“But Mummy, why can’t I go to the party?” Draco Malfoy’s pout, which just peeked over the edge of his thickly quilted bedspread, was a rather impressive one to behold. His mother sighed and smoothed away a nonexistent wrinkle on the sheet, not feeling like trying to explain herself for the umpteenth time that day.
“Because, Draco,” Narcissa said patiently, her teeth only gritted slightly. “You are seven years old, my dear, and that is much too young to be staying up with Mummy and Daddy’s boring adult friends. You wouldn’t have any fun.”
“Yes, I would,” he said petulantly, pushing his lip out even farther, if possible. This situation was entirely new for him – normally, if he pouted enough and perhaps worked up a tear or two in the very corner of his eye, his mother would bend to his whims. And now, simply because he was being denied, he knew more than anything else that he must go – there were no doubts in his mind.
He didn’t know exactly what this party was for – his father had mentioned something about a promotion at the Ministry – but he had certainly been around to witness the planning and preparing that had turned the mansion upside-down for the better part of a fortnight. Maids and other hired help had been bustling about, polishing the crystal and scrubbing the floors and making all sorts of wonderful-smelling things, including cherry tart, which happened to be Draco’s very favorite dessert. He had tried to get in the way as much as possible, hoping that he might annoy someone so much that they would invite him to the party just to shut him up, but this brilliant plan had come to no fruition. And he had tried so hard, too.
The long, ebony banister that bordered the mansion’s main staircase had never been polished so perfectly. Draco kept looking at his reflection in it, popping his head back and forth and becoming more and more delighted with the mirror-like shine. His mother and father should have parties every weekend, he decided, sticking his tongue out at the slightly distorted reflection of himself in the end post.
“Excuse me, Master Malfoy,” said a voice behind him, and a very tired-looking maid sidled over, clutching a scrubbing brush and a bucket of polish. Draco stepped back pleasantly, as he had been waiting for just such an appearance.
“Are you going to the party?” he asked brightly, now sitting down on the nearest step and watching as the maid started working on polishing the staircase railings. She blew a strand of coppery hair out of her face and gave him a slightly exasperated look.
“Yes, I got sucked into helping serve the champagne,” she said a bit grumpily, temporarily forgetting she was talking to a small boy, and the son of her employers, at that.
Draco put on his most charming smile, tapping his toes in their shiny leather shoes on the flagstones. “I could help you,” he said slyly. Of course, should she say yes, he had no intention of actually sticking around and helping, but she needn’t know that.
The maid was apparently a bit smarter than she looked, however, for she just shook her head, not looking up at him. “Sorry, tyke,” she said with a small grin, plunging the scrub brush back into the polish. “I don’t think you’ll be much help.”
Draco scowled, and, standing up, wrapped his arms about the banister, hanging like an odd sort of koala bear. “Please?” he tried now, attempting to shimmy up the slick, newly-cleaned wood. The maid scowled right back.
“Get off that, please, I’ve just cleaned that.”
Draco tilted his head at the reflection he rediscovered in the wood and pretended he didn’t hear her. “When I’m old,” he said, grunting with the effort of pulling himself up the banister, “I’ll throw lots and lots of parties. And I will always invite everybody to them.”
“Great,” she grumped. “And in the meantime, I’ll thank you not to go messing about with my work.” Scowling anew, Draco slid sideways off the banister and plopped down onto the step he had recently vacated, running up the stairs without further ado on the very tips of his toes.
He must find a way into that party.
He peeped over the edge of his quilt now as Narcissa stood up from where she’d been sitting on his bed, crossing to his speckled mirror to check her appearance before descending to the ballroom. Draco was normally very proud of his mother’s looks – surely no one else had a mother quite as beautiful as he did – and tonight she looked very elegant indeed in black, lacy dress robes, her pearls at her throat. But he was too stubborn to tell her so.
“Good night, Draco,” she said pointedly, seeing that her son’s grey eyes were still watching her balefully from the little bed in the corner. Draco sighed noisily and flopped back on his pillow, staring furiously at the small cracks in the ceiling as though they were to blame for his misfortune. He waited until his mother’s heels had tapped their way authoritatively out of his room, and the door had been shut behind her with a small click.
A very wicked grin cracked the boy’s pale, pointed face as soon as he knew he was alone. Of course he wasn’t going to be cooped up here all night – what a silly woman his mother was! At this very moment, he could hear the faintest strains of an orchestra tucked away in the downstairs ballroom, warming up their instruments for the dancing. Now was the perfect opportunity to sneak in – see what was going on, say hello to a few of his parents’ friends, and perhaps, if he was very lucky, make away with a slice of cherry tart before his mother noticed he was out of bed.
He turned over onto his stomach, wiggling around in his very roomy green-and-silver striped pajamas and watching the ticking hand of the cuckoo clock across from his bed, which counted the hours and minutes using miniature snakes, and revealed a little hissing snake every hour as well. There were only minutes to go until nine o’ clock, and that was when he would make his move. Draco wiggled again, more impatiently this time, and kept his ears pricked for any sound of movement outside his bedroom door. One suspicious look from his mother, and it would all be over.
But nothing made a sound; everything in the external corridors seemed quiet and hushed, as though they too were waiting for nine o’ clock to chime. The little silver snake, ticking away and inching closer to the large numeral 12, gave another tiny shudder, and he narrowed his eyes, willing it to go faster. So it happened, that, when the snake suddenly leaped out of the little hinged door it normally hid behind, its small tongue flicking in and out as the hour chimed nine times, he was so shocked that he tumbled out of bed and rolled a few feet before coming to a stop.
He popped back up instantly, wondering if his mother had heard any sort of noise, but there were no approaching footsteps from outside his door. Nevertheless, Draco decided the most suitable maneuver for this sort of operation was an army crawl – just in case. Thankful that his pajamas slid quite easily over the stone floor, he shuffled over to the door on his stomach and inched it open just a crack. The corridor seemed to him to be like the mouth of a vast cave, wide and yawning and stretching on forever.
At the end of that corridor was the main staircase. And just down the main staircase was the ballroom. And inside the ballroom was the party. Draco smiled just a bit to himself, and his eyes slid over to the next door on the left, a few yards down the hall.
His father would be changing into his best dress robes by now, and his mother was probably touching up her lipstick before going downstairs to greet the first of her guests. He knew he had only moments to spare. Steeling every nerve in his small, wiry body, Draco poised himself on the door frame like a bird preparing to take flight, waiting for some sort of signal, although exactly what that signal was he hadn’t the foggiest.
At that moment, however, he heard Lucius give a little cough, and before he could think twice, he had bolted. The emerald carpet runner that padded the stone floor muffled his footsteps very nicely, and by the time his father had cleared whatever had seemed to be in his throat, Draco stood at the top of the broad staircase, panting slightly and feeling immensely pleased with himself.
The soft murmur of indistinguishable voices could be heard from this vantage point, as well as the various plinks and thumps coming from the orchestra and the silverware both. He clutched the spindly rails of the staircase in both hands as, inch by coveted inch, he scooted down them, half expecting one or both of his parents to catch him at every step. From the doors leading into the ballroom, flung wide in welcome, a soft and gold-colored light filtered through. His stomach clenched in glee.
The doorbell rang quite suddenly, and Draco jumped, scooting further into the shadows of the staircase. A butler in stiff, stately robes who had been hired for such a purpose admitted two people into the mansion – a suave-looking man in plain black robes and a woman in floating crimson ones, wearing some sort of fuzzy animal about her neck. The small boy wrinkled his nose at this last detail.
“I told you it was much too warm for this dreadful thing, Robert,” the woman was saying in a rather screechy voice, gesturing towards the fur about her neck.
“I didn’t make you wear it, Estelita, for Merlin’s sakes,” grumbled the man called Robert as he ran a hand through his slick, pomaded hair. Neither of the pair had acknowledged the butler until the man, removing his top hat, clicked his fingers together. The butler took the hat and, making a little bow, turned to place it atop the hat stand beside him.
While his back was turned, Draco darted out of the shadows, bare feet pattering pleasantly on the stone floors, and slipped into the ballroom behind Robert and Estelita.
He hardly even recognized the place from how it normally looked – dark, ominous in all its wood paneling, and almost small. The candles and lamps lit up every obscure corner, making the room seem three times its normal size, and it was already crowded with people – musicians, waiters, and dozens of well-dressed people, sipping bubbly drinks from crystal flutes and making polite conversation. Draco’s jaw plummeted earthward, and he felt his heart skip a beat or two in childish excitement. This was certainly better than staying in his room!
The orchestra was in the corner, the violins pulling their bows across the strings in long arcs, and Draco stopped to watch them interestedly. But before he could wander over and inquire further, he caught sight of the maid he’d spoken to earlier across the hall, moving down the table with her wand and lighting the candelabras. She knew he wasn’t supposed to be here, and she had seemed just nasty enough to turn him in for it, too.
“Excuse me,” said Draco, tapping on the knee of the first-chair violinist; he had to reach up to do so, as the orchestra was seated on a slightly elevated platform. “May I hide here?” The man blinked at him through his thick spectacles, but before he could offer a response, Draco imagined he saw the maid’s head turn in his direction. He ducked down instinctively, crawling between the music stands and the legs of the musicians, pardoning himself rather politely all the while.
And not a moment too soon – at that moment the doors to the ballroom banged open loudly, and a delicious shiver of fear ran up Draco’s small spine as he crouched between two unsuspecting cello players; they were peering intently at their sheet music and had not noticed his approach. A very familiar sound of footfalls met his young ears, and he burrowed further down, determined that his mother should not find him.
The cello player on the left, reaching down to polish his spectacles with his shirttail, suddenly became aware of the little blonde head in very close proximity to his right elbow. “And what are you doing down here, little fellow?” he asked in surprise, quickly readjusting his spectacles upon his nose as though fearing he might have been imagining Draco’s appearance.
“Shh,” Draco said, holding a finger to his lips in pantomime, and pointing in the general direction of his mother, who he could now hear asking people loudly if they had seen him. But the man did not seem to meet this need for secrecy. He stood up from his chair, clutching the neck of the cello for support, and waved his bow in the air. Draco hunched further underneath the chair.
“Excuse me, madam,” the wizened old musician boomed out in a surprisingly loud voice; the general murmur that had been a background to the affairs died down somewhat. “You haven’t misplaced a little boy, by any chance?”
“Yes, I have,” Draco heard Narcissa say in a flustered sort of voice. “He was supposed to be in bed – I left him there half an hour ago.” There was a slight pause, and Draco craned his neck to attempt to see goings-on without being spotted. Unfortunately, he glanced up just in time to see the musician’s strong hands reaching for him before they grasped him firmly under the armpits and hoisted him up.
“Hey!” he cried in a somewhat embarrassingly squeaky voice, kicking his legs in futile attempts to be released. “Put me down – she’ll see – !” The cello player was surprisingly strong, however, and Draco found himself being plunked down, barefooted and pajama-clad, in front of his mother. She wore a very stern frown.
“Erm. Hello,” he said in his most pleasant voice, toying with the inlaid flooring with his toes.
“Draco Lucius Malfoy,” his mother said in a very icy voice, her mouth set into a hard and thin line. “Would you care to explain to me why you are out of bed when I specifically told you to stay put?” From the corner of his eye, Draco saw the coppery-haired maid watching with interest, and suddenly felt a bit silly.
“I… wanted a piece of cherry tart,” he invented, in what he thought to be a rather sudden flash of inspiration – and, after all, it was only a half-lie. Narcissa sighed, but did not ask why he was seeking it amidst the orchestra, for which he was unconsciously grateful. Instead, motioning to one of the waiters, she asked for a plate and a slice of tart to be procured for her son.
“And this time, when you go up to bed,” she added frostily, as Draco happily took the plate of pudding from the formally-dressed waiter, “you’ll stay there, Draco. I mean it.”
He nodded, and impulsively wrapped his arms about Narcissa’s waist, still holding the plate. “Good night, Mummy,” he said cheerfully, and without further ado skipped from the hall, not seeing his mother watching him in bemusement the whole way. Nor did he stop to acknowledge his father, whom he met at the base of the stairs as the latter was making his way into the party, who wondered why on earth Draco was out of bed and clutching a plate of something red and sticky-sweet.
And a few minutes later, sitting in bed later with cherry juice dripping deliciously down his pointed chin, he thought the whole adventure had very much been worth it.
A/N: Wee Draco! I just want to pick him up and give him hugs -- this has been one of my very favorite chapters to write thus far, because he just seems to be so full of fun here. I always wanted to sneak into parties I didn't belong at when I was younger, but unfortunately, never got the chance. Then again, I never had anything quite so nice as cherry tart to tempt me.
Thank you guys so much for all the reads and reviews that I've received on this story thus far -- it's really an incredible reaction, and I am so appreciative of it all! You are amazing!