Chapter Two: Absence makes the heart grow fonder
In spite of his status as a young man of significant accomplishment, Draco Malfoy would nevertheless be the first to admit that sometimes his schemes had their flaws (yes he would, actually, don't argue). However, he was more often than not spared the trouble of doing so by virtue of the fact that he counted one Theodore Aloysius Nott as his closest friend.
"Even by your standards, this is a terrible idea." Theo threw himself down in the comfiest chair in Draco's private parlour, closely followed by Potter, who, like the glorified urchin he was, elected to perch on the armrest and lean his hip against Theo's shoulder.
Draco, in a demonstration of admirable restraint, declined to comment on the potential damage to antique furniture.
"Firstly," he sniffed to Theo, "I would like it noted that I object to your tone. And secondly," he gestured pointedly at the pair of them, "clearly I do have some good ideas."
Theo blinked, surprised, and behind his glasses Potter's eyebrows shot up. "Sorry," he said, leaning forward and resting his hand on Theo's thigh. "Are you trying to take credit for getting us together?"
"I told you," Hermione said resignedly from where she was sat in the second-comfiest chair, and Draco felt a wave of annoyance that he was both subjected to being friends with these people and relegated to a seating option that was quite literally third-rate.
Theo was still opening and closing his mouth in a passable impression of a concussed Grindylow, so Draco took the opportunity to scowl at Potter. "I fail to see how you would have successfully managed to court Theo had I followed my better instinct and raised the wards against you."
"Unbelievable." Potter sat back, resting his arm across the top of the chair behind Theo and shaking his head with a small and deeply irritating smile. "At best, you didn't actively sabotage us."
"I vividly remember you calling Potter an upstart ragamuffin with a suicidal hero-complex after the first time Hermione brought him here." Theo had affected a scowl to match Draco's, but the corner of his mouth quivered with humour.
"In the interest of fairness I should probably point out that you regularly call him worse," Hermione sighed. She was sideways in her chair with her legs dangling over the arm as she flicked through one of Draco's charms magazines, and he wondered vaguely whether Gryffindors were Sorted owing to their inability to sit properly.
"That's as maybe," Theo was saying. "But in my case it's both flirtatious and affectionate."
Potter cocked a teasing eyebrow at Draco, who fought to suppress a shudder. "Definitely not," he growled. "And yet despite my finding you wholly objectionable, I still managed to frequently contrive to be out or busy when you visited, and made sure the elves left you in peace."
Theo opened his mouth to respond, frowned, and closed it again, glancing up to share a look with Potter. Hermione had set the magazine down in her lap and was staring at Draco.
"Right," Theo said eventually. "Right - well - fine, maybe you weren't entirely unhelpful, but that still doesn't mean -"
"Pansy is a very different kettle of fish to Theo," Hermione said carefully.
"Kettle of - Granger, where do you come up with such -"
"I believe it's a Muggle aphorism, darling," said Narcissa, stepping through the french doors from the garden and making them all jump.
Draco was the first to recover. "Hello, Mother. How unexpectedly lovely to see you."
"Mmm," Narcissa hummed, squinting at him. "You need a haircut, sweetheart. As do you," she said, turning to address Harry, who went scarlet under her assessing gaze. "And you too Theodore."
From the corner of his eye Draco saw Hermione wince in anticipation, but Narcissa's gaze drifted across her before she made another quiet "hmm" and bent to inspect the aspidistra venenata in the corner of the conservatory.
"How are your schemes coming along darling?" she asked, and Draco paused for a moment before Narcissa turned to look at him expectantly, and he could be sure that she wasn't addressing the plant.
"Very well, actually," he nodded. "I was just about to lay out my plans for this evening's soirée to this company of miscreants."
Theo gave a groan and Hermione wrinkled her nose, swivelling in her chair so that she could lean forward. "Are you entirely sure that this is a good idea? You don't think that you're giving Pansy the wrong impression by -"
"By what?" Draco asked. "By throwing a party with the specific intention of introducing her to some hand-picked and highly eligible wizarding bachelors?"
Harry: "Did you know Malfoy had invited Ron to this party at the Manor?"
Theo: "That doesn't sound ominous at all."
Harry: "Neville too."
Theo: "Clearly he's having a breakdown. We're invited as well right?"
Harry: "Yeah. The owl came this morning."
Theo: "Excellent. Wouldn't want to miss the carnage."
"I had thought we were going to have her over for dinner first?" Narcissa asked, frowning as she peered closely at the dark purple aspidistra blooms.
"Well," Draco demurred. "She was so delighted by the invitation that I thought I should capitalise on her excitement and seize the opportunity as quickly as possible before -"
"Did you tell Pansy that was what you were doing?" Potter asked, his glasses flashing in the afternoon sunlight as he attempted to give Draco something he presumably imagined was a stern look.
"Do I strike you as some sort of fool?" Draco asked tartly. "Of course I didn't inform her that the purpose of the evening was to set her up with someone. I happen to like my balls where they are." His eyes flicked guiltily towards his mother after this pronouncement, but Narcissa had stepped outside again and was now talking to one of the peacocks on the terrace.
"What did you tell her?" Hermione asked. She had abandoned her magazine entirely, and her gaze was surprisingly intent. Draco could feel heat rising up the back of his neck under her scrutiny, and huffed his annoyance.
"That I would be simply thrilled if she would consent to be my guest at an intimate evening celebration -"
"Jesus Christ," Potter muttered, resting an elbow on Theo's shoulder so that he could drop his face into his hand.
"Are you nuts?" Theo asked, and Draco bristled with indignation.
"I'm trying to do a nice thing for one of my olde-"
"We're talking about Pansy," Theo said. "Have you been the victim of a recent obliviation? You've made it sound like you're inviting her for dinner with you," Theo said. "Do the words 'Yule Ball' mean nothing to you?"
Draco opened his mouth to retort and then had an uncomfortable recollection of Pansy sticking to his side for almost the entire evening, like a frilly pink limpet. Quite aside from anything else the colour had been terrible on her, washing out her fair skin and making her look almost vampiric.
It had been years since he'd even thought of the Yule Ball, and he suddenly remembered that he had, quite accidentally, ended up dancing one of the formal numbers with Hermione. She'd looked surprisingly fetching in periwinkle blue, as he recalled, and he slid her a sidelong glance to find that she was also looking at him. When their eyes met the tops of her ears turned pink and she dropped her gaze.
Draco cleared his throat uncomfortably. "It's been years since Pansy and I have even seen one another, so I'm sure she won't have the wrong impression. And if she has I'll be quick to disabuse her of it."
"Mmm." Theo gave a sceptical nod. "I wonder if she's put a wedding gown on hold at Twilfitt & Tattings yet?"
Draco heard himself splutter with horror, and on his other side Hermione seemed to be choking on a sip of tea. Potter sprang up and smacked her several times on the back before turning a glare on Draco, who shrugged.
"Even if she has, I've invited plenty of people so it's not like she'll even be able to get near me."
"Who, out of interest?" Hermione asked, her voice emerging as little more than a croak.
"Useless," Theodore remarked, prompting Potter to transfer his scowl to him from Draco.
"Worse than useless," Theo grinned wickedly at Potter, whose eyes had narrowed to slits behind his glasses.
"Justin Finch-Fletchley -"
"Roger Davies -"
"Less charisma than a gurdyroot."
"Adrian Pucey -"
At this Theo gave such a loud bark of laughter that Draco turned away from him completely, addressing Potter and Hermione.
"Then I've invited your cousin Tom, of course -"
"Wait," Potter frowned. "My cousin Tom?"
"Yes," Draco rolled his eyes impatiently. "Do keep up. He did some business with my father, and I thought I should, you know, continue to show patronage, or something."
"He's rather dashing, if I remember rightly," Hermione said, and Draco felt his stomach give a strange little twist. It was rather a long time since breakfast; he must have been growing hungry. "Though," Hermione went on in a musing tone, "something of a cad. Wasn't there some scandal that he was mixed up with in London?"
"Ginny would know," Harry said. "She's been in London the last couple of years."
"Oh," Hermione brightened suddenly. "She's staying with Luna at the moment, we should invite them both!"
"We," Draco repeated scathingly. "Of course. Not like it's my party or anything -"
"At the moment it's more you setting up your own personal gay bar," Theo ducked out of the way of the stinging hex that Draco sent his way. "Unless you want Pansy thinking that your engagement is a fait accompli -"
"Fuck," Draco murmured. "Fuck, you really think she might -"
"Invite Daphne as well, there's a good chap." Theo had leaned back in his chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him. "She's always a laugh once she's got a couple of butterbeers in her."
Draco sighed, his shoulders slumping. "I guess I had better let the elves know. And send some owls out."
"Will the elves be alright?" Hermione asked. "It's rather a lot to put on them at short notice." She frowned. "You are paying them now, aren't you Malfoy?"
Theo shook his head disbelievingly, his mouth dropping open as he stared at her. "It's like you've never even met a house elf. I'm surprised they haven't tried to assassinate you."
A/N: I am getting my life in order and finally updating stuff. I actually cannot believe I thought this would be finished in the summer, I am a useless idiot. Thanks everyone for reviewing, following etc., I'm very grateful and I won't keep you waiting anywhere near as long for chapter 3.