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“Get your bushy hair over here!” Ginny shouted down the hall. 

Hermione let out an aggravated moan as she begrudgingly trampled down the hallway to the flat that Ginny was forcing her to go to. This most certainly was not how she had planned to spend her Friday night. After another stressful week at the Ministry, she had hoped to hang up her robes and nuzzle in her armchair next to Crookshanks, finally finding time to read her book again.

But all that had vanished when Ginny had shared the news with her.

“Can’t we just celebrate tomorrow?” Hermione whined, feeling the warmth of her own flat’s fireplace calling her name.

The pair of shoes ahead of her stomped to a halt and spun around towards her direction. The clasp on Ginny’s robes rose and fell in sharp succession as its owner grew irritable with her companion.

“This is my first job since retiring from the Harpies, so I believe I have the right to dictate when we celebrate!” Ginny commanded. Hermione was instantly tugged from her position as Ginny latched onto her wrist, rendering Hermione’s escape essentially impossible. The redhead dragged her down the hall as they loomed closer to the dreaded destination.

“Are you at least going to tell me whose flat this is?” Hermione bitterly requested. She was certain that there was a more appropriate response, but this was the best she could surrender to Ginny’s plea without expressing how much she sincerely wished she was elsewhere. The entire walk over to the building had been a struggle, and despite her last efforts, it seemed like no matter how much Hermione protested, Ginny was set on spending the evening with whichever new coworker had invited her out.

“Daphne Greengrass,” Ginny explained in a rush. Hermione crinkled her nose a bit at the news. She had mildly been expecting it to be Daphne who had invited them.   During her ritual morning reading of the Daily Prophet, Hermione had noticed that the old Slytherin student now wrote for the paper, so it seemed logical enough that Daphne had been the one to extend a hand of friendship to her new compatriot. But it didn’t mean Hermione was too thrilled at the prospect of who else may be in tow.

Ginny halted in front of the second to last door in the hall and finally released her grip. Her imprint remained red on Hermione’s skin despite the brunette’s attempt to placate the slight burn. “Next time, don’t hold onto me like the handle of your broom,” she moped.

She could hear Ginny’s slight amusement at Hermione’s latest complaint. “Old habit. Now a quill’s the only thing my fingers will be wrapped around. Well, that and Harry’s…”

“I beg for you not to finish that statement!” Hermione protested, throwing her hands up in the air. Her shoulders quivered as her imagination completed the thought she so desperately didn’t want to envision. “He’s like my brother.”

“And back when you were with Ron, I had to hear about my actual brother!” Ginny joked.

“Oh, don’t remind me,” Hermione faintly lamented. “Now are you actually going to knock on the door or do you want to get me in an even fouler mood first?”

The friends shared a momentary smile as Ginny tapped gently on the wood. Hermione tried to keep it plastered on her face for the sake of appearances, but her mood did not match the exterior. Within a matter of moments, the door swung open and the pair was greeted by the older looking, but still familiar face of Daphne Greengrass. The colleagues hugged while Hermione stared self-consciously. They seemed legitimately excited to see each other again, only making Hermione feel exceedingly more excluded.

She blocked out their conversation as she took the opportunity to examine Daphne’s flat. While she currently felt alone in the space, she most definitely wasn’t. There were around fifteen or so other witches and wizards of various ages mingling around the open living and kitchen space. Off in the corner were a few wizards who were seeing who could conjure the biggest bubble from the surface of their drink. Hermione couldn’t help but roll her eyes at a game she thought that the boys should have outgrown after second year at the latest. There was another small group huddled in the kitchen, closer to the drinks, and Hermione started to feel the impulse to make one for herself when the slightly increased sound of the hostess’s voice redirected her attention.

“And Hermione Granger,” Daphne said with a strum of intrigue, “I must admit that I did not expect to see you around here. Where’s that redheaded boyfriend of yours?”

Ginny and Hermione exchanged a quick glance at one another. In the year since her and Ron’s break up, it had only just become a topic that she felt comfortable talking about with her friends, and even that was pushing it.   She had only recently finally cut her nasty habit of relapsing back to him every other weekend or so. Being a member of the trio that had taken down the reign of the Dark Lord had come with some massive caveats, especially when it came to finding a man who didn’t see her for fame. Casual hook ups were hardly an option, and even Hermione Granger had needs that books in a library couldn’t resolve.

A stern jab in the gut snapped Hermione back into the present. “Ex-boyfriend,” she hastily corrected. To be fair, most people didn’t know that she and Ron were separated. They were still seen in public enough that the majority just assumed that they were still together. And even so, it wasn’t as if she expected Daphne to keep up with her personal life. But thinking about it herself caused Hermione to have an even stronger hankering for alcohol.

Her eyes grazed back to the kitchen and the array of drinks. “If you’ll excuse me,” Hermione said as she abruptly let the conversation.

She wiggled herself between a nearby witch and the kitchen island counter so that she could grab herself a cup. The display in front of her was far from lacking, but the problem was that none of it seemed appealing. Since the war, most witches and wizards had developed enough common sense to include at least a few muggle chaser options, but it appeared as if that had yet to reach certain Slytherins. Probably some sort of stubbornness to stick to at least some wizard-only traditions, Hermione concluded. All things considered, she’d much prefer this practice to their tendencies of the past.

Resigning to the fact that there wasn’t going to be any Diet Coke, Hermione poured herself a glass of elf-made wine, deeming it the least offensive to her taste buds. She brought a quick sip to her lips and let the cold drink travel down her throat. The crisp white-tinted liquid came as such a relief, she took a more generous gulp the second time around until her first glass was already half-consumed.

“What happened to the Hermione that didn’t want to drink tonight?” Ginny teased, resting her elbow upon Hermione’s shoulder. Ginny had wide smile still stretched across her face which Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head about. The smile quickly vanished, replaced by an expression of concern. “This isn’t about Ron, is it?”

Hermione set down her drink to cover her laugh with both hands. The fact that Ginny could even think that was truly comical. “You know that’s not it,” Hermione reprimanded.

Ginny grabbed the bottle of whiskey and poured her own cup. “Well, then stop being such a buzzkill and look around you! You’re at a party whether you like it or not, and right now, you’re ruining my celebratory mood!”

Ginny raised her eyebrows at Hermione and she knew that she had no choice but to give in. Harry was out of town for an Auror mission and Ron was off on a job in Egypt, so she was her closest friend there to celebrate. Ginny’s eyes grew larger, begging for Hermione to remove the unsavory tone from her present state. Hermione rolled her eyes one more time, and pick up her glass for a toast. “To Ginny. May she bring reputable writing back to the Daily Prophet.

“Cheers to that!”

The young women clinked their plastic cups and both downed the rest of their drinks. With her glass only containing wine, Hermione didn’t quite mind, but Ginny’s eyes crinkled shut and her lips pursed together at the aftermath of the straight liquor. She rattled her body with a firm shake and her contorted face returned to normal.

“That’s some potent stuff,” Ginny declared pointing to the bottle of whiskey. Her finger soon changed its trajectory and shifted so that it was now directed at Hermione. “And as for you,” Ginny announced with a smirk, “when’s the last time you had a decent shag?”

Hermione’s mouth dropped at her bluntness. “Ginny!” she cried in a hushed whisper.

“And my brother doesn’t count,” she pressed on.

Hermione and Ginny locked eyes, neither one wanting to waver. Ginny had always been more open than her when it came to these things, but it just felt too personal to Hermione! Yet Ginny now had her arms crossed, and Hermione was blocked in the corner of the kitchen. If she had any hopes of ever leaving the space, she knew she’d have to submit to Ginny’s request.

“Other than Ron?” Hermione thought aloud. She looked up at the ceiling, racking her brain for the last new partner. “Well, there was that one time back in 2002 when Ron and I took that break –“

“That was two years ago!” Ginny interrupted. “You mean to tell me that you haven’t been with anyone new since you two actually broke up?”

Hermione felt her cheeks turn slightly hot. That typically didn’t happen until at least a few more drinks in, so she unfortunately couldn’t blame it on the alcohol. “No one that I’ve slept with,” Hermione defended. She could recall a few sloppy kisses after failed dates and a snog session or two, but no one had quite caught her fancy in the past year. Hence the Ron relapses.

“Oh well that just won’t do,” Ginny remarked with her scheming smirk starting to spread. She poured herself another glass of the strong whiskey and then poured an equal amount into Hermione’s cup. “I know exactly what we’re doing tonight.”

Hermione couldn’t help but roll her eyes again. “We’ll see about that.”

They raised their glasses for another cheers but were distracted by the commotion coming from the entryway. Daphne had just released a high-pitched squeal and ran towards the door, wrapping her arms around the new party guest. As she pulled away, Hermione instantly recognized the white blonde hair. One look at him and she brought the recently filled glass to her lips and downed it.

Ginny stared at Hermione curiously, then followed her gaze to see Draco Malfoy and without hesitation, refilled Hermione’s glass.

“We’re gonna need a lot more of this if we’re gonna survive this party.”

Chapter Text

Hermione resisted to urge to throw back yet another glass of the amber liquid. If he was there, then she wasn’t going to chance letting loose all of her inhibitions.

“I had no idea he was going to be here,” Ginny assured Hermione, but Hermione was only half listening at this point. Her focus was still transfixed on her former childhood nemesis.

It wasn’t that him being there made her uncomfortable per se, but it didn’t exactly put her at ease either. In the six years since the war, she had had the displeasure of interacting with him on more than one occasion. With him now working at the Ministry, every once and a while, they would have to feign amiability for the sake of business. Most of the circumstances had been brief, but each time, there was always something nagging at the bottom of the pit of her stomach. While Malfoy hadn’t been overtly antagonistic in each of these interactions, she couldn’t help but wonder what was going on inside his head. His sudden shift towards, well, not friendliness, but not outward hostility, concerned Hermione that he was perhaps only doing so because of her post-war status and his lack there of. All things considered, though, she much preferred an agreeable Malfoy to the bully of their past. Nevertheless, she still didn’t fully trust him.

She took a sip from her glass, and swallowed harshly as she remembered that it was no longer wine. Ginny chuckled at Hermione’s revulsion.

“Keep that up and you’ll be drunk in no time,” Ginny teased.

Hermione dumped the remainder of the contents of her cup into Ginny’s, opting back to the much less offensive taste of the wine. “I would prefer not to get completely sloshed this evening if it’s no difference to you,” Hermione exasperated. “I want to get into the Ministry early tomorrow…”

“Hermione, you honestly need to stop working so hard!” Ginny complained. “I know you want to finish that new draft about house elves, but you don’t need to ruin your Saturday in the process.”

Hermione took a sip of wine as she mulled over Ginny’s words. Going into work on a Saturday didn’t bother her in the slightest. And it wasn’t as if she had much grander plans on how to spend her Saturday. As long as she was home for at least a few hours for alone time with her book, then she would happily spend the day researching prior cases on elf mistreatment.

To be fair, her weekends used to be much more eventful back when she was with Ron. Well, not exciting, but at least she had someone to keep her company other than Crookshanks. They had mostly kept to themselves as Hermione read and Ron played against the enchanted chessboard. But every evening, they would cuddle in front of the television that Hermione insisted they purchase and watch an episode or four of a show. And then they’d go to sleep. Actually, putting it like that, it all sounded quite mundane. Admittedly, it did grow to be fairly monotonous. They had fallen into a routine that had just felt… comfortable. It was the reason that she had broken up with him.

Comfortable had made her feel safe. In the years after the war, she wanted someone who was reliable and consistent. Ron had been both of those things. But now she had turn turned twenty-five years old and it didn’t feel like enough. Ginny may judge her for it, but diving back into her work had given her renewed purpose in the wake of the break up, especially now that she was putting her foot down when it came to hooking up with Ron anymore.

Ginny would hopefully soon come to understand how the proper desk job could find someone happiness. Or maybe not happiness, but at least sense of pride. Accomplishment. Well, it could when a person was successful at their job. After five years with the Harpies, she was moving on to a new career as a sports reporter for the Daily Prophet. It was the ideal job for the former Quidditch star. Harry seemed to be ecstatic about her new career and their relationship continued to be as strong as ever. Hermione was terribly happy for her friend, yet she still felt a slight twinge of jealousy creeping at the deepest depth of her stomach.

Ginny snapped her fingers in front of Hermione’s eyes, directing her attention back to her friend. “You okay, Hermione? You keep dazing out.”

“What? Oh. It’s nothing. The alcohol must be kicking in is all,” Hermione quickly justified.

She scanned her eyes across the room, and just for an instant, she made contact with the cool grey eyes. Without hesitation, Hermione sharply twisted her body to face the kitchen wall, yet she could still feel his piercing stare emblazoning her backside. She looked over her shoulder to give him a glare of her own, eyebrows crunched together and lips pursed to demonstrate her frustration, but to her dismay, her attempted menacing look seemed to have no affect on him. He merely let out a snort of laughter, knocking his head back in the process, and returned to his conversation with Daphne.

That only made Hermione even more enraged.

“That foul, little…” Hermione muttered into the echoes of her cup as she took another swig from her drink.

“You’re actually going to have to slow down,” Ginny cautioned. “Or do you not remember the Eggnog incident of Christmas past?”

“The problem is that I don’t remember the evening,” Hermione reminded her friend. “And by the look of things, I wouldn’t mind not remembering this evening either,” she said followed by another gulp of wine, consuming the final drip from the glass.

As she set the empty cup down, Ginny quickly snatched it from her friend’s reach. “I think it's time for you to take a bit of a break from the drinks for now,” Ginny advised. “If either of us is getting blackout tonight, it’s me, so you’re going to have to slow down.”

“Or you’re just going to have to catch up.”

Hermione reached past Ginny and attempted to reclaim her cup, but Ginny continued to block her path. Hermione stretched over the younger witch’s shoulder then around her waist under her shoulder, but Ginny’s Quidditch skills seemed to still be relevant even in retirement. If the Daily Prophet didn’t work out, she had a decent chance rejoining the Harpies as a Keeper. But with enough determination and ingenuity, even Ginny could be bypassed. Hermione dug into her pocket and grabbed her wand.

“Accio cup!” Hermione cried, the cup flying around Ginny and into her hand. She snagged the nearest bottle of wine and refilled her cup with a successful smirk.

Ginny simply rolled her eyes. “Fine then. But don’t say I didn’t try to stop you.” After taking a quick sip from her own cup, Ginny resumed her original mission with renewed purpose. “Now about that goal for the evening.” She rested her elbows along the edges of the kitchen counter and surveyed the prospected of the room.

Hermione decided to let her friend have her fun, even if she had absolutely no intention of actually finding someone to bunk up with for the night. The evening, after all, was supposed to celebrate Ginny.

“No, no good prospects here,” Ginny resigned to herself. “Those boys in the corner are too immature for your or any respectable witch’s liking, and everyone else here looks like a troll or someone who’s been hit by a stinging hex. Well, unless you count Malfoy, but you and I both know that he’s out of the running.”

Hermione let out a snort of a laugh, but Ginny had a point. Even if she did want to find someone, there certainly wasn’t anyone of interest at Daphne’s. And while she had to admit that despite his white blonde hair, Malfoy was technically attractive, his revulsive personality far outweighed any physical features.

“I guess we’ll just have to wait until we actually go out,” Ginny continued.

Hermione whipped her head and stared at her companion. “You mean we’re actually going out?” she questioned.

“Of course we are!” she retorted. “You didn’t seriously believe that this was all we were doing tonight? A few lousy mixed drinks in a cramped flat? This isn’t a house common room party. Plus, when was the last time you went out?”

“I go out all the time!” Hermione defended.

“I mean out out.”

“Well you didn’t specify.” Hermione reprimanded, but fully knew that’s what Ginny meant in the first place. Hermione began to ponder when was the last time she really did allow herself a proper night out, but was immediately interrupted by a looming presence behind her. She shifted her gaze to the source of her disturbance and instantly stiffened under its owner’s shadow.

She and Ginny had been so immersed in their argument that they had been oblivious to Malfoy sneaking up behind them.

“Well, well. If my eyes do not deceive me, we have been graced with the presence of Godly Granger and Weasley’s wicked sister,” Malfoy snarled through his greeting. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned up against a nearby wall, smirking to himself in satisfaction.

“That seriously the best you can do?” Ginny fired back. “Some sarcasm and weak alliteration? Your standard for quips has deteriorated over the years.”

“Or maybe I don’t feel the need to waste my best criticism on you anymore,” he fake yawned to himself. “After so many years, I think my opinion of you is already engrained enough in your mind.”

Hermione let out a scoff and Malfoy jerked his head in her direction. “What’s the matter, Granger? Finally at a loss for words?”

The blood in Hermione boiled as the grip on her cup became firmer. She started to feel its flimsy sides crinkle beneath her fingertips and the crunch of plastic emanated into the kitchen. Hermione quickly loosened her hold. If one was thing was certain, she didn’t want Malfoy to know how much his presence irked her.

“Just observing how truly different you act in private compared to at the Ministry,” she responded through heavy huffs and feigned friendliness.

“What did you expect, Granger?” he scowled. “Or shall I pretend to give a rat’s ass about whatever latest doomed elf legislation you’re working on?”

Hermione sucked in a massive breath of air through her nose as her chest rose, but pursed her lips as tight as possible to prevent herself from lashing out at him. He may be acting like a petulant child, but she was an adult who didn’t need to stoop down to his level.

Before she could think of semi-civilized response, their quarrel was interrupted by Daphne standing on top of a chair to make an announcement. “Finish your drinks! We’re heading out!”

Ginny furtively eyed Hermione who was now in front of Malfoy with a balled up fist at her side. To insult her and Ginny was one thing, but to insult her work was just low! Memories of third year flooded back to her with the satisfaction of what Malfoy looked like after she had snapped the first time and punched him in the face. The thought of repeating the event tonight was satisfying, but she wasn’t quite at that level yet. If she had to interact with him much more this evening, though, she wasn’t making any promises.

“Well, Granger, it seems like we’ll have to continue this another time,” he smirked, and then shifted away from them, headed towards to the door.

Hermione downed the rest of her wine then quickly refilled it with another swig of fire whiskey. She threw it back down her throat, the hot spike of the alcohol hitting her with the final gulp. She shuddered and slightly gagged at its unpleasant taste.

As she did so, Ginny watched on incredulously. “What happened to taking it slow tonight?”

“Malfoy happened.”

*** 

Hermione swooshed around the drink in her hand, observing as the liquid crept up the edges and swirled around in hypnotizing circles. They had been at the Leaky Cauldron for the past hour, but it had felt infinitely longer to her. Her head was in a bit of a daze as the alcohol from Daphne’s house began to permeate inside her body through her bloodstream. She sat there thinking of how much she ended up consuming prior to leaving, but even that was a tad blurry at this point. By conservative estimates, she’d had at least five drinks already, which was more than plenty for Hermione’s petite body. She looked down at her glass again, hoping that her choice to switch to water would soon start to make her feel better.

Ginny was off across the bar, chatting with Daphne, probably going on about some piece she was excited to write for the Prophet. Hermione could see the elation in her face as she spoke with Daphne, and that slight twinge of jealousy was back. She remembered what it felt like to be young and excited about one’s work. Sure, Ginny wasn’t really that much younger than her, but this was a new type of job for her, whereas Hermione had been working for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for more than four years at this point. Back then, she had been just as eager, optimistic that she would be able to completely revamp the department, but after the past three failed laws, she was becoming a bit more uncertain. And Malfoy’s earlier jibe wasn’t helping.

She felt the weight of the bench beneath her sink down and she looked up from her cup to see Malfoy sitting next to her. She impulsively scooted in the other direction, widening the gap between them.

“I’m not in the mood, Malfoy,” she grumbled, without as much force as she would have preferred.

“Yes, well, your sour mood is currently being quite the damper for the rest of us, so I’m going to need to you lighten up or kindly leave us be.”

Hermione furrowed her brow and stared at him incredulously. “Oh! Well my apologies that my mood is disturbing you from your evening of fun! But if I recall correctly, it’s you who caused me to feel this way in the first place!”

Malfoy flinched backwards and looked at her up and down in disbelief. “You aren’t seriously still miffed about what I said about your lousy elf legislation, are you?” He waited a beat while Hermione avoided his gaze, returning to watching the water in her cup. “For Salazar’s sake, Granger! If it’s going to put you in such a tizzy, just fucking tell me about it.”

Hermione shot up from her glass and stared at Malfoy with a bit of a snarl to her lip. “And why the bloody hell would I waste my time telling you about it?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Cause if you’re being honest with yourself, you know that there’s a slim chance that anyone else in the Ministry will ever read it and you’re probably aching for at least one other person to hear your thoughts.”

“And why do you want to hear it?” she pressed, still suspicious of his intentions.

“Cause otherwise, you’ll continue to sit here in a slump, and I’m just drunk enough to pretend to care.”

Hermione continued to stare at him, contemplating whether or not she should even bother. But Ginny was still on the other side of the Leaky Cauldron, oblivious to her friend’s present company and didn’t seem the least bit disturbed by Hermione’s absence. No one else even seemed to have noticed Hermione’s solitary sulk, so why was Malfoy even trying? Yet, Hermione had to admit that it would actually feel good to have someone to rant to about it. Malfoy certainly wouldn’t have been her first choice, but she was feeling bitter enough and more than intoxicated enough at the moment to ignore that.

“Fine,” she finally muttered. Malfoy lifted his head, a bit surprised by her acceptance of the offer, but to Hermione’s astonishment, he didn’t protest.   She brought her legs up onto the bench and tucked them next to her on her side so that she could properly face Malfoy.

With a slight sigh, she thought about where to begin.

“Ever since the war, I’ve been working on trying to get house elves equal rights in all sectors of the government. I know that we’ve already succeeded in getting house elves wages for their labor, but there’s so much more to equality than just that! They are still seen as inferior to wizards, and I simply do not understand why so many wizards are reluctant to acknowledge that just because they are in a different form, they should be treated any differently!”

Malfoy began to open his mouth, but Hermione held her hand up before he could utter a word.

“I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t want to hear it. House elves have so much more potential than many wizards recognize. And in a way, isn’t that due to in part by the name that we have instilled them with? House elves? The name itself implies that they should be confined to house work for witches and wizards!”

Malfoy seemed to want to interrupt again, but Hermione refused to let him. He was the one who said that he wanted to hear what she had to say and she wasn’t going to permit him to interject with his opinion!

“No, Malfoy! House elves should be given more say in their treatment and should be allowed to work in the Ministry and be a part of the organization that dictates their laws! Yet for some reason, no one seems to understand that a group of witches and wizards is not an appropriate population to create laws for creatures who have the ability to speak for themselves! They deserve representation and liaisons between their community and ours!”

She let out a huff and folded her arms, raising an eyebrow at Malfoy. He stared at her blankly and blinked a few times before he spoke up. “Are you done now, Granger?”

She nodded. “Yes, but if I were you, I’d be careful with your response, or you won’t get your wish of getting me out of my ‘sour mood.’”

Malfoy closed his eyes and nodded for a moment, considering Hermione’s threat as she waited on his response, instantly regretting her choice to confess it all to him. What was she thinking tell this to Malfoy? This was Draco Malfoy she was talking to! The boy himself had been essentially raised by house elves so how could she possibly believe that he would understand where she was coming from? And now he would just be able to use all this against her and find some new way to torture her and…

“I agree with you.”

Hermione’s head jerked with the interruption of Malfoy’s voice. At least she believed it had been Malfoy’s voice, but she wasn’t certain because those words didn’t seem like anything that Malfoy would ever say to her.

“Pardon?”

“I said,” Malfoy repeated, a bit of bite to his voice, irritated that he had to reiterate his thought, “that I agree with you.”

It was now Hermione’s turn to stare at him blankly. She leaned forward and squinted her eyes, examining him, trying to discern if this really was Draco Malfoy in front of her. Or perhaps it was just some imposter with Polyjuice. Because there was no way that he had now said twice that he agreed with her.

“Oh sit up, Granger,” he scoffed. “That look isn’t very becoming on you.” She followed his direction, but continued to stare him down with wild skepticism. He merely rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, I agreed with you on something. Make sure to tell Weaslette to write an article about it for Monday’s Prophet.

“I don’t… I don’t understand,” Hermione stammered.

“I. Agreed. With. You,” Malfoy enunciated one final time. “For everyone calling you the brightest witch of our age, is this really that hard of a concept for you to grasp?”

Hermione couldn’t take her eyes off of him. She had encountered many challenging questions over the course of her education and had been able to figure them all out, but Malfoy was one problem that she simply couldn’t solve. What in Godric’s name had not only caused him to agree with her, but also to admit to agreeing with her?

The more she looked at him, the more confused she became. He seemed… different. His hair was a bit more unkempt that unusual. He had long ago forgone with his slicked back hair, and this new look was more casual, not as… snobby. The bags under his eyes weren’t as prevalent as she had remembered them being either. Was he getting more sleep now that the war was over and neither of them had that looming cloud constantly in their presence? But the crinkles next to his eyes were still there. Probably from all the glaring he used to do back at Hogwarts.

“Hey, Malfoy! Don’t you have someone else to bother?”

Hermione shook away her thoughts as she heard Ginny’s cry headed their way. She looked at Malfoy one more time, but he was now scowling in Ginny’s direction.

“Perfect. I was just looking for a new target when you started heading my way,” Malfoy said with a disgusted look. He turned back to Hermione and added with a sneer. “Chin up, Granger. I don’t want to have to see you moping again.”

He rose from his seat and walked past Ginny, intentionally bumping into her shoulder in the process. Hermione watched as he snaked through the crowd, rejoining Daphne and a few other friends. For having just spent a significant time with Malfoy, she oddly no longer felt “mopey” as he liked to put it. It really did feel better to talk about her opinion, even if it was to Malfoy. And then he had agreed with her on it. Instead of feeling down, now she just felt… curious. And more than a bit intrigued.

She was still staring in his direction when he turned her way and made eye contact. Instead of avoiding his gaze this time, Hermione kept on looking as Malfoy gave her a slight smile before returning to his conversation.

Yes, she was definitely intrigued.

Chapter Text

Ginny nudged Hermione on the side, bringing her attention back to her friend.

“What was Malfoy doing over here?” she asked through strained voice. “I swear to Merlin that boy just does not know when to quit!”

Hermione sunk her teeth into her lip, uncertain how to reply. Even if she did tell Ginny about her conversation with Malfoy, she surely wouldn’t believe it! Hell, Hermione herself barely believed it. He must be just as drunk as she was and misunderstood what she said or something. Yet, he had seemed so adamant in claiming that he agreed with her…

“Hermione!” Ginny snapped.

“Sorry, I…”

“… Got lost in your thoughts again?” Ginny finished with a sigh. “Yeah, you keep doing that. You sure you okay?”

“I swear!” Hermione affirmed, taking a large gulp from her cup for good measure. Ginny’s eyes grew big as she witnessed her friend take three more swallows. She consumed the final drop and set the glass back down on the table. “Don’t worry, it’s water,” she assured her friend.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” Ginny sighed with relief. “For a moment, I was certain that you’d end up in St. Mungo’s by the end of the night!”

Ginny rose from her seat beside Hermione and outstretched her hand, motioning for Hermione to latch on.

“What’s this for?”

“It means that you need to get up and socialize with everyone else. I don’t know what Malfoy said to you this time, but you can’t let him spoil our evening. Get up, or I’ll be forced to find some other method!”

Ginny thrust her hand out with a bit more force and Hermione lifted up her own and grabbed onto Ginny, who pulled her up from the bench. Hermione flattened out her robes and returned her attention to her friend. “And now what?”

“And now we go back to the original plan,” she responded with a devilish grin.

Hermione thought for a moment and then connected the meaning behind Ginny’s words. “Oh, not this again!” she complained. “You really aren’t going to stop, are you?”

“Absolutely not,” she said with a satisfied smirk. She linked her arm with Hermione’s and dragged her away from the walls of the Leaky Cauldron and more into the center of the room. “Look all around you!” Ginny implored. “There are at least fifty wizards here! Certainly at least one of them strikes your fancy!”

As Ginny said it, Hermione knew that unless she found a distraction soon, there would only be one wizard on her mind this evening, but it wasn’t as if it was because she fancied him! He just… intrigued her. She needed to come up with another word to describe it... Fascinated her? Hmm. Captivated her? Oh, no, that wasn’t it. Too flattering. Interested her? Not that either. Didn’t capture her curiosity enough. Well, she’d just have to settle on ‘intrigue’ for the moment.

“How about that wizard over there?” Ginny suggested, pointing to a man on the opposite side of the room.

Hermione cocked her head and analyzed the man in question. He seemed decent enough. His robes were crisp, which suggested that at least he wasn’t a complete and utter slob. And his haircut was appealing enough. Short on the sides and slightly longer on top making him look taller than he actually was. But it was still a good look. She looked a bit closer and noticed that he had one of his ears pierced and her upper lip shifted into a slight grimace. Not that she didn’t respect his choice to do that – it just wasn’t her preference.

“No, not him,” she eschewed.

“Hmm,” Ginny contemplated, scanning the room for another wizard. Hermione began to look around as well, yet she kept getting distracted by the white blonde hair not too far behind her on her left. She quickly turned the other direction, but his sharp features still cut into her vision. He would be infinitely easier to keep out of her mind if he didn’t stand out in a crowd so much!

“The guy over there’s pretty cute,” Ginny proposed, tilting her head towards a wizard seated at the bar. “A bit older than you, which could mean more experience?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at Ginny’s commentary, but still considered the latest candidate. She did have to admit that this one was fairly attractive. He had a bit of a scruffy beard and she imagined that without it, he’d be much more her type, yet it didn’t distract her enough to eliminate him as a possibility from the onset. “He seems decent,” Hermione said, and as soon as the words escaped her mouth, Ginny yanked her by her wrist and dragged her towards the bar.

“What in Godric's name are you doing?” Hermione commanded.

But Ginny didn’t say another word until they had reached their destination and were standing right next to the mystery man. Ginny wedged herself between him and another wizard next to him and leaned up against the bar, facing him. She let out a slight cough and the man gave her a hasty look up and down and quickly dropped his jaw before lifting it back up.

He appeared as if he was about to talk, when Ginny started first. “Do you mind if my friend and I join you?”

He glanced at Hermione and returned his gaze to Ginny, staring at her a bit flabbergasted for a moment, until he snapped himself out of it. “Yes, of course. Let me buy you a drink. What are you having?”

“Firewhisky for me,” Ginny answered and turned to Hermione for her response.

“Just water.”

“She’ll have a firewhisky as well.”

“Three firewhiskies!” he yelled to a bartender.

The man dug in his pocket for a few sickles as Ginny tugged on Hermione’s arm, forcing her next to him. Hermione gave her a disapproving look, but nevertheless complied with her friend’s implicit desire.

“So, um, what’s your name?” Hermione started off as the bartender returned with their drinks.

“Christopher,” the man responded, handing her one of the glasses of firewhisky.

“Nice to meet you, Christopher. I’m…”

“Hermione Granger, I know,” Christopher quickly interjected with a wide grin.

Hermione returned a fake smile but knew that the conversation was now doomed. Of course he already recognized who she was, but it would have been nice for him to at least let her pretend as if the entire wizarding world didn’t know her name and face. It sort of killed the illusion that she could go up to someone and meet him or her like any other ordinary witch or wizard.

Ginny snatched the third glass of firewhisky and quickly threw it back before setting the empty glass down on the bar. “Well then!” she exclaimed. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Christopher, and thanks for the drink.” She gave Hermione a wink, and before Hermione could beg for her to stay, she had left her all alone with Christopher. Hermione gave him a soft smile and pretended to take a sip from the firewhisky she had absolutely no desire to actually consume.

“So, Hermione,” he started off. “How does it feel to know that you helped save the wizarding world?”

Hermione would have left immediately if she didn’t know that Ginny would just instantly drag her back or force her to find another man that would result in the same conversation. Ginny just didn’t understand. She had been with Harry since the end of the war and didn’t have to endure this endless cycle of dead ends. While Ginny had played a part in the war efforts, she wasn’t nearly as recognizable as Hermione. Well, that wasn’t a fair statement. Ginny was famous in her own regard as a Quidditch player. But that was different. People would sometimes ask her for an autograph, but everyone wanted to have a conversation with Hermione about the war. Didn’t they know that there was more to her than what she had done six years ago?

“To be honest, I don’t think about it much nowadays,” Hermione said in attempt to veer the conversation in any other direction. “I’m currently working on achieving equal rights for house elves.”

“Oh, but how could you not!” Christopher cried, utterly ignoring the second half of Hermione’s statement. “I mean, you watched Harry Potter kill You-Know-Who.” He paused for a moment as his eyes light up in newfound excitement. “Merlin’s beard, you know Harry Potter! What’s he like?”

Hermione’s heart sunk to her stomach. It was her second least favorite topic after the war. If people weren’t asking her about the war, they were inevitably asking her about Harry. Was it too much to ask that people just want to know her?

“Umm, well, Harry’s…”

“A complete tosser if you ask me,” came a voice from behind her. She didn’t need to look to know who it was. And for the first time in her life, she was not entirely irked by his presence.

Christopher looked back and forth between Hermione and their new guest, mouth agape in shock. “But you’re…”

“Yes, yes, it’s a mini Wizarding War reunion in the Leaky Cauldron tonight. How lucky you must be to run into not only Gryffindor’s princess, but also the man who nearly spoiled it all?” Malfoy snarled through heavy sarcasm. “Now, go scurry off and tell all your boring friends about this one exciting moment in your otherwise dull life.”

Christopher reverted his attention to Hermione, appearing to wait for her to protest, but she remained silent. Disheartened, he let out a resigned sigh. “In that case, it was nice to meet you, Hermione,” he said with a polite nod. He picked up his half finished drink as Malfoy stared him down as he left the unlikely pair alone at the bar.

“You’re welcome,” Malfoy commented with assured confidence.

Hermione finally whipped her head and around and faced him. “And what exactly am I supposed to be thanking you for?”

Malfoy laughed to himself, not slightly fazed by Hermione’s retort. “For saving you from that dreadful conversation.”

The fire started to rise inside of Hermione. “Save me? I don’t need saving, let alone saving from you, Malfoy!”

“Fine, then don’t call it saving,” he conceded with no indication of actual acceptance. “But you can’t seriously tell me that you were enjoying that conversation.”

Even though he wasn’t wrong, Hermione didn’t want to give him the satisfaction in knowing that any part of her was grateful to have escaped. “He was a lovely wizard,” she blatantly lied, but Malfoy saw right through the façade.

“Oh please, Granger,” Malfoy scoffed. “He was about as interesting as a flobberworm. Hell, I’d even venture to say that Weasley might have been more interesting than him. At least he would have been smart enough to talk about your elf legislation instead of the war.”

Hermione had a million different responses racing in her head. While it was a backhanded compliment at best, he had said something… not awful about Ron. But there was something much more pressing on her mind…

“Wait a moment,” Hermione hesitated. “How did you know I mentioned my elf legislation?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “You seem to have forgotten just how loud you are, Granger. I expect half the bar could have heard your rambling.”

He continued to stare at her with his usual air of arrogance, but Hermione didn’t let it faze her. Hermione knew that she had the tendency of using a louder voice than most normal people, but the bar was fairly crowded and she found it hard to believe that he had simply overheard their discussion.

“You know, if you wanted to keep talking about my proposal, all you had to do was ask,” Hermione defended, a knowing tone in her voice.

He simply scoffed. “Don’t flatter yourself, Granger. This is all just the alcohol talking.”

“Drunk words are sober thoughts,” she protested.

“Is that some sort of Muggle nonsense?”

“It is not nonsense! Or are you admitting that you only agreed with me about how equal rights for house elves because you're drunk?”

“Believe it or not, no.”

Hermione paused for a moment. Her alcohol buzz was only just starting to diminish, but her memory was still not as fully sharp as normal. “'ll be honest, because of the way I phrased the questions, I'm not totally clear on what your answer meant.”

“I still agree with you.”

Hermione stalled again as she tried to gather her thoughts. “Okay, but I…”

“You’re reading too much into this, Granger,” Malfoy droned. “Now I beg that we talk about literally anything else.”

She looked at him curiously. “And what else are you and I supposed to talk about?”

Malfoy looked around for a second, picked up Hermione’s still full glass of firewhisky, and walked a little bit away until he pulled out a chair from a nearby empty table. With a slight wave of his hand, he indicated for Hermione to join him. She remained planted at her spot for several moments, contemplating whether or not she should follow his lead. This was Malfoy, after all. But blame it on the booze or her unyielding curiosity, she gave in to his request and joined him in the partnering seat.

“Now, Granger, was that so hard?” he toyed.

Hermione sat up straight in her chair, still a bit cautious towards showing much more easiness around him. “Get to your point, Malfoy,” she countered. “What do you want from me?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes and kicked his feet up onto the table. “Can’t two old schoolmates simply catch up?”

“Oh, please,” Hermione chided. “You and I were never ‘mates.’”

“And what a shame that is,” he added nonchalantly, looking Hermione directly in the eyes.

Hermione glared back and narrowed her lids, examining him intently, but oddly, she couldn’t detect any sarcasm. As he continued to look at her with his cloudy eyes, an ever so slight smile started to appear from the corner of his lips. The more she looked at him, the more confused she became. While his tongue was still just as sharp as she had remembered, the words out of his mouth continued to surprise her. But her focus was quickly interrupted.

“You have got to be kidding me!” Ginny shouted as she pushed her way through the crowd towards their table.

“Here we go again,” Malfoy mumbled under his breath as Ginny approached their side. He slid his legs off the table and shifted his body in her direction. “Well, well, Weasley. Here to steal Granger, I presume?”

She stuck up her hand in Malfoy’s face, ignoring his presence completed. “What happened to Christopher?” she asked Hermione.

“Christopher was a bore,” Malfoy responded lazily, knocking her hand out of the way.

Ginny snapped her head towards him. “I’m not talking to you at the moment, Malfoy.”

“And yet, here you are, talking to me,” he smirked.

She let out a grunt and redirected her attention back towards Hermione. “Well?”

“He only wanted to talk about the war,” Hermione bitterly explained.

Ginny let out a sigh, her shoulders drooping in the process. “Well that’s a shame. But let’s go find you someone else.”

She reached out and grabbed Hermione’s hand, attempting to yank her away from the table, but she remained rooted in her seat, still across from Malfoy. Ginny looked back at the heavy weight preventing her progress, confused at Hermione’s lack of movement. She pulled again, but Hermione tugged back, causing Ginny to lose some of her balance and stumble back towards the table.

“Come on, let’s go,” Ginny commanded, but Hermione still didn’t budge.

Hermione looked at her friend and back over at Malfoy, who was observing the scene with an amused grin. His arms were folded across his chest, and he was slumped down in the seat, resembling a boy watching his favorite show on television. He was arrogant, and snarky, and for some reason, Hermione didn’t want to leave.

“I’m, um, actually going to stay here,” she told Ginny. Based on the widening smile on Malfoy’s face, he was quite pleased with her decision.

Ginny stared at the two of them. “And why would you ever want to spend more time with Malfoy?” she hissed.

Malfoy laughed. “She finds me…”

He paused for a moment, thinking of how to finish the sentence.

“Intriguing.” Hermione completed.

Malfoy smiled again. “What a fitting word. She finds me intriguing.

Ginny looked at her friend in disbelief, confusion, and complete bewilderment. “You sure?”

Hermione looked at Malfoy again. He raised his eyebrows at her and then flashed her that smirk yet again. Against all her better judgment, yes, she was sure. She nodded at Ginny who just shook her head in continued skepticism.

“Fine,” she finally resigned, and then glared at Malfoy and spoke with a menacing tone. “But I’ll be keeping my eye on you, Malfoy.”

“I know I’m more attractive than Potter, but that doesn’t give you permission to stare,” he shot back.

Ginny released one more huff and then stormed in the other direction. When she was just barely out of sight, Malfoy pushed back from the table and stood up.

“We’re going, Granger.”

“What?”

“Well, I don’t intend to hang around here if the Weaslette is going to keep weaseling into our business,” Malfoy scolded.

Hermione looked over her shoulder, back in Ginny’s direction and felt torn. She was supposed to be spending the night with Ginny. It was, after all, her celebration. But she was back to talking to Daphne and a group of other young witches and wizards she presumed to be her new coworkers. If she snuck out for just a few minutes, Ginny wouldn’t notice, right?

Malfoy was already standing, hands in the pockets of his robes, just waiting for a response from Hermione. She was still undecided, but with a final look at Ginny, she assured herself that Ginny would be plenty occupied for a few minutes. All she really wanted was a little time with Malfoy. Just enough to answer some of her questions. Ten, fifteen, minutes tops.

Hermione arose from her chair and gulped down the old glass of firewhisky for some last minute artificial courage.

“Okay, Malfoy. Where to?”

Chapter Text

Malfoy held the door open as the cool breeze of early fall sent a shiver down Hermione’s neck. She gripped the collar of her robes, hitching it up slightly so that she wasn’t quite as exposed to the wind.

It was fairly late in the evening now and the streets of Diagon Alley were nearly empty sans a few stranglers traveling along the cobbled path. Down the way, she could see the faint illumination of another pub’s window, but every other establishment was closed for the night. She headed in the direction of the one other open store with a slow, lazy stroll. With each step, she watched her feet intently, finding childish pleasure in ensuring that her shoe landed directly on top of a stone.

The chilled air filled her lungs and cleared some of the alcohol induced clouds muddling her brain. She savored just how refreshing it was to step out of the suffocating warm heat of the Leaky Cauldron into the crisp midnight. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and let it consume her, clearing her thoughts in the process. Out here in the open, nothing could disturb her peace.

“Hey, Granger!”

Except Malfoy.

He picked up his pace and caught up to her. “What in Merlin’s name are you doing?”

She kept her eyes shut, refusing to let him ruin her serenity just yet. “Just enjoying the breeze,” she said with a relaxed sigh, feeling all the tension leave her shoulders as the wind swept away the last of her inhibitions. For just a moment, she could forget about the stressors of work and how the rest of society continued to put her on a pedestal. The air tickled her ankles and danced at the hem of her robes, fluttering behind her.

“Well, you look ridiculous and sound like a sodding Hufflepuff.”

But just like the wind, the moment was gone in an instant. And reality was back.

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” she exhaled remorsefully, resuming down the path of Diagon Alley.

Malfoy stuck his hands in his pockets, jogging to get next to her and then shortening his strides so that they matched hers. “Try me,” he asserted. “If I recall correctly, I’ve already surprised you once tonight.”

Hermione looked at him through the corner of her eye, but his focus was locked ahead of him. A sudden gush of wind bellowed down the alley, catching several strands of hair in her mouth. She ran her fingers through her mane, bunching a small portion of it in one hand.

She paused for a moment, deciding if it was worth being honest. Yet the alcohol let the truth slip through her lips. “Sometimes I just like to take a moment to pause and not think,” she explained.

“Hermione Granger taking a moment to not think?” Malfoy exclaimed. “I bloody don’t believe my ears!”

Hermione’s cheeks heated up in mild abashment. She looked down at the cobbled stones and smiled to herself. “Ridiculous, I know. But sometimes it gets to be too much, you know?” She looked over to Malfoy whose focus was now entirely on her, but he didn’t give any further acknowledgement of her confession.

As they continued down the path in silence, a witch headed the opposite direction. Hermione just so happened to notice that she gave Malfoy a frightened stare as she passed them. It seemed like Malfoy caught it too.

He cleared his throat and dipped his head low. “I… I get it,” he faltered. “Needing a moment to pretend that nothing else around you exists?”

“Yeah,” Hermione’s voice cracked. “Something like that.”

They strolled farther down the street, completely bypassing the other pub and wandering deeper into the unlit alleyway. Hermione looked back in the direction they had come from, and the light emitting from the Leaky Cauldron was now far behind them. She had already been gone for at least ten minutes at this point, and she had no doubt that Ginny had probably noticed her absence. Yet she kept going forward, with no mental plan to return to the Leaky Cauldron for the time being.

Walking down path with Malfoy was oddly relaxing. It was as if all their bad blood was getting swept away in the breeze. The wind had slowed down, whispering soft songs into her ears, and the moonlight shined, giving everything a pleasant glow. In the deceptive glimmer, even Malfoy didn’t appear as intimidating. Of course, his continued silence helped his case as well.

He cleared his throat again, pounding a fist against his chest to alleviate the congestion. “So tell me, Granger,” he meekly began, breaking the stillness, “what brought you out tonight?”

Hermione kicked a loose pebble in the street and watched as it skipped across the bigger stones. “Well, you know, Ginny got the job at the Daily Prophet, and she guilt tripped me…”

“Oh please,” he tormented, his usual tone coming back to him. “As if Ginny Weasley could sucker you into doing something you didn’t want to do.”

She got the strange sense that he was only joking with her, but she still went for the defensive. Hermione narrowed her eyes and stared at him. “Not that you would know what it feels like, but sometimes you just do something for a friend.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I still want a better reason.”

Hermione stopped in her tracks and rolled her eyes in his direction. “What do you want to hear? That I was searching for adventure and a change of pace or something?”

Malfoy paused and smiled, apparently finding enjoyment in egging her on. “Ah, yes, that’s more like it.”

“Oh, shove off, Malfoy,” she cried back, pushing him on his shoulder, but was surprised by herself when she realized that it was more of a playful nudge than anything. Sure, it caused him to stumble backwards for a moment, but he was still smiling, and now she was too.

“If my reason is so subpar, then what brought you out tonight?” Hermione asked, actually somewhat curious to hear his response.

Malfoy shrugged. “Daphne and I hadn’t seen each other in a few months since I had quite the nasty break up with her sister. Turns out she has a meaner right hook than you, Granger.” He brushed two fingers along the edge of his nose at the memory. “Yet somehow, I reckon I still have better taste in perspective partners than you, though.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Hermione barked, any part of her starting to feel comfortable around Malfoy suddenly vanishing as her defenses quickly rebuilt themselves. If that git thought for a single moment that his taste was superior because he only dated pure-bloods from “sacred” families then she’d have to remind him just how strong her right hook could be!

Malfoy looked on with amusement as Hermione bunched her hand into a fist in anticipation. “No need to get your wand in a knot, Granger! You know very well how I feel about Freckle Face. But you shouldn’t have bothered with that Christopher bloke.”

Hermione’s heart went racing and the blood rushed to her face. “Look Malfoy, just because I’m Muggle-born and he’s a wizard doesn’t mean…”

“Oh, calm down, Granger!” Malfoy interrupted with a shout. “Merlin’s beard, you sure do think you know everything don’t you?” He paced towards her, irritation spreading across his face. “Presuming that I won’t agree with you on elf reform? Believing that I won’t understand the need to remove oneself sometimes? And now this? Did it ever cross your brilliant mind that the reason you find me so ‘intriguing’ is because I contradict some preconceived notion you still have about me from six years ago?”

Hermione’s heart was still beating fast and her chest rose and fell in time with her pulse. “Then what pray tell did you supposedly mean?” she snarled through gritted teeth.

“That the fool was way below your intelligence level!” Malfoy bellowed. “You need someone challenging, Granger! Someone more complex, who will actually cause you to think!”

Hermione wasn’t quite sure what snapped inside of her at that moment, but as soon as he said it, her brain shut down and the final glass of firewhisky kicked in at full force. She was always one who thought through every action prior to doing so, but tonight seemed to be the exception.

Within an instant, her hands her were pressed against his cheeks and her lips connected with his. She closed her eyes tight and counted to three before her brain rebooted and realized what she had just done. Her eyes shot open and met the grey pair already staring directly at her.

As quickly as it had begun, Hermione removed herself, taking three step backs, but for each pace she took, Malfoy took another tracing her path. The event of the past minute flashed in her memory. She was usually smarter than this! What had she been thinking? Kissing Malfoy? She knew exactly what he thought of her! Sure, he had been relatively pleasant tonight, all things considered, but to interpret it the way she had?

She turned to face away from Malfoy and began walking back towards the Leaky Cauldron at a quicker pace, starting to regret the irrational action, but Malfoy caught her hand, and pulled her back in. Keeping one hand latched to her own and reaching the other behind her head, he brought her in for another kiss.

This time, it was Hermione who kept her eyes open with shock. Shocked that Malfoy had voluntarily kissed her again. Shocked that his lips were soft and welcoming. Shocked that she enjoyed it. She finally submitted herself and closed her eyes for just an instant before she withdrew herself.

“I need to…” she started to mumble, but Malfoy cut her off, thrashing his lips against hers once more.

He only stopped to utter himself, “Don’t get soft on me now, Granger.”

He began to kiss her again, sinking his teeth into her bottom lip. The pressure made Hermione eager, and she deepened into him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Malfoy reciprocated by digging his hand beneath Hermione’s curls and upon finding her hair’s base, gripped tightly so that her roots hurt ever so gently. Hermione let out a soft moan into his mouth, causing him to tug harder, pulling her head back in the process.

“Come back to my place,” he whispered in her ear, and Hermione froze up. She withdrew herself from his touch, reality catching up to her again. But there was something in the way that he was looking at her that made her feel like she should stay for some reason. Her brain fought for common sense to kick in, to tell her no, to go back to the Leaky Cauldron, but her inhibitions had been lowered too far at this point.

“What about Ginny?” Hermione muttered.

Malfoy gathered a handful of her robes, drawing her nearer, and interspersed kisses along her neck. “Daphne’s still there,” he rationalized.

Hermione pushed him back. “But she’ll want to know where I am.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “You’re a grown woman, Granger. At this point, she probably assumes that you decided to go home to your stupid cat.”

“His name is Crookshanks.”

“Fine. You went home to Crookshanks. Satisfied?”

Malfoy outstretched his hand, and Hermione knew that if she latched on, he would apparate them back to his place. She looked back over her shoulder and the dim light of the Leaky Cauldron on the opposite side of Diagon Alley. Ginny was probably still in there, continuing to celebrate her new job, and Hermione was supposed to be there with her. But it had also been Ginny who had insisted on Hermione going home with someone that night. So in a way she was still honoring her friend’s wishes.

Hermione looked down at Malfoy’s hand and then back up at him. His eyebrows were raised and he cocked his head, expressing his growing frustration as Hermione continued to contemplate her choices.

She grabbed his hand and hoped it wouldn’t be a mistake.

 

 

They landed with a bit of a tumble and Hermione latched onto Malfoy’s shoulders to prevent herself from completely toppling over. She quickly picked herself up and looked around at her surroundings and was instantly relieved. In her rash decision to go home with Malfoy, she hadn’t considered the heavy implication of where his home was. Or rather, apparently used to be. 

“This isn’t Malfoy Manor,” she blurted out.

“Imagine that Granger. In six years, I managed to move out of my parents’ place,” Malfoy scoffed. “Now if you’re done with your inane commentary, let’s cut the chit chat.”

Before Hermione could utter another sound, he slammed her against a wall and his lips crashed onto her with fierce craving. She had only barely begun kissing him back when his hands traced down her face to on top of her chest. Without breaking contact, he began tampering with the latch of her robes, releasing its hold and urgently shoving the fabric off her shoulders and onto the floor. Not wasting a moment, he maneuvered his hands to her breasts, grabbing their mass in their entirety. 

Hermione knocked her head back, accidentally slamming it against the wall in the process, but her groan was obstructed by Malfoy’s ever-present lips. Malfoy barely seemed to notice as he continued his ravenousness. Her heart sped as she felt his cool hands dip underneath her shirt and inch the fabric up over her shoulders until her top was completely off and discarded halfway across the room.

He pulled away for a moment and looked Hermione up and down, a mischievous smile stretching larger by the second. The way he was eyeing at her made her feel… naked, both metaphorically speaking and quite literally. He was still fully clothed, yet she was standing in his front entryway with nothing but her pants and bra on. She shyly slinked her arms around her stomach, feeling only slightly less exposed to his unrelenting gaze.

But there was no stopping Malfoy.

“Bedroom. Now,” he growled.

He removed Hermione’s hand from the curve of her waist and escorted her through the first door, into his dark room, barely illuminated by the minimal light provided by the early morning moon. As he pushed her inside, she crashed up against the doors of his closet, immediately locked into place by his agile body. He sunk into her neck as his hands navigated behind her, fumbling with the flimsy clasp that was the last barrier remaining between him and what she knew would be the point of no return. The dark crevices of her mind whispered that this was wrong, that it wasn’t too late for her to put her shirt back on and pretend like she had never succumbed to the temptation.

But she had.

The fabric slacked and Malfoy practically ripped the loose lingerie from her body. Hermione felt the first wave of passion as Malfoy suckled her sensitive breasts as his fingers desperately toyed with the fastening on his own robes.

“Fuck, Granger, I’m not the only one doing the work here,” he fired, lifting his head off her chest for a tortuous moment, standing back up to glare at her.

Hermione’s fingers fumbled as she stretched out for his robes, finally releasing him from the outermost layer of clothing. Malfoy responded by lunging into her, their foreheads pressed together as he reached for the button of her pants with his heavy breath panting down on her. She instinctively latched onto his wrists, blocking any further progress.

Granger,” he hissed with frustration.

“No,” she whispered in his ear as she removed his hands from her waist and let go once they were rested by his sides. “Not until you’re properly undressed.”

Malfoy’s smirk returned as Hermione fiddled with the topmost button of his shirt. She battled with the opening, trying to carefully slip the button through the hole, but her semi-blurred vision wasn’t doing her any favors.

“Screw it, Granger,” he snapped, taking command of the action and briskly undid each button one by one until he yanked the fabric prison off his chest. Hermione reclaimed his arms and stretched them above his head so she could easily slide his undershirt off. As she lifted the shirt, she revealed his sturdy torso, resisting the impulse to run her hands across his pecs.

Finally free of his shirt, Malfoy swiftly returned to the clasp of her pants as Hermione kicked off her flats. Finding success, he shoved them down the length of her legs, letting his body sink down with it. He paused for a moment as he rested his head on her stomach, humming pleasantly at the sight of what was awaiting him. He traced a single finger over her knickers, soaking in her wetness as a new surge of intimacy started to quiver inside of her.

And suddenly, Hermione didn’t resist any further. It had been too long since she had been with anyone other than Ron, and if it was Malfoy, so be it.

She stepped out of the legs of her pants, and pushed his body off of her, navigating him to the bed. He sat down on the edge and hastily removed his own shoes. As he sat up, Hermione forced his back onto the comforter and tugged his pants off his body. Left with nothing but their underwear on, Hermione pleasingly observed that Malfoy already seemed more than ready.

Hermione settled on top of him, straddling him on either side and ran the palm of her hand up the inner side of his thighs and up the tented portion of his boxers.

“Fuck,” he moaned through faint breath. “Fuck, fuck,” he cried with more urgency. “Get them off quick, Granger.”

Hermione slid the last article of clothing off his body and then removed her own, officially leaving nothing to the imagination. Malfoy propped himself up and observed her body, cherishing the sight before him. He ever so slightly shook his head as his smug expression shimmered in the dim glow from the window.

She reached down and grasped his length, causing him to arch his head back in the process as she gave it three firm pumps. He looked back up at Hermione, and she gave him an affirmative nod as she shifted her body so that she was now just barely above him. She clamped onto his shoulders as he took control and guided himself into her opening, sinking farther in with each passing second.

She let out a gasp when he had entirely sheathed himself inside of her, the pure sensation causing a release of bliss. Never before had she felt anything quite like it. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but he was different from Ron. Good different. She felt herself contracting around him without a single additional movement. She lifted herself once and slowly retracted back onto him, already feeling the slickness as she easily glided down.

He closed he eyes in the euphoria and released a slow moan as he mumbled indiscernible cries into the nothingness. “Shit,” he muttered more audibly, as a sense of panic rushed over his expression.

Malfoy abruptly flipped Hermione, now pinned beneath him on the bed. He stared down at her, no trace of lust visible in his eyes. There was nothing but carnal need as he started to bear into her, the determination of his thrusts increasing with each push. He slammed into her, shutting his eyes tightly, grunting as he repeated the process. Hermione gripped onto the covers, the fire building inside of her.

But suddenly it felt different. And this time, it wasn’t for the better. She felt… emptier. Malfoy stopped mid-thrust, and then just laid there. He ducked his head, relaxed his elbows, and unceremoniously pulled himself out of Hermione.

Malfoy muttered under his breath, and Hermione started to feel self-conscious again. She found a stray blanket on the floor and used it to cover herself as Malfoy left the bed and paced back and forth across the length of the room.

“Malfoy?” Hermione whimpered, but he ignored her.

She heard him mumble a series of scattered expletives, but he didn’t once acknowledge her.

“Mal-“

He picked his boxers up off the ground and disappeared into an adjoined bathroom, leaving Hermione alone with her thoughts.

She wasn’t quite sure what was going on with Malfoy, but one thing we certain. He hadn’t finished.

Chapter Text

Hermione counted the ticks of the passing seconds as she waited for Malfoy to emerge from the bathroom.  Each new click resonated in the otherwise still room, a steady reminder that she was there alone and naked in his bed.  She slid herself off the mattress and huddled the blanket around herself as she searched the bedroom for her discarded undergarments.

She found her knickers not too far from the foot of the bed and slipped them back on before rummaging for her bra.  It had become obscured under his dress shirt, which she haphazardly tossed aside. She stretched behind her body and rehooked the clasp, feeling only infinitesimally less vulnerable now that the most personal parts of her body were covered.

Time ticked on and she could swear Malfoy had been in there for an hour, but it couldn’t have actually been more than a few minutes, tops.  She returned to the edge of the bed and kept the blanket draped around her shoulders as she dropped her head into her hands.

In the alcohol-induced moment, sleeping with Malfoy had seemed like a good decision.  Not the best decision, but one that was supposed to at least bring her a sense of enjoyment.  And at the current moment, she was far from feeling that way.  He had been her first new partner since Ron, and in retrospect, perhaps Malfoy wasn’t the ideal person for the job.  Sex was supposed to be intimate.  It meant you could trust the person.  Well, at least to a certain extent.

But could she even trust Malfoy that much?

Did he trust her?

He hadn’t finished…

Everything had started off normally.  He hadn’t been particularly affectionate, but this was a one night stand.  It wasn’t as if she had expected it to be warm and tender. But something had changed halfway through.  He had seemed panicked, fearful.  And then he stopped.

“No…” Hermione whispered under her breath.

Her inner fears started creeping into the forefront of her mind.  They had both been drunk, that was for sure.  But what if he had started to realize what he was doing? Or rather who he was doing?  What if he still saw her in… that way?  Even if it was just subconsciously…

She tried to push the feeling aside, telling herself that she was being irrational, but once the theory poisoned her thoughts, it was inescapable.  She felt dirty.  The mere idea that she could have slept with someone who still perceived her as inferior. Filthy.

Hermione jolted up from the bed, no longer feeling comfortable in the space.  She scampered around the room, looking for her pants, but all she could find were his. Her heart started to beat faster, not knowing when Malfoy would resurface, and she wanted to at least have the decency of departing without having to confront him.  

She heard the door creak open, and she knew it was too late.  He caught her on her hands and knees on the floor, patting around for her pants.  Startled by his presence, she whipped her head in his direction, and instinctively retrieved the blanket, ensuring that the majority of her body was covered.

“Whoa there, Granger,” Malfoy teased.  “It’s not like I haven’t already seen you naked.”

But Hermione was barely listening.  By the way he was standing in the bathroom doorframe, he just so happened to be perfectly illuminated by the sliver of moonlight, the Dark Mark on her forearm blatantly visible.  How had she not noticed it before?  Hermione’s heart beat faster, absolutely certain now that she had, in deed, been naïve and misguided.  She clamored around the floor more quickly, finally found her pants, and yanked them back on.

“Granger, what are you doing?”

“I… I have to go,” she stammered, facing away from Malfoy to wipe away a single tear beginning to pool in her eye.  She knew she had to compose herself for just a few more moments while she got out of his place because there was a snowball’s chance in a dragon’s den that she was going to let Malfoy detect any sort distress or hesitation in her actions.  She scanned the floor of Malfoy’s bedroom.  “Crap, where’s my shirt?” she moped.

“It’s still in the entryway,” he answered, observing her with a sense of astonishment.  Or was that relief?

She slipped her shoes on and started heading towards the door, but Malfoy stuck up his arm, barring her exit.

“Malfoy, I need to go,” she insisted, fighting through the crack edging in her voice.

“What happened while I was in the bathroom?” Malfoy firmly commanded.  She thought she may have detected actual concern, but it must have just been her brain trying to rationalize her actions.   This was Malfoy, she reminded herself.

Hermione didn’t say a word, her focus too distracted by the mark brandishing the arm blocking her path.  Malfoy followed her gaze and quickly dropped his arm, hiding it behind his back.  He started to open his mouth, but Hermione didn’t wait to hear what he had to say.  She darted out of the room and searched for her shirt.

Malfoy barely left his room, watching her intently as Hermione tore through the entry, but she paid him no mind.  The faster she could get out of there, the better chance she had of leaving with a semblance of her dignity.

She found her shirt in a far off corner and tugged it firmly into place.  Hermione headed towards the door, ready to finally leave and have a moment alone to fully process her evening, but there was something, or rather someone, in her way.  Malfoy was propped up against the door, still dressed in nothing but his boxers, holding up her robes.  Hermione outstretched her hand to reclaim them, but Malfoy jerked them in the opposite direction.

“Give them to me, Malfoy,” she asserted, grasping for her robes, but he lifted them farther out of her reach.  She was so close to escaping, and she had no tolerance for his games.

“Just tell me one thing, Granger,” he responded sharply.  Hermione crossed her arms, anticipating his question but made no promise that she would actually answer. “What the hell happened while I was in the bathroom?” he repeated, this time with more insistence.

Hermione held her ground, lips pursed and hip popped, but her eyes betrayed her resolution.  They wandered back to the Dark Mark seared into the arm holding her robes.  Malfoy tracked her stare and instantly dropped her final possession.  Hermione scrambled to pick them up, but Malfoy still didn’t move from the door.

“So that’s what this is about?” Malfoy asked, a sour, defeated tone to his voice.

“You already got your one question,” Hermione retorted, trying to push past Malfoy, but he continued to block her path.

“And technically you didn’t answer it,” Malfoy snidely commented.

Hermione struggled to bypass him, but the tight entry made it impossible for her to leave with Malfoy in her way.  “This was a mistake,” Hermione insisted, hoping that her admission would be agreeable enough for him to let her go, but it was to no avail.

Malfoy glared at Hermione in disbelief.  “You think that that was because I still think of you as a…”

Hermione looked the other way, unable to look at him as he spoke without breaking down.

“For fuck’s sake, Granger!” Malfoy shouted.  “Did you seriously not listen to a single word I said tonight?  Or did you think that all of that was some sick ploy to get you in bed?”

Hermione jerked her head back and stared him right in the eyes, raising her voice to match his intensity.  “I wouldn’t exactly put it past you, Malfoy!”

“That’s completely sick!” Malfoy yelled, his cry piercing Hermione’s ears.

“And what? I’m supposed to believe that you, Draco Malfoy, Pure-Blood Prince, had some sort of ethical awakening and suddenly wanted to sleep with a Muggle-Born?”

Malfoy tugged at his hair as he screamed at the top of his lungs.  “It’s been six bloody years since the war ended, Granger!”

“Yet you still have to act all kind and feign friendliness whenever you see me at the Ministry!” Hermione fired back.

“Who said it was just an act?” Malfoy roared.

“Oh, please.  As if you would have any other reason to act all kind to me!  You’re probably just trying to save face and hope that everyone will just forget what you did!”

“Bloody hell, Granger, I’d settle for myself forgetting what I did!” Malfoy’s face turned a disturbing shade of red as he bunched his hand into a fist.  Even Hermione became alarmed by his reaction, but she wasn’t quite done yet.

“Well, if you’re oh so noble now, then explain what happened back there!” she exclaimed, pointing harshly back towards the bedroom.

“I’m bloody hammered!” he bellowed out, his hands thrusting into the air in utter frustration.  “Merlin’s beard, Granger!  I couldn’t…” his voice started to lower, the anger starting to dissipate as he took a pause with his words.  He knocked his head back against the door and scrunched his face in apparent irritation.  His voice returned to a normal decibel, fading into embarrassment.  “I wasn’t able to… Fuck, don’t make me say it.  I couldn’t, you know …”

He raised his eyebrows at her, hoping she’d catch onto whatever he was alluding to, but Hermione kept looking at him confusedly, not quite sure how any of this was relevant.  She was fairly drunk, too, yet she didn’t just walk out on them!

Malfoy let out a deep sigh, banging his head on the door a few more times for good measure.  “Shit, Granger,” Malfoy exasperated.  “I couldn’t keep it up, happy?”

Understanding hit her like a lightning bolt. “Oh!” Hermione exclaimed, the pieces of the puzzle starting to fall into place in her mind.  She paused for a moment, recalling what had happened for her to fully analyze.  “When you started getting all panicky, it was because you stopped being hard and were trying to cover it up by distracting me,” she stated, perhaps too matter-of-factly for the situation.

Malfoy’s face twisted.  “Well if you’d really like to know, I was actually trying to make myself hard again, but thank you for your kind recounting of the events. You make it all sound so romantic,” Malfoy jeered.  He stepped aside from the door and started walking back towards the bedroom.  “Now, are you ready to quit all this nonsense and come back to bed?  Or would you rather continue trying to vilify me?”

Hermione remained frozen in the entryway, unsure how to respond.  Her chest rose and fell in time with the ticking clock as Malfoy awaited her response.  She felt slightly embarrassed that she had to make Malfoy so blatantly explain himself, but could he really blame her?  It wasn’t as if her fears were unjustified.  But now he wanted her to actually go back to the bedroom?  To do what?  Malfoy didn’t exactly strike her as a cuddler.  Or maybe he thought he was ready to try again.  It couldn’t exactly go worse the second time.  But neither one of those options sounded desirable.

No matter how she looked at it, one thing was undeniable.  He was Draco Malfoy and she was Hermione Granger. They had a history.  And it wasn’t a pleasant one.  It was best to just call it a night and for them to both move on with their lives.

“I’m actually going to go,” Hermione whispered.  “We still shouldn’t have done it,” she added meekly.

Malfoy closed his eyes and scoffed as he shook his head.  “Say whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better, Granger.”

He moved back to the door, opening it for Hermione.  She gave him a slight smile as she passed him, and he shut the door behind her.  Once out of his place, she apparated home, hoping to Godric, Rowena, Helga, and Merlin that she wouldn’t run into him at the Ministry any time soon.

 

Hermione woke up the next morning to a harsh pounding on her front door.  She looked at the time and noticed it was already half past nine.  She groaned at the pulsing throbs in her head and reached for the Tylenol and glass of water she had preemptively laid out for herself.  Most wizards insisted on hangover potions, but those had always made her feel queasy.  Some things were better done the Muggle way.

The pounding on her door persisted and Hermione had half a heart to muffle the noise with her pillow and sleep off the hangover well into the afternoon.  Whoever it was could wait.  Yet the pounding thumped on.  Hermione reached her hand onto her bedside table for her wand to cast a silencing spell, but it wasn’t in its usual spot. Resigning to the fact that her morning visitor wasn’t going to leave, Hermione begrudgingly shuffled out of bed and headed towards her door.

Another pound.

“I’m coming,” Hermione said in a raised voice.  Much louder would have just made her own head hurt even more.

Hermione opened the door and was nearly knocked over as Ginny torpedoed into the room.

“I swear I’ve been knocking for twenty minutes!” she exclaimed, heading straight to Hermione’s kitchen, immediately making herself at home.

“Why are you here so early?” Hermione probed as she slumped onto her sofa, massaging her temples to alleviate at least some of the pain.  It was too early in the morning to be interactive with such a chipper Ginny.

Ginny opened the cabinets and pulled out two glasses and began to fill them with water from the sink.  “Well, I figured you weren’t actually going to make it to the Ministry this morning given your night last night and thought you might want some company.”

The two glasses now full, Ginny joined Hermione on the couch and handed her one of the glasses of water, which she happily accepted.  She took two sips of it, but hesitantly put it down when she noticed that Ginny was staring at her with a massive grin.

“Is there something wrong with the way that I drink my water?” Hermione asked.

Ginny knocked Hermione in the shoulder.  “No, there’s not anything wrong with how you drink your water!”  Ginny raised her eyebrows at Hermione expectantly, but Hermione just looked back at her in confusion.

“Then, why are you…”

“Are you seriously not going to tell me?” Ginny nagged.  She perched herself up on the sofa and tucked her legs underneath her so that she properly faced Hermione.

“Tell you…”

“About last night!”

Hermione let out an internal groan as the memories of last night came rushing back to her.  In her early morning hangover struggle, she had managed to suppress any thoughts of the night before for a grand total of around seven minutes.  The mere flashes of images in her mind made her head pound again. But what exactly did Ginny know?  Hermione decided it was best to start off playing dumb.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hermione protested, but as she expected, Ginny dismissed her feigned innocence.

“Oh come off it, Hermione!” Ginny disputed.  “After I couldn’t find you at the Leaky Cauldron, I came back here, and when Alohamora didn’t work, I used your spare key…”

“That’s just for emergencies!”

“Well I didn’t know where you were so it was kinda an emergency!” Ginny rashly justified.  “Anyway, Crookshank’s water was empty and you weren’t in your room, so…” Ginny smiled at Hermione and looked at her hopefully.

“So, what?”

“So, tell me about it!” Ginny pressed.  “Who’s the lucky man?”

Hermione felt her lungs contract as she held her breath at the question.  Well at least all Ginny knew was that she left with someone last night.  She could only imagine how Ginny would react if she knew it had been Malfoy!  Someone would definitely be on the receiving end of a nasty hex, and Hermione wasn’t willing to wager that she wouldn’t be the victim.

“I, um, went back and gave Christopher a second chance,” Hermione lied.

Ginny raised a single eyebrow at Hermione in suspicion.  “I thought you said he was a bore?”

“That was Malfoy, not me,” Hermione promptly corrected.  “I just said that all he would talk about was the war, but, um, we got to talking again and got past all that.” Hermione could feel her pulse increasing at alarming speed hoping that her deceit was believable enough.  Across the sofa, Ginny was narrowing her eyes, and Hermione couldn’t help but fear that Ginny had seen right through the fabrication.

But Ginny shrugged her shoulders, seeming to erase any questions.  “Works for me if it works for you.”  Hermione released a slight sigh as Ginny scooted closer to her on the couch.  “So tell me about it!  Just as experienced as I expected?”

“Ginny!”

“What!” she objected.  “I don’t get to do these things anymore, so I have to live vicariously!  Was it good?  Better than Ron?  Wait… don’t answer that one.  Do you think you’ll see him again?”

Ginny leaned in close, eagerly anticipating Hermione’s answers.  But Hermione honestly had nothing to report back.  It wasn’t as if Hermione was going to gush over Malfoy!   There wasn’t even anything to gush about.  It had been… confusing.  Things escalated quickly, she made an impulsive decision to go back to his place, and it didn’t end… as hoped.

Had it been the best decision?  Probably not.  But at least there didn’t seem be any negative repercussions from it. Even so, it was still probably for the best if no one found out.  It was safe to bet that Malfoy wouldn’t tell anyone about their night.  He might have tried assuring her that he was fine sleeping with Muggle-borns, but she doubted that some of his friends or family would approve.  Plus, if Hermione thought Ginny’s reaction would be bad, that would pale in comparison to Harry’s or even Ron’s.  The fewer people who knew about it, the better.  And two was already plenty.  She had quite literally slept with the enemy.

Or former enemy?  Malfoy had seemed to be pretty adamant in trying to convince her of the latter.  And she had to admit that he had made a pretty convincing case. Back at school, he would barely even acknowledge her, yet their conversations last night had been mildly pleasant.  Heated and still filled with disagreements, but he had never called her Mudblood.  That was at least modicum proof that he wasn’t as much of a cockroach as he used to be.  Maybe now he was just a flobberworm.  Not as foul and loathsome as a cockroach, but still not something that one would choose to interact with.

Hermione!” Ginny snapped.

“I did it again, didn’t I?” Hermione sighed apologetically.

“Yes.  But don’t think that got you out of answering the question,” Ginny warned.  “How was it?”

Hermione smiled to herself at Ginny’s persistence.  So why not indulge her a bit?  While Hermione wasn’t going to admit that it had been Malfoy, there certainly wasn’t any harm in talking about what had occurred the night before.  Ginny would just assume it was Christopher.

“If I’m being honest, not great,” Hermione stated simply.

Ginny gave a half serious frown.  “Small dick?”  Hermione grabbed a pillow and threw it the other’s direction, hitting Ginny squarely in the chest, who was already laughing. “Fine, fine!  Just a joke! Then what was the issue?”

Hermione paused for a moment to piece her thoughts together and determine how to address it as tastefully as possible.  “Has Harry ever… not finished before?” Hermione cautiously asked.

Ginny covered her mouth, obscuring a smile, but a few strangled laughs broke through the cracks in her fingers. Hermione grabbed another pillow, but Ginny flinched before Hermione even had the opportunity to chuck it at her.

“I’m gonna take that as a yes,” Hermione teased.

Ginny kept laughing.  “I mean, it happens! Disappointing, but not the worst thing that could happen.  The poor guy was probably just drunk!  It is called whiskey dick, after all.”

“I don’t think that’s the proper medical terminology,” Hermione corrected.

Ginny rolled her eyes, disregarding Hermione’s input. “Psh, don’t get technical.  Some guys just under perform while under the influence.”

Hermione gave Ginny a bit of a side eye for her word choice, but had to admit that it did make her feel better that Malfoy probably wasn’t lying when he blamed it on his drunkenness.  Although, Hermione could do without the knowledge that it had happened to Harry before, too.  In all her years with Ron, she supposed she never slept with him when they were drunk.  When they had rarely had been, she would typically pass out on their bed before they even made the attempt.

“You know, actually, there is another potential reason,” Ginny flippantly added, but Hermione did not respond so casually.

“Like what?” Hermione quickly asked.

“Well, he could have been so nervous because it was you that he psyched himself out!” Ginny explained.  “In which case, it’s sort of a compliment in an odd sort of way.”

“You’re making that one up,” Hermione dismissed.

“Honest I’m not!” Ginny defended.  “Although I can’t speak on personal experience for that one.”

“Oh, please.  You can’t seriously make me believe that Mal- Christopher couldn’t keep it up because he was nervous!”

“Completely serious!” Ginny avowed.  “Christopher was downright flabbergasted when he saw that it was you talking to him!  And can you blame him?  Half the wizards in the Leaky Cauldron would have dueled for the chance to talk to you.” Ginny let out a slight snort thinking back to the previous evening.  “Hell, there were moments last night that I could have sworn that even Malfoy was staring at you.”

Hermione choked on her sip of water and immediately propped up at the mention of his name.  “What?”

“Crazy, right?” Ginny laughed.  “But even you must have noticed how often he kept coming up to you.  And then I swear that when you were at the bar talking to Christopher, I caught him checking you out.”

“Yeah, crazy,” Hermione faintly agreed, but she could feel her cheeks slightly heat up at the idea of Malfoy being jealous of her talking with another man.

Snap out of it, Hermione commanded herself. This is Malfoy we are talking about! There was no use thinking about him more than she had to.  They had a drunken hook up, and that’s it.  The best course of action was to just not think about him or what had happened.  Hopefully that would be the last mention of Malfoy for the morning. Or for the rest of the week, or even month, if Hermione was lucky.  The greater distance she could have before his name came up again, the less likely the truth would come out.

Hermione looked at the time and it was already past ten in the morning at this point.  She seriously needed to get to her office if she wanted to be productive at all today.  Plus, it served as a pretty valid excuse to get out of this conversation before anything slipped.

“Actually, Ginny, I’m going to head to the Ministry now,” Hermione began, collecting the two now empty water glasses and bringing them back to the kitchen.

“I haven’t even gotten any of the sordid details!” Ginny objected.

“You’ve already gotten plenty of details!” Hermione countered.  “Regardless, if I can get this draft of legislation in first thing Monday morning, Kingsley promised to personally find time to read it over himself.”  She desperately wanted this new proposal to pass, and if the Minister of Magic was offering to help, she wasn’t going to squander the opportunity.  The work also had the added benefit of being a good distraction from anything Malfoy related.

Ginny rolled her eyes.  “Merlin, I hope I won’t have to work on weekends as much as you.  But don’t think we’re done talking about this!” Ginny said.  “Drinks Monday after work?”  Hermione began to protest, but Ginny cut her off.  “Trick question. You’ll be there.  It’s my first day, and I want to celebrate.”

“I thought we celebrated last night!” Hermione retorted.

“Last night we celebrated me getting the job.  Monday we celebrate me doing the job.”

Hermione couldn’t help but wrinkle her nose at Ginny’s absurd specification, but naturally she’d still go.  At least this celebration wouldn’t involve running into Malfoy. “Fine, I’ll be there.”

“Perfect!” Ginny announced as she stood up from her seat on the sofa, making her way towards the door.  “Harry will be back by then, and I'll invite Daphne, too. I'll owl you tomorrow with details.”

The friends parted ways, and Hermione took a moment to release a sigh of relief once the door clicked shut.  Ginny was relentless when it came to her questioning, but luckily Hermione was fairly quick on her feet.  She’d have to keep up with the Christopher façade for a little bit longer, but hopefully Ginny would drop it after Monday. Then, Hermione would be able to go back to her typical routine and forget that Malfoy ever happened.

It was just simpler that way.

Hermione went back into her room and grabbed a few books off one of her shelves that she thought might be useful in drafting her legislation and shoved them firmly into her already overflowing work bag. She then returned to her bedside table to find her wand, concluding that she must have accidentally knocked it off the surface over the course of the night. She crouched onto the floor and looked on either side, under her bed, and behind the table, but it wasn’t in any of those spots.

She went back into the kitchen. Perhaps she had left it on the counter when locating the Tylenol last night. But it wasn’t there either. Or on the kitchen table. Or wedged between sofa cushions. Or anywhere in her flat for that matter.

Hermione tried to think back to when the last time she used her wand was and let out a long groan when it came back to her. She could remember using it at Daphne’s and was fairly certain she had felt it in her robes pocket when she and Malfoy had strolled down Diagon Alley.  That left one option.  Her wand must have fallen out of her robes at some point while she was being, well, disrobed.

So much for hoping to not see Malfoy again.

Chapter Text

The rest of the weekend proceeded just as uneventfully as Hermione had wished it would have in the first place. After three earlier drafts, Hermione put the finishing touches on the fourth copy of her house elf legislation proposal and left it on Kingsley’s desk by 7pm Saturday night. Yes, that meant that she had essentially put in an additional full day of work, but she had found it relaxing and satisfying after the hangover eventually faded. And it wasn’t every day that she had the chance for the Minister himself to review her work.

When she got home, Hermione settled into her old, broken in armchair and read her book while Crookshanks nuzzled on her lap, exactly how she really wanted to have spent her Friday night. At least she was getting to do it eventually.

Saturday bled into Sunday and Hermione still ignored the main issue at hand. A quill and parchment didn’t require a wand and neither did many of the things she had to do at home. She had made it eleven years without a wand, so a couple days without one wasn’t the end of the world. But come Monday morning, Hermione knew that she would inevitably have to interact with Malfoy. The less, the better, though.

Hermione returned to the Ministry at promptly 8:54 am Monday morning and went straight to her own office and shut the door. She pulled back her chair, grabbed a pale-violet piece of parchment, and dipped her quill into the canister of ink. The quill scratched across the paper as she scribed instructions for Malfoy to follow.

“I’ll be in my office until 6pm. Have an assistant drop it off before then.”

The words were curt as to not leave much room for interpretation from him. Dear Merlin, she hoped he understood that she was referring to her wand. She’d be more specific, but she didn’t want to risk anyone intercepting the message and getting any ideas. “It” could refer to anything. Someone could just assume they were working on some new legislation together. It wasn’t as if it was unheard of for their departments to collaborate. Magical Creatures were often brought across country borders and they needed assistance from the Department of International Magical Cooperation from time to time. But these were luckily always small projects. Nothing like the MACUSA disaster of 1926!

She read over her note one more time, and feeling satisfied, she folded the parchment the old fashioned way, manually creasing it into shaped. Hermione proceeded back to the entrance of her office and opened the door, releasing the origami aeroplane into the air. The enchanted parchment took control, and Hermione watched as it glided through the air and swerved around the corner towards the Department of International Magical Cooperation.

No more than thirty minutes later, Hermione heard a knock on her door and she quickly dropped her quill and rushed to the door. She knew it was early in the morning, but she hoped that perhaps Kingsley had already found time to provide her feedback. If he had, she’d still have plenty of time to revise it again before her interdepartmental proposal meeting on Friday! Or maybe Malfoy had sent someone over with her wand. She certainly wouldn’t complain about being able to do spells again. While some things were better done the Muggle way, other things were just easier the Magical way.

Hermione opened up the door and nearly slammed it in his face, but he blocked it before it shut.

“I told you to send an assistant,” Hermione grimaced, arms crossed indignation.

Malfoy sauntered into her office, clearly unfazed by her lack of welcome. He looked around her office, soaking in his surroundings as he went. Hermione observed through narrowed eyes as he cavalierly approached her bookshelf and perused the titles. Just seeing him again made Hermione feel uneasy. He looked just as self-assured and infuriatingly yet effortlessly attractive as he always did, but the latter was obscured through his habitual arrogantness. How dare he so blatantly disregard her wishes! Her heart was starting to beat faster, and she wanted to tell herself it was only out of anger, but as she watched his fingers travel across the spines of the books, she couldn’t resist recalling how it had felt to have them tracing the curves of her body.

Fortunately, her reverie was promptly dismissed when the pompous prick started talking again. “I figured you didn’t want me to explain how I became in possession of your wand in the first place,” he bluntly justified, a coy smile already creeping on the edges of his lips.

Hermione sneered, unenthused by his response. “Then you should have put it in a box or something,” she snapped back. This was not how her morning was supposed to go! All she wanted was to get her wand back without interacting with him. Was that honestly too much to ask for? But now she was forced to confront him and pretend that she wasn’t getting mildly distracted by the strand of white blonde hair falling in front of his eyes. It was so much easier to ignore the events of the weekend when the object of her drunken attraction wasn’t strutting around in front of her!

“Oh, yes, Granger,” Malfoy challenged. “Because I keep a plethora of extra empty boxes lying around in my office just for this occasion.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, trying not to let his insolence strike too much of a nerve with her. To the best of her memory, which was quite strong by the way, they had all mastered transfiguring objects into boxes back in fifth year! But she couldn’t afford spending any additional time arguing with Malfoy than was necessary. She needed to stay composed. Deal with him properly so that he would return her wand and be on his way, and she wouldn’t have to spend another confusing moment in his presence. She thrust out her hand in his direction. “Whatever, Malfoy,” she seethed. “Just give it to me.”

Malfoy dug into his pocket, revealing her wand, and stuck it out for Hermione to reclaim. She was mere millimeters away when he snapped it back.

“You didn’t seriously think I was just going to hand it over so easily, did you Granger?” he provoked with a sly grin spreading across his face.

Hermione ran her palms against her face and strained her head back. Of course Malfoy wasn’t going to let this be a simple ordeal. Since when were things with Malfoy ever easy? “What do you want, Malfoy?” Hermione grumbled.

He placed her wand back into his pocket and ambled towards her with an air of determination. “On Friday…”

“Good Godric, we’re not seriously discussing this,” Hermione interrupted with disbelief. This was her worst nightmare! She had enough wild thoughts running through her mind as is without having to actually discuss any of it with Malfoy!

On Friday,” Malfoy repeated more sternly, “you said that it was a mistake…”

“Yes, I recall,” Hermione stated simply. Wouldn’t it just be easier if both of them pretended it never happened? Drunk mistakes happen! Oh, but the longer he stood there, the more she questioned if it truly was a mistake. Yes, yes it was, she assured herself.

“Why?”

Hermione jerked her head and scrunched her eyebrows. Why? He was asking why? Malfoy was staring back at her, actually waiting for her to respond. Wasn’t “why” obvious enough? She might be attracted to him, but that couldn’t blind her from their history.

“I hardly think I have to explain that to you,” Hermione sharply retorted, hoping that it would be enough for him to finally stop with his questioning. But apparently, it was not.

Malfoy scoffed. “And I didn’t think I’d have to explain to you what limp dick is,” he shot back. “So why don’t you be a good girl, Granger, and just humor me.”

Hermione resisted the urge to berate him for his condescending words, so she clenched her fist to channel her frustration instead. He had to understand. They couldn’t proceed. “You’re you and I’m me,” she clearly enunciated. “It’s as simple as that.”

“That tells me absolutely nothing,” Malfoy starkly criticized. He glared at her resolutely, waiting for a response, only making Hermione more annoyed.  

Why couldn’t he just see! Or did he just assume that he had the right to know what was going on inside her head? He wanted to know why? Oh, she knew why. Because despite their present, she couldn’t pretend like what happened in their past didn’t happen! Because while it was six years ago for him, it still felt like yesterday to her! Because while he had made bad choices, she had been the one targeted. And she hadn’t forgotten what side he was on. 

But she wasn’t going to tell him that.

She shook her head back and forth. “It tells you enough,” was all she said. She didn’t know what else she could actually articulate to him, but it took more than one night for her to forget seven years. It would just be easier if he left. “Now, please leave, so I can return to work."

Malfoy looked at her for just a moment longer, as if he was deciding whether or not to protest further, but Hermione didn’t give him the chance. She returned to her desk and sunk into her seat, cradling her head in her hands, signaling that she, for one, was done with the conversation. The subtle clacking sound on her desk let her know that Malfoy had set down her wand and she peeked through her fingers just to confirm. 

Through the slit in her fingers, she could see that Malfoy was still looking at her. His face was stern, but there appeared to be just a glimmer of longing in his eyes. She quickly shut her fingers to block the view. She didn’t want to see more of him than she had to. It was too much. But she couldn’t shake the image from her head. As she heard the door swing open, she didn’t raise her head to watch him go, but after several seconds, she didn’t hear it close. She brought her head back up, and Malfoy was still standing in the door frame, watching her intently.

When their eyes met, he averted his gaze, and his Adam’s apple discernibly rose and fell with a gulp. After a second, he looked back at her. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes for a moment, seeming to consider something. He reopened them but still avoided her eyes. “Your new proposal is good, by the way,” he quickly stated as he turned from her and closed the door behind him.

Hermione stared blankly at the brown swirls of the door at the place that Malfoy had just been. Her brain took a moment to process, but then her heart started to speed up. She leapt from her seat, abruptly pushing her chair back from behind her and grabbing her wand, and burst the door open.  

Around her, the rest of the Ministry was already aflutter with dozens of witches and wizards proceeding with their business. She weaved her way through the crowds and scanned for white blonde hair. In her haste, she nearly toppled over a wizard holding a handful of scrolls, but Hermione quickly apologized to him as she dashed down the hall and around the corner.

And then, not too far in the distance, she finally caught sight of him. 

“Malfoy!” she shouted, but her call got lost in the surrounding commotion. She picked up her pace, and within a few more seconds, she was close enough that she could reach him. “Malfoy!” she cried again, grabbing onto his wrist in the process.

He first looked down at her hand clamped around him, and then up at her. He certainly didn’t seem overly pleased to see her again so soon. His eyebrows were furrowed and his chest rose in a deep breath as his face revealed a scowl. He tried to yank his wrist away, but Hermione only latched on tighter.

“So now you want to talk to me?” he snarled.

Hermione ignored his question. That wasn’t the point. “How did you read my proposal?” Hermione pressed. She didn’t understand. She hadn’t shown it to anyone. Not even the other witches and wizards in her office. It wasn’t as if the Ministry was bustling with people on a Saturday. And then she had immediately put it on Kingsley’s desk. It just didn’t add up.

She felt Malfoy’s wrist wiggle free and slip out of her grasp. In the distraction of her thoughts, he had taken advantage of her slackened grip. He still looked irritated with her, but it wasn’t as if that was something new between the two of them. Yet it still felt like some internal part of her was bruised from the harsh impact of his glare.

His upper lip twitched as he looked around them. Some passing witches and wizards gave them skeptical glances, but it wasn’t anything more than usual. It did seem to irk Malfoy to a certain extent, though. “Look, Granger,” he sneered. “I’m not discussing this here.”  He started to walk away, but Hermione wasn’t going to let him get out of this.

She paced up next to him, and reclaimed his wrist, clamping on with all her strength as to not let him escape this time, and dragged him into the first door she found. To her dismay, it was an old cramped supply room that didn’t leave much space for the two of them, but it would have to work. Hermione took out her wand and whispered Colloportus, locking them into the small locale.

“Careful, Granger, or people will think we’re doing it in here,” Malfoy jeered, as always, not passing up the opportunity to agitate Hermione.

She considered slapping him across the face, but figured it best to ignore the comment. He was probably just trying to get a rise out of her, anyway. And she had a purpose for bringing him in there.

How did you read my proposal?” she reiterated.  

Malfoy crossed his arms and leaned his back against the shelving lining the wall, the smug smirk already starting to reappear on his features. “Ah, now you’re the one with all the questions, aren’t you, Granger? See how frustrating it is when someone won’t tell you what you want?”

“This is different!” Hermione cried. “This is work related! And has absolutely nothing to do with… with what we did Friday!”

He let out a short laugh at her rationale, pushing himself off the shelving and taking a step closer to her. “And who said the two are unrelated?”

“Of course they’re unrelated!”  Hermione lashed out, trying not to get distracted as he took yet another step towards her, the space between them shrinking to an uncomfortable amount. “One is my job and then other is… the other is something else entirely,” she stammered.

“Oh, but don’t kid yourself, Granger.” He smirked as he paced up to her until he was close enough for her to feel his hot breath on her own skin, and her heart raced at the proximity. “What caused you to chase after me, huh? Have you consider that?”

“I just want to know how you read my proposal!” she rashly reasoned, not wanting to entertain the thought that she had done so for any other purpose. Hermione’s mouth was starting to run dry, yet she still felt the need to swallow after her statement. She had to wipe the sweat that was starting to accumulate on her palms as well. He needed to answer her soon. She had already spent too much time with him this morning, and it was seriously starting to affect her in ways that she wasn’t thrilled about.

He took a step forward as Hermione stepped away, until she was backed against the other set of shelving. “That may have been a small part of it, Granger, but admit it. You’re curious.”  

“Come off it, Malfoy,” Hermione spat, even if her body was telling her otherwise. “You do think you’re such hot stuff, don’t you?”

“You seemed to think so Friday night,” he toyed.

“I thought I told you we were done discussing what happened Friday!” Hermione fumed.

“You might be, but I’m not,” Malfoy asserted, propping his arm against the shelves, officially closing Hermione in with his body. “Just admit it, Granger. There’s a part of you that’s still intrigued by me.”  

Oh gods, she was definitely still intrigued, even if she didn’t want to be. He made her absolutely furious, but she could swear her heart was about to beat out of her chest. It only got worse as he leaned in and she could feel his cheek brush up against hers as he whispered into her ear, “You’re just craving to know how it is that I agree with you. Dying to know why I read it in the first place.”

She closed her eyes as his words tickled her eardrums but promptly snapped out of it. She shoved him back off of her. “You’re incorrigible, Malfoy.”

But Malfoy was undeterred. “Don't say you’re not the least a bit flattered, Granger.”

Hermione would never admit such a thing! And since when had he managed to get the upper hand in this conversation? She brought him in there, and it was time that he remembered that. “You never answered my question,” she argued, swiftly changing the topic.

“I never claimed I would,” he retorted as if it was no sweat off his brow.

Honestly, did everything with him have to be so exasperating? But curiosity had taken over her. She had to know. “I’ll answer yours if you answer mine,” Hermione compromised. She somewhat doubted whether he would take the bait, but as much as he was trying to hide it, she knew that Malfoy was just as yearning for answers as she was.

Malfoy paused for a moment to contemplate her offer. He crossed his arms and looked her up and down like he was sizing her up for a Quidditch match. She focused her eyes at him to see if he would waver, but he did not flinch. And when he gave a subtle nod and smirked, Hermione knew she had finally won. A minor victory, but satisfying nonetheless.  

“Deal,” Malfoy agreed, straightening his posture to address her. “Since you so desperately want to know, I had a meeting with Kingsley first thing this morning. When I noticed your proposal on his desk, I made a copy when he wasn’t looking.”  Hermione opened her mouth in shock, but that only caused Malfoy to be even cockier about his action. “If you didn’t want people reading it, you shouldn’t have left it lying in a place that people could so easily get ahold of it.”  He finished his confession, and then had the audacity to wink at her as if stealing something off the Minister of Magic’s desk was as insignificant as misplacing a single beetle’s eye!  

“You know very well that you shouldn’t be poking around at things on the Minister’s desk!” Hermione barked, but Malfoy curtly brushed it away. He truly was insufferable, yet as much as she hated to say it, his explanation was surprisingly believable. He would have no other way of knowing that Kingsley had the draft of her legislation otherwise. There was still so much more she wanted to know, though. “Why were you meeting with Kingsley, anyway?” she pressed.

“That’s not relevant,” Malfoy dismissed, narrowing in on her. “You had your question. Now answer mine.”

“You’ll have your chance. I’m not nearly done,” Hermione assured him. She’d get to his question eventually. Maybe. If he cooperated. “Why did you read it?”

Malfoy shrugged. “It seemed more interesting than my meeting.”

That wasn’t nearly sufficient reasoning, and he knew it! “Malfoy, ” Hermione warned. She demanded real answers.

But it didn’t seem likely that she’d be getting them. “Nice try, Granger,” Malfoy challenged in a deceivingly friendly tone. “But I believe... What were your words? Ah, yes… that ‘tells you enough.’”

Malfoy glared at Hermione with a grin and mischievous glint in his eyes, and she was forced to look away as to not get sucked into the swirling grey death traps. He was sorely mistaken if he thought he had somehow outsmarted her by throwing back her own words. If he wasn’t going to answer all her questions, then she wouldn’t fully submit to his either.

“Now it’s my turn,” Malfoy boasted, oblivious to Hermione’s intentions. “Why was Friday night a mistake?”

“Because you’re an insufferable prat who won’t answer my questions,” Hermione smartly retorted, feeling assured in her new command of the situation. She leaned back against the shelves and cocked her head with a mocking smile just to rub it in.

As expected, Malfoy wasn’t going to surrender just yet. He eased towards her, his own smirk not fading for even a moment. “Someone’s not playing fair,” he taunted, inching ever closer to her, until he was squared in front of her.    

Hermione lowered her head and faced a different direction so that he couldn’t look at her with those tempting grey eyes. She knew he was waiting for her to say something, but she was determined that her resolve would be stronger than his.

Malfoy chuckled as if all of this was just a game. “If you’re going to be stubborn, I suppose I’ll just have to guess for myself.”

He crooked his index finger under Hermione’s jaw, pulling her attention back to him. Hermione resisted at first, but the sudden soft touch of his finger made Hermione’s skin feel like it was instantly ablaze as her heart began to flutter.  

“Let’s see, Granger,” Malfoy cooed, tracing his finger along her jawline. “Is it because you find me.... infuriating?” He leaned in close so that his final word wisped into her ear and lingered just a little bit longer, sending a slight shiver down body. He pulled away and smirked at her. “Oh, but, you’ve known that for years.”

Don't fall for it, Hermione commanded herself, but it was a feeble attempt. Her defenses had been standing guard for the past half hour or so, and she wasn't sure how much more they could withstand. And as always, Malfoy wasn't making it easy.

“Or perhaps it’s because I’m a selfish prat who ardently pursues whatever he wants,” he continued to purr, grazing the curve of her torso with the back of his hand. Her breathing began to shallow as she swallowed another heavy gulp under his caress. She tried to resist, but her eyelids naturally fell shut at his seductive strokes, wanting to fully embrace their impact. As his contact slipped away, her vision returned to the smug look on Malfoy’s face, fully aware of the effect just a simple touch had on her body. “You know, if that was the reason, I wouldn’t say you were wrong,” he hissed into her ear.

His words sent a shudder throughout her entire body. She knew she should keep fighting it. Hadn’t that been what she had been trying to do all morning? But there were some things that her brain just couldn’t control anymore. It, too, had fallen victim to the dangerous desires that the rest of her body was screaming for.

He returned his treacherous fingertips to her face. His thumb grazed her cheekbone and traveled down, tracing Hermione’s lower lip. Hermione felt her stomach churn in warm excitement, her entire attention dedicated to the sensation.     

He withdrew himself, but only for a moment as he pressed his body against hers, trapping her once again between him and the shelving. This time, she didn't even feign disagreement.

“But if you ask me,” Malfoy whispered in her ear, “it’s because you’re scared of how intrigued you are by me.”

Malfoy bent down, and within an instant, their lips were reconnected and her own fingers lost their battle of willpower, latching onto his blonde locks. She tugged harder as he pushed his body closer to hers, the shelving behind them rattling in the process. All her body ached for more, savoring each stroke of his tongue against hers.  

She felt him start to recede, and she attempted to pull him back in, but his strength overpowered hers. His lips detached as he clamped down onto her bottom lip and slowly extracted himself.

He grazed his own bottom lip with the edges of his teeth and then let out a short laugh to himself. “That’s what I thought, Granger.”

She knew she should be upset with herself for surrendering to his temptation, and she'd surely have enough time in the future to scold herself for it, but at the present moment, her body was too satisfied with itself. It was totally, entirely, completely wrong, but dear Merlin, why did it feel so right?

Malfoy reached into his pocket and grabbed his wand to unlock the door, then promptly returned it to its home. “Wouldn’t want to lose this, would I?” he tormented with a grin. He proceeded to the door, and once his hand was already on the handle, he turned to face Hermione one final time. “You said you're leaving tonight at six?”

Hermione took a moment to realize he had spoken to her, and then stumbled her response, unsure why he was asking. “Yes, but-”

“Well, then,” Malfoy interrupted, “I'll see you there.”  He shot Hermione another wink and twisted the knob, leaving Hermione alone and dumbstruck in the supply room.

She took a moment to process his farewell, but did not like the results her brain had settled upon. Oh hell no. Not many situations called for profanity, but this seemed to be one. She threw her head back and banged it against the shelving. While she couldn't be certain, she had a pretty good guess. And knowing Malfoy, he had somehow found out about drinks with Ginny and was planning on crashing. Swell.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day felt as if the grains of sand in her internal hourglass were falling at an impossibly slow pace. Each minute was another torturous moment sandwiched between two unsavory events.

The morning had been anything but ideal. She had wasted nearly an hour bickering with Malfoy and then arguing some more before… before things got out of hand. She had once again fallen victim to temptation, and what was worse was that this time, she couldn't even blame it on lack of sober judgment.

When she left Friday night, she had the upper hand. He had been the one who had soiled their evening, and she was the one who had rightfully put it to an end. But after this morning, he had her practically crumbling under his touch, and he knew it.

Oh, it was infuriating! He acted as if he had her all figured out! “You’re scared of how intrigued you are by me.” Where did he get off! She wasn’t scared! Just… confused. At this point, it was impossible to deny that she was attracted to him, but he would never be able to mask his foul personality. He might have been able to feign it for a handful of scattered moments, say a few passingly nice things about her work, but then he would pull stunts like what had happened this morning and ruin all of it! What they had done was unacceptable, unjustifiable, undeniable, unavoidable… no! Wrong, wrong, wrong! If she had Friday to do over again, she would march right out his flat time and time again!

What was the deal with his insistence in knowing why she left, anyway? The stupid prat probably just needed to have his poor bruised ego healed. Verification that even when he couldn’t complete the job, he still had witches begging for more. Well dammit, she would not be one of those witches! And if she had to see him tonight, she would not, would not, engage in anything more than necessary.

At the end of the work day, Hermione packed her bag, double checked that she did in deed have her wand, and made her way towards the fireplaces in the atrium. While walking towards the lifts, she noticed that Malfoy’s entire department already seemed to have left for the day. Hopefully that meant he was long gone to somewhere, anywhere, other than the pub she, Ginny, Harry, and Daphne were going to.

Hermione arrived at the pub shortly afterwards and scanned the room for her friends. The establishment was filled with witches and wizards of various ages, all enjoying a quick pick me up after a long day, but luckily, Ginny’s hair made her pretty easy to spot. The redhead was seated at a table with only two other individuals, a woman and a shaggy black haired man. Hermione let out a massive sigh of relief at the absence of Malfoy. He had just been messing with her. The day was salvageable.

“Hermione, over here!” Ginny cried from across the room, spotting Hermione still standing in the entrance. Hermione waved back with a smile and passed through to crowd towards the table.

As Hermione approached, Ginny greeted her with a tight squeeze. “Congratulations on your first day!” Hermione beamed, pulling back from their embrace. “Already bored of a desk job?”

“No, not quite yet,” Ginny responded. “But ask me again at the end of the week.”

Harry stood up from beside Ginny and also gave Hermione a hug. “You didn’t work too hard while I was gone, did you?”

Hermione shrugged. “No more than usual. But I got my new legislation draft done!” Harry returned to his seat, and Hermione rounded the table to the empty chair. “I had to work essentially all of Saturday, but I think it’s my best yet, and tomorrow Kingsley’s..”

“Excuse you, Hermione,” Daphne interrupted in a sour note, but Hermione opted to ignore it.

“... going to return his feedback, and once he does that…”

“Hermione!” Ginny now snapped, actually getting Hermione’s attention. “That seat’s taken.” Ginny gave Hermione an apologetic frown, and it confirmed exactly what Hermione had feared. Her heart sank into her stomach, especially when she heard the suave voice behind her.

“About time you got here, Granger.”

Hermione closed her eyes and took a moment to compose herself before turning around to confront him. Perhaps when she opened her eyes, he wouldn’t be there and the past fifteen seconds would have been a sick hallucination. But as she faced him, he was no figment of her imagination. She felt a lump accumulate in her throat. Of course Malfoy was there.

His trademark smirk was already poised across his features. He shot her a wink as he took a sip from his fresh from the bar drink, but Hermione dismissed him with a huff. She stormed off to a neighboring table and grabbed an unused chair which she dragged to the farthest corner of their own table from Malfoy. It was better, but as long as she and Malfoy were in the same room, he was too close to her.

“You didn’t tell me he would be here,” Hermione harshly whispered to Ginny beside her.

“You think I invited him?” Ginny softly scorned. “Of course not. But apparently he and Daphne are a package deal or something,” she sneered.

“Great,” Hermione bemoaned, slumping back into her seat. Hermione was pleased that Ginny had found a work friend already, but was there no one better at the Daily Prophet? Someone who didn’t come with that soul sucking cockroach in tow?

Her eyes wandered across the table to Malfoy who was still staring at her with a devilish grin as he took another sip of his drink. For Godric’s sake, she hadn’t been planning on drinking that evening, but seeing she couldn’t trust herself around him either drunk or sober, she might as well get mildly buzzed to make his contemptuousness more tolerable.

“Harry, we’re grabbing a drink,” Hermione directed, not giving him much of an option as she tugged his arm and practically pulled him out of his seat. The legs of his chair began to teeter under him, but he had the good sense of giving into Hermione before he fell flat on his bum. Harry would serve as an excellent soundboard for her initial ranting prior to engaging further with Malfoy. If there was anyone else who was just as displeased by Malfoy’s presence, it was sure to be him.

Hermione pushed her way between two wizards to finagle a spot against the bar. “Two meads!” Hermione requested to the barmaid as she counted out eleven sickles from her pocket.

“I know what you’re thinking, Hermione,” Harry started off before Hermione even had the chance to begin. “And trust me, I don’t like Malfoy being here either.”

Hermione let out a scoff. That was putting it mildly. He didn’t even know the half of it! “Any chance we can place a silencing charm on him all evening without Daphne noticing?” Hermione willfully suggested.

The barmaid set down their drinks and Hermione grabbed the two glasses, handing one to Harry. “I reckon no, but even if we did, Malfoy would find a way to make his presence known regardless.”

Hermione felt her lip curve into the slightest bit of a smile for just a moment, but then proceeded to shaking her head, the irritation starting to grow the more she thought about it. After Friday, she had known running into Malfoy at the Ministry was bound to be inevitable, even if she had inadvertently expedited it through her own carelessness. But seeing him this morning had been a necessary evil! There was absolutely no reason for him to barge in on her evening other than to provoke her further.

She looked back at the table and saw Malfoy laughing about something with Daphne, not a care in the world while Hermione fumed about about his presence. “I just can’t believe that git thought that him showing up here today was acceptable! He knows perfectly well how we feel about him!”

“You don’t have to explain that to me, Hermione,” Harry said, trying to appease her. “You should have heard Ginny when Malfoy first showed up. I could have sworn that she was going to hex him into next week. Threatened to transfigure him back into a ferret if he made even one foul comment. That seemed to shut him up. He promised to play nice after that.”

“And you believe him?” Hermione spat, side eying Harry with heavy skepticism.

“Absolutely not,” Harry quickly avowed. “I’ll be keeping my hand gripped around my wand the entire night.”

Harry smiled at her, although it hardly made her feel much better. Even so, thank Merlin she had Harry because otherwise she probably would have stormed straight out of the pub. With both him and Ginny on her side, Malfoy would hopefully refrain from make too much of scene. Fat chance, though.

“I don’t trust him being here,” she growled, taking a few more sips from her drink. “Knowing him, he wants something.”

“So it’s just another Monday for Malfoy,” Harry commented, elbowing Hermione at her side to lighten her quickly deteriorating mood.

She couldn’t help but smile at his remark. “Yes, pretty much.”

They both brought the glasses of mead back to their lips in the slowly dissipating tension. Harry glanced over his shoulder at the three unlikely companions at the table and grimaced at the display. “We better head back,” he concluded, although he didn’t appear at all pleased with this idea. “Ginny’s lips are doing that thing where they twitch every few seconds. I’ve seen that look on her face before, and it usually doesn’t end well for the recipient.”

Hermione briefly chuckled, imaging a quivering Malfoy just from the mere action of Ginny withdrawing her wand. “That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world!”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to get kicked out the pub,” Harry joked as the pair proceeded back to the table.

By the time they were seated again, Hermione’s drink was already half gone. Malfoy and Daphne were still talking, but it no longer seemed as cheerful. Ginny sat there observing, the twitch on her lip continuing as the Slytherin mates carried on.

“You can’t seriously be upset about this, Daphne!” Malfoy ridiculed. He slumped back in his seat and folded his arms across his chest, completely uninterested in whatever it was that Daphne was displeased about.

Hermione turned to face Ginny and scrunched her eyebrows, looking between both Daphne and Malfoy. Ginny sighed and whispered to Hermione behind her hand. “We were just talking about Friday night when they started arguing.”

Daphne propped up, her entire body twisted so that she could address Malfoy directly. “I’m just pointing out that you and I rarely spend time together anymore,” she stated with an apathetic breeze, although this hardly appeared to be something that didn’t truly irritate her. While Hermione barely knew Daphne and couldn’t understand why anyone would be complaining about not enough time with him, she could at least sympathize with how exasperating it was to deal with Malfoy.

“Well, what did you expect?” Malfoy perched up and leaned in closer to Daphne as if her last statement had somehow struck a nerve in him. “When you’re not at work, you’re almost always with your sister, so forgive me for respecting Astoria’s wishes by not coming over anymore!”

The Gryffindor trio remained silent as their companions bickered on. Ginny still appeared aggravated by the whole ordeal, but just like Harry and Hermione, she recognized that it was probably best to let Daphne continue uninterrupted. Besides, it was sort of refreshing to see someone else argue with Malfoy for a change.

“You better have after you broke my sister’s heart!” Daphne shot back, raising her voice for the first time. “I fully understand your strained relationship with Astoria which is why I only invited you out on Friday. In return, I expect you to say goodbye before you disappear on me! For all I knew, someone had dragged you out back to beat you up again! At least when Hermione went missing, Ginny was able to figure out that she had left with someone!”

Daphne crossed her arms in indignation and raised an eyebrow at Malfoy, challenging him to respond, but they heard nothing but the surrounding sounds of witches and wizards merrily chatting away, oblivious to the tension filled table in their midst. Malfoy glared at Daphne with a hatred that Hermione thought was only reserved for Harry.

Hermione may not exactly like Malfoy the vast majority of the time, but she could figure out for herself that Malfoy had most likely been targeted for his past actions, and she felt strangely sorry for him. Not that he hadn’t done awful things, but, for some reason, the thought of him getting hurt was oddly jarring. She peered across the table at Harry and even he didn’t look amused by the notion of someone beating up Malfoy. His eyebrows were furrowed and he had a puzzled look, clearly contemplating something. Next to him, Ginny also appeared to be in deep thought as she locked eyes with Hermione and shifted her focus to Malfoy, but at least her lip had finally stopped twitching.

Hermione’s gaze followed Ginny’s as she finally allowed herself to look at Malfoy again. His chest was rising and falling in rapid succession, his nostrils flaring with each exhale. Hermione had thought she had seen Malfoy mad before, but none of it compared to this. After several moments, Malfoy broke the silence, his voice low and seething. “I thought I told you to never bring up…”

“Hold up,” Harry interrupted. Malfoy sharply turned to the wizard who dared to cut him off, but Harry barely noticed. His face still read of confusion as he shifted towards Hermione. “You left with someone, Friday?” Harry asked. “As in a man? That’s not Ron?”

Hermione froze. Her head shook for a moment as she blinked repeatedly. What… Why… How did Harry know? She replayed the last few minutes of the conversation in her head. As Daphne’s final words came back to her, she closed her eyes as tightly as possible, grimacing at the thought. She had been so distracted by the idea of Malfoy getting hurt that she hadn’t even processed that Daphne had said anything about her.

She looked around the room, avoiding Harry’s eyes and more importantly Malfoy’s. “I, um, yes,” Hermione sputtered, her vision settling on her darkened reflection in the mead. Dear Merlin she hoped that Harry would have the good sense to just ask her more about it later. Literally any other time or place that Malfoy wasn’t present.

Harry didn’t say anything, but she could still feel him staring at her. She took a nervous sip from her drink, refusing to speak more on the matter. Eventually he seemed to look away, back to Malfoy. “Sorry. You two can keep arguing now.”

“No need to apologize, Potter,” Malfoy said, much too cheerful for a man who seemed ready to curse someone mere moments ago. “Daphne and I can continue in private later, but it seems as if we have stumbled upon a much more interesting topic of conversation.” Hermione didn’t need to look up from her drink to picture the smirk that was probably plastered across his face. She let out a groan as she anticipated his intentions. “If I heard correctly, Goody Granger went home with a man Friday night.”

Hermione took back what she said earlier this morning. That wasn't her nightmare. This was.

She downed the rest of her of her drink in two solid gulps and started to rise from her seat, but Ginny quickly laid her hand on Hermione's thigh to bring her back down. “Shut it, Malfoy,” Hermione warned, but the smile across his face only grew at her irritation.

Malfoy leaned across the table, staring directly at Hermione. The table creaked as he rested his elbow on the surface and balanced his chin under his palm. “Oh, but I'm sure we’d all love to hear about the incredible wizard who struck the fancy of Hermione Granger.”

“If she doesn't want to talk about it in front of you, then she doesn't have to,” Harry spat, coming to his friend’s defense, hand already reaching for his wand.

“One more word out of you, and I swear I’ll have you turned into a ferret faster than you can call for your father!” Ginny threatened.

Daphne leaned back in her chair, snickering slightly, but remained out of the conflict much like the rest of them had when she had been the one fighting with Malfoy. Hermione couldn’t blame her for not wanting to get involved, even if she had been the one to accidentally incite the feud.

It was no matter anyhow. While Hermione appreciated her friends’ efforts, if today had proven anything, it was that even in adulthood, Malfoy would not quit until he got what he wanted. To think that for a moment there, she had considered actually feeling sorry for the detestable prat! Yet again he had proven that as soon as she thought for a mere second that there was more to him, he would go back to making her life a living hell.

Malfoy dismissed Harry and Ginny’s retorts with a blasé wave of his hand. “No need for that. I'm simply asking her some questions. Getting to know her better,” he taunted. “So tell me about him, Granger. He must be a spectacular wizard.” It was evident to the entire table that his words dripped of sarcasm, but only Hermione was able to detect the underlying meaning that was disguised by his jeers.

“Back off, Malfoy,” Ginny interceded. “Christopher was a pleasantly nice man. Not that you would recognize one if he stumbled on top of you!”

Malfoy sharply turned to Hermione and let out a full-hearted laugh. Hermione released another heavy groan. As if this situation could deteriorate even further! Ginny had good intentions, but dear Merlin, Hermione really could have gone without Malfoy knowing about her lie.

“Christopher?” Malfoy snorted. “Christopher. Seriously? Oh, Gods, that is positively rich!”

“Well, if you ask me, he was a perfectly fine suitor,” Hermione feigned, but Malfoy hardly listened, too consumed by his laughter.

His chuckles subsided but only for him to fire another retort at her. “I beg to differ, Granger. You and I both know he was a nothing, so who do you think you’re fooling?”

Hermione’s cheeks heated up, but she couldn't determine if it was due to embarrassment or frustration. Honestly, it was probably a mixture of both. It was quite difficult to argue with Malfoy when they both already knew that he was right.

“Malfoy, you're done,” Harry asserted, raising his wand in Malfoy’s direction, as always, remaining loyal to her defense.

Ginny followed suit, quickly snatching her wand and leveling it next to Harry’s. “Last chance for you to stay out of this,” she threatened. “This doesn't involve you one bit.”

Their wands remained pointed at Malfoy’s chest, but he paid them no mind. His focus was still engrossed entirely on Hermione, much too amused by the situation. Did absolutely nothing faze the man? The table remained at standstill for a handful of heartbeats until Hermione motioned for Harry and Ginny to lower their wands. Harry looked at her askance, but she stared at him until they both reluctantly complied. She knew they only meant to help, but this wasn’t their battle. She had to be the one to deal with Malfoy.

He smirked directly at her and his eyes sparkled with haughtiness that set her on edge. That look couldn’t mean good news, and her blood boiled just thinking about his perpetual blasted audacity. His grin crept ever larger as he addressed Ginny directly. “How naive of you,” Malfoy jeered. “I believe it involves me much more than you think.”

Hermione snapped. She pushed her chair back and slammed her hands onto the table before Ginny had a chance to hold her back again. “Stay out of my personal life and go fuck yourself, Malfoy!” she shouted loud enough for half the pub to hear. A few heads turned at the commotion, but she didn't care anymore. Malfoy had crossed the line.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows and pretended to examine his fingernails, remaining just as poised as ever. “If it’s no difference to you, I’d rather not take you up on that last suggestion. I tend to prefer when a witch does that for me.” He gave short blow on his nails and then looked up at Hermione with a sly, suggestive smile. And then he winked.

That PRAT! She lunged forward, ready to remind him once and for all what it felt like to be punch by Hermione Granger! But this time, Ginny was faster.

Harry already had his wand back out and pointing at Malfoy, while Ginny remained preoccupied holding Hermione back. Hermione flailed her arms, attempting to wrestle herself free from Ginny's lock, but her Quidditch strength was serving plenty handy. “He's not worth it, Hermione!” Ginny said, trying to placate Hermione, but she was too fired up.

“Fine Malfoy!” Hermione spat, her anger quickly taking over. “You want to know all about the wizard? Well, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that it turns out he was and always will be nothing more than a prick!” This was it! She had had more than enough of his games! It didn't matter how attractive she thought he was. He'd never be more than a vile, pompous bastard!

Despite all the commotion, Malfoy merely smiled more, nonchalantly taking a sip from his drink. “That's not very nice of you, Granger,” Malfoy flouted. “I'm sure he has many redeeming qualities, including his prick.”

Oh, his vanity had no bounds! Well, so be it. He wanted to play dirty? Then it was time for the low blows. Hermione tried to tug herself free again, but it was another feeble attempt. She settled on leaning in as close as she could despite Ginny’s restraint. “Actually, Malfoy, if I recall correctly, his prick was exactly his problem!”

Across the table, Malfoy started choking on his drink, unable to catch a full gasp of air. He attempted to speak, but all that came out were more straining coughs. Hermione looked on, finally finding a reason for her to be the one who smiled. Served him right for dragging her into this wretched conversation in the first place! She finally stopped trying to wrangle herself free, and Ginny released her grip.

Ginny looked at Hermione slightly shocked. “Well, I didn’t think you were going to bring that up.”

“Wait a minute,” Harry urged, lowering his wand, the look of confusion back on his features. “Can someone explain to me what's going on?”

Ginny glanced at both Hermione and Malfoy to see if either would answer, but Hermione’s focus was locked on Malfoy who was still struggling to regain his composure. She sighed as she turned to address Harry. “Well… Christopher had… issues Friday night.”

Hermione shifted her gaze to Ginny for just a moment, alarmed by the emphasis on Christopher’s name, but she was immediately drawn to Daphne who spoke for the first time in what seemed like ages.

“Shit, Hermione,” Daphne chimed in, finally finding something to give her input on. “Sorry the bloke was a bust.”

“Hold up,” Malfoy wheezed, coughing away the remains of his drink down the wrong pipe. “Let’s take a step back here. Just because he had issues, doesn’t mean the man was a bust.”

“I mean, it entirely depends,” Daphne rebutted. “Shit happens, but there’s other ways of pleasing a woman. Did he at least get you to finish?" 

Oh Gods! Hermione may have wanted a single moment of poking fun at Malfoy, but this was too far off the deep end! There was no way she was discussing this here! “You know, I don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing my sex life with all of you,” Hermione bluntly justified, her cheeks returning to the subtle shade of pink.

Malfoy snorted and Hermione jerked her head in his direction. “Yet you feel comfortable enough telling the entire table that he couldn’t keep it up?” Malfoy chided, clearly just as irritated as she was at the present conversation. Well, she didn’t feel a single bit of compassion for his pain.

“You know what, on second thought, let’s discuss,” Hermione resolved. Malfoy glared at her, entirely unenthused. He didn’t want her to talk about it further? Then he best believe she was going to. Now he would know how it feels! She straightened herself out and threw her curls back behind a shoulder in smug confidence, just to rub it in further. “No. He didn’t let me finish,” Hermione shared. “The pitiful excuse of a wizard straight up walked out on me without a word.”

Ginny grimaced at Hermione’s revelation. “You hadn't told me that. On Saturday I assumed you were disappointed, not actually this upset. For some reason I originally had the impression you liked him.”

From the corner of her eye, Hermione could see Malfoy perk up at Ginny’s latest overshare, but there was absolutely no truth behind this statement either! This was most certainly not an invitation for him to get the impression that she ever liked him or ever would! “Yes, well, I’ve had a lot time to think it over since then, and I most certainly don’t like him,” Hermione replied, staring Malfoy straight in the eye as she did so.

Malfoy sat up and leaned in closer as his confidence slowly came back to him. “Opinions change Granger. He had an off night, but I’m sure he could more than compensate a second time around.”

Her stomach coiled and she could feel herself dry heave at the mere insinuation of another go with him. Malfoy thought that he was deserving of a second chance? On what grounds? “How curious, Malfoy,” Hermione soured. “So now you’re coming to Christopher’s defense?”

“I’m not defending Christopher for a single second, and you know that Granger,” Malfoy sharply retorted.

“Will you two just quit it for just a moment!” Daphne loudly hissed. Hermione continued to glare at Malfoy as Daphne pressed on. “I’m quite done hearing you two bicker about this, so let’s just settle it. The bloke had a bad night, and he may or may not be an arsehole. Whatever, I couldn’t care less. But if you had a decent enough time with him before that, then he could be worth seeing again.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow and leaned back in his chair, waving a hand for Hermione to respond to Daphne’s proposition.

“No, Daphne,” Hermione resolved as she stared at Malfoy. “I am certain that he’s not worth seeing again.” Hermione arose from her seat, done with the conversation herself. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need another drink.”

Malfoy pushed back his chair. “I need one, too.”

Hermione stomped past him on her way to the bar. “You can wait til I'm back, Malfoy,” she sneered, but unsurprisingly, he ignored her command and followed her.

Great. Now she could count two evenings intended to celebrate Ginny that had been completely spoiled by the rotten presence of Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

She maneuvered her way through the crowd and found a spot along the bar. She raised her hand to get the barmaid’s attention. “I don’t care, as long as it’s strong,” Hermione instructed.

Malfoy followed suit and managed to make room for himself next to Hermione. “Make that two,” Malfoy shouted after the barmaid.

Hermione’s fingernails dug into the palms of her hand, sure to leave crescent indents, but it was all she could do to prevent herself from continuing to lash out at him. Good Godric, would that boy just leave her alone! “Are you quite enjoying yourself tonight, Malfoy?” Hermione snarled at him.

“Just as much as I’m sure you are,” he promptly quipped.

“In that case, thank you very much for making it a miserable evening for the both of us,” she said bitterly. “If you're quite finished mocking me, you can go for all I care. Then we might actually get to celebrate Ginny’s job tonight.”

The barmaid returned with their drinks, and Hermione reached towards her pocket to retrieve some sickles, but Malfoy blocked her.

“It’s on me, Granger,” he insisted, placing a galleon on the counter. She didn’t need Malfoy paying for her drink! She motioned towards her pocket again, but he swiftly stopped her once again. “You know, Weaslette isn’t the only one whose Quidditch skills still come in handy.”

Groaning, Hermione resigned herself to defeat and irritably grabbed the drink and started chugging. Malfoy took a few sips for himself, but set it down after just one swallow. The barmaid certainly hadn’t ignored their request for something strong. The alcohol slightly burned as it traveled down her throat, but Hermione was in desperate need for something to alleviate the tension. Malfoy looked on, apparently impressed by her ability to stomach so much of the harsh liquid. She slammed the empty glass on the table with a harsh clink. Malfoy grabbed another galleon and raised his hand, the barmaid quickly returning with a fresh drink.

“You just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, Malfoy?” Hermione seethed, ignoring the new drink placed in front of her. “So you went off and invited yourself when you obviously knew I would be here!”

“Able to deduce that much, were you, Granger?" Malfoy ridiculed. "Ten points for Gryffindor." He took another short sip from his drink, before setting it down and gazing around the pub with a disgusted look. “I wouldn’t come within ten meters of this dingy place if I didn’t think you’d be here.”

Hermione scowled. “Am I supposed to take that as a compliment or something?”

Malfoy made a short nonchalant raise of a shoulder and narrowed in on Hermione. “Why don’t you be the clever witch you are and figure that one out for yourself.” Hermione scoffed at the inane remark while he raised the glass to his lips again, but paused just before taking a sip. “But I must say, Granger, what were you thinking?”

“When I slept with you?” Hermione snapped defiantly. “I honestly have no idea.”

Malfoy didn’t seem pleased with her retort. “I mean why the hell are you going around blabbing to She-Weasel about what happened Friday night?”

“What do you care?” Hermione asked, finding mild satisfaction in Malfoy’s annoyance. “She still thinks it was Christopher. Unless, you’d like me to go back there and let the whole table know that it was actually you.”

“Granger…” Malfoy growled.

Hermione ignored him. “I'm sure they’d love to hear all about how the Prince of Slytherin can barely control his own snake.” She was starting to understand Malfoy a bit more. It was fun pressing his buttons when she had the upper hand.

“Gods, you’re insufferable,” he hissed under his breath.

Hermione mirrored his indifference with a flippant single shoulder shrug. “But don’t say you’re not intrigued,” she said with heavy sarcasm.

“Oh, I am, Granger. I’m not the one denying that to myself.” Malfoy immediately responded. Hermione’s head twitched back, his reaction the opposite of what she had anticipated. “You can keep up with your charade all you want, but I assure you, Granger, we have unfinished business that I plan to complete.“

She grabbed the untouched drink and threw it directly in Malfoy’s face.

“Would you look at that?” Hermione jeered. “I guess the drinks really were on you tonight.”

The remnants of the drink dripped down his cheek and trickled off his jaw, settling onto his now half soaked robes. He scrunched his eyes tight as he grabbed a napkin and dabbed his face dry. His normally pristine hair was now soiled with the tinge of the amber liquid. Malfoy looked utterly infuriated, but Hermione had to say this was probably her favorite look on him.

“Listen, Granger,” he sneered, his frustration reaching a new peak.

“No, you listen to me,” Hermione harshly snapped back. “Let me make this plain and clear. You and I will not be a repeated offense. So you’ll just have to cope with the fact that there was one witch that you were not able to satisfy and go back to whoring around with the rest of the wizarding world.”

She turned away from him and started back towards the table, but Malfoy was right behind her, snatching her wrist much like she had done to him earlier that day in the Ministry hallway.

“Don’t walk away from me like that, Granger!” Malfoy snarled. “And stop parading around all the time thinking that you know everything, because clearly you do not!”

Hermione scoffed. “I know a great deal more than you!” She had barely gotten the words out before Malfoy tightened his grip and dragged her deeper into the pub to the isolated hallway leading to the bathrooms. Hermione jerked her wrist free, settling her arms in a fold across her chest. “What exactly --”

“Will you ever stop talking for just a moment!” he lowly bellowed, interrupting her objection. His cheeks started to heat up, and she knew that she had struck a major nerve with him. Good. He deserved to be just as upset as she was!

“You think that I go traipsing around shagging any witch left and right? I’d be a damn fool doing that!” he fumed, his arms jutting into the air in irritation. His features softened for a fraction of a second, before he proceeded with his berating. “You heard what Daphne said. People still want to hurt me. Half the witches would murder me in my sleep cause they think I’m the Dark Lord incarnate, and the other half only talk to me because they think that me knocking them up would have them set for life.”

The words were harsh, but she could discern just a flicker of agony masked in his expression. The aftermath of the war may not have been easy for him, but the war hadn’t been easy for her. “Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for you?” she criticized. “Because right now, I’m much more inclined to side with the women of that first group.”

“Gods, just shut up!” Malfoy exclaimed. Before Hermione could fully comprehend, his hands were pressed against her cheeks and he had her back slammed against the wall. His lips crashed into hers, but only for an instant until she was able to unfold her arms and slap him across the face.

“What the hell was that, Malfoy!” Hermione chastised.

He ran his palm across his burning cheek where Hermione had struck him, his upper lip twitching. “This isn’t just a cat and mouse game to me, Granger,” Malfoy grumbled. He lowered his voice to a calm, deep tone so that he articulated each word sharply. “You’re aggravating as hell, exceptionally obstinate, and bossy beyond belief.”

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Malfoy carried on. “And yes, I’m arrogant, vain, cocky, and whatever else you want to call me. But name one other wizard who gets you as heated as I do, both intellectually and physically.”

Hermione furrowed her brow and pointed her finger in his direction, but he dismissed it. “Don’t pretend to object. You may claim you hate me and normally I wouldn’t blame you, but even you can't explain why you're so intrigued by me. You and I both felt it this morning. And Salazar, strike me down...” he drew out his hand and tucked a lock of Hermione’s curls behind her ear as he leaned in so his last words were just a whisper “... I’m just as intrigued by you as you are by me.”  

Hermione swallowed a hard gulp as she pushed Malfoy away. “What type of fool do you take me for!”

“I don’t believe you to be a fool one bit,” Malfoy stated plainly.

“Then what was all… that about?” Hermione scowled, her breaths becoming short and her cheeks turning red.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I just made myself perfectly clear. But if you’re too stubborn to realize that, then we have nothing else to discuss.”  Another drop of drink fell from the fringe in front of Malfoy’s eyes and he followed it with irritation. “Now, excuse me while I rid myself of this mess you’ve burdened me with.”

Malfoy stormed down the hall and pushed open the door to the bathroom, Hermione following after him but stopped at the shut door. “If that was your misguided way of trying to get me to sleep with you again, then it was a failure, cause I still think you’re a complete arse!” She waited to see if he would shout something back, but after a few moments, she stomped away.

She officially had it with him! He may think he could trick her by saying that he was intrigued by her, but she could see right through him! She wasn’t being stubborn. She was completely and totally reasonable. As if he sincerely meant that he liked her in any way! What a rich concept! He just wanted the satisfaction in having her fawn over him. As if that would happen!

She was now certain that that morning had been nothing more than an anomaly. The mere remnants of a drunken night out. But this evening permanently erased whatever illusion her murky memory had fabricated of him, and she could firmly say that she would never share a bed with that insufferable man ever again!

Returning to the table, she yanked her chair back, feeling even more heated than when she had left all those minutes ago. Hermione sat down in a huff, the entire table pausing to stare at her.

“So your conversation with Malfoy clearly went well,” Harry commented.

Hermione grunted. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, this truly has turned out to be quite the lovely evening, don’t you think?” Daphne chimed in with mock sincerity.

“Come on, Daphne,” Ginny objected. “You started arguing with him first.”

Daphne hesitated for a moment. “He and I have a... complicated friendship, so it’s different when we fight. But with you all, there is years of anguish.”

Harry glared at Daphne. “Is that what we’re calling the war now? ‘Years of anguish?’”

“I’m not trying to downplay the war,” Daphne rationalized. “But keep in mind that while I didn’t fight for the Dark Lord, but I didn’t fight for your side either. I know Draco’s a jerk, but if you actually gave him a chance, you’d see how all his hard work these past few years has paid off.”  

Hermione’s head snapped up. “And what are we supposed to believe? That he’s had some grand awakening and now he’s magically changed?”  

“You have no idea how much he’s been through the past three years!” Daphne retorted, her voice rising slightly.

Been through?” Hermione nearly roared. “Forgive me if I don’t equate having to start a court mandated job at the Ministry as going through something!”

Daphne slammed her palms against the edge of the table, clear agitation in her consistently increasing tone. “He’s been doing other things!”

Hermione let out a scoff this time. “Like what?”

Daphne leaned back in her seat and averted her gaze from Hermione.

Like what?” she repeated with more insistence.

Harry, Ginny, and Hermione all looked at the Slytherin, anticipating a response, but Daphne quickly grabbed her drink and began to chug instead. Hermione looked over at Harry who turned to Ginny who merely rolled her eyes in disinterest. It wasn’t as if Hermione had asked Daphne an insane question! Based on Daphne’s response though, she seemed to think that she had already said too much.

But what was it that Daphne was hiding? Earlier in that evening, Malfoy had been beyond pissed when Daphne had mentioned that he had been physically targeted by others. That surely must have taken quite the blow on Malfoy’s ego, but a good punch third year hadn’t changed him one bit, so she doubted that a back alley beating had knocked much sense into him either. Besides, Daphne had already spilled about that incident, so there must have been something else that she didn’t want to tell them. Or rather, he didn’t want her to tell them.

Hermione had so much more she wanted to pry out of Daphne, but the conversation’s end was quickly confirmed as Malfoy returned, his hair back in place as if he had never been touched by her drink.

He pulled back his chair and observed the four silent companions. His vision settled on Hermione and she prompted looked away, but not before she caught an irritatingly sly grin poise his features.

“What’s wrong with you lot? Can’t think of a conversation without my presence?” Malfoy quipped. The rest of the table continued to stare at each other in hushed awkwardness. “No? Okay, Weaslette. Tell us about your first day at work.”  

While he addressed Ginny, his eyes remained locked on Hermione. She tried to still avoid his piercing gaze, but it was pretty hard to ignore when he was staring so intently. She could feel the little hairs on the back of her neck prick up under his cool glare and she did not appreciate that sensation! Why was Malfoy even pretending to care about Ginny’s day, anyway? Ginny looked between the two of them, just as suspicious of Malfoy’s intentions as Hermione was.

When no one said anything, Malfoy took his seat and chuckled to himself. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that is why we’re here after all.”

Ginny narrowed her gaze at him, but Daphne, bringing herself back into the conversation, let out a slight cough and kicked Ginny under the table, prompting her response.

“It was… good,” Ginny answered hesitantly. “Mostly learning the ropes.”

“Ah,” Malfoy said, as if a conversation between the two of them was a common occurrence while Harry and Hermione exchanged anxious expressions. “And what section are you writing for?”

“Sports,” she responded, still seemingly wary.

“Hmm.” He nodded as he processed. “I saw you play two years ago. I’m not typically one for women's Quidditch, but it was worth it to see the look of defeat in Wood’s eyes.”  He let out a slight laugh. “I only wish I would have been able to do it myself once.”

“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Hermione promptly interjected. Had he been Imperiused while in the bathroom or something? All of a sudden he was acting all friendly as if they were all… friends or something?

Malfoy poised himself with a calculated expression as his lips quirked into a smile. “I didn’t pick you as someone to forget so easily, Granger. Or do you not recall telling me at the bar that we needed to get back to celebrating Ginny’s job?”

Hermione clenched her fist under the table, her fingernails digging into her skin again. She did not appreciate him using her words out of context like that!

Malfoy flashed Hermione another closed lips smile before returning to Ginny. “Reporting Quidditch matches I imagine?”

“Yes,” she grumbled curtly.

“In fact,” Daphne cut in, sounding way too pleased with herself as she spoke, “Ginny’s covering the Canons game against the Wasps this Sunday.” She smirked to herself and Hermione instantly had a bad feeling about whatever was coming next. “We should all go.”

“What?” Hermione, Ginny, and Harry cried in unison.

“You know, support Ginny at her first report and what not,” she justified, smiling at her plan. “And I’ve never known you to turn down a Quidditch game, Draco. I’m sure we can wrangle up enough comp tickets from the Prophet.

The Gryffindors shared apprehensive looks amongst themselves, but Malfoy seemed all too pleased by his classmate’s suggestion. “I’ll be there,” Malfoy resolved. Hermione and Malfoy locked eyes for a split second, but she quickly looked away, her mind already brainstorming excuses to get out the game. “I’m paying for my own ticket, though,” he corrected with a snarl. “I won’t stoop so low as to accept free things from a Weasley.”

Ginny clawed her fingers into Harry’s thigh, Harry resisting the urge to cry out. Ginny feigned a smile. Merlin’s beard, she must have really wanted to maintain this friendship with Daphne if she was willing to endure a comment like that from Malfoy.

“Fine,” Ginny gritted through the fake facade. “I have before-match interviews starting at eleven, but the rest of you can meet Daphne at tickets by noon in time for kick off.” The table murmured in agreement. “Well, if that’s all settled, as lovely as this celebration has been, I think it’s time Harry and I get going,” Ginny declared, elbowing Harry so he caught on.

“Uh, yeah. Early day tomorrow. Got a new batch of Aurors that still need training,” Harry agreed.

Hermione picked up her bag, grateful that this night was finally coming to a close. “I should get going, too, in that case. But it’s been such a pleasure, Malfoy,” she said, making no attempt to mask her insincerity. She turned to Daphne, not overly pleased with her either, but at least she could pretend to be nice to her, if nothing else than for Ginny’s sake. “And Daphne, well, good seeing you again.”  

The three of them left the pub, leaving the Slytherin pair behind. Harry pushed open the front door, the refreshing breeze of the early autumn air rushing through their hair.

“That went well,” Harry said with animosity.

“It was a bloody nightmare,” Ginny groaned as she paused to adjust her robes. “And what was all that between you and Malfoy, Hermione? I swear I’d never seen you two at each other’s throats quite like that before.”

Hermione took a deep, heavy breath in and out. Her brain was already exhausted after having to deal with Malfoy all evening. The last thing she wanted to do now was to discuss him further. “Uh, just work related stuff,” she muttered.

Ginny held her look at Hermione a bit longer before hitching up her robes a little tighter around her neck as they proceeded down the street towards the Apparition point. “So I guess we’re stuck going to the Quidditch game on Sunday,” Ginny bemoaned. “At least I’ll be busy working for most of it.”

“Which do you think will happen first,” Harry asked, “someone catches the Snitch or I push Malfoy off the Quidditch stand?”

Hermione slightly smiled at Harry’s remark. “I’d say there’s a greater chance that the Canons actually win than we go the whole game without threatening to hex Malfoy at least seven times.”

“And I venture he spends the entire time going on and on about how he could have been a professional Quidditch player when he couldn’t even beat poor Harry over here.”

Harry looked at Ginny in a bit of shock. “Was that a jab at my Quidditch skills?”

“Which one of us was the professional Quidditch player?” Ginny said with a breeze.

“I could have been professional if I wanted to!” Harry quickly defended.

“There!” Ginny exclaimed, a massive smile spreading across her face. “That’s exactly what Malfoy’s going to sound like!”

The trio laughed for a solid moment, and Hermione already felt better, leaving the sour memories of Malfoy behind at the pub. It was so refreshing to feel at ease rather than constantly being on edge that someone was going to later use her words against her.

Ginny picked up her pace a bit and started walking backwards so that she could face Hermione. “Seeing Sunday’s going to be hell for all of us anyway, mind if I invite Ron too? He gets back from Egypt on Saturday and he’d absolutely murder me if we went to a Canon’s game without him, even if Malfoy is in tow.”

Hermione’s heart stopped for a moment. Handling Malfoy tonight had been one thing, but coping with his snide, suggestive comments while also balancing her ex there? “I don’t know…”  

“Come on, Hermione.” Ginny urged. “I love you and respect your reservations, but you’re seeing other people now. You two have to be able to interact at these things.”

“I’m not seeing anyone,” she hastily corrected, “but even if I was, it’s not that I don’t want to see Ron,” Hermione justified, looking down at her feet as she walked, her mind quickly working to find an escape route. “But perhaps you should just take Ron instead of me. I have my big meeting with Kingsley and the rest of the departments on Friday anyway, so I’ll probably have to do final revisions over the weekend, and…”

“No way, Hermione,” Harry protested. “If I have to endure Malfoy, you’re gonna be there with me. Otherwise, who will be there to prevent me from pushing Malfoy off the edge? Merlin knows that Ron will just encourage it.”

Hermione couldn't resist continuing to smile. “Who says I won’t do the same?”

But then her focus was slightly interrupted by what she thought was the call of her name down the street. She twisted her head behind her shoulder but didn’t see anyone.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked.

She briefly paused and scrunched her eyebrows before facing back ahead. “Nothing. I just thought I heard something.”

They continued walking down the path, nearing the Apparition point, when Hermione was distracted again, this time by what she thought was pounding footsteps but decided to ignore it and keep walking instead.

“Granger!”

That got her attention.

She picked up her pace, but within a few moments, his hand was on her shoulder.

“Merlin’s beard, Granger, do you serious have to walk so fast?” he said, hunching over slightly to catch his breath.

“I don’t know, Malfoy,” Hermione snapped back, annoyed that she was seeing him yet again that day. “Maybe you just need to learn to jog faster.”

“I’m a Quidditch player, not a runner,” he countered.

“Any quality athlete wouldn't be so exhausted right now.”

Malfoy’s lip twitched into a snarl. “Excuse you, but I could have been professional if I wanted to!”

“Wow, we didn’t even have to wait til Sunday,” Ginny said, a triumphant smile on her face. Malfoy shot her a nasty glare but she shrugged it off.

Malfoy returned his attention to Hermione. “A moment, Granger?” She jolted with a startle as he grabbed her hand, trying to pull her away from her friends.

“I think you've already had plenty to say tonight.” Harry confronted, stepping in front of Malfoy’s path.

He dropped Hermione’s hand and folded his arms across his chest. “Fine, Potter. Why don't we let Granger decide.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Unless she'd prefer that I share what I have say in front of you two.”

Hermione looked nervously between the two adversaries and concluded that it was in everyone’s best interest that Malfoy just said his piece and finally leave her be. “Let’s get this over with, Malfoy.”

She shoved her hands into her pockets and left a considerable distance between them as she followed Malfoy around a corner for some privacy. Malfoy stopped a little ways down a nearby alley, just shy of where the shadows hit. Hermione withdrew her wand and began casting various spells around them.

“What are you doing?” Malfoy impatiently asked.

Hermione ignored him as she completed the spells and safely returned her wand to her pocket. “I’m not risking Harry and Ginny overhearing any of this conversation.”

“Look at that. Something you and I can agree on,” Malfoy said with a bit of a smile.

Hermione let out a resigned sigh. She didn’t want to hear any more of his snide jokes or comments. She had already endured more than her fair share earlier in the evening. “What do you want, Malfoy?”

Malfoy took a step in closer to Hermione. “I think I’ve made that clear.” He slowly started to extended his hand towards her face, but Hermione quickly smacked it away.

“And I’ve made myself perfectly clear, too!” she berated. “I am not some slag shag for your perpetual amusement!”

Malfoy let out a scoff and took another step forward, forcing Hermione to step back, inching closer to the brick wall behind her. Flashes of earlier that day came back into her memory, but she promptly shoved them back into the darker crevices in her mind. That was the last thing she wanted to be thinking about at the moment.

“Do I need to write it down for it to sink into that pretty little thick skull of yours then?” Malfoy scowled, taking yet another pace in her direction. His grey eyes seemed to darken as he narrowed in on her. “Or would you prefer that I have it published in a bloody book? Is that what it would take for you to actually understand what I have to say?”

“I understand you perfectly clear,” Hermione spat, stepping aside so Malfoy was no longer encroaching on her space.

Malfoy huffed as he shoved his hands deep into his pocket. “No, you evidently don’t if you’re still calling this some ‘slag shag.’”  

“What would you prefer I can it then?”

Malfoy shrugged and then smirked. “Let’s just call it… heated interest.”

Hermione couldn’t resist rolling her eyes at his crass remark. “That’s just a fancy word for horny.” She threw her mass of curls behind her shoulder and started to walk past him, back towards the main street. “Goodnight, Malfoy.”

She felt the cool wave rush through her as she exited past the magical wards, freeing herself from the conversation. She had nearly rounded the corner when she heard Malfoy shout for her to wait, but Hermione kept going. She was tired of waiting for him. He had yet to prove that he was worth waiting for.

“I fucked up! Okay, Granger?”

She kept walking.

“Look, I’m sorry!”

Hermione spun around. “You’re what?”

Malfoy was stopped in his tracks, shaking his head back and forth. “Seriously. Are you hard of hearing, or do you just choose to block out half the things I say?”

“I just don’t think my brain knows how to register you issuing an apology.” Hermione folded her arms as she slowly walked back towards him. “And what pray tell are you sorry for?”

Malfoy turned his head to face the brick wall and then down at his feet. “A lot of things.”

Hermione observed as Malfoy stood there, his shoulders slightly slumped, exhibiting only a fraction of his usual sense of self-assuredness. She had only seen him this unguarded a handful of times in her life, most recently only a few days ago when he had hid his Dark Mark from her gaze. But saying sorry was meaningless when there were no specifics attached.

“That tells me nothing,” Hermione fumed, refusing to let him think that all he could say was some vague statement and everything would be forgiven. She was far from accepting any sort of apology from him.

“You're right. It doesn’t tell you enough,” Malfoy said, his confidence slowly returning. He picked his head back up and started walking closer to Hermione. “But go out to dinner with me on Friday, and I’ll tell you more.”

Hermione scoffed. “And why would I do that?”

“Cause you’re intrigued,” he toyed, once again attempting to bridge the gap between them, but Hermione blocked it.

“No, Malfoy,” Hermione insisted, staring him directly in the eyes so he wouldn’t misinterpret what she said. “Not anymore.”  Malfoy’s smile quickly dropped. “You proved tonight that you’re the same boy from school. Whatever I thought was interesting about you has been completely washed away, and you have no one to thank besides yourself.”

Hermione turned to walk away but Malfoy pulled her back. “You’re getting all worked up over some harmless fun,” his voice shaking mildly as he spoke.

“I wouldn’t consider tonight’s conversation to be harmless!” Hermione sneered in response. “You were cruel and knew I didn’t want you to bring up anything alluding to this weekend!”

“Oh come on, Granger. That’s what you and I do. We bicker back and forth and push each other’s buttons.”

“Am I supposed to find that endearing?” Hermione seethed. “And let me say this once and for all. You and I do nothing together. Goodnight, Malfoy,” she stated firmly, hoping this would be the last time she had to say that to him that evening. She rounded the corner, and not too far away, she could see Harry and Ginny, anxiously awaiting her return.

“Granger, wait!” Malfoy called after her again, jogging to catch up to her.

Hermione let out an aggravated sigh. “Just leave me alone,” Hermione hissed softly to ensure that Harry and Ginny couldn’t hear. “Forget Friday ever happened and never, ever speak of it again. It was a mistake.”

“This morning begs to differ,” Malfoy countered.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Add it to the list of mistakes.”  

“It sure as hell didn’t feel like one.”

Hermione stepped forward and pressed a solitary finger against his chest. “And that is where you and I will just have to agree to disagree.”  She turned away from him and refused to look back.

“This isn’t over, Granger!” Malfoy shouted after her.

“Yes, it is!” she cooed back without giving him the decency of looking at him.

Hermione returned to the safety of her friends, and Ginny immediately linked her arm with Hermione’s. The three of them walked down the block to the Apparition point, the place of safety that would finally bid her of Malfoy.

“What did Malfoy want?” Harry asked with concern.

“Forget about it,” Hermione grumbled. “But let’s just say I’m firmly on Team “Push Malfoy Off The Quidditch Stands” on Sunday.”

Chapter Text

Hermione spent all of Tuesday doing everything in her power to keep Malfoy out of her mind. That insufferable git had managed to ruin both her weekend and her Monday, and she refused to let him soil any more of her week. Yet, somehow, this turned out to be a much more difficult task than she had anticipated.

It should have been easy. She had more than plenty to do in preparation for Friday’s meeting now that her draft had been returned to her. Kingsley’s feedback had been glowing and she couldn’t help but feel like she actually had a chance of her proposal passing this time. It had been months since her last major legislative accomplishment, and she had been starting to dread that she was reaching a dead end. As she read through Kingsley’s notes, though, she grinned with pride.

Until she was reminded of him.

“Your new proposal is good, by the way.”

She could hear his words echo through the chambers of her mind, and they spread through her like a poison. It shouldn’t matter one bit what Malfoy thought of it! After all, she already had approval from the Minister of Magic himself. Then why couldn’t she get Malfoy’s words out of her head?

Hermione resolved to immerse herself with Kingsley's comments. Maybe if she kept reading over what he wrote, those would be the first words to pop up inside her head instead. The feedback as a whole was positive, pointing to her level of detail and inclusion of poignant prior laws. But there was one comment in particular that stuck out. 

Have you considered expanding your proposal beyond just house elves? A colleague has recommended you add werewolves to your list of magical creatures to be represented in the Ministry. Perhaps you may want to consider goblins as well.”

Expanding on her proposal? Kingsley must really believe in her and the chances of it passing if he wanted her to add more. Plus, it was just the distraction she needed to forget the events of Monday while she was left dreading what was bound to be a disastrous Sunday. A strict deadline would mean countless hours of digging through old Ministry laws and revising drafts until it was nothing short of perfection.

She spent the rest of the week tiring away at the proposal. Every second of the work day consisted of her scanning through volumes of books, analyzing failed propositions from the past, and scribbling down whatever facts she thought might be the slightest bit helpful. Even after staying hours later than necessary, she would grab a pile of books and go home, only to continue working in the comfort of her flat with Crookshanks purring next to her on the sofa, a wide spread of books opened in front of them. Hermione made sure to leave enough time to quickly scarf down some food, but other than that, everything else was put on hold.

By Friday morning, Hermione scrambled into the Ministry, her meeting only fifteen minutes away. She had managed to finish her final draft at five in the morning leaving her barely enough time to get two REM cycles of sleep before she had to return to the office. Her hair was a riotous mess and the bags under her eyes were so deep they were bound to take weeks to subside, but it had all been worth it. The proposal was good. Better than good. It was her proudest accomplishment to date (well, at the Ministry at least). And now she only had to get the final approval from the other departments before it was placed before the Wizengamot Monday morning.

She dashed down the hall, her arms filled with the duplicated copies of her hard work for each representative. The meeting was now only ten minutes away. She found the conference room, twisting her hand on the knob as best she could without dropping anything.

The two witches and a wizard already seated around the conference table observed as Hermione entered, one of the scrolls falling to the floor as she made her way inside. She started to bend down to pick it up, but Kingsley got to it first.

“Ms. Granger, glad you could make,” he said with a familiar smile as he placed the scroll on the table.

Hermione let out a sigh of relief as she released the rest of the scrolls beside the first one. “I’m sorry I’m a bit behind schedule, Minister. I tried to get here as fast as I could.”

“No need, Ms. Granger,” Kingsley assured her. “We’re still waiting on a couple more departments. Besides, there’s a few minutes until we’re supposed to begin.”  He placed a calming hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Take a seat and relax. I’ll be here to observe, but other than that, the floor is entirely yours. I know the bill is in good hands.”  

Hermione gave him a firm nod and proceeded to her seat at the opposite end of the table from Kingsley. She pulled out the stack of notecards with her prepared speech, but it seemed so meaningless to rehearse it one more time. The proposal was completely ingrained in her memory. Whatever questions the other departments had for her would be easy to address. She tucked the cards back into her pocket for safekeeping, opting to take Kingsley’s advice to just wait there and relax.

Two more wizards filed in, almost all of the chairs around the meeting space now filled. Kingsley looked at the time, it now five minutes past their designated start. Despite the time, there was one chair still empty. There were only seven wizards in the room, meaning one department, much to Hermione’s dismay, was yet to arrive. Kingsley checked the time again, his face falling as he glanced up at Hermione, giving her the go ahead to start with her presentation.

It was time.

“Good morning, and thank you in advance for your consideration,” Hermione began, arising from her seat. “As you all should be aware, for the past two years, it has been of mission of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to advance the ethical treatment of all creatures. We have already made significant progress, but there are further steps that we must take.”

She grabbed the scrolls and handed one to each person around the table, feeling confident as she took command of the room, the wizards locked on what she had to say. “You are now receiving a copy of the latest version of a law proposing the formation of a magical creature liaison cohort consisting of house elves, werewolves, and goblins. These three creatures…”

Hermione stopped mid sentence as her focus was instantly distracted by the final attendee entering late to their meeting. Hermione tried to obscure her irritation at the gall of someone to barge in after she had began, but it became impossible to hide her resentment when she recognized the white blonde hair.

She took in a deep breath like she was sucking in all the foul words she wanted to shout in his direction. What the hell was he doing there? This was her presentation and there was no doubt in her mind that he was fully aware of this fact prior to his arrival.

Hermione hid a clenched fist behind her back and feigned patience as Malfoy mumbled something in Kingsley’s ear who simply nodded in response and then motioned for him to take a seat at the last empty chair. Kingsley didn't seem at all surprised by his attendance, but usually his department sent someone else to these types of meetings! The last thing she needed this morning was his irritable presence distracting her.

Much to her dismay, she could not lash out at him. Well, not yet, at least. There were more important things at the moment. She had worked too hard for Malfoy to ruin yet another thing in her life. If that required a polite work demeanor for the duration of the presentation, so be it. She released the tight grip of her fist and ran her sweaty palm down the side of her robes. Tolerating Malfoy wouldn’t be easy, but it had to be done. And as soon as she was finished, she could drag him out of the room and berate him properly.

She begrudgingly waited to continue as she followed Malfoy with a firm, piercing gaze. As he dallied to his destination, he barely acknowledged her. Any onlooker could be easily convinced that they truly were nothing more than co-workers. Good. Maybe he had finally learned to give her proper distance. But she highly doubted it.

“Apologies,” he stated simply as he finally sat down and looked at her. “Please continue, Ms. Granger.”

Hermione nodded acknowledgement, resisting all urges to roll her eyes in his direction, but it seemed unnecessary with him exhibiting the same amount of feigned civility. The room remained in still silence as she quickly racked her brain to recall where she had left off.

She found it rather hard to focus solely on her speech, though. Malfoy peered at a neighbor’s parchment, reading over the proposal just like everyone else had done during the interruption. All she could think about was grabbing him by those overly priced robe and yelling at him like he deserved. That has to wait, she reminded herself. Resolved to get back to her much more important priority, she reached into her pocket and scanned over her cards, refreshing her memory.

“As I was saying,” she resumed through a fake smile, trying to maintain professionalism as best she could, “it is our responsibility to ensure that all beings have a voice, human or not. When I look around the Ministry, and even this room, I see witches and wizards from a variety of backgrounds. Half-bloods, purebloods, and Muggle borns. Members of the Order of the Phoenix, people who didn’t fight for the war, and even… former Death Eaters.”

Hermione stopped for a moment and peaked through the corner of her eye to see if Malfoy had any sort of reaction, but his face remained stoic, focused on Hermione as she spoke. Hermione had to admit that she was impressed that her comment hadn't sparked any sort of response from him. Not even the arch of an eyebrow. Or a slight snarl of the lip. Nothing.

Her sensible heels clicked against the tile floor as she began to regain her momentum and strode around the room, resolving to ignore Malfoy for the remainder of her presentation. “Despite our various backgrounds, we all share a common magical bond. But we are not alone in this regard. This brings me back to house elves, goblins, and werewolves. These are highly intelligent, magical creatures, yet they have no representation in the Ministry of Magic.

“If we and the Wizengamot pass this legislation, we would form a liaison committee consisting of members from these communities, serving as their voice inside our government. After assessing its effectiveness, we would consider extending this offer to other groups such as giants, centaurs, and merpeople who are more removed from our world but should have the opportunity to provide their input on how our rules and regulations affect them.”

Hermione pulled out her cards and glossed them over to ensure that she had hit all her main talking points, but that seemed to have covered everything for now. She scanned her vision across the room to read her peers’ initial reaction, but most of them remained neutral. The only face that stood out was the one that she had been avoiding, the half turnt up smile on his face the sole indication that anyone in the room seemed to agree with her.

Hiding her disappointment in everyone else’s lack of reaction, Hermione addressed the room for a final time. “Please peruse the document, and I will take questions in a couple minutes.”

The witches and wizards slowly started to follow her request, mumbling reactions to one another that Hermione ached to catch a snippet of. The first half of the meeting was done, but the most difficult part was still to come. Although she had Kingsley’s approval, her legislation wouldn’t make it to the Wizengamot unless she garnered enough support from the other departments. She only needed the majority of them to agree, but she had been in situations before in which her hard work met failure in this very room. And she desperately didn’t want to relive that disheartening pain this morning.

As the other witches and wizards read over the proposal, she knew it was the perfect time to get a few questions of her own answered. She casually walked over to where Malfoy was working with another wizard and placed an artificially friendly hand on his shoulder. “Excuse me,” Hermione said, interrupting their conversation with a casual tone. “But Mr. Malfoy, may I speak with you outside so I can catch you up on what you missed?”

Malfoy raised a suspicious eyebrow at her, but she maintained her contact until he agreed. Silently, Malfoy arose from his seat, submitting to Hermione’s request as he followed her out the door.

As soon as he closed the door behind them, Hermione narrowed in on him. “What the hell are you doing here, Malfoy?” Hermione harshly whispered, keeping her voice down as to not be overheard by the people just on the other side of the door.

Malfoy folded his arms, and while he couldn't disguise the snark in his voice, he stared at her adamantly. “Aren't you supposed to be the clever one?” he criticized. “I’m representing my department, just like every other wizard in that room.”

“Don't get smart on me,” Hermione sneered. “How on earth did you come to be the one representing your department, anyway?” she asked, her tone turning slightly more pressing.

Malfoy raised a cavalier shoulder. “Perhaps no one else found your proposal worth considering.”  

Hermione hit him sharply in the shoulder. “My proposal is good, and you know it.” She lowered her gaze and whispered menacingly. “I swear to Merlin,” Hermione precautionarily threatened, “if you mess this up for me, I’ll -”

“Oh, calm down, Granger,” Malfoy scolded, scoffing at her frustration. “I came because I like the bill, not because of you. Believe it or not, I'm not the only one who knows how to prioritize their job over their personal life.”

“And you expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with the events of last weekend?” Hermione seethed, her nostrils beginning to flare.

“Look, Granger,” he snarled, his dissatisfaction reaching the same point as Hermione’s, “I am quite aware that you think I’m full of shit, but I wasn’t lying when I said that it’s a good proposal.” He paused for a moment to let his words sunk in. “You and I both know that you need three more departments to vote yes in order to push this through to the Wizengamot, and if you’d listen to me for two seconds, you’d come to realize that you already have my vote. Whether you accept it or not, I’m the best ally you have in there.”

Malfoy? Her ally? She nearly laughed at the ridiculous concept! But there was no sarcasm in his voice. She eyed him up and down to judge his sincerity, but he seemed to be telling the truth. “You’re voting yes?” Hermione floundered.

“How is this such a surprise to you?” Malfoy chided, his voice closely approaching anger. “I’ve told you at least three times now that I agree with you. And assuming that you didn’t fuck it up too much between Monday and Friday with these new additions, I believe it is ready for the Wizengambot.” Hermione continued to stare at him silently despite the break in his words. “Now, if you have nothing else to yell at me for, I advise we get back inside and you go back to pretending to tolerate me.”

“I wasn’t yelling,” Hermione quickly defended, but Malfoy cocked a disbelieving eyebrow.

“Maybe not on the outside, but I can see it in your eyes, Granger.”

With that, he turned from her and proceeded back inside, giving Hermione just a few seconds to herself before she too would have to return. As she should have expected, he had managed to boil her blood and irritate her in ways that only he could. But it was somehow reassuring to hear that she already had one affirmative vote, even if it was from Malfoy.

He was hardly the most trustworthy person she knew, far from it to be exact, but he considered himself her ally? Somewhere in Azkaban, Lucius Malfoy would probably beg for the Dementor’s kiss if he had heard his son utter those words to her. In what universe did a boy raised in a mansion surrounded by house elves and indoctrinated from birth that he was superior due to some arbitrary blood status even entertain the notion of magical creature equality?

She wanted to sit down and ponder it over, but she had to push those thoughts aside for now. She took a deep breath and opened the door for herself and headed directly to the front of the room. The witches and wizards immediately silenced at her return.

“I am now ready for your questions,” Hermione announced.

Two wizards at the far corner of the table mumbled to themselves before one of them shuffled some scrap parchments and began to speak up. “Bill Northam, Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes,” the man introduced himself. “I find the idea of a magical creature liaison committee enticing, especially seeing we often have to address incidents involving their kind. But shouldn’t we test it with one species, instead of three?”

Hermione smiled to herself, already having anticipated this reaction. “Thank you Mr. Northam. And yes, I thought the same at first, but the Minister recommended that I expand on this proposition, and I came to understand the merits behind it. A committee of just one creature is not enough and would not be a meaningful addition. Originally, I only intended house elves, but goblins already work with wizards, and werewolves are human beings that we have ostracized. It is necessary that we bring more acceptance of their kind into our society.”

“Wesley Emmons, Department of Magical Transportation,” the wizard beside Northam introduced himself. “But don’t you think werewolves are a bit too dangerous?”

“Not when they’ve had the Wolfsbane potion,” Hermione rationalized calmly. It was horribly frustrating that people still had that presumption about werewolves. In the years after the war, one would think that people would be more accepting, but many witches and wizards still prescribed to these outdated, prejudices towards magical creatures! This was exactly why they needed this legislation to pass!

“I must agree with Mr. Emmons,” a witch on the opposite side of the table promptly added. “They did fight for You-Know-Who, after all.”

“Not all of them,” Hermione responded, but she could already detect the agitation becoming apparent in her voice. “Remus Lupin fought valiantly and gave his life for this cause.”

“He’s just one example,” the witch disagreed, dismissing Hermione’s remarks entirely.

“But isn’t just one example enough to prove that collaboration is possible?” Hermione retorted, her cheeks starting to heat up.

“And what about all the innocent children who lost their lives that same day?” Emmons countered. “Are we supposed to forgive them for having sided with You-Know-Who?”

“I’m not asking for forgiveness,” Hermione fired without even waiting a beat. “There are people whose lives were negatively impacted by their actions that cannot and should not be forgotten. But we need to learn to move forward and recognize our own flaws as well. We weren’t exactly the most welcoming of werewolves to begin with. In many ways, we pushed them towards siding with Voldemort through our unjust treatment of them!”

“That’s no excuse,” the witch scoffed. “They made their choices. And now you expect us to bring them into our society with open arms?”

“Sometimes beings realize their choices were wrong and deserve second chances!” she snapped, no longer able to completely hide her anger.

“Just like former Death Eaters?”

Hermione wasn’t initially convinced she hadn’t imagined him saying it, but the shocked expression on several other faces confirmed that Malfoy had in fact uttered those words. The whole room was staring at him, but his look was locked firmly on Hermione. He had an eyebrow cocked and she knew that he was going to read more into this than she intended, but she needed to prove a point.

“Yes,” Hermione said. “Just like some Death Eaters.”  She felt Malfoy’s cool gaze remain on her as she took a moment to regain her composure, ensuring that her voice was calm and level. “We have welcomed a few repentant former Death Eaters back into society, and to my knowledge, Mr. Malfoy has yet to do anything completely foul since the end of the war.”

“Can I get that in writing?” Malfoy toyed, a mischievous sparkle in his eyes and an arrogant smirk to match poising his features.

Hermione whipped her head to glare at him, but her attention was quickly reverted back to the combative witch.

“That may be sufficient for you, Ms. Granger, but I for one have trouble trusting certain groups after the war.” She stared directly at Malfoy. “Including Death Eaters.”

Malfoy instantly arose from his seat, his chest puffing up, his eyes narrowing in on the witch. Even Hermione had to admit that she was more than mildly infuriated by the woman’s remark, but no one seemed more upset than the Minister himself.

“You will not speak like that to another member of our ministry, Ms. Knox.” Kingsley demanded, his voice firm and commanding. Hermione was startled to hear him speak, expecting him to stay quiet the entirety of the meeting, holding to his word of simply observing, but it appeared as if he was no longer able to hold his tongue. “The war started by treating others as inferiors, and I will not tolerate any resentment towards others in this room. I trust Mr. Malfoy, and therefore, so should the rest of you.”

The witch seemed dissatisfied with Kingsley’s speech, but covered it up well, leaning back in her chair and failing to speak further.

“On that note,” Kingsley continued, “I believe we have gotten off topic. Shall we get back to the matter at hand?”

“Yes, of course,” Hermione acknowledged. She glanced at Malfoy furtively who gave her a short reassuring nod of the head. “As I was saying earlier, we as a Ministry need to take more action to show that we respect these other beings and value their communities and input.”

Emmons looked at Kingsley hesitantly but still proceeded with his question. “I still want to know why we should forgive werewolves when they sided with You-Know-Who in the first place?”

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but Malfoy beat her to it. “If I may Ms. Granger,” he began, “but I believe I can address this.”  He coughed and gave a sharp triumphant look at Knox before turning to answer Emmons.

“The werewolves were working with the Dark Lord because of the way that wizard-kind treated them. He made promises to them that made them believe that their lives would be better under his control.” His voice began to falter for a moment, but he quickly picked it back up. “As for the forgiveness, I, more than anyone, understand the difficult implications associated with this. But as Ms. Granger said, there is a difference between forgiveness and moving forward. By establishing Ms. Granger’s proposed system, we would show our desire to rectify our own wrongs, thus giving them the opportunity to do the same.”

The room remained in standstill for a moment until another wizard shifted in his seat and spoke up. “But if there’s no threat of another resurgence of a new Dark wizard, then why should we bother?”

“What sort of mentality is that?” the other witch in the room snapped back. “Shouldn’t we take whatever precautions necessary to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again? Mr. Malfoy makes a good point.”

“But how do we even know that cooperating with werewolves has ever had conducive results?” a different middle aged wizard asked.

Malfoy cleared his throat. He quickly looked at Hermione before turning to the man. “In 1637, the French Ministry of Magic experienced issues of werewolf attacks after wizards encroached on their designated land. The werewolves formed a committee to meet with the French Ministry, settling on agreeable terms. After that interaction, wizards and werewolves had no issues for several decades.”

“That's just one instance!” Knox scoffed, clearly feeling comfortable enough to share her opinion again. “What about --”

“In 1864,” Malfoy continued, his voice growing firmer and more commanding, “American muggles were in the midst of a Civil War resulting in the destruction of hundreds of acres of crops, essentially eradicating all wolfsbane plants. Werewolves were highly dangerous, and many children, muggle and wizard alike, were attacked. It only stopped once MACUSA cooperated with our Ministry and increased trade of wolfsbane from Scotland.”

“Yes, but…”

“In 1902 --”

“Fine!” Knox spat. “We get it Mr. Malfoy!”

“You clearly don't,” Malfoy calmly countered, his voice low and chilling, on the edge of threatening. “If we don't want another resurgence like so many of us fear, then we need to cooperate with all beings and listen to their concerns.”

Hermione observed with her mouth slightly agape, entranced by the entire interaction. She had spent nearly all week immersed in books, reading all she could about werewolves and their interaction with ministries so she was fully aware of the incident with the American werewolves, but she hadn’t heard of the French incident. Nevertheless, it perfectly proved her point. They needed more cooperation. And if this conversation had proven anything, it was that even within the Ministry, people were still severely biased against werewolves.

Knox nervously looked around the room, many of the people’s focus on her, especially Kingsley’s. She massaged her temples and released a massive, begrudging sigh. “If werewolves are included in this proposal, then there need to be added caveats,” the witch finally settled, clearly unenthused at what she was suggesting. “Whatever werewolves appointed need to be… well behaved.”

“Fair enough,” Malfoy conceded. “Then we’ll need to add an addendum that increases availability of wolfsbane,” he proposed. “It would perfectly demonstrate our sincere willingness to increase their rights from the start.”

The room remained silent.

Kingsley leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table as he closed his eyes to ponder. All remaining eyes in the room kept their focus on the minister as he processed Malfoy’s suggestion. He nodded to himself and then leaned back in his chair. “I think that is a fine idea, Mr. Malfoy,” Kingsley announced. “I want you and Ms. Granger to write this addendum so that we can attach it to the proposal for Monday.”

Hermione’s face fell flat. An entire auxiliary proposal by Monday was a steep enough request, let alone when it required collaborating with Malfoy! He may have been her ally within these four walls when surrounded by colleagues and the Minister of Magic, but she could almost guarantee that he’d revert back to his typical self the moment it was just the two of them.

“You have my word, sir,” Malfoy agreed before she had the opportunity to protest. He turned to Hermione with a suggestive smirk.

“I’ll will make sure it's completed,” Hermione countered, not at all promising to cooperate with him.

Kingsley nodded, and then sat up to address the rest of the room again. “I understand that werewolves are a sensitive subject, but that underscores the necessity for this bill. Now, I must remind you of the purpose of this meeting. We are here to provide feedback to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures regarding the legality and practicality of this proposal. All of these concerns about morality would be addressed by the Wizengamot. Are there any other concerns for this present bill?”

The witches and wizards looked at each hesitantly, too nervous to voice any further concerns. Knox continued to look displeased, but even she didn’t challenge the proposal any further.

Kingsley arose from his seat. “In that case, I believe it is time that we vote.”

Hermione’s heart stopped. It hardly felt like they had discussed the bill properly! What about the house elves? They hadn’t even mentioned goblins either! The entire conversation had been taken over by prejudices against werewolves! Knox certainly wouldn’t be voting yes, and many of the other wizards still seemed on the fence. In fact, she wasn’t positive anyone in the room agreed with her! Well, besides Malfoy.

All she needed was three votes. Just three. Or, rather, two more. Provided that Malfoy voted yes. And she had no reason not to believe he wouldn't.

“Mr. Northam?”

She closed her eyes.

“Yes.”

Her eyes darted open. Yes? Yes! Just one more.

“Ms. Knox?”

“No.”

Her heart dropped. It was entirely expected, but that didn’t mean hearing her spiteful vote didn’t sting like a billywig.

“Mr. Emmons?”

He paused for a moment.

“Yes.”

Hermione clamped her hand over her mouth, obscuring the smile blatantly spreading. She couldn't celebrate yet. It wasn't official. Oh, but she could already feel the excited tingling at the lowest depths of her stomach!

“Mr. Malfoy?”

He took a moment to look at Hermione and gave her a sly smile before facing Kingsley.

“Yes.”

Hermione didn’t even hear the rest of the votes, too consumed with her own elation. She had the yeses she needed! Her proposal would be headed to the Wizengamot on Monday!

The wizards around her started to shuffle out of the room and she vaguely heard a wizard extend his congratulations before he exited, but she was still engrossed in her thoughts. Oh, she couldn’t be more excited! She was one step closer to success!

“Ms. Granger and Mr. Malfoy, meet me in my office in ten minutes to discuss the addendum.”

Provided that she survived potentially writing this addendum with Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Kingsley left the room and only a few people lingered behind, until the rest of them finally filed out. Except for Malfoy. Hermione was still on an emotional high after the successful passing of her proposal to the Wizengamot, but she knew it would soon be tainted by whatever Malfoy spewed out next at her. She tried to ignore him as she gathered the left behind scrolls, but she wasn’t foolish enough to actually believe that they’d remain in peaceful silence for long.

He pushed in his chair and slowly strolled in Hermione’s direction, a much too cheerful smile creeping on the edges of his lips. “Looks like we’ll be spending another weekend together, Granger.”

“I don’t need your help, Malfoy,” she calmly countered, refusing to even acknowledge his completely unnecessary insinuation.

Malfoy laughed to himself. “I beg to differ, Granger,” he said as he bridged the gap between them. “You and I did make quite a team this morning.”

Hermione picked up the final scroll and angrily shoved it into her bag, the parch ment folding under the pressure. “You and I were not a team. I did not ask for your assistance and was doing just fine on my own.”

“Oh, come on, Granger,” Malfoy tormented with a coy smile. “Just admit it. I knew more than you for once.”

“You did not!” she immediately refuted, her cheeks turning bright red, all her celebratory elation already gone. “I could have easily made those arguments for myself!”

Malfoy released a short huff and shook his head back and forth. “Hermione Granger is a liar. Who would have thought?”

“I’m not -”

“Don’t even bother defending it,” Malfoy said lazily.

“And what makes you say that?” Hermione promptly retorted. “It’s not like you’re a legilimens.”

Malfoy scoffed. “Is that the only explanation you can think of as to how I can best you in something?” He subtly shook his head again but his arrogant smile never faded from his face. “Swallow that Gryffindor pride of yours for a moment and admit for once that I’m right.”

“I absolutely will not!” Hermione said, grabbing the straps of her bag and hauling it over her shoulder, making her way out the door.

Malfoy sauntered after her, following her down the hall towards Kingsley’s office. “Fine,” Malfoy said from behind her. “But if you’re going to be this stubborn, it’s going to be a long weekend.”

Hermione stopped in her path and turned to face him. “You and I will not be working together,” she stated firmly.

“Oh?” Malfoy asked, a pleased expression on his face. “Is Goody Granger defying the Minister’s orders?”

“Stop calling me that,” Hermione said, pointing her finger in his direction. “In fact, stop talking to me all together.”

“You know, that’s quite difficult when we’re heading to the same meeting.”

Hermione grunted in exasperation and resumed storming down the hall, undoubtedly with Malfoy not far behind. Just as expected, he was back to his insufferable, arrogant self and she had no patience for it. It didn’t matter that he was right. All she wanted was to get Kingsley’s meeting over with so she could get permission to write the whole thing by herself.

Malfoy caught up to her, keeping pace with her long strides. In a huff, she faced the other direction so she wouldn’t have to suffer looking his boastful expression, but Malfoy clearly wasn’t going to drop it.

“Tell me, Granger,” Malfoy said. “You also knew about the incidents with the French and American ministries?”

“Yes,” she curtly lied.

“Really, now?” Malfoy said in enjoyable disbelief. “And where exactly did you read about the French Ministry?”

Hermione looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and he was slyly smiling back. He was trapping her in this lie and she didn’t like it one bit. Especially when she had no ground to support it on.

“Fine,” she surrendered. “I didn’t know about that one, but I knew about the American incident. And where exactly did you learn about it?” She paused for a moment and stopped mid-step to face him. “You didn’t make it up, did you?”

Malfoy let out a low laugh. “Perhaps you should have paid more attention in History of Magic.”

“Codswallop!” Hermione retorted, offended by his accusation. “I was the only person who paid attention, so perhaps you should start telling the truth too!”

But Malfoy merely winked and continued walking, rounding the corner to Kingsley’s office.

“That’s not an answer, Malfoy!” she shouted down the hall.

She paused, grateful to catch even a short break from him. Gods, he was insufferable! How on earth did Kingsley expect her to work with such an infuriating individual when he wouldn’t even share with her where he got his information from? Kingsley wanted what was best for the bill and forcing her to spend any more time with Malfoy wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone involved.

Hermione resumed down her path and caught up to Malfoy who was standing outside of Kingsley’s office, chatting with the receptionist.

“How nice of you to join us, Ms. Granger,” he said casually as if it was their first time seeing each other in ages, not a handful of seconds.

“The Minister is already waiting for you inside,” the receptionist kindly greeted her. “It was nice to see you again, Mr. Malfoy.” The receptionist stood up and grabbed a pile of parchments before leaving her post.

“Always a pleasure, Audrey,” he said after her. He then turned to Hermione and motioned towards Kingsley’s door. “Shall we, Granger?”

Hermione glared at him and slowly walked towards the door, Malfoy beside her.

“You know, Granger,” he whispered, “I can’t help but notice that you seem to be quite curious about me again.”

“Am not!” Hermione adamantly refuted.

“Actions speak louder than words, sweetheart.” He gave her a quick wink and Hermione resisted the urge to slap him right there as Malfoy opened the door.

Kingsley arose from behind his desk, welcoming them into his space. “Ah, Mr. Malfoy, Ms. Granger, take a seat.”

Hermione shined a faux smile as she approached the Minister and sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, Malfoy doing the same. Merlin’s beard, if she could barely tolerate the idea of sitting next to him for the rest of this meeting, there was no way she was leaving this room without Kingsley dropping this insane request.

“This addendum about wolfsbane,” Kingsley began, taking his seat behind his desk, “it needs to be entirely airtight. Ms. Granger, you know how important this committee would be for our wizarding community, and I don’t want to see it fail, just as much as you don’t. We can’t have a repeat of what happened with Ms. Knox.”

“Yes, of course, sir,” Hermione agreed. “But if I may, sir, with all do respect, I have been working on this for many weeks. I can finish it all on my own as well.”

Kingsley took a moment to consider, closing his eyes to think. Hermione waited painstakingly, hoping desperately that the Minister would concede, but her desire was shortly shattered. “While I admire your work ethic, Ms. Granger, this is larger than that,” Kingsley said. “You have created a strong initial proposal, but the majority of your background is only with house elves.” He paused to face Malfoy. “Have you been reading those books I recommended?”

“Yes, sir.” Malfoy answered firmly.

Hermione looked at Malfoy curiously, her eyebrows scrunched in confusion about what books the two men were discussing, but Kingsley quickly carried on.

“Good.” Kingsley nodded to himself. “Mr. Malfoy will be a good addition to our efforts, Ms. Granger.”

Hermione kept her gaze on Malfoy and could see that he was maintaining his professional demeanor. That wasn’t the Malfoy she’d be forced to work with, though! “Sir,” Hermione protested, leaning in closer to the Minister, “I assure you that I can do the research on my own.”

Kingsley laced his fingers together and rested them upon the desk before him. “If we had more time, perhaps that would be an option, but you are clearly tired and need assistance,” Kingsley said.

Hermione instinctively ran two fingers under her eyes, hoping it would cover up her eye bags for even an instant, but she knew it was to no avail. “But, sir -”

“Ms. Granger,” Kingsley sternly interrupted. “I have made my decision and that is that. You will be working with Mr. Malfoy.”

“Yes, but -”

“And that’s final.”

Hermione sat back in her seat, knowing that there was no more fighting it. She turned to Malfoy, but all she saw was that stupid, plain faced, Ministry approved expression. If only Kingsley knew what Malfoy was really like when it was just the two of them! Although Kingsley had made his final decision, it wouldn’t inhibit her from finding another way to avoid working with Malfoy without the Minister knowing. But for now, she would agree. Sort of.

“We will make sure to have the final draft on your desk by Monday morning,” Hermione eventually said with her fake smile, still refusing to promise any sort of actual collaboration. The addendum would be completed and on his desk by Monday. Just perhaps with not as much assistance from Malfoy as Kingsley intended.

Malfoy nodded in agreement as the now partners stood up.

“Thank you, Minister,” Hermione said, sticking her hand out to shake the Minister’s.

“And thank you, Ms. Granger,” Kingsley returned.

“Minister,” Malfoy said with a nod.

“I would actually like to speak with you more in private, Mr. Malfoy.” Kingsley turned to Hermione. “You may now return to work, Ms. Granger. But remember, I expect you to prioritize the bill.”

He raised an eyebrow at her and she understood exactly what he meant. After years of working together, Kingsley knew Hermione well enough to figure that she was already brainstorming ways to complete the addendum without Malfoy’s help, but he should also know her well enough to conclude that she would always prioritize the bill. And in this instance, if prioritizing the bill meant ignoring his command, she would.

“The bill comes first, Minister,” she assured him.

Hermione grabbed her bag off the floor and headed towards the exit, and as she left, made sure to leave the door slightly ajar. Kingsley’s receptionist wasn’t back at her desk yet, and Hermione was curious about what Kingsley had to say to Malfoy. She had a sneaky suspicion that it had to do with her proposal and anything Kingsley had to say to Malfoy about it could be said in front of her.

She carefully set down her bag and aligned her ear just shy of the doorframe so she could just barely hear Kingsley begin to talk.

“You did good back there, Draco.”

Hermione was immediately startled by Kingsley’s use of Malfoy’s first name. He had only referred to her as Hermione outside of Ministry walls! She held her breath to avoid making more noise than necessary so that she wouldn’t miss a single word of what Malfoy had to say.

“Thank you, Kingsley.”

Hermione jaw physically dropped this time. Never would she dare call Kingsley his first name to his face! He was the Minister of Magic and deserved to be referred to accordingly! Hermione expected Kingsley to respond in a similar regard, but the conversation continued unhitched.

“You know we need to talk about your reaction to Ms. Knox’s actions, though.”

“She provoked me!” Malfoy quickly defended.

“I am not denying that,” Kingsley stated calmly, not rising to Malfoy’s level, “but we have discussed how you should control yourself in those situations.”

“And what did you expect me to do? Just sit there idly while she demonized me in front of everyone?”

“I was there to defend you, Draco. Her comments were unwarranted.”

Malfoy scoffed. “At least she had the guts to say it to my face.” His voice seemed to falter for a moment, slightly weaker than normal. “You know half the wizards in that room were thinking the same thing as her.”

Hermione felt her gut turnover. This conversation was not going as she expected. Malfoy and Kingsley were acting like… friends? And Malfoy was sharing more with him than she had ever heard him open up to anyone else. She almost felt guilty for eavesdropping on what was clearly a personal conversation, but she was much too interested to pull away.

The deep voice of Kingsley brought her out of her thoughts and back into the present conversation.

“Draco -”

“You know I’m right,” Malfoy interrupted, his voice growing stronger and turning to outrage. “I still face it all the time! People whispering about me in the hallways, pointing at me from across the street. Hell, even Granger…”

His voice trailed off and Hermione’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest at the mention of her name.

“What about Ms. Granger?”

“She…” Malfoy began to stumble over his words but hastily cut himself off. “Forget it. My point is that they all still see me as this… menace.”

“Even Ms. Granger?”

Hermione leaned in closer to hear Malfoy’s response, surprisingly curious to know what he thought her opinion was of him. The floor beneath her feet creaked, and she instinctively drew back slightly but ensured that she was still within range.

Malfoy remained quiet for a handful of seconds before speaking up again, his voice low and choppy. “I don’t want to talk about her.”

“Seeing as which I just ordered for you two to work together on this addendum, we need to address this, Draco.” The men sat in silence for a moment before Kingsley continued. “I am more than fully aware of your history with her --”

You don’t know the half of it,” Malfoy grumbled under his breath.

“-- but I think it will be good for you.”

Malfoy scoffed again. “And how’s that?”

“You’re tired of people seeing you as a menace? Then show them that you’re not a menace. Starting with Ms. Granger.”

The conversation kept going, and Hermione could already hear Malfoy beginning to raise his voice again, but she opted to back away from the door, having already heard more than enough. She placed her hand on her heart to try to placate its rampant beating, but it was proving futile. Her mind was racing, trying to rationalize what she had just heard.

Malfoy was clearly still miffed about Knox’s allegation that former Death Eaters couldn’t be trusted, but even Hermione had to admit that she herself had difficulty completely trusting Malfoy. Who could blame her! He had made her school years hell and had treated her like scum. A week of mildly better behavior did nothing to erase that.

But Hermione trusted Kingsley. She had no reason not to. He had been a loyal member of the Order, was a strong leader for the wizarding community, and continued to assist her in her career. Back during the war, she had put her life in his hands as he guided her polyjuiced self to the Burrow, and to this day, she had full confidence in his loyalty.

It pained her to even consider it, but what if…

Oh gods.

What if… she did listen to Kingsley and… gave Malfoy a chance to prove himself.

But just once! If he irked her even the slightest bit, it was over.

The door next to her flung open and Malfoy came storming out. Hermione was so startled by his resurgence that she called out after him before she even realized it. Malfoy whipped his head around and blinked quickly as if making sure that he wasn’t imagining Hermione’s presence. His eyes narrowed as he slowly and deliberately walked towards her.

“I thought the Minister told you to get back to work.”

“He did,” Hermione stammered, “but I was, um, waiting for you.”

Malfoy arched an eyebrow at her suspiciously. “And why’s that?”

“I can’t exactly get started on the addendum without you,” she rationalized.

“You don't fool me, Granger,” Malfoy scolded, though his eyes didn’t hold the same anger that they typically did during one of their usual arguments. “You and I both know perfectly well that you have no intentions of actually listening to that order.”

He made to walk away, but Hermione latched her hand onto his shoulder, locking him in place. Malfoy slowly twisted his head to glare at her over his shoulder before shoving her hand off of him. He turned to face her again, crossing his arms. “Okay, Granger, what do you really want?”

Hermione shifted the weight on her feet and adjusted the heavy mass of her bag on her shoulder. “What did you and Kingsley talk about?”

“Nothing that pertains to you,” he sharply responded, clearly indicating that he didn’t want her to press any further.

A pit momentarily formed in her stomach before it quickly faded away. It wasn’t as if his response was unexpected, though. He certainly wasn’t going to admit to her anything that he had said behind what he presumed was a closed door. She ran her fingers through her hair and gathered all the curls over one side of her shoulder. “Well, in that case, we need to set up a time for us to meet and write this addendum.”

“You’re serious?” Malfoy looked at her incredulously and if she wasn’t mistaken, there was a flash of relief on his face before it quickly returned to its normal sternness. When Hermione didn’t react, he checked his watch. “I have a meeting at one, so you can meet me in my office me after.”

“Can’t,” Hermione said. “I’m giving a report to Hopkins at three.”

Malfoy checked his watch again and pursed his lips. “I guess we’ll just have to meet some time tomorrow then.”

“Wait til Saturday?” She may have agreed to working with Malfoy, but they were still going to do things her way, and that meant starting as soon as possible. “You do realize that we have to research and write an entire addendum by Mo nday, correct?”

“And you do realize that your eye bags are so large that they rival that bloody bag you carry with you everywhere?” Malfoy shot back.

Hermione crinkled her nose and secured her grip on the strap of her bag. “I need to keep my things somewhere!”

Malfoy scoffed. “Go home, Granger, and get some rest. We’ll resume tomorrow.” He began to walk away, but Hermione wasn’t losing this battle, even if she was already starting to regret complying with Kingsley’s wish.

“We start tonight or I will do it on my own,” she demanded, storming after him.

Malfoy hastened his pace back to his office, but Hermione kept up. “And what if I already have plans?” he asked.

“Like what?” Hermione scowled. “Found someone else to ensnare in your trap when I turned down your flimsy request of a date tonight?”

Malfoy’s pace became irregular for a few steps before it returned to normal. He looked at Hermione from the corner of his eye and huffed at her. “What’s the matter, Granger? Jealous?’

She shot a handful of curious glances in his direction while still maintaining his speed. “You mean you actually have a date?” He gave her another cursory look over and she knew he was telling the truth. “I’m not jeal-- No, I just thought --”

Malfoy stopped in his tracks. “That I’d sit around waiting for you to agree to go out with me?” He shook his head slightly before resuming down the hall with a scoff. “Believe it or not, some of us are smart enough to realize when someone doesn’t like them back.”

Hermione raced to keep up with him. “Well maybe if you stopped acting like a ten year old boy with a schoolyard crush and weren’t so bloody mean to me all the time --”

Malfoy halted again. “Then what, huh? You and I would ride off into the sunset together?”

“Stop interrupting me, Malfoy!” Hermione cried.

They stood there, alone in the hall, glaring at each other. Hermione’s chest was huffing up and down at an alarming rate and both of Malfoy’s hands were balled up into tight fists. They couldn’t even agree upon a time to meet to discuss the addendum, so how in Godric’s name were they ever going to design an entire piece of legislation together!

She was doing this for Kingsley.

She was doing this because it’s what Kingsley thought was best for the bill.

And if tonight turned out to be the waste she expected, she still had all of Saturday and Sunday to rectify whatever it was that Malfoy screwed up. Then, when it all went up in flames, she could honestly tell Kingsley that she tried.

“What time is your date?”

“Eight.”

“Then we have plenty of time after work to get started.”

The upper edges of Malfoy’s lips twitched. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’ll meet you outside your office when my meeting is over, and we can stay here working until your date,” Hermione resolved.

Malfoy’s lips settled into a grimace, but he eventually conceded. “Fine. Meet me at my office. But we’re doing this at my place. I have things there that will be useful.”

“Fine.” She wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of returning to his place, but at least it was a plan. Without any sort of farewell, she turned from Malfoy and proceeded back down the hall in the opposite direction.

“It’s a date, Granger!” he sneered as she stormed away. 

Chapter Text

The pile of books teetered in Hermione’s arms as she carried them down the hall down towards the Department of International Magical Cooperation. She would have much preferred to shove them into her bag, but it was already overflowing with various scrolls and notes she had accumulated over the course of her research the past few weeks. Malfoy claimed he had some resources at his place, but she doubted they would provide him with sufficient background knowledge to be somewhat useful. Granted, she didn’t have as much information on werewolves and wolfsbane as she did on house elves, but she had luckily acquired some bits of pertinent facts through past assignments.

Without a free hand, she knocked her hip against Malfoy’s office door to announce her arrival shortly before five in the evening. As the door swung up, the smug face greeted her with an amused chuckle.

“Think you brought enough books?”

Hermione scoffed at yet another inane remark from him and welcomed herself into his office, dropping her books onto his desk for a temporary break. Completing this addendum with Malfoy’s help was going to be a proper pain in her arse. She repeated to herself that she was doing this for Kingsley. For the werewolves. For the betterment of wizarding society.

Malfoy strolled over to the mountain of books and ran his finger down their spines, skimming over their titles. “So I take it you’ve gotten a head start?”

Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but was overcome by a sudden yawn which she promptly masked by turning the other way. Faking a cough, Hermione refaced Malfoy. “I figured you’d need to do some reading up before you’d actually be helpful.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her and smirked. “There you go again, believing you know more than me.”

She started to speak again, but this time, the yawn escaped her lips before she was able to obscure her drowsiness. Her hand clasped over her mouth, but Malfoy had already caught sight.

He chuckled to himself as he folded his arms across his chest. “Still tired, Granger?”

“That's irrelevant,” she dismissed.

“Perhaps you should have taken a nap instead of wasting your time accumulating these useless books.”

She reclaimed the pile of books and thrust them into Malfoy’s arm. He grunted at the unsuspected weight bearing into his stomach. “Bugger off, Malfoy. Carry these to the fireplaces,” Hermione demanded.

Malfoy still appeared entirely amused by the situation. “I didn't take you as a practitioner of chivalry.”

Hermione scoffed again and picked up her bag, making her way out of his office. Malfoy followed, always remaining just a few paces behind her, as they made their way up the elevator and across the atrium to the exit. If Malfoy was going to insist on making his typical remarks, then she would not talk to him any more than necessary. She only acknowledged his presence once they reached the fireplaces.

She motioned towards the low lying green flames. “Where should I call to?”

Malfoy adjusted the stack of books to one side of his shoulder so that his face was not longer blocked. “Call for the Malfoy Residence. But make sure to annunciate the ‘residence’ part.”

Hermione glared at him. “As if I would actually say ‘manor’ by accident.”

Malfoy returned the stare. “No need to get snippy, Granger,” he sneered. “It wouldn't be good for either of us if you ended up there.”

She ignored his comment as she stepped into the heightened green flames and did as instructed. She felt the familiar suck as she was lifted upwards and transported to the connected fireplace. Her bum crashed to the ground as she landed in the relatively unfamiliar location and promptly moved out of the way with Malfoy undoubted not far behind.

As she rose to her feet, she tried to appease the pain for a moment before she had a proper chance to look at the room around her. The last time she had been there, all the lights had been off and she had been a bit preoccupied. But in the early evening remaining daylight, she could see everything much more clearly.

It wasn't decorated too much, quite the opposite of the lavishly decorated manor that she tried to erase from her mind. There were a few paintings on the walls, but everything was fairly monotonous. The couch was black dragonhide and of the highest of quality, a stark contrast from her broken in armchair that was so old, she was certain that it was forever molded to her body.

But Hermione was quickly drawn to something else that caught her attention. Next to the couch, on the side table, was a stack of six books. Along the coffee table, there were three more books, each one cracked open, exposing their littered margins, filled with notes and annotations.

As Hermione strolled into the kitchen, she was met with a similar sight. The table was covered with even more books, all just as thoroughly worn. She leaned in closer to look at the page of one of the books that looked centuries old, and was surprised to find that it was all written in French. With nimble fingers, she traced her fingers along an adjacent image of a man who seemed to be in terrible pain and clawing at his skin.

Opting to choose something that she could actually read, she picked up a different book and began to leaf through the dog-eared pages until the fireplace reawakened. In stepped Malfoy, landing much more gracefully than his predecessor, which was especially impressive considering that he still had the large pile of her own books. He set them down on a free spot on the coffee table and met Hermione in the kitchen.

“I'd appreciate if you didn't lose my page,” he said casually as if there was nothing at all unusual about the scene.

Hermione inserted a finger to keep his place and temporarily shut the book to look at the cover, Hairy Snout, Human Heart.

“I don't understand,” Hermione said with scrunched eyebrows.

“I thought Hermione Granger understood all books,” Malfoy commented through a pompous smirk. “Unless you’re referring to Le Dilemme Du Loup-Garou in which case I suppose you get a pass on that one.”

Hermione felt her cheeks heat up. “That’s not what I’m referring to and you know it,” she scolded. “But all these books. They’re all about werewolves.”

Malfoy’s smirk only grew at Hermione’s observation. “You didn’t actually believe that I knew all those dates about werewolves off the top of my head, did you, Granger?”

“I just assumed you knew them from some previous legislature,” Hermione explained. “I mean, the only other person who knew that I was adding werewolves and goblins to the proposal was...” Hermione paused for a moment, everything suddenly coming clear to her. “You!” she exasperated, almost on the edge of shock.

Malfoy pulled back one of the chairs at the kitchen table and kicked his feet up onto its ledge, laughing to himself. “Took you long enough.”

She shook her head back and forth, staring at Malfoy as if he was a stranger. “You’re the ‘colleague’ who told Kingsley that I should add werewolves to my proposal?”

Hermione rested her palms on the back of one of the other kitchen chairs to stabilize herself. She was finding it all quite hard to comprehend. Last week, he had mercilessly mocked her for her work only to then agree with her, and now he had provided a significant suggestion for improvement? It all seemed too unbelievable. Too un-Malfoy.

She glared up at him through narrowed eyes as Malfoy maintained his laughter. “You can keep staring all you want Granger, but it’s not going to change the facts.”

Hermione continued to shake her head, still is disbelief. “But it doesn’t make any sense,” she stammered. Every bit of her rational body didn’t know how to process the new information. “Why?”

Malfoy lifted a cavalier shoulder. “Doesn’t matter why, just that I was right in the end.” He arose from his spot and maneuvered around Hermione towards the cabinets. Reaching into one of the above cabinets, he grabbed two glasses and used his wand to fill them with water. He proceeded back to the table and handed Hermione one of the glasses, which she readily accepted.

“I do have to admit, though,” he continued as he sat back down, “I was thrown for a bit of a loop at the inclusion of goblins.” Malfoy took a sip of his water and grimaced. “Can’t stand the things. Greedy, backstabbing creatures.”

“So you’re suddenly okay with werewolves and house elves, but goblins are where you draw the line?” Hermione asked suspiciously.

“Unfortunately for you, Granger, this isn’t the Malfoy Tell-All hour,” Malfoy reprimanded, putting an end to their conversation. “If I recall correctly, you are here for a purpose, and I have a date in-” he checked his pocket watch “-two hours and thirty seven minutes, and I’m not one to show up late. So I advise that you quit your interrogation, Granger, and we get to work.”

With that, he grabbed the old French book and resumed reading it. Hermione had so many more pressing questions bursting inside her head that she was aching to know the answers.

“Since when do you know French?” she pressed but to no reaction from Malfoy. He remained engrossed in his book as if he was impervious to her words. She peered at the book from over his shoulder, trying to decipher anything of meaning from its foreign pages. “Is this one of the books you got from Kingsley?”

At the mention of Kingsley, Malfoy grimaced slightly. “I’m working, Granger.”

Resigning herself to the fact that she wouldn’t make any progress at the moment, she grabbed another book off the table and sat across from Malfoy. She opened the book to the first bookmarked page and began to read.

Wolfsbane, also referred to as aconite or monkshood, is a very useful plant. Its sprigs have been known to keep individuals awake with the Wideye Potion. Inspired by these results, I hypothesized that this plant could also be used as a temporary antidote for lycanthropy, serving as a means to keep the human mind more aware and figuratively ‘awake.’

Hermione temporarily closed the book to look at the cover and noticed that it had been written by Damocles, who she recognized as the potioneer who invented the wolfsbane potion. She opened the book back up and skimmed over the rest of the page which detailed his trials over its creation. Each blank spot was covered with Malfoy’s scribbles. Hermione squinted her eyes, trying to decipher his notes, but the book was promptly snatched out of her hands.

“What was that for!” Hermione cried.

Malfoy closed the book shut and placed it beside himself. “That book won’t help you,” he stated without looking up at her. “You’ll be better off with one of the books next to the couch.”

Hermione crossed her arms across her chest, not at all enthused by his rude interruption of her reading. “If it’s not helpful, then why did you bother writing all over it?”

But Malfoy didn’t answer. Merlin, it was irritating that he wouldn’t just answer her questions! Well, if he wasn’t going to answer, then she’d still find the answer for herself. Pretending to move to the couch, she slowed down as she passed Malfoy and quickly reclaimed the book from beside him.

“What the hell, Granger!”

She darted towards his bedroom, knowing that she’d only have a few seconds before Malfoy inevitably caught up to her. Picking up her pace, she scurried into the connected bathroom and locked the door behind her. The door wiggled as Malfoy tugged at its handle.

“Granger!” he shouted through the door.

“Occupied!” Hermione cooed as she flipped through the pages, trying to absorb as much as possible until Malfoy had enough time to get back to the kitchen and grab his wand.

On the page listing the final ingredients, she tilted the book to its side and read Malfoy’s annotation.

Replace unicorn hair with one measure of crushed unicorn horn.”

The door shook as Malfoy returned, pounding on it with a harsh fist. “Open up, Granger!”

“Just a minute!” she shouted back.

She could hear Malfoy’s frustrated groan through the door before he finally muttered alohamora and the door swung open. Hermione closed the book and hid it behind her back.

“If you needed to use the bathroom so badly, I would have let you go first,” she teased.

Malfoy stood before her in the doorframe, his lips pursed and his cheeks a vibrant red against his pale skin. His chest heaved and his nostrils flared. “Give me back my book, Granger,” he demanded in a low, threatening voice.

Hermione surrendered the book as she brushed past him, through his bedroom and back to the kitchen. “I just wanted one more peak,” she stated casually, which only made Malfoy more upset.

“I already told you the book wasn’t useful,” he fumed from behind her.

Hermione turned around to face him. “Then why is it that you didn’t want me reading it?”

“Listen, Granger,” he seethed, “you don’t like it when I go rummaging through your things, so don’t go through mine.”

“Oh, you mean how you initially read my proposal without my permission?”

Malfoy scoffed and rolled his eyes, returning to his seat and resuming where he left off in his other book. But if he thought that his silence would be the end of the conversation, he was sorely mistaken.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you seem quite interested in the composition of the wolfsbane potion,” Hermione persisted, much to his aggravation. “Reading Damocles original trials, commenting on his ingredients…” Hermione trailed off as the pieces started to fall into place in her mind. “Are you trying to figure out another formula for the wolfsbane potion?”

As expected, he ignored her question, but the slight twitch in his lip and momentary stiffening of his back confirmed her suspicion.

“Malfoy, why-”

He banged his palms onto the table. “Stop talking, Granger!” He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath before twisted his body to face her. “Stay out of my business, and-”

“This is no longer just your business!” Hermione insisted, starting to raise her voice as well. “If you and I are working together, then I need to know what your plan is!”

“Well it’s not like I’m going to find a new potion by Monday morning, am I?” he near shouted.

“Ah!” Hermione cried, cracking a bit of a smile. “So you are trying to find a new potion!”

Malfoy scowled as he grabbed Damocles’ book and a handful of others before he headed back to his bedroom. “I’ll be reading in my room. Don’t bother me.” He stormed away, slamming the door behind him.

“Great teamwork!” she shouted at the closed door. “Kingsley would be really proud right now!”

She knew that Malfoy was probably sneering at the mention of the Minister, but he deserved it at the moment. Kingsley expected them to work together, and as predicted, Malfoy wasn’t making it easy. If he wanted to mope around and refuse to share why he was working on the wolfsbane potion, so be it. She would just return to her original plan.

She searched through her bag for a file of parchments and grabbed one of the books from her own pile, settling on the couch. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as her armchair at home, and she considered flooing back to her own flat so that she could work on the addendum alone in peace. At home, she wouldn’t have to think twice about the brooding Malfoy on the other side of the wall. But as much as she hated to admit it, Malfoy did have beneficial resources here. And she didn’t want to chance needing one of his books and not being able to access them.

She fidgeted against the stiff dragonhide and tried to get comfortable as she spread out the parchments before her and cracked open her book. If they were going to make wolfsbane more available to werewolves, they would have to alleviate its steep cost. And if more werewolves were going to be consuming the potion, there would need to be more potion makers brewing it, potentially even requiring some full-time potion makers to be employed by the ministry. It wasn’t going to be cheap.

The parchments in front of her seemed to mock her, as if underscoring just how difficult her task was. Each page outlined the finances of the ministry, how many galleons were allotted to each department. She glared down at her own department’s budget, its measly figure a pitiful amount, barely enough for them to function. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and she would stay up all night calculating readjustments if that’s what it took.

At least, that’s what her mind kept saying. Her body, on the other hand, was screaming otherwise. As she scribbled away on a fresh piece of parchment all the potential funding changes, she felt her lungs betray her cause, forcing her to yawn every few minutes or so. She fought through her exhaustion as long as possible, but slowly, her eyelids began to fall victim to sleeplessness as well. The words on the parchment began to blur together and her head started to lull, before she startled herself back to full cognizance.

Hermione had been working nonstop all week, and her body was finally starting to lose its battle. Soon enough, even the rigid couch seemed like a welcoming place for a few moments of shut eye. She told herself it would only be for a couple minutes, just enough time for her eyes to rest before she’d resume her work. But as her brain surrendered to the overpowering will of her eyelids, she slumped into the couch cushions and drifted into a deep sleep.

 

By the time Hermione awoke, the sun had set and nightfall had overtaken the flat. Hermione began to stir, a painful kink in her neck from the awkward position she had been in on the couch. She tried to lift a hand to massage it, but discovered a blanket draped across her body blocking its path. As tired as she had been, she was absolutely certain that she hadn’t been the one to have retrieved this blanket.

She outstretched her arms and looked out the window, the sun having long disappeared beyond the horizon. It must have been well past eight at this point, so Malfoy was undoubtedly already on his date. She leaned back down on the couch for a couple more moments before she would need to actually get up and collect her belongings. She didn’t know Malfoy’s modus operandi, but she’d prefer not to be there if he came home with his date.

Her stomach did summersaults imaging him barging through the door, just like they had last weekend, his hands running up and down some other witch, his lips hungrily pressed up against hers, his fingers tracing through her hair...

Hermione erased the image from her mind. Malfoy with another woman was the last thing she needed to think about at the moment. The faster she packed up her parchments and papers, the sooner she could be home to Crookshanks and her armchair that didn’t leave her with a strained neck.

She rubbed away the final remnants of slumber from her eyes, bringing the entirety of Malfoy’s flat into focus. The place was dark except for a small flicker of a lantern on his kitchen table. In its faint light, she could have sworn she saw a body seated at the table, but she must have just been imagining it. She blinked her eyes several times, yet the vision never disappeared.

She wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and grasped its edges just above her breasts and slowly walked towards the table, careful not to disturb Malfoy. He appeared to be still at work, dipping his quill into the ink cannister and scribbling across a piece of parchment. His posture was firm as he sat poised in his seat, in deep thought, the glow of the candle reflecting on his white blonde hair. She slightly smiled to herself when she realized that he was wearing glasses. He seemed pensive. He looked peaceful.

Without all the constant reminders under daylight, the darkness brought out a different side of Malfoy. It was just like that first night after the Leaky Cauldron when they had walked together under the moonlight. He just didn’t look as callous as usual. Something about the shadows just made him look less intimidating.

“Are you going to continue to stare or are you actually going to say something?” Malfoy said, not taking a break from his notes.

Hermione drew back the partnering chair and joined him at the table. “I didn’t know you wore glasses.”

Malfoy grabbed the corner of his glasses and removed them, setting them down on the table. “I’d prefer if you didn’t go around spreading that. I don’t want people to think I have anything in common with Potter.”

Hermione knew he probably didn’t intend it to be a joke, but she still halfheartedly smiled a bit. “You know, you don’t have to take them off. Your secret’s already out. And besides…” she looked down at her old cup of water from earlier and traced her finger around its brim. “The glasses look good on you.”

Malfoy’s quill paused for a moment, but he didn’t acknowledge her comment any further than that. He returned to his book and flipped to the next page. While she was glad to see that he was continuing to work on the addendum without her having to pester him, it didn’t explain why exactly he was still here so late into the evening.

“I thought you had a date?” Hermione cautiously asked.

“Yes, well, it turns out I got stood up,” he responded, still not breaking from his work.

“Oh,” Hermione said simply, not sure how else to react to his statement. While she had never experienced that pain herself, she could only fathom the blow to one’s self confidence it must have. Yet for some reason, she didn’t feel totally upset to hear that Malfoy’s date had been a no show. At least it meant that he had been able to continue working on the addendum while she had been out of commission.

He remained immersed in the book, but Hermione didn’t want to drop the topic just yet.

“Malfoy, I’m sorry your date-”

He set down his quill and looked up at Hermione. “I don’t need your fake sympathy, Granger.”

She grabbed the edges of the blanket and fimbled with the frayed tassels. “I’m not faking it. She should have at least had the decency to say it to your face.”

Malfoy leaned back in his chair and sneered. “Don’t worry you pretty little head over it, Granger. She wasn't the first, and she won’t be the last.”

While Malfoy was remaining relatively apathetic about the whole ordeal, Hermione couldn’t help but wonder how he actually felt about it. There was no way that Malfoy, perhaps the most self-obsessed, egocentric person she knew, took it lightly that women recurrently didn’t show up for dates.

She thought back to Monday night. In the midst of their endless argument that night, he had shown a few flickers of vulnerability. He had told her then how difficult it could be for him to find people to go out with, but she honestly hadn’t thought about it too much. Not that she had a reason to.

He resumed his writing, and Hermione sat up uncomfortably in her chair. “Are these blind dates or do they know it’s you?”

Malfoy grunted. “It tends to be quite rare that people willingly go out with me, Granger. Believe it or not, you’re not the only one who see me as-”

“A menace?”

His quill paused for a millisecond at her choice in wording, echoing his fear from earlier that day. Hermione nervously shifted her weight on the chair. Ever since she had overheard the word during his conversation with Kingsley, she had been asking herself whether or not she really did consider him to be a menace.

At Hogwarts? Absolutely. There was no question that back then, she wouldn’t hesitate to call him that.

But now? It wasn’t as easy to answer. He could certainly be unpleasant, but she didn’t feel unsafe around him. Irritated? Without a doubt. Scared? Not particularly.

She looked down at her fingers, picking at her fingernails, refusing to look at him, her voice slightly shaking. “I, uh, don’t think you’re a menace. Perhaps a pompous arse, but, um, not a menace.”

Malfoy returned the quill to the ink cannister and pushed his chair back, crossing both his arms and his legs. “Is that so, Granger?” he questioned skeptically. “Then tell me. Why do you insist on acting like your knickers are in a complete and utter twist every time you’re forced to interact with me?”

“Not every time,” she corrected. “Probably only around eighty-five percent.” Hermione tugged at her hair and twisted it into a knot at the top of her head. She readjusted her body on the chair, criss crossing her legs so that her entire self was perched on top of its seat. “But it’s not as if you make it easy when you’re constantly so abrasive.”

Malfoy shrugged. “You’ve known me for years, Granger. It’s not like this is a surprise. How else do you expect me to act?”

“Well, first of all,” Hermione started, “I expect you to respect my wishes and not taunt me about last weekend in front of all my friends.”

Malfoy scrunched his eyebrows and leaned in across the table. “Is that what this is all about? Monday night?”

“That’s a major part of it!” she exclaimed. “And while I take full responsibility for sleeping with you-”

“And then kissing me.”

“You kissed me. Twice. And don’t interrupt,” she reprimanded him. “You cannot deny that you were a complete and utter arse at the pub!”

“For the record, it was you who kissed me first last Friday,” Malfoy smugly justified.

“That’s not the point Malfoy!” Hermione scolded, her cheeks beginning to heat up.

Malfoy chuckled to himself and arose from his seat, grabbing Hermione’s old water glass and dumping it out in the sink. “And in case you forgot, I did apologize afterwards.”

“Oh, please,” Hermione mocked. “That was barely an apology.”

“I told you I’d give you a more proper apology if you’d agreed to go out with me tonight!”

Hermione pushed back her chair and got to her feet. She paced over to Malfoy and pressed a threatening finger against his chest. “I shouldn’t have to go on a date with you in order to get the apology I deserve!”

He nonchalantly brushed her finger away, undisturbed by her rising frustration. “It seemed like the most likely way to get you alone for a solid period of time, but clearly I was mistaken,” Malfoy justified. He repeatedly shook his head in succession as he leaned back against the edge of the counter, shrugging in her direction. “Besides, you’re not exactly innocent in this.”

“Excuse me?” Hermione near cried.

“You put on this act, Granger. Monday morning you were quivering under my touch-”

“I thought we weren’t bringing that up,” Hermione hissed.

“Tsk, tsk, Granger,” Malfoy teased. “What happened to no interruptions?” He pushed himself off the counter and slowly strolled closer to Hermione. “You went from melting over me-”

“I was not melting!”

“Dear Merlin, let a man complete his thought!” Malfoy snapped. “Say what you want Granger, but you cannot deny that there was something between us Monday morning and then you turned ice cold just a few hours later!”

“Because you were being an arse!”

“Or are you too afraid to show any sort of interest towards me in public?”

Malfoy grew dangerously close to Hermione and she could start to feel his warm breath against her skin. She had been in this position and knew how it had ended in the past. She took a step back for safe measure.

Hermione scoffed. “I’m not afraid, Malfoy.”

“Oh that’s right,” Malfoy fake laughed to himself. “I forgot that Gryffindors are too proud to ever admit to being afraid of something.”

“I’m not afraid,” Hermione repeated more adamantly

“Fine,” Malfoy resolved. “Just stubborn.”

Hermione threw her hands up in the air in surrender. “I’m done talking about this, Malfoy. We need to get back to work.”

Malfoy released a low huff and resumed his seat. “Typical.”

Malfoy return to his scroll of parchment and Hermione stormed across the living space to the coffee table with her own parchments. But as soon as she actually looked at them, she realized that her reallocation notes were missing.

“Looking for this, Granger?” Back in the kitchen, Malfoy held up a pieces of parchment with her distinguishable handwriting all over it. She stomped back to the table and snatched it back.

“What are you doing with my scroll?”

“I thought you said we were a team,” he ridiculed.

“And I thought we agreed we don’t like it when the other rummages through their things!”

“My mistake,” Malfoy spat sarcastically. “Next time, I’ll make sure to wake you first.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “For Merlin’s sake, do you always have to be so insufferable?”

She snatched back her parchment and then grabbed the piece he was working on for good measure. All of his notes complemented her own, a similar list of suggestions for funding reallocations. The only difference, however, was that all of his notes related to his own department. She continued to read it over, trying to figure out what to say to him.

She was still glaring at it when Malfoy carefully took back the scroll and rolled it up. “Wipe that dumbfounded look off your face, Granger. Turns out your idea wasn’t complete shit.”

“If that’s a compliment, you need to work on your delivery,” Hermione scolded. “But you didn’t need to reallocate from International Magical Cooperation. We could have made it work just fine with the funds from-”

Malfoy raised a skeptical eyebrow as he cut her off. “You never would have been able to get anything else done if you dedicated all your money to this project. There are other things that need funding as well.”

Hermione glanced over his math once more. If his calculations were correct, then this really would be sufficient for them to properly subsidize the wolfsbane potion for the werewolf population. Each werewolf would still need to contribute a few sickles, but overall, it would make the potion much more readily available.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“Don’t thank me yet, Granger,” Malfoy snarled. “We still need to actually write this addendum and pray to Merlin that the Wizengamot passes the thing. But we can start that tomorrow.”

“Malfoy, we can-”

“Granger, stop,” Malfoy interrupted her again. “You’re going to over-exhaust yourself. Go home, get a proper night’s sleep, and we’ll resume in the morning.”

Hermione crossed her arms across her chest defiantly. “I can function on no sleep!”

Malfoy glared at her disbelievingly. “I’m sorry, or did I just imagine that you spent the last three hours passed out on my couch?”

“And now I’m refreshed!”

Go home,” Malfoy insisted.

He raised a threatening eyebrow and Hermione eventually submitted. She started to grab her parchment, but decided to leave it on the table. Perhaps she really would just go home and sleep. No need to take everything back to her place when she’d be back in the morning.

She half smiled at Malfoy and made her way to the fireplace. She reached into the urn next to the fireplace and scooped up a handful of floo powder. Just as she was about to step into the flames, Malfoy called out for her.

“Hey, Granger!”

She looked up from the flames to his barely illuminated figure across the room.

“Sleep tight.”

She looked down and smiled to herself. “Yeah, you too, Malfoy.”

He was a proper pain in the arse, but there were some moments where she supposed he wasn’t completely intolerable.

Chapter Text

The sunshine crept through the cracks in Hermione’s curtains and she outstretched her arms in the early morning glow. Her sleep had been peaceful, not a single dream or nightmare, just a much needed deep rest after such an exhausting week. Already the day was off to a good start, and if her mood kept up, she and Malfoy should be able to complete the addendum without much of a hitch.

She fluttered out of bed and perused the items in her closet. Lately, it wasn’t often that she left her flat on the weekend outside of going into the Ministry for a few hours, so this would actually be somewhat of a welcome change, even if it was just going to Malfoy’s place. She considered wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt under her robes, but opted for a dress instead. The day seemed a bit warmer than usual for a fall day, and very soon, she wouldn’t be able to wear the dress until spring rolled around again. She tugged it over her head and made her way to the kitchen with Crookshanks scurrying behind at her heels.

Hermione reached up into the cupboard and felt around for her tin of tea, but when she eventually found it, it didn’t rattle. All her tea had already been consumed so she was stuck high and dry. The night’s sleep had been helpful and left her feeling refreshed, but it didn’t feel like a proper morning until she had her cup of tea.

She retrieved her wand off her nightstand and started to walk out the door, but paused momentarily at her passing reflection in the vanity mirror. Her hair was splayed out in several directions, even more than usual. She scooped a dab of Sleekeazy’s hair potion and applied it from the roots, running her fingers through her mane until it actually looked quite nice.

She grabbed her set of robes off their designated hook and shoved them into her bag. Bidding farewell to Crookshanks, Hermione headed out the front door and down the stairs until she exited onto the main street. Instead of turning her usual left towards the apparition point, she made to the right towards Muggle London.

It wasn’t often that Hermione found the time to return to her Muggle roots, but every time she did, it still felt familiar and reminiscent of her youth. Even though many years had passed, she could easily navigate through the narrow streets until she found her favorite cafe, ordering two teas and muffins, happy with herself for always keeping a few spare pounds at the bottom of her bag in case of emergencies. Not that this was an emergency per se, but morning tea was a must.

She used her back to push her way out of the shop and proceeded to the apparition point so that she and Malfoy could resume their efforts, but she got distracted by herself in the window. She did look good that morning. A nice fitting dress, in control hair, and a bright smile on her face as she carried the tray of two teas.

Two.

Hermione frantically set her purchases down on a nearby table and urgently ruffled up her hair so that it returned to its usual state of frizziness. That was better, but it was hardly enough.

She picked up her items and maneuvered through the crowd on the sidewalk, a bit more unnerved than before. Her mind darted, trying to avoid the truth behind her unconscious efforts, but try as she might, the thought kept creeping into the forefront of her mind. Was some part of her actually trying to impress Malfoy? The idea itself seemed absurd. She had spent the majority of the past week actively criticizing and berating him, perhaps slightly more than what was warranted, but honestly, that had nothing to do with anything. He had just been… typical Malfoy.

The second tea mocked her, a reminder of whom she had purchased the cup for. She was only trying to be nice -- a sign of camaraderie after a productive night. But now, she doubted her intentions. And there was no way she would let Malfoy question them as well.

She walked slightly off the path and removed the lid from one of the cups and dumped it onto the patch of grass, discarding the empty cup in a waste bin. There! Now neither one of them would get the wrong idea about what it meant.

She needed to get this addendum over with so she could go back to the way her life had been a week ago. Anything involving Malfoy was a bad idea. A very bad idea. Not just because of what her friends would say, but because… well… Well, she'd think of some other solid reason, but it wasn't a good idea! That she knew for sure.

Reaching the destination, Hermione concentrated on the vague memory of the outside of Malfoy’s flat and soon felt that familiar suck through her stomach as she apparated to his place. She tapped on the door, softly at first, but after several minutes, Malfoy did not respond. Her motions turned to firm bangs and eventually into harsh pounding.

“Malfoy!” she cried, thumping on the door.

The door swung open, and Malfoy shielded his squinted eyes from the hallway’s bright lights, his entire flat still dim. The expression on his face twisted in grogginess, apparently having just awoken. Hermione quickly averted her gaze and looked down the hall when she noticed that Malfoy was wearing nothing more than his boxers.

“For Salazar’s sake,” Malfoy groaned, his voice cracking, “what the hell are you doing here so bloody early, Granger?”

Hermione held a hand over the corner of her eyes, blocking his shirtless, undergarment clad body. “The addendum won’t write itself.”

Malfoy paused for a moment, and Hermione was growing impatient. She wished he’d just let her in so they could get started, but more importantly, she wished he’d go get properly dressed. Hermione slightly cracked open two of her fingers so she could see if Malfoy was still there. He remained in the doorframe, not slightly fazed by his state of undress.

“What’s in the bag, Granger?” Malfoy asked, still adjusting to being awake. 

“Don’t worry, I didn’t bring any more books,” Hermione responded, but Malfoy just chuckled.

“I don’t care what’s in that awful carrier bag you insist on lugging around everywhere,” Malfoy said. “I’m referring to the paper bag.”

Hermione’s eyes fell on the brown bag still clenched in her other hand. Merlin’s beard, she had been so consumed by the second tea, she hadn’t considered that she had also bought a muffin for him. She reluctantly dug into the bag and revealed the matching pastries.

“I, uh, brought breakfast,” she stammered.

He eyed it suspiciously as he examined the unfamiliar logo printed along its lining. Shrugging to himself, he took a bite and sauntered back inside.

When he faced away from her, Hermione noticed that there was a dark brown clump of paste wedged in his hair. She reached out to try to remove it, startling the both of them the moment her fingers touched him. She instantly retracted as Malfoy set down the muffin and dragged his finger through his hair, trying to remove the paste himself, but only managed to get a small portion.

He looked at the residue on his fingers and groaned. “Give me five minutes. I need to take a shower.”  He opened his bedroom door and stepped halfway inside before turning back to Hermione. “And don’t touch anything while I’m gone.”  With that, he shut the door and all that remained was the faint echo of the showerhead turning on.

She stared blankly at the door for a split second before she returned to her own muffin. She had barely managed to consume a few bites from it when a large banging noise came from the other side of his flat. Hermione jumped up, the muffin crashing to the floor, her whole body startled by the loud interruption. She quickly withdrew her wand and scanned the room for the source of the sound, but nothing seemed out of place. She cautioned across the room with constant vigilance just like Mad-Eye Moody had always advised her.

The sound returned, this time even louder. Hermione took another step forward and realized it was coming from behind a closed door. She swung the door open, the wretched smell instantly attacking her nose. The whole room reeked of something worse than rotten eggs. She could barely see anything, the entire room practically pitch black. She whispered lumos and the tip of her wand illuminated, bringing the vials of liquids and bubbling cauldrons to sight.

The floor beneath her feet creaked as she entered the new room, allowing her to fully see inside. Two grand tables extended the entire length of the room that was even larger than his bedroom. There was not a free space on the tables, their entire surface covered by brimming cauldrons, dirty vials, and opened books. The walls were lined with various ingredients, some of which even she wasn’t fully certain of their usage.

Her eyes wandered across the contents of the table, and she noticed that Damocles’ book was there, reopened to the page that Malfoy had tried to prevent her from reading the night before. She brought her wand closer to its surface so that she could get a proper look. There were new scribbles lining the pages and some of the previous ones had been updated.

“Replace unicorn hair with one-half measure of unicorn horn.”

She peered into the cauldron beside the book, dark brown liquid gurgling inside. A large bubble started to form on the surface and she just barely withdrew herself before it popped, the resulting sound echoing in the room.

“Stand back, or you’ll be the one forced to take a shower next.”

Malfoy stood in the entrance to the room, his side balanced against the doorframe with his arms crossed. Hermione braced herself for Malfoy to yell at her for intruding on what was clearly his personal potions lab, but it never came.

“Did you brew these after I left last night?” she asked, hoping that his lack of confrontation might be an opportunity for answers.

Malfoy slowly paced towards her, dragging his fingers along the edge of the table. “Reallocating funds will work for the time being, but we still need a long term solution.”

“Why do you care so much about finding an alternative formula for Wolfsbane?”

His fingers grew dangerously closer to hers, but he bypassed them and shut Damocles’ book instead. “That's a story for another time, Granger.”

He exited the room, leaving her alone in the darkness. She knew she should just follow him into the kitchen so they could begin, but she wasn’t quite ready to get to work yet. Hermione continued to peruse the objects on the table, picking up various vials to examine their contents.

It seems particularly odd that he hadn’t berated her for intruding on his side project, but she supposed she shouldn’t complain. Her mind was still filled with urgent desire to know more. Malfoy had found another way to surprise her. First with her house elf legislation, later with his apparent friendship with Kingsley, and all the other small little things that piqued her interest in the past week. Malfoy was proving to be quite the enigma. She couldn’t help but feel intrigued by the whole thing.

She nearly dropped the vial in her hand at the return of that word. It had been a solid five days since she had permitted herself to even think the word, yet here it was again. Intrigued. It was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place, and now it was back. 

The door to the potions lab swung open and Malfoy returned, startling Hermione even further. “If you were going to dawdle, you should have at least let me sleep in later.”   

Hermione actually dropped the vial this time. She fell to the floor and quickly retrieved it, placing it back on the table.

“I warned you not to touch anything,” he joked.

Her cheeks flared into a vibrant blush, and she was eternally grateful that the darkness obscured it from his vision. Gods, she needed to put a stop to this. “I’ll be right out,” she stammered, still coming to grips with her recent realization.

“Well, don’t take too long.”

He left the door open for her, but she still had enough privacy to release her held breath. She frantically shook her head, desperately hoping that it would somehow shake these thoughts out of her mind, but it was useless. The thoughts were there to stay.

She eventually left the room and found Malfoy at the kitchen table where he already had scrolls of parchment, ink, and quills prepared. Malfoy was in his seat, glasses perched on the top of his nose, reading some new book.

She slowly looked him over, hoping that he’d be too distracted to notice. In the daylight, he looked just as poised in his glasses, but that was hardly what captured her attention. He was dressed in simple muggle clothing, a casual black v-neck and joggers, yet he still managed to look more dignified than the average man. The dark tones underscored the stark difference in his pale skin and still-wet blonde hair.

“You're staring again, Granger,” he said in a bored drawl, peeking over the top of his book. “Just because I’m reading doesn’t mean I don’t see you.”  Hermione continued to look at him with fixation as he set down the book and toyed the frame of his glasses. “If you’re going to make another comment about the glasses -”

“No!” Hermione hastily interrupted, surprising both of them. “I mean,” she said, looking down at her hands, “I, I was just noticing that black suits you well.”

The right edge of his lip just barely curled upwards before he stopped himself. “Well, if that's everything, Granger, we best get started."

 

They worked throughout the afternoon, Hermione continuing to push them until they were nearly finished. Every now and again, Hermione had found herself looking at Malfoy a bit longer than necessary, but she would always promptly snap herself out of her self-induced haze. Finally, after two empty inkwells, three scrapped drafts, and four broken quills, Hermione read over the latest version, quite satisfied with the results. 

A grumble released itself from her stomach and she promptly clamped her hand over herself, knocking over a third inkwell.

Malfoy took out his wand and quickly scourgified the mess. “Okay, Granger, it’s time for a break.”

“It’s nearly done!” she protested. They only needed thirty more minutes max and then this would all be over with. She could leave and forget that the day and any of her thoughts involving Malfoy had ever happened.

But Malfoy dismissed her objection. “It’s been hours. All we’ve had to eat today is a muffin and that’s being generous considering you only took two bites out of yours.”

“That’s not my fault!” Hermione asserted. “I would have eaten the whole thing if you didn’t have a secret potions lab on the verge of explosion!”

“It was hardly on the ‘verge of explosion,’” Malfoy mocked, “but more importantly, who knew Gryffindors scared so easy.”

Hermione pretended to throw a crumpled up discarded draft at him, and he flinched at her threat, laughing at her fake attempt. “Come on, Granger,” he insisted. “It’s been hours. We need something to eat.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow, egging her on, crushing her defenses. “Fine,” she eventually conceded. “What do you have?”

Malfoy chuckled. “Please. I don’t cook.”

“Then what is the kitchen for?”

“For show.”  He removed his glasses and pushed back from his chair. “What do you want to eat?”

“Um, just something from the Leaky Cauldron is fine.”

Malfoy near burst into laughter this time. “I’ll eat there when I’m actually starving. I’ll surprise you.”  He made his way to the fireplace and just before he disappeared into the blazing green flames, he smiled at Hermione. Hermione caught herself smiling back, and once he was gone, she sheepishly bit down on the inner edges of her lip.

Seconds later, she brought herself back to reality. What was going on with her! Sure, the day had gone better than hoped. In fact, she was finding it quite hard to find anything to complain about. They had gotten in a few minor skirmishes, but that was mainly over wording. And honestly, he had made some quality contributions. She hated to admit it, but Kingsley had been right about them working together.

Yet her head was still in a convoluted fog. Being productive with Malfoy had only added to her confusion over him. Perhaps at times they did make a decent team, but that was hardly the point. He was… he was Malfoy for crying out loud! A man more arrogant, presumptuous, and irritating than almost anyone else she had ever met. Yet the more time she spent with him, the more she was seeing those behaviors peel away.

The fireplace lit up and Malfoy reappeared, a restaurant bag already in hand. He stepped out of the flames and brought their dinner to the kitchen table. With a flick of his wand, their hard work from the day flew from the table to the counter, clearing the space for their meal. Reaching into the cabinets, he retrieved two plates and set the table, then pulling the prepared entrees out of the bag.

Hermione returned her thoughts to the back of her mind, determined to not let them back out until she was away from Malfoy and was in a proper headspace to fully think about it. She looked at the empty bag, reading the name of the place. “Club del Doge?” Hermione asked. “Where on Diagon Alley is this?”

He grabbed two long-stemmed wine glasses and placed them beside both plates. “Who said anything about Diagon Alley?”  Hermione cocked her head in confusion and Malfoy smirked at her. “Working for the Department of International Magical Cooperation does have its perks.”

Hermione grabbed the bag and reexamined it. “You didn’t seriously go to Italy for dinner Malfoy!”

He shrugged as if it was no big deal. “You and I deserved a bit of a treat. And if you weren’t so high strung about getting the addendum done, I would have suggested we actually eat there.”  He opened up the fridge and surveyed the bottles of wine before picking two. “You would love it there, Granger. Right along the water with a perfect view of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. All very rom--”

His voice trailed off. Their eyes met for only instant until both of them looked away. He rummaged through one of the drawers and pulled out a corkscrew. “Red or white?”

“Which one do you suggest?”

“Definitely the white.”

“White, then.”

Malfoy poured them both a generous serving of wine and set the bottle down on the table. He raised his full glass. “To the betterment of house elves and werewolves.”

And goblins.” Hermione added.

Malfoy released a short snort. “And goblins.”

They clinked their glasses and both took a sip before digging into their food. For a while, they sat there in mostly silence, the sole sound coming from their silverware scratching against the plate beneath their pasta. Every now and then, Hermione stole a short look at Malfoy, but then returned her focus to her meal. The longer they sat there, the harder her heart pounded in her chest.

The silence was becoming deafening. With neither one of them talking, her curiosities were creeping forward. She needed to squelch them and the only solution was to ask. She swallowed her current bite of food and washed it down with a sip of wine. “Can I ask you something, Malfoy?”

Malfoy looked up from his dish, surprised that she had broken the stillness. He set down his fork and patted his mouth with a napkin. “Depends. Do I get a question in return?”

Hermione took a moment to consider. They had made deals like this before, and it hadn’t proven entirely successful. But she was willing to try again. “Sure.”

“You promise to actually answer it this time?”

Hermione hesitated for a moment. “I will if you will.”

“Unbreakable vow?”

Hermione dropped her jaw into a smile. “Absolutely not!”

“What’s the matter, Granger? Scared?”

“Am not!” she protested. “We just don’t have a witness!”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure that’s your only reservation.”

The two of them smiled at each other before Malfoy took another sip of his wine. “Go ahead then, Granger. What’s your question?”

Hermione paused to consider. If she only got one question she needed to choose wisely. “You and Kingsley. How did you two become friends?”

Malfoy winced a bit, apparently not anticipating that question at all. “Who said he and I were friends?”

“Whatever you want to call it,” Hermione amended, not letting him skirt around giving her a proper answer. “You clearly know him better than in a typical Ministry employee fashion.”

Malfoy finished his glass of wine and set it back down on the table. “One of the conditions of me joining the ministry was that I had to have weekly meetings with Kingsley for him to check in on me. It was originally only supposed to be for the first year, but we never stopped.”

“Is that why you were in his office Monday and how you read my proposal?”  

“You already got your one question, Granger,” Malfoy played. She balled up her napkin and threw it at him. He smiled as he picked it up off the floor and set it beside his own. “Fine, fine. Yes, that’s why I was in his office.”

It all seemed logical enough. She recalled what a fuss his hiring had caused throughout the Ministry. Kingsley must have vouched for him and promised to keep an eye on him, and apparently, it had all gone well. “He really does trust you.” Hermione softly added.

Malfoy came in closer and rested his elbows on the edge of the table. “Do you trust me?”

Hermione paused for a moment a sucked in a deep breath. “I don’t… distrust you.”

Malfoy leaned back in his chair. “I guess that’s enough for right now.”

The table feel back into silence, both of them searching for the words to fill the void.

“You know,” Hermione finally spoke, “I think that counted as your question.”  

“No way, Granger,” Malfoy said, playing along with her game. “Beside, I gave you two questions, so I get at least one more.”  

“Well then you better make it a good one.”

Malfoy picked up the bottle of wine and topped off his glass as well as Hermione’s. He took a few gulps before returning it to its spot. Now he was the one staring down at his dish. Hermione nervously sipped from her own glass, starting to wonder if it was a mistake to promise to answer whatever he asked. She had just begun to actually feel comfortable around him, but maybe it was too soon to have let her guard down.

“You and Weasley,” he muttered and Hermione’s heart stopped. “What happened?”

If Malfoy hadn’t anticipated her question, she most certainly hadn’t anticipated his. Her entire body felt frozen at the mention of Ron’s name, especially coming from Malfoy’s lips.

“You don’t actually have to answer if you don’t want to,” Malfoy began to backtrack.

“No,” Hermione faintly responded. “It’s fine. I said I would answer.”  She picked up her fork and began to stab the uneaten pieces of pasta. “I guess we just grew stale. There wasn’t any of the same spark. None of that excitement you’re still supposed to feel even after the initial butterflies die out. I guess… I guess I was beginning to feel trapped.”

Malfoy gave a slight sound of acknowledgement, but then the tension filled silence returned, both of them pushing around the food on their plates, but never taking another bite. Even after having consumed half her dish, she still felt like nothing was in her stomach.

Hermione set down her fork, officially giving up on trying to eat anything else. “Can I ask another question?”

“You can ask, but I won't promise that I'll answer.”

Hermione ran her finger around the rim of her wine glass, still not wanting to make eye contact with Malfoy. “When you said you were sorry the other day… What did you mean?”

She slowly looked up from her glass, but now Malfoy was avoiding her gaze. “I…” he started off, but his words fell flat. He rested his elbow on the table and propped his head upon his hand. “I did a lot of bad things in the past. I am fully aware of that, as is everyone else who will ever meet me. I can’t change that. But I can at least try to make amends for some of my actions.”

His hand fell onto the table as he began to shake his head back and forth. “I think of all those children who were attacked by Fenrir Greyback and the rest of the werewolves during the war and I just… I don’t want to see them ostracized from wizarding society because of things that my family and I were a part of.”

Hermione reached out and grabbed his hand. Her heart stopped for a moment as Malfoy stared at their connected limbs, but he didn’t withdraw his touch. Her whole body felt numb as she began to slowly rub her thumb against the top of his hand.

“Is that why you’re working on the potion?” she near whispered.

Malfoy closed his eyes. “If I figure out a way to cheapen the potion, then perhaps things would be slightly easier for them. It’s like what you said yesterday. I’m not looking for forgiveness. I just would like a chance to prove myself to have changed.”

Hermione got out of her seat, never losing their grip. She crouched next to him, placed her free hand on his cheek, and without overthinking it, kissed him.