Part Five: Celebration
Neville Longbottom observed his reflection in the men's lavatory mirror of The Three Broomsticks.
A tall, chubby faced youth stared back at him, with a shock of yellow, gelled hair, an earring glinting from his left ear lobe, and a nauseous expression that had nothing to do with the schooner of beer he had downed ten minutes earlier.
Neville did not do well in social situations. He did even less well in the company of attractive women. How fortunate for him, then, that he had co-organised an event where both were in full supply.
He looked around the lavatory, making certain that he was completely alone, before turning to stare at his reflection again. The pale, greenish look of his face was not reassuring. His last attack of nerves had happened at Lavender Brown's twentieth birthday party, and if Harry had not taken him outside the restaurant for a bit of fresh air, he would have hurled all over Parvati Patil's pink, dragonhide pumps.
His hand shook violently now, as he turned the faucet to douse his face with another handful of cold water. Not that this helped, but at least it gave him something to do, something that he hoped would work.
It had been like this since the siege. Neville had always been a shy person, but since the war, it seemed like his shyness had mutated into a full-fledged disability. It wasn't enough that he felt hopelessly claustrophobic and nauseous when the panic attacks took hold, but being a wizard, he also inadvertently made things happen. A wizard with a mental instability was not a good person to have around, as Voldemort had so eloquently demonstrated. Neville had already made error of arriving half an hour early. All had been progressing well until he found himself being steadily pushed into a corner of the Three Broomsticks by the arriving guests. A pretty barmaid had come up to deliver his drink. She had made polite conversation, not knowing that Neville had been fighting tooth and nail to not cause the candles on the nearby wall to blow out (they did), and the head on the ale he was sipping at to explode all over his face (it did).
The girl had scampered off in a mild panic, and Neville had made a beeline for the little boys' room.
And wasn't that a fitting name for it, he thought.
The door of the lavatory swung open then, and in walked the last person on earth Neville wanted to meet just then.
Snape spared him a cursory glance before proceeding to use the urinals. Neville rinsed out his mouth, attempting to get rid of the bitter taste that had temporarily taken up residence there. The urge to flee was strong, but at that point, he nearly preferred Snape to the crowd beyond the lavatory doors.
He started slightly when Snape appeared beside him to wash his hands.
"Longbottom," said Snape.
Neville assumed it was a greeting. He couldn't remember the last time he had heard his former Potions Master saying anything as mundane and pleasant as 'hello' or 'goodbye'.
"Professor." Neville responded in kind. Snape was eyeing him as if he were a particularly volatile potions experiment that was about to explode all over his immaculate dungeon classroom.
"I haven't been your professor in a while," Snape returned, wiping his hands on a paper towel.
"Old habits die h-hard," stammered Neville. A sharp crack appeared in the mirror, dissecting Neville's reflection in half.
Snape ignored it. He seemed to be cataloguing Neville's sweat soaked shirt, colourless complexion and mild shaking.
Neville turned his head. "How d-do you mean?"
"How long," Snape asked, in the same annoyingly neutral tone, "have you been suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome?"
Neville knew the term, of course. He had done a wealth of research into both Muggle and Magical treatments over the years, in an effort to find a remedy to assist his parents.
"Since the siege," he responded, swallowing his stammer. Since he had killed his first Death Eater, and his second, and his third... Snape nodded, unsurprised. "I know of a way to alleviate the condition. It's not a cure, but it helps maintain your equilibrium, that you may better handle the triggers."
They were interrupted then by Oliver Wood, who despite having just arrived, was already well on his way to being completely shit-faced'. Dressed in a zebra print Muggle suit, he strode into the lavatory, shouted a hearty hello to Neville and Snape before proceeding to use the urinals with a great deal of off-key whistling.
Neville and Snape waited a good five minutes for him to finish up, whereupon Wood cheerfully reminded them that party activities started in ten minutes.
"Blithering idiot," opinioned Snape, causing Neville to find his first grin of the day.
The smile quickly subsided when Snape turned to him with a serious expression. "Longbottom, we'd better do this quickly. The drinks are flowing freely and I fear our privacy here will be short lived."
Snape seemed to be rehearsing something over in his head. After a moment, he said, "Repeat after me. My name is Neville Longbottom. I am a recipient of the Order of Merlin. First Class, I am a member of Dumbledore's Army, a fellow vanquisher of He Who Must Not Be Named. My parents are the famed Aurors, Frank and Alice Longbottom. I am friend to Harry Potter. I am an award-winning student of Marchionessa Sprout. My talents include...."
Neville smiled as he listened. As far as confidence-inducing mantras went, he thought this one was rather excellent.
Harry touched down at Hogsmeade Square at exactly seven that evening. The main Village streets were largely deserted, save for a few members of the press who were stationed outside the front entrance to The Three Broomsticks, cameras and Dictoquills at the ready. Harry made a quick detour around to the back street, where a makeshift broom valet service was operating. There was a red velvet rope separating the press from the line of guests who were checking in their invitations at the door.
Bill and Charlie Weasley, looking very smart in their matching Oxford 'bags' were speaking with the Stephenson & Stephenson security guard at the head of the line.
There seemed to be a bit of a problem.
"I'm taking this with me when I go in, or I'm not going in at all," Charlie was saying.
"Look, I don't make the rules. All weapons have to be dropped off at the door. I can't let you in with that," the guard insisted. He was a behemoth of a man, whom Harry thought looked rather familiar…
Charlie, who wasn't exactly pint sized himself, braced his feet apart and folded his arms over his biscuit-coloured suit. He was shaking his head, a stubborn expression on his face. "Then we have a problem, don't we?"
His Firebolt under his arm, Harry stepped out of the shadows and walked quickly to the head of the line. He was instantly illuminated by the flashing photography of a dozen cameras amidst cries of "Harry! Harry! Look this way! Over here!"
It was heartening to see that some things never changed. Case in point was the fact that Colin Creevey could almost always be found shouting his name from behind a camera.
Bill looked ecstatic to see him. "Harry! Good! Will you be so kind as to tell Charlie that he is being a complete arse, and that he should leave his nasty, big knife at the door?"
Harry raised his eyebrows at Charlie. "Knife?"
"Mr. Potter, pleasure to meet you," interrupted the guard, who was smiling at Harry with Jason Stephenson's aquamarine eyes. "My name's Alex. I think you've already met my midget of a brother?"
Harry didn't know whether to be offended, seeing that Jason had been slightly bigger that he was. "You're the brother that Jason stole that assignment from?"
Alex chuckled. "That's me."
Bill was suddenly looking hopeful. "You're one of Jason's brothers? Yes, well we know Jason, he had dinner at our house two weeks ago!"
Harry looked at Bill, "He did?"
"Yes. He came by to drop off Ginny's hanky. I think he's got his eye on our little sister," Bill informed. He was clearly hoping for a peaceful resolution to the Charlie-knife issue.
Charlie, who was hadn't been present at the dinner, but who was bright enough to spot a potentially sensitive issue, elbowed his brother roughly in the ribs.
Harry had his 'dark wizard killing look' on.
"Oi! Harry! What's the hold up? We've been standing in line for fifteen bloody minutes!" shouted Dean Thomas, who was at the back of the queue with Seamus Finnegan. Both men were dressed in white suits with matching fedoras and shiny, black, lace-up shoes.
"Can you make an exception?" Harry inquired of Alex.
Alex sighed. "Mr. Potter, have you seen the knife?"
Charlie took this as his que to whip out the latest addition to his collection of pointy, dragon handling implements. With a gleeful expression, he reached under his jacket and carefully pulled out an enormous, foot long, serrated edged, double bladed, monstrosity.
In the partial moonlight, the knife gleamed huge and sinister.
Bill groaned and covered his face with a hand.
Harry gaped. "Bloody hell, Charlie! No way that's going in with you."
Alex looked vindicated. "Drop it in here, and we can get the line moving again." He was holding out a small wooden crate which was already a quarter full with Sneakascopes, Omnioculars, Fizzing Whizbees, Exploding Bonbons and a set of Muggle police handcuffs with the initials G.W. engraved onto them.
With a sorrowful expression, Charlie did as requested.
"Great," Alex nodded, ever the gregarious American. "Now I'll just take your invitations, thanks...great. You fellas have an excellent night."
Bill dragged a grumbling Charlie into the tavern, while Harry paused at the doorway. "Alex, is Malfoy already inside?"
Alex was busy divesting Ernie McMillan of a bag of Psychedelic Every Flavour Beans. "Sure is. He was here an hour ago to check on security."
"First order of business," announced a grinning Lee Jordan, the Master of Ceremonies, "a special welcome from our illustrious bachelor!"
It was quite obvious that Draco had not been told about having to give a welcome-speech. He was seated with Harry and the Weasleys at a small table closest to the stage, and was thwarted in his attempts to 'blend in' when a spotlight searched and then located him.
"The crowd awaits," Ron prodded, looking more amused at Draco's discomfiture than was polite.
Everyone who had been present at any of Draco's pre-battle speeches watched with slight apprehension. He might have been silver-tongued in normal conversation, but when it came to delivering a speech, Draco was quite frankly, hopeless.
Even Harry, who abhorred speaking in public, was known to give more rousing talks. As such, Harry sipped his Gillywater-Light and watched as a scowling Draco was dragged onto stage by either a very brave or very foolish, Lee Jordan.
Harry had to admit, Draco looked good. But then it was seldom that he looked anything other than polished.
Predictably, he had not dressed according to the '1920s Mugglewear' theme, instead opting for a charcoal grey, fitted cashmere jumper, dark, flat front pants, and black boots. It wasn't that Harry cared too much about what he himself wore (much to the lament of the female acquaintances in his life), but even after spending nearly half the day putting his own outfit together, he still felt as if he was wearing Dudley Dursley's hand-me-downs.
Even Ron, who was seated beside Harry, looked sharp in his red and black shantung ensemble. He was also wearing a pair of red-tinted, wrap-around sunglasses that were imbued with a clothing transparency charm.
Everyone at the table had so far received a running commentary of 'boxers', 'briefs' and 'no comment'.
There was a lengthy pause on stage, as Draco made a fuss of taking his wand out. Lee Jordan came forward with a questioning look. What followed was a brief, whispered argument over whether Sonorous was required for such a small gathering. Still scowling, Draco relented and put away his wand. He cleared his throat, shoving his hands into his pockets.
The crowd began to mutter and fidget. Beside Harry, Ron was on tenterhooks of anticipation.
With a humourless expression, the Bachelor addressed his guests.
"Yes well, thank you for that Jordan. And here I was thinking that the end of Hogwarts meant we wouldn't have to hear another biased commentary from you ever again."
The crowd was silent for a moment, before erupting into hoots and whistles. Lee Jordan guffawed and slapped his thigh.
What followed, to everyone's combined amazement, was a crowd pleasing, rabble rousing, humorous and poignant speech from Draco regarding the journey that they had all taken together and where he was hoping to go with Hermione. When he was finished, the crowd applauded loudly. Over in the far corner of the tavern, Hagrid was blowing his nose into an enormous handkerchief.
Harry and Ron gaped at Draco, as he climbed down the stage and reclaimed his seat at their table. "You fraud," Ron scolded. "Back at Hogwarts, you couldn't motivate an ant to declare war on a sugar cube!"
"I didn't feel it was my duty to incite people to risk their lives. If they hadn't already made their choice, then it wasn't my job to persuade them," was Draco's reply. He picked up his drink where he had left it.
Harry knew what Ron was thinking. They could no longer rely on the 'yeah, but he gives the worse speeches' argument in opposition to claims from interviewing reporters that Draco was, in all respects, the perfect catch.
"Heads up lads, the first segment is about to begin," said Bill, from the table beside them. The eldest Weasley was flanked on either side by Fred and George. Charlie had long since disappeared into the men's room after foolishly sampling a cocktail of Fred's design.
"I have the extreme pleasure of presenting Ivan and Sputter! Fire Breathers from the exotic Far East!" announced Lee Jordan, quickly clearing off the stage to make way for the performers and their equipment.
Nobody thought it was necessary to point out to Fred that his 'Oriental' fire breathers had south London accents and were dressed in Knickerbockers and Bowler hats. Their twenty-minute act was spectacular enough to forestall any snide comments.
And for the finale, guests were invited to participate.
A bell was rung, whereupon a stream of serving girls bustled forth from the kitchens, carrying tray after tray of fist-sized marshmallows and long wooden skewers. It took a moment for everyone to note what the girls were wearing. Each waitress was clad in a very brief version of Slytherin school robes. Draco didn't pass comment, but from the corner of his eyes, Harry saw the amused smile that appeared fleetingly on Draco's pale face.
Once a suitable number of volunteers were obtained, the projectile flame throwing began in earnest. Upon successfully toasting his giant marshmallow in a flame stream that passed overhead, Bill sat down to devour the sticky, sweet, glob with a salacious grin.
The final spectacle involved intricate flame weaving. Ivan and Sputter worked quickly, spinning their creation with supreme concentration. The crowd gasped when they saw the large, flame-outlined dragon that was suspended in the air.
For some reason, most of the crowd fell silent, as all eyes turned to Draco. Draco obliged by regally making a 'carry on' gesture, after which the guests heartily applauded Ivan and Sputter. Lee Jordan assumed his position on stage once more
"Don't wander too far lads, we've got more coming up very shortly. Also, the waitresses will be going around selling raffle tickets for tonight's Lucky Dip Prize. All proceeds go to St Mungos, so dig deep!"
"What are we having, then?" Fred addressed his gathered compatriots, as a 'Slytherin Girl' came over to their table to take the next round of orders.
George, Bill and Charlie ordered ale, Draco asked for another glass of red wine, while Harry didn't want to order anything.
Ron slapped him hard on the back "Of course he wants something! He'll have an ale as well, thanks." Ron winked at the waitress, who was eyeing Ron's red sunglasses with suspicion.
"I don't want anything," insisted Harry. He was already looking quite flushed from his Gillywater-Light. "I'm trying to pace myself."
"Nonsense," waved Fred in dismissal. "Pacing is for Hufflepuffs."
"And will you be buying any raffle tickets?" the waitress asked, pulling out a purple booklet the size of Hogwarts, a History. It was her good fortune to be serving the wealthiest table at the pub that evening. Draco tossed her a bag of Galleons and purchased the entire booklet.
"What's the Lucky Dip prize, then?" Bill asked his brothers. "Only I reckon Malfoy's just about won it."
Fred shrugged. "No idea. We didn't have anything to do with it. Harry?"
"Must be Neville then. I'll go and ask him. George, you coming?"
George had already picked up his drink. "Lead the way, brother."
Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas and Lee Jordan were occupying a table beside the bar. The men were hidden behind an impenetrable wall of empty ale tankards, and were in deep discussion when Fred and George joined them.
"''Lo there! You lads having a good evening?" Fred greeted, pulling up a chair next to Neville.
"Spanking evening," Lee declared. "We were just about to launch a friendly wager, care to join?"
George immediately looked interested. "What are we wagering?"
Seamus had a conspiratorial twinkle in his blue eyes. "Over there," he pointed with his mug. "Staff table."
The twins looked over to where Seamus was indicating. It was indeed the 'staff' table. Rubeus Hagrid, Filius Flitwick and Remus Lupin were having an animated conversation, with Flitwick climbing up on onto his chair every so often to pound his bottle of beer on the table.
George's eyes widened. "He's a rowdy one."
Lee snorted. "That's nothing. He threw a basket of peanuts at Oliver Wood just before you two came over, though really, most of us have been itching to do that since Wood arrived. One of the security chaps had to Flitwick to 'take it down a notch'."
This development proved to be most intriguing to the gathered group of ex-Hogwarts students, most of who were used to a mild mannered, squeaky-voiced Flitwick. The same Flitwick who had been known to have difficulty controlling a first year, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw Charms class.
"It's the brew," Neville opinioned, nodding sagely.
"So Flitwick is the wager then?" Fred asked
Seamus was grinning from ear to ear. "Nuh. The wager's just come back from the men's' lavatory now."
The boys observed as a slim, dark haired young man joined the staff table, pulling his seat into very close proximity to Remus Lupin. Lupin had been about to take a swig from his bottle, but was waylaid by the stranger, who took a long swallow before putting the bottle back in Lupin's hand.
Fred and George were staring with their mouths agape. Lee chuckled. "Easy there lads, we're trying to be subtle here."
"George! This means you owe me fifty Galleons!"
"Hang on a minute, now," said Fred. "We can't be sure yet, they might just be friends. Relatives? Cousins maybe?" Fred was grasping at straws.
"I have a cousin who's a good friend and he doesn't do that," commented Neville, with raised eyebrows.
The stranger was currently running his hand along Lupin's right thigh.
Dean shook his head. "Bugger me sideways. I always knew that any man who could be that nice all the time, and especially to Snape, had to be playing for the other side."
"Speaking of Snape, is the old Bat of the Dungeons here tonight?" Lee asked, looking around the crowded establishment.
"He's sitting on his own, over by the dance floor," Neville informed, in a quiet voice.
So he was. It was easy to miss the tall, austere, former Potions Master, seeing as he was dressed in his usual dark robes (not a Zoot Suit stripe to be seen) and seated in a small, dark corner. There was a mildly distastefully look on his face as he watched the proceedings. He didn't have a drink in front of him, either, but he had purchased a handful of raffle tickets.
The boys thought this was just shameful.
George tut-tutted. "Now there's a man who could use a good, hard-"
"Perhaps he'll win the Lucky Dip Prize," Neville interrupted, looking slightly uncomfortable that they were speaking ill of Snape.
"By the by," Fred said, remembering his reason for coming over to the table. "Neville, did you organise this raffle business?"
Neville nodded. "Seemed like a worthwhile cause. St Mungos could use the extra money."
Fred was in agreement. "Brilliant idea. But what is the Lucky Dip Prize?"
The grin that settled across Neville's chubby face was decidedly un-Nevillelike.
"Ah, but that's a surprise."
Ron and Draco were left to their own, following Bill and Charlie's insistence that Harry accompany them on socialising rounds while everyone was still coherent and amiable. Before Harry left the table, however, he gave Ron a pointed look.
The meaning of said look was simple: 'Behave.
Ron rolled his eyes. It wasn't that Ron had any hard feelings toward Draco from school, or that he still distrusted Draco. Rather, it was a very simply a case of him not liking Draco. At all.
They were cordial to each other, but there had never been the easy (albeit sharp) banter that had eventually developed between Harry and Draco. The war was to blame, of course. Nothing banished old, petty, childhood rivalries and brought people together quite like a good, all out fight for peace amongst wizards.
It was a sore point between Ron and Harry. Ron considered Harry Potter to be, unequivocally, his best and most trusted companion on the planet, which was why he couldn't understand how they could feel so differently about the same person.
Ron didn't like that he couldn't read Draco. It seemed unnatural that someone could be able to control basic emotions like anger and surprise with such efficiency. Nothing seemed to settle over Draco's face without first being passed through some sort of emotional filter. How could anyone get close to someone like that? Any sort of intimacy, platonic or otherwise seemed impossible.
Which was why Ron couldn't fathom how Hermione managed any sort of relationship with Draco. Hermione was a well of emotion, most of it warm, nurturing, and passionate. She cared deeply, and was capable of disliking just as vehemently. But even when they had been children, she had not disliked indiscriminately. If someone had not been worth the negative emotion, Hermione would simply reign in her dislike and move on. Ron couldn't count the number of times she had stepped between him, and Draco, or between Harry and Draco, for that matter. She would place a small, firm hand on either boy's chest and prevent an imminent cursing or fist fight with a simple, pointed look.
It was the look that had captured Draco's attention, no doubt. No one could raise and deliver an argument or settle conflict quite like Hermione. She was special.
Ron had no doubts that Draco, with his money, his looks, his mysterious and irritating brooding nature, his ridiculously, complex agendas, was appealing to some women. Hermione wasn't a raving beauty. She was, however, graced with a slenderness that would follow her into old age, wide, clear eyes that mirrored her every thought or feeling, clean, smooth skin light dusted with freckles, and a voice that could make even a Tattler article sound convincing. She was pretty, yes, but there would always be more beautiful witches.
But when it came to character, however, Hermione was in a class of her own.
She was their Hermione, he and Harry's. And grudgingly, Ron realised he was mature enough to admit that her impending marriage to Draco played a large part in Ron's dislike of Draco.
With a dark scowl, he tossed back the remains of his drink, hailing a passing waitress for a fresh tankard.
The war had also brought Draco and Hermione together. There was no doubting that. It had produced a purpose and an avenue for redemption in Draco, or at least it had in the eyes of everyone other than Hermione. Hermione did not require Draco to be redeemed, simply because she had already recognised that aspect of him already. To Hermione, there was no surprise in the path Draco had chosen to take. Everyone else had been duly skeptical, but Hermione had just got on with business as usual.
Ron recalled how he and Harry had watched, on that winter's morning more than a year ago, when Draco and Hermione had walked side by side into the Great Hall, fairly charging the air around them with the unmistakable sizzle of sex.
Sex between wizards and witches was more than just a joining of bodies, more than the mere closing of distance between skin or between molecules. Sometimes, an alliance could create an open feed, a two-way channel for potent, magical energy to flow from one person into another. Ron had seen this happen with his parents, and so was able to recognise what he was witnessing when he saw the couple that morning.
Nothing had been said, simply because they all had had more important things to worry about at the time. But Ron had heard Harry's whisper-soft intake of breath, and he had wondered what his friend had been thinking. It would have been an exercise in futility to have asked Harry though, seeing as Harry had taken an unofficial vow of silence for most of that horrible year. Now that so much time had passed, Ron thought it pointless to dredge up the old memory, especially since Draco had Harry had come to a comfortable understanding.
Ron watched then, as the waitress brought over his drink. She spared him a polite smile before turning her attention to Draco, asking if he too would like a refresher. This was despite the fact that Draco had taken less than three sips at his red wine since it had arrived.
Draco's interest, which had been previously located within the warm burgundy contents of his glass, transferred to the waitress, who flushed and fidgeted under his stare.
Ron was used to observing this. Man, woman or child, people in general found it hard holding Draco's pale, grey stare for long. Eyes that lightly coloured should have given off an impression of clarity and openness, but in Draco's case, they were nearly a superfluous part of his face.
Unusual, yes, but decidedly cold.
A quick decline from Draco sent the girl scurrying away, and the silver gaze picked its next target.
"Sickle for your thoughts, Weasley."
Ron didn't hesitate. "I was thinking about Hermione."
Draco pulled a silver timepiece from his pocket. "I'd say she, Ginny and the girls are probably enduring an intensive hair braiding or toe nail painting session right about now."
"Lavender is a force to be reckoned with," Ron agreed, before taking a swallow from his ale.
Draco made an affirmative noise. "I'm sure Voldemort thought the same when she stabbed him through the hand with his own quill."
Ron set his drink down sharply. That was the other thing about Draco. He refused to obey the unspoken rule that nobody was to mention the events of the final battle unless it was expressly required. War anecdotes were not to be slipped into casual, genial conversation.
Draco was watching Ron carefully now. "I do believe I've spoken out of turn."
"Yes, well you make your own rules, don't you?" Ron said irritably.
"These memories aren't going to get sweeter for lack of being mentioned, Weasley."
Ron narrowed his eyes. "Then why mention them?"
"I've been told by certain well meaning, irritatingly persistent former Head Masters, that the first step to recovery is acceptance. I think this is referred to as the 'get over it' school of rehabilitation."
Ron sat a little straighter in his seat. "Don't you talk to me about 'getting over it', Malfoy. I lost a brother. There's no getting over that."
"I lost a matching set of parents," Draco said, but not in an equally vehement tone. It was more the statement of a fact.
"Don't you compare Percy to your...your... to those people."
Draco folded his arms, but his expression remained serene. "Why not, Weasley? Percy was a Death Eater, just like my parents."
He dared. He actually said it. "Percy was not like your parents! He was-"
"What?" Draco interrupted. "One of you? Good? Pure to begin with? Corrupted by the Dark Lord's superb Junior Death Eater recruitment drive? I hear they were giving away badges and desk calendars that year. This was all before I signed up, of course."
Ron lunged across the table, sending his chair toppling backwards. He would have grabbed Draco around the collar if Harry hadn't arrived in time to pull him away.
"For fuck's sake Ron!" Harry hissed, wrapping both arms Ron's middle and pulling his friend backwards.
"You bastard," Ron seethed at Draco. With a look of wounded dignity, he shook Harry's hands off him, and promptly stalked off into the crowd.
"Malfoy, was that really necessary?" Harry demanded tiredly. He made to go after Ron, but Draco stopped him, a curious look on his face.
"What does he know about Percy?"
Harry sighed. "Everything. But try mentioning it and he shuts down. Bill has made it his personal mission this summer to tie Ron to a chair and have it out with him about Percy."
Draco thought the idea had merit. He rose from his seat. "Stay here Potter. I'll get him."
Harry gave him a look. "You do realise you're meant to be getting married tomorrow morning. Won't look good in the pictures with a black eye."
Draco smiled as he swung his cloak off the chair and onto his back in one, fluid motion. "If he gets close enough to give me a black eye. I'll deserve to look bad in my wedding photos."
"Think of Hermione," Harry said, returning the grin.
Draco sighed. "That's precisely what I'm doing."
Arrogant bastard, Ron silently fumed as he elbowed the backdoors of the pub open with a tad more force than was necessary, and stalked out into the Hogsmeade back alley.
Smug, pretentious, prick!
It was bad enough that he had lost his cool with Malfoy, but then Harry had to come along and witness his momentary lapse of control. The urge to hurl a finger at Malfoy's direction and decry, in an insistent voice that, "he started it!" had been strong.
Of course, that course of action had never worked with their professors at school. Everyone got detentions, everyone paid. It wouldn't have worked with Harry either.
There was a time when Harry would have backed him up, no matter how ridiculous the situation was or how absurd the argument. Whether taking on a mountain troll, fending off a hundred, hungry Acromantulas or navigating a flying car across the countryside, Harry was always been on his side.
Not tonight however. Not that beating Malfoy into a bloody, blond, pulp would have solved matters. But it would have made Ron feel a great deal better. He could already hear his mother's nagging voice, "Weasleys do not settle disputes with their fists!"
It was a noble ideal for Molly Weasley to hold on to, despite the fact that nearly every year, one of the Wealsey brothers almost always hobbled into the Burrow with a bloody nose and a grumbled apology.
Mostly, they got into scraps over cheating in games, incessant teasing or from pilfering prized personal items. Once, Ginny had once hit him over the head with a copper kettle for painting a moustache on her prized Queen Guinevere Doll. Molly and Arthur had been away attending Bill's graduation ceremony that day, and so it had been Percy who had Flooed a bleeding Ron to St Mungos.
It was hard to think of your dead brother as a traitorous Death Eater when your brother had been the one to hold your hand and comfort you while nurses cleaned your hurts.
He didn't expect Malfoy to understand something like that. From what Ron had garnered about the late Lucius and Narcissa, the closest thing Draco had ever come to an 'I love you' was the time Draco had won his first Quidditch Match as Captain of Slytherin, in their sixth year. Lucius had couriered over an enormous crate of custom made, Belgian chocolates for the entire team, with an accompanying card on which was written, 'Expect shipment of new brooms within the week.'
Ron walked on, not caring where he was going as long as he kept moving. The cool air was tempering his anger, but he was still fuming. With a muttered expletive, he kicked at a pile of wooden crates, sending them sprawling across the cobblestones. He pulled his sunglasses off his head and tucked them into his break pockets, only just realising that the horde of press photographers who had been stationed outside the Three Broomsticks were no longer around.
This was a good thing, Ron decided, seeing as he was in dire need of a piss.
Not wanting to be caught by an errant reported quite literally with his pants down, Ron continued walking until he reached the end of the alley. There, he selected a dark, dingy corner and a suitable, anonymous, wall.
There wasn't even time to call out a warning.
Draco had followed a furious Ron out of the pub, watched as the other man muttered under his breath, attacked a stack of wooden crates, before marching straight into the back end of the alley. Draco arrived at the head of the alleyway in time to see the two, dark cloaked figures separate from the shadows and advance on an unsuspecting Ron.
The idiot was currently watering the red bricks at the back of Dervish and Banges, his back turned to the mouth of the alley, completely oblivious to the fact that he was about to be attacked.
A shout would have potentially spun Ron around, in time to meet the Killing Curse that Ron's stalkers most certainly planned on delivering. The larger of the two assailants produced a wand and silently approached Ron.
Draco did the same.
Ron wasn't drunk, but he had consumed a fairly large quantity of ale, and as such, his reflexes were not as sharp as usual. He heard the soft swish of a parted cloak behind him, and immediately fumbled into his jacket to remove his wand. But there was no time; he would not be able to cast a spell or feint before he was hit.
With an eerie calmness, Ron vaguely wondered if Harry or one of his brothers would see fit to zip up his fly before the press began swarming around to try and take a picture of his body. As it was, his wand was half removed from his jacket when the first two syllables of the curse that no spell could block, were spoken.
It was then that Ron found himself knocked to the ground with enough force that he bit right through his bottom lip. The scent of a familiar aftershave and the feel of thick wool tossed over his head told him that Draco had Apparated right on top of him.
"Stay down," Draco hissed, holding Ron flat against the worn stones.
Ron felt the surface of Draco's cloak expand, enveloping the pair under a blanket of invisibility. It was just as well that the cloak was charmed to fit whatever was beneath it. If it had been Harry's cloak, they would have been hard pressed squashing their grown-up bulks underneath.
Their attackers were immediately panicked, which indicated that they were a couple of broom twigs short of being professional hit men. Had they been members of Voldemort's Inner Circle, Ron would have been dead and quite cold by the time anyone found him.
"You fool, you missed! Where did they go?" It was a woman's voice. High pitched, tremulous.
"I didn't miss," said the other attacker, pointing to the smoking, green hole in the wall where Ron's head had been moments earlier. "He's here...somewhere."
The man took a step forward, his foot stopping inches from Ron's head. Beside him, Ron felt Draco tense. Ron's split lip was bad. It was also bleeding profusely down his chin. A tiny rivulet of red dripped onto the uneven cobblestones, gathering into a crevice and appearing outside the invisibility boundary created by Draco's cloak. With a silent curse, Ron slapped a hand over his throbbing mouth in an effort to staunch the flow.
For a moment, the male attacker made to turn away, but then happened to glance downwards. The dark, red liquid had just made contact with the tip of his shoe.
"Wait!" he said to his partner, holding up a hand.
"Now!" ordered Draco, at the same time.
His wand now grasped firmly in his hand, Ron Apparated behind their assailants. Draco leaped to his feet with his wand trained at the midsection of the male attacker.
Unlike their unfortunate assailants, the members of Dumbledore's Army were extremely well trained.
"PETRIFICUS TOTALIS!" The third spell was cast by Alastor Moody, who had appeared at the foot of the alley, looking and sounding extremely out of breath. Ten armed companions followed him, the average age of whom looked to be about eighty. They were all dressed in azure robes with hoods that were lined with white ermine. The uniform of the Retired Aurors League, Ron recalled, with relief.
"You lads alright?" Moody demanded. He hobbled onto the scene, prodding the Petrified female attacker none too gently with his shoe.
Draco nodded, before looking pointedly at Ron. The lower part of Ron's face was a raw, red mess.
Moody called out to a thin, silver haired woman. Draco recognised her as one of Auror Medics who had worked at St Mungos during the war.
"Phyllis Dearling," she introduced herself, as she went to inspect Ron's nearly severed lip. She cast a Stitch and Suture charm over the injured area. Ron made a great deal of fuss over the sting, but thanked Medic Dearling once his mouth was repaired. His lower lip was still very red and angry, but the wound was cleansed and sealed.
"Scourgify," Draco added, passing his wand over Ron's lapels. Most of the red strains lifted. Lucky for Ron, his shantung suit was mostly red anyway.
"Thanks," Ron said, rubbing a bruised elbow.
Moody was shaking his misshapen head. "A wizard can't take a piss these days without looking over his shoulder. Do either of you boys know her?" He pulled back the hood of the unconscious woman.
Ron shook his head. Draco stared for a moment, frowning. "That's Morad Goyle. Which probably means that the Stupefied piece of filth over there is her brother."
He walked over to inspect the other attacker. "Gregory!" Draco greeted, in a voice that would have been more at home at Sunday luncheon with the family. "Looking remarkably well for a dead man," Draco commented. He kicked Goyle's stiffened form over, such that Goyle now lay on his back.
"Let's see what he has to say," Moody muttered. With a hiss of discomfort, Moody bent down and tapped his wand once on Goyle's shoulder. "Enervate."
Goyle's reaction was instantaneous. His small eyes narrowed and locked onto Draco. "Screw you, traitor!"
"Nothing quite as frustrating as unrequited affection, is there?" Draco inquired, in a jaunty voice. He placed a booted foot on Goyle's chest and pressed down. "Out with it, Goyle. Who sent you?"
Goyle spat on Draco's boot.
"You'd better tell me. I'm missing my own party and that makes me very peeved. You know what I'm like when I'm peeved, don't you, Goyle?"
"You're a dead man, Malfoy! You, Zabini and all the other Muggle loving filth!"
Draco released a long, exasperated sigh. "Haven't any of you been reading the papers? Or then again, maybe you hadn't yet learned by the time you left school? No matter, I'll summarise the headlines for you, Goyle. You. Lost. The. War."
"The Dark Lord still has supporters Draco! You'll never be safe, you and your Mudblood whore. Your wards and your guards can't keep us away forever."
Gregory Goyle was not known for his book-smarts, but as was often the case with bullies, he knew how to deliver a choice taunt. With a smarmy grin on his broad face, he continued. "Tell me Draco, are you still sharing that used piece of baggage with Potter and Weasley? I suppose it's a good thing Lucius isn't alive to witness your disgrace. Was that a final act of kindness for your dear father, Draco? Killed him before he got to see what you've become?"
Beside him, Ron heard Medic Dearling wince.
Goyle's large bulk was instantly wrenched from the ground and slammed against the alley wall with enough force that a sprinkling of dust and cement rained down briefly. One meaty hand was pinned against the bricks. With a calm expression, Draco put the weight of his shoulder into a sharp movement that twisted Goyle's wrist almost the entire way around. The sound of snapping bone echoed against the walls of the alley. Goyle wailed.
This time, no one made a sound. Ron and the Aurors watched with a steely reserve that had seen them through the worst of the war's atrocities.
"Pay attention, Goyle. I've broken your scaffoid. It is a notoriously difficult bone to heal," Draco informed, in a clinical tone. He tilted his head to one side to observe Gregory's purpling face from a different angle. "Does it hurt?"
Goyle was sputtering with pain, but he did not respond.
Draco was far from finished. He looked over his shoulder at Phyllis Dearling. "Medic Dearling, would you be so kind as to fix Goyle's hand?"
Dearling gave him a brief, questioning look, but came forth and did as requested. The bone was quickly mended. The skin was still heavily bruised, but already the darkness was receding. The spell was usually followed through with an analgesic, either directly applied or administered via a charm. Dearling did not bother with this.
Draco waited until Goyle's ragged breathing had evened out. When he looked somewhat recovered, Draco took hold of the same hand and broke it again.
This time, Goyle did not hold back. He howled like a wounded animal. Draco then pulled his fist back and slammed it into Goyle's sizeable midsection. The Death Eater doubled over, winded and in pain.
"How long does the scaffoid take to heal without magical intervention?" Draco asked Dearling, watching a gasping Goyle with a predatory satisfaction.
Dearling was stony faced when she answered. "About eight weeks."
"Eight weeks then, Goyle," Draco told him. "Perhaps I'll pay you a visit in Azkaban every eight weeks, whereupon I will break that same bone. Again and again. And do you know why they'll let me? They'll let me because I'm Draco Malfoy. Harry Potter, and me, we're golden, you see. We're the fucking saviours of the wizarding world. They'll even let me slip into your cell in the dead of night to slit your throat from ear to ear. The guards will whistle and pace the corridors to cover up the sound of you asphyxiating on your own blood." Draco took a step forward and ran a finger under Goyle's chin, in a morbid demonstration. "But I wouldn't kill you like that, Goyle. Not my style. You know that about me, don't you?"
Goyle wasn't quite blubbering as yet, but his pain stricken face was fearful.
Ron had not worked directly with Draco during the course of the war. When they had been in contact, it had mostly been to relay information. Thus, he had never had the chance to witness Draco the Death Eater in action. It was some spectacle.
The well-mannered, civilized young man who had given a speech and drank with the other boys earlier in the evening was on hiatus. All that was left was the embodiment of the rage and displacement they all felt, and yet never spoke about.
Idly, Ron wondered how much of Draco's much lauded interrogation techniques Hermione had witnessed.
"I will continue to pay you these visits every eight weeks, for each miserable year of my life that I spent in your presence," Draco continued. "That's almost seven years, Gregory. How long do you think before your hand becomes a mangled, twisted stump? Before your fingers are so crooked and grotesque that you won't be able to feed yourself, or button your prison robes or hold your cock to piss? And on the days when I'm busy with worth or at home with my pretty wife, I'll have Harry Potter take over the task for me. When Harry's busy, perhaps Ron here will volunteer?"
Ron's face was grim when Goyle's eyes darted up to look up at him.
"You're a strong man, Gregory, but there'll come a point when you will break and you will plead with us to spare you, to leave you be, or perhaps to break some other part of your miserable person instead. Have a good, long think, Gregory. If you don't provide us with your full cooperation, and should anything happen to Hermione Granger, I'll have a world of free time. And I do so like to visit with old friends..."
This last sentence was whispered with a smile, and it prompted Goyle into a fruitless bid for escape. He attempted to wrestle free from Draco's grasp, and to give him credit, was doing a fair job of it. Draco was a taller than Goyle, but Goyle was twice as heavy and twice as wide.
Moody stepped forward and cast a swift Immobulus over the struggling captive. Goyle immediately fell to the ground, a frantic look frozen on his blotchy face. There was no love lost between Draco and Moody (Draco have never quite forgiven Moody for transfiguring him into a ferret in his fourth year), but the two men now huddled together in cooperative conference, speaking in low tones. Ron was vaguely able to overhear the words, 'interrogation', 'Azkaban' and 'alert Snape'.
Draco's hands rested on his hips as he listened to Moody, nodding occasionally. His silver eyes met Ron's serious gaze for a brief moment before quickly flickering away.
Ron knew the look. It was the same look he gave his mother when he was unsure of whether he had done something very, very bad.
The scene with Goyle had shaken Draco more than the man would care to admit. It had been fair amount of time since any of them had been forced to use some of the more unsavoury skills they had acquired over the course of the war. Draco's attention was back on Moody now, but Ron saw that Draco's hand was clenched hard in the folds of his cloak, his thumb rubbing over the cygnet ring on his third finger. Lucius's ring.
Perhaps the man was human after all.
Fifteen minutes later, after more barked orders from Moody, four Aurors escorted the prisoners from the scene. The remaining RAL members quietly and quickly resumed their posts around the vicinity of the pub. Moody remained behind to walk Ron and Draco back to the Three Broomsticks.
"Weasley, tell me you managed to repackage yourself prior to my lying on top of you," Draco said, as they walked.
"And if I hadn't?"
"One more recurring nightmare can't hurt, I suppose."
"Look, Wealsey, when we go in-"
"Yes, I know. We're not telling Harry or the others right away, because they all have enough on their plates and we don't want to add to it."
Draco paused at the backdoors of the pub. "There seems to be a lot of that going around lately I take it?"
Ron nodded, looking resigned. He remembered his manners then. "Moody, could we tempt you with a drink?"
The scarred, old Auror responded by smacking his lips together. He placed a hand on the backs of both men, and all but shoved them inside the pub. "Can't. On duty."
"You sure? Seniors drink half price tonight."
Moody's lopsided face was near impossibly to read, but he did flip Ron the Irish Bird. There wasn't any time for further pleasantries either, seeing as Moody slammed the heavy doors shut in their faces.
There were ten things on Remus's Lupin's 'Things To Do Before I Die' list. Four things have been achieved and thus checked off by the time he had graduated from Hogwarts.
Three more things were carried out in the years preceding Voldemort's second comeback. It was with great satisfaction now, that he was able to put a mental tick next to 'Swing Dancing with Attractive Female' at Draco Malfoy's bachelor party.
Well, all except for the 'female' part.
It had been slightly disconcerting when Tonks had emerged from his bedroom that evening, dressed in a white tuxedo, plus-fours, shiny wing tip shoes and a flawless male glamour. She had fashioned herself into quite an attractive man that evening, with soft, chestnut coloured hair, and large, almond shaped, brown eyes.
The band that the Weasley twins had hired for the evening had been idling away in the corner playing variations of what someone in the crowd referred to as 'Muggle elevator music.' The request to play swing music was met with welcome sighs of relief.
"About time someone asked," grumbled the trumpet player. The band had after all been chosen for their proficiency in the Muggle 'Big Band' style of music.
As the group launched into an enthusiastic medley, Remus took a gleeful Tonks by the hand, leading her out towards the dance floor.
"Hrrm, said Tonks, "I think I'm too tall to partner you."
Terribly handy skill, morphing, Remus thought, as Tonks adjusted the height of her male disguise accordingly. By the time they reached the middle of the dance floor, the top of her head was at Remus's eye level.
"Are people staring yet?" she inquired, as Remus twirled her under his arm. They had been attending dance lessons together for six months now, and it was showing.
"Do you mind?"
"Of course not. But did you have to make yourself so attractive? For once, I would have liked to have been the prettier one," Remus grumbled, as he swung her away from him in a spin, and then skilfully retrieved her.
"Don't be silly, Remus. You're very pretty."
He laughed as he deftly flipped her over his left shoulder. "Thank you, Tonks. A man likes to be told that every so often."
"Is Snape staring yet?" asked a breathless, grinning Tonks.
"Dunno, switch sides and I'll see."
The pair executed a series of side-shimmies, which ended with them swapping positions on the dance floor.
"He's starring," Remus confirmed, snapping his fingers in time to the four-four beat.
"Oh good. Lindyhop then?"
Seamus was blinking repeatedly, Lee was unnaturally silent, while Neville, looking shaken and not a little bit stirred, slammed down his vodka shot and continued watching.
Dean finally broke the silence. "He's quite...flexible."
"Who? Lupin or his friend?" queried Neville.
"Either," said Dean. "Both."
"Ah! Here's Ron and Malfoy," Seamus whispered, trying to attract the attention of a waitress. "Quickly lads, drinks!"
"Am I missing something?" Ron inquired, taking a seat across from Seamus.
Dean enlightened the new arrivals. "We're aiming to get Harry thoroughly soused by the end of tonight. Any excuse for another round is welcomed."
"And you seem to be doing rather well in your cunning plan," Draco commented, looking up at a bleary-eyed, bemused looking Harry. His hair was in a very bad way, as if it too were intoxicated.
"Good lord," Ron said, looking startled. He had only just observed what half the guests in the pub were currently gawking at. While the other boys filled in an uninformed Ron, on the Lupin-and-friend-swing-dancing development (and related wagers), Harry took to staring at Draco.
"'Lo again," chirped Harry.
Draco gave him a wary look. "Evening, Potter."
"Everything go alright, I take it?" Harry asked, making less than subtle head inclinations in Ron's direction. The smile on his face was so wide it looked painful.
"Quite alright, yes."
The waitress arrived, more drinks were ordered, and throughout all this, Harry continued to stare.
"Can I help you with something, Potter?"
"Draco, do you want to race?"
"Beg yours?" Draco could not recall the last time Harry had addressed him by his first name, nor asked something quite so silly.
"Race. On brooms," Harry explained, his green eyes wide with excitement. "Your Scorpion Sting against my Firebolt."
A dozen different comebacks were lined up for delivery, but Draco decided there was little challenge in goading a less-than-there Harry. So he said, "Not right now, no."
Harry looked crestfallen. He sat in pouting silence for a minute, until Draco caught him staring again.
"Because you're foxed and Hermione would be heartbroken if you missed the wedding on account of crashing into a tree and breaking your neck," Draco snapped.
"I'm not foxed!"
Draco caught Ron's smothered laugh. The two men shared a brief, amused glance.
Not foxed indeed. "Very well then, Potter, what's the third ingredient of Befuddlement Potion?"
Draco looked irritated at being thwarted so quickly. "And what do you have when you add crushed scarab to a base of Hellebore and Mallowsweet?"
"Otherwise known as?"
"Draught of War."
Draco frowned. Ron was openly laughing now. "Go on Malfoy, try Herbology. He's rotten at that."
"Yes, well so am I," Draco conceded, with a sniff.
Neville stepped in. "Harry, what are the four most common uses of Aconite?"
Harry was pleased to oblige. "Anodyne, diuretic, diaphoretic and Wolfsbane Potion."
Everyone at the table stared at Harry.
"Blimey Seamus, what have you been giving him?" Ron asked, passing a hand in front of Harry's face. Harry remained cheerfully unblinking.
Draco picked up the half empty bottle in front of Harry and sniffed it suspiciously. The unlabelled drink was pink, fragrant and contained a multitude of frothy bubbles.
"He wanted to take it easy, so I got him a couple of those," Seamus shrugged. "They're pink. Girly drinks, I figured. Can't possibly do any harm."
"Nymphadora Tonks. I should have known," Snape said, reluctantly taking the pink bottle of drink that was offered to him.
"Should you have?" Tonks asked. She was still wearing her male guise, but had chosen to speak to Snape in her own voice.
"Lost your lap, have you?" Snape inquired tartly.
"It's only a lap when Remus is sitting down, but he's been dancing for over an hour now," Tonks grumbled, but then her face suddenly lit up. "Might I borrow yours, Snape?"
Snape sputtered, wiping pink froth from his upper lip. "You most certainly may not."
Tonks chuckled, not looking in the least bit put out. She remained standing beside Snape's secluded table, tapping her foot in time to the music.
Damn her, Snape thought. And damn his curiosity too, which was not so easily appeased. "Wouldn't Lupin mind?" he found himself asking.
"Why would he? You're assuming I'm a one lap girl, then?"
"And you're not?"
"I'm a one lap girl as much as Remus is a one lap man," she responded, her foot-tapping continuing unhindered.
This lap nonsense was getting confusing. "What you do with Lupin is your business. I'll thank you not to involve me."
Tonks raised her dark eyebrows. "So you don't want to get involved then? I'll go and tell Remus. Only he sent me to ask." She turned to walk away, but Snape stopped her by catching hold of her wrist.
Snape gaped at her. "He sent you to ask what?" Tonks spoke in a slow, careful tone. As if she was speaking to an elderly, slightly befuddled person. "He sent me, to ask you, if you wanted to join us later at his flat in Surrey. He really has nice digs," she added, with an approving nod.
"Tonks, are you…propositioning me?" Snape asked, with the incredulity of a house elf being offered decent wages, overtime pay and a dental plan.
"Technically, Remus is propositioning you. I'm just backing him up. My, that's a terribly pun." She giggled at her folly.
Snape was in a mood to agree. Tonks ought to be congratulated really, she had succeeded in doing what nobody else had yet managed to achieve.
"Quite frankly, I'm speechless."
"No, no," she shook her finger at him. "You can't be speechless Severus, you're voice would be so sorely missed."
Snape looked at his Order colleague, who despite being slightly accident-prone was an upstanding member of the magical community and not in any way unattractive.
A sceptical expression settled over his face. He took another swallow of the strange, pink drink, and found that he was developing a liking for the taste. It was dulling the irritation he usually felt at being in Tonk's effervescent presence.
Oliver Wood thought that he had impeccable timing. He had the good fortune of walking past Snape's table, just in time to overhear Lupin's date for the evening invite his former Potions Professor back to Lupin's place for a romp.
Oh good, Oliver thought, as he scurried over to tell Lee Jordan. Lee now owed him seventy-five Galleons, and although Oliver was already a very wealthy young wizard, a bet was still a bet.
Diane de Poitiers certainly knew how to make an entrance.
She appeared on stage in a puff of silver smoke, just as soon as Lee Jordan finished announcing her segment. Everyone reclaimed their tables and settled down to watch what promised to be a spectacular show. She was to perform alone, accompanied by a gnarled, old goblin who strummed an accompanying melody on an enchanted lyre.
"Here be the tale of the Maiden and the Dragon," said the goblin, striking a single, resonant note. "She who battled the fierce beast, to avenge her beloved!"
Diane shed her long, silver robes, revealing thigh-length chain mail, a set of gauntlets, a tiny, silver shield, plenty of bare, smooth skin, and an enormous sword.
Charlie clapped excitedly.
More melodic strumming followed. "The lady wandered far and abroad, through field and forest, through snow laden mountains and scorched desert sands..."
The crowd watched appreciatively as de Poitiers began to dance and sway, moving her lithe limbs in time to the Goblin's rhythmic strumming. Her waist length hair trailed behind her like a silken cowl. She executed a series of spectacular back flips, ending in a split position at one corner of the stage, directly in front of Bill.
"Away... away," Bill muttered, shielding his eyes from what was revealed through the scanty chain mail. "I'm a married man."
"On a stormy winter shore, did she find her beast, a-slumbering!"
The sound of crashing waves could be heard through the tavern. A fierce, salty sea breeze blew over the heads of the guests. The highlight however, was the enormous, misty white dragon that appeared, taking up what was little room was left on the small stage.
The crowd gasped. The beast was curled in sleep, occasionally snorting a jet of steam from its nostrils.
"The maiden, she did creep, upon her deadly foe. Her sword held high, her eyes ablaze with vengeance soon to be delivered," the goblin whispered, in a dramatic fashion that caused an impatient looking Filius Flitwick to yell, "Get on with it already!"
Diane held the sword high above her head, spinning rapidly and then falling to her knees beside the dragon. The dragon awoke, its boulder sized head reared up as it snarled menacingly at the crowd.
"The lady and the dragon they fought, they sparred!"
The dragon blew an arc of blue flame across the stage. The flames landed at Diane's feet, exploding into a shower of silver sparks. A significant portion of de Poitier's chain mail dissolved, revealing a clean line of skin, from hip to shoulder.
Another jet of flame chased her across the stage, and the audience watched in suspended fascination as she danced and taunted the stream of fire. There were more than a few groans when she escaped the flame, preserving what was left of her costume.
The goblin was strumming more quickly now. "Tooth against sword, talons and shield. A flame to rival the fiercest forge, a deadly whisper of brimstone and sulphur..."
The set was rapidly building up to some sort of climax. The dragon looked increasingly perturbed. It reared up on its hind legs, and it seemed that the ceiling of the Three Broomsticks magically expanded to accommodate the spectacular illusion. The best roared loudly enough to extinguish the candelabras suspended from the rafters.
Tables and chairs vibrated, bottles tipped over. Charlie was on his feet, yelling instructions to the tune of, "Use the sword! Use the sword!"
Ron realised he was gripping onto his tankard handle with white-knuckled fingers. He dragged his eyes away from the performance to glance at Draco.
Draco seemed to be frozen in the act of bringing his wine glass to his lips.
"Don't worry, Malfoy," Ron quickly whispered. "It's not real."
"Sod of, Weasley."
The Goblin continued. "She thrust the sword, sure and swift, into the dragon's bosom!"
In the throes of death, the dragon released a final puff of thick blue smoke from its nostrils, which enveloped a serene looking de Poitiers.
When the smoke was gone, only she remained, illuminated under a single spotlight. All that was left of her costume was a pair of charred gauntlets. No one moved, no one breathed.
Time stood still for an eternity it seemed, until Draco put his glass down and started clapping.
The cheers and whistles that followed were deafening. De Poitiers remained on stage as one of her attendants brought forth her silver robe and wrapped her in it.
Lee Jordan took his place once more. "Diane de Poitiers, gents," he began, in a slightly squeaky voice. He cleared his throat. "I hope everyone's kept their raffle tickets, because I'm about to announce the winner of the Lucky Dip prize!"
An imitation of the Hogwarts' Sorting Hat was brought on stage with much fanfare.
"Miss de Poitiers, if you would be so kind as to draw the winning ticket?" Lee asked.
Diane tossed her mane of hair over the shoulder, a regal look taking the place of her seductive smile. She reached one elegant hand into the hat, and drew out a large, purple ticket.
Lee looked slightly troubled once the winning name had appeared across the stub. The reason for this was soon obvious. "Er, it appears that the winner is Draco Malfoy."
George clapped Draco on the back. "Excellent! Come on then Jordan, what does he win?"
"He wins a private performance by Miss de Poitiers," said Lee, looking worriedly at Neville, and then at Ron.
Ron did not look pleased. "Good one, Neville. If Hermione finds out, we're dead."
Harry interrupted further bickering by suddenly jumping to his feet with a startled look, and running off into the crowd.
"Would you like a drink, Mr. Malfoy?" Diane de Poitiers asked, once she and Draco were safely festooned in her private rooms above the pub.
The accommodations at the Three Broomsticks were not exactly five-star, but de Poitiers was apparently the sort who took her luxuries with her when she travelled.
The entire room had been re-done in what could only be described as old world, bordello style. The enormous four-poster in the centre of the room was draped in dark pink silks, charmed to flitter about in an imaginary breeze.
Persian rugs covered almost every inch of the scrubbed wooden floors. There were damask upholstered chairs, colourful stripped chintzes, fringed pouffes and what looked to be a backgammon board laid out on a parlour table. Overall, the décor was a mix of saccharine sweetness and less than subtle seduction.
The scent of jasmine should have been overpowering, but Draco found that it made him slightly drowsy and more relaxed than he was comfortable with. A stiff drink would probably do him good. He accepted the cut crystal tumbler that Diane offered him.
"Slovstirrfk," she said.
"Gazunheit," Draco responded, blinking against the pleasant lethargy that enveloped him as he sat in a chair. No doubt his strange mood had something to do with him being in the immediate vicinity of a woman who was part Veela.
Veela magic was old and powerful (as was so eloquently demonstrated at the Quidditch World Cup). Most of the top courtesans had Veela blood, although Veelas were also well known for a very rigorous intellect. More often than not however, their spectacular looks waylaid any academic ambitions. It was both a gift and a curse.
"Silly," Diane scolded, with impressive artifice. "In my home country of Molvania, Slovstirrfk is our national beverage."
Draco took a sip of the scentless, tinsel-coloured liquid. It was very warm and burned a scorched path down his throat. To his pleasant surprise, he felt the warmth quickly spreading through his body. His extremities fairly tingled.
"Garlic brandy," said Diane, with an amused look at Draco's raised eyebrows. "But the scent and taste are almost completely neutralised. It is a healing drink, good for you," she nodded.
She was still dressed in her silver, performance robes. Her gauntlets were resting on a dressing table however, which meant that under the robe, she was dressed in a multitude of golden skin. And nothing else.
Presently, she leaned against her dresser, arms crossed over her chest, regarding Draco with a familiar, amused look. It was the look Draco had seen Bill and Charlie Weasley bestow upon their younger siblings, a look that attempted to proclaim their superior wisdom and experience.
Like Usille, Draco could not discern de Poitiers's age, and also like Usille, de Poitiers was unlikely to give it. Veelas lived a goodly number of years, and although Diane looked no older than thirty, she could very well have been a hundred and thirty.
"Mr. Malfoy," she said, in a breathy voice. "What would you have me do for you this evening? I have promised to return you to your faithful comrades in twenty minutes." She tapped at her wrist, on the spot where a wristwatch would usually sit.
It was as if the sound of the crowd in the lower level, the dull throb of music and laughter had suddenly been muted. Veela magic, Draco lamented. Diane was transferring her full and complete attention onto him, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain hold over rational thought.
He felt a giddy urge to stretch his legs out, to lean back and smile like Harry did after catching the Snitch, to call her names like 'sweet puss' and 'my darling flower'.
This was ridiculous, of course. Malfoys did not indulge in nonsense endearments. Besides, the only endearment he ever used was 'Granger', and thankfully that couldn't possibly be applied to scantily clad, acrobatic, half-Veela courtesans.
She was smiling at him now. And as surely as the invisible tug one felt when travelling via portkey, Draco found himself rising to feet. He felt himself put one booted foot in front of the other, walk over to the bed and sit on the soft mattress.
He watched his hand pat the space beside him. In a swirl of perfumed silver satin, Diane was suddenly seated at the indicated spot, enthusiastically running a hand through his hair. The drowsy feeling was diminished now that she wasn't looking directly at him. Sanity tentatively returned.
Oddly enough, she didn't seem to be touching him with seduction in mind. It was more of an impersonal inspection.
"I'm almost afraid to ask what you're looking for," he said, feeling all of nine years old as he shrugged away from her. He felt like a monkey in the middle of a social grooming session.
She laughed. "Such a lovely creature. I haven't seen your like in some time, Draco. Forgive my curiosity, but I wish to see if this is real," she explained, running a long finger from his hairline down to his nose.
Draco took hold of her hands and put them back in her lap, much like he did with Hermione. "Trust me," he said, with annoyance, "It's real."
Diane studied him. "You have the air of a man who has gone without for some time."
"Depends on your definition of 'without'. Since I dismissed my house elves, I've gone without a decent crème brulee for months. The manor towels aren't quite as fluffy as I remember, so I've 'gone without' in that department too. Also, I've had to answer my own front door lately."
Diane's clever fingers were climbing up along Draco's upper thigh. "I meant, without this," she clarified, in a suggestive tone.
"I'm a patient man," Draco told her, with a look that would have put out a fire at ten paces. "I don't believe this is an entailed part of your private performance, Miss de Poitiers."
Diane shrugged. Her cloak slipped over one shoulder, exposing a delicate collarbone. "I am only human. Well, mostly human. I like to indulge myself once in a while. You are so very fresh, Draco, and so pretty," she sighed wistfully. "But twenty minutes is hardly enough time to encompass all that I would like to do with you." She suddenly narrowed her eyes at him. "You are definitely getting married tomorrow?" there was bluntness to her voice now.
She was looking directly at him again, and so Draco took a moment longer to locate his usually formidable wit. "You must have missed the memo. Half of Wizarding Europe will be in attendance."
It would have been entirely too easy to give in, for that twenty minutes, to see to the incessant tension that had been plaguing him since this whole engagement business started.
Part of him was quite capable of doing this, to lie back against the bed and allow Diane's clever hands, and equally clever lips to do what he so sorely needed. Discretion was the hallmark of Veela courtesans. Nobody would ever know.
And he had been wanting for the longest time….
Like a shark sensing blood in the water, Diane smiled a slow, predatory smile and gently pushed him back against the bed. Draco found himself flat on his back, staring up in bemusement at an enormous, round mirror that was suspended from the canopy.
If he closed his eyes, he was certain he would have been asleep in less than a minute, so acute was his exhaustion. But he did not. He saw his reflection, his dark clothes and light hair standing out against the bright bed clothing. Diane's silver form slowly entered the frame, climbing up his prone body, inch by inch.
Like a big, evil, Sex Dementor.
Diane de Poitiers was an exceptionally beautiful woman. But as Draco watched her, he found himself wishing that her hair was darker, that her eyes were larger, fringed with thick brown lashes that framed an impossible look of mingled shyness and lust.
He wanted her to be small enough for him to pick up with one arm and hoist up against his body. He wanted her voice to be both authoritative and uncertain at the same time.
Damn it, he wanted the small, incessantly fidgeting hands, even.
If he didn't put her off in her seduction attempt, his body was going to give the answer his heart and mind was rebelling against. He sat up against the tasselled throw cushions, blond hair askew, and attempted to clear the fog in his brain.
"Yes, I am definitely getting marred tomorrow," he answered her.
Diane pulled her hand out of the gaping hole in the front of his pants, deftly buttoning him up without having to look down. "Are you quite certain, Mr. Malfoy? My talents are legendary."
This was true. He hadn't even realized his fly had been undone. "I've heard of your talents. Reliable sources tell me that you have penchant for Shakespeare, among other things."
She blinked, the corner of her red-rouged mouth quirked upwards in amusement. "You want me to recite a sonnet?"
"Either that or backgammon and I'm rotten at backgammon."
Diane tilted her head to one side, sending her golden hair tumbling over a bare shoulder. "Perhaps my current form does not appeal," she speculated, touching a fingertip to his temple. Draco felt a sharp, warm jolt pierce his skin, like static electricity, only pleasurable. She pulled her finger away, and Draco saw a minute silvery strand attached to her fingertip. It was at this point that he realized his mind was being read.
He closed his eyes, feeling her presence in his head for the briefest of moments. Nothing sensitive was probed, however. Superficial information was sought and retrieved in the space of a heartbeat. When he opened his eyes, he found himself looking at Ginny Wealsey, right down to the last Weasley freckle.
"So many strong women in your life, Mr. Malfoy," said Diane, in Ginny's sharp, self-assured voice.
And then the short, red hair lengthened to her waist, and darkened to a deep onyx black. The small, heart shaped face and pale, cream skin transformed. The end result was a very exotic looking, dark-haired girl, with slanted hazel eyes and a mouth that was wide, and generous.
Blaise Zabini, his business partner.
"This one is a worthy match for you, I think," Diane-Blaise said, with Blaise's throaty voice. "Beauty and business acumen. Much like a Veela."
"You're a metamorphmagus," Draco said, in wonderment.
"It is a handy skill to acquire when one is in a trade such as mine. I'm sure you can see the benefits." Diane transformed as she spoke, not losing eye contact with a very intrigued Draco.
"Erk!" Draco said, rather inelegantly, when Lavender Brown appeared before him and blew him a kiss.
"Perhaps not, then," Diane chuckled. She shook out Lavender's blonde hair, and Draco watched as the curls straightened, shortened and then darkened once again. There was less than a hair's breathe of space between Diane and Draco on the bed, and this space was diminished further when Diane morphed into a form that was larger than Lavender.
It was most disconcerting to find Harry Potter's green eyes staring at Draco with what basically amounted to unabashed lust. Not that it was a bad look for Potter, Draco decided. With Potter's pretty eyes and annoying, 'take-me-home-and-feed-me' appeal, the man really ought to have got more skirt. Draco surmised his dismal lick with the ladies was probably due to his terrible fashion sense.
"Um, no," Draco said, thinking that this wasn't the first or last time someone would speculate about Harry and him. "Mind you, he's drunk enough right now not to notice if I did make a pass at him."
"Worth a try," Diane shrugged. "But your thoughts remain with this one, no?" she asked, with a mischievous smile. Harry's lanky frame shrunk, his dark hair lightened, lengthened and erupted into a cascade of thick, teak-coloured curls. The green eyes were now a coffee-coloured shade of brown.
Draco felt his stomach give a little jolt of excitement as he stared at Hermione.
The glamour was faultless, right down to the five freckles across Hermione's nose. But there was knowledge in those brown eyes that would have looked entirely foreign on the real Hermione's face.
Draco suspected it was the type of knowledge that had more to do with knowing the best position to spank someone, or how much hot wax a man could have sprinkled over his genitalia before he begged for mercy.
"Love is a chemical reaction," Diane-as-Hermione declared. "Air and water, fire and Ice. All part of the same primordial base. But add a little heat, a little context and you have a reaction, an unstable reaction in some cases. I believe Jung put it best. The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances. If there is any reaction-"
"Both are transformed," Draco finished for her.
She sighed. "Love fades, Mr. Malfoy. Affection and companionship remains, if you are lucky. Interest, however, is what sustains us. Men pay me a pretty penny for arousing their interest. And I need not always resort to certain of my skills to do so," she said, leaning forward to brush a feather light kiss on Draco's jaw.
It was an affectionate kiss, containing none of the blatant seduction of earlier attempts. "I can debate Muggle philosophy and perform fellatio with equal talent."
"At the same time?" Draco asked, genuinely curious.
"Woman are excellent at multitasking," she responded, taking a healthy swallow of her drink, which was resting on a bedside table. Hermione didn't usually partake in hard liquor, and it was somewhat amusing to see 'her' tip back the contents of the tumbler without pausing for breath.
"You have six minutes left, Mr. Malfoy. I am not a miracle worker, but I can do much in six minutes."
Draco didn't doubt she could. "Fine," he said. He had the undivided attention of the world's most famous courtesan for six minutes. It would have been wasteful not to put her to good use.
"Something from the Muggle world…Dostoevsky," he decided, with a nod. "I hear morbid psychology is another passion of yours."
Draco wondered if he was the first person to turn Diane de Poitiers down. Twice, even. She looked stunned for a moment, but her face, Hermione's face, soon transformed with a look of genuine pleasure.
With a squeal of excitement, she clapped her hands together, tightened the belt of her gauzy robe and launched into an enthusiastic, six-minute critique of 'Crime and Punishment'.
It was quite possible, Draco discovered, to get just the slightest bit turned on by Dostoevsky. Most especially when it was recited by a scantily clad, 'Hermione Granger'.
"Bill! I want to race!"
"You're not racing Harry."
"Why not? Where's Malfoy? He promised me a race..."
"Don't fib, Harry. Malfoy did not promise you a race. Sit down and finish that nice crossword we found for you. That's a lad."
"What's a five letter word for 'form of punishment usually carried out by one's parents'?"
"Hmm. What about 'spank'?"
"It fits! Thanks Ron. You're a really good friend..."
"You're welcome Harry."
"I want to race. Charlie, will you race with me?"
"For the last time, Harry, no!"
"That's right Harry," Neville crooned. "Give the pretty lady her shoe back. I know, I'm sorry you've got nothing else to do, Harry. Where's your crossword? Oh? You've finished it already? Yes, I agree. Ron is a very good friend for helping you."
Lee groaned. "Harry? Harry, come back here! Dean would you just grab him...ah, thanks, mate."
"I told you to watch him!" Fred scolded George. "Now what am I going to tell Ron?"
"Over by the bar," Lupin said, pointing to where Harry was gently stroking and whispering to the seat of a barstool.
The barmaid nodded. "He was just here. Asked where the nearest shoe shop was. I told him if he wanted to buy a pair so badly, he'd have to wait until the shops opened again on Monday."
The waitress was quite vexed. "Starkers he is! He wanted to have my shoes, but I told him he wasn't allowed. They're part of my costume and they have to go back at the end of the night. It's true what they say in the papers about him, isn't it Mr Weasley?"
It was a conspicuously subdued group that greeted Draco when he exited Diane's room and came down the stairs. "What do you mean you've lost him?" Draco demanded, surveying the guilty faces before him. "How did you manage that?"
"Believe me, it wasn't that difficulty," said Ron, who was looking extremely harried. "But we can't let him wander off on his own, what with bloody Death Eaters on the attack..."
"Death Eaters?" Fred demanded, all trace of humour vanishing from his face. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Draco stared daggers at Ron. "Er, it was a minor incident. Gregory Goyle attempted an ambush while I was taking a leak outside. Thankfully, Malfoy here saved the day. Moody and the RAL are patrolling outside."
Neville did not look impressed. "I can't believe you and were attacked tonight and you didn't tell us!"
Ron opened his mouth to retort but was interrupted by Draco. "Everyone will be briefed in due course," he assured. "Our main concern right now is Potter."
"You mentioned the RAL are here. If he's his spewing his guts out in a gutter somewhere, chances are that he's being minded," Fred opinioned.
"Still not a good thing, bloody attacks three months after the war's supposed to be over," said Seamus, frowning. "Hermione and the girls are on their own at the Burrow..."
George shook his head. "I wouldn't worry about them, mate. Nothing will get through the Burrow. Mum, Dad and the prettier half of Dumbledore's Army are over there."
"You mean the scarier half," Fred grinned.
George nodded. "Yes, that's what I meant. Scarier half."
Ron looked determined. We still have to find him. He's the ring bearer for tomorrow. There's also the small matter of Ginny doing me bodily harm if anything happens to him."
"We'll find him," Draco assured. "Ron, you and Finnegan take the back end of the pub. Longbottom, check the lavatories. Fred and George, it's unlikely that he's upstairs, but have a look anyway. I'll check outside."
Draco retrieved his cloak from the back of his chair, and was in the process of putting it on when he saw the large, silver stain on the front of the garment.
George cleared his throat. "Ah yes, sorry about that, Malfoy. Bit of spillage earlier...."
"What is it?" Draco snapped.
"Prototype. Lumin Essence Potion," Fred informed, sounding immensely proud.
Actually, the twins had tested it on more than just Draco's cloak, but given that Draco was looking particularly murderous, none of the others were willing to tell him that he was glowing rather violently.
Unknown to the revellers, the bachelor was about to perpetrate a daring escape from his own party. Draco would not be able to do so in good conscience however, if Harry was passed out in a ditch somewhere, slowly freezing to death. His mood was thus less than pleasant, as he made his way through the crowd, fending off slaps on the back and numerous attempts at slurred conversation.
His broom had been checked in at the pub's cloakroom upon his arrival. And it was there that Draco witnessed what was undisputedly the spectacle of the evening.
Severus Snape: Potions Master, former Death Eater, former double agent for the Order, Head of Slytherin House, Bat of the Dungeons and the man who had been known to terrify first year students into hysterics, was holding a bottle of the same pink concoction Harry had been drinking, and was singing. "Sweet Polly she lived by the ocean..." "Sweet Polly she was a good lass..." "Been doing that for an hour now," said the cranky looking witch who operated the cloakroom. She handed Draco his Scorpion Sting. "Should have said my name was Brunhilde." There was foul play afoot at the tavern tonight, and it carried the reek of fragrant, pink, bubbles.
"With hair that was spun gold and copper..."
"And lo! What a mighty fine-"
"Lost something, Mr. Malfoy?" interrupted a familiar voice. Jason Stephenson materialised from the crowd, sparing an amused glance at Snape, before joining Draco at the pub entrance.
"Stephenson. I didn't know you were here."
Jason grinned. "Yeah, that's the general idea. I can't be doing too badly if you haven't noticed me yet. If you're looking for Potter, he just walked out the front door. I think the man needed a bit of breather, if you catch my drift. My brother Alex is watching him."
Relieved, Draco clapped a hand over Jason's shoulder. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it." Jason replied, and then, almost as an afterthought, said, "Are you having a good time?"
Draco's response surprised even him. "Yes, actually. I suppose I am having a good time."
Jason was now looking at Draco's broom, a look of amused understanding his aqua eyes. "Just make sure you're back before closing. I can cover for you until then."
Fortunately, it took Draco less than a minute to locate Harry. All he had to do was to follow the sound of retching.
He found Harry slumped over at the fountain in the middle of Hogsmeade Square. Harry's previously immaculate suit was crinkled and stained with spilt drink, while his hair looked as mottled and unkempt as Hermione's beloved Crookshanks.
The large form of Alex Stephenson loomed in the background, watching. Draco nodded at the man, who saluted in return and took a few steps back to give Harry and Draco some privacy.
"Potter? Oh, for Merlin's sake. Everyone's been looking for you."
"I'm fine. Feeling a mite queasy, but fine…otherwise." Harry gave Draco a thumbs-up gesture, which unfortunately upset his tentative hold over balance.
He would have toppled backwards into the fountain, if Draco didn't grab hold of the back of his collar to steady him.
"You look like shit."
"Yes, well we can't all be glamorous twenty-four-seven," Harry said, with a great deal of belligerence. He squinted up at Draco with watery, bloodshot eyes. Several more seconds were presumably spent attempting to focus his vision from behind his glasses. "Never would've guessed that 'Mione would like the pretty ones. I always thought she'd end up with a right ugly git. All the best ones go with the ugly gits," Harry declared, in the age-old wisdom of the severely sloshed.
Draco thought of Ginny and Justin Stephenson. For Harry's sake, he hoped Harry wasn't about to be proved wrong.
"I'm a definite improvement over Krum, at any rate," Draco said, taking a seat beside Harry at the edge of the fountain. He took care not to sit too close, just in case Harry wasn't quite done with emptying his stomach. "Or Lockhart, for that matter."
Harry cackled. "How joo know about that?"
"Dueling Club, second year. She was looking at him much the same way Crabbe used to look at treacle pudding."
"Spanking friend, Hermione," Harry announced, loudly enough for half of Hogsmeade Village to hear, "despite her terrible taste in men."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "If you're going to threaten me with violence in the event of my mistreating her, you can save your breath. Wealsey already covered that topic three weeks ago."
"That's fair enough," Harry said. Or at least that was what Draco thought he said. It might have been 'furry muff', but that was just rude and nonsensical. "Only I wasn't going to threaten you with violence," continued Harry. "I'm not the completely self-obsessed prat everyone thinks I am. I see things, Malfoy. Things. Some things even Hermione might miss. Nobody will look after her better than you."
Draco stared at the Boy Who Lived. "And how did you come by that conclusion, Potter?"
"Ever noticed the way a poor kid's eyes light up when he's offered something expensive, something usually out of reach, like gold...like the best racing broom money can buy?"
Draco nodded, although really, he wouldn't have had a clue. Most of his classmates in Slytherin had been pleasantly well off. Well, all except for the strange, mousy-faced, sixth year exchange student from Australia...what was his name again? Rooty Billings?
He had shown up in their common room one afternoon, wearing a pair of tatty, patched, great big, furry boots. Nobody in Slytherin had attempted to make conversation with the unfortunate boy after the incident.
"You look at her that way," said Harry. "Believe me. I know what it's like to go without special things. But take care that you don't spend all your time marvelling at what you have and how you got it, when you should be making the best of it."
"Potter, are we comparing my fiancée to a prized broom?"
Harry pondered this. If he had a beard, he might have stroked it. "Yuh. Guess so."
"No wonder Ginny left," said Draco, rather unkindly.
Harry groaned. "I didn't say I didn't have my own problems. And I'll have you know that I've planned myself a hatch to get her back."
Draco heard Alex Stephenson's muffled snort of laughter. "It is a good hatch, then?" Draco asked, hiding his smile behind his hand.
"The best," Harry said, before covering his mouth and doubling over.
From the corner of his eyes, Draco saw the Alex move to assist, but Draco shook his head and waved him away.
"Nasty pink bubbles," Harry grumbled, in between hiccups.
"Yes, we now know to stay clear of drinks with pink bubbles..." Draco concurred, the image of a singing Snape still fresh in his mind.
He dug into his pockets, pulling out a small, black velvet pouch, and then a white handkerchief. He wet the handkerchief in the fountain, and handed it to Harry.
"Here, wipe your face."
"Thanks." Harry sloshed his face in silence for a minute. "What's that?" he asked, looking at the pouch Draco was putting back into his pocket.
Draco looked hesitant for a moment. "It's something I've been meaning to give Hermione," he said, stiffly. "For her to wear tomorrow."
"I gave her something," Harry said, "A bracelet. She thinks it's pretty, silly girl. But it's more than that. I'm also giving her the six Larousse charms that I made to go with the bracelet. As a wedding whatchamacallit, present."
Draco's eyes widened. "Potter, that would have cost you a bloody fortune."
Larousse Charms were priced in the thousands of Galleons. Only a few were made each year. Each Charm was a Ministry authorized portkey, which could be activated by the wearer in times of dire emergency.
Harry was scowling at him now. "I've got money. Just because I don't nance around in fancy clothes doesn't mean I'm a pauper."
"I do not nance," Draco scoffed. "I'm not sure that's even a word."
Harry held out a finger. "Oh, you nance, alright. Look it up. It's right there in the dictionary between 'smug' and 'git'. Right next to your picture."
Draco didn't think this comment deserved a response, so he waited until Harry had quit sniggering at his own words. "Which locations did you key into the charms?"
It took a while for Harry to reply. He held up three fingers and attempted to count on them. "Five places. The Burrow, Grimmauld Place, Snape Hall and the Granger's residence. I was saving the last charm for whenever you sign the papers for that new place you're thinking of buying."
"How the hell do you know about that?"
Harry smiled, "You're not the only one with hired eyes, Malfoy."
The sudden sound of muted laughter coming from the direction of the pub belatedly reminded Draco that he hadn't come to find Harry for a chat, as amusing as it was proving to be. He was there to send the drunken sod back inside, whereupon he would take off to see Hermione at the Burrow. They had already wasted enough time.
Harry too, seemed to be regaining his wits. He stood up, after a fashion. "We should go back in."
Draco beckoned to Alex, who stepped forward to escort Harry.
"You're not coming?" Harry asked, only just noticing Draco's Scorpion Sting.
Draco shook his head. "I was hoping to spend a bit of quality time with my 'prized broom' before the wedding."
Harry nodded. "Don't blame you. It's going to be a bleeding circus tomorrow. Did you know that Hermione's invited sixteen of her Muggle relatives?" Harry informed, staring at Draco beadily.
"Yes, I know, Potter," Draco sighed. "It's my wedding too."
"Oh. Well off you go then," said Harry, making a 'shoo shoo' gesture, as if Draco was the one keeping them there.
Harry didn't even seem to register the presence of a stoic Alex, who had wrapped a large hand around Harry's elbow and was gradually leading the inebriated wizard back along the path to the pub.
"Twelve o'clock, Draco. Don't be late," Harry dutifully reminded. "And thanks for making me Best Man. I really appreciate that, I don't think I told you before…"
Draco was already in the air. He remained hovering as he watched the bodyguard and the boy hero make their way down the street and eventually disappear around the corner.
"You're welcome, Harry," Draco whispered, to no one in particular, before he sped upwards into the air.
Chapter End Notes:
Story continued in 'Something Old'.