How to Win Friends and Influence People
Summary: After the war, Hermione discovered she liked to break things; bones, specifically. Similarly, Draco, whose life had crumbled to rubble, became fascinated with explosives. Dramione, post-war, espionage AU.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters and claim no profit from this work. Credit where credit is due, Joanne Rowling. Additionally, the story's title is adapted from the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, but it shares none of Carnegie's content.
a/n: There will be some espionage-related violence in this story, so please note the rating. Expect the following tropes: (1) forced partnership, (2) fake relationship, (3) enemies-to-lovers, and (3.5) at least one instance of inadvisable desk sex.
As ever, I can't wait to start another story with you, and hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Destiny Says So
The first time:
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Sept 3, 1998
"Oh, for heaven's sake," she growled, glaring at him. "I was here first."
"If you would kindly untwist your knickers, Granger, you might bring yourself to notice that I am simply reaching for a book," he retorted, making a show of picking one up off the shelf. "Didn't your mother ever teach you to be polite?"
She flipped a page, scowling. "I see you haven't changed a bit, Malfoy."
"No, I haven't," he told her, "and regrettably, neither have you."
She slammed the book shut, throwing her bag over her shoulder and rising to her feet.
"I don't know why I thought I'd be able to come back here with you," she muttered. "I should have known you'd be the exact same bullying prat you always were - "
"Look," he interrupted, waving her opposition away. "I'm just here to take my N.E.W.T.s and get out, same as you." She made a face, and he glowered back. "I'm not looking for any sort of reconciliation. You just stay out of my way, Granger," he offered forcefully, "and I'll stay out of yours."
"You'd better, Malfoy," she snapped. "Don't think I've forgotten about everything you did."
"Don't think I care," he retorted, and crossed his arms over his chest. "So are we clear?"
"That you're an arse, and nothing's changed?" she prompted, artificially sweet. "Crystal."
"Good," he said flatly.
"Good!" she yelled back.
"SHHH," Madam Pince interrupted loudly, and they stared at each other, fuming.
"Get out of my w- "
"With pleasure," he drawled, stepping aside with a derisive bow, and she promptly stormed out.
The second time:
The Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade Village
December 25, 1998
"Oh, for fuck's sake," he groaned. "What in the name of Salazar's wrinkled ballsack are you doing here?"
"Oh, shove it, Malfoy," she retorted. "Go away."
"You go away," he snapped. "I'm just trying to have a drink - "
"What are you even doing here?" she demanded. "Why aren't you with your family? Or better yet, at the bottom of the lake," she muttered under her breath, "being swallowed by the giant squid - "
"They're n- " he began, cutting himself off, and then immediately grimaced. "I just can't go back there right now, okay? And anyway, listen, I really don't have the energy for this," he told her. "What with all the effort at pretending you don't exist that I've had my hands full with over the last four months - "
"Please," she scoffed. "I'm not the one moping around the castle at all hours, staring broodily into space - "
"Why aren't you with Weasley, anyway?" he cut in brusquely, glaring at her. "I thought you two were supposed to be some sort of disgusting apocalyptic approximation of romance - "
"He's busy," she said flatly. "He's an Auror now, so - "
"Well, what a mindless fucking endeavor," he interrupted, arching a brow. "You must be so proud."
"Oh, shove it, Malfoy," she said, curling a fist and then promptly pivoting to exit. "Have a bloody happy Christmas, then, will you?"
"I bloody will," he shouted, slamming his fork down and glaring after her as she left.
The third time:
Outside Twilfitt and Tattings, Diagon Alley
July 10, 1999
"Oh no, don't look," she whispered to Ron. "No," she groaned, bringing her hand to her face as he spun over his shoulder. "I said don't look - "
"Oh, wonderful," she heard Draco drawl, and wanted instantly to sink below Diagon Alley's cobbled steps. "Look, it's my two favorite war heroes, just out for a romantic stroll - "
"Shut up, Malfoy," Ron said, promptly throwing his arm around Hermione and discarding the argument they'd been having; the usual one, as always, about when she'd be halting her research at Hogwarts and joining him in London. Much as she hated to admit it, she wasn't entirely sure whether Draco Malfoy's appearance was a curse or - under those circumstances - a rather unfortunate blessing. "Get lost, would you?" Ron snapped, glaring at the other wizard. "I'm surprised they're still willing to serve you around here."
Draco blinked, furious, and then he licked his lips, forcing a smile.
"So am I," he said coolly, "but money will get you everywhere, won't it, Weasley? Oh, wait," he lamented, facetiously tapping his mouth. "You wouldn't know, would you?"
"I'm a fucking Auror, Malfoy," Ron snarled. "I could arrest you right fucking now - "
"Ron," Hermione whispered, clutching his arm. "Don't start."
"Yes, listen to your fiancée," Draco advised, pointedly inspecting his fingernails. "Many happy returns, by the way. I'm ever so pleased you two paired off so magnificently, especially after such a - what are the papers calling it? A 'rocky start,' was it? I knew those articles about the strained long-distance relationship couldn't be true. Anyway," he said, shrugging, as Ron's face promptly turned scarlet with rage, "do look out for my congratulatory fruit basket, in between the photoshoots and all the convincing yourselves you're doing this for the right reasons that surely must be taking up all your time - "
"Say one more word, Malfoy, and you'll have to look out for my wand up your arse," Ron seethed, and Hermione sighed.
"Come on," she said, tugging him after her. "Let's go - "
"Bye, Granger," Draco called cheerfully. "Do send a postcard when you've birthed the first of the new Weasel clan, will you?"
"I'll make sure of it," she shouted over her shoulder, shoving Ron into Florean Fortescue's.
The fourth time:
Somewhere on Shaftesbury Avenue, London
May 20, 2000
It was just her luck that on the rare occasion that she wasn't looking where she was going, she would have to bump shoulders with Draco Malfoy.
"Hey, wait a second," he called, turning around as she kept walking. "Granger, is that you?"
She sped up, pulling her coat tight around her.
"Granger, aren't you supposed to be at - "
He caught her arm, a little breathless, and she spun, glaring at him.
"What?" she demanded, and he stared, brows furrowed.
"Are you - " he swallowed. "Are you crying?"
"No," she lied, and turned to keep walking. He, irritatingly, held on.
"Wait, I just - wait," he pressed, rooting her in place. "Are you wearing - "
"My wedding dress? No," she said, laughing. "Nope. Just a long white dress, actually," she added, hiccuping once. "No reason."
His eyes narrowed.
"Granger," he said forcefully. "What the fuck?"
She looked down, staring at her feet, and he sighed.
"Come on," he muttered, glancing over his shoulder, and then surreptitiously pulled out his wand, apparating them elsewhere. "There," he said, as her feet settled on a lush set of gardens. It was dewy, and fragrant, and would have been beautiful had it not been tainted with the particular intrigue of things-after-midnight and places she shouldn't have been.
"Talk," he instructed, gesturing to a bench.
He sat. She didn't.
"Suit yourself," he remarked indolently, and leaned back. "I suppose I can talk, if you prefer. For one thing, fuck London," he told her. "Do you know how much a pint costs? Outrageous. I hardly need concern myself with money but it's bloody thievery is what it is, really - "
"I just wanted a happy ending," she told him blankly. "Was that too much to ask?"
He cleared his throat, pausing, and then gestured beside him.
She, reluctantly, sat.
"So," he said. "You walked out on Weasley?"
"He was having cold feet," she said, hearing the robotic tone of her voice and wishing there was something she could do about it. "I heard him telling Harry he wasn't sure. That he thought maybe we'd rushed into it," she added, "because it wasn't working between us, and we'd thought maybe if we were more committed, it would, but - "
She trailed off, and he said nothing.
"I did us a favor," she ruled, shivering. "And anyway, I paid all the vendors before I left," she added, "and I sent apology owls to all the guests individually, and - "
"Fuck, Granger," he exhaled, shaking his head. "You're the only person on earth who could make a traumatic breakup sound like an expertly planned logistical feat."
"I'm considerate," she told him. "And realistic, and - "
"What was it?" he interrupted. "What you were fighting about."
"We weren't fighting," she insisted. "It wasn't that we were fighting, exactly, and everything was fine, it was just - "
"Was it about how you can't sleep at night?" he asked. "That you don't come to bed, because you don't want to come to bed, and yes, you're reading that book for the twentieth time, because it's easier than sleeping? Easier than thinking, and easier than remembering, and thus, a better use of time? Or was it because you don't like to come home," he ventured, staring out into the dark. "That you'd rather be working - and that no, you don't use your time together well, you're not fully present, because you don't feel normal - you can't feel normal, because everything went wrong and so, maybe, it'll just go wrong again? And then she leaves you," he finished, clearing his throat. "Because you don't make her happy, because you aren't happy, and you don't know why."
Hermione swallowed, letting a heavy swell of time pass.
"He wanted me to be his wife," she said eventually. "You know? His wife. Hermione Weasley." She turned, facing him. "Does that make sense?"
Draco shrugged. "Stupid of him," he said. "Terrible name, firstly, and extremely poor grasp of your personality, if we're being realistic - "
"Well, I mean, to his credit, he never actually said that," she murmured. "I just - I felt it." She took a deep breath; let it out. "And maybe that's not fair, but - "
"Who cares what's fair?" he retorted. "What part of our lives was ever fair? We want what we want," he said dully, "and we get almost none of it, so - "
He trailed off. She grimaced.
"I don't know what I want to do with my life," she confessed, saying the words out loud for the first time that she could remember. "And he does, and I don't think - I don't think it would be right if we - "
She sighed. "It's better this way," she finished, and he didn't move; didn't breathe.
They looked out into the night, tacitly agreeing to silence, as a peacock warbled something that sounded suspiciously like a long string of expletives.
"So," Draco drawled. "Should we have sex?"
She turned, staring at him.
"No," she said, and he shrugged, unsurprised.
"Just trying to make you feel bet- "
"There is something I want from you, though," she ventured slowly, and he lifted a single pale brow.
"Well, spit it out, Granger, I haven't got all n- "
"I want to hit you," she informed him. "I want to hit you right in your stupid, terrible face."
There was a pause.
"Kinky," he said eventually.
She glared at him, and then softened, looking down at her hands.
"Do you ever just want to - " she trailed off, eyeing the lines of her palm. "Hurt something? Because you've lived this fragile, breakable life, and so everyone thinks you're fragile and breakable too, and you just want to - " she turned her hands over, clenching them into fists. "Ruin something?"
He stared at her, eyes narrowed, and then launched unsteadily to his feet.
"How many people have you hit, Granger?" he asked. "Is this a common impulse?"
"Just the one," she told him, smirking, and he rolled his eyes at the memory. "But I found it rather a relief at the time, so I imagine it would be equally satisfactory on a second go."
"But what about diminishing returns?" he countered. "Maybe you should find someone else to hit. Like Weasley," he suggested brightly. "That would be fun for everyone."
She glowered at him, and he sighed.
"Fine," he said. "You can have one hit."
She blinked. "What?"
"You can have one hit," he told her. "And only because you've been crying, and crying women make me supremely uncomfortable."
She looked down, eyeing her hands again, and then nodded, feeling her heart pound as she rose suddenly to her feet.
"Okay," she said, feeling her pulse skip. "Okay. One hit?"
"One hit," he agreed. "And if you break anything - "
"Jesus, Malfoy, how delicate are you?"
"Delicate? Where do you get off - ? That offends."
"Excuse me, you're obviously in some kind of state of - OUCH, fuck me - "
"Oh, it didn't hurt that bad. Don't be a baby."
"Don't be a baby? You nearly shattered my nose!"
"I did not - "
"You did - "
"You're an intolerable little pantywaist, Malfoy - "
"You're a vicious little brute, Granger!"
She laughed, and laughed and laughed and laughed, and then, abruptly, the laughter spoiled itself in her throat, sticky and hot and painful, and he seemed to hear it too, something in his expression vanishing at the sound.
"I need to go," she said hoarsely; after the laughter had burned at the back of her eyes, and when she was suddenly more certain of that than anything. "I have to get out, you know what I mean? I have to just - go."
He stared at her, breathing hard.
"Then go," he said, blinking, and she swallowed it; the tears and heartache and loss.
"Bye," she said dully, and disapparated, leaving him cradling his stinging cheek in his hand.
The fifth time:
Interior of the Sultanahmet Mosque, Istanbul
July 8, 2001
"Well, well, well," he muttered, and she nearly jumped. "Nearly didn't recognize you with that bushy head of yours covered, Granger."
"Not now, Malfoy," she whispered, pointedly staring up at the mosque's high ceiling. "Don't you know when a space is sacred?"
"I often say that about my bedroom, and yet nobody ever listens," he told her, following her as she shifted, trying - or at least appearing to try - to get a better view of the tiled dome. "What are you doing here?"
"Living my life," she informed him, and then let her gaze flick askance, glaring at him. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, nothing important," he said, shrugging. "Business."
"Business," she echoed skeptically, scoffing. "I doubt that." She turned, unhappily facing him. "Isn't this place a little too muggle for you, Malfoy?"
"Hardly," he said. "You really think there's no magic to this?" he asked, gesturing to the tiles above. "It's so blue."
"That's - " she started to say, and then cut herself off. "Nevermind," she told him briskly, heading for the west entrance. "I'm leaving."
"Bye, then," he called after her, not following. "Do be careful, though, would you?"
She stopped, pivoting in place.
"Why?" she asked suspiciously, and he shrugged.
"Avoid the Turkish Ministry," he clarified. "At least for the afternoon."
She glared at him. "What?"
"Just keep that big, bushy head down, Granger," he said, unfazed, and then he turned, tucking his hands in his pockets, and walked out without another word.
The last time:
The One-Eyed Crone, somewhere outside Dublin
February 17, 2002
"Oh, not again," they groaned in unison, abruptly knocking shoulders as they reached for the same freshly-poured pint of Guinness.
"Give me that," she snapped, slapping his hand away and snatching the glass from his reach. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" he countered, gesturing to the barkeep for another and then turning to scowl at her. "Aren't you supposed to be trolloping around Europe or something?"
"I was never trolloping," she told him, and pursed her lips, taking a pointed sip of her beer as he grunted his disagreement, waiting. "What about you, anyway?" she prompted. "Blowing up pubs now, Malfoy, or are you sticking with foreign ministries?"
He narrowed his eyes, conspicuously not answering. "You have bruises," he told her, his gaze flicking over her cheek. "Found someone new to hit, Granger? Looks like they hit back," he noted, accepting the Guinness from the bartender and smirking at her. "I have to say, it's an improvement."
"Hilarious," she muttered, and they both paused, eyeing each other over their drinks.
"So," he said, clearing his throat. "There's an underground fighting ring beneath this bar," he suggested slyly. "Isn't there?"
She took a sip, biding her time, and then turned, gesturing to a man who sat in the corner.
"That," she said, jutting her chin towards him, "is a wanted fugitive from the Bulgarian Ministry. A purveyor of illegal herbs who owes some Welsh vampires a coin or two," she added knowingly. "Isn't he?"
Their eyes narrowed in unison, each silently gauging the other's offering.
"I'll say nothing if you will," Draco determined eventually. "Deal?"
She smiled darkly.
"Deal," she agreed, and they nodded, parting ways to opposite ends of the pub without another word.
The Ministry of Magic, Department of Magical Law Enforcement
September 23, 2003
Hermione Granger had been back in London for the first time in three years for the duration of approximately two weeks. Not surprisingly, it had taken the exact same amount of time for Ron to leap without restraint from gentle curiosity to hysterical obsession over her activities.
"Harry," Ron opened seriously, holding his fork aloft, "I think Hermione's seeing someone."
"Convenient," Harry replied. "Aren't you?"
Ron ignored him, picking at his food.
"I saw her this morning," he continued. "I was going to see if she wanted to get some coffee or breakfast or something, and then she came out, and - "
"Did you say anything?" Harry prompted. Ron, predictably, opted to ignore him again.
"She went for a run, Harry. A run." Ron grimaced. "Have you ever seen Hermione run?"
"I have not," Harry confirmed, taking a bite of his salad. "Though, short of wartime necessity, I suppose I've never given much thought to her exercise regimen."
Ron nodded, stabbing gracelessly at a cherry tomato.
"She met someone afterwards," he remarked carefully, and Harry sighed.
"Ron. You followed her?"
"It was Marcus Flint," Ron supplied loudly, and then glanced around. "You don't think - no," he said, leaning forward conspiratorially. "It can't be - but then again, can it? But no - "
"Ron," Harry sighed. "Spit it out."
Ron's cheeks promptly flushed violet.
"I think she's dating Marcus Flint," he blurted, shoving his food away. "MARCUS FLINT!" he roared, slamming a fist down on Harry's desk.
"Okay," Harry said. "Well, that's - "
"Unholy," Ron supplied, shuddering. "Indecent!"
" - nice," Harry finished, and carefully prepared another bite. "Good for her."
"No, no, not good for her," Ron corrected impatiently, his arms flailing as he spoke. "She's got bruises, Harry, lots of them - on her arms, and her legs, even - "
Harry stopped chewing, frowning. "Bruises?"
"And scars," Ron said, nodding frantically. "What if he's hurting her, Harry? He's a brute, and an utter hulking arse, and I won't stand for it," he added, rising to his feet and pacing Harry's office. "I won't, Harry, we're supposed to protect her - "
Harry sighed, wiping his mouth on his napkin.
"Fine," he said, nodding once. "I'll talk to her."
"You?" Ron asked, surprised. "But - "
"Not you," Harry said quickly. "Last time you two spoke about her love life, she sent you that howler that nearly burned down the living room - and I'm sorry, Ron, but I can't take another bout of Kreacher's depressive episodes if another one of Walburga's doilies is scorched, so - "
"Fine," Ron muttered, crossing his arms and staring moodily at his lunch. "But do it soon, would you? Today, in fact. Immediately, if not sooner - "
"I will," Harry promised him. "She's our best friend, Ron, obviously I care if someone's hur- "
"Knock, knock," Kingsley said, pairing the statement with two perfunctory knocks on the open doorframe. "Are you available, Harry?"
"Oh, Minister, hello," Harry said, promptly vanishing his and Ron's lunches and giving Ron a pointed look. "Yes, I am."
"I was just leaving," Ron agreed, stepping towards the door. "Harry," he muttered, glancing meaningfully at him, "you'll look into that thing?"
"Yes, Ron - "
"Because if you don't, so help me - "
"Ron," Harry sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I will check it out this afternoon, okay? I promise."
Ron nodded stiffly, grunting his acknowledgement, and then turned to leave, nodding politely to Kingsley before exiting Harry's office.
"Sorry about that," Harry offered, gesturing to Ron's vacant chair. "Care to sit?"
Kingsley nodded, shutting the door and then gliding over, settling himself across from Harry with his usual effortless grace.
"A member of the Scandinavian Wizengamot's just been murdered," Kingsley said without preamble, and Harry grimaced. "That makes three similar cases in the last six months."
"Hm," Harry said, leaning back in his chair and pulling at his beard. "So that makes the French Ministry, MACUSA, and - " he paused, thinking. "The Turkish Ministry had a problem a couple of years ago too, didn't it?"
"No," Kingsley said, shaking his head. "There was an attack at the Turkish Ministry, but it was an assassination to take out a visiting businessman. No known political affiliation."
"Hm," Harry said again. "So what happened?"
"Same thing as the others," Kingsley confirmed. "Untraceable poison with a letter pinned to his chest."
"Do you want the Aurors on it?" Harry asked. "Extra security for the Wizengamot members until we can sort out who's behind this?"
To his surprise, Kingsley hesitated.
"Yes and no," Kingsley ventured tentatively. "The Ministry doesn't exactly have the funds to support redirecting our Aurors right now, what with our slow recovery from the war. I think, more likely, we'll have to be a bit more intelligent about it." He paused, grimacing. "A bit more … covert, I should say."
Harry arched a brow. "What are you suggesting?"
"Perhaps if we hired someone for security," Kingsley suggested. "A third party - someone who could investigate as well protect, and also identify any potential threats?"
"Are you suggesting we hire … a spy?" Harry asked, startled. "Does the Ministry even have those?"
"Not in any official capacity, no," Kingsley admitted. "But perhaps if we could identify someone with the means to blend in. Someone not officially within the official Ministry capacity," he clarified, "but who could potentially ingratiate themselves within its functions."
"Huh," Harry said, and grimaced. "I think I have an idea, but I don't think you're going to like it."
Kingsley's mouth tightened.
"Is this about Malfoy again?" he guessed, sighing. "I know you feel bad for him, Harry, but as I've told you before, I simply can't get the rest of the approving board members to warm up to the prospect of bringing him into the Ministry. Too much bad blood, firstly, and after Lucius' many years of deception - "
"Well, what if he wasn't doing it alone?" Harry interjected, frowning. "What if I could get him on board with someone who could provide the legitimacy you're looking for?"
"Can't be Nott," Kingsley said, shaking his head. "Or Parkinson. They're no better off than he is, unfortunately."
"I know," Harry agreed. "But there's got to be someone, right?"
Kingsley sighed again, rising to his feet.
"It would have to be quite the individual," he lamented, "but you're more than welcome to try. Just - give it some thought, would you?" he asked. "Whether it's Malfoy or not, I'd like to come up with something by the end of the week."
"Sure," Harry agreed, nodding. "I'm sure I can think of something."
"The other Ministers have assured me that their respective Head Aurors will be available, if you'd like to collaborate," Kingsley added. "Janvier from the French Ministry, Poliakoff - "
"Poliakoff?" Harry echoed. "Wasn't he at Durmstrang for the last Tri-Wizard Tournament?"
Kingsley shrugged. "Possibly," he said. "And Carnegie, the MACUSA Head Auror, has offered her services as well."
"Well, shouldn't be a problem, then," Harry assured him. "I'll assemble a team and get back to you as soon as possible, Minister."
"You make my job easy, Harry," he told him, pulling the door open and rumbling his gratitude before entering the corridor, his shoes tapping down the marble floor.
"I do, don't I," Harry murmured to himself, shaking his head. He glanced down, checking Fabian Prewett's battered watch, and sighed. "And now," he told himself, gathering his things and throwing his work bag over his shoulder, "I suppose I'm off to save Hermione."
After the war, Hermione discovered that she liked to break things.
It started when she left London - and her doomed wedding to Ron - for Marseille, reliving happier times and deciding, on a whim, to take a job as a waitress in an intimate seaside cafe amidst what was essentially a small, very French version of Diagon Alley; a little wizarding corner called Avenue des Balivernes. Waitressing wasn't particularly satisfying, but the company was worthwhile enough. The restaurant was a hot spot for lutins, little French goblin-like fairies, who were mostly good - mostly.
When they weren't good, they were fighting, and that's what eventually drew Hermione in.
The first time she entered a lutin-sponsored tournament she was utterly, unforgivably sloshed, having been spectacularly unused to their particularly potent drinks. She'd lost, terribly, and to great and raucous celebration - lutins, she learned, treasured the opportunity to savor the humiliation of a loser almost as much as they buried themselves in the glory of a winner - but even from the flat of her back, her ears ringing from the pressure in her head, she could finally manage to forget what she had gone through, and the many ways she had hurt.
She had learned to take a beating, and she liked it. She told herself she'd learn to pay the favor back.
She learned to box in Turkey, after growing weary of the lutin overindulgence in spirits; she worked for a time selling dates and figs for a merchant who had a daemon problem, having made an unwise deal for what was essentially a haunted house. The daemons, who lacked much other entertainment, redirected their mirth from the merchant to Hermione, taking her under their wing and teaching her where to aim, how hard and fast to jab, and when to tilt and when to duck, until she could best an orek - corpse-like zombies, which she learned, eventually, not to retch in the presence of - with both hands tied, and both eyes closed.
She learned the art of bloodletting in Norway, where wizards and creatures alike seemed to manifest into being holding knives in both hands. She learned to draw one faster than her opponent could blink, and how to hold it between her teeth just as comfortably as the lies she told herself; I'm fine, she'd whisper in her mind, no longer fearful of shadows that lurked in the dark. I'm fine.
But it was the bruises on her knuckles that she loved the most; the way her face got lean and shadowed, and how the muscles on her arms were sleek and firm, and how the landscape of her was a smooth, hardened shell of defiance, an exterior that matched her insides. There was a time when Hermione Granger considered herself plain, but those days were long gone.
Perhaps she still wasn't the prettiest girl, but now she was extraordinary, and it showed.
She'd decided to move back to London two weeks ago after bumping into Seamus Finnegan in a pub outside of Dublin. He, it turned out, had bought a vacant public house in Diagon Alley and restored it to something of a contemporary gastropub, calling it - appropriately - The Arsonist, and then deciding to host bare-knuckle boxing tournaments in the basement. After watching Hermione thoroughly trounce a lightweight Irishman called Thumbs, he offered her a slot.
The more difficult decision, in the end, had been whether to tell Ron and Harry she'd decided to come home. She wasn't quite ready to be the Hermione they'd known, and despite the fact that Ron had insisted he'd forgiven her for leaving, she wasn't sure he'd understand her rather drastic reincarnation.
So she'd kept her distance. Not that hard.
She had other things to think about.
"Hey," Marcus said, nodding to her as she approached. "I see the bruise from last night is healing up nicely."
"I wish," she told him, rolling her eyes. "This is that concealment balm Wood gave me. Which is way too expensive, by the way - "
Marcus shrugged. "He likes nice things," he said innocently, smirking as Hermione arched a brow. "Only the best that money can buy."
"Buy, Flint?" she echoed. "Are you calling yourself a commodity?"
"The finest of commodities," he purred in agreement, and she rolled her eyes again, giving him a shove as they headed down to The Arsonist.
Marcus Flint was, like Oliver Wood, an ex-quidditch player who hadn't quite lost the taste for being thrown around, either on a broom or in the ring; he'd been standoffish towards her at first (read: blatantly rude) but had been willing to see things differently when she'd cracked three of his ribs with a technique she'd learned during a brief stint in Moscow. He, in turn, had knocked the wind out of her for what had felt like millennia, and they'd mutually decided, in a wordless acknowledgement of collective respect, that friendship was a more palatable option.
"Hey, Sea," Hermione called, ducking her head as she padded rhythmically down the steps to The Arsonist's basement, fondly called the Underground. "Got something good for me tonight?"
"I think you'll like it," Seamus agreed, grinning at her, and gestured to the back wall. "Take a look."
She leaned over, squinting in the dim lighting. "Oh, excellent," she said brightly, giving into a rather self-satisfied smirk. "Millicent Bulstrode."
"God, remember when she put you in a headlock, Granger?" Dean asked, materializing from the back room.
"Which time?" Hermione asked brusquely, making a face. "It's about time I paid her back for that."
"What a brute," Oliver agreed, emerging from the shadows to jut his chin out brusquely at Marcus. "Flint," he grunted, pretending at nonchalance. "Care to go a few rounds before Warrington tonight?"
"Christ, Wood, if you want foreplay, you just have to ask nicely," Marcus drawled, stepping towards him and winking over his shoulder at Hermione. "Don't wait up, Granger - "
"Bye," she told him, shaking her head as he went, and wandered over to Seamus and Dean. "Do you think those two think they're subtle?" she asked, gesturing after them.
"Doubt it," Seamus said, shaking his head. "But they're too hopped up on adrenaline to care."
"It's amazing either of them have day jobs," Dean commented, and Hermione glanced at him, surprised.
"Marcus doesn't," she said. "He's just the inheritor of a pureblood fortune."
"Eh, well, I'm sure he'll be working for the Ministry sooner or later," Seamus said. "Isn't that what all quidditch players do when they age out of playing professionally?"
"Oliver didn't age out," Dean reminded him. "He broke his broom over a ref's head."
"Which is a perfect precursor to working for the Ministry," Seamus insisted, unfazed, and Hermione laughed.
"So what do you think," she asked, catching sight of Millicent warming up on the other side of the room. "Should I let her go a few rounds?"
"Normally I'd say yes," Seamus said, grimacing as he glanced over, "but she's quite a bit bigger than you, so - "
"So?" Hermione demanded. "Everyone's bigger than me," she reminded him, "but I've got endurance on my side. Besides, look at her," she added, watching Millicent tilt her head, rubbing her ear. "Something's wrong with her equilibrium."
"That's our killer queen," Dean chuckled proudly, toasting her with a pint. "If only Weasley could see you now, eh?"
She grimaced as she reached into her bag for her athletic tape, specially charmed to cushion the blows around her knuckles. "I hope not," she told him seriously. "I don't really think he or Harry would get it."
"You never know," Dean countered, but she silenced him with a look.
"Eh, don't think about them," Seamus offered reassuringly, stepping out from behind the bar to kiss her cheek. "Alright," he announced, nodding to Dean. "I've got to get upstairs and make sure the restaurant hasn't burned down - "
"Ironic that you'd be doing that," Hermione judged, and he grinned.
"Good luck, Granger," he tossed over his shoulder. "Make her cry, yeah?"
"We'll see," she called back, and then resumed her careful scrutiny of Millicent, watching her undertake some practice jabs in the corner.
Hermione Granger, despite not looking or behaving like the person she'd once been, had not morphed quite fully to a different species; the one thing she hadn't lost had been her particularly studious nature (or, she supposed, her unruly hair, though that was less relevant at the moment). She read Millicent like a textbook, making mental notes of what she saw and tucking her observations away for later use, the same way she'd prepared for exams. She watched Millicent jab with her elbow out, leaving it vulnerable; watched her throw with her shoulders too low, noting the gaping opening to the face; watched her rotate her hips, a prelude to each move that made her predictable, calculable, and ultimately, despite the advantage of her size, thoroughly beatable.
Hermione also noted the hardened line of Millicent's mouth, the bitterness buried there; she knew, unfairly, that Millicent's life after the war had been no idle pureblooded fantasy, but she shoved aside her misgivings, recalling the time she'd spent as a victim of Millicent Bulstrode's errant fists and determining privately that mercy wasn't an option.
"Ready?" Dean asked, and Hermione smiled, finishing the tape around her knuckles and flexing her fingers, slowly, before passing him a nod.
"Always," she said, and she meant it.
The ring at the center of the Underground was relatively small, and observed by only the shiftiest of audiences; goblins, for example, who frequented the space, their long fingers wrapped gruesomely around their tankards, and Knockturn's finest (read: most wanted) purveyors of skullduggery, who seemed to turn up in droves, managing bets around the outside.
There was a series of whispers as Hermione stepped into the space; she was hardly bigger than the goblins, who leered at her through narrowed eyes, and Millicent, she knew, was a local favorite, having been fighting in these underground circuits since shortly after the war. Hermione waited, rolling out her shoulders, until Millicent finally turned, staring at her.
"Granger," she grunted; and then, without warning, she dove.
Hermione knew the benefit of an overly emotional opponent, and so she consented to take the first hit; she took the blow to her cheek, twisting mid-impact to land facing forward and then hit the ground hard, sparing a moment before heaving herself up on her knees. She waited, taking her time, as Millicent towered over her.
"Stay down, princess," Millicent spat. "You don't belong here."
"COME ON, GRANGER," she heard Marcus yell. "HIT HER BACK!"
"Good strategy, Flint," Oliver mocked.
"Fuck off, Wood," Marcus retorted.
Hermione smiled, rising to her feet, and then cracked her neck, beckoning to Millicent.
"Come on, Bulstrode," she coaxed with a laugh. "Put me in my place, then, would you?"
Millicent - predictably - obliged, grabbing Hermione by the shoulders and throwing her back against the wooden barricade of the ring before gritting her teeth, tightening her bruised fingers in the worn fabric of Hermione's sports bra.
"This isn't Hogwarts anymore, princess," Millicent snarled, curling a fist and then drawing it back, coiled tight and prepped for release, like an arrow in a bowstring. "This isn't a war you get to win this time around - "
She delivered her waiting fist, aiming for Hermione's cheek, and Hermione swiftly ducked to the side, drawing Millicent forward. Hermione twisted, aiming the blade of her hand against the back of Millicent's neck, and struck once, merciless, as Millicent fell forward, blinking back a haze.
"This isn't war anymore, Millie," Hermione corrected grimly, ducking out towards the center of the ring. "This is a fight," she clarified with a laugh, and Millicent spun, aiming unsteadily for her abdomen.
Hermione took the hit to the stomach, prepping for the impact, and then permitted another tackle against the far end of the ring; she heard whispers, a few clattered exchanges of coins, and then smiled darkly, aiming a hard slap near the ear she'd seen Millicent favoring. Millicent groaned in pain, stumbling aside, and then aimed a blind jab at Hermione's face; Hermione countered with an uppercut, the heel of her hand hitting Millicent's nose, breaking it in a quick motion and then following it up with a fist to her jaw with the opposite hand, leaving Millicent dazed.
"Come on, Millie," Hermione crooned, darting back towards the center with her hands up, beckoning to her. "Having fun yet?"
Millicent let out a gurgle of opposition, stumbling forward, and Hermione wasted little time, taking advantage of the other woman's disorientation to draw her forward and blocking her poorly aimed jab, countering with a punch to her left cheek. Millicent, furious, attempted a wild knockout swing from the left - normally a weak side, though she couldn't possibly know yet that Hermione Granger had no weak sides - but Hermione hit first with a shot to Millicent's ribs, immobilizing her dominant arm before aiming a second blow to Millicent's jaw, breaking it, and then sending a traumatizing blow to Millicent's solar plexus, knocking the wind out of her.
Millicent stepped back, staggering, and Hermione waited, knowing the fall was imminent.
"We can stop now," Hermione offered genially, arching a brow, and Millicent's expression darkened as she turned, dragging out a breath and spitting blood.
"Not quite," she rasped, and Hermione's eyes widened as Millicent shifted, drawing her wand from somewhere beneath the band of her loose-fitting pants.
"HEY," Marcus yelled from the side, "NO MAGIC - "
"Get Seamus," Hermione heard someone urge, and Oliver disappeared, racing up the stairs.
"Deprimo," Millicent snarled, and Hermione dove, scrambling to pull her own wand from the inside of her pant leg and just missing the impact of the spell where she'd been standing as a cloud of dust rose from the blasting curse. She threw up a silent Protego, avoiding the blow of another incoherent curse, and then slid across the dirt floor, narrowly avoiding the splintering of the ring's wooden barricades.
"Expelliarmus," Hermione attempted, rubbing dust from her eyes and aiming before launching herself to her feet, wincing as a small shard of wood lodged itself in the skin between her ribs. She stood, blinking, and then waved away the cloud of rubble.
"GRANGER," she heard Marcus shout. "ON YOUR LEFT - "
"Stupefy," she shouted, aiming her wand blindly, and then there was a loud thud; she muttered a spell to dissipate the dust, coughing up particles of dirt, and then let out a sigh of relief as she nearly tripped over Millicent's unconscious form. "Jesus, Bulstrode," Hermione muttered to Millicent's unmoving torso, half-swaying where she stood. "There are rules - "
"Granger," Marcus said, catching her elbow and holding her upright. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she said, blinking. She looked up, searching for Seamus. "Did anyone go get - "
She trailed off, her heart stopping, as she caught the small flutter of a familiar wave from someone in the crowd.
"Brilliant, Hermione," Harry called brightly, his face materializing across the ring as the rubble from Millicent's curse finally cleared.
She held her breath; choked on it.
"Flint," she said, coughing, and dragged him around, letting her nails dig into the flesh of his forearm as she stared at the vision of Harry. "Did I take a hard fall," she asked, pointing, "or is that actually Harry Potter?"
Marcus turned, his eyes narrowing.
"Scarhead?" he muttered, and grimaced. "Unfortunately, that's really him," he lamented flatly, and Hermione slowly let out a sigh.
"Fuck," she declared, and across the ring, Harry smiled brilliantly.
a/n: Welcome to the start of something new! Let's meet back here next week to see what Draco's been up to, shall we?