I know that it's been forever since I've updated and you can't even imagine how bad I feel about it ( I really love writing this fic and it drives me crazy when I don't have the time), but between work and school and family I just couldn't finish this. Not to mention that this became a monster chapter, with a life of its own and I had to actually separate it into two parts because it would've went on for at least another 5000 words... So you'll get part 2 in the next update. Italics - as in some of the earlier chapters - are memories.
For those who are still interested I'll promise once again that this fic will not be abandoned, ever. I'll finish it, no matter what.
I'm really interested in your opinions on this one, it was one really difficult piece to write. I didn't mean to offend anyone with anything in there and I hope that you'll like it.
And finally: A thousand thanks to Bianca who didn't lose her faith in me during these last few weeks I've been working on the chapter and listened to me whining about the injustice of not having time to write :D Your PMs are truly appreciated and became a huge driving force. :)
Disclaimer: go and look for it in one of the earlier chapters if you'd like...
"What the hell are you doing Blaise?"
"Just… Trying to save my left foot from Adrian."
"Well, could you stop stepping on my foot in the process?!"
"It's not like I do it on purpose. It's a bit crowded in here if you haven't noticed yet. And should I remind you that it was actually you who got us stuck in here?"
"Would you both shut up?! None of us asked for this. And just for the record, dear Blaise, if you'd stop poking my ribs with your elbow I'd stop moving and I wouldn't step on your precious left foot."
"Enough! All of you! Stop behaving like children. I swear to Merlin you're worse than Goyle and Crabbe Senior combined. We are stuck in here, yes, and it is uncomfortable, that's for sure, but if you get us discovered I'll hex you all into oblivion."
Lucius' hissed threat made the three younger Slytherins bite their tongues in an instant. Of course, they all knew the reason of their predicament, but after a quarter of an hour in the tiny walk-in closet they were a little bit on edge and eager to get out. However, Draco quelled the urge to make another snarky comment nonetheless, even if it was hard to do so. He was, after all, a trained auror, well-versed in the nuances of stakeouts and the general rules of spying, therefore he should have known better than to start bickering with his former housemates.
Annoyed at himself for his lack of self-control he took a deep breath and shifted slightly to the right to get some space between him and Blaise, leaning back against the cool wall of the closet. He had a feeling that this was going to be a long couple of hours.
His two friends had done the same, inching as far away from each other as possible and muttering quiet apologies before going completely still, the only audible noise in the small room the sounds of their breathing.
Satisfied with the results of his angry outburst Lucius turned towards the door in a crouching position, taking one glance at the scene in the other room through the keyhole and then stood swiftly, his movements registering in his son's mind in the near-complete darkness only because of the rustling of his clothes.
Draco, having nothing better to do, turned his attention to the dozens of various thoughts running through his head, trying his best to figure out why fate has seen fit to get them into such a pickle. How could their plan go so wrong?!
The five of them – Theo, Blaise, Adrian and the two Malfoys – met at the Manor a few minutes after four in the afternoon. As soon as Draco stepped into the entrance hall he stopped dead in his tracks, his eyebrows rising considerably as he took in the changed appearance of Nott. He had to admit that the guy had really gone out of his way to be the perfect bait in their scheme.
Getting over his initial shock the auror shook his head in amusement, already pitying Scarhead. The little fool had no idea what awaited him at the Weasley-Brown wedding. And in the papers on the following morning.
"He looks almost "authentic", isn't he?" Zabini had a nasty smirk on his face, most likely thinking the same things as the younger Malfoy and he got three identical nods from his partners in crime.
"I did what I could on such short notice. But be grateful that I do this for Hermione and not for any of you. This bra is so uncomfortable… I have no way to describe it. Little Miss Know-It-All is the only one for whom I'm willing to wear it for an extended amount of time without asking for a huge reward." to emphasize his words Theo lifted his hand, fidgeting with the strap on his shoulder and letting out a groan. "I swear to Merlin this is the worst piece of clothing invented by mankind. Either you tighten the strap and it cuts into your shoulder, but stays in place or you can loosen it, but then it falls off."
His grumbling was met by a series of chuckles as the men around him watched his personal battle with the offending garment.
"We all hate bras, my friend. Not exactly for the reason that you do, but believe me, it's not better from our point of view either. It took me forever to learn the one-handed trick with the clasp. Youth has its puppy troubles…" Pucey's comment sent Blaise and Draco into fits of laughter and even Lucius' shoulders shook in silent mirth.
As the still squirming Theo fiddled for a few minutes with the article of clothing the younger blonde used the time to inspect his friend's appearance more closely. The black dress he wore was tailored perfectly for the occasion, accentuating Nott's small waist while diverting the onlooker's attention from his narrow hips. He dyed his hair a deep red – Draco was sure that the shade had its own name, but he was not curious enough to ask – and curled it into loose spirals which now framed his surprisingly feminine face nicely. That last part – the womanish features – was the result of the light makeup he used and it was pretty convincing. Now they just had to wait and see if Potter was stupid enough to fall into the trap.
It was a quarter past four when they heard the quiet but distinct sound of approaching footsteps they could all associate with the resident snarky Potions Master. He strode towards them with four small flasks in his hands – every one of them labeled carefully with tiny name tags, only visible for those who knew what to look for – and a serious expression on his face. He didn't even flinch at Theo's looks, but then again, he was a spy long enough to learn to ignore such occurrences and be able to focus on his task, no matter what.
"The hair is already added to them, you just need to drink some from time to time, preferably in two hour intervals. You all know that if it's brewed correctly it can last as long as twelve hours, and I brewed it correctly, make no mistake about it, but it's better to be safe than sorry." the tone of voice Severus used clearly indicated that the dark wizard was in full "teacher mode" and that he expected them to follow his instructions. Or else… It brought a nostalgic smile to his godson's face.
"Are you sure that you don't want to accompany us?" they'd been over this at least a dozen times and the answer was always the same, but Lucius was nothing if not persistent in his quest to bring his old friend along.
"Crowded, noisy, Weasley-filled event with copious amounts of alcohol to further impair the imbeciles' mental capacity and nearly nonexistent common sense? I think not." the ex-spy sneered in disgust, obviously disturbed by the images that his mind conjured up at the mention of the impending wedding of the Weasel and his hare-brained bride.
"As you wish." even the imposing Lord of the Manor realized that this time Severus' decision was final and that there was no use in further aggravating the short-tempered man. "In that case I'll bid you a good night in advance. You'll get the detailed account of tonight's events in the morning."
"I'm looking forward to it." with a curt nod the Potions Master left his precious cargo in the capable hands of Lucius, then he turned on his heels and disappeared from sight in a matter of moments, his cloak billowing behind him as it was its wont.
"Do you know what his real reason for not coming is?" Draco addressed his question to his father as he watched the enigmatic wizard round the corner, seemingly in a haste to get away from them.
"I know what his excuses are but I only have my suspicions about his reasons. And I wouldn't dare to voice any of them." shaking his head the older Malfoy handed their respective flasks to his son, Blaise and Adrian. "Now drink and get going. The wedding has started thirty minutes ago."
Without another word he uncorked his own little canteen and took a sip, his facial muscles contracting from the terrible taste of Polyjuice. It didn't take long for the potion to take effect and within seconds a tall, burly ginger man with a bushy moustache stood in the place of the aristocrat. Turning towards one of the large mirrors in the foyer he glared at his reflection.
"Now I have one of the reasons... Well played Severus, well played. But don't think for a moment that I won't get back at you for this." he was seething, visibly repulsed by the appearance of the man that he was supposed to impersonate that evening.
"At least you have hair." the unmistakably upset voice of Adrian caused the others to glance at him immediately. He stood there gaping at the same mirror Lucius had used previously and stared at the bald head of the elderly man whose body he was forced into. "Couldn't he find someone who was at least close to me in age, if not appearance?"
Ignoring the snickering from Draco, Theo and Blaise the older Malfoy adjusted the irritating fringe that considerably obscured his view and rolled his eyes.
"We're not participating in a beauty contest. Severus chose muggles who were similar to us in height and weight to make the transition easier. Although, I have to admit that I'd have been happier if he obtained the hair of people from a higher class of society instead of some patrons of a dingy little pub."
The other three that shared the same fate agreed with him on this wholeheartedly, but regrettably there was nothing they could do about it. And because there was no use crying over spilled milk they left the rest of their complaints unsaid, silently fuming about the injustice that was done to them.
Draco stopped in his reminiscence here, noting that most likely this was the first snowflake that started the avalanche. Lifting his hand to his face he still felt the pimples – red, itchy and annoying as hell – that he was covered in. He understood why his former Head of House chose these exact persons for them to turn into, but their frustration over the matter was distracting to say the least.
The only positive thing about their altered appearances was that somehow they made the perfect cover. As it turned out, Severus, using his mysterious super spy powers – that's how the blonde called them, having no better words to describe the Potion Master's modus operandi –, managed to find a bunch of thugs and drunkards who were uncannily similar to some of the Weasley relatives and he did it without his co-conspirators' knowledge, once again proving that he was the best in his trade.
The Slytherins arrived at the Burrow just in time to stand at the end of the long line of guests, all waiting for a chance to congratulate the youngest Weasley boy and his beaming wife after the ceremony. They waited patiently, keeping their eyes on their intended target of the day: the grinning Chosen One who sat at a small table not far from the redheaded family under the gigantic tent, immersed in a deep conversation with an old lady.
Their survey, however, was interrupted pretty soon when the Weasley matriarch spotted them from her place next to her new daughter-in-law and promptly made a beeline for them. She was next to the small group in a heartbeat, her smile nearly splitting her face in two as she latched onto Lucius' shoulder with one hand while squeezing the dumbfounded man's cheek with the other one.
"Oh my… ! Is that you, Angus?" her screeching nearly made Draco shudder, but he was – barely – able to hide his reaction before the stout little woman could take notice of his revulsion. "I thought you said that you couldn't make it."
"I thought so, too. But then, it's not every day that I have a chance to see you all, is it?" with years of practice the wizard quickly adapted to the circumstances and his answer was convincing enough to appease the ignorant mother hen.
"True, true… I'm so glad you decided to show up. And I see you brought the family with you. Welcome to you all." with a self-important expression she made an attempt to smooth down her wrinkled-beyond-recognition skirt – one that Draco was fairly convinced was considered out of fashion well before his birth – and stepped forward a bit to take in the other newcomers. "Let me see you my dears. It's been so long. You've all grown up, didn't you?" her question was obviously rhetorical as she turned her attention to Draco, Blaise and Theo and extended a hand to pat each of them on the face. "My-my, you've changed so much in just a few years. Now, I know that you are Danny." the insane witch took Blaise's head between her palms and pulled him down to plant a loud kiss on his forehead. "And you have to be Clara. You've became such a beautiful young lady." she repeated the grasp-pull-kiss process with poor Theo and then redirected her searching gaze towards Draco who looked back at her – feeling like a deer caught in the headlights – with a shy smile to mask his nervousness. If she didn't have a name for him, or – Merlin forbid – didn't even know "he existed" in the "family" then they'll be in serious trouble.
Molly narrowed her eyes, pinching the young auror's chin between her fingers as she scrutinized him. After a minute or so, however, she gave up, shaking her head with a disappointed frown.
"Well, I'm sorry honey, but I don't know who you are. Are you Ethan or Marcus? I always had a difficult time telling you two apart." she gave a sheepish smile to the "boy" before her and waited for an answer expectantly.
"I'm Ethan. Marcus was unable to attend this time. He's terribly sorry and sends his regards." he let out a small sigh of relief as the brighter-than-necessary grin returned to the Weasley matriarch's face in a split second.
"Of course. I should have known that you are Ethan. Now I remember that these infernal pimples you have were just starting to show the last time we met. Poor boy…" she sounded genuinely sorry for him and although Draco had no idea who that Ethan guy really was he went along and simply nodded. What he wasn't prepared for was the fast movement with which the woman produced a handkerchief – seemingly out of nowhere – and then lunged towards his face, her nails already squeezing a pimple by the time the astounded Malfoy heir realized what she was planning. Her cooing, which reminded him of his Aunt Bella and almost made him wince, was not helping either.
He hissed in pain, jerking his head to the side and quickly taking a step backwards to avoid the next attack. That, however, didn't faze the ginger menace as she went for pimple number two, completely oblivious to the death glare directed at her and the puzzled expressions on the other four's faces. She simply mumbled on, clawing at the stunned Slytherin's face as if her life depended on the number of zits she managed to eradicate, much to her victim's dismay.
In the end it was Adrian who saved the horrified Draco from the possessed witch. Pucey cleared his throat and in a deceptively old voice addressed a lifesaving question to the crazed woman.
"Molly, dear, would you mind showing the way to the loo to an old man?" he flashed a gap-toothed smile to the startled redhead who snapped out of her pimple-induced trance almost immediately and gave an apologetic, almost gentle smile in return.
"I'm so sorry Uncle Cuthbert, I don't know where my manners have gone. I got a bit carried away, didn't I? I'm so happy to see you here as well. Follow me, I'll show you the way and then we'll get you seated under the tent. This heat can be quite hard on someone your age." she put an arm around the shoulders of the bald man before leading him towards the house with a last promise – or, in Draco's opinion threat – that she would return to them soon.
It was Theo who first regained his ability to speak after the odd display of affection from Molly and as soon as she was out of hearing distance he spoke in a deadpan voice.
"Did she even have manners in the first place?"
This has done the trick and the Slytherins all burst out laughing, which – although completely unlike them during social gatherings – fitted into the surreal events of the last few minutes perfectly.
"Oh man… He definitely should have come with us. This was hilarious." they all knew who Blaise was talking about and Theo agreed with him, his grin wide and his eyes twinkling with laughter, but the two Malfoys just nodded, whishing that they'd tried harder to convince Severus to accompany them.
Here Draco was once again transported back to the present, marking Molly Weasley as the second hitch that caused the downward spiral which brought them to their current predicament. The woman – true to her word – did, indeed, come back to them, constantly trying to engage them in conversation, but thankfully making no further attempts to turn the Malfoy heir's face into a bloody mess. It was fine when she approached Blaise, Adrian, Lucius or Draco, after all, they were all masters of taking control of a situation – the auror regarded the little incident earlier as a momentary lapse in his otherwise impressive problem solving skills – and they easily dodged the more personal questions the witch had asked. But when she sauntered over to Nott and Potter and started her infuriating - although pretty lame - attempt to separate them for her own stupid purpose she'd nearly destroyed any chance the snakes had at succeeding in their mission.
The blonde watched with an amused smirk on his face as Theo interacted with the Chosen One. The oblivious little brat was so enamored with Nott that he seemed to have a permanent blush on his cheeks and he stumbled over his own feet more than once in the short few minutes they had been dancing. Add to that the fact that he was unable to keep his eyes away from Theo's cleavage – never noticing that the breasts he was ogling were completely fake – and one could safely say that the Scarhead was well on his way to his eventual downfall.
But then the nosy Weasley matriarch popped up next to the pair just as they left the dance floor in favor of getting some drinks and she was visibly displeased by the amount of attention Potter gave to the "witch" by his side.
Taking a few steps towards the refreshment table Draco caught the last few words that left Molly's mouth and he was not happy with what he heard.
"…But now that you had a chance to meet each other Harry, dear, you should really go and mingle with the crowd. There are many guests who would like to meet the great Harry Potter. And I think Ginny is looking for you, too. You don't want to keep her waiting, do you?"
The ginger had a tight smile on her lips, her expression contradicting the cheerfulness of her tone. She was pissed – to say the least – that the Saviour was more interested in the "distant relative Clara" than in her precious baby girl.
It was fascinating to see the woman struggle to come up with something more convincing with which she could remove Potter from Theo's presence – and failing miserably by the looks of it – but the auror thought it better to step in and save the couple-in-the-making from the brimstone.
He was about to tap the redheaded busybody on the shoulder to get her attention when Lucius swooped in, dropping his hand on his son's shoulder for a moment to halt his movements and then he stopped next to their hostess, offering his hand to the witch with a small bow.
"I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I can't remember the last time I've heard this song and I couldn't resist. Can I have this dance?" he was smiling at the stout woman in such a way that – despite their "distant relative status" – the Weasley matriarch blushed and with a silly little giggle she placed her hand in the man's larger one, all traces of annoyance gone from her face.
"Of course. Lead the way Angus." to Draco's deepest amusement the witch left as abruptly as she came, happily chatting – mostly with herself – as she walked away with Lucius and she didn't even realize that the wizard was only replying to her incessant babbling with curt nods and short words.
Smirking to himself at his father's actions the Malfoy heir returned to his previous spot at the sidelines and resumed his surveillance of Theo and Potter, silently sipping a glass of champagne.
The rest of the party went uneventfully as the two danced and talked nearly non-stop, only stepping away from the other when necessary. And by the end of the evening the Saviour of the Wizarding World was so entranced by Nott that he didn't hesitate when he received an offer to have a private after-party with the "woman".
The pair left together in a hurry, Potter's hand possessively curled around Theo's waist and the remaining Slytherins took that as their cue to get away from the celebrating crowd and set the last part of their plan in motion.
Four identical pops on the edge of the Weasleys' property signaled the departure of the motley crew about five minutes later. They arrived at the small house they chose for the most important step of their mission – one of Blaise's many vacation houses – and one by one disillusioned themselves before tiptoeing to one of the windows. It was left open for them, just as they agreed it would be and after checking the room for any sign of life they carefully entered the house.
Lucius lifted his wand and with a silent incantation sent off a Patronus to his contact at the Prophet – one of which Draco had no prior knowledge, but was grateful for nonetheless – and they waited a bit impatiently for the photographer who would play a key role in their scheme.
In hindsight, they should have checked in with the guy sooner, preferably even before they apparated to the place because the Patronus became the last – and biggest – mistake they made.
The initial idea was that they'd make Potter look like a fool – in his own eyes and in the public's as well – by getting him to go home with Theo and then documenting his embarrassment when he discovered that the woman he was so taken with was, in fact, a man. But they weren't prepared to handle the consequences of their paparazzo going back on his word and to top it off the idiot sent a Patronus back, which nearly got them busted by Scarhead.
A silvery toad zoomed into the guest bedroom the group of wizards stood in and it conveyed the photographer's short message about his cancellation. Draco was sure that he hadn't seen his father as angry as he was in that moment in a long time. The older aristocrat was so red in the face he resembled a tomato – one more negative feature that came with the borrowed body – and he actually cursed under his breath, something that he rarely did in the presence of others.
"What the hell was he thinking? And why couldn't he send a warning a bit sooner?!" his furious, nearly growled words sent chills down the others' spines and they all kept their opinions to themselves, afraid that the intimidating man would lash out at them to blow off some steam.
From the cold glare and the stiff posture Draco could easily tell that the usually calm and collected wizard was about to blow a gasket but then they all went still, eyes widening as they heard Potter's voice just down the hall.
"But where did it come from? And to whom it was addressed if it wasn't for you? You told me you live here alone." he was coming closer to their hiding place from the sounds of it, but the snakes were rooted to their spots waiting with bated breath to hear Theo's response.
"Yes, I live here alone. But come on, it was just a Patronus. Maybe it was headed to one of my neighbours and just passed through here." the blonde auror could easily detect the unease in Nott's words and the slight trembling of his voice.
"Or maybe someone's here, breaking into your house and you don't even know it." the Chosen One came closer and closer to the last door on the left side of the hallway, the one behind which the four Slytherins were hiding and Draco snapped back into motion at last, quickly assessing their surroundings and admitting with a deep sense of regret that even with the disillusionment charms firmly in place there was no chance in hell that they'd be able to leave the house through that window before the mighty Chosen One barged into the room.
And here the blonde made the decision that ultimately sealed their fates. As quickly as possible he ushered his companions through the second door in the bedroom, thinking that he was leading them into some sort of en-suite bathroom – not a place where he'd have chosen to spend the end the night, but a sufficient hideout for the time being – and closed it behind the four of them. He didn't even hear Blaise's frantic protests and certainly didn't anticipate the slap on the back of his head when finally they were all crammed into the tiny space.
"What was that for?" his indignant scowl was barely visible in the darkness, but the annoyance was clear in his voice.
"You, my idiotic friend, just locked us into a closet." Blaise had the audacity to quietly chuckle at the three soft groans that followed his words.
To be honest this wouldn't have been a big problem in itself. As he thought about the other possibilities the Malfoy heir came to the conclusion that this was the best course of action to take. He just left Potter's unpredictable Gryffindor impulsiveness and Theo's thrice-damned skills at hiding his emotions out of the equation. He would have never imagined what happened next.
Heavy, pounding footsteps indicated that Potter arrived in the guest bedroom, followed by Theo, if the clicking of heels on the hallway's wooden floor was anything to go by. And because Nott had absolutely no idea of just how awry their plans went he didn't know that his friends were all trapped in that bloody closet. With seemingly nothing out of place – except for the absence of the four snakes who should have been in the room – he most likely assumed that his friends were outside, trying to avoid a meeting with Potter and therefore he kept up the act as if nothing had happened.
"See? No one's here. It's just the two of us. And if I remember correctly we were in the middle of something, so…" the four hiding wizards breathed a collective sigh of relief as they heard Scarhead's nervous chuckle at the seductive tone Theo used.
"You're right. It's just… I tend to be a little bit paranoid sometimes. It's something that I can't get rid of since the war."
"I understand it, don't worry. Now come on, I think I promised you a glass of wine." they heard as Nott moved towards the door but he stopped after a few steps and gasped.
Instinctively knowing that this could mean nothing good for them Lucius took the spot before the keyhole, lowering himself into a crouching position to see what was happening outside and took a small peek. From the swiftness with which he turned away Draco instantly sensed what was going on and pinched the bridge of his nose, waiting for the confirmation of his suspicions.
The next thing they heard was a low moan from Potter and the rustling of clothes. His assumptions proven correct, Draco's eyes widened to the size of saucers and he poked his father, only to be shushed by a hand on his mouth.
"Not a word." the older aristocrat whispered, his concentration obviously on the unfolding events in the bedroom even if he didn't particularly like what he saw, his brows furrowed as he weighted their options carefully.
"Slow down a bit, would you?" Theo's shaky voice was a good indicator that he, as opposed to Lucius, was not so sure about what he should do.
A moment later he let out a high-pitched squeal and the blonde auror in the closet was ready to break down the damn door to help his friend out. However, he was stopped once again by his father's hand which gripped his wrist quite strongly.
"Just wait." it was a clear order and at first Draco was outraged by the idea of staying in their safe little haven when their friend out there was obviously in distress. What convinced him to stay put was the strange glint in his father's eyes, barely visible in the semi-darkness, but still comforting. He was amused and maybe even having fun and although the younger Malfoy didn't have the faintest inkling about what prompted such a response from the man he regarded as his role model all his life he was placated by it nonetheless.
Then they heard some shuffling outside followed by another gasp from Nott and then a deep chuckle from the Chosen One.
"You've been so sure of yourself all evening and now you're shy?" he was smirking, the Malfoy heir could hear the smugness in his voice and he didn't like it one bit. As Severus often pointed it out throughout their school years the Scarhead was an arrogant bastard.
"It's just not my style to bring someone home after a party and I think the liquid courage is starting to wear off." from the quick answer it looked like Theo had finally regained his bearings and his acting skills after the confusion that the Patronus and Potter's unexpected attempt to take charge had caused.
"I think it's cute. But you have nothing to worry about, you're in good hands." with a disgusted grimace on his face Draco did his best to suppress the wave of nausea that suddenly hit him. He heard stories of how awkward the Saviour was around women, but this false confidence was worse than what he expected.
"Oh, really?" the fake innocence from Theo – most likely accompanied by some actions that the auror was not keen on knowing about – had the Gryffindor growling and the next thing the four eavesdropping wizards heard was a grunt from the Hero of the Wizarding world and an outright scream from Nott before the unmistakable sound of the bed's springs creaking hit their ears.
The giggling let them know that Theo was still fine, but to be honest – and Draco had no reason to be dishonest with himself – the implications of what this could mean made them very, very uncomfortable.
"Oh no, you don't… Come here." the younger Malfoy listened to his friend carefully, noting something strange in his speech, something that was not there until then – or was hidden really well – and analyzed the problem for the next minute, this time uninterrupted by the pair currently doing Merlin knows what on the bed (he had no desire to ever find out what they occupied themselves with). He nearly gasped when the realization hit him with the strength of a galloping hippogriff.
"Father. Am I correct in assuming that Theo is actually…" his whispered sentence was cut off – again – by that hand on his mouth and he seriously considered biting it in a childish manner to express his annoyance. His other idea was to stick his tongue out and wait for Lucius' reaction when he felt the saliva on his palm. Alas, he did neither because his self-preservation kicked in, reminding him that he preferred living with a strict father to dying at said father's hands in a painful manner.
"He is. And I don't think he would appreciate it if you brought this to the attention of those who didn't catch on by themselves." from his grumbling Draco could discern that he was more amused by this development than anything else.
With a small nod he conceded and was relieved when his father let go of his mouth. As an afterthought he carefully drew his wand and with a complicated series of movements threw up a barrier to muffle the sounds from the room next to them and then smirked at the confused groans from Blaise and Adrian.
"Why did you do that?" the normally quite perceptive Zabini sounded so baffled that Draco couldn't help the snicker that escaped him.
"Believe me, you'll thank me for it later." and just like that he fell silent, already thinking about the amount of teasing he'd have to put Theo through for this.
There it was, the whole evening replayed before his mind's eye and after inspecting every glitch the blonde was convinced that one of them had been dosed with some kind of anti-Felix Felicis. To have so much difficulty while trying to accomplish one small goal was unnatural. Or maybe his theory about Potter being luckier than anybody else was, indeed, correct – everything that he saw or heard over the last years in connection with the idiot pointed to that – and in that case it was the Scarhead's fault that the Slytherins failed miserably in their quest.
He was jolted out of his thoughts by a sharp elbow which connected with his ribs hard enough to make him groan in pain.
"What the hell, Blaise?!" he hissed, kicking his friend lightly to make him stop his fidgeting which was getting worse by the minute.
"Sorry man. We've been in here forever and I had at least four glasses of champagne in the last hour of the party. Do the math…" his voice was unsteady and his struggling was easily detectable even if Draco couldn't see his face as he stood in the darkest corner of the small closet.
The loud exhale from Lucius was a good indicator that the older aristocrat did not appreciate the chatter but to his credit he didn't comment on it. Instead they all left Zabini to suffer quietly, a bit more tolerant towards his squirming.
That is, until they heard a loud, surprised shout from the bedroom Potter and Theo occupied for the last at least half an hour and forgotten all about Blaise's little problem. Their attention was directed to the sounds coming from outside and the blonde auror was quick to disable the barrier that would have muted them. They managed to catch the second shocked noise that was a mix between a groan, a squeal, a gasp and a very unmanly scream.
"You…" the Malfoy heir smirked at Potter's inability to express himself like a normal, civilized person.
"Me?" Theo's tone suddenly changed from the seductive one he used throughout the evening to a mocking inquiry and the four wizards stuffed into the tiny closet were all waiting with barely concealed anticipation to hear the endgame.
"You're a… I can't believe this. I…" he was sputtering like an idiot and Draco had to bite his bottom lip to keep the laughter at bay.
"Very eloquent, Mr. Potter." Theo chuckled and there was a big crash as, judging by the string of obscenities, the Scarhead tripped in his haste to get away from the impostor and brought a piece of furniture down with him.
"But… if you're not Clara then… " in the closet younger Malfoy rolled his eyes at the belated realization of Precious Potter.
"Ten points to Gryffindor, Captain Obvious." Nott was enjoying the situation despite the little secret he kept and he'd have had a field day with the teasing of the imbecile if he got the chance.
But Lucius chose this moment to reveal their presence – getting confused looks from his accomplices – and made a big entrance, the door slamming into the wall and making the Saviour jump.
"And if you know what's good for you you'll keep your mouth shut." he had his wand in his hand and his son just watched with a raised eyebrow as he marched out of the closet, cornering the disoriented Gryffindor. "As you've most likely guessed by now we are not who Molly Weasley thought us to be. And she doesn't need to learn about it, it was not our intention to hurt her or her family."
He leaned down gracefully – a movement so out of place in that body that it made Draco snicker –, straightened the chair which laid on the floor after Potter's botched escape attempt and sat down, looking every bit the imposing aristocrat that he normally was, undisturbed by the various levels of surprise that all of the others had on their faces.
"What happened here, Mr. Potter, is your own fault. Once again you were fooled by appearances, uncaring about the consequences for you and for those around you. And as you've done many times in the past you'd expected that fleeing the scene now would solve your problem as it did when you were a schoolboy." his words hit their mark and the Scarhead let out an indignant huff, squaring his shoulders, the turning of the cogs in his head made visible by the look on his face.
"I don't know who you are, yet, but I'll find out and then you'll learn what real consequences are. How dare you do this?! You've posed as the relatives of the Weasley family, you've deceived me and you've humiliated me. You think you'll get away with that? I'll have your asses over this. No matter who you are I'll press charges against all of you first thing in the morning." he looked like a hysterical kindergartener and with his last sentence earned himself a round of hearty laughter from his audience.
Thinking that it would be pretty amazing to finally put the bastard in his place Draco stepped out of the closet, plopped down on the bed and gave the guy a smirk. He barely paid attention to Blaise who – with a hilarious, goofy grin on his face – tiptoed out of their former hiding place and disappeared down the hall, most likely in a blissfully happy state over the fact that he could finally use the bathroom.
"I'll have to correct you, dear Potter. Just so you don't make an even bigger fool of yourself by sauntering into the ministry on Sunday morning and trying to press charges without a single crime committed." he shifted his weight slightly and rhythmically tapped his chin with his right forefinger while making a show of thinking about the subject. "No, we really didn't do anything that's against the law. We didn't cause any trouble at the wedding, we didn't harm anyone or anything – other than your pride – and we didn't force you to come here, moreover, we didn't make you stay. You've done everything you did by choice and you have nothing to blame us for."
"Well, I can say that you kidnapped me. Who do you think the public will believe? Their Saviour or a bunch of lying, sneaky criminals?!" he was so angry that the pulsating vein on his forehead threatened to pop any minute, but somehow the blonde auror reclining on the bed didn't feel very sympathetic towards the git.
"And tell me, Mr. Potter, what will the public think when they see the pictures of you with him" Lucius gestured towards Theo without taking his eyes off of the now squirming Chosen One. " and they get a detailed report from a highly skilled journalist – for example Ms. Skeeter, I think you might have met her – which says that although you were deeply regretful in the morning you did not, in any way, object to this little rendezvous while it lasted?" the older Slytherin's voice was laced with so much malice that Potter's eyes went wide and he shuddered, his shoulders slumped.
"What do you want? What did I do to you anyway?!" his words were still defiant, but there was no force behind them.
"That's really simple. You, you irritating little moron, will stay the hell away from Hermione in the future if you can't behave yourself." it seemed that Pucey had finally deemed it safe to join the conversation without ruining the Malfoys' game with the brat and he went straight for the kill. "You've done enough damage to her to last a lifetime and just when she starts to get over it you add insult to injury and break her heart again. You have no idea what a decent friend should be like and until you learn it you will not talk to her."
His "request" was followed by three identical nods and the Slytherins pinned the lone Gryffindor with such glares that he couldn't utter a response, his Adam's apple bobbing rapidly.
"Did you understand what I just said?"
Adrian seemed satisfied with the shaky inclination of Potter's head and took a seat next to Draco. He was content to let the others have their fun with the frightened sod from then on and just lean back to enjoy the show.
The blonde auror next to him, however, was just getting started and exchanging glances with his father he took the lead.
"I have to mention that, in no way, will you ever bring this up to anyone. Not to your friends, not to your coworkers, not to your auror buddies and certainly not to Hermione. She has nothing to do with this… lesson … of yours and if you decide to accuse her of anything you will regret it. Sorely regret it. We will find you again, in the place where you decide to hide after the newspapers write about your little encounter with our friend, and make you pay." he saw the Chosen One's posture change, the tilting of his head and the sudden intake of breath assuring the Malfoy heir that the dimwit finally connected the dots.
But the anger he was waiting for, the shouting, the resentful words and the outraged objections never came. Instead the guy's green eyes slowly filled with tears and the prince of Slytherin frowned. This was not the reaction he was anticipating.
"I really screwed this up, didn't I?" he sounded like a lost child. All the fight had left him and the four men in the room with him watched with hints of disgust in their eyes as Potter broke down in front of them. "You have to know, Malfoy, I really just wanted what I thought was best for her. To finally make her see that she still has the friends she had before the war, no matter what she had to do during that year. But if you, of all people, came after me then… I did mess it up, after all."
Draco listened intently, not even surprised that the guy managed to guess his identity and called him by his name. It was only a matter of time and he was happier that the Chosen Idiot found out on his own. It would have only irritated him if he had to spell it out to the imbecile later.
"Once again, ten points to Gryffindor. Tell me, how hard was it to admit that you did something wrong? From what I heard it really isn't a strong suit of yours to take responsibility, except when the blame actually lies with someone else." the stories Hermione told him about Scarhead's obsession with his godfather's death came to the Malfoy heir's mind and he smirked.
"You don't have to sound so smug. I really didn't mean to hurt her. But tell me, what do you have to give her that we don't? For Merlin's sake, we practically grew up together and still, she prefers your company over ours. It's like the Hermione I've known and loved for years had disappeared. I just wanted a chance to get a piece of her back. We all did. The others were just too stubborn to go to her." from his tone it was easy to discern that he was truly baffled by the "Why?".
"Listen to me you dumb little bastard. You cannot get the Hermione you "loved" back." the word "loved" came out like a curse, the blonde's lips curling into a sneer. "That Hermione you grew up with does not exist anymore. She's a completely different person and she doesn't need you to remind her of the things she had to give up or change. In that year, during the war you let her slip away, left her alone and she had to fend for herself, she had to carry the weight of your stupidity on her shoulders in addition to the already heavy burdens she was carrying. You, in a way, killed the girl you all "loved" with your Gryffindor ignorance. And you can't ask the woman she became, after going through hell, to go back to who she was before she lost everything. This is not how friendship works."
The auror walked towards his childhood rival and finished his speech standing only a few feet from him, his – for the time being – blue eyes boring into green ones.
"I'm not a nice person Potter. You've never known the real me and I'd like to think that I've changed for the better, too, but even now I'm not afraid to say that I'll hunt you down and kill you if you ever cause my best friend any distress again. You can try to make peace with her, you can even make an attempt to regain her friendship, but one wrong word and you'll get a much worse treatment than this time. She looks tough, and she is tough when it comes to her job or helping others, but she's fragile when it comes to her personal life and you are part of the reason for that. I will not stand by idly and watch you trample all over her again, so here's the deal: you can approach her, starting with copious amounts of groveling at her feet for her forgiveness, and you can get to know the new her, but do not try to bring your Gryffindor friends into this. They'll have to make amends themselves, you just concentrate on being the friend you should have been to Hermione all those years ago."
His instructions were simple and from the manner in which Potter lowered his head, wiping tears from his eyes with the back of his hand, it was clear that he understood Draco's conditions.
"Do I have a chance? I mean… Will she ever be able to forgive me? I really do miss her. Even if I've been the one to push her away with my stupidity." he was mumbling, his words barely comprehensible, but the young aristocrat heard them and furrowed his brows while he searched for the right answer.
"She will be suspicious. And she will be wary of you, especially because she won't know about this small chat between us. But if you give her time and don't pressure her she'll forgive you, eventually. Just don't give up. Don't be angry when she doesn't tell you all her secrets right away, don't be surprised that she'll come to me for advice and help and don't judge her because of the company she keeps." here he gave the Gryffindor a pointed glare and continued only when he saw the rueful half-smile on Potter's face. "For some reason she gave us, Slytherins, a chance and she found a family in this motley crew she loves dearly. And no matter how skeptical you are, we do love her, in our own ways, like a best friend, a big sister, an annoyingly adorable niece and so on. We all have our own opinion of her, but we consider her family. And an honorary Slytherin. So do not attack her relationship with any of us if you know what's good for you. That we will not tolerate it and will hex your sorry ass is just a mere inconvenience compared to the fury she will unleash on you."
"Okay, okay, I get it. No questions, no jealousy, no comments on you."
"Basically." Blaise returned to the bedroom with a grin on his face and gave a stronger than necessary pat on the back to the Boy Who Lived. "See, he's trainable after all…"
Potter gave him a scowl and Lucius shook his head disapprovingly, but the other three were unable to conceal their light chuckles.
"Can I go now? I have a lot to think about and it's getting pretty late." now that the Saviour had mentioned it the younger Malfoy took notice of the time, too, glancing at the small clock on the night table. But he had one more message to convey.
"In a minute. But first, you'll make a wand oath that you will not abandon her again if you decide that your progress is too slow. And that you'll deal with the press. Believe me, it is a small price to pay, but she would be grateful if she didn't have to fight off nosy reporters and curious acquaintances of yours every time you two are seen in each other's company." lifting his wand the blonde gave a look to the Gryffindor which was nothing short of a challenge and the Boy Wonder had risen to it immediately, tapping his own holly wand to the hawthorn extended towards him.
Taking an oath – carefully worded by Lucius to ensure that Potter won't be able to go back on his promise later – didn't take more than two minutes and with a last nod of gratitude the Chosen One turned to leave. Looking back over his shoulder he made eye contact with the younger Malfoy and with a small smile gracing his lips managed a shaky "Thank you." before he took off through the hall and into the night.
The remaining five men in the house didn't break the silence until they heard the telltale popping sound of apparation from outside.
"Does anyone have any idea what happened?" Theo voiced the question that had been bugging him for the entirety of the others' conversation with Potter, being the only one who missed out on "the closet experience".
"It would be hard to explain. Short story is: the photographer cancelled, we didn't have time to hide elsewhere and the last part was pure improvisation which can turn out to be a complete success and just what Hermione needs right now or the dumbest thing we did in a long time. But it will be an interesting development, that's for sure." Draco was relieved when Nott didn't ask for details, his head already throbbing with the beginnings of a vicious headache.
"Either way, we did what we could. We taught a lesson to that little git that he won't forget anytime soon and our Know-It-All will surely not mind if Potter finally manages to pull his head out of his arse and they reconcile."
"Let's just hope that this doesn't backfire on us." the foreboding words from Lucius made the four younger Slytherins roll their eyes.
"Always the optimist, father." the blonde auror pursed his lips, the worst case scenario already playing before his mind's eye as he turned to leave the room. He didn't want to think about how badly this could end if something went awry again, but he couldn't stop the images popping up in his head. He let out a small sigh, massaging his eyes softly to alleviate the pain that the exhaustion and the headache caused and decided then and there that he was in serious need of a glass or two of firewhiskey.
"Would any of you care for a drink?" he didn't want to be left alone with his thoughts just yet and – most likely sensing his son's unease – Lucius was fast to back him up.
"I think I have the perfect bottle of Ogden's Finest for this occasion." he stood from the chair he occupied in the last half an hour and with a wave of his hand closed the window, preparing to leave for the Manor.
The five of them made their way to the fireplace in relative silence, each lost in their own musings as they stepped through the green flames one after the other, their mission deemed a success, if not a conventional one.
PS.: I know, there are many questions left unanswered, you'll get the info in later chapters. Just to give you a hint: Theo and his strange behaviour, Hermione's and Severus' morning, the aftermath of the case and some important conversations will come in the next chapter. I'd like to update before the end of next week, wish me luck...
Each and every one of the mistakes that may have remained uncorrected are the results of my tiredness and the fact that I'm posting this from work so I don't have time to re-read it again. I'm sorry if I left some switched letters and such :S