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, handiangel for the Britpick, and wh3tst0n3 for the extra beta on 9+10. You guys are brilliant. :)
Chapter Length: 3,925
If there was one thing Hermione would never admit to being, it was a coward. Yet, here she was, clearly acting like one. She’d managed not to go to Draco’s house that night and now she didn’t know how to face him, didn’t know how to respond to his questions about why she hadn't come or whether she’d come some other night. She certainly wouldn’t know how to respond if he acted like he’d never even invited her. Or if he acted like he didn’t care if he ever got her alone again. Her solution, albeit a temporary one, was to avoid him altogether. If she did everything in her power not to see him again, he wouldn’t be able to hurt her with his reaction or lack thereof... right?
As it would turn out: Wrong.
At first, dodging him was much the challenge she expected. Then... nothing. Quite literally nothing. He didn’t come by, he didn’t send her any cake or more traditional messages, and there weren’t even any reasons to come see him professionally.
It was aggravating.
Most likely it was yet another of his tactics to get her to stop avoiding him but it was working, damn it. How could she allow him to get away with ignoring her? She hadn’t deserved that! All she’d done was hide for a while after learning what she considered to be an ugly truth. Maybe his ego was a bit bruised but stuff that! If her feelings could take the hit, then so could his damn ego.
So off she stomped to his office to give him a piece of her mind.
What she found when she threw open the door had her staring for several long moments before she had to blink and her brain finally began processing what she was seeing.
Nothing was there. The whole office had been stripped bare of the clutter that had been very much Draco’s mark on the room. There were no pieces of parchment on his desk, no quills and ink, no pieces of outerwear on the hook beside the door or casually on the edge of his desk, no mugs. And perhaps even more damning—there was no overstuffed lounger. What was left was a wooden desk, no chair, in the middle of a completely stripped room with bare walls.
She realised there’d even been a painting before. Some kind of landscape. She spent another moment musing over why she would only really realise it had been there now that it was gone and why she should even care, before it hit her.
He was gone.
Ice seemed to cover the inside of her chest and she struggled to breathe. He was gone. Was he dead? He could be dead and nobody had bothered to tell her. No, they would tell her, wouldn’t they? Or would they assume she didn’t care? She certainly hadn’t acted like she cared, had she? Panic filled her. She’d been so busy being childish that she had never even considered how sick he was. Stupid. How stupid. How selfish of her. He’d tried to send her a message, but she'd ignored it! What if it had been important? What if...
She suddenly felt a wave of dizziness and nausea and had to support herself against the doorpost. This was too much to take.
Trying hard to get a grip, she took a deep breath. Then another. Feeling a fraction calmer, she decided that since she didn’t actually know what had happened, perhaps burying Draco was a bit premature. She pushed away from the doorpost and went to see her long-neglected assistant on shaky legs that constantly threatened to give out.
Unsurprisingly, he looked startled to see her. She never came to see him voluntarily.
"Miss Granger?" he asked as if unsure what to think about her being there.
On a better day she might have been amused. "I have—" Her voice broke and she had to clear her throat before trying again. "I have some personal effects of Mr Malfoy’s. Do you have an address to which I might send them?" Why she was all of a sudden speaking so formally, she had no idea. All she knew was that her brains weren’t functioning properly at the moment.
"I could send them," he offered.
"No... that’s all right," she said. "I’ll do it myself. The address will do." Besides, there were no ‘effects’. She had nothing of Draco’s. Absolutely nothing. She didn’t even have those blasted robes he’d purchased any longer. She’d made herself sell them back because keeping them had seemed foolish at the time.
Now she felt foolish for giving them up.
He shot her an odd look but obligingly opened a drawer and quickly fished out a piece of parchment before copying the address down for her. He seemed extremely organised, but then again, with a desk as empty as his, there was probably little else to do but sort drawers. Perhaps Draco had been right and she should give the wizard a chance to earn his keep.
He handed her the bit of parchment and Hermione took it without saying a word. She couldn’t find it in herself to discuss something as mundane as work right now.
A half hour later, Hermione was only feeling even more stupid. She’d gone to the address and lingered in confusion and horror outside the clearly empty building. It certainly didn’t look lived in. Then again... this was the address she’d been given for returning his effects, and his parents wouldn’t have been so quick to empty his home, would they?
She’d probably never know if they would, because a few minutes after she arrived she had to duck behind a tree when a very living Draco Malfoy exited the front door, locking it behind himself and throwing the key in the letter box, before he vanished around the corner. He was holding a silver cane, which vaguely annoyed her, considering his adamant refusal to use one when last she’d spoken to him, but that hardly even bore mentioning.
He wasn’t dead and she was relieved about that. Happy, even.
Rather, he’d chosen to leave without as much as a note of goodbye, clearly with no intention of returning. He must have known for a while now that he would be leaving. How else could he have cleared out so completely both from work and his home? He must have known already when he’d said she could come by any time she wanted. When he’d said she could always come by.
She wished that didn’t hurt so much.
For once, Hermione hadn’t called Harry down to watch her drown her sorrows, either in water or spirits. She hadn’t drowned them on her own, either. She found herself in a peculiar state where she was actually coping fairly well as long as she didn’t dwell on what had happened. This meant that she wasn’t about to invite talk about Draco. Talking would hurt. As long as she didn’t talk about it—or think about it at all—there was only a kind of pain-tinged numbness inside her. It would probably go away in time as those things usually did. At least she hoped so.
For the next several excruciatingly slow days, life went on.
Harry tended to look at her oddly, but by now even he must know that Draco had left. He probably wondered why she didn’t mention it, but she simply couldn’t. Not yet. It would be too embarrassing to break down in front of Harry when they could do nothing but agree that she should have known better. He didn’t push her to talk about it, though, and she appreciated that more than she could ever put into words. Possibly, he had other reasons for not inviting a heart-to-heart, like, say, being sick of the subject matter and occupied with his own love life, but that didn’t lessen her appreciation.
But then suddenly one day, Hermione found herself with a somewhat peculiar request from Harry. He always had his very good reasons, however, so it didn’t even occur to her to question it. She saw it as a welcome distraction.
That night at quarter to nine, Hermione arrived at the pub. Before doing anything else, she headed straight for the loo, where she double-checked her appearance. Her hair was still neatly swept up under the wide-brimmed pointy hat, sporting a bit of a veil and a jaunty yellow flower of indeterminate species. Her old crocheted shawl was drawn tight, and her dark shapeless robes were covering her—for this particular occasion—more than ample bosom and dragging on the floor. As for her face... Draco probably wouldn’t have approved of her use of make-up, or magic for that matter. Her nose was large and hooked, her eyes sunken, and her skin appeared to be wrinkled. She smiled and the teeth were yellowish and uneven.
Ok, so maybe she’d gone a bit overboard. But it was the most fun she’d had in ages, so why not? It wasn’t every day that her best friend asked her to mask as a crone. Most of the time he let her pick her own disguises and they tended to be a lot more subtle.
Although usually he told her why he needed her to be less recognisable. One time, he’d needed a suspect to believe she was an Auror, because real Aurors were bound by some stupid outdated law about what they could and could not disclose without the suspect being represented, whereas she would be able to retell everything she had heard to the Wizengamot..
She had no question whatsoever in her mind that this must also be important, so she was a crone, no questions asked.
Feeling remarkably good about herself, considering her current level of attractiveness and the morality of her endeavours, she hurried back into the main room of the pub so she could be in place before the assigned time. To her surprise, Harry was already there, standing a bit off to the side from the seat she was supposed to take, eyeing her sceptically.
As she slid into her seat, he muttered, "Hunch your shoulders, woman. Your posture is too youthful. And the face is too overdone. Please get rid of it, it’s unsettling. He shouldn't be able to see you that closely, anyway."
She raised an eyebrow at him but did as he asked. It was a pity. She’d especially liked the touch with the teeth. Maybe she could use it for Halloween and scare some kids into remembering to brush after gorging themselves.
Behind her she heard Harry slide into the seat with his back to her on the other side of the low divide. Then he changed his mind, switching to the opposite end of his table. When he’d finally settled, he began fidgeting. Odd. He wasn’t usually nervous.
She ordered a drink from the barmaid. Gillywater in a low-stemmed glass with a red umbrella. A fitting drink for a crone.
She was taking her first sip, when she heard his voice and choked.
"Potter. You simply couldn’t let me leave the country without getting the last word, could you?"
Eyes watering, Hermione slowly put her glass down and took great care to swallow before making a few small delicate coughs to get the burning liquid out of her windpipe.
So this was why she must be so completely altered in looks. Harry was a dead man as soon as she got her hands on him. She really wanted to turn around and glare, but she was afraid that Draco wouldn’t be quite seated yet and would notice her. She thought she'd heard him sit down, but she couldn't be completely certain. She had to wait a suitable amount of time and then slip out. Once she'd done that she didn’t quite know what she was to do with herself or how exactly she would kill Harry, but so far poison played a large part in her plans. Maybe she’d go straight to the library to research painful yet untraceable poisons.
She vaguely registered that they weren’t being very chatty behind her. Really. Harry went through all the trouble of forcing her to listen to his conversation with Draco and didn’t even talk to him? Pathetic. She took a great gulp of her drink.
"So..." Harry finally said, sounding wary. Good. He probably realised how angry she was. "You’re leaving the country?"
Smooth, Harry. Smooth.
"Yes. Leaving for the mainland tomorrow. Feel free to not send me any Christmas cards." The words were clipped as if Draco felt forced to reply. Well, hah. He deserved to be annoyed by this as well.
"Oh? How long are you staying there then?"
"Probably forever. You can throw a party for getting rid of me if you’d like. I’ll be busy neither knowing nor caring."
Harry didn’t take the bait. "I see you’re using a cane. That’s new."
"Yes, well, since I’m leaving, I really don’t give a damn any longer if anyone around here starts gossiping about my health. Or lack thereof."
Another silence. Really. Hermione had imagined a lot of things coming from this conversation, but being bored out of her skull wasn’t something she would ever have anticipated—yet here she was.
"Why am I here?" Draco finally asked.
"You know why."
"I thought I did but you don’t seem much like a jealous boyfriend. Pity, really."
"You’d want me to be jealous?"
"I’m already leaving. Having you breathe fire because of my transgressions would only sweeten the deal."
Hermione winced. As far as motivations went...
"I’m sorry I can’t do that for you," Harry was saying, not sounding particularly bothered by Draco’s vitriol. Of course, Harry was right not to be bothered. It was only to be expected that Draco would enjoy getting one over Harry.
"So what’s the point of this meeting?"
"You don’t think sharing a drink is enough reason?"
"No. I think we’ve shared enough, don’t you?"
Hermione flinched and began clumsily fiddling with the stem of her glass to distract herself from the embarrassment. He was so crude. It was clearly to bait Harry, but it still stung that he’d talk about her like that.
"Aren’t you going to ask why I’m not the jealous boyfriend?"
"I’m already going; what’s the point of you being jealous now?"
There was a slight pause. "I was afraid of that," Draco then said, in what was possibly his first truly inoffensive comment since he’d entered the pub. "She really did lie to me, then? About you."
At this point Hermione wished she could see their faces or their body language or, frankly, anything. Since her secret was out she would at least have liked to know how Draco felt about it, but as it was, all she had to go by was his voice. Voices really carried more emotion when coupled with a facial expression.
"You don’t seem surprised that she did."
"No... Unfortunately, I had my suspicions. She’s not that adept at lying." He sounded less than pleased.
"I don’t think she thought you wanted anything to do with her if she weren’t involved with me."
Again there was a subtle pause before Draco replied, "She was probably right."
Hermione’s hands knotted in front of her on the table, her knuckles turning white as that statement hit her full force. She was probably right. Whoever had first said that the truth hurt had greatly understated the case. Disappointment rolled through her, squashing those small hopes she didn't even know she'd had.
"Why?" Harry asked. But Hermione felt it was useless since the game was already lost. Draco was leaving. He'd only wanted her because he'd thought she was with Harry. What else was there?
"You know why."
Hermione was getting really annoyed with that answer.
"Actually I don’t," Harry said. "I rather thought..."
"What? That I’d want her for myself? What would I do with her? Really, do tell me. And don’t forget that I’m going to live in another country while you’re at it."
To Hermione’s great relief, Harry ignored the question to focus on something else and change the subject. She didn’t honestly want to sit and listen to a discussion of why Draco didn’t want her. Yet all thoughts of leaving had long been forgotten in the midst of her morbid curiosity. "Why are you leaving?" Harry asked.
Draco seemed to merely shrug at the question. "Medical reasons."
"I thought you were getting better," Harry said.
"So did I. My body disagrees."
What? Oh, no. He couldn’t be saying what she thought he was saying.
Apparently this new information had shocked Harry as well. "For how long?" he asked, his voice so quiet Hermione could barely make it out over the general murmur of voices. Business was picking up in the pub and the noise levels were rising with it.
"Why would you care, Potter? Why would you give a damn about any of this? Aren’t you simply happy to finally see me go?"
"It’s hard for me to be happy about it when she’s not."
Shut up, shut up, shut up!
Draco snorted. "Spoken like a true not-boyfriend, mate. You should reconsider that position. Not that you shouldn’t do that anyway simply for the benefits. She has a couple of truly spectacular—"
"Spoken like a true friend, Malfoy," Harry thankfully cut him off. "You didn’t even tell her goodbye, did you?"
"There wasn’t much need to. We were done."
"She was done or you were done?"
"Both, I guess. Does it even matter? She's not going to miss me."
"Am I, now?"
"Did you even consider how she would react to finding you gone?"
"I figured she would be pleased not to have to risk running into me at work any longer. It would save her a lot of energy spent hiding."
The scorn put into that last word made Hermione cringe. He was right, but... did he have to sound so cruel? It was fairly humiliating to know what he truly thought of her.
"You know better than that."
"All right. Then I suppose I figured she would be hurt, then angry, cursing my name. It hardly matters. In the end, it's all the same."
Was it possible to die from heartbreak? Hermione felt like she’d soon find out if it was. That chest pain she was quickly developing certainly felt fatal. She grabbed the stem of her glass and lifted it to her lips, hoping to fortify herself.
Harry persisted. Right now she could really hate him. "Why doesn’t it matter? If you knew that leaving without a word would hurt her, then why didn’t you talk to her?"
"What would’ve been the point? What was ever the point?"
"She’s in love with you."
Hermione had been about to release her glass when Harry made the casual announcement, but when he did, she accidentally squeezed the stem too hard, breaking it and sloshing liquid over the side as the bowl tipped. She managed to catch it before any further damage was done, and wordlessly repaired the glass, but then she simply sat there, staring at the spilled drink and the soggy paper umbrella, unable to remember the simple spell that would clean it up.
Fortunately, it had all happened so quickly and with so little noise that the men behind her hadn’t noticed at all. But then again, maybe it would’ve been better if they had noticed, so as to distract Draco from what Harry had just said.
What Harry had just said.
Hermione clasped her mouth, trying to keep in the sounds trying to escape as her eyes filled with tears. Why was he doing this to her? Hadn’t Draco made his indifference more than clear already? She could take the indifference and even the heartbreak that had seemed to be killing her even a moment ago, but this... this humiliation, it was too much. She would have to bury herself under her covers and eat nothing but cake and never come out until she died.
"I really think you’re overstating the case there, Potter."
"No, she is. What are you going to do about it?"
"Even if it were true... Why should I do anything about it? I’m still leaving."
"You wouldn’t stay for her?"
The tears began to spill. There it was, ruthlessly put. Harry had completely humiliated her and it didn’t matter either way. All things considered, it was probably better Draco hadn’t said goodbye. At least when it was Harry saying these things, she could claim he’d misunderstood everything. She could only imagine if she had said them and had to look him in the eye as he shrugged her off like that.
"That would hurt her to know." Harry sounded pained, like he was regretting his decision to have this conversation. Too little, too late. So very much too late. Hermione knew he could see her shoulders shaking but she was unable to stop them. It was all she could do not to make any sounds.
"Then you’re simply not going to tell her," Draco hissed, completely unaware of the situation. "It doesn’t have anything to do with her."
"Was she right then?" Harry asked. "Are you still in love with your ex?"
Draco jerked back with so much force that Hermione could feel him bump into the divide between their chairs. "What? She actually told you that?" His voice was a fairly good impression of someone who’d had his confidences betrayed. Or something. Hermione was too busy trying to get herself under control to frankly care if she'd somehow stung him.
"Well, are you?"
"Why does that even matter?"
"Because I think that part bothers her the most. That she thinks you were with her, wishing she was someone else. I’d like to know if there’s at least one good thing I can tell her about you."
Draco made an exasperated sound. "Why would you even mention me to her? But have it your way. No, I never wished for her to be someone else."
"But you’re avoiding the question. Should I take that as a yes to you being in love with your ex?"
"She's married, for God's sake!"
For one brief moment, before she could check herself, Hermione hated this ex of Draco's that had his love merely by existing somewhere in the world.
Then she reminded herself that it was hardly anybody's fault. In fact, if anyone were to blame, it was Hermione herself for letting down her guards so completely when she'd known it wouldn't bring anything good with it.
"And that matters to you?"
"Of course! It was over years ago! Trust Hermione to jump to such a conclusion." Something seemed to occur to him. "Merlin, that was why...?" He groaned. "No matter. It’s probably better this way."
"Word to the wise, Malfoy. Don’t wax poetic about your ex when you’re with someone else."
"I was talking about my damn past. I hardly thought she’d make a thing out of it. I hadn’t seen my ex for years at that point."
At that point?
"At that point?" Harry echoed Hermione’s thoughts.
"Yes. There’s a certain kind of irony in the fact that I’m now actually moving to be closer to her, don’t you think?"
The last tiny piece of Hermione’s heart broke.