The French ambassador's husband is a frivolous man with frivolous desires.
Draco cares only because one of these frivolous desires involves collecting a rare perfect jade stone the size of his closed fist, something that will fetch a pretty price in the black market. A simple Disillusionment charm masks his presence when he strolls down Ambassador's Row, the night quiet and the stars dimmed by clouds high above Kensington. Security personnel pay him no heed as he strolls into the gates of the ambassador's home; two charms later he's made it through the second story window of the ambassador's library.
Muggles are such easy, lucrative targets.
The thrums of an evening cocktail party drift lazily from downstairs, echoes of tinkling glass, soft music, and polite conversation giving Draco enough cover to do his work. He finds the hidden vault at the expected spot, but it's his fingers and not his wand that make quick work of the lock.
He's pocketing the stone when he hears footsteps, and he has only moments to hide-- crouching low beneath the desk-- before the library door swings open to whispered murmurs.
"My darling, we mustn't," someone says in terribly accented French, in a voice Draco recognizes from a lifetime ago. "Your husband--"
It's the ambassador who replies. "Of course we must--" she whispers something sultry, something even he can't hear. "Quickly, on the desk--"
He'll be there a while if he doesn't take a calculated risk, so Draco does, moving quietly away, cloaking himself as he makes his way back to the open window.
But he can't resist turning back one more time, and when he does, it's to catch Theodore Nott's open-mouthed shock at his presence. There's a beat of a moment where the two of them are still, but Theodore is a professional and the ambassador mustn't be kept waiting, and Draco--
Draco gives him a smug wave goodbye before he jumps out into the darkness outside.
Wizards are slightly more difficult targets, but there were still a few fools among them, if one cared to look.
Entering the McLaggens' exorbitantly gaudy estate is a simple enough task, the family much more concerned about showcasing their newly found wealth to their newly adoring fans rather than protecting it. The entire wizarding community must have been invited, and the hired security gives his glamoured face hardly a second look before they wave him inside.
All he'd needed was a dress robe.
It's not usually a tactic he likes employing, but there is some merit to hiding in plain sight. He keeps his eyes peeled, ears alert, movements languid, grabbing a flute of champagne for a prop as he weaves his way through the gardens with the hors d'oeuvres, the ballroom with the desperate socialites, the kitchen with the bustling house elves.
He reaches for his wand by the time he gets to the stairs, ready to cast a cloaking spell, when a familiar voice cuts through the din.
"I assure you, Madame McLaggen, this is the best way to safeguard your diamonds." There's a subtle difference in the texture of Theodore's voice this time-- less honeyed, more solid-- and when he comes down from the stairs, arm in arm with McLaggen's wife, he's wearing somebody else's face too.
"Thank you, Auror Potter," she murmurs. "I wouldn't have thought them a risk at all-- after all, who would try to use this gathering as a moment to take advantage! But I told my husband-- Carlisle, that Potter's the best Head Auror the Ministry's got yet-- and look at this, wasn't I right? I am so glad you've come to me with your concerns, and offered your department's assistance."
"Of course; it's part of what I'm here to do. If you'll excuse me, however, I've some business I must return to by the evening."
"Oh, don't let me keep you from your work, but you mustn't work yourself to the bone. It isn't good for you, you know."
Theodore chuckles, saying his goodbyes before he heads out. His gaze catches Draco's and the corner of his lips curl up into a smirk.
"Better luck next time," he tells Draco as he passes him by, the syrupy words low enough that only Draco can hear them.
Draco gets to Ludo Bagman's Quidditch MVP trophy before Theodore does, but Theodore beats him to Celestina Warbeck's Golden Quill. Six jobs later and they've split the spoils between them.
No matter how much he plans, Theodore's there, wearing somebody else's face, voice changing for whatever was needed, slippery and undetected until he'd gotten what he wanted, always with that smug grin aimed straight at Draco on the jobs he wins. They'd never been friends, nothing more than polite acquaintances with their own demons to battle back in school, but now Theodore acted like everything was a game, and the two of them the only players.
It begins to irritate Draco.
He's ready for Theodore this time.
There's no reason for Theodore to factor into this one, but he's on edge anyway. It's personal, and it's almost trivial. Of all the dark artifacts the Ministry confiscated over the purging nearly a decade ago, the Hand of Glory is low on anyone's list of importance.
But it had belonged to the Malfoy's once, and that was reason enough for Draco.
There'd been a private sale, a transfer from the British Ministry to the Italian's, who had a highly secure museum dedicated to the dark arts. It would be impossible to retrieve from there.
So it needs to be tonight.
He drops down onto the carriage parked just outside Gringotts, soundless as a cat, before the guards come out with the Hand of Glory. It's in a box warded to within an inch of its life, the carriage itself charmed and protected to accommodate for it, but Draco knows the counterspells, has the charms to use ready. The last couple of days' surveillance showed no signs of Theodore or his potential interference, but that didn't mean he wouldn't have something up his sleeve tonight.
He holds on, waits until the carriage begins moving. Ten kilometers up the road they'll reach the Portkey spot. Four kilometers ahead the road will be deserted. He only has a few minutes to spare.
He readies his wand, aiming it at the road in front of them.
"Halt!" a lone figure calls out, stepping out from the darkness and flashing a badge that winks brightly against the glow of a nearby streetlamp. The horses pause, the sudden stop nearly throwing Draco off to the ground. "Department of Magical Law Enforcement!"
"What's going on?" the carriage driver asks.
"Anonymous tip," the MLE officer says gruffly. "Someone said to check the roof."
Fuck. Draco slips down the back, rolling onto the ground and cloaking himself before anyone could begin checking. He hides behind the nearest tree, heart beating far too fast against his chest.
"Nothing here!" someone says.
"Better safe than sorry, eh?"
"Let's go. We're late."
Draco stays where he is, no moment to spare to get back on the carriage. He runs through the different scenarios in his head, what else he could do, and decides to try and cut them off in the middle of the road when a strong hand closes around his wrist and holds him still. Draco nearly shrieks, the move so sudden and from out of nowhere, but the MLE officer covers his mouth.
"Believe me," he says in Theodore's voice, "you wouldn't have liked staying on that carriage."
The Hand of Glory was a trap.
This is what Theodore claims, having earlier conned his way into the Gringotts team tasked with carrying out the transfer.
"They never sold it to the Italians," he says over glasses of Ogden's at The Lucky Snitch. His eyes are a piercing amber in the dim light, gaze sharper than his cheekbones as he nurses his drink, voice barely registering against the din of the pub. "That box they were carrying out was empty."
"Why else? They've suspected you for a while now. They needed proof."
Draco's grip tightens around his own glass. "I meant," he bites out, "why would you tell me this."
"Why wouldn't I?" Theodore asks with a frown. "Aren't we on the same side?"
"Same side? You've sabotaged half my jobs!"
"And yet we've stolen from the same people." Theodore takes a sip, the whisky leaving his lips shiny. "There's really no reason for us not to work together. Is there?"
Draco can think of twenty right there. "I don't trust you," sums it up.
"More than you don't trust the Ministry?"
"It's not an either-or. I don't have to trust anyone."
"What if I can prove it?" Theodore asks. "And what if I told you I know where they were keeping the real Hand of Glory?"
"Then I'd tell you what a set-up sounds like," Draco tells him. "If you want to lure me into a trap--"
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
"Not everyone is the enemy." Theodore swallows, his brow furrowing as he shifts his gaze back to his glass. "And there is something I need your help with."
"Ah. And that motivates me particularly because...?"
"Because it's a reason." Theodore reaches into his robe pocket, sliding an old picture across the table. Mother and son, sitting on a garden. Dark curls framed deep-set eyes, a handsome face with a sickly smile, the boy bouncing on her lap and grabbing at an opal necklace. "It's the reason, isn't it? Why we're both here at all? I want it back, same as you. I want it all back."
Tiny little fist closes around the pendant, tugging lightly. Theodore's mother laughs and smoothes his hair back. The Ministry had seized the Nott Estate, frozen their assets. She'd been dead long before, and Theodore had never spoken of her until now.
"You'll take Veritaserum first," Draco decides. "And then we'll see."
Theodore's story checks out, one strong dose of Draco's own brew later, gaze wide and honest and his words flowing out of his mouth, answering straight all the questions Draco asks.
He wonders what else he can uncover with Theodore like this, so he gives him a sleeping draught to help ride out the duration of the potion in peace.
Theodore falls asleep on his couch, face smoothed out in unconsciousness, cheek pillowed against the arm rest and knees curled close to his chest.
Draco watches his even breathing for a beat, and then for two, before he tears his gaze away.
Then he begins to draft a plan.
The Hand of Glory is kept in a Gringotts vault specifically for the storage of confiscated dark artifacts, and though that's no longer considered impenetrable, thanks to Potter and his godforsaken dragon breakout, it's still a formidable target. Draco had never dared before; he's tempted to do so now.
"Absolutely not," Theodore says. "This is not a pissing contest between you and Potter; we're not here to prove you can break out of Gringotts better than him."
He has a point. Potter had, after all, broken out and subsequently had all of the Ministry on his tail after. At the same time--
"We can't force another transfer; it's already been done," Draco tells him, the feather-end of a quill tickling his cheek as he ponders a blueprint of Gringotts before him. He raises his gaze when a thought strikes, catching the quick way Theodore's gaze then drops to the blueprint. The corner of his lips curl up, a grin forming. "We're going to have to break in."
The break-in goes horribly wrong, horribly fast.
Draco's alone in the cart he'd snuck in, the charms in his arsenal not enough to keep the wards in the bank from breaking, setting off a thousand alarms. He leaps out of the cart in time, rolling right up to the vault where the Hand is kept. It's locked and locked well, none of his usual tricks seem to work-- not even the one he'd devised specifically for this purpose. He hears the vault guardians moving somewhere nearby, rumbling with the reverberations of nearing thunder as he casts futile spell after futile spell on the vault.
None of it works, and he's almost out of time.
He pulls out a pouch from his pocket, sets the tiny cabinet on the ground, and enlarges it with one last spell.
The last thing he sees before he closes the door of the Vanishing Cabinet behind him is the gnarly face of a livid goblin. He steps out of the cabinet into his own house, and burns the exit in a sudden burst of flame.
"How did it go?"
He throws Theodore, lounging on the couch, a shit-eating grin. "Exactly according to plan."
The Daily Prophet catches wind of the attempted burglary and proceeds to bleat incessantly about the Ministry's incompetence.
"It's been too quiet and peaceful the last few years," Theodore murmurs, sipping a cup of black coffee as his gaze flickers over the acidic words spewed forth in the article. "Smith does self-righteous indignance quite well; are you familiar with his work?"
"Another smarmy arse," Draco mutters, his eyes scanning through the article. "I didn't realize the Hand of Glory was this important. Who've the Ministry tapped to take care of this?"
Theodore smirks. "Who do you think?"
Draco rolls his eyes. "Then you're going to need a better brew of Polyjuice. Whatever you've been taking is horribly sub-par."
The rest is easy.
Theodore, who'd said barely a word through all their years at Hogwarts, turns out to be a good talker when he wants to be, the right combination of charming and straightforward, laying out the truth in an angle of his choosing, stringing his audience along to come to the conclusions he wants them to. Draco follows his lead, talking the Ministry through the security measures they'll need to take.
"But of course Gringotts is still the safest place for it," Theodore says, implying that obviously it no longer is. He is wearing the face of a renowned wizarding security consultant who had, earlier that week, won a week-long vacation to Tenerife for a contest he had no memory of entering; the Ministry had Owled him as soon as The Daily Prophet's story was published. "We simply need to ensure it's secured."
His plan involves diversion, decoys, obfuscation. It's satisfyingly complicated and multi-layered; the Ministry officials come out of it certain no burglar will know which of the multiple possible temporary vaults the Hand-- as well as the other artifacts-- would be hidden away in.
They don't catch it for the shell game it is, not as it's happening and, even better, not after it's already happened.
("I'm quite good at Transfigurations," Theodore had said.
"I remember being better than you."
Theodore had only smiled, then asked, "Do you think, once they get these artifacts back, they'd even test them again? The point is to make sure they're never used, after all." Then he'd smiled, slow and impish, and Draco caught the glint in his eye, felt the skipped beat in his own chest, thinking not for the first time that Theodore was a dangerous person to know.
He found, too, that he didn't really mind.)
Theodore's fingers are long and slender, wrapped around the glass he's holding. His cheeks are flushed faint with liquor; his lips, far too tempting and far too distant, all the way across the table from where Draco's seated.
"So. Your mother's necklace." he says, interrupting the thread of his own thoughts. "We did have a deal, and you've kept your end of it."
"It was purchased from the estate sale a year ago, then re-sold at auction. Ginny Weasley-Potter owns it now."
Draco's head shoots up. Theodore's finger is circling the rim of his glass, his gaze sly. "The Potters have your mother's necklace."
"Why did you think I needed your help?" Theodore cocks his head at Draco. "Still interested?"
Draco smirks, his veins thrumming with the familiar anticipation of a new job. Over that, too, a new layer of thrill and excitement, coming not from the job but the prospect of working with Theodore on this, specifically. "What do you think?"