Hermione Granger peeled her eyes away from the swan ice sculptures perched on either side of the ballroom entrance to meet the expectant gaze of her date, David Smith. She’d been deep in thought about the charms placed on the ice to prevent melting, wondering if Pansy had taken the idea from the stories told by the students of Beauxbatons during their fourth year.
“I’m sorry, I’m a bit distracted tonight,” she sighed, brushing a rogue curl that had fallen in her line of sight back behind her ear. She’d spent close to an hour trying to smooth and pin her signature curls into something acceptable for high society and they were already disappointingly loose. “What did you ask?”
He frowned, looking put out, and repeated himself with less enthusiasm than she’d heard in his voice the first time. “I said, tonight is even more stunning than I thought it’d be. As soon as I saw the announcement in the paper, I knew the Parkinson-Potter match would be the wedding of the year, but being here at the actual engagement party is beyond my imagination. How lucky are we?”
“So lucky,” she mumbled under her breath, shuffling her feet and wincing at the tenderness of her arches from the heels that Pansy had convinced her to wear.
“Isn’t this just the best night of your life?”
Her lips twisted to the side in distaste. “Honestly? I’ve had more fun at a funeral before.” Tilting her head back, she drained the rest of her champagne flute, the sweet drink light and fruity on her tongue. At least she could say Pansy had great taste in champagne; a bottle was probably the same price as the monthly rent for her flat.
David gasped, bringing his hand up to his chest as if personally offended. “Hermione Granger, what is wrong with you?”
“I suppose it was a Death Day party, not a funeral,” she clarified with a cock of her head, “but the sentiment still stands. Harry knows I hate these sort of parties; he hasn’t been able to drag me to a Ministry event in years. I assure you, he’s just happy that I’m here at all.”
In a bout of luck, David’s attention was immediately pulled away when the string quartet in the corner of the room played an introductory note. “Oh sweet Circe!” he exclaimed, rocking backwards onto his heels and peering over his shoulder. “Celestial is incredibly exclusive―the Parkinsons must have booked their appearance at this engagement party the day Lady Parkinson had a positive pregnancy charm!”
Hermione didn’t respond, biting the inside of her cheek to hold back a sigh.
He continued anyway. “I shouldn’t be surprised; I expected nothing less from the Pansy Parkinson. This entire event looks straight out of an edition of Bouquet!”
“Makes sense, as she owns that Bridal magazine,” Hermione grumbled under her breath, lamenting that she was already out of alcohol and still having this conversation.
A floating silver platter with several flutes of sparkling champagne drifted past the pair and she leaned over to snag another glass, only for the tray to shift just out of reach.
She gasped and repeated the motion, watching as it moved away from her hand each time, as if taunting her. “How rude! I’m wearing her dress and her heels, the least she could do is let me get drunk.”
“Pureblood social customs say no more than two drinks at an event,” David interjected with a raised finger, breaking her thoughts. “Unless there’s a formal meal in which case a dessert wine is allowed.”
Tossing him a sidelong glare, for the twelfth time in the last hour she regretted inviting him as her escort tonight. In hindsight, it was her fault for her procrastination in finding a date, but it had been years since she found a genuine connection with anyone, and she hadn’t been interested in suffering through another bad first date. David seemed an optimal choice, given the circumstances. He loved Pureblood society and knew enough about it to blend in at the engagement party, he was available and not unattractive, and best of all, he wouldn’t expect anything from Hermione at the end of the night because he was into blokes.
Being single and closer to thirty than twenty hadn’t been part of Hermione’s plan.
After her fling with Ron fizzled out shortly after the war, she dove head first into her career, moving up through the ranks at the Ministry and following the path that she knew would one day lead to the Minister’s office. It happened so subtly that she nearly missed it. Days passed one at a time, failed relationships and horrible first dates piling up until finally she looked around herself and realised that she was the only single one left in her small group of friends.
If it were up to her, she wouldn’t have to listen to David’s ramblings at all, but she reminded herself that she was doing this for Harry. According to her best friend, it was her duty as Best Woman to help him keep his bride happy, and what made Pansy happy was achieving her vision of a perfect wedding. Unfortunately for Hermione, that vision included having everyone paired up and smiling for pictures and events. She had caved the minute Harry asked this favour for his fiancée.
They’d been through a war together; the least she could do was squeeze into an uncomfortable dress with a pair of matching heels and give her best smile to the camera.
Pansy had been the catalyst to bringing together the previously warring houses from their Hogwarts years. The rivalries and grudges they’d held as children quickly melted away with her strategic interference. Hermione had watched with a morbid fascination as Pansy moved them around like chess pieces, connecting friends with common interests.
It began with Draco and Harry, pushing them to bond over Quidditch by providing them with box seats to a game for their favourite team and several bottles of fine whisky. Next, she invited the entire group out to a new restaurant on opening night, where Blaise and Ron found a common ground in their love of interesting and innovative foods. A few pulled strings later and Daphne started a job in Hermione’s department at the Ministry. Though initially skeptical of the heiress, Hermione had been pleasantly surprised at Daphne’s wit and intuition when rallying support from the older members of the Wizengamot to support their proposed bills.
Pansy had been good for Harry, bringing out a side of him that Hermione hadn’t seen since before the weight of the war landed on his shoulders.
“I’ll be right back,” David muttered, pressing his lips into a thin line.
Humming in acknowledgement, she gave him an apologetic half-smile. She had a sneaking suspicion that she’d missed yet another droning monologue on the history of the Parkinson Manor or some dull factoid about Pureblood society.
The low chatter around her faded as she focused in on the melody playing on the harp. It really was quite pleasant. She glanced around the room, taking in several familiar faces. Harry and Pansy were busy greeting guests, Blaise appeared to be charming and flirting with a woman old enough to be his mother, and Ron was with Daphne, their hands intertwined as they conversed with her father.
Hermione wished Pansy hadn’t banned her from bringing a book to read.
A flash of platinum blond caught her attention and she rolled her eyes on instinct. “What do you want, Malfoy? Here to pester me about how painfully out of place I am tonight?” Hermione huffed, tugging at the uncomfortable lace of her dress where it irritated her collarbone. “Because if so, you can move along. I’m already well aware.”
Malfoy’s brows lifted towards his fringe and he settled into the space next to her, taking a long pull from his glass. “You’ll never believe it; I was across the room, minding my own business when suddenly I saw you and thought to myself, Granger sure looks as miserable as I feel.”
“Wow,” she drawled, “you sure know how to flatter a witch.”
The corner of his lips twitched and he leaned in closer until she could smell a hint of his cologne. “I have a lifetime of experience surviving these courtship events with my sanity in check, figured I could pass along some tips in the spirit of our truce.”
“Is the tip a Portkey home?” she quipped.
“First rite of passage at a stuffy Pureblood party―you have to exchange rumours with an air of indifference, as if you’re above the gossip, whilst simultaneously throwing in false stories with enough confidence to feed the rumour mill.” He waved his free hand in the air in front of him, his nose turned slightly upward. “Speaking of, rumour has it that Rowle has a Muggle girlfriend that he’s hiding from his family; his public dates with Rose Wallis are all for show to maintain the cover.”
“A Muggle girlfriend? The scandal! He’ll be blasted off the family tree for that!” she gasped in faux shock, her eyes skating across the crowd as she selected her victim. Her gaze settled on Gregory Goyle, standing by a cocktail table with his parents near the edge of the room. She inspected her nails with a feigned indifference. “Rumour has it that Goyle wasted his entire inheritance keeping up with his addiction to Pygmy Puffs; apparently he owns a three storey home in the middle of London where a hundred of them live in a chaotic miniature society with him acting as king.”
“The orange ones, obviously, he’s not a monster.”
Malfoy tutted under his breath, shaking his head slowly. “Addiction gets the best of us. He always did have an inferiority complex that manifested in self-destructive ways.” He picked at a non-existent strand of hair on his sleeve. “Did you hear about Thomas Greengrass? Rumour has it, he had an affair with a mermaid who lived in their family lake on the estate.”
Fighting back a laugh, she turned to Malfoy with the first genuine smile she’d had all night. “If you’re going to fabricate rumours, at least go for something more realistic. The logistics of wizard to mermaid intercourse would be near impossible—” She paused for a moment, contemplating her words further. “Actually, now that I think about it, if Thomas doesn’t mind the teeth, she could always use her mouth. I suppose that's ideal anyway, considering Purebloods fear spawning illegitimate children and sullying the line.”
Malfoy inhaled part of his drink and began to cough, his eyes watering as he tried to catch his breath with a series of wheezes. “Granger, are you seriously discussing the mechanics of intercourse with a mermaid in the middle of Potter and Pansy’s engagement party?”
“Rumour has it,” she emphasised with a cheeky grin, “David is not really boring David who audits paperwork at the Ministry and obsesses over Pureblood society in his free time, but is in fact an international spy named Daniel. Being boring is his cover.”
“Is it now?”
“It is. Daniel is extremely dedicated to his craft.”
“Tell me, does Daniel the international spy kill people?”
She tapped her index finger against her chin thoughtfully. “Great question―only on Tuesdays.”
“Then we should all be grateful that today is Saturday.” If Hermione didn’t know any better, she might have thought he was teasing her. “Dare I even ask why Tuesdays?”
“Because rubbish pickup is Wednesday, of course.”
He lifted his glass of whisky up to her. “Well, international spywork would certainly explain his current absence, but unless Alexandra is also a spy, I’d say they’ve been gone a suspiciously long time together.”
His jaw worked as he gritted out, “My date. They left for the loo at the same time and it's been over twenty minutes since. I have a difficult time believing there would ever be a queue at anything hosted by Pansy.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about David pursuing a woman, he’s—” she frowned, her brow creasing as she noticed a look of amusement cross Malfoy’s face “—isn’t he?”
His eyes flicked over to meet hers, the silver piercing through her. “You’re honestly asking me if your date, Daniel the international spy who murders only on Tuesdays, prefers Quaffles or Beater Bats?”
“What? No, that would be ridiculous. I just thought...” She felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment and her voice lowered. “Well, I suppose that’s what I get for assuming.”
“It’s a common enough question; not always a definitive answer, either. You see, Granger, some people play different positions depending on the day and the available players.”
The blush spread down her neck and she huffed. “I really need another drink.”
“If only we were surrounded by a magical catering service designed to tend to your every whim,” Malfoy mused, drumming his fingertips against the drink in his hand. The motion caused the ice cube inside to clink against the glass. “I know you spent years trying to free the house elves but do you also have a campaign against charmed serving dishes?”
She crossed her arms across her chest and huffed. “No, it’s more that they have a campaign against me. I’ve already exceeded my two-drink limit and the trays are conspiring to keep me sober and dreadfully bored.”
“They aren’t sentient platters.” He snapped his fingers and a nearby tray drifted over to them. Malfoy lifted a flute from it and handed it to Hermione.
“Oh. Thanks, Malfoy.” Hermione stared at the flute in her hands. “How did you—” At that moment, she realised Malfoy was drinking whisky when everyone around them had champagne. “Where did you get the whisky from?”
“Brought it myself.”
She almost dropped the glass in her hand as she whipped around to look up at him. “You’re telling me you brought your own alcohol tonight? Pansy would Avada you if she knew.”
“Then she’d be down a Man of Honour and it would ruin her entire wedding aesthetic. Bringing a flask for myself was the only way to circumvent the two drink rule, and to get through the date that I have waiting for me, I need more than two measly glasses of champagne.”
It took an entire second of deliberation before Hermione decided to set aside her principles and ask, “Would you be willing to share?”
“Share?” He said the word as if it tasted rancid on his tongue.
“Your… hair looks soft and I like the style.”
Malfoy blinked. “Did someone Imperius you when I wasn’t looking? Or perhaps spike your drink with Veritaserum?”
“And your suit… fits you well,” she added, her hand reaching out to smooth the front of his dress robes and resting on his chest for a fraction of a second. She felt him tense under her touch before she pulled her hand away. “The lapels bring out the silver in your eyes.”
“What are you going on about?” His jaw tightened and she could see a small vein protrude at his temple.
With a grimace, she pressed the glass to her lips and tipped her head back, draining the flute in one gulp.
His eyes widened and she placed the empty glass on the table behind them. “Don’t give me that look, I’m not even remotely tipsy. I’ve already been here for hours.”
“Pansy lied about the time on my invitation,” she grumbled, reaching up to secure a loose hair pin. “She thought I’d be late otherwise.”
“And?” he prompted, the corner of his lip curving upward.
“And, I was only half an hour late for the fake start time and half an hour early for the real start time.” She took the glass from his hand and sipped at the whisky, feeling the amber liquid warm her chest on the way down before handing it back to him.
Malfoy stared at the glass in his hand and gave her a look of incredulity. “You do realise this is three hundred year old whisky, right? The payment for which you’ve given me is two compliments?”
“They are the highest form of currency; do you disagree?”
His eyes narrowed as he inspected her for a brief moment, lips parting as if he were going to retort.
Out of her periphery, she noticed David scanning the room, presumably looking for her. “Guess that’s my cue. Thanks for the drink, Malfoy.”
He muttered something she couldn’t quite hear as she turned to rejoin her date, much to her dismay. As odd as it was to admit, the conversation with Malfoy had been the least boring part of her night.
Draco watched as Granger walked away from him, the subtle swing of her hips drawing his eyesight down. She’d grown into herself over the years; no longer the bushy-haired know-it-all he went to school with, but instead someone who was maybe considered attractive. She was still Granger though, and for that reason alone, he tore his eyes away from her retreating form and scanned the room for his date.
He’d brought Alexandra Orpington, mostly because Pansy had threatened to have him by the bollocks if he came alone, and also because his own mother had been pressuring him to find a proper wife and settle down. Alexandra was conventionally beautiful, with symmetrical features and hair that never had a piece out of place. It was too bad that spending any amount of time with her was like conversing with drying paint.
Was it too much to ask that a witch be both attractive and witty?
“Draco,” she greeted, placing her hand on his arm, “I’m so sorry that took so long. I do hope you were alright without me.”
“No problem at all.” He looked around the room, catching sight of Looney Lovegood dancing off-beat to the music. Her date, Rolf Scamander, appeared to be keeping up to her wild movements, and Draco wondered what on earth it was like to be with someone so well matched.
Glancing down at Alexandra, he smirked to himself. “Rumour has it Lovegood and her husband got married naked in the Forest of Dean under a new moon.”
“A new moon. They got married naked in the woods. Surrounded by little woodland creatures that placed a flower crown on her head. It was—” His words lodged in his throat when he realised that Alexandra had no idea what he was talking about.
Granger would have understood. She would have said something clever and then found a new couple to start a heinous rumour about.
It would have been fun, something this party was severely lacking.
“Would you like to dance?” Alexandra asked him politely, as if he hadn’t spoken a word since she returned.
Biting back a sarcastic remark about how he would actually like to get piss drunk and black out until the entire blasted party was over, he set his glass down and pulled her onto the dance floor. He held her small frame in his hands, leading her around the room with perfected movements that took years of training to match.
“Thank you for bringing me as your date, Draco.”
He hummed a positive response, keeping his eyes trained on the room beyond her head, wondering how much longer he’d need to tolerate the party before he could make his escape. Pansy would tear him a new one over it, but at least he’d be free of Alexandra’s lack of personality.
“I still can’t believe that Harry Potter and Pansy Parkinson are getting married,” she added, her voice full of awe. “When they started dating, did you ever imagine that we’d be at their engagement party?”
No, Draco thought, and certainly not with you.
“I’d always imagined her running off with a Parisian fashion designer and living in an illustrious flat that overlooked the Seine. Not living in my dead relative’s hidden mansion in the middle of London.”
“What’s the Seine?”
“It’s the—” He glanced down at his date, who was staring up at him with wide eyes, riddled with confusion. “Have you never left Great Britain?”
Alexandra scoffed. “I went to Hogwarts, Draco. Obviously I’ve left Great Britain.”
How was it possible that someone so dull was also so dumb? Who didn’t know what the Seine was?
“Are you close with Harry Potter now that he’s marrying your best friend? I heard about what you were both like in school, so I can’t imagine that it would have been easy to suddenly trust him with someone you care so deeply about.”
Draco spun Alexandra around, dipping her low and scowling to himself. Memories of Pansy leading Potter from the pub one night surfaced in his mind. The two groups hadn’t mixed much after the war, but they had all found themselves at the Leaky one night. Wealsey had nearly knocked Pansy arse-over-tits on his way back from the bar, and Potter had been there to rescue her like the true hero he thought he was.
Unfortunately, his saviour complex led to one date, then another, then a weekend away. Suddenly Draco found himself sharing a box with Potter and not hating it. He tolerated Weasley’s antics, mostly because it kept Blaise in line, and he treated Daphne right.
The best part of Pansy’s engagement was by far the fact that Granger was suddenly in his life again.
Except of course he couldn’t say this to Alexandra, who appeared to have less substance than a baby mandrake. At least with a mandrake he could wear earmuffs and ignore it.
The music shifted and Draco dropped his hold on his date, leading them off the floor so he could resume his drinking. He pulled out the flask from his jacket and took a hearty swig, thankful that Alexandra hadn’t asked for some. She seemed content with her two glasses of champagne and whatever shitty hors d'oevres floated by.
“There you are,” Blaise said, approaching the pair of them. His eyes ghosted over Alexandra in her acromantula silk gown. “Miss Orpington, lovely to see you again. Are you enjoying your evening?”
“Oh, yes, I am. I’m so lucky that Lady Malfoy introduced me to Draco and that I get to—”
“That’s great, lovely,” he interrupted. Shifting his attention back to Draco he rolled his eyes. “Where’s your drink?”
With a huff, Draco handed over the silver container, averting his eyes and looking for Pansy. Blaise tipped the amber liquid into his glass and handed the flask back.
“Alexandra, I overheard Pansy commenting on your dress and asking where you found such a lovely material. I believe she wanted to feature you in the article about the engagement party.” Blaise waved his hand behind him, signalling that Pansy was somewhere in that direction. “You should go find her before the photographer leaves.”
With a squeal of delight, Alexandra took off to find the bride.
“Did Pansy really say that?” Draco asked, pouring some whisky into an empty glass he found on a nearby table.
“No, but I couldn’t stomach watching her stare at you any longer. Are you even aware of how in love with you she is?”
“She’s in love with my last name. I’m sure Father could walk in the room and she’d fawn all over him, too. Well, until Mother saw.”
“It seems you and Granger have that in common then,” Blaise added. “I just spent the last ten minutes with her date while he taught me all about pureblood culture.”
Draco lifted an eyebrow. “But you’re—”
“I know that, and you know that, and half of bloody England knows that. Somehow Granger managed to snag herself a bloke that knows everything about pureblood customs except which families are actually purebloods.” He tossed back the remainder of his drink and let out an exasperated huff. “She’s pretty, but she has a horrible choice of dates.”
“Riveting, Blaise, truly.” Draco tried to ignore the jealous pull in his gut when Blaise called Granger pretty. It wasn’t that he was wrong, it was more the fact that Granger deserved better than someone like Blaise. She deserved—
Both men turned at the sound of an irate Pansy. She approached them with her arms crossed over her chest, her nostrils flared. Potter followed close behind, muttering something that appeared to be an attempt at calming her down.
Pity the fool hadn’t realised that it was useless trying to calm her down when she was on a warpath.
“Hello Pansy,” Draco greeted smoothly. “Lovely party you’ve thrown. The alcohol is particularly enjoyable. Is it from your family’s vineyard?”
“Did you really just send your date over to have her photo taken for the article in my magazine about my wedding?”
“Technically that was Blaise.”
Pansy let out an exaggerated sigh. “Merlin, Draco, you’re worse than Granger.”
“He’s worse than me about what?”
Granger joined their small group, her fingers holding the stem of a nearly empty champagne flute. She glanced up at Draco and dipped her chin, brown eyes wandering to the amber liquid in his glass expectantly.
“You two―” Pansy gestured between Draco and Granger, “―can’t pick a date to save yourself.”
“I absolutely can!”
“Save it, Granger. Don’t act like you even tried to follow my instructions. You couldn’t be less interested in your date. He’d better not be coming to the rest of the events.”
Draco snickered, glad the attention had been diverted from him.
“I’ll have you know that I’m having a wonderful time with Daniel—”
“David,” he corrected quietly.
“—with David.” Granger continued as if nothing had happened, and it seemed that none of their friends were the wiser about her nearly blowing her date’s cover. “In fact, I see him dancing with Malfoy’s date right now, and they both look extremely pleased to be here.”
Blaise choked on his drink, sputtering to catch his breath. “That’s because they’re shagging when you aren’t looking.”
“I knew it,” Pansy muttered. She narrowed her eyes at Draco and Granger. “I want you both to have dates for all the events. And perhaps ones that don’t prefer each other’s company.”
Potter’s hand fell to her back and he leaned in, dropping a kiss to her temple. “Come dance with me.”
A faint blush crept over Pansy’s face and she nodded, allowing her fiancé to lead her away.
“I see a pretty bridesmaid that looks like she could use a distraction,” Blaise said, downing the rest of his drink.
Granger placed her hand on his arm and spoke slowly. “Blaise, that’s Daphne, and Ron is her date. You remember Ron, right? Daphne’s long-term boyfriend and your friend?”
He looked at her with wide eyes and gasped dramatically, his hand flying to his chest. “They’re dating? And here I was thinking that I could run off with Ronald Weasley and live happily ever after in our matching knit sweaters. Pity you had to break my heart like this, Granger.”
“Someone had to do it.”
Finally alone with Granger, Draco emptied his flask into her glass. He winced as the last drop fell, knowing that Pansy would never let him have more champagne and it was too early for him to justify leaving alone. Merlin knew he wasn’t taking Alexandra with him.
If he could even find her.
“I don’t know where Pansy gets off telling us to bring dates,” Granger mumbled, tugging on the hem of her dress. “It’s not like being single is some disease. Does she think that it’s contagious and if we’re alone we’ll convince everyone else to be single too?”
“Blaise is single and I’ve spent an awful lot of time with him as of late. Perhaps you’re on to something.”
She scoffed and looked up at him, her eyes searching his face. “Blaise is single because it’s far better for everyone if he doesn’t bring a date. You do remember what happened when he brought someone to Harry’s birthday last year, don’t you? They were caught in the library with a long—”
“Stop, please. I beg of you, do not remind me of that night.” A shudder rocked through Draco’s body at the memory. Finishing the remainder of his drink, he looked down at her, taking in her tight dress and long legs and the way her fallen curls framed her face. Daniel—David—didn’t deserve her company.
“Gods, I wish I could just rent a date for the evening,” Granger said, almost to herself. “They’d do exactly what I’d like them to, so there’d be no awkward conversations or fears of them running off to snog someone else while I got drunk. In fact, they’d sneak in alcohol for me.”
Draco turned to face her, his eyebrow lifted. He stuffed a hand in his pocket and smirked at her. “You do realise you just described prostitution, right?”
“Wha—I didn’t—I mean—”
“It’s fine,” he laughed. “I wouldn’t mind doing the same thing. Honestly, I should have just asked you to come with me and saved us both the trouble.”
“You’re a genius! Oh my gods, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that sooner.” Granger squeezed his arm, her face lit up with excitement. “We have all of these events over the next year and we’re both already going to be there. Why not make it official and be each other’s date?”
“Do you think Pansy would really let us do that? Show up as just friends to all these events?”
Granger thought for a moment, her lips twisting to the side. “What if we weren’t just friends?”
“You...you want to be more than friends?” Draco asked, his voice uneasy. Never in all the years since he’d known her did he think that she would ever want to date him.
“I mean, just for the events,” she said quickly. “You’re free to do what—and who—you’d like outside of them. That’s not my business. But perhaps, for the next year, we could pretend we’re dating. No one would need to know it’s all a ruse.”
Ah, there it was. Granger didn’t want to be with him. She just wanted to keep Pansy off their case for the next twelve months.
Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he thought over the pros and cons of her suggestion. While he’d love nothing more than to have the beautiful witch on his arm for every dreadful event over the next year, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to keep his cool through them all. Not to mention, if he was going to bring her as his date, he didn’t love the idea of it being linked to some form of Granger-created prostitution.
He would regret this. He knew he would. But still, one look at her face, so full of hope and optimism, like he was the goddamn saviour of the wizarding world, and he just couldn’t help it.
“Alright, let’s do this.”