My Mother Told Me Life Was Like A Box Of Weevils

Chapter Eight

By Kissaki and Libertine


Neville stuck his head around the front door of the manor and glanced hesitantly about him. At any second he expected a horde of manor guards to pounce, demanding to know exactly what he'd gotten up to with Harry Malfoy. Worse still would be the appearance of Draco -- a vengeful, exceedingly pissed off Draco. Shuddering at the thought, Neville looked left, looked right, looked left again.

There was no sign of anyone, though he could hear the sounds of collective screaming coming from somewhere -- probably around the back of the manor. Neville wasn't about the play the hero; he could leave that sort of thing to the likes of Harry. For now, it appeared the coast was clear, and that was all Neville needed to know. Wrapping his arms around himself as protection against the chilly air (Really should have asked Harry if I could borrow some clothes, he berated himself), he jogged out across the courtyard.

A sudden, intense gust of wind knocked him off his feet as he was half way to the gate. Neville sprawled face-forwards on the flagstones, his hands shooting up to protect his head.

"I didn't mean it!" he squeaked out breathlessly. "Honest, Draco... please... don't... hurt me! I'll never have sex with him again, I promise! Honestly!"

"Wow." A toe prodded his side. "That was altogether too much information, kiddo."

The voice was familiar. Neville rolled onto his back and stared up. Seamus Finnegan was beaming down at him. Over Seamus' shoulder, Neville could see the shape of what must have been a dragon -- and a bright blue one at that -- speeding away into the clouds. He pulled himself onto his knees and pointed wordlessly after it, his mouth agape. Seamus turned, frowning.

"Is that... a dragon?" he asked.

"Yes! I think so. Or... wait." Neville made a face. "No, no it isn't," he said, relaxing somewhat.

"What is it, then?"

"A blimp, silly." Neville nodded. "It even has the Goodyear logo on it."

"What's a Goodyear blimp doing flying over the manor?" Seamus wanted to know.

"Advertising, I guess." Neville accepted the hand Seamus had extended to him, and was pulled lightly to his feet. "Advertising... whatever it is that Goodyear sells. Muggle things. Cars, I think."

"So why is it flying over clear wizard territory, then, hm?"

"Maybe... it wants to sell things to wizards," said Neville.

"Why would a wizard want to buy Muggle things?"

This conversation was growing increasingly more complex, and Neville didn't have any rational answers. Who truly understood the ways and whims of Goodyear blimps? He pressed his hands to his face and winced. "Can we... stop talking about it?" he asked quietly. "You're making my head hurt."

"Look, Nev, I'm trying very hard to pretend I'm interested in the bloody blimp in order to avoid bringing up the subject of you apparently shagging Harry," said Seamus, folding his arms. "Which, I have to say Nev," he continued, in a slightly harsher tone, "was a really, really fucking..."

"My, that was a splendid blimp!" said Neville loudly. "Wow! It was a really fascinating blimp! Gosh, I've never seen a blimp like that before! It was... so... blimpy," he finished lamely.

"In fact, of all the blimps I've ever seen, that was the blimpiest of them all," said Seamus. "The epitome of blimp. The blimp to end all blimps. A blimp that launched a thousand blimps."

"The King of Blimps," said Neville.

"The God of Blimps," Seamus agreed.

"A really cool blimp," said Neville weakly. His ears were bright red by this stage.

"Aye," said Seamus.

They stared at each other for a while in silence.

"I think I'm going to go away now," said Neville.

"Yes," said Seamus gratefully. "I reckon you should. I flew over with Cho, so if you're looking for a ride back, kid, you'd better run."

Neville bobbed a little on his toes, looking very uncertain. Seamus waited patiently. In normal circumstances, Seamus would have taken a more lackdaisical attitude towards the trials and tribulations of the life of Longbottom, but this... this alleged Harry-shagging over-stepped the bounds of what Seamus was willing to deal with at the present moment. Lucius Malfoy had promised Seamus a very tidy reward for his efforts as Harry's personal assistant, and Seamus, who'd never seen a weekly paycheque with more than two numbers in it before, wasn't ready to risk that over some Harry-Neville tryst.

He had the feeling, though, that Lucius wouldn't look too kindly upon someone who insisted on discussing his adopted son's moral lapses in a fairly public place. And if Lucius wasn't happy, then Seamus wouldn't get his paycheque... it was a cruel, harsh world indeed.

Seamus watched Neville warily. Neville wriggled, blushed harder, and then opened his mouth to speak.

"RUN, NEVILLE, RUN!" Seamus shouted; it was the only thing he could think of at the time. Thankfully, it had the desired effect. Neville let out a high pitched shriek, and bolted off toward the gate.

Silly tosser, Seamus thought, as he continued on his way to the manor. Shagging Harry Malfoy? Neville, what the *hell* have you gotten yourself into.


Cho Chang had married Justin Finch-Fletchly for two reasons, and with two conditions.

The first of the reasons was that he spoilt her rotten with presents, and yet was quite happy to give her all the space she needed. The second was that he just happened to own a male nightclub-cum-brothel, which meant that Cho got to hang around a bunch of really cute boys who let her use their eyeliner when she ran out. Knowing his place, and knowing hers was all Cho really wanted in a husband, and Justin Finch-Fletchly, while not being a stud in the bedroom or particularly easy on the eye, was a perfect match for Cho's dominant personality.

The first of the conditions was that he stopped boning Neville and Seamus on the side. The second of the conditions was that she got to keep her maiden name. Six years of listening to Justin being called every possible obscene derivative of his surname was enough to assure Cho Chang that becoming Mrs. Felch-Fuckly would not be a great social move.

Currently, Cho was employed as a seeker for the British Women's Quidditch team. She was relatively famous, had gotten her picture into the Witches' Weekly, and even Mistress H, the most well known columnist of the Weekly, had mentioned her in one of her articles. Cho was upwardly mobile, very flexible, and could handle a broom like no ones business. She was a role model, and a perfect example of how a witch could succeed in a wizard dominated world.

However, at the present moment, Cho wasn't feeling quite her usually confident self. In fact, she was almost on the verge of tears, and this frustrated her intensely, because crying would wreck havoc on her carefully applied mascara. She'd gotten an owl from the Ministry hospital that morning, and it had pretty much set the mood for the rest of her day. No sooner had she read the letter when a group of Flamers had decided to drop by the club, and the bouncers at the doors had only just managed to keep them out.

Then Seamus Finnigan had rushed up, late for work (as usual), and pleaded for a lift to the manor. She was on the verge of explaining the situation to him, when she realised that she was too upset to even speak, so all she'd done was nod. It would take her mind of things, at least -- to do something useful.

They were about to leave when Cho's mother sent a howler ('YOU POSED NUDE FOR THE QUIDDITCH TEAM CALENDER?', etc etc). Cho had dropped the howler four hundred feet above the Thames. She hoped she hadn't scared the fishes too badly.

After dropping Seamus outside the Malfoy manor gates, Cho was about to climb onto her broomstick when she saw Neville jog up. He looked rather breathless; she paused and waited for him. He didn't seem to be in any state to ask a question, or to reply to one, so she merely patted the end of her broomstick. With a smile of gratitude, Neville clambered on behind, wrapping his arms about her waist.

"Didn't know you were friendly with the Malfoys," Cho said, as they were coasting through the sky.

"Hee hee," said Neville.

"Uhoh." Cho chuckled. Neville's presence was a distraction, and a welcome one at that. If she'd flown alone across the city, she would have probably broken down, mascara be damned. "I know that 'hee hee'," she said. "Who'd you do this time, hm?"

"No one. Um. Blimp!" said Neville, pointing.

Cho checked the skyline, which was vacant of all things even vaguely blimpy. "Nice try, Nev. Come on. Out with it."

Neville wriggled behind her. "Would you believe... Harry?" he tried.

"Harry... Harry Potter?" Cho laughed out loud. "Are you crazy?"

"He's a very nice man," said Neville, pouting out his lower lip. "And it's Harry Malfoy. He changed his name. Got adopted by the Malfoys, see..."

"That kid is Damaged Goods," said Cho. "I mean, come on. Talk about your personality problems. Starts off life as an orphan, permanantly scarred from an encounter with You-Know-Who. Gets stuck with absolute fuckwad relatives, who treat him like shit. Is constantly bullied. Spends his high years being a lonely sod, living in fear of getting topped like his parents. Gets harrassed by the papers. Gets countless attacks on his life, not to mention idiotic women throwing themselves at his feet. And to top it all off, decides to be gay and shack up with Draco Malfoy, of all people."

She snickered. "But wait, there's more. After finishing school with mediocre grades and a sore arse, Potter decides to start a teaching career, and practically gets sacked for being absolutely lousey at his job. Spends a week or two in an unconventional jail after thinking it would be a really cool idea to try and have sex on a broomstick in the middle of a crowded Muggle village. Ends up as Draco's little love-in-slave, buggering away the days and watching Draco slut around the majority of the free wizard world. With Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Malfoy as parents, too -- now there's a prime example of a dysfunctional family. Really, Nev," she finished, angling her broom toward the ground. "You could do *so* much better than The Boy Who Really Fucked Up."

"Um, Cho," said Neville.


"Didn't you, once, you know... throw yourself at his feet?"

"I didn't throw myself. One of the Weasley twins pushed me."

"Oh." Neville swallowed. "Bitter, much?"

"No. Definately not."

Cho swerved to an abrupt halt outside the nightclub, and Neville almost fell off.

"Are you okay, Cho?" he managed nervously. "You're just... not your usual self, is all. I..."

"I'm fine! Really!"

Neville climbed off the broom and looked at her. Her lower lip was trembling visibly. "Um, Cho," he said quietly. "Where's Justin?"

Cho threw her broom straight through the nightclub window.


"Yes, I'd like to speak to Mr. Lucius Malfoy."

The Ministry of Magic's infirmary had a telephone -- some wit had installed a bright red pillar box in the centre of one of the most busy corridors in the building. There wasn't a day went past that some invalid's head banged off the paint, or someone's neck got all curled up in the wiggly telephone cord. Cho, two hours and a valium later, wriggled her fingers in the wiggly cord and peered out through the glass frontage toward her husband's ward. The door was open, and she could just make out the burly shapes of Marcus Flint and Vincent Crabbe -- two of Justin's 'working boys' -- arguing over who'd given Justin the most flowers.

"I gave him roses, dahlink," said Vincent. "You can't beat roses."

"His favourite flower is forget-me-nots," said Marcus huffily. "And my bouquet is larger."

"Well, you've a lot to make up for, don't you, sweetheart," said Vincent.

"Oh my god," said Neville in disbelief -- he was being forced to mediate their conversation. He caught sight of Cho in the pillar box, and waved at her frustratedly, made 'please-help-me' faces. "They're killing me," he mouthed to Cho, when the other two weren't looking.

Cho pretended she couldn't understand him, and waved and smiled with the hand that wasn't wriggling in the wriggly cord. Yes, she thought absently, it really was amazing how much people changed after high school... in fact, who would have guessed that the school's resident tough guys Marcus and Vincent would become chorus girls in the London production of Guys and Dolls?

Who indeed.

Cho hummed under her breath in time with the hold music. She was feeling much better by this stage -- it was amazing what Muggle prescription drugs could do for you. Now she had focus: she wasn't all over the place, half weeping, half grinning and bearing it. So, Justin had been beaten within an inch of his life by the flamers -- well, she couldn't go back and fix it, could she? No, now she'd do the intelligent thing, and concentrate all her energies on getting back the bastards who'd put her beloved husband in such a terminal position.

"Yes, you have reached the offices of Malfoy Inc.  I AM DEMONSPAWN, AND I HANKER TO EAT YOUR YOUNG. How can I help you?"

Interesting customer relations people, to say the least. "My name's Ms. Cho Chang," said Cho cooly. "I've been referred to your services by a Mr. Neville Longbottom, who informed me that Mr. Malfoy is interested in buying out my company. I suggest you put me through to Mr. Malfoy, right away."

"I'm afraid that's not possible, Ms. Chang," came the rapid reply.



Cho yawned. "And I suppose you'll use my innards for some decoupage mosaic thingy, right?"

The Death Eater seemed moderately pertrubed. "Well... yes..." he began.

"I watch Martha Stewart too, you great big softie," said Cho, in her calmest, no-nonsense voice. "Now off you go and fetch Mr. Malfoy, like a good boy."

"BUT," said the Death Eater.

"No buts," said Cho.

The hold music came on again. Cho returned her attention to Neville, who -- by this stage -- had buried his head in his hands and was rocking back and forth on the end of Justin's bed.

"Oh, you're such a big meanie," Marcus was saying.

"At least I'm big at something," Vincent retorted. "Oh my god, look at you, you are such a drama queen."

"I am so not," Marcus wailed, and broke down into tears. "You're a horrible bum head, Vincent!"

Cho felt a dire urge to walk over and smack both their bottoms, very, very hard. She restrained herself, with an effort, and lazed back in the pillar box. A few short minutes later there came a crackling from the reciever, and a smooth, unctuous and deliciously British voice purred into her ears.

"I have no idea what you said to my staff, Ms. Chang," said Lucius Malfoy, "but I'll have you know that I've left a very important massage to speak to you."

"Lumbar?" Cho asked, knowing the drill.

"Testicular," said Lucius, just as quickly. "My stars, you are good," he added, with a note of surprise. "What can I help you with?"

"Look," said Cho briskly, realising she'd only have a limited time to get out what she needed to say. "My name's Chang -- my husband's name is Justin Finch-Fletchly. Last night he was beaten up by a group of Flamers -- they're the gang who've been attacking our club -- a club you wish very dearly to buy, Mr. Malfoy. I want to cut a deal with you -- a really nice deal. You get the club and all the trimmings -- as long as my husband remains acting manager -- on one condition."


"You fucking WASTE the ARSEHOLES who fucked UP my HUSBAND," said Cho, with the necessary emphasis, and all of the necessary gestures.

"Mm...." Lucius suddenly sounded decidedly non-commital. "I'll see what I can do. Get back to me in a few days, eh? Or -- I'm sure you can lodge a complaint with the customer service sector of our company..."

Cho had spoken to the customer service sector and wanted no truck with it. "Your son," she said swiftly. With men like Mr. Malfoy, it seemed best to lay all your cards on the table at once. "Does he know what's going on in Harry's life? You know the papers would pay dearly for a story like mine, Mr. Malfoy. Old school flames, and all of it..." She broke off. Neville, who could read lips as well as the next man, was staring at her through his fingers in horror. "What the hell are you telling him?" he was mouthing at her now -- Cho tried to ignore him. "Well?" she prodded Lucius. "What if I were to go to the papers with that story, eh?"

"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," came the smooth reply from Malfoy Inc.

Slippery bastard, thought Cho. She tried a different tack. "Draco's your only child, your flesh and blood. It must be heart rending for you, to have him in such a terrible position," she said. "Love-wise. Romance-wise. But such is life. I suppose it must be gruelling for you, to find out about his lover's affairs. Having grown up with him." She pitched her voice at a quiet, sympathetic note. "Did you always want a boy, Mr. Malfoy?" she asked.

"No, actually -- despite all rumors to the contrary, I quite prefer my wife," said Lucius. All geniality in his voice was gone; it had been replaced with a cool, disaffected business tone. "And, as I said, Ms. Chang, you can expect to be contacted over the next few days. And I'm afraid it's not our policy here to accept threats of blackmail. Unless we get three copies of the negatives -- and even then we do expect they show us at our most photogenic."

Slippery, slippery, thought Cho. "I see," she said.

"That's my right side, for reference," said Lucius, thoughtfully. "My nose always looks horribly crooked from the left..."

"My husband is in pain," Cho hissed. "He's bandaged from head to toe. What the fuck do you want from me?"

There was a pause.

"I suppose oral sex is out of the..."

"Fuck you, Mr. Malfoy," said Cho, and hung up.

She stewed in the booth for a minute. By the time she'd regained her composure Marcus and Vincent had left the bedside; they'd made their huffy way off, their arms around each other. Watching them amble off down the corridor, Cho felt a twinge of -- of what, envy? She pushed the thought aside; it wasn't done for Cho Chang to feel weak, or out of control. With her hands bunched up at her sides, she made her way to Justin's side.


He was a mess. The flamers had really done a number on him. There wasn't a part of his body left that wasn't beat up in some way. He was a living bruise. Beneath the strips of his bandages his eyelids flickered -- he was dreaming. Comatose, the nurse had said.

Neville watched her. "Did you have to say that about Harry?" he asked her. "I mean, this is like, um, private, you know?"

"This is like, um, my husband, you know?" Cho mimicked cruelly. "His life, um, you know?"

"If you say so," said Neville sadly, and hung his head.

For the next two days they kept a vigil by Justin's bed, taking turns to sleep, to hold Justin's banaged hand through the sheets. They were possibly the hardest days of Cho's life -- when she had a chance to look back on them, that is. Hard, filled with anger, and with no respite.

And through it all, there was no word from Mr. Malfoy.


Admittedly, Mr. Malfoy was too caught up in the events occuring in his own back yard to bother about a poor dying ex-rent boy in the local Ministry hospital. Lucius was aware that not only was the Death Eater situation getting out of control, but the tensions between the manor's locals seemed to be heading for a boiling point. Setting Harry off to talk to Severus solved one problem; but there remained the fact that a certain Death Eater seemed to be conspiring with Lucius' in-house dominatrix, and his wife was going nutty before his very eyes. And to add to this kerfuffle was the Finch-Fletchly club; Cho had made Lucius an offer he certainly wouldn't want to refuse, under normal circumstances... but events at the Malfoy manor were anything but normal these days.

Hermione, Narcissa, Finch-fucking-Fletchly... it was a comedy of errors, and especially frustrating to Lucius Malfoy, a man who'd always prided himself on his uncanny ability to see the bigger picture. His business successes were for the most part due to this innate talent; he could draw completely unrelated parties together to solve common or diseparate goals. For example, the previous week he'd managed to solve the problems of Mr. Zabini (troublesome, overly energetic pet dragon), Mrs. Rosier (annoying dogs belonging to Muggle neighbour) and Mr. Rookwood (uninteresting sex life) such that the problem of one became the solution of the other -- and Lucius didn't have to lift a finger beyond offering the others directions.

So, if he could work out the difficulties of other people with such ease, why couldn't he work them out in his own home?

Intuitively, Lucius understood that there was a solution amidst all this domestic mess; he simply couldn't work it out. For the next few days he spent his time brainstorming, getting drunk, and waking up in strange places: the library, the dungeon, Staines. If it hadn't been for the manor itself, Lucius might have found himself completely out of touch with the workings of the household, and the antics of its many and varied denizens.

Oh, the stories his walls could (and would, often at inopportune times) tell...

"Snape's been trailing that other son of yours around all day, sir," the third floor corridor informed Lucius on the Thursday. "Harry trekked mud in on the floor, too -- I bet the little bastard's been digging up your vegetable patch again. The two of them seem in cahoots, if you know what I mean. Always muttering secretively to each other. Harry and Snape, Snape and Harry. I spoke to the potion laboratory the other day, and he says they're both cooking up something special. You know what I mean?"

"Yes," said Lucius absently. "I rather think I do."

"Narcissa's teaching the Death Eaters tactics of war," the second floor balcony wall told him. "Not that I'd wish to intervene, sir, or to get in the way, but sir, I think she's gone completely loopy. It's probably the menopause, sir. So if sir wants to cash in his frequent flyer points now..."

"No, not yet," said Lucius.

"That werewolf boy of yours, sir," said the entrance hall. "He's interfering with Snape's work. I don't know what the hell's going on -- pardon my language -- but Snape runs like a bitch -- pardon my language -- whenever Mr. Lupin turns up. I think Mr. Lupin has tried three types of cologne over the past two days and nothing seems to have done the trick... should I recommend Brut to him, or do you want to watch how this pans out?"

"Watch," said Lucius. "Naturally."

"Mistress H seems to have a lover -- a man. They've been sneaking about watching Narcissa and the Death Eaters," said the spiral staircase which joined the fourth floor to the third. "Chattering about to each other... plotting. Probably against yourself, sir. Or against your missus. You want me to tell the guards or something?"

"I'd rather sort it out myself, if you don't mind," said Lucius.

"Why don't you ever go down on them?" said the cupboard in the west wing.

"I have a headache," said Lucius.

"I haven't seen your son for a while, sir," the lounge room mantlepiece commented on Friday night, as Lucius slipped down to the lower portion of the manor to partake of his nightcap: an unhappy conclusion to another fruitless day spent trying to tie things together on the home front. "Where's he been?"

Yawning, Lucius swung his legs onto a stool. "Playing with potions, I believe," he said, sipping a glass of hot milk. "You know how boys are, eh, when they're unlucky in love. And I have it on good authority that the only solution to a botched love affair is to... ah, indulge in some hardcore drugs. Or travel to Ibiza." He hummed under his breath. "Really, there's nothing like a steady drug habit to put your mind off your beloved..."

"No, sir," said the mantlepiece, interupting him. "Draco, I mean. Where's he?"

Lucius twitched. "None of your bloody business," he said.

"Why? Is it embarrassing?" the mantlepiece prodded. "He didn't get his head stuck in a jug again, did he?"

"Don't tempt me," said Lucius Malfoy, leaning back on his chair and closing his eyes.


In fact, Draco Malfoy had spent the previous two days moping in his bedroom with the door locked. He'd been attempting to boost his confidence by watching the Spice Girl movie over and over -- it hadn't worked, precisely, but on the plus side he'd learnt the words to the rap passage from Wannabe. There wasn't really anything right now that could make Draco feel better. And it certainly didn't help that the object of his hatred was thousands of miles away, on the back of some bloody blue dragon. Draco wanted something he could bite, something he could twist a little -- just to work off all that added tension.

Even giving Ron a chinese burn at this point would have worked wonders for Draco's self-esteem.

The problem was pretty clear, in Draco's mind : He hated Ron Weasley. He despised Ron. The thought of living in a world where Ron Weasley existed filled Draco with an impotent rage. Ron was a nasty, nasty, nasty person. Ron was horrible. Ron should die, die, die. How *dare* he leave Draco? How dare he decide to walk off, just like that, without even a proper goodbye? Without appearing in the least bit remorseful?

The worst part was that Draco couldn't resist tuning into Ron's mind using dragonspeak every few hours, just to see what Ron was doing. The reception -- if you could call it that -- was bad, but Draco got the general gist of Ron's train of thoughts. Ron, wherever he was, was very drunk indeed, and had been so for two days straight. Draco caught snippets of conversations between Ron and Sally.

...god I'm shmashed, fuck, fuck, fuck... mmm... sushi...

...Ronny, dear, you really need to cut down a little...

...another fucking one for.. hic! the road. Hah.. hurk.. urg. Oh... erg. Shorry, didn't mean to puke on you...

...this is getting rather less enjoyable by the minute, Ronny. I'd really advise you not to piss me off...

...hah, what are you going to... fuck! No! Don't eat the geisha!...

...I'm leaving, Ronny. Get in touch with me when you decide to spend more than five minutes without a drink in your hand...

...hah! Drink? What drink? Oh, that drink... you're sho... such a bitchy dragon... bitchy... bitchy pukered on dragon... Draco wouldn't 've... pished off on me... Draco would've shtood by me... shtand by your maaaaaaaan... thash the way...

At least Ron was still thinking about him. It made Draco feel a little better. If he were to be completely honest with himself, Draco could see that Ron did have a point when he left. It hadn't been much fun for him, stuck in that old hut with only Sally for company, having to live by a scheduled sex timetable. Not much fun at all, especially when Ron knew that the best he could hope for with Draco was friendship. And perhaps that was all he'd wanted, too... which meant that Draco was technically to blame for abusing their friendship.

Technically. But technically speaking, a Malfoy was never to blame for *anything*. It was always someone else's fault. Ron's fault, in this instance. All bloody Ron Weasley's fault.

Of course, the real reason why Draco was currently holed up in his bedroom wasn't because he missed Ron. He did miss Ron -- but being able to tap into Ron's brain made the distance rather more bearable. Give it a week, and he figured he might try to talk to Ron; just start chatting, and see what happened. They might just be able to become friends again, unless Draco really *had* burnt all his bridges that morning in the courtyard. Draco knew, though, that Ron wasn't the type of man to hold a grudge. Things would sort themselves out, when it came to Ron.

As Ron would say: Shit happened.

The real reason why Draco was holed up in his bedroom was because he couldn't face seeing Harry. He expected Harry had found out about Ron's departure by now, and Draco couldn't have kept a rein on his temper if he discovered Harry smirking over the whole affair. And if Harry dared to say, 'I told you so...'  Draco gritted his teeth. No, he wasn't going to give Harry the pleasure of making fun of him, Draco Malfoy. Draco would just have to plot out a way to make Ron's absence appear as if it were his idea.

Luckily, Draco had a captive audience off whom to bounce ideas.

"See, I could look at it a few ways," Draco said. "The first way would be, hm, benevolent Draco. I could tell Harry that I didn't want him to be unhappy, so I told Ron to go away. He'd be grateful for that, I think. Or, I could say that Ron's brother needed him, and he begged me to go, so of course I let him. Knowing what family means, and everything. I'd lay that 'family' bit on pretty thick, just so Harry remembers his place. We're practically brothers, as well as boyfriends. That should definately get the guilt and self pity ball rolling."

His audience said nothing.

"Or, I could say that my father was sick of Ron doing a lousy job with the pools, and so I told my father he might as well let Ron go, as I was getting tired of him. Or that Ron was afraid of the Death Eaters. Ron's always been a little leery around them -- well, I suppose most people are. I could say I let him go, on account of him being a great big woose."

His audience continued to say nothing. Draco smiled.

"You know what I like about you?" Draco said. "You're a wonderful listener."

Seated on the couch in the fartherest corner of the room from Draco, Viktor Krum covered his head with both hands.


It was taking all Hermione's willpower not to have sex with Sirius Black.

She'd spent three days now not having sex with him, and they were taking their toll. She only had to look at him to think... well, the word that always came to her mind was biceps. Biceps -- it was enough to make her weak at the knees. And he made her tea, and rubbed her shoulders for her, and she didn't even have to demand that he do it.

Biceps, massages, and hot tea. It was only the idea of getting the better of Narcissa Malfoy which kept her focussed on their current dilhemma.

In regard to that -- well, after a bit of spying, (just to see what the competition was like), she and Sirius had managed to work out a swift solution to the problem of Narcissa's premenstral genocidal urges. Or rather, Sirius had, and Hermione'd just listened, open mouthed and probably drooling -- not that he seemed to care. After all, when discussing matters such as social revolution and taking-down-the-Man, Sirius Black was in his element.

He'd explained to her (in his totally dreamy voice), that the best way to deal with people like Narcissa was to challenge them to head to head combat -- mano e mano. Wasn't it better to stage a battle between two men instead of staging a battle of thousands? he'd argued. And if Hermione stood up to Narcissa, if she challenged Narcissa to a duel on Narcissa's own turf, that would put an end to Narcissa's genocidal dreams once and for all.

On the proviso that Hermione won.

Hermione was self-confident, certainly, but at the same time she was well aware of her limitations. Narcissa was an experienced witch: she'd already had at least twenty years of training under her belt before Hermione was even born. Aside from Severus Snape, Hermione hadn't seen anyone so talented work with potions before; and she'd every reason to believe that Narcissa was just as skilled in every other breed of magic. But Sirius Black, he of the biceps, he of her child hood crushes, he seemed to think she was capable of trouncing on the woman she'd once (dare she say it!) loved.

"Look at it this way -- you know you're smarter than her," Sirius told her, Friday night. He was rubbing her shoulders at the time, a deep, slow massage that made Hermione quiver in all the right places. He was smooth, sexy; the sort of man Hermione's dentist mother had warned her about. "To tell the truth," he breathed into her ear, "you're the smartest young woman I've ever met, and I bet you know that, too. Not only do you know all the regular spells, but working with the Malfoys means that you know all the Dark Arts counter spells... you've talent pouring out your ears, girl. You'll be more than a match for her, and you know it."

"Purr," said Hermione.

"Sorry?" Sirius asked.

"Biceps," said Hermione, vaguely.

Sirius paused in his massage. "I was talking about the fight," he said. "Do you think you're up for it? I'd fight her myself, but I don't think it's my war -- it's more yours than mine. And I intend to take out Lucius myself. If you at any point feel that you can't handle it -- tell me. We'll think of a back up plan, hon. But if you can do this, Hermione, it'll mean that we won't have the death of thousands to deal with, and the end of the world as we know it."

"I am the saviour of mankind," said Hermione, automatically.

"You are," said Sirius.

"I'll murder her," said Hermione, fingers gripping the edge of her chair. "Oh yes. I'll put the Trix back into Dominatrix."

Sirius winced. "Okay, sure, yeah," he said. "How does tomorrow morning grab you?"

Hermione snapped back to reality, and a short, sharp, nasty snap that was, too. "Are you fucking nuts?" she squeaked.

"Tomorrow morning sounds like a good time to save the world," said Sirius brightly. "Shall I set the alarm for seven-fifteen?"

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but was unfortunately distracted before she could protest. "Biceps," she said again, vainly.

"Okay," said Sirius. "Seven thirty it is."


At six o'clock on Saturday morning, Lucius Malfoy woke up with a shriek of triumph, startling the veelas half to death.

"My stars!"

"Sir?" said a veela, blearily.

Lucius beamed at her. "Do fetch us a quill and some parchment, pet," he told her. "I've a note I need delivered, if you don't mind..."

At six fourty four, Lucius found himself satisfied by his note, and sent it via veela express across the manor, to be slipped under the door of Mr. Remus Lupin.

At seven o'clock, Mr. Remus Lupin discovered a note from the shareholders of Malfoy Inc. informing him that he was to spend the day outside digging a hole, and not in his corporate office dealing with prior Malfoy tax evasions. Breifly, Remus toyed with the idea of disobeying the order -- it was too cold to go outside. Then again, if he stayed inside, all he would have to look forward to was a ton of paperwork and the disagreeable sight of Severus' disappearing posterior as he ran away down one of the corridors.

By this stage Remus had the sinking suspicion that something was going on, and it was a secret something at that: a something which werewolves, even housetrained ones, were not permitted to be privy to. He'd resigned himself to the fact that no one was ever going to tell him anything; and, in much the same frame of mind, he now resigned himself to gardening duty for the day.

Picking up a spade from one of the sheds, Remus headed to the patch of lawn beyond the porch, and began to dig. The order from Malfoy Inc. had demanded a hole of two square metres, filled with mud -- with the rain there'd been the previous night, mud was no problem at all.

So Remus dug.

At seven fifteen, the Death Eaters turned up for their aerobics class with Mrs. Malfoy. Mrs. Malfoy was wearing spandex, which made Remus' eyes water. He dropped the spade twice on his foot, and had to pretend he was doing star jumps to cover the pain.

At seven thirty, Remus spotted Harry Malfoy trekking across the courtyard, bundles of herbs under his arm. When Remus waved cheerfully towards him, Harry only bit his lip, tucked all the herbs into his jumper, and dashed away. Remus went back to digging.

At seven fourty nine, Mrs. Malfoy's breasts fell out of her spandex top while demonstrating a highly spectacular grape vine move.

At six minutes past eight, Remus regained consciousness, and went back to digging.

At eight twenty three precisely, Remus saw Hermione Granger, aka Mistress H., advancing across the courtyard towards them, with a man who could have been none other that Remus' old best friend from school, Sirius Black. Before Remus could say a word, however, Hermione drew her wand; a stream of fire shot from the end to singe the ground at Narcissa's feet.

"Mrs. Malfoy?" said Hermione, in a clear, cold voice -- a voice Remus had never heard her use before.

Narcissa gazed at the burnt grass, and snarled. Behind her, the Death Eaters stopped doing star jumps and snarled too.

"Narcissa Malfoy, I challenge you to a duel," said Hermione Granger.

"Why, you self righteous little bitch!" shreiked Narcissa, and lunged.

Just as Hermione, expecting such a move, made a similar lunge at Narcissa.

The two women met in a heap in the middle.

Right in the fresh pit of mud Remus had recently dug.


"It's really bloody early, and I'm really bloody busy," said Harry Malfoy huffily, standing beside his adopted father on the central manor balcony. "Look, I have work to do with Snape, dad. Er, father. Really important work, I should add." He wiped a crust of sleep from his eyes, and peered through his glasses at the grounds below.  "Why'd you have to drag me out of bed?" he groaned. "For this? Really, I don't have time... and I certainly have no interest in watching mum and Herm-- oh my god, was that a nipple cripple?"

"Of course, the veelas thought I was wrong," said Lucius absently. He was smoking a cigar as he watched, his chin resting on his free hand. "But I told them again and again, it would work..."

"Oh my god," said Harry. "Mum's trying to suffocate Hermione with her breasts."

"Naturally, they knew it would come to this at some point -- anyone who has their eyes and ears open knows that those two have been heading for a bitchfight for months," said Lucius, affecting a yawn. "They had no problem with that part of my idea. It was the location they found hard to believe. They said, there's no reason a woman would end up there. Geography, and such -- they said, there'd be no sure bet that the fight would end up, ah -- in such an apt locale..."

"Now Hermione's trying to drown mum," said Harry unhappily.

"I said to them -- are you listening, Harry? I said to them, of course it's going to work," Lucius continued. "There's something about mud and sexy, angry women. It's a magnetic force. You can't have one without the other. At least not in a perfect world. And this, Harry, is my world, and consequently it is the very epitome of perfection..."

"I think I'm going to be scarred for life," said Harry. "Seeing your mum mud-wrestle your old school friend does that to you."

"Quit whining," said Lucius sharply. "You're already scarred for life, you big git."

Harry's hand snapped to his forehead -- it was burning with pain, but not for any esoteric reason. He'd been shaving away the annoying bit of hair which grew between his eyebrows that morning, and he'd cut it a bit fine with the razor. "Lucius," said Harry, in a small, tight voice -- the voice of a man who'd been recently woken up and now was faced with a sight which he would consider nightmarish at best. "Sir. Please stop this. I know you think it's funny, and I guess it is. But at the same time... well, you've put them in a situation where they've both lost their dignity, and that's hardly fair. Infact it's... it's cruel, once you think about it. Really cruel. Please stop it?"

Lucius paused, eyed Harry, eyed the women below.

"It'll make me very happy," said Harry hopefully.

"Hm. What a dilhemma. Do I make my son happy, or do I watch semi-naked large breasted women wrestle in mud on my front lawn. Hm. Such a difficult choice. Son happy, or mud-wrestling. Hum, har."

"Hm. What a dilhemma. To look after Harry's aesthetic interests, and thus ensure Draco's happy future, or to fuck Harry over, and thus cause him to bestow upon Draco all the fucking angst he so rightly deserves," said Harry promptly.

Lucius considered, reconsidered.

"Very Slytherin of you, Mr. Potter," he said, withdrawing from the balcony.

"I learnt from the best," said Harry, gratefully.

"The arse flap on your pajamas has fallen open, by the way," said Lucius.

"Your fly is undone," said Harry.

"All the better to scare you with, my dear," said Lucius, winking, and made off for the staircase to the ground floor.

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