eight years since Malfoy had been turned into a ferret by the man they had thought was Mad-Eye Moody, but there was little chance that either of them would let the pettiest of insults pass them by.
"That's enough, Weasley," The long, gray face of Bartholomew Conrad looked up at him with something bordering on glee. "You will address Mr. Malfoy as befits his position or you will find yourself re-filing the previous five years of reports according to the new system."
Although only in his mid-thirties Conrad had the look of a man rapidly approaching 60 and the attitude of a man in control of the entire Ministry of Magic, rather than that of under-secretary to the head of the Auror's department. Having passed the theory of the Auror's training with flying colours, but failing the practical section because of an incurable cowardice (which he claimed was a malformation of his nervous system), Conrad had taken out his frustrations on every young Auror to pass through the offices at the Ministry ever since. Ron and Harry in particular suffered Conrad's malignant attentions precisely because they were so successful and notoriously brave.
"Yes, Mr. Conrad." He sighed.
"Mr. Malfoy here has an item from his late father's estate that needs to be taken down to the Department of Mysteries. Owing to long-forgotten enchantments placed on it, it is imperative that no-one but Mr. Malfoy touch the item in question. Lee Jordan and Shirley Perkins have already been put into St. Mungo's for the foreseeable future."
Given that, in the past, errands of this kind had not been given to the lowest echelons of the Aurors, Ron considered asking why Conrad didn't take Malfoy down himself but soon thought the better of it; the man was a coward and was not going to risk his own skin when he could send someone else down. "Right. I'll just get the room-pass." He turned and slouched off, giving Harry a glare as he saw him stifling laughter. "Git." He murmured as he passed, pushing his way in between the cramped cubicles, where countless different faces, adverts, and announcements stared at him, occasionally trying to grab his attention through outlandish antics which Ron was too used to, to notice any more.
The apparatus stood inside a concealed room in a neglected looking corner of the Auror's department. They had been given it after the Unmentionables had grown tired of being bothered every time someone came across a dangerous Dark Artefact which was not understood. These items were inevitably consigned to the Department of Mysteries, where they could be properly dealt with or, more likely, properly ignored for someone else to deal with.
The Key-Maker looked a little like a French horn stood with the open tube facing toward the ceiling and Ron approached it with caution. It was notoriously temperamental at the best of times, and he had not got on well with it during the training. It always seemed to sense the vague nervousness that the Department of Mysteries always filled him with and would refuse to issue him with a key or, worse still, give him a key that would not work and he would then spend ages down in the department, trying to find the right door to get out. The magic that worked it was so sensitively tuned to the intentions and thoughts of the person trying to obtain a key that it could always tell that he didn't really want to go down to that place. After all, it was the place where Sirius had died and where he had been attacked by those brains which floated around so menacingly in their tank.
Repressing a shudder, he worked his way through the myriad security spells and charms which protected the device and approached the Key-Maker with a determined expression: he was not going to mess this up in front of Malfoy, of all people.
The tip of his wand hovering over the array of buttons on the front of the device, Ron concentrated and only shivered slightly at the sensation of the Key-Maker's magic working. As the impulses came to him, he tapped out a musical rhythm on the keys; a jaunty tune that was deceptive of the horrors that the Department of Mysteries held. The tune rose to a crescendo before ending on a resonant note and Ron was pleased to see a translucent and infinitely fragile bubble bobble rise from the Key-Maker, darker purple shadows chasing across the pearlescent pink surface as it floated in the air.
"Locenum" he muttered as he gently tapped the bubble with his wand before catching the now-solid globe deftly in his left hand before returning to where Malfoy and Conrad were stood, uncomfortably, together. He could only hope that, once down there, the key would work.
Conrad was clearly disappointed that Ron had retrieved the key so swiftly, but he quickly masked the emotion. "Ah, very good, Weasley; Mr. Malfoy will show you to the room where the artefact has been temporarily stowed and you can make your way down to the Department and the business can be done with." He turned and gave Malfoy a sycophantic bow. "Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy. I hope, aha, that we will not be seeing you again too soon, ahaha."
"Yes..." Malfoy also inclined his head respectfully, but it seemed to pain him slightly to do so.
As soon as Conrad was out of ear-shot, Harry started laughing out loud, approaching Ron and giving him a comradely pat on the shoulder. "You were saying that you wanted something to do..."
"Potter." Malfoy's greeting was stiff. Although he had been working with the Ministry in order to clear out both Malfoy Manor – which had been seized in the wake of the war – as well as several other places, his inside knowledge of the Dark Arts coming into great use, this was the first time that the three rivals had interacted directly since the months following the war.
"Malfoy." Harry returned the greeting with something approaching – but not quite akin to – respect and Ron resisted the urge to roll his eyes theatrically. He and Harry had frequently discussed whether or not Draco Malfoy could really change, but Ron knew that he would never be able to see whatever it was that led Harry to sympathise with the other boy. That was not to say that the childhood rivals would ever be friends; they were simply too different for that, but they had an unspoken contract of indifference between them now.
Shrugging away the thoughts that bordered on the philosophical, Ron held up the Key to show Harry, consciously ignoring Malfoy. "Why do they always come out pink? Why can't mine ever be a good colour, like everyone else's? Even Mathilda's are more manly-looking than mine."
"That's just the way that it is, Ron; you know that."
"Yeah but... it's a bit rubbish, isn't it."
"It's nice to see that, through all these changes, you whinge just as much as ever, Weasley." Malfoy seemed transfixed by the patterns that swirled across the surface of the ball, reacting to the warmth and pressure of Ron's hand. Almost visible behind that was the barest hint of something more deep within the key. The insult he directed at Ron was half-hearted and habitual as he finally managed to tear his gaze away from the dance of the colours.
"It's only your presence that puts me into a bad mood, Malfoy, so why don't you just shut up and lets get this done with."
"Good luck." Harry said as they walked off, sharing a commiserating look with Ron.
"Thanks mate... I need it." He lengthened his stride as much as he could, childishly hoping that it would force the other man to have to struggle to keep up.
He realised, even before they'd reached the lift, that it wasn't working and he gave up, slackening off his pace and throwing a sidelong glance at Malfoy. "So, where are we going?"
Malfoy hesitated before replying, but when he spoke his words were confident and self-assured. "A converted room just off the Atrium. Don't you want to know what it is?" They had stopped at the closed grate of the lift, and Ron caught the questioning look that Malfoy gave him out of the corner of his eye; he didn't need to see it to know that Malfoy was making the most of knowing something that he did not.
Ron shrugged, "Not especially."
"Weaselby isn't going to stick his nose in where it's not wanted?"
"Shut up Malfoy." He responded half-heartedly. The lift arrived, and Ron slouched in, mumbling a request for the Atrium. He could hear Hermione's voice in the back on his mind, reminding him not to lose his temper; that Malfoy was just trying to wind him up. He wasn't sure when his conscience had taken on Hermione's voice, but it wasn't really surprising after the years of blissfully happy nagging he'd had with her.
Malfoy strode confidently in behind him. "Is that the best you can come up with?"
"Looks like it." He replied morosely, for once wishing that he could just go back to his nice, boring Dementor report.
"You never were that quick, were you?"
Ron stared fixedly ahead, his only movement a slow lean to one side to avoid being hit in the head by a low-flying inter-departmental memo as they picked someone up from Level 3 before continuing upwards. There was nothing that he wanted to do more, at that moment, than to turn around and punch Malfoy squarely on the nose, wiping that smug, self-important look off of his face. He couldn't, even though he knew that Malfoy was an evil git, because the Ministry inquiry had cleared him for the acts committed under the Dark Lord's command. He had been young and impressionable, and forced into it by his parents; at least, that was what his lawyers had argued. Ron personally had his doubts.
After what seemed an eternity of uncomfortable silence, the lift finally opened out onto the brightly lit Atrium, the reconstructed golden figures of the fountain glittering in pride of place.
"This way, Weasel."
Ron glared at the back of Malfoy's head for one moment, imagining how it would look transfigured into a pumpkin, before heaving a great sigh and trailing after the striding figure whose robes flapped around his scrawny frame in a way that seemed ridiculous and overblown to Ron.
Malfoy led him down one of many cleverly concealed corridors that led off to rooms that were rarely used and therefore lacked the aesthetic elegance that had been worked into much of the rest of the Ministry. It was a sudden, and stark, contrast to the over-done gaucherie that was rife elsewhere in the building.
They continued down the long uniform corridor for several minutes before Malfoy came to an abrupt halt outside a rough wooden door that bore the numbers '2574' on a rough brass plaque.
Malfoy pulled out his wand with a flourish, and gave Ron a contemptuous look. "Move back will you Weasley; wouldn't want you to get hurt." His tone suggested that this was, in fact, a blatant and painful lie.
Glowering at him, Ron shuffled back. "Ponce." He muttered, not quite under his breath, watching Malfoy moving his wand in elegant patterns and muttering incantations to counter the security charms that had no doubt been placed to stop anyone from stumbling onto the room by accident and injuring themselves, as much as it was to stop the whatever-it-was from getting into the wrong hands. Again.
As Malfoy stepped carefully into the room to retrieve the artefact, Ron stared boredly around, tapping his foot impatiently. He just wished that Malfoy would hurry up so that he could get this over and done with and head home. His wish granted, Malfoy reappeared a few moments later with a leather-bound box in his hands, circled with strong iron bands with three separate locks.
"Bloody hell, you really don't want anyone getting in that one, do you?"
Some of the confidence had left Malfoy's voice and posture now, and his reply was forced out through clenched teeth. "No, we don't. Now would you move this along; I really don't want to have to carry this for any longer than necessary."
"Alright, keep your knickers on. I've just got to cast a shield around us; you should know the procedure by now."
Compared to Malfoy's elegant gestures of a few moments ago, Ron's spell casting seemed clumsy and oafish and he could feel his ears burning as he self-consciously tried to block Malfoy's vie, belatedly realising that there was really little point, as Malfoy's attention was focussed on the box that he was holding.
"Right." He gave a last flick of his wand and the official warning signs flickered into place in front and behind them, declaring that they were carrying hazardous materials and advising people to keep clear. Ron hated them; they were guaranteed to attract the attention of people, even when they used the old service lift to avoid the masses of people entering and exiting the Ministry. "Let's go." He started to walk off, taking things slowly and making sure that Malfoy was keeping up with him.
Their trip across one corner of the Atrium was brief, and the ride down in the service lift tense, but in no time at all they had made their way down to the ninth floor and the doorway to the Department of Mysteries was looming forbiddingly in front of them.
"Here goes nothing." Ron commented; the first words either of them had spoken since starting on their journey down. Ron reached out and pushed open the black door, tentatively stepping across the threshold.
As it had the first time, and every time since, the circular room they had just entered began to spin rapidly as soon as the door closed behind them, the blue flames of the lamps on the wall blurring into one bright line before the rotation came to an end, leaving them with no idea which door that they had come in through.
Ron shuddered involuntarily as a memory of his first, ill-fated, trip down here rose unbidden in his mind. Shaking the thoughts out of his head, he fished around in the pocket of his robes for the fist-sized globe of the key. "This place still gives me the creeps." He muttered, momentarily forgetting who he was with.
"Afraid, are we?" The strain of carrying the deceptively small and dangerous box was showing more and more, and Ron found himself momentarily transfixed by a large vein that had popped out in Malfoy's forehead and which was now throbbing hypnotically.
"No!" He exclaimed incredulously, tearing his eyes away as he held the globe out in front of him and concentrated, squeezing to activate it. After a few seconds a wave of magic the same pearly shade of pink as the key itself pulsed out from the key, splashing against the walls and leaving identical horizontal lines on each of the doors.
Ron lowered his hand and watched as the colour began to wash out from these lines, covering the doors for a second before fading to leave only a few words on each of the doors. Glancing around, he identified the one marked 'Exit' and let out a sigh of relief.
"Which one?" He barked at Malfoy, impatient to get out of there.
"The Prophecy Room." This time Ron found himself transfixed by the size which Malfoy's nostrils had stretched to as Malfoy struggled to keep hold of the dangerous, and apparently heavy, box. "What?" Malfoy snapped when he caught him staring.
"I've never seen a vein that big..." There was a note of awe in his voice. "And your nostrils..."
"Oh shut up and get on with it!"
Ron snorted as Malfoy took a deep breath, obviously trying to calm his tense nerves.
"Why don't you just levitate it?"
"What kind of idiot are you? Cast a levitation charm on an unknown Dark artefact which has already nearly killed people just for casting revealing charms on it?"
"Oh, right. I s'pose not." Turning away to hide his embarrassment, he found the door that was marked
and pushed his way through the door, pausing to hold it open for Malfoy as he slipped the key back into his pocket.
Part of him wondered what they could possibly have found that could have need to be stored in the Prophecy room but that stray thought was soon quashed by the rational part of him which loudly cut in going 'la, la, la, I can't hear you'. Questions like that led to worrying discoveries and the conscience-prompted need to do the right thing and that was most definitely Harry's forte. Ron just usually ended up along for the ride.
"C'mon will you?" He tried to chivvy Malfoy along, getting impatient at the length of time that it was taking him to do something as simple as walk through the door.
"Piss off! This thing's bloody heavy!"
"Serves you right for being evil." Even as he said it, he knew that his retort was childish to the millionth degree but he couldn't help it; there was just something about Malfoy which brought out that part of him which would always remain about 14 years old.
"Serves you right for being evil!" Malfoy mimicked in a falsetto voice, pulling what could only be described as a weasely face. "One day maybe you'll have an original thought." It appeared that he was not the only one afflicted by an over-active inner child.
He thought, for a moment, about hitting Malfoy but instead settled for gesturing behind Malfoy's back as he struggled to regain his grip on the box, grunting as he hoisted it up.
Slouching around him, Ron took his time as he made his way towards the other door, absently glancing around at the clocks, time turners, and other un-identifiable items that filled the room.
Ron only realised how much strain Malfoy was under when he heard his name being forced out between tightly clenched teeth and turning, found the blonde man grimacing as he teetered sideways, holding on to the box with only the very tips of his fingers.
Darting forwards, Ron tried to grab hold of the box, not registering either the terrified widening of Malfoy's eyes, nor his panicked cry of "No!". Before Ron had taken even one forward Malfoy had, in a moment of adrenaline-induced strength managed to dig his fingertips into the leather of the box and had swung it up, and away from him.
Without even thinking Ron lurched forwards and grasped at the box, trying to re-direct the object away from the glass bell-jar that it was colliding with. He was too late and he only managed to let out a despairing groan before he and Malfoy both crashed into the desk on which the bell-jar stood, the corner of the box catching on the edge, nearly jarring it out of their hands before they managed to get it securely onto the surface.
Looking up, he saw the painfully familiar source of the eerily glittering light and the small bird that continually cycled round on the current within the jar, changing from egg to bird and back again. He tore his eyes away from the circling bird and down to the box at which his and Malfoy's hands were both still clutching and which were already beginning to age, the knuckles swelling with the arthritis they had yet to suffer from.
All of this happened within seconds and before they had a chance to consider extricating themselves from the jar, just when he thought that things couldn't get any worse, he felt a sickeningly familiar pull just behind his navel.
"Oh boll-" the solidity of the floor was suddenly gone from under his feet but there was something more than the usual feeling of being transported by a portkey; his head seemed to be under immense amounts of pressure and he could almost feel his eyes popping like two ripe grapes, squeezed too hard. The next moment the forces had changed and he felt as though he was being pulled in opposite directions. These rapid changes of forces went on until he thought that he could stand it no longer, and then continued for longer until, finally, he felt beautiful, wonderful, solid ground underneath him again.