Inspired by the prompt, “Snape is forced to attend the Weasleys’ Halloween fancy dress party as a bat.” This takes place the following spring.
Molly Weasley was pacing around the Burrow’s kitchen in a flap. How could Arthur have been so stupid? Hadn’t he learned his lesson six years ago with a fine they could ill afford? Evidently not, because the first thing he had bought with his savings from his new job as Head of the Muggle Liaison office was another run-down old car. He hadn’t flown this one, nor, thank Merlin, had the boys, but someone at the Ministry had got wind of the fact that it could fly, the loophole in the law had been closed, and now Arthur was up in front of the Wizengamot again. At this very moment!
Charlie Weasley, home for a fortnight’s holiday, steered his agitated mother into a chair and forced into her hands a cup of tea into which he had poured a generous measure of Firewhisky. ‘Calm down, Mum; it’ll be OK,’ he soothed. ‘As long as Dad keeps his temper he’ll be fine. Culpeo Malfoy’s the best lawyer in the business, they say. He’ll get Dad off the charges, I’m sure.’
What Charlie really wasn’t sure about was why his father had turned to the Malfoy family for support. He’d come recommended by Severus Snape, who seemed to have been mellowed by the war to an extent Charlie would never have believed possible. The Ministry had recognised his contribution to the Order of the Phoenix with a First Class Order of Merlin, and the former Phoenix members knew, but never mentioned, the events of his past, treating him instead as a valued friend, and attempting to rehabilitate him back into the Wizarding world. Amazingly it seemed to be working. Snape had even attended the Weasleys' Halloween fancy dress party last year. Molly had explained to her family that she couldn’t bear the idea of Snape brooding on the anniversary of Lily’s death, and oughtn’t they to invite him with the rest of the Order? To everyone’s astonishment, he had accepted. And now he had gone out of his way to persuade Lucius Malfoy’s cousin to represent Arthur in court. How times had changed.
Suddenly, the largest hand on the Weasley family clock swung to ‘travelling’, and a moment later Mr Weasley burst through the front door in a temper such as Charlie had never seen before, Lawyer Malfoy scurrying behind him remonstrating in a high pitched whine. ‘I did tell you not to…’
Arthur threw himself down in an armchair and kicked off his shoes. Molly regarded him anxiously.
‘Two weeks,’ said Arthur, morosely. ‘Two weeks in Azkaban.’
Molly and Charlie stared at him, identical looks of shock on the faces.
‘Azkaban?’ said Charlie blankly. Even though new Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had done what Dumbledore had begged Fudge to do two years ago, and substituted human guards for the Dementors, the thought of the dank, forbidding fortress still made every wizard in the country shudder.
Molly moved to her husband’s side. ‘Oh, Arthur. I thought… a fine… like last time.’
‘Well, that’s just the point, isn’t it?’ Arthur groaned. ‘They say I didn’t learn my lesson last time, that something more salutary was called for. They were debating whether to give me a week, and then this idiot,’ he gestured to the lawyer cringing by the sitting room door, ‘had to stick his oar in, and they doubled it!’
Culpeo Malfoy stopped cringing and stood upright indignantly. ‘I told you to let me handle it, but you lost your temper! You shouted at the court.’
Arthur talked over him. ‘You babbled; you stuttered; you dropped your notes all over the courtroom floor!’
‘You flustered me!’ protested the lawyer.
‘You can appeal. I’d be delighted to represent you – for an increased fee, of course.’
‘Get out before I throw you out!’
The lawyer bristled. ‘I would advise you not to threaten me, sir. I am an expert in civil litigation, and would sue you for damages. Indeed, I should sue for defamation of my professional reputation!’
‘I am glad to hear you are an expert in something,’ countered Arthur loudly. ‘Unfortunately for me, it’s not criminal defence!’
Charlie stepped forward, rolling up his sleeves to show brawny arms strengthened by years of dragon-training. ‘I am not threatening you, sir. I am merely requesting that you leave this house immediately. You are upsetting my mother.’ He propelled Malfoy gently but firmly to the door, and shut it behind him.
As silence descended over The Burrow, Molly Weasley began to cry. ‘Azkaban, Arthur! Two weeks! You’ll miss the whole of Charlie’s visit!'
Arthur put his arms around her. ‘Come on now, Molly; it’s not that bad. If I comply with my bail, I’ll be out for Charlie’s last night.’
‘Bail?’ said Molly confusedly. ‘It sounds like they’re going to fish you out of the sea.’
‘They’re trying a Muggle invention. I paid fifty Galleons, and they let me come home to see you. As long as I present myself at the Azkaban gates by nine o’clock tomorrow morning, I’ll get the money back.’
‘I don’t care about the money, Arthur,’ Molly sniffled. ‘I just want you home.’
‘I know, Mollywobbles. But I’ll be perfectly OK. There are no Dementors any more, after all.’
Charlie grimaced. ‘There may not be Dementors, Dad, but you’ll still have Argus Filch to contend with. Rather you than me.’
Argus Filch had walked out of Hogwarts in disgust at the end of the last school year. He had never been happy since Dolores Umbridge left, and the loss of Amycus and Alecto Carrow, combined with the discovery that Headmaster Snape had never really been on his side, had, he claimed, made his position untenable. So he was now exercising his penchant for punishment and talent for misery as the new Governor of Azkaban.
Arthur collapsed back into the armchair. ‘Merlin’s beard! I’d forgotten that. I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have the Dementors!’ He lapsed into a brooding silence, not even stirring when there was a knock at the door.
‘Hello, Severus, dear; do come in,’ said Molly in relief. ‘Arthur’s had a bit of bad news, I’m afraid. Do see if you can cheer him up. I’ve got to start dinner; I want to feed him up before he goes to that awful place!’
‘I’ll help you, Mum,’ called Charlie, scuttling into the kitchen after his mother. It was all right for her and Dad, they hadn’t been taught by Snape, but Charlie simply couldn’t get used to him being a friend of the family. He always had the sneaking suspicion Snape had an ulterior motive.
‘So,’ said Snape, sitting down and accepting the glass of home-made wine Arthur had poured him. ‘I’m to cheer you up, am I? It’s just as well I have an invitation for Lucius Malfoy’s masked ball birthday celebrations, isn’t it?’ He took a gold-edged card out of his pocket and twirled it around in his fingers.
‘Malfoy Manor,’ snorted Arthur. ‘I’m not going anywhere near that family again! Thanks to their useless cousin, I’ve got to report to Azkaban for a two-week stretch.’
Snape grimaced. ‘When?’
‘Then come with me tonight. Come and take your revenge by drinking their champagne stock dry and puncturing the lawyer’s inflated ego! Think of it as my apology for such a bad legal recommendation. It’s the least I can do after enjoying your hospitality at Halloween. Hogwarts is hardly conducive to parties, so this is the only way I can return the favour.’
‘I was planning to stay home with Molly.’
‘Molly asked me to cheer you up. Enjoy yourself at the party tonight, and Azkaban won’t seem so bad in the morning. Especially if you’ve destroyed Culpeo Malfoy’s reputation in the meantime.’
‘How can I go out gallivanting when I’m on bail, Severus?’
Severus drew a tiny bottle from the recesses of his dress robes. ‘Polyjuice Potion. A new formula I invented. It only needs to be taken once to last twelve hours.’
‘Whose hair’s in it?’ Arthur asked, taking the little bottle dubiously.
‘Yours! Really, Severus; I can’t go to this party as you! I… well, I just can’t.’
‘Ah, but this bottle has been modified by me. You will merely resemble me slightly. I shall introduce you as a distant cousin on my mother’s side. Your name will be Mr Fox, I think, since that is what you will be doing: deceiving everyone. Now hurry; you must change if we are to get there at all this evening.’
Arthur hurried. Snape’s temper was still volatile, and Arthur really didn’t want to upset him, especially after his choice of lawyer had proved such a disaster. Besides, Arthur had to admit the prospect of showing Culpeo Malfoy up in front of his family was inviting.
When Molly returned from the kitchen, Snape was standing by the fire examining Arthur’s collection of Muggle technical manuals. ‘Where’s Arthur?’ she demanded.
‘Changing his clothes. I am afraid, Molly, that I have been ordered by Azkaban to escort Arthur there immediately.’
She looked crestfallen. ‘I thought he was on the ball, or the bales, or something?’
‘Argus Filch has a prior engagement this evening. Apparently he wants to make sure everyone is “under lockdown” before he hands over command to his subordinates.’
Just then Arthur bounded down the stairs in dress robes and a state of excited anticipation. His wife glared at him suspiciously. ‘Arthur! Why are you wearing your dress robes to go to prison?’
‘Oh, um, I thought I should set a good example, Molly, dear. You know, being from the Ministry,’ Arthur mumbled, suddenly sheepish. Then he put his arms around his wife. ‘Goodbye, Mollywobbles,’ he whispered. ‘Charlie will take care of you.’
‘Oh, Arthur. I shall be so worried about you. I shan’t get a wink of sleep tonight.’
‘Nor will he,’ Snape murmured to himself, smirking.
‘Who’s it from?’ asked Harry, staring at the letter in Hermione’s hand.
He, Hermione and Ron were perched on his bed in the eighth-year dormitory. All seventh-year students had returned to Hogwarts to take their NEWTS, which were interrupted so comprehensively last year, and a new wing had been built to accommodate the extra students.
‘It doesn’t say,’ replied Hermione. ‘It’s anonymous. But it’s got to be from Draco, hasn’t it? Who else would give me an invitation to a party at Malfoy Manor?’
Harry looked stunned. ‘Malfoy? Why would he suddenly start being nice to us?’
‘I don’t know,’ mused Hermione. ‘Maybe he’s sorry for how he treated me, now Voldemort’s gone. Maybe it’s from his parents in gratitude for you telling them he was alive last year. The whole family ran away from the Death Eaters in the Battle of Hogwarts. I really think they’re trying to turn over a new leaf.’
‘You’re not thinking of going?’ demanded Harry incredulously.
‘I thought I might, actually,’ said Hermione defiantly.
‘You can’t actually want to go back to Malfoy Manor after what we went through last year!’
‘I think it’s a good idea – exorcise old ghosts.’
‘You’re going to bunk off school when we’re supposed to be revising for our NEWTs? Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?’
‘I’m fed up with studying. We all need a break. The war taught me you have to live for today. You never know what’s going to happen next.’ She glanced at Ron, but didn’t need to say more.
Ron contributed to the conversation for the first time since Hermione had opened the letter. ‘You’re not going there on your own. If you go, we’re going too.’
Hermione knew Ron too well to argue, especially when his ears were going that red. ‘OK. Now. Disguises. It’s a masked ball, but we’re too easily recognised to rely on masks.’
‘Polyjuice Potion,’ suggested Harry.
‘No time. The ball’s tonight. And Slughorn hasn’t kept Polyjuice out in the open since Malfoy stole some in our sixth year. We’ll have to use Transfiguration. We’ll turn you back into Dragomir Despard, Ron, like when we broke into Gringotts. Harry, you can be his brother. I’ll get you some coloured contacts so you won’t need your glasses. Oh, I wish we were all Metamorphmagi; it would make this much easier!’
She flicked her wand at her own hair, turning it blonde and poker-straight. Her eyes became palest blue. A final flick of the wand produced a Venetian carnival mask, the type which cover the whole face in elaborate red and gold papier-mâché.
‘Wow!’ exclaimed Ron. ‘You look like Fleur!’
‘Now there’s a thought,’ said Hermione.
Molly and Charlie had just sat down to the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding intended to sustain Mr Weasley through his time in jail (‘Come on, Mum, no sense in letting good food go to waste,’ Charlie had reasoned), when there was a loud knock at the front door.
‘I’ll go, Mum.’
On the doorstep was a skinny, pimply wizard who couldn’t have been older than nineteen, wearing the official Ministry uniform of the new Azkaban guards. ‘Mr Weasley?’ he demanded.
‘Yeah,’ said Charlie suspiciously.
‘I have a warrant for your arrest and subs… subs… subsequent incark… incarceration in Azkaban,’ said the visitor, trying to sound official, but stumbling over the unfamiliar words.
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Now, sir; there’s no need to swear. My name is Kevin Shunpike and I will be escorting you to your temporary place of abode this evening. Mr Filch has resk… rescinded all bail applications on account of a prior engagement, and I must ask you to accompany me immediately.’
Charlie opened the door a little wider. ‘I think you’d better come in for a minute.’ He led the way into the Burrow’s kitchen. ‘This is Kevin Shunpike, who is here on official business,’ he announced, with more than a hint of sarcasm.
‘Kevin Shunpike? Stan’s brother?’ Molly turned to the young wizard in confusion. ‘But this isn’t… Arthur’s already…’
Before she could finish the sentence, Charlie had grabbed her arm and steered her to the other side of the kitchen. ‘Look, Mum,’ he whispered. ‘I’m going to have to take Dad’s place. The lad’s obviously an ingredient short of a potion, but if “Mr Weasley” doesn’t go with him, Dad’ll be looking at two years, not two weeks.’
‘But Severus has already taken him to…’
‘Yeah, well, I don’t trust Snape further than I could throw a Hungarian Horntail. He’s obviously encouraged Dad to do a bunk; God knows why. Just find Dad and get him to Azkaban ASAP. He owes me. Big time.’
‘But Charlie, dear, you can’t go to that awful place!’ Molly was on the verge of tears again.
‘I don’t think I have a choice. Not if we ever want to see Dad again.’ He put his arms around his mother and kissed her cheek. ‘I’ll be fine, Mum,’ he whispered. ‘Just find Dad!’ He disentangled himself from his mother’s tearful embrace and called to Kevin. ‘All right; I’m ready. Let’s go.’
Left alone, Molly sat down heavily in he husband’s chair and drained the glass of wine he had left unfinished. As she put the glass down, something attracted her attention. Under Severus’s empty glass was a letter, addressed to her, in Severus’s handwriting. And in the envelope was a tiny bottle, sealed with wax. Intrigued, Molly drew out the letter and began to read.
You are cordially invited to the 45th birthday celebrations of Mr Lucius Malfoy.
Place: Malfoy Manor
Time: Commencing immediately
Dress code: Masked Ball
P.S. Take the enclosed, use a pseudonym, and you may discover something to your advantage about your husband.’
Molly snorted. She had better look out her own dress robes: it seemed she would have to put in an appearance at Malfoy Manor. She had no particular wish to associate with Lucius and Narcissa, but if that was what it took to find her husband and rescue her son… Charlie was right; Snape was up to something. She had a feeling he was playing them all, like a puppet master pulling the strings, and if they weren’t careful, they would all end up hopelessly entangled and unable to get free.
A/N: Culpeo Malfoy first appeared in my drabble ‘Oh, Knickers!’