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: 4,185
"I can’t do this!" Hermione announced as soon as she’d reached Malfoy’s office, which she’d set out for as soon as she was reasonably certain he’d be there. She was never reasonably certain until mid-morning and the wait had been killing her. Not because she wanted to see him—because after this weekend, she really didn’t—but because she wanted it over with.
She'd never actually been there before.
He was sitting in a leather chair far too big and luxurious to be regular Ministry furniture. It supported having his legs comfortably up, and he had a small movable tray that functioned as his desk whilst his regular desk was shoved up against one wall and seemed to be used mostly for storage purposes. The general state of his office left something to be desired as well. From the looks of it, he would accidentally drop parchment, quills, ink, and even minor articles of clothing, on the floor and never pick them up. Come to think of it, his ‘storage’ area also held quite the collection of mugs.
No wonder his office was tucked away in a corner. If too many of the wrong people saw this, they’d seriously begin questioning what the Ministry was all about.
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Good morning to you too."
She shook her head. "I’m calling it off."
He lowered the parchment he was reading, but didn’t get up. "Calling what off?"
"This whole scheme with Harry. I might be missing out but I don’t care. I keep trying to imbibe courage and you don’t even want to know what it’s doing to my head. Or my skin!"
"Ah." He studied her. "So it has nothing at all to do with this weekend, then?"
She couldn’t prevent the slight blush on her cheeks. She’d thought far more about that than she ought. "Of course it does! If you didn’t notice, I was drunk. Again!"
He slowly nodded. "I know. I’m sorry. I was out of line."
She blinked. What? "N-no, I meant—"
"I think we both know what you meant."
She felt extremely uncomfortable with the direction this conversation was taking. She didn’t want to address that. She never wanted to address that. If they addressed it, she would have to revisit her humiliating response and she couldn’t even begin to put words to how little she wanted to do that. "That aside," she hedged, "I simply don’t want to do this any longer."
"With me or with Potter?"
He sighed deeply, as if bone-weary. "You do know it was a lesson, right?"
"A demonstration, if you will."
She crossed her arms, feeling strangely defenceless in the face of this conversation that she couldn’t seem to avoid. "Really," she drily said.
"It’s not as hard as you think to seduce someone, even someone with no prior interest in you. I wanted to show you. First you banter a little and charm them. Then you tell them something deeply personal, something that makes them view you in a new light—like when you realised I could be a person with feelings too, simply because I told you I’d been in love once."
"So I let you think it was something I was still struggling with." He shrugged. "I never said you couldn’t manipulate the truth. Finally, I revealed a thing about myself that could only make you think better of me—that I’m on your side when you’re doing this thankless job of yours. By then it didn’t even matter that I told you the reason for it; you were already so softened towards me that you were willing to believe that it was because I cared—either about your causes or about you. In the mood of the moment, I’m fairly certain I could’ve done more than steal a small kiss."
"Right." She felt even stupider than she had before—which was probably his intention. How could she have been so easy to manipulate? Was she really that gullible? All the evidence pointed to yes. "But don’t forget that I was completely trollied." Ah, the sweet excuse of alcohol.
"That must be why you didn’t get it."
"Yeah... probably." She had a rather ominous feeling that she wouldn’t have got it even when sober, though. He’d seemed... different. She hated to admit it, but for a short while, she’d believed every word he’d said. She knew it was impossibly naïve of her, but why would she have questioned his motives? It wasn’t like she’d believed he truly wanted her as anything but a distraction, but she’d believed he was sharing deeply personal truths.
"I’ll keep the lessons cleaner in the future," he said, perusing his parchment again.
She didn’t have the energy to disabuse him of the notion that there’d be any more lessons, so she simply turned on her heel and went back to the safety of work.
"I thought you didn’t want to go out again," Harry said, watching Hermione with concern as she threw back another shot.
She made a grimace. "You thought wrong."
"Is this yet another of those things you won’t tell me about?"
"What do you mean? I tell you everything!" Except all those things she didn’t tell him about, of course.
"You aren’t telling me why we’re drinking on a Wednesday. You know you’ll have a hangover tomorrow."
"Yeah, well... was thinking of taking a sick day," Hermione muttered, picking up another shot.
"You? Skiving?" Harry stared at her. "Now I know something is off."
For a second, Hermione thought about explaining, but then discarded the idea. Harry wouldn’t understand any of it. He certainly wouldn’t understand the confusion she’d been battling all weekend that led to nothing but more confusion on Monday, and how she’d ever since then wanted nothing more than to never lay eyes on Draco Malfoy again.
She felt so embarrassed. And she wasn’t even certain why. The kiss had maybe lasted all of two seconds and she could easily blame her slow reaction time on the fact that she’d been inebriated. So what if she’d softened towards him for a short while? She wasn’t exactly known for being cold-hearted and he’d seemed sincere. She wasn’t the fool for being lied to—he was the bastard for lying!
She drank the shot.
"All right," Harry said, moving the last shot in front of her out of her reach. "I’m cutting you off."
"Hey! You can’t do that!"
"You don’t want to be known as the lawmaker who’ll get smashed on a Wednesday night and do something stupid."
She snorted. "I’m already known as the lawmaker who sleeps with you. And Malfoy. And dresses hideously, and is too mean to buy new robes for important functions. And did you know they’re doing the pregnancy speculations as well? ‘Who’s the Father?’ Ugh."
"Nobody believes what those magazines are writing."
"Keep telling yourself that, Harry. May I have my drink back?"
"Only if you promise it’s the last one."
He finally let her have it and she immediately downed it.
"Please tell me," he quietly said.
"He shouldn’t have kissed me," she grumbled, her tongue greatly loosened by the drinks. "I mean, I knew it was only because he was bored, but I didn’t know he didn’t mean it." Way to go, that didn’t sound pathetic at all! Besides, it wasn’t like she actually wanted him to mean it—at least not in any way that mattered!
"Who? And mean it how?"
She shook her head. "It doesn’t matter who, but he could at least have been attracted to me if he was going to do that!" See, that was a good argument if she did say so herself. Be attracted or don’t kiss. Not a very unreasonable demand, really.
"Why would ‘he’ kiss you if he wasn’t attracted to you?"
"Can’t tell you."
"Why not? You know, this is very unhelpful. I still have no clue what’s going on." He did look fairly clueless. But then again, didn’t men always?
"Count yourself lucky then!" She glanced around. "Are you certain I can’t have one more?"
"No, you’re done. And I don’t buy that someone would kiss you without being attracted to you. He’s probably making up excuses."
She frowned, finding Harry’s reasoning odd. "Why would he do that when I didn’t ask for an explanation or in any way question what happened?"
"I don’t know. Ask him."
Right. Because she really wanted to have more conversations about what had happened. Ever.
"Meh. I’m not interested in him anyway."
"Then why so upset?"
"Because... it felt nice to feel attractive. And then he took it away. He could’ve at least let me keep that." She sounded pathetic. She felt pathetic. She sighed. What was she even doing? She shouldn’t let such a well-known dick get to her so easily. "Ok, I’m over it. Thank you."
"You’re welcome," Harry said, looking like he still wasn’t certain what they were talking about. "By the way, it’s very soon the Anniversary... remember?"
She nodded grimly. That was one thing she wasn’t likely to forget. It being the tenth Anniversary of the end of the Second Wizarding War and everything, it was all over every kind of media in all of wizarding Britain. Not that she’d forget anyway. Ten years ago she’d lost so many close friends to a meaningless war.
"Did you decide if you’re going to the thing?" he asked.
She frowned. Ah, yes. The thing. It was soon and she had refused to make up her mind so far. She didn’t usually go. "It’s not really something to celebrate, is it?"
"I think it’s something to celebrate that we’re still here and we’re rebuilding society."
"And what about those that aren’t here?"
"I hear the Ministry is setting up a fund in their honour."
"Yeah. They call it an ‘equal opportunity’ fund. I was told someone got the idea from some Muggle relative. It’s supposed to give everyone in wizarding Britain the same opportunities for education and work, regardless of blood and race."
"Huh. Sounds nice." Sounded like something she should’ve done, really. Or something she should at least have paid enough attention to to know it existed. She’d have to see if they needed any help gathering donations.
"So... will you be there?"
"It’s a date then."
She made a grimace that was not quite a smile. A date, indeed.
Hermione sat at her work desk, staring at her hand mirror. One thing was that her eyes were bloodshot—that was what she got for not having a sick day—but she also had a spot. A spot! Although her skin had been showing signs of distress lately, she hadn’t had spots since... Well! She could barely remember the last time she’d had a spot. She’d always had a relatively healthy diet, a good hygiene and an active lifestyle, so spots had been something that happened to other people.
She didn’t even know any spells to get rid of it, for crying out loud!
"You look like shite."
She closed the mirror with a snap and glared at Malfoy. "Thank you!"
"You really need to take better care of yourself." He came into her office uninvited and sat down in the chair across from her.
Look who was talking! He looked like death on legs half the time! "I know."
"Then why don’t you?"
"I told you! I need to get drunk to work up courage, and this is apparently what happens when I drink!"
"And how has it worked for you so far?"
She didn’t answer, because he bloody well knew how it had worked for her so far.
"Are you going to the Anniversary Ball?"
She reluctantly nodded.
"Then be pretty and sober and bond with him over what day it is."
She scowled at him. "First of all, I refuse to use that day to try and manipulate Harry. Second of all, sober doesn’t seem to help. Third of all, I can’t suddenly get prettier without a Polyjuice potion."
"What are you wearing?"
She blinked and frowned. "What?"
"For the Anniversary Ball. What are you wearing?"
"I don’t know yet."
"If you plan to have something spectacular made, you need to do it right now. Today."
"Then it’s a good thing that I don’t plan to do that."
"I need to eat, Malfoy. And I’d rather donate to the new fund than spend far too much on a useless set of robes I can only wear once."
He shook his head, looking more patronising than ever. "Sometimes I doubt your dedication."
"If Harry is the kind who’ll fall for a set of robes rather than the witch in them, I’ll pass."
"You were the one who said you needed to work to attract him physically. I’m only trying to help you with that."
"Forget it. It’s not worth it."
He pursed his lips at her but then merely shrugged. "All right, then."
What? She narrowed her eyes. Something was always fishy when Malfoy gave in this easily. "All right, what?"
"All right. You don’t want to get fancy robes and I can’t make you."
"What are you plotting?"
"You should take care of that spot." He tapped his own chin where her spot was located. "It doesn’t exactly look professional. Or sexy, for that matter."
He was gone before she was done searching her desk for something to throw at his head that wouldn't bring her seven years of unhappiness when it broke.
On the day of the dreaded event, as soon as Hermione stepped out of the shower, someone was at the door. How typical. She wrapped herself in the best investment she’d ever made—a huge, thick, soft towel—and glanced at the clock as she went through the sitting room to reach the door. She still had plenty of time to get ready for the Ball, but who on earth would visit her now?
She would never have guessed.
She opened the door and her mouth dropped open. "Malfoy? What... Why..." She frowned. "Ministry emergency?"
He didn’t reply but took her in at a glance. "Perfect timing I see. Are you going to let me in?"
"No!" She crossed her arms. "I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m—" Naked. She snapped her mouth shut. She shouldn’t say that. Besides, the towel was perfectly decent. Except he knew she was naked underneath it. "I’m getting ready to go to the Anniversary Ball, if you don’t mind."
He nodded. "And I’m here to help you with that."
She shot him a very suspicious glance. "We didn’t agree on any such thing!"
"Of course not. You’d never have agreed to it. Why do you think I came here on foot?"
"And why do you think I’ll let you in now?"
He pointed at a box she hadn’t noticed, leaning against the wall. "Curiosity."
Hermione stared at the open box on her bed and then she glowered in Malfoy’s general direction. "What is this? "
"I thought that much would be obvious."
"No, what is this?"
"It’s not my fault that you refused to get a decent set."
"So you simply went out and got me robes with no regards for measurements or anything? And I did get robes myself!"
"Save your robes for next time. And of course I didn’t ignore your measurements, Chubs. It just so happened that they hadn’t resold your last formal robes yet. We figured you’d be about the same size now."
"Obviously I didn’t make them myself, Granger."
She eyed him warily. He was wearing everyday robes. "Why aren’t you changed? Aren’t you going?"
He smiled wryly. "I tried to go to one of these things last year. I was cussed out. I believe the consensus was that I was making a 'mockery' of the whole thing. I think it’s better for everyone involved if I stay far away this year."
"Oh." She looked down. "I’m sorry."
"You really do have to stop apologising for things that have nothing to do with you." He checked his watch. "Are you going to be contrary all night, or are you going to put those on?"
"I am not wearing them!"
He shrugged. "Suit yourself. But in that case, the money really is wasted, isn’t it? I don’t know anyone else who could wear them."
He chuckled at that. "I know plenty of witches that only wish someone would be this horrible to them."
She scrunched up her nose, seeing his point there, but it simply felt so... invasive. "You have to admit that it’s out of line."
"A bit," he admitted. "But if this doesn’t work, I promise to back off."
"And," he added, "if you humour me, I’ll let you sell them back afterwards and donate the money to that fund you were talking about the other day."
"And if I don’t?"
He shrugged. "Then I’ll burn them."
She gaped at him. "So, let me get this straight, you’re blackmailing me by deliberately throwing money away if I don’t do as you wish?"
"You really are clever, aren’t you?"
She shot him an odd look. He merely looked back at her like he showed up on people’s door steps to blackmail them into wearing clothes he’d bought every day. "This is the strangest thing you’ve done yet, Malfoy."
"Oh, I actually doubt that. I do plenty of strange things. Aren’t you getting cold?"
Heat suffused Hermione’s cheeks. She was still only wearing her towel and, yes, damn it, she was getting cold. She hadn't had time to completely dry off and she liked her bedroom cool. "Don’t you worry about that!" she snapped.
He grinned. "Look, just wear them. Nobody else will know. And I’ll even turn my back whilst you get changed."
She narrowed her eyes. He’d like that, wouldn’t he? Turning his back to face her mirror! She pointed towards the door. "Sitting room!" She hadn’t been completely thrilled at having him in her bedroom to begin with, but he’d suggested she took the box there right away for the ease of it and declining would only have made him think she was afraid he’d want something to happen. Which was ludicrous.
He obeyed, but not without giving her a regretful look that she didn’t doubt was another lesson, and she was left staring at the robes he’d brought with him.
They were red. Bright red. Except for the ivory white with intricate gold embroidery in front and the gold band that went just below her bosom.
Damn her. Damn him. She lusted for those robes. They were absolutely gorgeous and beyond anything she’d ever worn before and he knew that, the miserable excuse for a bugger!
He knocked at the door, making her jump. "Less scowling and more dressing," he called out.
Her eyes widened. She really wished he’d stop doing that.
Hermione stared at herself in the mirror. Her hair was put up, her face was made up, her neck was perfumed, and the robes fit like they were made for her.
Which, she supposed, they were.
"I don’t know what to make of that horrified look," Malfoy drawled from behind her. He’d been constantly poking and prodding her all night.
"This isn’t me."
"Of course it’s you." He frowned at her. "You don’t like it?"
"No, it’s..." She looked away from the mirror. "It’s silly. I think I’m ready now, don’t you?" She got up and began hunting around the bedroom for something to wear over these robes without wrinkling them in the short distance she’d have to walk outside.
"What is it?" he insisted.
"Let it go, Malfoy."
"Not on your life, Granger."
She stopped searching and stared at him, uncertain how to take the sharpness of his voice. "Why not?"
"Because I didn’t come here with those robes so you could get that look on your face!"
No, he’d come here so he could get Harry off the market and get more witches for himself. How weak was that reason? She’d bet he was also motivated by a deep desire to mess with her head. This whole Cinderella thing was only designed to show her how she’d never look again. "The robes promise something I can’t keep, all right? It... it’s really not me."
"You’re right. This is silly."
She felt oddly bruised, considering she should have known what he’d say. "I told you it was, so why did you ask?" she muttered.
"Potter already knows every single side of you but this one. If this doesn’t sway him, nothing will. He already knows what he’s getting. He’s simply too blind to know that he wants it. This is only to make him see it."
"Hmm." She looked away. Oddly, her immediate concerns hadn’t been about Harry. It had been about the way Malfoy was currently letting his gaze slide over her, clearly admiring his handiwork. He seemed to genuinely enjoy looking at and... want this creation of his, where he’d yet to want her. It made her feel like some kind of doll. Nothing but an artificial pretty exterior put on top of something else that would never measure up and be the real thing in his eyes.
"And you forgot something," he added.
He reached down into the box for the robes and brought out a smaller, flat black box. Hermione had a near heart attack.
"Put that away!" she sharply insisted.
"Relax," he said. "You don’t get to keep this one."
That did make her relax, but only a little. "I look fine without it." She didn’t even want to know what it was.
"You didn’t even take a look at it! And just so you know, I didn’t pay anything for it."
She side-eyed him. "It’s old?"
"No. Quite new, actually."
"The jeweller simply asks that if anyone asks you about it, you mention where it’s from."
"So... I’m a walking advertisement?" She felt oddly relieved at that.
"Basically, yes. I figured you’d prefer that over me buying something."
She hazarded a glance towards the box he’d now opened. It was a necklace. A really shiny necklace. It was a gold chain attached to a ‘V’ of separate diamond-covered gold plates, broken up by bezel-set rubies and more diamonds.
It looked ridiculously expensive.
"And they let you walk out of the shop with that without paying, huh?"
He didn’t even blink. "Of course. It’s quite the common thing, you know. And don’t worry. They promised me their discretion, so nobody will link me to it. It was your name they were interested in, anyway. Simply return it when you’re done with it."
"How come you know all these things?"
He scoffed. "I’m a pure-blood. If anything, we know how to get the most out of everything without ever giving anything back."
"If it wasn’t so odd to hear you say that, I’d agree with you."
He grinned and carelessly took the necklace from its box, tossing the empty container aside. "Come here and let me put this on you."
She reluctantly did as asked, reflexively raising her hands to lift her hair, only to realise that her neck and shoulders were completely bare. Not knowing what else to do with her hands, she let them fall to her sides.
She felt the cool touch of the necklace and the feather light touches of his fingers casually brushing her neck in the process. It gave her gooseflesh that she violently hoped he didn’t notice.
"There," he murmured close to her ear. "Look."
She looked up to see herself in the mirror. She didn’t recognise the woman staring back at her. She didn’t want to look at her, so she looked away again.
"Why?" he breathed, frustration colouring his words. "Why are you so opposed to being beautiful?"
"It’s not me."
"It is you."
"No, it’s a fancy dress and jewellery I could never afford."
"No... they’re only accessories that enhance the real you."
She looked up and caught Malfoy’s eyes in the mirror. He looked like he meant it. She wanted him to mean it. She wanted him to tell her more pretty things and pretend he wanted her. It had been a long time since she’d been wanted by anyone and she was sadly starved enough for it that anyone would do.
Even the person who was known to constantly disparage her.
"Don’t do that," he whispered.
"Do what?" She didn’t break eye contact.
"Look at me... like you don’t know..."
"Don’t know what?" Her heart was pounding. Any second now, he would smirk and deliver a crushing pun, yet she couldn’t look away and couldn’t stop herself from asking.
His eyes dropped to her neck. "How good you smell."
"You can buy that smell by the bottle."
He slowly shook his head. "No... you can’t." Then he bowed his head and pressed his lips against the exact spot he’d been eyeing.