Ron should have known that Hermione and Luna working together was a bad sign. Should have seen it from a bloody mile away. They were bloody mad, the both of them, and working together only made it worse. Much worse. Much, much, much, much, much worse. Words could not express how horribly brain-shattering it was to see them agree on plans.
Damn it, he wished Dumbledore was here. "Not that he'd tell us anything if he were," Ron muttered under his breath, glaring at the memorial bust that graced their workroom. Blood bastard had had a thousand secrets and he'd taken them all to the grave with him.
Hermione looked up from the elaborate crystalline structure she was tinkering with. Ron didn't even know what the two of them had planned for it, much less those weird staffs that Luna was carving and decorating. "You all right, Ron?"
"Yeah," he lied through his teeth, cursing the day that he'd ever met Hermione Jane Granger. "Perfectly fine." As fine as anyone could be when one's supposed other best mate had decided that there were sinister forces afoot justas he'd really started to relax from the whole Voldemort mess. So what if there were a bunch of new ghosts hanging around that they'd never seen before, with personal habits more like Peeves' than anything that wasn't a poltergeist should manage to have? There'd been an epic final battle! It was normal! He'd be upset if they weren't around!
Just try telling that to Hermione, though.
Even worse, Ginny was spending all the time she wasn't working on her homework flirting with Hermione. As if it weren't bad enough that his little sister had cut a swath through a good ninety percent of the male populating of school, she had to turn into a bloody dyke. A bloody Hermione-hitting-on dyke.
Ron Weasley really hated his life.
"Good," Hermione said in that infuriatingly distracted tone of hers. "I should have the containment field operational by evening," she said brightly to no one in particular.
"You're so clever," Ginny cooed. Ron grimaced. Traitor. Traitor, traitor, traitor. Why wasn't Dumbledore here? Or Harry, who didn't have the nice convenient excuse of being dead to stop him?
Hermione ignored the flirting, thank god. If there was anything you could say for her, at least she was oblivious when it counted. Which probably meant that she and Luna had more in common that Ron had thought and he was definitely thinking too much today. He'd promised his brain he'd give it a break now that the world was saved. To this end, Ron closed his eyes and lay back on the cushions they'd manage to procure from the wreckage. He'd never get used to the new Tower, Ron thought, no matter how useful it was to have the common room of the old one as their headquarters.
Luna poked him to pass her another Snorkack horn, but Ron ignored her. He deserved this nap.
Then he heard the portrait door swing open and he made the concession to open at least one eye. Harry. It was Harry.
Ron's best mate was breathing hard, as if he'd been chased on the way there or something. Maybe it had been that ugly green ghost, the one that stole everyone's food and flung slimy bits of itself at anyone who protested. Ron hated that ghost. "There you are," Harry panted. "I've been looking for you guys everywhere ." He looked around the room. "Hey, what's all this?"
"Nothing important," Hermione said quickly. "It's just something we're working on. Don't worry about it. Is anything wrong?"
"Well," Harry said, looking as if he almost didn't want to admit whatever it was, "there something in my trunk. Something weird in it. I opened it and it was like it was a portal to some weird dimension or something, all bright with this pyramid thing floating around. And there were these dogs there and my books were flying around the room all by themselves and someone said 'Zuul!'"
"Zuul?" Ron repeated, staring at Harry. He wondered if all the stress of defeating the wizarding world's ultimate enemy was getting to him.
"Zuul," Harry insisted. "It was weird , all right?"
"Don't worry," Luna said, looking up from the Snorkack horn she was currently affixing coloured beads to. "I believe you, Harry."
"We all believe you," Hermione proclaimed before Ron could mutter about how Luna believing things wasn't going to reassure Harry. "Don't we, Ron?"
"Oh yeah," Ron said quickly. "Definitely."
Harry was dressed like a tart. A female tart. There were gold bangles at his wrist, ears, and neck—he was wrapped in some sort of orange gauze of some sort—and he'd even bloody stolen Ginny's make-up. Ron had half a mind to grab the other boy by the shoulders and bloody well shake him.
Well. Once he finished staring at him. The orange gauze really did leave nothing to the imagination.
"Are you the keymaster?" Harry asked him, looking at Ron like he was about to bite his head off. It was creepy but at the same time it was almost hot and Ron really didn't want to think about that now. Not one bit.
"Uh, no," he answered quickly. Harry slammed the dormitory door in his face.
Ron uttered a few words that would have earned Hermione's prim moue of distaste, were she there. Bad enough that he'd spent the last week relentlessly chasing after a bunch of bloody spooks—bloody green slime-spewing spooks—but a semi-sane Harry was something Ron had relied on for years. Knowing that his best mate had just gone off the deep end did not make Ron feel at all better. Not one bit.
He closed his eyes and steeled himself. We can do this, he told himself. It's no worse than when Malfoy hexed him last Halloween and he thought he was a chicken for the weekend. Taking a deep breath, Ron knocked on the door again.
Harry-the-tart answered. "Are you the keymaster?"
"Yes," Ron lied. "Yes I am."
This was obviously the right answer, since Harry opened the door to let him in. "I am the gatekeeper," he said imperiously, as he guided Ron to the bed on the far side of their dorm room.
"That's nice," Ron said, gingerly sitting down on the edge of Harry's bed. "Look, um, Harry," he said (rather uncomfortably, since Harry had seemingly decided that this would be a good moment to work on his seductive poses on Ron's bed.) "Hermione found out about that Zuul thing you were talking about. It's a Sumerian dog… god… thing."
Harry chose this moment to slide the orange gauze up his… bloody hell, had Harry shaved his legs? "Do you want this body?" Ron's former best friend and now number-one candidate for the mental ward at Mungo's crooned.
"Um." Ron swallowed hard. "Is that a trick question?"
Harry's response to that, oddly enough, seemed to consist of sliding the gauze even further up his leg and looking at Ron with this smouldering, expectant sort of look that tied Ron's stomach in knots. "Look," Ron said finally, "are you sure you're okay, Harry?"
"There is no Harry," the person who still looked a lot like Harry, tartish cross-dressing notwithstanding, replied. "Only Zuul."
"Er, right," Ron said, keeping his distance from Not-Harry. "So. Um. Zuul. How about you let me talk to Harry anyway."
This was obviously the wrong thing to say, given that Not-Harry chose to levitate about a foot and a half above the head. "There-is-no-Harry-only-Zuul ," it growled in a truly hellish voice, the sort of voice Fred used to sneak up on him with in the middle of the night, only scarier . Ron did what any sane human being would do in the circumstances: he ran.
Hermione and Ginny were still in Old Gryffindor Tower, thank God, although Luna and Neville were gone somewhere. Ron didn't know. Ron didn't think he wanted to know. Neville had been getting awfully fatalistic since they'd brought him in on the project, always talking about Signs and Portents and things his Gran had said about the end of the world. It had the ability to really unnerve a guy.
Unfortunately, Hermione and Ginny weren't alone. Snape was there, sitting almost docilely on a water-stained armchair, and Hermione had put some sort of helmet on him, one of the ones that Luna had made by sticking animal bones and bits of quartz on an old mixing bowl. She was passing a largish crystal over his face, almost as if she were trying to scan something although Ron had no idea what. He'd never been able to understand anything of how Hermione and Luna had built the ghost-catching equipment—he only knew that it worked somehow and he supposed the mixing-bowl helmet was just as useful.
"It's Harry," he announced to them once he'd gotten his wind back. "He's gone spare."
"That's nice," Ginny said dismissively as she handed a second crystal, this one squat and blueish, to Hermione.
"No, he's really gone spare," Ron insisted. "He said he was some sort of gatekeeper and then he tried—he tried to jump me."
"Fascinating," Hermione said under her breath.
"No, it wasn't ," Ron hissed through clenched teeth.
"Oh, not that," Hermione said, finally looking up at him. "I was just analysing Vinz Clortho here. Did you know that the keymaster of Gozer has a dog-like aura?"
Ron swallowed. " That's the keymaster? Shite."
"Mm-hmm. The green one, Gin?" Ginny handed Hermione another crystal. "He was ranting about the Apocalypse before—slurms and Gozer and a giant flaming TORG, though why any self-respecting God would want to manifest as a role-playing-game…"
"We gave him that cube thing of Hermione's," Ginny informed him. "The one with all the mixed-up colours."
"Oh," Ron said, still staring at Professor Snape. He seemed unusually… docile at the moment.
"It's called a Rubik's Cube," Hermione said helpfully and Ron was about to ask why that mattered when a familiar wheedling voice turned the blood in his veins to ice-water.
"My, my, my. What i do /i we have here?"
Oh fuck. Filch.
Zuul stood at the top of the tower, surveying the white earth below. Flakes of crystallized water descended onto the vessel's skin, but Zuul paid them no mind. Zuul did not feel cold. Neither now did the vessel.
Zuul wished that the Keymaster would return soon. It was disconcerting to stand on two legs instead of four. If it weren't for the fact that the ritual required an un-breeched vessel, Zuul would have only been too happy to revert to its true shape, though millennia of punishing the non-believers had proved that plan infeasable
Ah well. There would be time enough for that. When the ritual was finished.
There was the sound of rustling fabric, muffled steps behind the vessel. Zuul turned. It was not the orange-haired stripling that had claimed himself to be the Keymaster. No, it was tall man, sallow of skin, with a beaky hooked nose and dark, dingy hair. Zuul looked up at this intruder, contemplatively. There was something uniquely familiar about the man, something Zuul had not sensed at all with the orange-haired stripling.
"I am the Keymaster," the figure intoned.
Zuul reached up, caught this new vessel's face within the vessel's hands and pulled it lower. "I am the Gatekeeper," Zuul murmured, opening the vessel's mouth to catch Vinz Clortho's, pressing the vessel's smaller body close to the other, molding it to the other. Both vessels were sexually aroused; Zuul could feel it.
The stripling had lied, it seemed. Zuul contented itself in his coming fate once Gozer had been invoked upon this white-shrouded land.
Vinz Clortho slid the hands of its vessel under the gauze Zuul had ceremonially donned. It was the cue to break the kiss and draw Vinz Clortho's vessel aside to the altar that lay waiting for them, though a thousand years too late.
Zuul lay down across the altar, the vessel's body fitting perfectly into the grooves carved there so long ago. Vinz Clortho stood before it, slowly peeling off the man layers of the vessel's garments until it was dressed in naught but a pair of black trousers, open at the front to reveal the angry purple head of the vessel's phallus.
Zuul licked its lips.
Vinz Clortho's vessel made a pass with its hands and spoke the Words of Preparation. There was a slickness inside Zuul, one achingly familiar, and the dying sunlight glinted off the knife that had materialized in the Keymaster's hand. With a wordless cry, the vessel slashed its chest and then that of Zuul's and then, beginning the chant, climbed up on top of the altar, on top of Zuul. The knife clattered to the ground as Zuul hooked its vessel's legs around the other's shoulders and, breathlessly, chanted in time, their two voices moulding into one as with one long, agonizing thrust, the key was fitted into the lock.
Zuul arched the vessel's back, grinding back against Vinz Clortho's thrusts and brought its mouth to meet the other's in ecstatic glee. Coloured light whipped through the wind around them—Zuul could see the archway of the gate forming above them.
This, Zuul thought, would be a very good manifestation.
Harry and Professor Snape avoided each other afterwards. No one was surprised. Bad enough to lose your virginity while possessed by an ancient Sumerian demon dog, but to lose it to Snape?
Well. Ron didn't blame him. Even if he did do a little bit of avoiding Harry himself, what with being hit on and all. Demon or not, it still didn't stop Ron from picturing Harry back in that gauze every time he saw his best friend.
Ron and the showers were very well acquainted at the moment.
It had been the Founders' fault, it turned out, and that wasn't very surprising either. Once Luna had explained how they'd been Gozer Worshippers and all, it hadn't taken much of a leap of logic to suppose that the abandonment of the religion had been enough for Godric to move quarters to the Old Gryffindor Tower, which lacked the architectural significance somehow—Ron wasn't really sure how; it went over the heads of everyone but Luna and Hermione—that New Gryffindor Tower had in spades.
Hence the demon dogs. Hence the ghosts too.
Of course, Ron hadn't had much of a luxury of reflection when Hermione and Luna had first filled him in. He'd been too busy racing to save Harry and then too busy trying to save the day after Luna did yet another incredibly daft thing to further the coming apocalypse. Frankly, he'd been relieved when it was all over.
Even if the melted remains of the sixty-foot chocolate frog took days to clean off.