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: 3,832
Hermione pursed her lips and stared down at the empty parchment in front of her. It was Monday morning and she was really supposed to be working. She’d like to say that she was thinking, but there were too many thoughts she needed to think for her to settle on any one of them. So, basically, she just sat there with a buzzing in her brain that didn’t help anyone.
"You have to actually do some work to deliver on your promise," a voice said from her door and she jumped in her seat.
"I am working!"
"No... you’re not. I’ve gone past this door three times already and each time found you in the same state." Malfoy leaned against the door frame and crossed his arms. "If you don’t deliver, then neither will I."
Hermione sighed. "I’ll fight for it, all right? I just... have some other things to work out first. Set up a meeting for this afternoon if you’d like."
"Can’t. Pitch me at lunch."
"I can’t do that."
Because that would involve either going near cake or letting Malfoy see her tiny, boring, depressingly healthy packed lunch. "Simply can’t. Set it up for tomorrow, then."
"Can’t. Going away for a while."
She frowned at him. "Where?"
"You just had a holiday!"
"Yeah, and now I’m having another."
She stared at him. Of course he’d be one to have two holidays right on top of each other. "Postpone the holiday, then."
"No can do. You either have to make time today or wait a week or two. You know you won’t get anything through without my approval."
She considered pointing out that she actually did hold the sway to get something through without securing the support of the ‘Old Families’ as they liked to call themselves these days. The problem with that was that she would probably raise hell both inside the Ministry and out, and there would be no telling what the long-term consequences of such an action would be. For now, it would be better to soothe their egos and slowly chip away at the system. So, instead, she scowled at him.
He smirked. "The cake won’t attack you, Granger," he said, making her eyes widen.
Sometimes she really hated how well her opposition knew her.
Not much later, Hermione found herself glowering at Malfoy. "This is so unfair!"
"What is?" he said, leisurely eating.
"You had your way—as you always do—and now this?" She was gobsmacked. Never had she thought he would be so... so... evil!
He raised an eyebrow. "I’m sorry. Did you want some?"
She narrowed her eyes, trying to kill him with her look.
He’d finished his—rather small—meal minutes ago and then got... cake. She knew he only did it to mess with her. He’d never showed any interest in it before. He didn’t even seem like he enjoyed the deliciousness very much, for crying out loud!
She did her best to ignore the cake and the way that, yes, she did want some and said, "Do I get my two parts, then?"
"I don’t know..."
"That was before I knew that it would involve more taxes on the Old Families."
She made a derisive sound. How she hated this new term for the boils on their society. "I’m not taxing anyone for being an old family, only for being rich. Poor bigots won’t be affected."
He shot her a sharp look that served as a reminder that he could only be pushed as far as he allowed himself to be pushed. "The concern stands," he said, his voice controlled. "You don’t want to provoke them too much. These days, the money is all some of them have left and they’re clinging to it with all their might."
"I’m not talking about taking all of it away!"
"No, you’re talking about taking a significant portion of their money and investing it in better racial integration. I think that’s a bad idea. If you’re going to take their money, at least use it for something they won’t mind."
He shrugged. "St Mungo’s could use better funding for research into both magical maladies and more common diseases, for instance."
"That’s not my area, and you know it."
"Then talk to the people whose area it is."
"But that’s not what I want to achieve!" Although, granted, it was still a worthy cause.
"Listen to me, Granger. If those taxes go to better hospital funding, then it might be possible to cut some of the old funding and re-allocate it to... somewhere else you and other involved parties might see fit. Nothing I would know anything about, of course."
"You’re talking about a bureaucratic nightmare over semantics."
"It’s your best bet. I can clear a decision meant to fund the hospital, but not a decision meant to embrace other species openly in a way that will probably create more half-species."
She stared at him, envisioning hours and hours of meetings and paperwork. "Then I’m going to need some of that cake."
He grinned and pushed his plate towards her.
Hermione was looking at her bedroom mirror again. It was a rather unforgiving mirror. Good thing that Malfoy had gone on holiday so he wouldn’t comment on what she was up to when she got in at work today. She sucked in her gut and pushed out her chest, evaluating the look. Maybe she needed some sort of necklace to draw attention to her cleavage? She considered for a bit and then rolled her eyes, exhaling. What was she even doing? Since when had Harry even looked at her chest?
She was still unconvinced that their relationship could translate into something else, but she’d acknowledged that if it could, it might possibly be the best thing that had ever happened to either of them. It could be the relationship she’d hoped for but never had with Ron.
The mature way to go about gauging the potential for chemistry would be to talk it over with Harry and then to agree on a way to test the waters, so to speak. But truthfully she’d rather die than do that. It would be absolutely mortifying if he laughed at her or, worse, let her down gently.
No, it would be better to test for chemistry without actually letting him know what she was doing.
The only problem was that she had no clue how to do it.
"Hermione! Uh... what are you doing here?" Harry looked rather confused to see her.
No wonder. She never usually went down to the Aurors’ office. If she wanted something from Harry, she sent him a note. It wasn’t that she was terribly opposed to interrupting him whilst he was working, it was more of a safety measure so she wouldn’t run into Ron. It might be petty of her, but she’d decided that as long as he wouldn’t openly be her friend, she wouldn’t see him at all.
She attempted a smile, but she felt so nervous that it became a grimace. "Is it so wrong to want to see how my best friend is doing?"
Her nervous mood didn’t escape him. "What’s wrong?"
She sighed. "Nothing... I was simply wondering..."
This was harder than she’d thought. And she’d thought it would be hard. "Want to go out tonight?" she blurted out. Yes, it was probably better to do this out of the workplace. All this worrying about cleavages and gut-sucking didn't work here.
"On a week day?"
"Why not? We’re adults. We can control our fun, can’t we?"
He grinned. "Like you controlled your fun on Saturday?"
"Hey! I was stuck with Malfoy then! It was drink or kill."
Harry laughed out loud at that. "All right. I don’t have any plans. Maybe we can talk some more about the house we want."
Hermione smiled. "I’d like that."
Fifteen days and far too many drinks to suit Hermione’s diet later, she realised that she was absolutely rubbish at this. No matter how often she went out with Harry, how drunk they became, or how intimate their conversations were, she couldn’t seem to take that last step and do something to see if they could be suited for each other.
It was the fear. The fear of being rejected by her best friend was really daunting. It didn’t matter what she could potentially gain—as long as she had no reason to believe that he might be open to suggestions, she couldn’t make herself do anything.
"Miss me?" Malfoy was at her office door again, pasty and tired-looking as ever.
"You certainly don’t look like you just had a holiday."
"I got the flu. Spent half the time in bed."
"Perhaps. I’d planned on spending that time in bed anyway. I’d only hoped for company and a different kind of heat." He flashed her a grin that was completely belied by the weary expression in his eyes. "Move in with Potter yet?"
"Are you making it official, then?"
She sighed and rested her head on her hands. "Welcome back, Malfoy. Please go away."
She heard him chuckling, but thankfully he did as asked.
Another function, another set of new robes. Hermione sighed to herself. If she had to keep going to these things, she was going to need a rise to cover her expenses. She'd tried wearing the same robes twice one time and she'd taken such a society page beating for it that she had dutifully bought new ones ever since then. It was ridiculous; she didn't need that many robes, but it was simply one of those things she had to endure because such was the snobbery in this world.
"Ready?" Harry asked from the fireplace and she obediently went with him.
Tonight she had to do... something. She'd come quite close to flirting the last time they'd been out, she felt. Maybe if she got Harry smashed and then quizzed him on his favourite types of witches.
Of course, he was likely to talk about feisty little redheads, but it was worth a go.
"You're so quiet tonight," Harry said as they approached the venue. "But I assume you won't tell me what's wrong this time either?"
She forced a smile. "It's nothing."
"You don't have to be afraid to confide in me."
She winced. Maybe not normally, but this time... yeah, no. "It's nothing, really. I'm simply tired."
He nodded. "I know. We've been going out too much."
"No, it's been fun!" she half-heartedly objected whilst secretly agreeing with him.
"Yes, but let's face it, Hermione. We're not twenty any longer."
She snorted. "We're not even thirty, either!"
"No, but I still feel it when I don't get my beauty sleep."
She sighed. "And here I thought you liked going out with me."
"I do!" he immediately said, soothing her ego. "But... less is more."
Hermione cringed inwardly. She seemed to be doomed at this whole thing. Maybe she should simply get him drunk, steal a kiss, and then blame it on her own drunkenness. Because she would really need to fortify herself with drink as well.
Harry laid a hand on her arm moments before they were to enter the room. "Don't take this the wrong way, Hermione, but could we enter separately this time? I don't want another news article saying that we're secretly going out... and after we’ve been out so much lately..."
Hermione pursed her lips. If anyone had already seen them together, then going in separately would be even worse. "If that's what you want."
He nodded and went ahead.
She gave it a few minutes and then pasted on her social smile and went in.
"Pathetic," a voice murmured near Hermione's ear.
She didn't jump. It had been a given that he'd eventually do this. She was only secretly quite pleased that she’d been allowed to fortify herself with several drinks before she had to justify herself to him.
She slowly turned around to face Malfoy, feigning ignorance. "What is?"
"I saw the two of you come in separately. It's the worst pretence I've ever seen."
Of course he had noticed that. "Harry doesn't want any more headlines."
"Harry should suck it up and act like an adult!" Malfoy hissed.
Hermione stared at him. His temper flares were nothing new, but it was the first time that she’d heard so much venom in his voice, even when it came to Harry.
"What's wrong?" she couldn't help but ask, suddenly noticing how tonight Malfoy's skin had gone beyond pasty and on to sallow, and he had little beads of perspiration on his forehead.
"You look... ill."
He shook his head. "Not ill. Tired."
"Your eyes are sunken."
"Yes, because I'm tired. Tell me, Granger—is it really true that neither of you has had the courage to do anything about your relationship yet?"
She blinked. Obviously he wasn’t going to talk about his health. "Our relationship is fine," she said, more than a little annoyed that he wouldn’t give it a rest.
"So there is one?"
He sighed. "Why do you... I thought you'd heard some of what I said last time!"
"I did hear it."
"I don't think you did."
She scowled at him. He would never let this go, would he? Perhaps a spot of honesty would shut him up. "Will you promise not to be obnoxious if I tell you something? As in, if you make a single joke out of this, I will make sure that your precious family line ends with you."
He laughed at that. "It already does, Chubs, but go on ahead."
She blinked at his admission. Really? She reluctantly decided against asking him what he meant with that—even though her curiosity was eagerly prompting her to—because something like this would probably be extremely personal. She wasn’t comfortable indulging in that kind of sharing with Malfoy of all people.
"I tried," she simply said.
"He turned you down?"
"No. I... tried, but I didn't know how to come onto him without risking more than I was gaining."
In for a sickle... he’d better not use this against her. "I don't know how to read that kind of body language," she admitted. "I've only ever really been with Ron, so I’m rather unused to this and I'm not going to try to kiss him unless I think there's a good chance he won't reject me."
Malfoy stared at her. "But you want to, right?"
She shrugged. She supposed. Maybe? She wasn't completely certain. But she had to try in case she was missing out on something, didn’t she? Wasn’t that the logical thing to do? "Of course."
"Then that's all there is to it."
For someone who’d spent a lot of time nagging her into this, he certainly didn’t have a lot of understanding for her predicament. "No, it’s really not. I mean, look at those other witches." She made a helpless notion towards Harry’s inevitable group of hero worshippers. "Look at his ex. Say what you want about Ginny, but I’ve rarely met someone as pretty as her. She only seems to get prettier every year, unlike some of us."
Malfoy frowned as if confused. "Are you saying that Potter is shallow?"
"No, of course not! I’m merely saying... there’s no reason why he should be physically attracted to me. Not unless I find a way to appeal to him. Physically." She knew she perhaps stressed the physical aspect a little more than she had to, but since that was the only new piece introduced to the puzzle of their relationship, it had better be good in order to make everything fit.
"I see. And how do you plan on doing that?"
She snorted. "Therein lies the rub. I have no idea."
There was a brief hesitation as he seemed to consider, before he reluctantly said, "Would you believe me if I said I did?"
"Have ideas. About how you could... appeal. Physically."
She rolled her eyes. "Let me guess... straighten my hair, lose weight, and shut up?"
"I think it would serve you well to do at least one of those things from time to time," he shot back.
She ignored his jab. "How could you help me? You claim Harry steals all witches worth going out with, but since he’s hardly even looking at them, he obviously doesn’t think they are all that interesting."
"So what if Potter and I don’t find the same witches ‘interesting’? It’s your looks we’re changing, not your entire personality. Unfortunately for him, he seems to like your personality well enough. As for your looks, you can build your own style around a few pieces of general advice."
"And what’s in it for you?"
He shrugged and shot her one of those insincere smiles she loathed. "I’ll be consoling all those other witches. It’s a thankless job, but someone has to do it."
"Hmm." Hermione really didn’t want to make a habit out of trusting someone as notoriously untrustworthy as Draco Malfoy, yet... it had been a while since he’d done anything truly bad and he did seem eager to get her together with Harry. She didn’t quite buy his reasons, though. "I’m not stupid, you know. If you try anything funny, I’ll realise it."
"Like claim that Harry would like me better if I shaved my head and began attending orgies."
"I do like the orgy idea."
Of course he would. She didn’t even try to suppress her exasperated groan. "Malfoy..."
He raised his hands and did a fair impression of someone completely innocent. Or he would have if his eyes hadn’t been laughing at her. "All I’m saying is that maybe getting laid wouldn’t be such a bad idea for you. Get rid of some of that nervous energy."
She shook her head. "You’re really not getting off to a good start."
"You want a better start?" he asked, trading the amusement for determination. "All right. Come on." He grabbed her arm and dragged off with her.
"Where are we going?" she asked, following along rather than making a scene, but feeling extremely wary about what he wanted.
"I can’t tell you these things in public, now, can I?" he muttered, hauling her out into some hallway and then trying a few doors until one opened. Then he pushed her in there and closed the door after them.
"Ah, smooth," she grumbled. "Now our illicit affair will be hot news tomorrow." She glanced around. It was some kind of office. Great. People would think they were having mad sex on this desk.
"Maybe that’ll rouse his interest. Now, shut up." He walked closer to her, narrowing his eyes at her lips. "Do you have your lipstick in that handbag of yours?"
"What? Forget your own?" she mocked, fishing it out.
He shot her a look and then glanced at the colour of the stick, before scrutinising her mouth again. It was a strangely intimate act and to her great embarrassment, she blushed. "This colour is all wrong for you," he announced. "You’re a woman who tans easily with brown hair and brown eyes. You shouldn’t wear an insipid colour like pink but rather a deep, warm red. Or a discrete darker colour. Something that either stands out or blends in, not this cutesy washed-out little-girl colour."
"Now you’re an expert on lipstick colours?"
"You don’t really have to do much else to your face," he continued as if she hadn’t spoken, "but do consider adding a thin eyeliner and more mascara. You’ll want your eyes to stand out and mesmerize him, which will then draw him to your mouth. Eye shadow should be reserved for formal events. You don’t really need it at the office and it’s always good to have a little something extra reserved for special occasions."
"Ok, this is weird." She squirmed a little at the way he continued to be closely watching her face. It was never pleasant to have your face dissected like that, but his unwavering gaze made it ten times worse.
"And you need new robes."
"These robes are new!" she objected.
"But they’re all wrong for you."
"Thanks." She was beginning to feel a little bruised. "Why don’t you remind me that I’m looking fat whilst you’re at it?"
"You do look bigger than you actually are."
She gaped at him.
"It’s the robes," he explained. "They narrow at the wrong place for you, resulting in slight bulging both above and below its waistline. Your waist is higher. It’s around here." He lightly touched her sides a little bit below her breasts. "My guess is it always was, but before it didn’t really matter. You could get away with it then."
She flinched. "So what you’re saying is that I should get something like pregnancy robes."
"I’m saying no such thing. Pregnancy robes are made to accentuate the belly and draw attention to it. They would make you look even bigger."
"Oh, that’s a relief!"
He sighed. "You’re so prickly. You’re looking for the body of a teenager, when in reality you have the body of a woman. I know which one I tend to prefer, and I don’t think I’ve met a single adult wizard who’d disagree with me."
She stared at him. He seemed perfectly sincere. If it was a compliment—and she wasn't completely certain it was—it was quite possibly the first one she’d ever heard from him. "Thank you..." she muttered.
He met her eyes for a moment and then looked away. "Lesson number one: tell a person what they want to hear."
"Oh." Suddenly she felt disproportionately foolish, and she was the one who had to look away. "Of course." Then she frowned. "But why are you giving me lessons? I thought this was all about looks. "
"There’s something to be said about presentation as well... in all its forms. It doesn’t matter how pretty you are if you don’t have style, and it doesn’t matter how stylish you are if you can’t open his eyes to it."
"Open his eyes? "
"He’s blinded by almost two decades of friendship, Chubs. It’s a wonder if he sees you as a woman at all at this point. "
"And that’s enough to seduce Harry?" She crossed her arms, oddly self-conscious. She didn’t particularly like being at Malfoy’s mercy like this and she would have to take care what advice she took from him. She still didn’t trust his motives.
He stepped back from her, taking the hint. "No... let’s start with the clothes. We’ll slowly take it from there."
She nodded, and then, done with all her ‘lessons’ for now, hurriedly slipped out of the room. With any luck, nobody would believe she had anything going with Malfoy and she could escape the gossip pages for once.