Title: Everything Has A Price
Spoilers: none really – through OotP to be safe
Summary: 7th year fic. Blaise Zabini makes some interesting deals with the information he has.
Disclaimer: Obviously not mine. I'm just playing with the imaginary characters' lives for fun and not for profit.
Archival: Sure – just let me know where.
Author's Note: I'm awful at writing fluff – truly – but I needed a break from the 14 angst fics I have going. My apologies ahead of time if it sucks.
There were days when Draco really and truly loathed going to Hogwarts.
This was one of them.
Millicent Bullstrode had 'accidentally' spilled her juice on him at breakfast when she realized that he wasn't listening to her prattle on about…well, whatever she was prattling on about; a rather large, carnivorous plant had tried to eat him in Herbology; and to top it all off, Potter had accused him of staring at Hermione Granger during Potions (a class which he was still convinced the other boy was only in because of what had to be a substantial bribe to the O.W.L. examiner at the end of fifth year).
The fact that he had been staring was completely irrelevant.
It was a little worrisome that he'd actually been caught doing it though. He made a mental note to be more careful about it in the future. At the beginning of the school year, his resolution would have not been to do it anymore at all; but he'd dejectedly admitted, if only to himself, that it was a goal he could never achieve. Not anymore.
He'd hated her from the moment they first met back in first year. Muggleborn with bushy brown hair and a know-it-all attitude, she was the epitome of everything that he was raised to despise. Unfortunately for him, she'd learned how to tame her hair (as much as possible) and the attitude was backed up with the fact that she really was quite intelligent and gifted at magic.
Intelligence and inherent talent were attractive qualities to him alone, and the fact that they now resided in a body that had grown from skin and bones to taught curves that made him and practically every other male student at Hogwarts take notice only exacerbated the situation.
He grumpily trudged across the school grounds toward his destination. Blaise Zabini; the only other person who knew of his completely inappropriate fixation with the school's Head Girl. He loathed the boy for that reason alone; but after the day he'd had, he felt the need to vent. And since he couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't let any slips about Granger fall off his tongue, Zabini would be the only safe person to talk to.
Or so he thought before he noticed the handsome, dark-haired Slytherin gazing purposefully at something in the distance. Scratch that. Someone. Blaise was leering at the girl who had been tormenting his thoughts for the better part of the year.
A surge of irrational jealousy swept through him. He might not be able to ever openly acknowledge his feelings for Hermione, but that didn't mean other men got to ogle her like that and get away with it.
He stalked toward Blaise at a clipped pace, his hands curled into fists as he glared at him. Stopping when he reached him, he scowled down at the boy who had yet to turn his eyes away from the studious girl to recognize the presence of someone else in his immediate vicinity.
"You're staring," Draco bit out angrily.
"She hasn't noticed," Blaise replied calmly, still not turning his head to look at the figure blocking out the last remnants of the late-day sun that had been warming him until then.
"Allow me to rephrase. You're staring at Granger."
"Did you hear that Weasley finally figured out that Lovegood likes him?"
"Did he? Took him long enough."
"You're still staring."
"She's upset about it."
"You said she hadn't noticed."
"About Weasley and Lovegood getting together," Blaise corrected. "She says she's happy for them, but she's upset about it. Really upset."
Draco frowned. Sitting by an old tree near the lake, her back slightly hunched as she poured over the open book in her hands…she didn't look any different than she usually did. Of course, he only really paid attention to her emotional disturbances when they were directed at him, so he wasn't likely to know what was normal and what wasn't. But Blaise would – and did apparently – just like he seemed to know everything else that went on in that damn school.
Still, he didn't immediately catch onto what his friend was getting at, and Draco turned back toward Blaise when he realized he had started staring at Hermione Granger for far too long as well.
"So?" he asked.
"So…now would be a good time to make a play for her…strategically speaking."
Draco narrowed his eyes at his friend. "What are you implying, Zabini?"
"Implying? I didn't realize I was being that subtle."
Draco clenched the muscles in his jaw and turned away, scowling off at Hermione, though he was really upset with himself. How he could have forgotten the first unspoken rule among seventh year Slytherins to never, never say anything personal around Zabini, especially while intoxicated, he would never know. And now, it would seem, that his one night of sulking and drowning his sorrows in firewhiskey that Goyle had smuggled onto school grounds was coming back to haunt him.
"What do you want?" he hissed under his breath.
Blaise smirked lazily, but didn't bother to tear his gaze away from Hermione. "I believe…" he drawled slowly, "…that you owe me a favor."
Draco grimaced and gnashed his teeth again. The second unspoken rule among seventh year Slytherins: never become indebted to someone who will ask for something in trade. He'd broken that one as well. He didn't regret it at the time, as the wizarding photos of Hermione trying on lacy undergarments in a muggle store were enough to keep his rapt attention, but he should have known that Blaise would ask for something other than legal tender in return, and he knew he shouldn't have agreed to it. He didn't know how the photos were obviously taken without Hermione's knowledge, but it couldn't have been easy, and wouldn't come cheap.
He sucked in a breath to calm his nerves. Perhaps he could strike some sort of deal with the dark-haired member of his house. He would come into quite a bit of money after he graduated; certainly he could offer Blaise enough galleons to permanently make him keep his mouth shut about his inebriated declaration of love for Hermione Granger and the fact that he'd purchased the photos from him.
Or he could just hex him. Whatever worked.
"Yes," Draco finally answered. "About that…"
"Like I said, now would be a good time to make a play for her."
Draco pursed his lips out of irritation. "And if I refuse?"
"You owe me."
"Debts of barter always have a second option in case the first is too…"
"Embarrassing?" Blaise finished snidely.
"What if I refuse? What's my second option?"
"There is no second option, Malfoy," Blaise stated with utter confidence, his voice so smooth that it sounded like he was discussing something boring and benign.
"What's your game here, Zabini? What do you get out of it?"
"Out of curiosity, who do you think the Ministry's going to go after once school lets out? Sure, they got rid of Riddle, but some of his people are still at large – and most of those people have family in Slytherin." Blaise pointed out. He made a habit out of referring to all people by their last names rather than titles or nicknames; it was easier to formulate in his mind that way; and he saw no reason why he should have to make an exception for Voldemort – especially now that he was dead. "But if we make the right connections now…They wouldn't be nearly as suspicious of someone who was, let's say, in a relationship with a famous, brilliant witch from Gryffindor...or that someone's best friend for that matter."
"You're assuming that she'll simply fall into my arms," Draco said. "She's not like that."
"No. I'm sure you'll have to put in some effort," Blaise agreed. "It could mean making a complete arse out of yourself with nothing to show for it in the end. But you know what they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained."
Draco stirred uncomfortably where he stood. Blaise had a point; and not just a point, but a plan. Unfortunately, the majority of the foundation for said plan had to do with him breaking down the carefully constructed walls he'd put up throughout his life and making an idiot out of himself by going after someone he desired but who loathed him in return. Quite honestly, he wasn't sure he was up to the task. Not when he was still moderately comfortable with the stalker/prey-like relationship he'd developed with Hermione from afar.
"So, I suppose if I refuse that you're just going to go blabbing; is that it?"
"Not at all," Blaise said. "I'm a wizard of my word. I said I wouldn't tell her or anyone else how you feel about her and I won't. Hell, I won't even tell anyone about the pictures. But if you refuse to own up to your payment, you should know that you forfeit any rights you have to her from liking her first."
Draco's stomach felt like it dropped out and knotted all at once. He really didn't like the sound of that. Maybe he didn't want everyone in Slytherin house to know that he liked Hermione, but he didn't want any of his classmates getting the bright idea that she was fair game either.
"W-what are you saying?" he asked, covering up his slip of the tongue to make it look like he was pensive rather than stammering.
Blaise finally turned his head and looked up to face him, giving him a wry expression that Draco knew from the experience of seeing on other people's faces left no room for discussion.
"If you don't go after her, then I will."
The knot in Draco's stomach tightened; his gut writhing in agony as it twisted and formed a solid lump that had no business causing him as much discomfort as it was. Forget the other guys at the school knowing Hermione was available because her best friend who'd been warning other men away had gone and gotten himself a girlfriend. Blaise was a formidable opponent and what was more is that both of them knew it.
They both had looks, money, and intelligence, and Blaise had the advantage in that he hadn't tried to make Hermione's life a living hell for the past six and a half years. Fuck. And he'd only make it easier for the Italian Adonis if he refused to go after her himself, thereby agreeing to break one of the unspoken codes of friendship that you never went after someone that one of your friends – or at the very least, allies – liked.
"You wouldn't," he said. He cringed at the desperate, pleading undertone his voice carried with it. "You've got just as much to lose as I do. You'd never risk being ostracized like that."
Blaise raised a condescending eyebrow at him. "I've got enough information on every member of our house to come out of any situation relatively unscathed," he reminded him. "And I've always been one to look at the big picture. If getting a beautiful witch into bed keeps me out of prison for impeding an investigation in the future, then I'd say it's well worth having some nasty comments thrown at me until then."
Draco's nostrils flared. Bastard. He'd wished he'd known the sour turn the conversation was going to take before he sought out the other boy. He would have avoided him like the plague had that been the case. Although, he supposed it was better to know that he had serious competition before he lost the slim chance he had with Hermione in the first place.
Reaching what he considered to be a forgone conclusion, he scowled at the other boy. "Fine," he spat. He took a second to angrily sneer at Blaise before swiftly turning his back on him and charging over to the tree Hermione was sitting under.
He stilled directly by her side and was slightly perturbed that she didn't bother to look up from her book when she had to have seen him out of her peripheral vision. But he couldn't dwell on that, he reminded himself. He'd seen her do the same thing to both Harry and Ron several times over. It wasn't personal. Even if she did hate him.
Hermione glanced up at him. Well, at least she was polite enough to do that. Really. He had started to wonder about Blaise's lack of proper manners back there.
"Malfoy," she returned; civil but wary. He supposed that was appropriate given their history. At least she hadn't immediately told him to bugger off or yelled for her two idiot friends cum bodyguards to come and rescue her from his evil clutches.
"Nice day, isn't it?"
He resisted the urge to close his eyes and curse at himself for leading off with such an inane line, but only just barely.
Hermione regarded him with heavy suspicion, her eyes narrowing and her brow creasing at the same time. It made Draco want to reach forward and press out the tiny wrinkle that formed between her eyebrows. "Did you want something, Malfoy?"
He hadn't thought about what he'd actually say to her. He'd strode toward her out of sheer jealousy and the thought of losing something before he even had it; he hadn't had time to plan any sort of conversation in his head. Fantastic. He'd been the focus of her undivided attention for a whole minute and he had already come off looking like a moron.
And it wasn't as if he could fall back on his old standbys of insulting her or making fun of her either, was it? Not if he wanted to keep someone else's hands from pawing her at the first given opportunity. He sighed. He'd have to make something up and quick. He had no valid reason for coming over to engage her in a normal conversation; at least, none that he could let her know about.
Then it came to him.
Epiphanies could be lovely things that way.
"Are you going to the leaving feast with Potter?"
"I haven't made any plans to go with him," Hermione answered carefully. "Why?"
"Good," Draco said, causing Hermione to give him an even stranger look. "I mean, it's just that…I thought it would be a good idea if you and I went together."
Hermione's eyebrows shot straight up in surprise and Draco braced himself for the scathing retort he was sure she'd spit off at him. He wasn't prepared for what she actually said.
"I see," she said, appearing to mull over his poorly-worded idea. "May I ask why?"
"Well, Dumbledore has been pushing the whole inter-house unity thing more lately, so if we go together it would be a good example for the younger years…" Draco lied horribly, trailing off at the end.
He was ashamed of himself. Generally, he was a much better liar than the babbling dunce he'd inexplicably turned into. He didn't give a flying fuck what Dumbledore thought about anything and Granger knew it. He was officially screwed.
After a strenuous pause, she finally spoke again. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree. Even if we don't like each other, that's no reason we can't be diplomatic and present a united front for the sake of the houses."
Draco released the breath he'd been holding in surprise. Had he heard her correctly? She'd just said yes? He blinked a couple of times before a giddy grin started to pull up the corners of his mouth.
The event in question wasn't for another couple of months yet. That was entirely too much time in which she could change her mind or Blaise or someone else could try to win her for themselves.
"As unappealing as the idea might sound, I think we should probably try to spend some time together before then," he said, choosing his words with the skill that almost seven full years in Slytherin had taught him. "In smaller increments, you understand – to build up our tolerance levels to each other so we don't end up in a vicious fight during the meal."
To his relief, Hermione gave him a small, quirky grin. "Yes. I suppose that might be a good idea," she said. "We can start by actually talking to each other while on patrol tonight if you'd like."
Draco schooled his face into an indifferent expression and gave her a curt nod. "Alright. Tonight then, Granger."
Draco turned away from her and started his walk back to the school, only allowing a full smile to spread across his lips once he had gotten far enough away so she wouldn't be able to catch his delight with how things had gone. Basking in his moment of triumph, he'd completely forgotten about the boy who had set things off to begin with.
Blaise watched and waited until Draco opened one of the school's doors before getting up and walking over to where Hermione was still sitting and reading her book.
"We're even then?" he asked.
"We're even," Hermione confirmed with a grin, but without looking up at him. "I still say you're a pervert for wanting pictures of me trying on lingerie though."
"I never denied it," Blaise said with a smirk.
Hermione snickered. "I don't suppose you're ever going to tell me what you had on him to get him to ask me out, are you?"
"Depends," Blaise answered, his smirk only growing larger. "What's it worth to you?"