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Bake It Off

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Hermione starts baking again a few months after the war ends, when she's looking for something to do with her hands. It isn't her first time baking--it had been a hobby of hers when she was younger, before Hogwarts--but she's been so busy, and once she found out she had magic, that was so much more exciting. Why would she bake bread when she could be making a potion or casting a spell?

But there's magic in baking too, the ordinary kind of magic that wizards don't think about very often. The magic of yeast growing, of chemical reactions, of things coming together and turning into something new.

And of course she's good at it; it's not hard. She finds recipes and follows them and they turn out well. Anyone can do it with a little patience and determination.

Nine years later, Harry's the one to say, "You should apply, you know."

She knows he means Bake Off only because she likes to attempt the technical challenges after the show every week, and Harry has just finished a piece of her latest.

"What, to be on the show?"

"Yeah. Why not?"

"I can't go on television, Harry, I'm a witch!"

"Do witches not show up on camera?" he asks, all innocence.

"It wouldn't be fair."

"You never use your magic when you're baking anyway," Ron points out. "It's not cheating to have magic, just to use it."

"Not if anyone found out."

"If anyone found out about your magic, I don't think cheating at a baking show would be the big news," says Harry.

"That's not what I meant and you know it," she snaps. "They give background on all the bakers. Where they live, what they do for work. It would be easy for someone to find out I'm lying."

"If you don't want to do it, you can just say," says Ron. "But right now, it sounds a bit like you're making excuses."

She opens and closes her mouth. "Neither of you sees anything wrong with this idea? If someone asked the wrong questions--"

"There are celebrities who are wizards, they manage just fine," says Harry. "I'm sure if you wanted to do it, the ministry would make sure everything was on the level. If any of our kind watch, they'd probably know your name, but they won't give you away. They'd be rooting for you."

"Besides, how many wizards do you know who even watch television?" Ron asks. He's still not entirely sold on it himself, but living with Harry and Hermione, he's been exposed, and he does have a certain curiosity about muggle things. In some ways, he really is his father's son. "It'll just be the muggle-borns, and they'll definitely be happy for you."

"Do you really think I could get on?" she asks, looking down at her plate of pastries. They are nice, of course. Good, even. She's a talented baker, but it's not like being clever or good at school. It's creative too, and knowing the formulae won't be enough. Besides, this is a competition, not just messing about in the flat.

Then again, doesn't she know how to keep her cool under pressure? Hasn't she fought in a war? After everything she's been through, applying to be on a baking show is nothing. It's easy.

It might even be fun.

"They'd be idiots not to take you," says Ron, loyal as always.

"You could see what the application looks like," Harry adds. "There's no harm in looking."

"No," she agrees. "I suppose there's not."

*

It's a long application process, but not terribly time consuming. There's no indication, between steps, whether or not she'll be going forward, either, so it's hard to tell exactly how long it really will take. She fills out a form and doesn't know she's being considered until she gets a call for an interview a few weeks later, and then gets asked to meet with the production team, and finally goes to do a test technical on site. That's the worst, when she knows how close she is to getting it, but there are still weeks and weeks of wondering. She doesn't always make the best impression on people. Even if her bakes are good enough, they might not think she's the right fit for the show.

When the call comes, she's at work, reviewing proposals that have come in for magical hybrid technologies. Being a war hero and Harry Potter's best friend made it easier for her to strong-arm her way into the ministry and essentially create her own department, but she does think it was the right thing. The wizarding world living in the past didn't do anyone any good, and muggles had plenty of innovations that would benefit wizards. And, just as importantly, she was able to review proposals from wizards for devices intended for muggle use, which benefited everyone. They were, after all, sharing the same world. There was no reason for them to leave muggles behind.

While Hermione insisted on having a phone at her desk, in case muggles needed to get in touch, it's usually a paperweight, so the sound of it ringing is enough to make her jump. There's no doubt in her mind that it's Bake Off--no one else has ever called her at work--and she only needs a moment to compose herself. "Hello?"

"Ms. Granger?"

"This is she."

"It's Geoff from The Great British Bake Off. Is this a good time?"

"Yes, it's fine." She grabs her cell phone and opens up the group text: Call from GBBO!!. Harry and Luna like it immediately--Luna took to cell phones with a speed and passion that was disconcerting but unsurprising--while Ginny adds omg good luck!! and Ron probably won't see until tonight. "How can I help you?"

"We'd like to invite you to be on the next season," he says, and a knot of anxiety she hadn't realized she was holding unties itself. She doesn't like losing, and not getting on the show would be losing before she even got a chance to try.

"I'd love to," she says. "Do you have the filming dates?"

The call is over so quickly, she barely has time to process what's happening. Geoff gives her the details of what they want to film and when, and Hermione has a quill jotting it all down, figuring things out. She'll need to use the ministry's muggle-facing offices when they film her at work, but that will be fine. They want to come and film at her flat, so they'll need to clean up a little, make sure there's nothing suspicious lying around. She's compensated for transportation, so the easiest thing will probably be to just take the train like a muggle would from London. She likes the train well enough, and she'll be able to get some work done on the way.

She got it. It doesn't feel real.

For the next few months, between getting the call and the start of filming, Hermione obsesses in a way she hasn't since she was in school. She bakes constantly, even more than she used to, so much so that her friends can't eat it all, nor can her coworkers. She's giving Harry and Ron treats to bring to their offices and sending extras home to anyone who will take them. She even goes to Hogwarts to cook twice a week, just so that she can leave everything she makes there for the students. Professor McGonagall doesn't really understand what's going on, but she's supportive, so long as Hermione doesn't interfere with classes.

"You're going to be fine," she tells herself, as she's waiting for the train. "You won't be sent home the first week. And even if you are, think of how many people applied. You've still done extremely well."

Out of school, she's tried to learn to be less competitive, but she mostly manages it by not putting herself into situations that might bring that part of her out. But, as competitions go, she thinks this is one of the safer ones. It's so nice. Everyone always seems to leave as friends, without hard feelings.

Despite her best efforts, she doesn't really believe it, and when she arrives at the meeting spot outside the hotel the next morning and finds Draco Malfoy already there, chatting with an older woman, all thoughts besides beating him fall out of her head for a second. She sees red, and she's stalking over to him before she realizes what an awful idea it is.

"What are you doing here?"

One of Malfoy's most annoying qualities has always been his ability to seem at ease in new situations. He loses his cool easily enough, but it's always when he's pressed; at the start of things, he always seems unflappable.

He looks her up and down with a cool, even expression. "Granger. It's been a while."

"Do the two of you know each other?" the woman asks. She has the hint of an Indian accent, and the friendliest face Hermione has ever seen. It's as if he was deliberately seeking out a kindly shield. "That's exciting!"

"We went to school together," he says, easy. "Hermione, this is Indira."

She offers her hand and a smile, pulling herself together. They're on the Great British Bake Off; people don't have rivalries or grudges here. They don't have enemies. "A pleasure. I'm sorry, seeing Draco caught me off guard."

"Didn't think I baked?" he asks, mild, as if this is a failing of her imagination. As if he's ever had a meal a house elf didn't make in his life.

"Did you, at school?"

"Did you? It's been almost ten years. More than enough time to learn a new skill."

She hasn't seen Draco Malfoy since his parents' trial. They were put in Azkaban, but he and the rest of the students were let off with monitoring. And because Hermione hadn't been involved in said monitoring, she hadn't had any reason to keep up with him. She's seen some of their former classmates since then, even some of the other Slytherins, but it hasn't bothered her to not see Draco. She'd assumed that after they graduated, they'd have no reason to talk to each other. Certainly, she didn't think either of them wanted to talk.

This might not have been the absolute last place she thought she'd see him, but it's close to the top of the list. What on earth is Draco Malfoy doing on The Great British Bake Off? It's unthinkable.

But Indira is still smiling at them, so it's not as if she can say that, or ask him what made him decide to apply to be on a muggle television show. Not now, at least.

"I suppose you're right," she says, with the best smile she can muster. "Well, it's good to see you."

His eyes narrow, just slightly. Probably no one but her even noticed. "You too. It's been too long." He turns his full attention back to Indira, a deliberate shift. "You were telling me about your son?"

Luckily, Geoff shows up before Hermione starts feeling too awkward about hovering around the edges of the conversation. She recognizes him from her interview, a handsome, slightly anxious man in his early thirties whose job it is to keep the show running smoothly. From what little she saw of him, she liked him.

"I think that's everyone, so I'll just take a quick roll call and then we can get everyone loaded onto the van and get started. Just say you're here when I call your name, please. Just like we're in school again."

Hermione had been so distracted by Draco Malfoy that she hadn't really gotten the chance to check out the rest of the competition. Not that there's much to check out, yet. It's the usual kind of spread of people, twelve bakers of all ages and races, all looking nervous and excited and a little dazed. Hermione isn't the youngest--Draco's a few months younger than she is, for a start, but there's a girl who looks like she might not even be in university yet too--and she thinks Indira might be the oldest, but that's hard to tell. It feels a little like watching the first episode, when she has no idea which bakers are any good yet, when she doesn't know who to keep up with.

She does her best with the names, but only a few make impressions. The younger girl is Diana, the others who seem like they might be around her age are Charles, Xavier, and Zahra. And, of course, Draco, whose name she doesn't need to learn.

"Is that a family name?" asks another older woman. He seems to appeal to that demographic.

"Yes," he says, and offers no follow-up.

Geoff's attention is on him now, though. "Did I hear correctly that you and Hermione were at school together?"

"Yes, at St. Bart's."

Hermione herself had been the one to come up with the fictional muggle school that Hogwarts students could claim to have attended, when Harry decided he wanted to go to muggle university. He'd done it half because he genuinely wanted to go and half to set an example, using his status as the chosen one to show an alternate path for wizards to take. In the years since, a handful of muggleborns have followed his example, using the template Hermione set up all those years ago.

It's a shock to discover Draco knows about it well enough to use it for his cover story.

"We were in different houses," she adds. "Not terribly close."

If they were on an American reality show, Hermione knows this would be seen as an opportunity for drama, something the producers would want to milk for as long as possible. But that's not the show's vibe, so he just makes a note, nods, and moves on, finishing the roll call, establishing everyone is around, and they move on. She and Malfoy are in different vans, and when they arrive, and they don't fall into step together for the tour of the facility. And it's interesting, of course, and useful, and Hermione does her best to pay attention, but her gaze keeps slipping to Malfoy--to Draco, she shouldn't call him Malfoy on the show--near the front of the group.

She really hasn't thought of him very often, these last nine years. Sometimes, when there were rumors of dark magic spreading again, Harry would wonder if anyone had heard from Draco lately, and Hermione would follow-up with some of the Slytherins working at the ministry as casually as she could. As far as she'd known, he was taking care of his mother, who'd been released from Azkaban the previous year. It had seemed a little unglamorous for him, but not overtly suspicious. The war left its mark on all of them.

What's most surprising is that the mark it left on Draco isn't a bad one. He looks good, better than she remembers him looking at Hogwarts. He was always attractive enough, not that he was Hermione's type, but in the last few years he's gotten fitter, filling out at his shoulders. His hair is the same pale blonde as ever, but cut short and styled well, and his skin has tanned a little, like he sees the sun as regularly as anyone on the British Isles can. If she'd thought about him, she thinks she would have predicted he was doing poorly, struggling with his family's loss of wealth and status. She would have wanted him to be licking his wounds.

But he's thriving, apparently. Thriving and baking and charming older Muggle women.

It's not until they're back in the tent with the show's actual talent that Hermione manages to get her mind off Draco, largely because she has actual work to do. They were given their signature and showstopper prompts last week and she feels pretty good about her cake, but she's seen enough episodes to know that just because she made her marble cake four times at home, it won't necessarily come together on the show.

She's so focused that the judges' visit actually does come as a surprise; she had a vague awareness of people moving around her, conversations happening, but she was zoning them out.

Sue's cheerful, "Good morning, Hermione!" nearly shocks her out of her skin.

"In the zone, were we?" asks Mel, and she recovers her smile.

"Yes, sorry! Lots to get done."

"What are you making?" asks Paul. It's hard to think of him as just Paul, not Paul Hollywood, but she's already doing that with Draco Malfoy, so she's getting plenty of practice.

"It's lemon on top and raspberry on bottom," she says. "If I do everything right, the raspberry should look like a lion's head when you cut into it."

The cake had been Harry's idea, or rather the colors and theme had been. He'd trusted Hermione to figure out the flavors herself, but he thought a Gryffindor cake would be a funny way to start, a completely innocuous alert to any wizards who might be watching that yes, she was that Hermione.

With Draco Malfoy directly across the aisle, it suddenly felt much less innocuous and much more like a declaration of war. Here she was, shoving a years-old house rivalry in an old rival's face.

But she's already told Paul and Mary, so she's committed to the lion. If she doesn't deliver it now, it's not going to look like she changed her mind, it's going to look like she failed. Which is, of course, not an option. She told Paul Hollywood that when he cut her cake open, he'd see a lion, so he's going to.

They chat about her bake and the problems it might face, which she refuses to dwell on too much. It came out wonderfully the last two times she made it, she just has to make it well again. Ideally, even better.

Once she's got the cake in the oven, she finally takes a breath, looks around to take in the field. One of the cameras is with Draco, watching as he stirs something on the stove. His focus seems complete, an expression she remembers from school, but only sometimes. For all his grades had been almost as good as hers, he'd rarely let himself seem to be working for it, rarely let himself seem invested. Hermione had only glanced this kind of focus in passing, so quickly she thought she might have imagined it, and it's a little mesmerizing. It's not just that he looks different, he feels different. Still Draco Malfoy, cool and smooth, a polished glass boy, but there'd always been a fragility to that before, a brittleness. Hermione's never subscribed to the idea that bullies require sympathy because they're in pain too, but he probably was. It doesn't excuse how awful he was, doesn't make her like him, but it's fascinating that she can see the change in him just looking.

She hears a whir of camera and starts, realizing that she might have been caught out staring. Heat rises on her cheeks--she's not going to give them some narrative about school acquaintances reunited--and she jerks her attention back to her own station, getting started on the glaze for her cake.

She doesn't let herself look at Draco again.

*

Once the signature bake is done, they take a break for lunch. Hermione manages to get ahead of Draco in the line, so she won't have to make a decision about sitting with him or not. Instead, she sits with Xavier, a dark-skinned young man she puts in his late-twenties, and gives him a quick smile before she pulls out her phone.

Me: DRACO MALFOY IS HERE

"Sorry, just checking in with my group chats," she says to Xavier. "I'm Hermione."

"Xavier." He offers his hand, and she shakes it. "Where are you from?"

"I was born in Oxfordshire, but I live in London now. And you?"

"Born in Newcastle, live in Newcastle."

"What do you do?"

"I'm a nurse."

"Project manager." Her phone is buzzing in her pocket, not the steady buzz of an incoming call, but the uneven patter of many, many texts, and it's not like she wants to give more information about her fake job anyway. "Sorry, I told my friends Draco is here and everyone has an opinion."

"Go ahead," he says. "If I had someone from school here, I'd be telling everyone too. What are the odds?"

Worse than he knows, but she just smiles. "Exactly."

Harry: WHAT

Neville: WHAT

Ginny: Malfoy??

Ron: WHAT

Harry: MALFOY BAKES????

Ginny: Malfoy knows what bake off is?????

Ron: He's probably just there to show up the muggles
Thinks it'll be easy because he has magic and they don't
Saw an episode at the pub or something and decided he would get on and win
Wasn't counting on our Hermione being there

Luna: I'm sure his bakes will be very interesting
Do you think he'll have a snake theme?

Ron: I think Hermione will knock him out the first week

Ginny: That's not really how GBBO works, Ronald
Unless she uses her magic to sabotage him
Could you do that? Is it an option?

Draco sits down next to Xavier, and Hermione pulls her attention from her phone.

"Checking in with your husband, I assume?"

She blinks, caught off guard, but keeps her tone even. "That's quite an assumption."

"I thought you and Weasley would be running to a church as soon as graduation was over."

"You thought wrong. As it happens, I was talking to him and Harry, but they're my roommates, not my lovers. Should I tell them you say hello?"

"Please."

Xavier is looking between them, discomfort and curiosity mingling in his expression. Hermione can't blame him; it's certainly a strange dynamic he's caught in the middle of. At least Draco is trying to be polite too, in his way. He probably really did think she and Ron got married. Certainly everyone else expected it, or that she'd marry Harry. It was such a boring, heteronormative way to view the world, as if just because she'd dated someone, it would last forever, and just because her best friends for boys she'd have to marry one of them.

"Where are you living now?" she asks, her curiosity genuine.

"Wales."

"Wales?"

"I like Wales."

"In Cardiff?"

"A town you've probably never heard of."

"Ah, yes," she says without thinking. "Hipster Wales."

Xavier laughs, and to her surprise Draco does too, a soft snort. "Know a lot of Welsh towns, then, Gr--Hermione?"

At least he's having trouble too. "I could look it up."

"You could try. I'm in Ystradgynlais," he adds, and Hermione can admit she'll have trouble figuring out how to spell that one. "It's one of the larger towns in Powys, but even the larger towns in Powys are still on the small side."

Malfoy manor, like a lot of old wizarding houses, isn't in a particularly large town. It's not as if Draco is a city boy who fled into the country. But she has to wonder if he ever goes into the city at all, if he sees any of his old friends, or if they're lying when they say they've seen him. And as far as she knows, his mother is back in the manor. What's he doing in Wales?

What's he doing here? Maybe Ron's right, and he just wants to show the muggles how much better he is than they are, but there must be better places to do that. Somewhere with higher stakes, that isn't known for being nice and wholesome and comforting.

"What made you decide to move out there?"

"Just needed a change."

"What do you do?" asks Xavier.

"I'm a writer, actually."

"A writer?" Hermione demands. "What kind of writer?"

"For Buzzfeed."

"Buzzfeed?" she asks.

"I used to do quizzes, but I've moved up to reporting now."

"Reporting?" asks Xavier. "You mean putting together collections of tweets?"

Draco gives him a cool look. "Whatever you'd like to call it. What do you do?"

"Nurse," he shoots back, and Hermione watches Draco, waiting for the next move. The Draco she knew in school would be cruel about it, parroting some line he'd heard about how men shouldn't be nurses, mocking him for not being a real doctor. It's an easy opening, and Draco wouldn't have hesitated before.

Now, he shrugs. "Probably not a lot of tweets to compile there."

The conversation shifts to baking, but Xavier takes long enough explaining his background as a baker that Hermione doesn't have a chance to find out Draco's. Ron could be right, and he's planning to rely on magic to win, but he'd still need to have some knowledge. There's only so much magic can do, when you're on camera. Draco would still have to come up with an idea for his bake, understand the specifics, and make a convincing show of putting everything together. It would have to taste right, and for the technical, he'd have to know what the bake looked like and talk convincingly about what he was doing and why. Magic could help, but he'd have to have the skills to back it up if he got through the audition process.

Not that she trusts him to play fair, of course. But if he does have some baking experience, she wants to find out where it came from.

Once again, though, as soon as lunch is over, she doesn't have time to pay attention to Draco. Her marble cake goes over well enough, although not spectacularly, and Draco's seems to do about as well, and then it's right into interviews, and the technical (she gets third, Draco gets sixth), and more interviews, and judging, and dinner, and before she knows it, she's in the van being taken back to the hotel. She has enough energy to read back through the group chat and its many theories about what Malfoy's game could be and how she can stop him, but only enough to respond nothing sinister yet, but I'm keeping an eye on him before she falls asleep against the window.

He's the one to wake her up, shaking her arm. "Wake up, Granger. You'll do better tomorrow if you sleep in a bed."

"What are you doing here?" she asks, muzzy and confused.

"Helping you out. That's how it works on Bake Off, isn't it? We all help each other out." He smirks, familiar but not, the same expression but without the malice she's used to. Like they're sharing a joke. "If I'm going to beat you, I want to beat you at your best."

"You're not going to beat me."

"We'll see. Come on," he says again. "Let the driver go home."

He stays by her side as she leaves the van and finds her key, even makes sure she gets into her room before he goes to his own. If it was anyone else, it would be friendly and unremarkable, something she'd expect. If Draco wasn't doing it, someone else would be.

This time, though, it was him.

She still doesn't trust him. But at least so far, he's playing by the rules.

*

"Well, he's probably just biding his time," says Ron on Monday evening.

The second day of filming was much the same as the first--it started too early, Hermione had too much to do, and every spare second she had was spent being suspicious of Draco. But, despite her best efforts, she couldn't find anything concrete he was doing wrong. He'd done well enough with his bakes, gotten some nice comments, but he was fairly middle-of-the-road, the same as Hermione. Closer to the top than the bottom, but not a standout.

About on par with Hermione herself, frustratingly enough.

"Like you said, no one ever comes in and just cleans up on Bake Off," Ron continues, as Hermione hits her dough harder than she probably needs to. "He's lying low."

"With his own muggle baking skills." She huffs. "Honestly, where did Draco Malfoy learn to bake? I overheard some of his interviews, he knew what he was talking about."

"It really doesn't make any sense," says Ginny. They hadn't planned on having a gathering, but everyone wanted to hear about Draco. Not that Hermione can blame them; they were already curious about the show, and adding him to the mix just makes the whole thing more exciting. If the wizarding world finds out about this, there are going to be a lot more TVs in magical households. Everyone will want to watch. "It isn't as if there's a big prize."

"And he doesn't need a big prize, he's rich."

"Are we sure?" asks Harry. "I know a lot of Deatheater families had their assets seized, I think the Malfoys did too. I don't think they're as rich as they used to be."

"He did say he was living in Wales," Hermione muses. "But I think his mother is still in the manor. We would have heard if they abandoned it."

"Do you reckon she taught him to bake?" Ron asks.

Ginny snorts. "Probably the house elves. If I grew up with him around, I'd want to give him something to do to keep him out of my hair."

A sad smile tugs at Harry's lips. "I'm not sure Dobby would have made the best teacher, to be honest."

"How do you think he found out about the show?" Ginny asks. "That's what I can't figure out. You don't think he could actually be a fan, could he?"

"Imagine Malfoy watching Bake Off," says Ron, making a face.

"Imagine Malfoy owning a TV," Harry shoots back.

"But he must have one, or he wouldn't be there." Hermione sighs. "I don't think I'll have much time to talk to him, and even when I do, I won't be able to ask about any wizard stuff. And that's if he'd tell me!"

"But everyone does know you were at school together," says Ginny. "They'd be more suspicious if the two of you didn't want to talk to each other. Maybe you could come up with a code! Something you can ask him about when you need to talk about magic."

"You want Hermione and Malfoy to come up with a secret code to talk to each other?" Ron asks, with mild disgust.

"It's not as if she can hex him like he deserves. So she might as well find out what she can."

"You could hex him," Ron mutters. "You can do wandless magic. It wouldn't be that hard."

"I'm not going to hex him."

"No?" asks Harry. "I'd hex him."

"Well, I might hex him. But only if he hexes me first. Otherwise, I'm just going to outbake him. Fair and square."

"That is exactly Gryffindor and Slytherin, isn't it?" says Luna, in her dreamy way. "You'll cheat to beat them, but only if the cheat first."

"As long as I cheat better," she says. "But really, how long could Draco Malfoy possibly last on Bake Off?"

*

Despite her front of confidence, Hermione is more than a little suspicious, and worried too. The problem is that if Draco wants to cheat, he'll have a much easier time sabotaging others than he will helping himself, and Hermione doesn't have time to monitor him while she's trying to do her own work. It could be weeks before she caught him in the act, if she managed it at all, and by the time she didd, bakers who didn't deserve it would have been sent home.

It tugs on her all through work on Monday, despite her best efforts. What she should be doing is focusing on her bake, deciding what she'll do for her signature bread, but instead, she's thinking about Draco Malfoy and what he's doing and why he's doing it and how she can stop him.

During lunch, she gives in and googles Draco Malfoy Buzzfeed, and to her surprise, the page populates with hits. Of course, it wouldn't have made sense if he had lied about it--why on earth would he?--but she still hadn't really believed him. It seemed more likely he knew enough about muggles to make up extravagant lies to mess with her. That certainly felt like him.

But here he is, writing about LGBT issues, the dangers of the rise of fascism, and how young men of privilege became radicalized.

That one, she clicks, and she finds herself scrolling through a looking-glass version of the wizarding war, sanitized and reworked for muggle audiences. The current popular narrative for young Nazis is that they're from liberal families and they're upset about not having privilege they think they should, and I'm here to tell you that plenty of them are from conservative families, encouraged by parents who are upset about having slightly less than they used to. Some families have black sheep, other families are nothing but wolves. But there is hope, and that hope comes in rich people facing real consequences.

If the article is to be believed, losing the war and seeing his parents imprisoned changed Draco on a profound level, forced him to reexamine his family and his past and who he wanted to be, and he'd decided to be a radically different person. The article is a few years old now, with thousands of comments and shares, impossible to have planted for her benefit unless he was playing a long game with rules she could barely begin to guess.

The simplest, most straightforward explanation is that Draco Malfoy is no longer a pureblood bastard and is instead a somewhat introverted writer living in a small town in Wales with extremely limited contact with his former life. And every other article Hermione reads backs up that explanation. The portrait Draco's articles paint is of a young man from a family he's always been told was the best in the world, who had already been finding that the place designated for him didn't fit when his father started pressuring him to do bad things. As so many people had before him, he tried to be the person he was supposed to be, doubling down stubbornly and lashing out against the world. After his father's arrest, he stopped trying to be the son he was supposed to be and worked instead to be a person he liked. He accepted his bisexuality and started getting involved in the queer community online, which led him to writing and later got him hired at Buzzfeed.

She stays twenty minutes late at work because she gets sucked into Ruining Your Childhood, a series where he reads or watches muggle children's classics that he missed because of his "strict upbringing," which is actually quite funny, and explains how he might have ended up watching Bake Off in the first place. Even if the show itself wasn't featured, he clearly has a television and knows how to use it.

It isn't until her phone starts buzzing with her Hogwarts kitchen available reminder that she realizes she should have already left, so she'd have time to stop by home to drop her things off before heading to Hogwarts as usual. She could still, but it would needlessly cost her time, and it's not as if she has very much. Instead, she apparates directly to Hogsmede and heads to the castle on foot, but she bypasses the kitchen and takes the stairs up to the Headmistress's office to visit Professor McGonagall.

"Acinonyx jubatus," she tells the gargoyle, and it obligingly moves out of her way. "Hello, Professor, do you have a moment?"

McGonagall removes her glasses, smiles. "Ms. Granger. Of course, please have a seat. May I get you anything? Tea?"

"No, thank you. It really will just be a moment, I have to get to the kitchen and get a start on my baking."

"So you're still in? You said you could be eliminated any week."

"Yes, I've made it to the second week." She leans forward a little, chewing the words over before she says, "Draco Malfoy did as well."

It's rare to see Professor McGonagall surprised, and always a treat when it happens. She blinks a few times, rapidly, takes a few long seconds to process. "Draco Malfoy?"

"Yes. Apparently he's an amateur baker now. I was wondering if you'd heard anything from him."

"No. Not that I would expect to, of course. Mr. Malfoy and I were not particularly close. But I also wouldn't have expected to find him on a muggle television program."

"It was quite a shock. May I be frank?"

"Things tend to be easier when you are."

"I'm a little concerned about, well--cheating. Maybe he wouldn't, maybe he would, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions for something quick and simple I might be able to use to make sure there was no--tampering."

The headmistress gives her the ghost of a smile. "I understand your concern. Most wizarding competitions have safeguards in place, but of course a muggle studio wouldn't. And while I would never accuse any Hogwarts student of cheating, it's certainly better to be sure no cheating occurred." She taps her jaw. "My recommendation would be a simple detection charm. The range should be large enough, and if you enchant a watch, it will not only warm up when magic is used, but make an impression of the clock hands so you have a record of the time of use. Which, given you could not confront Mr. Malfoy during the competition, could be useful."

"That sounds perfect." She rubs the back of her neck, more embarrassed to be having the conversation than she would have been before she spent an afternoon reading his Buzzfeed articles. She's not sure the person who wrote those would cheat.

Then again, she's not sure how much he's really changed. There's no reason to let her guard down.

"I'm not expecting him to do anything. I just want to have it, in case."

"I understand completely, Ms. Granger. How was your first week? You did well?"

"Well enough to get through."

"Then you'd better get to the kitchens and make sure you do well enough to get through this week too, shouldn't you."

She grins. "Yes, Professor. Thank you."

"Good luck, Ms. Granger."

*

As with the first week, Hermione takes the train after work and arrives late enough that she has no interest in socializing with anyone on Friday night. The filming days start early and getting enough sleep is much more important than making conversation with Draco Malfoy. She still doesn't even know what to say to him, if she's honest; she hasn't told any of her friends about his day job yet, and that conversation is easier to imagine than any of the one she she could have with him about it.

If she's lucky, they won't have enough time to talk, and she'll get through the entire show without actually needing to have a real conversation with him. Even if he has changed, that doesn't mean she owes him anything, or that they need to talk about it. There are people she went to school with who weren't tremendous gits whom she doesn't talk to anymore, it's not as if she owes Draco a fair shot.

Her determination to not speak to him lasts that whole week, through him winning the technical (without any magic that her charmed watch can detect) and his friend Indira taking star baker, through the next week of frantic preparation and her own technical win, and only breaks, finally, at the end of that third episode, when he's declared star baker.

Which can't possibly be right.

Thanks to her technical finish, Hermione was a star-baker runner-up, so she's kept after to talk to the cameras along with Draco. From what she catches out of the corner of her eye, he doesn't call anyone to share his good news, but he looks smug, pleased with himself in the same way he did in school when he did well on a test. He'd always acted like his victory was the only possible outcome, even when she regularly had better scores than he did.

She lingers as he finishes up and then loops her arm in his, locking their elbows together so he can't escape. She gives him her biggest, brightest smile, and says, "Congratulations, Draco!"

The cameras might be fooled, but he isn't. His eyes narrow for just a second before he pastes on his own smile. "Thank you. I wasn't sure I'd get it."

"Your showstopper was fantastic. I want you to tell me all about it on the train."

His eyebrows shoot up. "On the train?"

"Didn't I tell you I have business in Wales this week? I'm going to Cardiff, we'll be going most of the way together."

"I must have missed that."

But he makes no objections as Hermione follows him to the van and then to the train station, and when she asks to see his ticket so she can get on the same train, he shows her.

Once they're in their seats, he waves his hand, and Hermione feels the metal of her watch burn slightly on her wrist, a heat little stronger than sunshine. Apparently it's the first time he's used magic since she got the charm.

"What do you want, Granger?" he asks, sounding more like the boy she knew at Hogwarts than he ever has on camera. "Couldn't keep your hands off me?"

"I want to know what happened to you. How did you get star baker?"

"I became a very good baker."

"Yes, but how? Did you start watching Youtube cooking shows after you got the job at Buzzfeed? Or did the baking come first and you decided muggles might have a few good ideas? I know you think our books are shite."

"Do you?"

She shrugs, refusing to be embarrassed to have used information he provided to her. If he doesn't want her to read his articles, he shouldn't have told her where to find them. "I saw your post about reading The Witches."

"The man was clearly demented. Dahl's entire oeuvre is sick. They gave those to children?"

"Don't forget that I've seen the house where you grew up. I don't think you should be saying anything about demented influences on children."

He snorts. "No? I think I might be the leading bloody expert."

"You may be, at that."

He drums his fingers on his armrest. "My landlady taught me. The baking. She said it would be good for me, and she was right."

"The one in Wales?"

"Yes."

"When did you move there?"

"Right after the war. As you said, Malfoy Manor is a demented place to be. I couldn't go back without my father." He paused. "I probably couldn't have gone back with him, either. In a way, it was easier not having to find out."

"I can imagine. And your landlady decided to teach you to bake?"

He studies her, gaze cool, but not cold. He looks actually interested in her, like he thinks there's something to see beyond a mudblood who thinks too highly of herself.

It looks as if he's deciding if he trusts her.

"I wasn't in the best shape, after the war. I assume you can relate. She took one look at me and decided I needed looking after. At first, it was just bringing me food. She'd always say she made too much by mistake and ask if I wanted some. After a few months, she told me I needed to start learning for myself."

"And you listened?"

"I needed something to do."

Her hands flex, an unconscious reaction, as if she's kneading invisible bread. "Didn't we all."

"Is that what started you, too?"

"I always liked to bake. I didn't have house elves to do it for me."

"I'm better at it than they were now anyway. Should have been doing it for myself all along."

She leans forward, eyes narrowed. "Why are you telling me all this?"

 

"Because it's all in my background for the show. They came to my flat and interviewed my landlady. You'd find out as soon as the show aired, it's hardly a secret."

"Does your mother know?"

"No, and I doubt anyone will tell her. Even if your friends watch, no one who knows her would be caught dead watching the television. Besides, as long as I win, she'll be proud. I'll show up all the muggles. And you," he adds, inclining his head.

"You haven't won yet."

"No, but I've won star baker and you haven't."

"It's only the third week," says Hermione. "I have time to catch up."

"Of course you do." He leans back in his seat, closing his eyes like he might go to sleep. "What are you going to do in Wales?"

"Apparate to London."

He snorts again. Does he ever actually laugh? She's not sure she's ever witnessed him showing amusement without a side of disdain. "That's what most people do."

"I have to start getting ready for next week. I have star baker to win."

This smile is like knives, but it still somehow feels like they're sharing a joke. "You'll need all the help you get can."

*

Week four does not start well for Hermione.

"I thought you'd be good at this," says Xavier, nudging her shoulder with his between the signature and the technical. "The daughter of dentists? I reckoned you did sugar-free baking all the time."

"It's not the sugar, it's the gluten," she says. Her sugar-free, gluten-free brownies had been wonderful, when she made them at home. Everyone swore they loved them. "I don't need sugar, but I still haven't found anything I like cooking with as much as wheat flour."

"It's just one bake," he says, his voice warm and consoling. "You have two more to redeem yourself. And you're brilliant at technicals, always in the top."

It doesn't help much, but she likes Xavier and he's doing his best, so she smiles. "Thank you. I'm just tired, it was a long week at work."

"I heard something about that," says Draco, startling her. They did have a minor crisis in the ministry, not directly in her department but an all-hands-on-deck situation with a large-scale breach of the secrecy act. But she hadn't thought he'd know about it. "Blaise was busy."

"You still talk to Blaise?"

"Why wouldn't I? We're still friends."

Hermione had never really been sure how much any of the Slytherins were really friends, but there wasn't a good way to say that in front of Xavier. "Yes, we were all very busy this week. But I'll do better in the technical," she adds, trying to convince herself as much as them.

So, of course, the technical involves aquafaba.

"I knew we'd have to use aquafaba," she tells the camera, vicious. "I tried to practice with it all week, and I couldn't get the hang of it, so I was sure we'd have to use it. And now here's aquafaba in the technical."

"Can you explain what aquafaba is?" one of the producers asks, and she huffs.

"It's bean water!"

"Pea water," says Draco, from the station next to hers. "Chickpea water, specifically."

"Shut up, Malfoy!" she snaps, reflexive, and he smirks.

"Temper, Granger." To her surprise, he leaves what he's working on and comes to stand next to her. She's not sure she's ever been so close to him before, certainly not on purpose, not without immediately moving away. "It's chickpea water, it's used as a replacement for egg whites. It's a pain in the--back."

"What are you doing?" she hisses.

"Helping. Mine is cooking. I'm sure you'd do the same for me," he adds, with a twist of a smile.

It's how it's supposed to be on Bake Off, what she'd expect. She would do it for him, but that doesn't mean she thought he'd return the favor.

"It's just getting the texture right to start," he says, as he works. "Once it's going--" He hands it back to her, and the texture is familiar now, what she'd expect from egg whites in the early stages of mixing. "Should be able to use it now."

"Thank you." Her voice is blank, but her brain is kicking in, remembering the cameras on her. She'll probably come across terribly, snapping at him when he's trying to help. Draco will be the charming, gallant hero, and she'll be an ungrateful harpy. "Really."

"Better be quick," he says. "You're behind."

Her lemon meringue pie doesn't come out spectacularly, but she's never made one before, let alone a vegan one. Her middle-of-the-road finish is as good as she could have expected--better, even--and as they head toward the van back to the hotel, she smiles at Draco.

"Thank you again for your help."

He shrugs. "You helped Brian last week. That's how it works, isn't it? Nothing special."

"Just take the thanks, Malfoy."

"You're welcome, Granger," he says, and lets her onto the van first.

*

The problem with needing to talk about what's going on with Draco is that no one wants to have the conversation she needs to have, which is about whether or not he's maybe not as bad as he used to be. In an ideal world, she'd talk to Harry and Ron about it, her go-to confidants, but neither of them would really be interested in hearing that Draco could have improved. She'd like to think that, if it was Harry coming to her, she'd take him seriously, but she might not. Ron, she probably would, but it's hard to imagine Ron ever changing his mind on Draco; if he did, it would be a big deal. She'd have to believe something truly earth-shattering had happened.

Ginny and Luna would probably be safer, but they didn't know him very well in school. She needs someone who can understand the complicated web of feelings surrounding Draco Malfoy, the mistrust and the hurt and the history, but also someone who's able to think clearly and forgive.

So, on Monday, she leaves for Hogwarts early and stops by the greenhouse to see Neville.

She doesn't get by to visit Neville as often as she should, which is a shame, as he's still one of her favorite people. Since he lives at Hogwarts, it's harder for him to get out to visit them, especially since she's busy with Bake Off during what is usually his summer holiday. Mostly they exchange owls to keep up these days, except when he comes to visit her in the kitchens.

"Oh, Hermione," he says, looking up from the flowerbeds with a pleased smile. "What are you doing here?"

"I needed someone to talk to, and I think Harry and Ron wouldn't be helpful."

"Of course." He finishes with whatever he was planting and removes his gloves, leaning on the worktable against the wall. "What's going on?"

"It's Malfoy. Draco."

"He hasn't been eliminated yet?"

"He's gotten star baker, he might be doing better than I am." She scrubs her hands in her hair, making it even more tangled. "I think he might actually have changed, since we were in school. I'm starting to think he might have realized what a prick he was."

"And?"

"That can't be right, can it?"

"I don't know. You're the current expert. What makes you think that he might have?"

Hermione didn't even know how much she'd been holding in, not until it starts pouring out. Some of it is the obvious stuff, the articles he wrote, the things he told her on the train, but she's been paying so much attention, watching how he treats the other contestants, remembering the way he comforted Diana when she was sent home, how he speaks about his landlady, his mother, his father.

"And he came and helped me when I didn't even ask this week. Just came over and fixed what I was working on and left again. Maybe he's just being nice because it's a nice show, but--he didn't have to do that. No one would have blamed him, no one even would have noticed! He went out of his way, I don't understand it."

"If he really has changed, he probably feels awful," Neville points out, his voice slow as he thinks it through. "Especially if he gets along better with muggles now. He was bad to all of us, but you're the one he called--well, he treated you differently because you were a muggleborn, and now he's seeing you again, on a muggle show, when he already knows he was a hateful bigot in school. He was probably happy to have an excuse to do something nice for you." He shrugs. "Or he hasn't changed and he's playing mind games. Either way, it doesn't matter much, does it?"

"Doesn't it?"

"You'll both be on the show for as long as you're on, and then it will be over and things will go back to normal. He'll go back to his flat in Wales and write his articles and you'll be here in London and the two of you will never see each other again. Unless you want to see him," he adds, with deliberate nonchalance.

"Why would I want to see him?"

"Because you think he's changed and you like him now."

"I never said that!"

"No, of course not. But if he is different, then you might get along now. Do you like the person you think Malfoy might be?"

"I couldn't."

"If he wasn't Malfoy, do you think you'd get along?"

He's still prickly, obviously, but Hermione doesn't mind prickly. He's dry and sarcastic, but she doesn't mind that either. He doesn't have a bad sense of humor. Judging from his articles, he has interesting opinions on a variety of subjects, and if she didn't know him already, she'd probably like him well enough.

"We might."

"It's fine if being Malfoy is enough for you to never forgive him," Neville says. "I know Professor Snape turned out to be on our side in the end, but if he was alive, I wouldn't be teaching here. I couldn't deal with having him for a colleague, after how he treated me." He pauses. "Or maybe if he was alive, he could make amends, too. Maybe I'd like him better with You Know Who gone."

"Probably not."

He grins, a quick flash of it. "No, probably not. But you do like Malfoy better."

"I like most people better when they aren't bullying me or on the other side of a war."

"And it's good he's not. You don't have to be fighting with him just because he used to be a bastard. And if he's not a bastard anymore, that's good. For the world generally."

"You're right. I don't think Ron and Harry will believe it."

"Have you told them about his articles?"

"No. They just want to hear what awful thing he's done to sabotage me and I have to tell them he hasn't done anything yet. He's probably done more to help me than I've done to help him."

"I think you should just tell them that and see what they say. Maybe they'll have some ideas about how you can figure out if Malfoy is up to something. They'll certainly be suspicious."

"They will." She worries her lip. "I think that is what really bothers me. That I might not find out what his game is. If I let my guard down, maybe that's what he wants. And if it is real, I want to know more. What happened and why and--I just can't believe Draco Malfoy, of all people, is happy living a quiet life in Wales, baking and writing for a muggle website."

"Well, he certainly didn't seem to be very happy being Draco Malfoy," Neville points out.

"No, I suppose he wasn't." She shakes her head, smiles at him. "When did you get so good at this, Professor Longbottom?"

"When I became an adult surrounded by teenagers. When we were seventeen, we thought we were grown up and knew everything, but now I see seventh years and they're really still immature idiots. If we're lucky, they grow out of it. Maybe Malfoy did."

"We can hope. Thanks for talking this through with me. Do you want to come to the kitchens and tell me all about your summer research and eat my baking?"

He grins. "Love to."

*

After much consideration, Hermione tells Ron about the Malfoy situation on Tuesday, when Harry is out on a date. Telling them one at a time seems safest, since she won't have to field questions from both of them at once, and as soon as Harry gets home, Ron will fill him in and she won't have to.

They order takeout for dinner and are eating in front of Netflix when she says, casual, "I think Malfoy might really have gotten better."

"Better at what? Being a cheating git?"

Already off to a wonderful start. "Being a person."

Ron drops his fork. "'Mione, no."

"I didn't want to believe it either! But I think he might have actually changed."

"That's what he wants you to think!"

"He writes articles for a muggle website. He has for years! It's not something he could have set up for my benefit."

"Which site?"

"Buzzfeed."

"Malfoy makes Buzzfeed quizzes?" he asks. Hermione hasn't ever actually thought the word agog before, but Ron is unmistakably and undeniably agog. "Malfoy?"

"He writes articles. About how he grew up in a conservative family and realized he needed to reject their values."

"On Buzzfeed?"

"I was as surprised as you were. He hasn't used magic to cheat and he even helped me this week. I messed up my aquafaba and he fixed it for me. I didn't even ask, he was just paying attention."

"That doesn't mean anything. You're supposed to be nice on Bake Off, he's just playing the game."

"He's not. Which of us would know better if that's what's happening?"

Ron rubs his face. "You're right. But bloody hell, Hermione, you can't really think Malfoy's turned over a new leaf. Malfoy!"

"If he was still the same old Malfoy, don't you think we would have heard from him? Do you really think he'd just disappear?"

"Maybe he's biding his time."

"Or maybe he's grown up." Thank goodness she talked to Neville first; she needed his help for vocabulary. "It's not that I trust him, but I don't know what he'd be doing, and I know he hasn't done anything wrong. No magic--"

"Unless he knows a way to get around McGonagall's charm. Or maybe he's bringing magicked ingredients! You can bring things from home, can't you? He could have done that."

"But why? What's the point of putting so much effort in to beat a bunch of muggles when there isn't even a prize? When no one he cares about even knows about it?"

"He still has time to tell them." But he's thinking about it now, really thinking. So far, all three of them have taken for granted that Draco is up to something, and that's the foundation of trying to understand what he's doing. Taking him at face value changes the calculations. "But you're right, it's not very impressive. You really think he just wanted to do it?"

"He's still competitive. And he is a good baker." She shrugs, helpless. "I think he likes it."

"That doesn't mean he stopped being a git."

"I know. I wish I could figure it out for sure. I hate not knowing."

"What, you?" Ron teases. "You hate not knowing things? I had no idea." She elbows him, and he grins. "Why don't we wait for Harry to get back and then we can see what he says. You are going to tell him, aren't you?"

"Of course. I just didn't want to have to deal with both of you at once."

"I wouldn't either." His smile softens. "That would be a win, wouldn't it? If Malfoy was just a regular git, not a giant, bigoted, evil piece of shite."

"Let's not get our hopes up too high," she says, as if she's not.

Ron sees right through her. "Yeah, of course not."

*

It's Harry's idea for her to ask Draco to come and practice with her.

"If you're going to figure out what he's up to, you need to see him more off-camera," he explains, and it's like having a weight lifted off her shoulders. It's what she's thought too, what she's wanted, but she didn't know how to manage it without talking to Harry and Ron, and she didn't think they'd ever approve.

If it's Harry's idea, that's easy.

It's too late in the week to bring it up now, so she takes the train out to filming as usual, getting in late and exhausted. She sees Xavier and Hasan in the lobby and goes to chat with them for a bit, but her focus is on Draco, as it always is. It's possibly the most annoying thing about having him here, the way he fills all the available space in her brain. She should be making friends and bonding with people, not fretting about whether or not Draco is, as Ron put it, just a git or a real piece of shite.

"Has either of you seen Draco?" she asks regardless.

"Think he's already up in his room. Why?"

"I ran into a friend of ours from school this week, he wanted me to pass on his regards."

"He's in room 24, I think," Hasan offers, smile easy, no suspicion at all. He's a nice man, in his fifties and very paternal, and lying to him, even a polite, innocuous lie, feels awful. "You could see if he's awake."

"Perfect, thanks."

She makes it to his door before the self-consciousness sets in, before she realizes how awkward the whole thing is. She can't ask him to come cook with her like this, like she's been rehearsing it, even if she has. And while she could tell him that she talked to Neville and Neville says hi, it's not really enough of an excuse. It feels like there has to be more going on, and maybe there's is. She still wants to talk to him, just to talk. They never get enough time together.

The thought is jarring enough to take her away from his door and to her own room, where she lies in bed for a long time, staring at the ceiling, trying not to think about anything.

*

As it turns out, having something she wants to be distracted from is an excellent way to do well. She throws herself whole-heartedly into her bakes, looking at Draco as little as she can and not talking to him except when he needs help plating his technical challenge and she has the time. They sit together at lunch, but luckily no one asks about her going to see him last night, and she sits with Fran and Diana at dinner.

But they end up next to each other on the bus going to set for the second day of filming, and it finally feels natural to ask, "Where do you bake?"

"Where? At home, obviously. We're home bakers. That's the point."

She wets her lips. "I cook at the kitchens in St. Bart's sometimes. You could do that too."

"I doubt I'd be welcome. They don't like me as much as they like you at St. Bart's."

"You could come with me."

She's expecting a snarky reply, a quick dismissal, but Draco looks shocked, as shocked as Ron had when she talked to him about Draco earlier. He doesn't even manage to say anything before they get out of the van, but Hermione finds it doesn't bother her. Let him be shocked; she's spent too much brainpower on him lately, he can spend too much on her for a change.

It's fruit week and their showstopper is an intricately decorated tart. Hermione had already done well on her signature buns and got second on the technical, so she's not worried about being sent home, but there's a thrumming excitement in her chest that this might be her week, that she might actually get star baker, if she pulls this one off.

Still, even when she feels good about it, when Indira and Xavier slap her on her shoulders and tell her how well she's done, she's not prepared for Sue to say, "This week's star baker is Hermione!"

Her heart actually stops for a second, she's so pleased, and she barely hears Brian being sent home. Star baker isn't the be-all and end-all, isn't winning, but if she'd gone home without getting it once--without getting it at least as many times as Draco did--she wouldn't have forgiven herself.

"I still can't quite believe it," she tells the camera. "I wanted it, but I wasn't sure--it's so hard to tell, even if I'm feeling good, how the judges will like it. This week, everything just felt like it fell into place. Like magic," she adds, without thinking, and hopes no one will read into it later.

Draco is waiting by the door. "Congratulations on the win."

"Thank you. Now we're even."

"For now." He stuffs his hands into the pockets of his jeans, falling into step with her on their way to the vans. "When do you bake at school?"

"After work on Mondays and Wednesdays." She glances around, makes sure there's no sign of the cameras, no one listening to them. "We can meet at the Three Broomsticks tomorrow at 5:15, if you want to come."

"I still think it's cheating," he says, but his voice is teasing. "Using a school kitchen. Not baking at home."

"Then you don't have to come."

"I'll be there." He rubs the back of his neck, a nervous, sheepish gesture. "Thank you. For inviting me."

Thanks from Draco Malfoy, that's a novel experience. "You're welcome. I'll see you tomorrow."

*

"So, pastry week."

Draco is leaning on the counter in the Hogwarts kitchen, watching Hermione with cool grey eyes. He's dressed more casually than he is usually is at the tent, in jeans and a plain black t-shirt, wearing a pair of silver, wire-rim glasses. It's quite a lot to see, all at once.

"Pastry week," she agrees, brusque. "I want to practice my puff, first off. I usually do rough when I'm at home, but they want full puff for the signature."

"And what is your signature Danish?"

"I haven't decided yet. Have you?"

"Blueberries and cream, I think. My mother loves blueberry."

"That sounds like it would be nice."

"And we have to make twelve identical, so I don't want to get too complicated. Simple and well-executed so I'll survive the week."

"Afraid of pastry, Malfoy?"

"Who isn't?"

She has to smile. "Fair enough. You have to get your own ingredients, you know. The house elves are banned from helping us."

"What happened to your campaign?" he asks, pushing off the counter and going to grab ingredients from the pantry. "The SPEW thing. Did you just give up on it?"

"I didn't give up, but it's not as simple as I thought it was when we were at school. Professor McGonagall and I worked with them on some benefits. I still haven't convinced them to unionize."

"I'm sure you'll get there."

"What happened to your family house elves?"

"They're still in the manor, as far as I know. I assume they kept on while the place was abandoned, and now they're back to waiting on my mother."

Her curiosity gets the best of her. "Do you ever talk to her?"

"Sometimes."

He doesn't seem inclined to say more, so she lets it go; there's work to be done. She gets her flour and salt and puts them into the mixer to get started. It had taken a little doing, getting a stand mixer to work in Hogwarts, but Hermione had never been afraid of a little doing.

"How do you power it?" Draco asks.

She smirks. "Magic."

"Come on, I know you want to tell me all the details."

On the one hand, being the smartest one in the room isn't as important to her ego as it once was, but it is some handy spell-work, and Draco seems genuinely interested. The conversation goes naturally from there to the work she's doing in the ministry, which he's kept up with, and then to what he's writing for Buzzfeed. She'd been a little worried, when she remembered how much downtime there would be waiting for the dough to cool, but the conversation is easy. Draco has always been bright, and now that they can talk without sniping at each other, they have some good conversations.

They're on the third pastry chill when the conversation lapses and he asks, "Why didn't you marry Weasley?"

"Does it really bother you that much that I didn't?"

"I'm just curious. It seemed like the two of you were all set."

"Then why didn't you marry Pansy?"

"Because when you decide you're done with your family's bullshit, there's no reason to stay with the person you were only dating because your family wanted you to. I was never that interested in her, but you were interested in Weasley."

"I was," she agrees. "But the way you're saying it, it sounds like he proposed and I refused him, like it was some dramatic breakup. We never got that serious." She wets her lips, trying to go back to the time when she thought Ron might be it for her, those early, honeymoon golden days, when she was just so happy that the war was over and she had everything she wanted. "I don't think it was like we thought it would be. Not for either of us. And there was so much going on, so many changes. We barely lasted a month, after the dust settled."

"And Potter?"

"He's dating Oliver Wood now," she says. "He's doing well."

"Wood? I thought he was only attracted to Quidditch equipment."

"Well, what is Harry if not human Quidditch equipment?" He smiles at that, and she narrows her eyes at him. "Why the sudden interest in our love lives?"

"I always assumed the three of you lived happily ever after. You married Ron, Harry married Ginny. I thought you'd have at least one child between you. But that didn't happen."

"Romance isn't the only way to be happy."

"No, of course not."

"Do you think about us a lot?" she asks, as curious about what he'll admit as she is about the actual answer to the question.

He looks away. "I think about how my life would have gone if I admitted my father was a bastard sooner than I did. And whether or not I would have been friends with you if I had."

"It's not too late," she says, before she can think better of it. And then she's in for a pound anyway. "To be friends."

"It's not?" His jaw works for a second. "I've never even apologized."

"You haven't, no."

"I'm sorry, Hermione," he says, his voice genuine. "I can make all the excuses I want, but the truth is, I was a little shite, and it's amazing you only slapped me once."

"I can slap you more, if you'd like."

"Maybe for the finale, if we both make it." He clears his throat. "Really, though."

"I know. I--" She pauses. "I don't really forgive you, I suppose. But I appreciate the apology. And as long as you don't do it again, I think we could be friends. From now on."

"What will Potter and Weasley have to say about that?"

"I don't know. You'll have to apologize to them first."

He snorts. "I'll put it on my to-do list."

"They still think you're up to something with all this."

"All what? My life?"

"Probably."

"I'm not surprised. Potter never met a crime he couldn't pin on me."

He says it fondly, like Harry accusing him of things is a beloved school memory. It might have been, if not for Voldemort and the real, looming threat of war. It should have just been a schoolboy rivalry, easily forgotten with age.

It was worse with her, but he's trying to do better with her too. The effort matters.

The timer goes and Draco walks over to the cooler, taking out her dough before his and bringing it to her. A small, polite gesture, a little kindness.

"Thank you," she says, past an unexpected lump in her throat.

He smiles with half his mouth. "You're welcome."

*

"It feels like I'm in a romance novel," she tells Ginny, the next week. Draco came to cook with her both nights, and they sat together for all their meals during the filming of the pastry episode. Neither of them had won, but they'd both done well, safely above the bottom, and he'd been back at the Hogwarts kitchen on Monday.

It's been a very confusing week.

"A romance novel with Draco Malfoy in it?"

"Obviously the specifics aren't right, but the general concept fits. The school bully who's grown up and changed and decided he's not such a git after all? He apologized and told me he wants to be friends, that isn't supposed to happen in real life."

"I don't think that's how it happens in the romance novels either. In a novel, you'd see each other again, and he'd realize what an arsehole he'd been, and he'd decide he needed to be a better person to win you over. He did all that before he even saw you."

"That's true. And it's nicer, I think. Whenever I see that in a book or a movie, I wonder what would happen if the girl said no. If he'd go back to being a bastard if she turned him down. Better to become a good person on your own."

"Like Malfoy did."

"Apparently."

She cocks her head at Hermione. "So, it is a romance, just you aren't worried about saying no to him?"

"It would be if it were a novel."

"Hermione."

She sighs, gives her dough a punch for good measure. She can't just have people over now, they have to be keeping her company while she cooks. "It's not. It can't be."

"But you're interested in him."

"I'm curious about him," she says, as if the two aren't basically synonyms.

"What if he was interested? What if he saw you again after all these years and thought that he wanted a second chance?"

"It feels like that, but it's not what's happening."

"I'm not asking what you think, I'm asking what you want."

Hermione buries her face in her hands. "I don't know! Sometimes I think if he wasn't Draco Malfoy, then maybe--but then if he wasn't Draco Malfoy I wouldn't even be thinking about him! I wouldn't have gotten to know him if I wasn't wondering what he was doing. And now I know him and I wish he was someone else."

"Why?"

"You know why."

"I don't, really. Look, he wasn't my favorite person in school, but it's been years. If he's really different, what's wrong with him being Draco Malfoy?"

"I know better than to be interested in a Malfoy. Even if he's changed, he can't have changed enough he wants to be with me. So it doesn't matter what I want."

It should feel better to have it out there, but mostly there's this hollow pit in her stomach. She's developing some kind of fondness for him in spite of herself, some interest that can't go anywhere because no matter how nice he's being, no matter if he apologized and likes to spend time with her, there's only so far he'd go. And it's not as far as she wants him to.

Ginny shakes her head. "What if he has changed that much? What if he did want that?"

"Then he can bloody well tell me, can't he?" She rubs her face. "Sorry, I don't mean to snap. It's just so stupid, isn't it? The whole thing is so ridiculously stupid."

"Well, I wouldn't get a crush on Draco Malfoy. But if you have, you might as well make the best of it."

"What, exactly, would the best of it be?"

"I don't know. Get laid once, if you can? At least get a snog."

Hermione snorts. "I'll see what I can do."

*

First, she gets a hug, which really shouldn't be a big deal. Week seven she's on fire, wins the technical and then gets star baker again, and she's standing right next to Draco when it happens. She throws herself into his arms without even really realizing it's him, the jubilation taking over, and it's not until his now-familiar smell hits her that she realizes it's Draco holding her and not Indira.

She slides out of his arms and hugs Indira too, on her other side, as she's hugged so many of her co-competitors over the course of the show. But it's her first time hugging Draco, and once it's over, she can still feel the ghost impression of him, the firm chest and strong arms, his voice murmuring well done, Granger. She gets the rest of her hugs, moves on with her life, but for the next few days, her brain drifts back to the how it felt, the phantom memory of his warmth around her.

It's been a long time since she was on a date; that's probably the issue. She should ask Harry if he has anyone to set her up with, or Ron. She has plenty of friends, someone must know someone she could be interested in. She's not so desperate Draco Malfoy is her only option.

She's just desperate enough that it feels like he could be an option.

"Shite!" he exclaims, jerking her thoughts away from the broadness of his back. It's Wednesday and they're back in the Hogwarts kitchens, working on tempering chocolate. Or, well, he is. She's not focusing well. His t-shirt is white today and still too tight around his arms.

"Didn't work?"

"I don't see how muggles do this without magic."

"They're better bakers than you are."

He turns just enough to give her a withering look. "Are you going to help me or not?"

"I'll try," she says, coming to stand next to him. He's got everything set up correctly, his chocolate seemingly in the right temperature range, but the test he's done is dull, with none of the sheen properly tempered chocolate should have. "Put it back on the heat." Tempering isn't her favorite thing, but she's mostly got the knack of it now, and she explains what she's doing to Draco as they lean over his pot. "Do you really use magic for this?"

"Do you not?"

"I don't know a tempering spell."

"I'll teach you," he says, almost absent. As if it's no big deal to help her. "No reason to do all this unless you're on muggle television."

"I don't mind. I find it relaxing. I thought you'd be better at it, it's a lot like potions."

"I was never that great at potions. I got the Slytherin score bump."

She shakes her head. "At least nepotism can't make you good at baking."

"Despite my best efforts."

"Try it again."

"What, the chocolate or the nepotism?"

She snorts, shakes her head. "The chocolate."

He takes the spoon and swipes it down the wax paper, and when the splotch comes out dark and shiny, he actually laughs out loud, a bright, delighted sound she's never heard him make before. His face is all lit up with joy, and when he turns to her, she's already staring, as pleased by the transformation as she is shocked.

When their eyes meet, she realizes all at once how close they are, how hunching over the stove had brought them shoulder-to-shoulder, a pair of bakers working together. She can smell him even over the chocolate, now that she's paying attention, feel the warmth of him and not from the fire, and she still can't look away.

Her tongue darts out to wet her lips and his gaze drops to watch the movement. She knows, with a sudden clarity like the ringing of a bell, that if she takes one single step closer, he's going to kiss her.

So she does.

His hand comes up to tangle in her hair, tilting her face up so he can lean in, press his mouth against hers. She was expecting heat, the kind of unrestrained kiss that it would be easy to dismiss as the passion of the moment, something they could write off as just getting carried away, if things went wrong. But the first touch of his lips is sweet, tentative, and if she pulls back, she knows he'll stop, apologize, that this will be over and they can pretend it never happened.

She puts her hands on his hips and pulls him in, and that's enough. It's as if the action flips a switch in Draco--he presses closer, taking control of the kiss, mouth hot and solid. Hermione's hands move up, mapping his back as he presses closer, navigating the two of them until she feels the impact of the counter behind her. She hops up without breaking the kiss, opening her legs so he can settle between them, and then she wraps them around his waist. Her whole body is on fire with how much she hasn't been letting herself want this, how good it feels to get it.

His hand has just slipped under her top when she hears the familiar, persistent buzz of a cell phone ringing, and just like that, the bubble pops. They startle apart, Draco jumping back a few feet, Hermione sitting up, realizing only belatedly that he'd pushed her onto her back. She's probably covered in flour and cocoa, and her hair must be a mess.

For a long moment, the only sounds are the buzz of the phone and their ragged breathing, and then Draco picks up his call. "Magda?" he asks, sounding concerned. "Is everything all right? You never call."

Hermione slides back off the counter, dusting herself off, trying to get her breathing in order. Her lips feel swollen and her entire body is thrumming with the urge to pull him back in. But she can see him nodding, frowning, the flush leaving his cheeks as whatever's happening on the other end of the line, his shoulders tensing.

"I'll be there as soon as I can," he says, and disconnects. "It's my landlady, she's on her way to the hospital. She doesn't have any family, so I--"

Hermione nods. "Of course. I'll see you on Friday? If it's not too late when I get in."

For a second, she thinks he's going to argue, watches as his jaw work like he's having an argument with himself. But he finally just nods. "Of course. Good luck with your bake."

And just like that, he's gone.

*

"I snogged Malfoy," she says, when she gets back to the flat. "Have some chocolate."

Ron chokes on his beer. "Bloody hell, you can't just say that! You snogged Malfoy? Draco Malfoy?"

"If she's going to snog a Malfoy, he's the best option she's got," Harry points out. His tone is calmer than she was expecting, his gaze steady as he watches her. With a sinking feeling, she realizes how surprised he isn't. "What happened after?"

"He got a call that his landlady is on her way to the hospital and left." She rubs her face. "Honestly, if I wasn't wearing my charmed watch and he wasn't so..." She trails off, not really wanting to tell Harry and Ron how much she thinks Draco was enjoying kissing her. "Anyway, I would have thought he faked the call, but that would have taken some doing."

"Why would he fake a call to get out of snogging you?" asks Ron, plainly offended. "He should be thanking his lucky stars you're willing to talk to him, let alone snog him. You're the one slumming it with him."

Hermione bites the corner of her mouth, smiling a little. "Yes, I'm sure that's exactly how he sees it."

"Do you want to do it again?" Harry asks. "Is this going to be a regular thing, snogging Malfoy?"

She can't read his tone. "What if it is?"

"It's your mouth," he says, with a shrug. "If you want to waste it on him--"

There's a teasing note in his voice, and relief surges through her. Not letting herself think about what was going on between her and Draco meant she hadn't been thinking about what Ron and Harry might say about it, and that had been weighing on her more than she realized. It had been easy to think all she needed to tell him was that Draco might not be as much of a bastard as she thought, but she'd been dancing around the real issue: she doesn't want Bake Off to be the last she sees of Draco. She doesn't even want Bake Off to be all she sees of him; she wants to be a regular part of his life, to visit his Welsh town and meet his landlady and learn his baking tricks.

She wants to kiss him a lot more than she has, and she hadn't thought Harry or Ron could live with that.

"I think I might," she admits.

Ron groans. "Bloody hell, Hermione, if I'd known you were that hard up I would have tried to get you to sign up for one of those awful muggle dating things."

"You didn't," she says, with airy unconcern. "And now I've snogged Draco Malfoy and it's too late to go back."

"Must have been quite a snog," says Harry, and Hermione smiles.

"Don't worry, I'll spare you the details."

Still, after Ron has gone to bed, she goes to sit next to Harry on the couch. "Is this really okay?"

"Why are you asking me? Ron's the one you used to go out with."

"Yes, but I think you hated Draco more."

"You hated him too."

She leans her head on his shoulder. "I know. I feel like I'm failing myself. Betraying who I am."

"If liking him betrayed who you are then you wouldn't like him. If you say he's changed and he's worth your time now, I believe you. You liking him makes him worth liking. You've never been swayed by a pretty face. I trust your judgement."

Tears prick her eyes, ridiculously. Of course Harry trusts her. But he's never said it like that before, so simply. "He might not like me. It could have just been--caught up in the moment."

"How caught up did he get, exactly?"

She closes her eyes, remembering. "Very, very caught up."

"I can't believe Malfoy--Draco ever could have forgotten himself enough to kiss you in school. He knows exactly who you are, and unless he's fucking with you, he wouldn't kiss you unless he meant it. And if he is fucking with you, I will murder him."

She has to smile. "You won't murder him."

"No, but I have a lot more clout in the wizarding world than he does right now. I could ruin his life. It wouldn't even be hard."

"You don't have to sound so excited."

"If you ever bring him around and I think something's wrong, I'll you," he says, serious. "But until then, I'll believe he got his head out of his arse and realized his family was awful and you're amazing. Good for him, finally figuring out what the rest of us have known for years."

"You've grown up too, you know."

"I'm trying to."

She buries her face against his shoulder. "What am I doing?"

"Your best," he says, pressing a kiss to her hair. "Like always. Just don't let this get in the way of you winning, all right? Priorities, Hermione."

She grins. "Not a chance."

*

By Friday, insecurity has set in again. She hasn't heard from Draco, which wouldn't ordinarily be a problem, or even a surprise, but shouldn't he have checked in? Let her know about his landlady? Shouldn't he want to talk to her, if he doesn't regret kissing her?

Then again, she didn't try to get in touch with him either. Maybe they're both being idiots.

Week eight means there are only five bakers left: herself, Draco, Indira, Xavier, and Fran. Taking the train after work, Hermione is usually one of the last ones to arrive, but this week, she doesn't want to let Draco get past her. She pretends she took a half day and got an earlier train, but she really apparates directly into the bathroom and goes to meet the van once she's sure the train has arrived. She sets herself up in the hotel lobby with her laptop, feeling only a little creepy, and waits for everyone else.

Xavier is first, and she's so focused on what she's doing that she doesn't even notice him until he sits next to her on the couch. "My goodness, Ms. Granger," he says, with a teasing smile. "What are you working so hard on?"

She is, in fact, reading the Buzzfeed article Draco posted this morning, but she won't be telling him that. "Just some work emails, nothing important." She pastes on a smile. "Nervous? Top five this week."

"I look at it this way: I'm in the top five. That means I'm very good, doesn't it?"

"That's a nice way to think of it. But we're all that good, and only four of us will make it through this week."

"True. I'll just have to make sure I'm the second worst, then."

Hermione isn't really worried he'll go home, if she's honest. Her bet for this week is Fran, who's lovely and cracker at spectacle--she's an engineer, she knows how to put things together--but not quite at the technical level that the rest of them are. Someone else could have a bad week, of course, but if everyone's at the top of their game, the final four seems obvious.

"Second worst seems like a nice, achievable goal," she tells him. "How are things at the hospital?"

Xavier's always good for a few funny stories about patients, but talking about the hospital just reminds her of Draco's landlady. Maybe he wasn't in touch because something happened to her. Maybe he's been at the hospital this whole time, by her bedside.

What a world it is, when she truly thinks Draco Malfoy wanted to kiss her, and the only reason he hasn't gotten back in touch is that he's caring for a sick old woman.

Fran shows up next, but she goes right up to her room to relax, so when Draco does arrive, it's still just Hermione and Xavier in the lobby, chatting about Doctor Who.

He nods at them as he passes, but that's it; he barely even looks up as he stomps to the desk, gets his key, and goes to his room. Even Xavier notices how weird he's being, and he and Draco haven't really bonded.

"What's his problem?"

"I'm not sure." She worries her lip, torn between her anxiety and her irritation, but irritation wins out. He has to at least tell her he isn't interested. He doesn't just get to ignore her like nothing happened. "But I'm going to go find out."

They don't always get the same rooms week-to-week, but they're always in the same block, and with only five people left, it doesn't take her long to find Draco's current room through process of elimination. She already knows where she is and Xavier is, and she gets to him before she disturbs Fran.

He opens the door looking tired and wary, but when he sees her, he stands up straighter. "Hermione."

She crosses her arms. "How's Magda?"

He deflates right away, the earlier confidence an easily popped balloon. It never takes much to get through his armor. "She's fine. She had a bad fall, but she's tough. I didn't want her to be alone."

"No, of course not."

She lets the silence sit, watching as he becomes more and more uncomfortable. Part of her wants to let him off the hook, but she doesn't even know what she'd say. He has to know what she's thinking.

Finally, he offers, "I'm sorry about the other day."

"Oh?"

"I overstepped."

Her grin is sudden and inevitable. "You didn't."

"I didn't?" He's going for cool, but there's an edge of anxiety in his voice.

Hermione slips past him into his room, not wanting to have this conversation in the hall, where anyone could interrupt them. Draco closes the door behind her and leans back against it, giving her space.

"If I hadn't wanted you to kiss me, I wouldn't have kissed you back."

"I thought you might have just been caught up in the moment."

"It was quite a moment," she grants. "But you didn't do anything I didn't want you to."

"No?"

"Well, one thing."

He's moving towards her now, closing the distance between them, a smile playing on his lips. "What was that?"

"You stopped."

He laughs. "There was a medical emergency."

"Well, you didn't owl me after."

"You said you'd see me Friday!"

That, she doesn't understand. "I am."

He leans down, brushing his nose against hers, an unexpected tenderness. "I thought that meant you thought it was a mistake."

"That's a reach."

"I didn't think there was much chance you wanted to kiss me."

"Well," she says, "I do." And she does, for good measure.

*

Hermione comes first in the technical again, but Draco manages a truly spectacular show-stopper and wins his second star baker.

"It's just because I got so good at tempering chocolate," he tells the camera, but he's looking at her.

They haven't really talked about things, but she isn't worried. They'd been on the verge of going farther than was probably wise in a hotel room paid for by a television show on Friday night, but Indira had knocked on the door right after Draco had gotten her shirt off and asked if they wanted to go out for a drink, and they'd agreed to do that instead of staying in. Saturday was their long, exhausting day, so they hadn't even tried to do anything that night, but there had been stolen glances all weekend, flirting when they weren't busy with baking, and generally being very, very obvious. The cameras might have missed it, but the other competitors didn't, and Indira gives her a knowing smile when Hermione tells her to go ahead.

"I think I'll come to Wales again this afternoon," she tells Draco, once he's gotten to her. "If you're not busy."

His eyebrows go up. "Think you'll actually make it all the way out this time?"

"I'd like to."

"And what do Potter and Weasley have to say about that?"

"I don't think they have much of an opinion on Wales."

"Hermione."

It's still a little strange to hear him say her name. In a nice way, though. It gives her a little thrill of familiarity every time. "Draco."

"Did you tell them about--the kitchen?"

At first, she assumes he's using a euphemism for the cameras' benefit, but they've already taken their mics off and no one is paying them any attention. He's the one who doesn't know what else to call it.

"I did. I was waiting for them to talk me out of it."

"It didn't work?"

"They didn't try. Harry said that if I liked you, then you must be worth liking, Ron just said I'm too good for you. I think they both saw it coming."

"Bully for them," he mutters. "Some of us had no idea."

"You didn't exactly make it easy on me either," she points out. "Just because you're not as much of a bastard as you used to be doesn't mean you'd be interested in a mudblood."

She regrets the word almost as soon as it's out of her mouth, but he doesn't look offended. If anything, he seems sheepish. "I'm not that kind of bastard anymore." He glances around. "Can we wait until we have some privacy for this?"

In the train car, he does the same silencing spell he did the last time, but he still doesn't say anything for a few long moments, just stares down at his hands.

"I don't think I really wanted to be friends with you, in school. Not the right way. I didn't really have the right kind of friends in school. My own fault."

"Probably," she agrees, and he snorts.

"Honestly, I didn't want to be friends with you, I wanted you to want to be friends with me."

"I thought that was more Harry."

"Maybe it was. It was more complicated with you. I wanted Harry to--" He shakes his head. "I wanted Harry to like me, but I wanted you to acknowledge I was better than you. Smarter, a stronger wizard, all of that. I wanted to be better than you, but I wasn't."

"Never mind, that is about what I thought."

He looks away, shaking his head. "I wasn't very subtle with my feelings back then."

"Not like now."

"Am I now? I didn't know what to do when I saw you, I thought it was obvious."

"I didn't know what you were thinking, but I thought you did." She wets her lips, but they are being honest. Airing all their dirty laundry. "I still don't really have any idea what you're thinking."

"Right now? I'm thinking things can't possibly be going this well." He meets her eyes with a small smile. "I like you, and I've spent the last eight weeks thinking it's not possible you could ever feel the same after the way I treated you for all those years. I thought the best thing I could do was just leave you alone, but I didn't want to. And it seemed like maybe you didn't want me to either."

"Well, the first few weeks I just wanted to see how you were planning to cheat. I was sure you must have an evil plan."

He laughs, the delighted laugh she's only just started to hear. "What would my plan have been? There's nothing good to win, and if I'd wanted to cheat it wouldn't have been a challenge without you here anyway. I just did it because Magda broke her wrist and couldn't apply herself."

"I can't believe you got so soft," she teases, like it's not true. Like it's not a minor miracle.

"Honestly, I'm a lot more comfortable being soft. Even if it's embarrassing sometimes."

"God forbid anyone knows you care."

His eyes cut away again. "I do care. I'm very, very invested."

"In winning Bake Off?" she asks, her mouth dry.

"Fuck Bake Off," he says. "I want you."

"So, you're going to let me win?"

He laughs, pushes off his seat to sit next to her instead and kisses her, still laughing, a warm relief of a kiss, as if that was all he needed to hear.

And maybe it was. She doesn't have any doubts left, not really. This is Draco Malfoy, the new Draco Malfoy, and the new Draco Malfoy can be hers. She wants him to be.

"Not on your life, Granger," he tells her, grinning, and she grins back.

"Good. I wouldn't like you if you did."

*

"I can't believe you got so many of your friends to come to Ystradgynlais," says Magda, watching Draco pull some cookies out of her oven. "It's not exactly easy to get to."

"They're really Hermione's friends," he says. "They just put up with me."

"Luna likes you."

"No offense meant to Luna, but I'm not sure that's better than no one liking me."

Hermione rolls her eyes, takes the tray of cookies from him and pecks him on the cheek. It's been a fairly surreal few months since the show ended, even though they haven't been allowed to say anything about who won. Bringing Draco Malfoy back into the wizarding world as her boyfriend caused quite a stir, and they're still working through it. His mother keeps coming to her office for what she calls casual chats and what Hermione sees as vague threats, and almost everyone from their year at Hogwarts has gotten in touch to ask her what she's thinking.

But it's going as well as it could be, all that considered. Draco's started to call Harry and Ron by their first names, and while he still calls Ginny "Weasley," that was at her request. They aren't all exactly the best of friends, but they've figured out a way to coexist, and everyone agrees that, if Draco hasn't really turned over a new leaf, he's doing an incredibly convincing imitation of someone who has, with no clear endgame in sight.

As far as she's concerned, his endgame is keeping her, and things are looking good for him.

"You're not good at having friends anyway, so this is about the best that you could expect. And they wouldn't have agreed to come out here unless it was the finale," she adds, to Magda. "But we couldn't have had a proper viewing party in our flat--not enough room."

"And they're all young and able-bodied," Draco puts in. "Much easier for them to come to us than for you to go to them."

"You know you didn't have to watch with me."

He rolls his eyes. "I wouldn't be in the finals if you hadn't told me I had to try out. I wasn't going to watch it without you."

"If you were really grateful, you'd tell me who won."

Her voice is teasing, in the same way everyone who's said that to them over the last few months has been teasing. Since it came out that both Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy were on a muggle cooking show, wizarding interest in Bake Off (and, it must be said, in television as a concept) has skyrocketed, and everyone and their mother seemed to have a bet going on how far they'd gotten and if either of them had won. Enough of their friends knew they both made it to the final to keep the suspense out of that, but she and Draco agreed to keep quiet on the actual winner, despite everyone's best efforts.

A little mystery was good for people.

"You'll find out at the end of the episode, like the rest of the county," says Draco. "I can't play favorites."

"You don't have to, your favorite already knows whether or not she won."

It's a simple statement, really, true without being complicated. Hermione already knows that she won the show, and Draco doesn't have to make the decision of whether or not to tell her that. It's not a calculation either of them has to make.

And she also is Draco's favorite. It's almost more staggering than the knowledge that she won the season. It certainly has longer-lasting and more staggering implications for the rest of her life. Draco Malfoy is her boyfriend, loves her, and she's trying to figure out if she can move to Wales without raising suspicions with the locals about how she's still doing her job in London. It hasn't been that long, but it is going that well. She is that sure about him, somehow.

That's the nice thing about falling for someone you really shouldn't: once your mind is made up, it really is made.

"And soon you will too." He leans down to kiss Hermione again, lingering just a little. Second place doesn't seem to bother him that much; he says he got what he wanted out of the show. "Are you coming to meet your friends, or are you making me do it alone?"

"Coming. I wouldn't abandon you."

His smile is soft. "No, I suppose you wouldn't," he says, and the two of them leave the kitchen together, to meet whatever comes next.