September 17, 2017
Author's Notes: Written for Noelle (noeycat07/Keeperofthemoon0) in the DG Forum's Summer 2017 Fic Exchange. Winner of the Most Humorous, Best Banter, and Best Dialogue awards. Noelle's prompt will follow at the end of the first chapter. Thank you so so much to EvShadow/tinyyellowdragon for beta-ing!

Malfoy's Patented Daydream Scheme

Chapter One: The Blast-Ended Skrewt

The crisp sound of dried leaves perishing underfoot followed Draco as he and Neville passed through Hogwarts' gates. Neville plucked at the scarf thrown loosely around his neck, securing it to protect the lower half of his face from the frigid chill that had descended upon the Scottish countryside. A grimace curled around Draco's lips, regret forming all over his body as gooseflesh. What a day to forget his scarf on the coat rack by the door.

The two men stopped behind a group of fifth years huddled together as they waited for an available carriage to whisk them away to Hogsmeade.

Rebecca Toogood, an abysmal potions student due to her predilection for lovelorn gazing, looked over her shoulder and jumped at the sight of two of her teachers standing nearby. She turned back to her friends, her voice lowered in hushed whispers as she warned them of the unnoticed threat. Titters broke out among the group, interspersed with not-so-surreptitious glances and giggles.

Draco, used to the antics of his teenaged charges, merely rolled his eyes when Neville elbowed him and grinned.

"A thought, Longbottom," Draco said as a carriage pulled up to the gate. He kept his voice conversationally low, directing it at his colleague, which of course meant Toogood and her friends listened with more intensity. "If children these days paid as much mind to their studies as they did to the tabloids, we'd have a school of geniuses."

Neville elbowed him again, this time in warning.

Toogood and Co. hurriedly climbed into the empty carriage, faces pink in mortification, and slammed the carriage door closed before Neville and Draco could join them.

"They're just kids," Neville said, his voice muffled behind his scarf. "It's not their fault we're the youngest on the staff."

"It wasn't you they were chirping about."

Neville rolled his hazel eyes. "You get named London's most eligible bachelor and now you think everyone's after you. I see how it is."

"Everyone is after me. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner you save yourself from the disappointment of constant rejection."

"Excuse you. Last I checked, I was the one getting laid regularly."

"Crude, Longbottom. I didn't know you had it in you."

Despite his forwardness, the visible parts of Neville's face that hadn't already been flushed from the cold heated further, and Draco, a true debaucherer, could just imagine the thought that had crossed innocent Neville's mind, much too crass to utter aloud.

Distaste crossed Draco's face, and he was relieved to see another carriage pulling up the lane, just in time to save him from this humiliating conversation.

They were quiet on the ride to Hogsmeade, the whistling of the wind and the creaking of the carriage wheels flooding the silence between them.

To an outsider, Draco Malfoy and Neville Longbottom might have looked like friends. Colleagues, certainly. Acquaintances, of course. But friends? Upon closer inspection, a vein of dislike spread between them, pulsing a little too closely to a heart of loathing, as evident in the stiffness of their bodies, the care they took to avoid each other's gazes. The truth was, Hogwarts could be a lonely place for two twenty-two year olds. They weren't much older than the students they sometimes taught, and they had to be careful to keep an appropriate distance between themselves and the student body. But they were decades younger than the staff, who had watched them grow from children into rebels and war criminals and then into apprentices. Their position in the castle was tenuous and strange. Transitory. Limnal. A little mythical as well. The students were well aware of the parts Neville and Draco had played in the war, and Draco could see that knowledge in their eyes every time they looked at one of them.

In a way, that damn Bachelor of the Year article had given Draco a reprieve from hatred and morbid curiosity.

Draco and Neville only had each other, but the fact that they alone understood what it was like to apprentice under a Hogwarts teacher was not enough to bond them together in friendship. They were kindred, not kin. They tolerated each other and did their bests to forget the animosity of their youth, but it was difficult when the faded Dark Mark continued to linger on Draco's arm and Godric Gryffindor's sword sat in a case in front of the Headmistress' desk. They would never forget who they had been to each other and what they had done a mere five years ago.

Still, when the carriage stopped and Draco and Neville stepped out of its cozy warmth onto the high street of Hogsmeade, they nodded to each other and converged on the Hog's Head, preferring the dingy establishment over the Three Broomsticks, which was sure to be overrun by students. They fought the wind funneling down the street in an overpowered gale, and by the time they reached the pub, Neville's hair stood on end while Draco's remained immaculate as ever.

Feeling rushed back into Draco's fingers, so quickly his hands burned from the sensation, and without waiting for Neville, he hurried to the bar and ordered a firewhisky.

"Malfoy, it's barely noon."

"Quickest way to warm up."

Neville shrugged and ordered himself the same. He claimed the stool next to Draco and unwound his scarf, purposefully ignoring Draco's pointed gaze until he snapped.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. Just wondering if I've rubbed off on you over the last few months."

"Gross. Full offense, but you're not my type."

Heat bloomed across Draco's face. "I wasn't—I didn't mean—" He closed his mouth and gathered his words together to stop himself from sounding like a blubbering idiot. "What do you mean I'm not your type? Bachelor of the Year—that means I'm everyone's type."

Neville snorted and downed his drink in one go. "Ohhh, that does hit the spot, doesn't it?"

"What's so funny?" Draco asked, heated. "What's wrong with me? What is it about me that isn't your type?"

A different voice entirely, coming from behind Draco and Neville, answered. "Why do you care what Neville likes?"

A grin broke out across Neville's face as he cried out, "Ginny!" and pulled the youngest Weasley into a one-armed hug.

She laughed and hugged him back, and both of them launched into a series of inquiries at once, each talking over the other as if competing in a contest to see who could answer the most questions before the questions could even be asked.

Draco stared at the two the same way he would have stared if a Blast-Ended Skrewt had crawled through the door just then. In fact, Weasley favored the eponymous explosion for which the unsavory Skrewt had been named. Her hair shone in shades of orange, the exact same color as the flame sparked to life by the inscrutable Skrewt's back end.

Draco did a double-take, eyeballing Weasley from head to toe and back up to her head to make sure his eyes had not deceived him. Her hair wasn't her only bright and orange feature. For some reason (though Draco would attribute her choice to her lack of taste), she had donned the most hideous robes Draco had ever laid eyes on. Putrid orange material burned his retinas, and Draco feared the color had forever been seared into his brain.

While he'd been staring, the Skrewt in question had turned her scrutiny on him, amusement lifting the corners of her mouth.

"I didn't realize you two were friendly enough to go for drinks together."

"We're not," Draco and Neville said at the same time, both with the same level of vehemence.

"Malfoy's apprenticing under Slughorn. We, er, associate out of necessity."

"I see," Weasley said, her amusement growing—to Draco's chagrin. "It's a necessity to drink at midday with student's around?"

"Do you see any students here?" Draco asked, gesturing at the unseemly patrons of the Hog's Head Inn.

"That's fair. I'll give you that one."

"What about you?" Neville asked. "What are you doing here?"

Clearly all the talking over each other had had the detrimental effect of not being informative in the slightest.

Weasley twisted her torso and pulled at the material of her visually rancid robes, displaying a patch. "I manage the new Hogsmeade location of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes."

Neville smiled in delight. "I thought Hogsmeade looked a little more orange than usual! I'm sure the students are glad to have a joke shop in the village again."

"Filch not so much, I bet," Weasley said with a wink.

Draco downed the rest of his firewhisky to try to drown his irritation at Weasley's arrival. "If you're going to chat each other's ears off, why don't you sit down?" he asked, his words full of sarcasm.

Weasley had the audacity to turn her smile on him with a mischievous, insincere glint in her eye that Draco did not like at all.

"How very kind of you for extending an invitation, but I just came in to pick up lunch. Jules will kill me if I leave her alone for much longer. It's the first Hogsmeade weekend since we've opened, and the shop has been busy all day."

"It's noon," Draco muttered.

Weasley's eyebrow arched. "Pardon?"

"When you say 'all day,' you give the impression that you've been working an entire day, but it's noon, so you've only been open a couple hours. Hyperbole isn't becoming."

Neville was staring in bewilderment, which Draco promptly ignored, instead choosing to nurse the second glass of firewhisky the bartender had just slid down the bar into his outstretched hand.

Instead of bristling at Draco's pedantic correction, Weasley grinned ever wider, amused by Draco's sullen antics.

"Oh, thank you for setting me straight, Malfoy. I see that Bachelor of the Year title has swelled your head with falsified importance." She turned back to Neville, dismissing Draco before he could respond. "We should have dinner or drinks sometime now that we're neighbors!"

Neville's face lit up in excitement. "Are you staying in Hogsmeade, then?"

The bartender placed a takeaway bag on the counter, which Weasley took in hand. "Yes. Finally moved away from home! I've taken a flat above the shop."

"Excellent," Neville replied. "You should come up to the castle for dinner one night. I'm sure Minerva won't mind."

"I'd love that. Owl me next week and we'll work something out." She stopped in the process of turning to the door to give Draco an assessing glance. "Nice seeing you, Malfoy."

He grunted in response and downed his second glass.

The orange blur of her had barely disappeared from view before Neville rounded on Draco, leveling a wide-eyed stare at him that required no verbal question in order to be interpreted.

"Stop looking at me like that, Longbottom."

"That was unnecessarily rude, even for you."

Draco shrugged and stared into his empty glass. He had reached his favorite threshold of alcohol consumption, the one that involved tingly shoulders and numb cheeks. He poked one of his cheeks now and released a small giggle at the odd, muffled sensation of it.

Neville's alarm increased, his eyebrows disappearing into the line of his hair, or possibly floating above his head, in shock.

In the middle of contemplating another drink, Neville shook his shoulder. "Seriously. I've never seen you like this."

"She's irritating is all," Draco said, shrugging out from under Neville's touch. "I've gone nearly three years without setting sights on a Weasley, let alone talking to one. She had to be the obnoxious one to break my lucky streak."

"She's just a woman, no different from any other."

And Draco tried to convince himself that that was true, but the orange of her hair, those robes, was burned into his memory. He saw her even when he closed his eyes. The shimmer of blonde amongst the ginger of her hair that stood out even in the dim pub lighting, the mischief and amusement in her dark eyes, the freckles that dusted across pale skin. Obnoxious, irritating, garish bint!

Draco did manage to convince himself of one thing, and that was a third firewhisky. Neville merely shook his head in exasperation as the drink came sailing down the bar into Draco's waiting hand.

Author Notes: I haven't forgotten about The Dating Charade! I started a new job last month, and because it's been so busy there, I'm having a hard time finding the energy to write. :( I'm hoping to get back into chapter 17 soon! In the meantime, I hope this story isn't a poor consolation.

Noelle's Prompt 2:
Basic premise: Draco is an apprentice at Hogwarts (whatever subject you'd like) and Ginny runs George's new Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes store in Hogsmeade. They find themselves running into each other more than they'd like at Hog's Head Inn.
Must haves: Draco is petty and snarky, Ginny is amused by him, UST (that is resolved at some point ;) )
No-no's: Trio bashing; HP/HG
Rating range: Any
Bonus points: George makes an appearance and realizes something is up between Draco and Ginny before they do; smut; Neville is a professor/apprentice at Hogwarts and him and Draco are sort of friends; Ginny drunkenly sleeps in Draco's chambers at Hogwarts once or twice (or all the time) ;)