Disclaimer: JKR owns anything that is obviously hers. I own the rest. I do not make any money off this.
Characters: Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley
Genres: Angst, Drama, Health, Humour, Romance, Smut
Story Warnings: Epilogue? What Epilogue?, Profanity, Physical Trauma, Smut
Overall Rating: NC-17
Summary: Hermione is far too fond of cake and all but attached to Harry at the hip. Generally, it's working out for her, but lately Draco has been annoying her to death by mocking her weight and her relationship with Harry. One day she spots some logic in his claims that she and Harry ought to be more than friends. Uncertain how to proceed, she agrees when Draco volunteers to help. This turns out to get very confusing very fast, as Hermione finds herself becoming attracted to the wrong person...
Extra Note: Thank you to mazvn and dollfaced for the beta and handiangel for the Britpick. You guys are brilliant. :)
Chapter Length: 3,883
Hermione smoothed her new formal robes down over her stomach and turned sideways, scrutinising her own mirror image. Damn it. She’d kept accumulating weight this past year from sitting—and eating—far too much and exercising far too little. Damn the Ministry’s canteen for having such delicious cake. Usually, she wasn’t really one for sweets, but that cake... She needed to start bringing her own lunch, otherwise she’d balloon into something she wouldn’t be able to change.
"You’re not fat!" a voice boomed from her fireplace and she whirled around. "Now, get your big bum over here!"
"Harry!" she scolded. "I told you not to do that. One of these days you’re going to give me a heart attack."
"I don’t want to be late and you’re obviously ready, so let’s go."
She shot a last look at her mirror and then grabbed her handbag. She wasn’t going to lose any weight by glaring at her own image, anyway.
"I’m nervous," Harry muttered, lending truth to his statement by wiping his hands on his very expensive-looking dark formal robes. The same robes he usually wore. It was so unfair how men could get away with that.
Hermione nudged him. "Don’t do that. And you’ll be fine."
"I’m no good at impressing people," he whinged.
"You’re The Boy Who Lived. You impress people by existing."
He sighed. "That was years ago, Hermione. Now I’m merely another department head trying to get enough funding to do my job."
"And you never seem to fail, do you? Go on, then. I’ll be right here."
Harry groaned but reluctantly approached a middle-aged, well-polished witch who certainly never indulged in cake. "Madam Damerell?" he politely said.
She gave him a haughty once-over that ended with his scar. The transformation in her was complete as she was suddenly all smiles and charm. "Oh, please, call me Alodia."
Hermione suppressed a sigh. One of those. Harry would most likely be frazzled beyond belief within the hour. She put a supportive hand on his arm, hoping to keep him grounded, and smiled at the other witch when he introduced them.
Alodia Damerell immediately noticed the small gesture and lit up with glee. "Oh, marvellous! Can we expect something official soon, then?"
Hermione blinked and then quickly removed her hand and stared at Harry, who immediately raised his own hands in protest. "No, no. Hermione and I are very old friends. She’s like a sister to me."
"Oh." The other witch was clearly disappointed at the lack of juicy gossip. It was aggravating. She should know better by now; they all should. "I see. And you’re quite certain of that..?"
"Quite," Harry immediately said. "In fact, Hermione has somewhere else to be now; don’t you, Hermione?" He shot her a pleading look.
She immediately took the hint and nodded, giving Alodia Damerell another smile. "It was very nice meeting you," she said, quickly turning around and walking away.
That was the thing about being Harry’s friend these days. They were both high profile, single and seeing quite a lot of each other. Add to that that neither of them had any desire to go out with anyone new right now... some people simply jumped to the convenient conclusion.
She snatched a drink from a passing tray and took a sip without even tasting the liquid. Why was it that people always required for everyone else to be paired up? After Ron and she had drifted apart, she hadn’t particularly felt like she needed someone else to take his place; and she knew that Harry still missed Ginny, who’d left to focus on her career in Quidditch after they’d had a falling out.
"Did your boyfriend banish you again, Granger?" a voice said close to her ear. She didn’t even flinch. He always did this. She wasn’t certain why, but the past couple months he’d found it more amusing than ever to be her own personal nuisance.
"Not my boyfriend," she monotonously replied without even looking at Malfoy.
"Isn’t it about time to drop the pretence?" he asked. "I mean, you’re beginning to show."
That immediately got her attention and her eyes snapped to his. "I am not showing anything!"
He was part of the reason she was feeling so self-conscious about the recent swelling of her hips and belly. He was always making fun of her, making her feel like this awkward thing that couldn't quite measure up at these events. It didn’t help that he was right. She absolutely didn’t fit in. She had no desire to be constantly featured in Witch Weekly. She only wanted to be able to do her job well.
Unfortunately, this was part of doing her job well.
He grinned, delighted that she’d taken the bait. "I even heard you’re shopping for a house together. Yeah, that’s friendly."
"Ever hear of housemates, Malfoy? Some of us like to have someone to share the bills and chores with." And she was desperate to get out of her flat. It would be so nice to have a whole house, only shared with Harry. Maybe there’d even be a garden. She missed sitting out in the garden in summer.
"That’s what trust funds and hired help is for."
She snorted. It was so typical of him to flaunt his privilege. "Do feel free to hire help for me and pay my rent."
"Now, now, Granger. Deals like that usually come with a bit of... obligation."
"Not on your life." It was a redundant statement. He hadn’t meant it as an offer. He’d only meant to bother her. That was all he ever did—bother her. It was even his bloody job to bother her! Every single change she attempted to make to his precious pure-blood privileges was immediately and powerfully blocked by him and others like him and she’d only managed to get a few minor—albeit slowly becoming larger—concessions through by playing nice. Or, rather, whatever this could be called. As long as she kept him in a fairly good mood by indulging his need to mock her, he’d allow a trickle of decency to seep through the century-old bigotry.
Really, it could have been worse. At least Malfoy seemed to be holding this job to please his own warped sense of humour rather than because he cared overly much. Any other pure-blood that might take his place would be worse. So, she pleased him. By allowing him to bother her. But she’d be damned if she’d validate his ‘banter’ by expending what limited energy she had on clever comebacks.
"Besides, it’s rather clever of you to shack up with him first."
"We’re not shacking up," she wearily insisted.
"I mean, all those lonely nights... It’ll be so convenient to be able to huddle together without having to make prior arrangements."
"We’ll have separate bedrooms."
"Mm, that spare bedroom will come in handy once Mini Potter makes his—or her—appearance."
"I’m not pregnant!" she growled.
He sighed. "No, I suppose you aren’t."
She arched an eyebrow. He had been doing this same old routine for weeks now and suddenly he decided to change part of it? Something was off.
"Or," he amended, "if you were, you should be able to keep your man’s attention better. I mean, look at him!" He made a hopeless gesture to where Harry was now talking to a young, pretty witch with no less money than Madam Damerell. "When are you going to make an honest man of him so the rest of us stand a chance with others?"
She snorted. "I hear you get your fair share of attention, Malfoy."
"Rumours are always vastly exaggerated. You of all people should know that. I would stand a far better chance of getting the attention of a quality witch like that if your lover didn’t constantly get in the way, hogging all of them with his stupid scar."
"That would happen even if he married."
"True. But he’d be married, whereas I would be charming, handsome, rich and single."
She couldn’t help the inelegant sound that erupted when she tried to squash her laughter. "Two out of four is something, I suppose."
"No, really. I promise you that I’m also rich and single."
She rolled her eyes. She supposed he considered his own obnoxious tendency to want to constantly poke fun of her charming. As for his looks... he wasn’t really ugly, but she thought that maybe he could use some
of that cake they served at the Ministry canteen. He had a gaunt, almost haunted look to him that was completely at odds with the way he constantly made jokes at her expense. At first she’d figured his behaviour was merely a front to deflect attention from whatever was causing that look, but after a while she’d resigned herself to the fact that this was merely who he was. Draco Malfoy, the hollow-eyed jester.
"Don’t you have anything better to do than talk to me?" she asked, dropping a heavy hint.
"As a matter of fact, I don’t," he said. "All the quality witches are lining up for Potter, and I don’t really need to schmooze anyone tonight. You’ve been slacking off at work. You’re hardly even trying to change the world these days. If this continues, I’ll soon be unemployed."
Right. Because he needed employment. And what was this insinuation that she wasn’t a quality witch? Condescending git! "I’ll have you know that I’m working on something even you can’t stop."
He raised an eyebrow. "Is that a challenge?"
"No, it’s a fact. You might as well not bother."
He sighed. "You really have to try harder than that, Granger. It’s no fun if you don’t even try."
Yes, she was purely here for his amusement. "Tell you what... if you guarantee I get four parts of my proposal through, I’ll give you a fight to remember."
"How many parts do you have?"
"Not going to happen."
She scowled at him. "You don’t even know what they’re about!"
"No, but four out of six is a terrible track record for me."
"Fine," she ground out and stared straight ahead at Harry, who was by now looking far more relaxed. Apparently Madam Damerell hadn’t hounded him too badly. That was good. Hermione hated seeing him so stressed out.
Malfoy sighed. "Again, you’re no fun. Fine, I’ll give you two. But only if you put up a damn good fight. One for the ages."
"Pouting doesn’t suit you, Granger. You know that two is better than none."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Perhaps. But there are limits to what I’ll do for it."
"What? You won’t do what you will otherwise have to do anyway? You’ll throw away any guarantee you have of achieving anything simply to spite me? How very sporting of you." He frowned at her.
"You know you like to keep me dancing," she pointed out.
"That’s merely an added bonus."
"No more pregnancy jokes."
"Aww." He looked genuinely disappointed.
"No more pregnancy jokes and two parts and I’ll do it."
He sighed. "You drive a hard bargain. All right. I suppose it was getting old anyway."
Hermione hid a smile. Two parts was what she’d been aiming for all along and it was almost too good to be true that she got the added bonus of no more pregnancy jokes.
"But, Granger..." he continued. "I decide which parts. So you’ll still have to do well."
Oh, she knew she wasn’t getting anything for free from him. He was, after all, Draco Malfoy. But she also knew that he could be swayed. Obnoxious though he was, he’d let her have at least one of the parts she really wanted if she showed enough passion about it. And she knew just the one. Controlling and limiting her success whilst actually letting her have some victories was his way of making certain that she’d continue to endure his mean-spirited company whenever he felt like inflicting it on her.
Alodia Damerell chose that moment to walk by and take in who Hermione was conversing with, immediately getting a sour-faced judgemental look.
Hermione suppressed a sigh. "Don't tell me that Damerell is one of those pure-bloods... She didn't seem to mind me so much before."
Malfoy didn’t even pretend he didn’t know what she meant. "Damerell is a prissy old thing. Blood is only a small factor in how she measures status, and the faded mark on my arm makes me worth less than even the dirtiest thieving Squib. So, no, it's not you she disapproves of."
"I don’t appreciate the implication of all Squibs being dirty and thieving."
"And I don’t appreciate you missing my point," he snapped. He would sometimes do that, show small flashes of temper. Hermione hadn’t been able to spot any kind of pattern in when it would happen. One minute he would snap, and the next he would smile when she said something far more offensive. It never fazed her, though, and he always seemed to get over it fairly quickly.
"There really is no point. That’s how most of us see the mark." The words were out before she could check herself and she flinched. She hadn’t meant to be quite that harsh.
He simply looked at her, no emotion whatsoever on his face, his temper back under control. "I know. I’m tainted. It must be hard for you to tolerate my influence over your work."
It was. But not for that reason. "No, I’m thrilled that you’re thwarting all my attempts at making this a better world."
He smiled. But it was a smile without warmth or humour. "The wizarding world can’t handle that many changes all at once. You should be thanking me for limiting the changes, making it an easier transition."
She shook her head. "You have an unfailing talent for making my head hurt, Malfoy. Congratulations. You did it again!" She snatched a fresh drink from a new tray and searched out a table where she could sit in peace and quite possibly get pissed.
Malfoy followed her and sat down next to her uninvited. "If you took Potter off the market so any of these witches would see me, I'd be very distracted and your problem would be solved."
Hermione made a half-hearted gesture towards a pretty young witch who looked like she hardly knew what to do with herself. "There’s a damsel over there. Go save her."
"Saving is Potter’s business. Besides, she could be no more than sixteen or so. I prefer adults."
"She’s at least seventeen. They don’t invite minors to these things."
"All right... then she’s seventeen. It hardly makes a difference. Besides, look at those big eyes she’s making at Potter. How could I possibly consider someone who hero worships him like that?"
"You’re quite obsessed with Harry, aren’t you?" Hermione observed.
"In a manner of speaking. I’m obsessed with minimising his impact on my life."
"And you figure the solution is me."
He leant forward, imploring her with a strangely intense look. "Yes. Think about it, Granger."
"No, thank you."
He didn’t relent. "Who is the first one you contact if you have a problem you can’t solve on your own?"
She snorted. "That’s easy. Harry. He is known for his problem-solving skills, after all."
"Who’s the first one you run to for comfort if you’re upset?" he continued.
"My best friend."
"Who do you go out with to parties and dinners and amusements?"
"I'm not playing this game with you any longer."
"And who will you be entering into what is basically a sexless marriage with?"
She downed the last of her drink and shook her head before looking around for more. "It’s not a sexless marriage."
"Uh-huh. Then what is it?" He looked insufferably smug. Annoying git.
"Two friends sharing a house!" she insisted.
"And going out with only each other. And doing absolutely everything together. Face it, Chubs. You may be so used to each other that there’s no flutter, but you’re mentally married."
"Did you just call me Chubs?"
"The point, Granger!"
She glowered at him. He was wrong. She could never see Harry that way.
A couple of hours and several drinks later, Hermione was staring at Harry, contemplating. He wasn’t ugly. And he had a kind of... charm, she hadn’t noticed before. And Malfoy was right that the witches were positively swarming around him.
Harry was laughing and being polite but seemed a bit distanced from them all. She cocked her head, wondering why that might be.
"Don’t you ever get tired of looking at him?" Malfoy asked from next to her, sounding both bored and annoyed.
She flushed a little. "Where else would I look?" she asked, stumbling a bit over the words. She frowned, wondering when speaking had become so difficult.
Malfoy sniggered. "You’re smashed."
"A little bit," she admitted.
"I should take advantage of that."
"Yeah, how?" she asked, still watching Harry.
Malfoy sighed. "You’re no fun when your IQ drops. You know that, right?"
Her head snapped to the side to glare at him. "What do you—oh." Belatedly, she registered the words. "Ew. Besides, you wouldn’t."
He raised an eyebrow. "You think too highly of my morals, I think."
"No, I didn’t mean you wouldn’t do that. " Although, quite frankly, she did have her doubts. "I meant you wouldn’t to me."
"You having some misconception that I respect you more than others, then?"
Did she really have to spell it out? She sighed irritably. "No, I’m saying that the way you keep calling me fat, I don’t believe I have anything to fear from you."
He looked at her for a long moment and it struck her how he’d developed dark shadows under his eyes in the time they’d sat here, making his gauntness stand out even more. And were those strained lines around his mouth? But then again, he must be bored. He hadn’t even been drinking to pass the time.
"I think you underestimate my current desperation."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. If you were going to, you wouldn’t have warned me. You would have got me more drinks and pretended to want to see me safely home."
"I see you have it all mapped out in your head. Interesting."
She snorted. "Almost any woman will have had some man trying to do that to her." It never ceased to horrify her just how many men like that existed. If Malfoy ever turned out to be one, she might just have to cease making—somewhat—nice with him.
"And did it work?"
"No." She didn’t say anything more than that. He didn’t need to hear the gritty details of the one and only time she’d let her guards completely down after Ron and then had had to hex the pushy bugger before she’d fled to Harry’s flat.
"Good girl," Malfoy breathed.
She snorted, not quite certain what he meant by that. She certainly hoped he wasn’t the kind to claim it was the woman’s job to make sure she wasn’t assaulted, because then she might just have to hex him too.
"Are you ready to go?" Harry asked and Hermione started. She hadn’t seen him approaching.
She nodded, slightly unsteadily getting to her feet and walking away without another look or word in Malfoy’s direction. That was how it worked. He showed up everywhere, so there really was no point in saying goodbye. In a few hours, he’d be there again. Harry simply nodded at Malfoy and then followed her.
"I’m sorry if you were bored," he immediately said when they were outside. "I had no idea that I’d be busy all night."
She’d known. She’d tried this before. "I wasn’t bored." Her voice was still slurred, so she made an extra effort to enunciate. "I was negotiating with Malfoy. I won two parts and the fat jokes. Well, the pregnancy ones at least. I fear he may have invented a nickname instead."
She waved a hand. "Work thing."
Harry shook his head. "I don’t understand why you won’t let me get rid of him for you."
"Because he’s the better option!" she said for the billionth time. "Anyone else might actually do their job. And you know they still have most of the money. No, two parts and the pregnancy jokes is better than nothing at all."
"But he constantly insults you!"
She waved that off as well. "They all want to. At least he’s honest. It doesn’t bother me."
"No, that’s why you’re suddenly on a diet."
"I’m only looking out for my health!"
He made a rude sound. "You’re the healthiest person I know."
"Not if I keep eating that cake, I’m not."
He sighed and gave up on the argument, leaving them each to walk on in silence. They didn’t really need to walk anywhere, but usually after a night of stuffy Ministry arrangements they both wanted a bit of fresh air, so they wandered around for a while before each Apparating home.
She looked up at Harry. He’d always had a propensity to brood, but lately it had been worse. She knew he wasn’t happy. He missed Ginny. Unlike Hermione, he hadn’t been out with a single person since he’d had that last fight with Ginny that had sent her storming off to intensive training and a year’s worth of international Quidditch matches.
"We’re really good friends, aren’t we?" Hermione asked, putting her arm around his waist, trying very hard not to walk into him whilst looking up at him.
That elicited a small smile from him and he put his arm around her as well, giving her a small squeeze. "Surprised you even have to ask, Hermione."
"You’re my best friend," she muttered, frowning, considering. "I mean, I know that Ron is your best friend and I don’t mind being simply a very good friend, all I’m saying is that you are my best—" She abruptly cut off. She was babbling. This was getting embarrassing fast.
He shook his head. "Who says I can’t have two best friends?"
"Well... per definition one of us wouldn’t be the best, I don’t think."
"You’re my bestest girl-friend. I believe that should rank alongside my other best friend, shouldn’t it?"
She stared up at him. "Your what-now?"
He grinned. "I’m sorry. Woman-friend. Friend with female attributes. Friend I can be incredibly unmanly around without things getting awkward."
She stared up at him. He was so familiar. They’d known each other forever, it seemed, and since Ginny had gone off and Ron and Hermione had slipped apart, it had seemed like it had mostly been the two of them. Granted, Harry still saw Ron every day at work; but after work, it was usually only the two of them. Ron’s girlfriend wasn’t happy about him seeing Hermione, and Harry refused to humour an outsider. Hermione figured that Ron would eventually come around if he was any kind of friend at all. Until then... at least Harry wasn’t leaving her behind.
"What are you thinking?" Harry asked, noticing her pensive look.
"That it’s odd... how feelings work."
He laughed and squeezed her again, kissing her hair. "You’ve got that right."