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May 26, 2002

The birds sang her doom. Since she heard birds, it must have been morning. Since it was morning, it wasn’t last night. Unfortunately, judging by the warmth and weight on the bed behind her, last night’s entertainment was still on the premises. Why, oh why, hadn’t he sneaked out and left her behind? Wasn’t that the expected behavior for an ill-advised pull at a club? She didn’t even want a note, just his absence would do. A nice absence of consequences, to be precise, as though he were an anonymous shag she’d picked up for just one night.

Hermione lay curled on her side. She swallowed and stared at her sun-streaked bedroom wall. Anonymity wasn’t on the table of possible choices, note or otherwise; she’d known him for years, after all. Maybe he was still asleep. She couldn’t see him, and her wand was out of reach—she could see it near the crumpled pile of her clothing by the far wall—but she had other resources at her disposal. Hermione focused intently on what she could hear; his breathing was level, and he wasn’t moving enough to rustle the sheets. She waited a few more minutes, listening for any changes. If he’d been awake, she could have just leapt out of bed and into her bathroom and faced the consequences upon return. In that scenario, hopefully he’d take his cue to exit before she came back. But if he was asleep, she’d have to be the one to go. Leaving a vague note before sneaking out of one’s own place was a trifle lacking in dignity, but it would be worth it to avoid an even more undignified scene. Also, it wasn’t as if he was going to burgle her flat. Even if he were inclined to pry, she’d charmed nearly every square inch of her flat and would know if anything was disturbed. She’d always been better than him at Charms—not to mention nearly everything else—and she doubted that much had changed in the last few years.

Hermione tried to tilt her head enough to look over her shoulder, but her neck promptly informed her that it wasn’t meant to work that way. She stifled a sigh. She slowly, painstakingly raised her head off of her pillow; the rustle of cloth sounded like the backfiring of a car to her overwrought nerves, but she knew it couldn’t possibly be that loud. After what felt like ages of microscopic movement, Hermione felt that she was able to attempt to peer over her shoulder. She craned her head around and found that she was looking into Draco Malfoy’s sharp grey eyes—his wide-awake grey eyes. Panic broke her muscle control and her head slammed back down on her pillow.

Merlin, he’d probably been watching her the whole time with a stupid smirk on his face. Hermione scrambled to sit upright, pulling the sheets around her as if she could similarly draw up the tatters of her dignity. Not that the sheet really mattered; he’d seen it all last night.

She pushed her hair back from her face, as if shoving it out of the way was actually a successful tactic for gaining time. She tightened the sheet around her torso and tried not to notice her white-knuckled grip. Malfoy, that utter bastard, hadn’t yet said a word—probably waiting for her to put her foot in it. Well, she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She’d be so civil that even he wouldn’t be able to find anything wrong with her behavior.

“Morning, Malfoy,” she said. There, that had sounded nice. Normal, in fact.

“Morning, Granger.”

They really were being awfully polite. Not that she wouldn’t be, on principle, but she hadn’t expected it of him. Although, he’d actually been quite nice last night. If he weren’t Malfoy, she’d have used the word ‘sweet’ instead, but this was her and this was Malfoy, and they had a history, as people would say. Also, she seriously doubted that he’d own up to things he’d said at two in the morning whilst they were—

Hermione cut off that thought. In stark contrast to her pseudo-blanket-tent, Malfoy was sprawled on his stomach over at least two-thirds of her bed. If that sheet dipped any lower, she’d be staring at his arse. Which, if she was looking at the sheet perched on his bum, she technically was already.

Hermione ripped her eyes upward and met his by accident. He looked bemused. Time passed in slow, agonizing increments, marked only by this moment’s rapid rising in Hermione’s personal list of ‘Most Awkward Conversational Silences I Have Ever Experienced.’

She cleared her throat. It sounded loud and horribly forced. Words were going to come out of her mouth, meaningful words involving limited time and breakfast plans with Ginny and needing to leave, but he beat her to it.

“I’ve actually got to go,” he said.

Well, that made things a lot easier. She did have breakfast plans with Ginny—they had a weekly arrangement to meet for brunch on Sundays—but that was a good three hours away and, as a witch with an excellent command of Apparition, stating that she was ‘in a rush’ involved a liberal interpretation of the truth.

“I understand,” she said. And she did, truly. Hermione averted her eyes as Malfoy rolled out of her bed and groped around on the floor for his clothing. She vaguely recalled throwing it in that direction last night. She stared at her bedroom walls and noted that she really should ask the landlady if she was allowed to paint. She’d charm the colors rather than paint, of course, but she didn’t want to accidentally give the lady a heart attack or a reason to raise her rent. She focused harder on possible shades of blue, not at all picturing what the shuffling, zipping, and buckling noises going on to her left might signify.

“Right,” he said, a decent interval after some kind of stomping sound.

Hermione turned away from her wall. Apparently, it hadn’t been a case of poor memory influenced by her slightly intoxicated state of mind last night: Malfoy looked unexpectedly good in form-fitting Muggle clothes, namely jeans and a t-shirt. Terrible dancing skills aside, he was actually quite fit. Not that she had any reasons to make a note of this for the future. It was just an observation. A notation, a recording of a fact. Nothing more.

To her surprise, he didn’t leave immediately. Instead, he stood at the foot of her bed awkwardly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. She’d have thought he’d be out her front door by now. Was more conversation imminent? Apparently, it was.

“Thanks. For, you know, for being—ah—understanding last night,” he said.

Hermione tried to recall exactly what part of last night he’d meant, and a probable answer popped up rather quickly. Oh. Oh. Well, it had been unexpected, but it wasn’t as though she was going to hold it against him. No one should be judged for that kind of thing; she knew, because she’d been in his position once before.

“It wasn’t a problem. Thank you for—” Hermione wracked her brains for the proper word. “—for your trust,” she settled on. It was vague, but it was close enough. They both knew what she meant.

“So, I’ll see you around.”

Hermione opened her mouth to let him know that it wasn’t necessary to give her some kind of pat lie to see each other again that they’d both politely accept and then conveniently forget. She knew the rules of the morning after game, thank you very much—especially when they involved really ill-thought shags—but he didn’t give her the chance to say her piece.

Instead he stepped toward her and bent down, and she—probably with the same set of instincts that led small animals to be run over in the face of oncoming car headlights—failed to dodge in time. Or move in any meaningful way, for a matter of fact. Instead, she found herself being kissed, a faint brush of lips on lips that caused her stomach to flip. He pulled away slowly, and she stared at him. Some part of her brain noted that she probably looked as stunned as Ron after taking a Bludger to the head, which wasn’t really the proper expression after having being given an absolutely lovely kiss, but the rest of her brain was busy gibbering in barely suppressed panic.

As he stood from her bed, Hermione noticed something else that made the gibbering worse. His cheeks were faintly stained pink as he navigated across her bedroom floor, and he gave her a rather intent look before he stepped through her bedroom doorway. She heard his footsteps and the faint thump of her flat’s outer door, but even that noise didn’t break her reverie.

As she stared at her open bedroom door, Hermione was bit by a terrible gnawing suspicion that the words ‘I’ll see you around,’ had not just been said but meant. What exactly he meant was yet unexplained, but she had a feeling that it wouldn’t be too long before she found out. She sat back against her headboard with a thump. Why had no one bothered to inform her that the world had come to an end?

Hermione held her teacup and tried very hard to appear nonchalant. She’d managed to talk herself down from a panic after Malfoy had left, reassuring herself that he’d simply been being, well, Malfoy. By the time she’d Apparated to her brunch with Ginny, her nerves had settled and anxiety had been replaced by hunger. She’d devoured her breakfast with almost indecent haste and was now nursing her third cup of tea. Ginny was talking about the Harpies’ upcoming match with the Falmouth Falcons, and Hermione tried very hard to focus. Thinking about Quidditch without thinking of Malfoy was a tricky task, as the two were inextricably linked in her mind.

Ginny was rattling on about her upcoming match, punctuating her points with little jabs of her uneaten toast. “—Seeker is a right bastard, but I’ve been running drills with Angelina and I think we’ve got a good shot at taking this one. We’ve only got three more days to prepare, but I think that the new—”

Hermione nodded and sipped her tea. She’d learned a great deal more about Quidditch after Hogwarts, mostly in self-defense. Hermione would never be a tremendous fan of the sport, but Ginny adored it. It was actually quite fun attending Harpies matches against teams who’d signed old friends like Oliver Wood, especially if it meant that everyone got to catch up afterward.

“—pummel them good. But enough about Quidditch. What’s going on these days with you?” Ginny took the opportunity of passing the conversational ball to munch her much-neglected toast.

Hermione’s hands tightened around her cup. “Nothing much.” She’d merely woken up with an ex-Death Eater in her bed, after having shagged him rotten the night before. But he’d been pardoned at his Ministry trial, so technically she hadn’t done anything wrong at all. Not that it was illegal—merely widely considered to be morally repugnant—to shag Death Eaters, former or otherwise. Or was it? She’d really never had cause to look into it before.

“Nothing much?” Ginny said archly, looking intrigued. “You never say that. It’s always something about the Ministry, a White Paper, upcoming research, or a charity drive. There’s never simply nothing going on in your life.”

Drat Ginny for knowing her too well. “Maybe there’s nothing much of interest at the moment,” she retorted, “as has been known to happen.”

“Dragon dung,” Ginny said, deadpan. “The only time you ever say ‘nothing much,’ is when there’s absolutely something going on. Something personal, I hope?” Ginny put down her toast, a gleeful look on her face.

Hermione groaned inwardly. Ginny had been badgering her to go out and meet guys ever since she’d split with Ron. It wasn’t that she minded talking with Ginny about her personal life—quite the opposite, as Ginny was one of her closest friends, usually had sensible advice, and didn’t gossip, to boot. Rather, she wasn’t quite sure what Ginny might say about her unusual adventure last night.

Hermione sipped her tea in a futile effort to buy herself time. Ginny waited, poised to swoop in on Hermione’s answer, likely with the same set of predatory instincts that made her such a formidable opponent on the Quidditch field. Hermione gave in and pulled out her wand. She discretely cast a muffling charm before speaking: these days there was always someone with an ear for gossip—and potentially an interest in The Daily Prophet’s rewards for tips—hovering nearby. Ginny leaned closer in anticipation.

“I had company last night,” Hermione said.

Ginny practically squealed in glee and coaxed Hermione into giving her a high-five. “Finally,” Ginny said. “Now tell me all the details.”

“Not much to say. It happened, it was nice, it’ll never happen again.” At least, she reassured herself, it was grossly unlikely to ever occur again. It was grossly unlikely to have happened in the first place. A repeat event, no matter what Malfoy might have said or implied, was ridiculous to contemplate. Not that he’d necessarily implied anything or that she’d thought about the chances of him implying anything, because that might have meant that she wanted to him to have done so. Which she did not. Most definitely did not.

Ginny looked disappointed. “Never happen again? I thought you said it was nice. He couldn’t have been that bad, or was Hermione Granger simply hit with a case of unbridled lust?” she teased. “You were out with those Muggle friends of yours, right, at a club? You mentioned that you were going out with them last week. Is it that he’s a Muggle and you just don’t think it would work?”

Oh, if only both parts of that question could be answered with a succinct ‘yes,’ then Hermione would be all set. Alas, only half of it was true.

“It definitely wouldn’t work. The entire situation had ‘one-night stand’ written all over it,” she said vaguely.

Ginny sighed with disappointment. “Now that I’m taken, I’ve got to live vicariously through you. You have a moral obligation to have scandalous adventures, which you can then tell me. A single one-night stand in twelve months is hardly enough to keep me going.”

Hermione smiled. “Scandal and I don’t keep close company, but I’ll do my best.”

“See that you do,” Ginny said with mock sternness and a shake of her toast.

May 30, 2002

She’d had a quite pleasant weekend, Saturday evening and early Sunday morning aside, but the following week at work had descended into nothing short of hellish. It was Thursday afternoon, and Hermione was doing the unthinkable; she was actually looking forward to the weekend and getting away from work. Not that it was her fault—quite the opposite, in fact. Lately it seemed that a day when her coworkers managed to find their own arses was nothing more than a fluke. She couldn’t possibly get the entire department sorted by herself, and everyone was in a tizzy over rumours, obsessed with sending inter-office memos about possible departmental budget cuts. She gave a stiff nod to a cluster of junior Aurors—she’d met a few while visiting Ron and Harry—as she walked through the Ministry’s corridors. A few waved hesitantly back. They could probably see her frazzled mood, and she resolved to do better at being a proper role model. Being Hermione Granger was rapidly evolving into a full-time job of its own, and some days she wished she could just hand the whole thing—reputation, expectations, and all—over to someone else. At least back at Hogwarts her peers had actually known her; they’d liked or hated her for herself. At the Ministry, people were usually too busy either interacting with some imagined Hermione Granger, War Hero—one cobbled together out of The Daily Prophet’s headlines and gossip—or trying to boot-lick their way to access to Harry.

Hermione squelched her irritation and wrested her mind back to work and its associated problems, the budget being the most recent. What budget was there to cut? she might have written in a memo of her own. There never seemed to be one where any of her requests were concerned. Her position at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had sounded so promising when she’d taken it—a catch-all for everything, an ideas person, someone who’d find the problems that needed fixing and bring a real vision into their work. She’d passed on numerous lucrative job offers in order to take it—not to mention a rather prestigious invitation to the Auror ranks from Shacklebolt himself—because she’d wanted to make a difference. Harry and Ron were doing good work as Aurors, but she wanted to change the system from the top and make a lasting difference.

Oh, she’d made a difference, all right. The kind of difference that no one else had noticed. She’d re-written the antiquated classification criteria for newly discovered Beasts, Beings, and Spirits, which had had more to do with wizarding prejudices than common sense; but her modern, research-based criteria only passed into approval after nearly a year of lobbying and petitioning various experts around the world to endorse her work. Her recent petition to have werewolves moved from the Beast to the Being Division had died in committee nearly three months ago. Hermione was working on getting it back under consideration, but pro-werewolf allies were proving remarkably scarce on the ground. It was getting so that she couldn’t look at little Teddy Lupin without feeling suffused with guilt, and visiting that little boy and his grandmother—the elegant and kind Andromeda Tonks—was supposed to be a highlight of her month, not the cause of regret.

As Hermione turned a corner, she nearly ran into some nitwit walking on the wrong side of the corridor. She looked up to give whomever it was a piece of her mind—drat her luck in being shorter than most—but her incipient rant died an early death.

Draco Malfoy was looking down at her with amusement. He was smartly dressed in a set of robes that were clearly top-of-the-line, worn over a charcoal-grey Muggle-style suit. He probably turned heads in that ensemble, not that Hermione would be one of them. She ruthlessly squashed the urge to reach up and pat down her hair, which was absolutely destroyed after a day at work. It wasn’t as though Malfoy hadn’t seen it looking worse; when she woke up, her hair usually looked as though she’d stuck her finger into an electric socket.

And now she was thinking about exactly why Malfoy knew what her hair looked like in the morning, which meant that she was also remembering what Malfoy had looked like wearing only her bedsheets—which was best described as really bloody good, damn the man for growing into that pointy chin and ending up with good looks—which meant that she should probably write this entire conversation off before it started. Still, she should make at least some kind of effort. It was rapidly growing awkward, the two of them standing in the corridor eying each other and saying nothing. People were giving them looks. She could almost hear the rumour mill starting to churn.

“Malfoy,” she said stiffly.

He raised one eyebrow, a move that Hermione had always secretly envied and occasionally striven to copy so that she could unleash it on Ron and Harry. Alas, her attempts to replicate it had been in vain.


They stared at each other. Why, oh why, was her heart speeding up and her mouth getting dry? She had work to do, didn’t she? Why was she standing in a hallway staring at Draco Malfoy? Hermione moved to her newly formulated plan: ignoring him. She stepped around him and proceeded down the hall. He followed. She hurried a bit. He matched her.

Merlin, Morgana and Nimue. If she walked any faster, she’d be on the verge of jogging through the Ministry’s halls. Perhaps she could prod him to go away.

“Can I help you, Malfoy?” she said over her shoulder, as he followed her around yet another corner.

“Just wrapping up a bit of business with the Ministry.”

“Don’t you mean wrapped up? Surely your business must be concluded and you should be on your way, or do you really have nothing better to do than pester me?” He was showing absolutely no signs of leaving her alone. At this rate, he was going to follow her all the way to her office.

As she glanced over her shoulder, she saw him shrug. How was he managing to turn the same gesture that made her want to throttle Ron and Harry into something that both infuriated her and made her admire the sharp cut of his suit? It should be illegal to look that good while being so annoying.

“I’ve added you to the day’s agenda,” he replied.

“Lovely,” she muttered. They arrived at her office, and she unlocked the door. Malfoy invited himself inside before she could tell him to shove off. By the time she wrested her door shut—she really had to follow up on that memo to Maintenance about the sticky lock—he’d already shamelessly occupied himself with riffling through the contents of her tiny, cramped office’s bookshelves.

“Your picture’s broken, Granger.” He prodded a picture of Hermione’s parents, one of the few non-magical ones in the room. The frame shifted a bit under his hand, moving from where she’d placed it; he didn’t bother adjusting it.

“It’s a Muggle photograph.”

He opened his mouth and then closed it, as if he thought better of what he was about to say. Astonishing. It appeared as if Draco Malfoy was now passing acquaintances with tact; better late than never, as her mother liked to say.

Hermione crossed her arms and looked pointedly at Malfoy. She’d have to wriggle around him to get to her desk and chair, and she was not about to stand that close to Malfoy. He’d probably take it the wrong way, and—

Hermione ruthlessly cut off that train of thought. “Can I help you with something, Malfoy, or is this simply an inspection of my office décor?”

“You’re awfully prickly,” he said, as if he was speaking to himself. “I’m here to make a deal.” He looked at her expectantly, as if she was supposed to have any idea what he was talking about. “Regarding the events of last weekend?” he said.

“You tracked me down at work, harangued me in my own office, all so that you could talk about last weekend?” Her mouth must have been hanging open with shock. Had someone put Malfoy under the Imperius Curse and no one had noticed? Had she been put under the Imperius Curse, booked an appointment with Malfoy, and had a Memory Charm cast on her afterward? Surely there was no space on her calendar that read: ‘Thursday 4:30: Meet with detested ex-schoolmate, pardoned Death Eater and last weekend’s ill-advised shag.’ At least, she hoped there wasn’t.

“I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of making a deal. Your sort certainly showed us that kind of behavior after the war. So, tell me. How much is it going to cost to keep you from talking about where and with whom you saw me last week? Pick the charity of your choice, if you fancy yourself high-minded. We can even take this outside of the Ministry if you’re feeling a touch paranoid,” he said, as if this were an absolutely normal request.

“Are you asking me to skive off work with you? So that you can offer me some sort of bribe?” she asked incredulously. There were greater issues at stake here, ones about ethics and his preposterous assumption about her morality, but Hermione was grabbing onto the ones that came easily to mind. Skiving off from work was at least a concept she could handle, having been enticed into doing so once or twice by Ron and Harry; but skiving off from work with Draco Malfoy was something that shouldn’t be contemplated before a firewhisky or three.

“I’m talking about a simple charitable donation, I have no idea what else you might be referring to by the term bribe,” he said stiffly. “Also, why is the idea of skiving off from work giving you conniptions? You bloody hate this place and your job, and it’s nearly half past four.”

“I do not hate the Ministry or my work,” she sputtered. Lies, lies, her traitorous mind whispered.

He gave her a look. “That’s not what you said last week.”

Who gave him permission to refer to last week? Last week was a done deal, excised from reality. Anything that had happened in Muggle London was in some alternate dimension: she’d played the part of Hermione Granger, Most Certainly Not a Witch, while he played Draco Malfoy, Most Certainly Not a Wizard. This Hermione Granger and this Draco Malfoy had been set up by Hermione’s unwitting primary school friends, who’d talked all night about fixing her up with someone. When they’d pointed out their intended target, she’d been so shocked that she’d confessed to having already met the young man who was making a fool of himself on the dance floor. She’d been unable to dissuade her giddy friends from making the attempt and had been shoved into Malfoy’s arms, to their mutual horror. Banned by the Statute of Secrecy from all the most explosive topics, such as anything about magic and the war, they’d ended up talking and drinking and kissing and shagging. However, none of those preliminary conditions now applied. They were back to reality and their actual lives, and neither of them were about to tell anyone else about it.

Hadn’t Draco gotten the memo about never speaking of those events again? Or perhaps, as Hermione realised with dawning dismay, it had been a memo sent to a party of one.

“Right,” he muttered, looking at her abstractedly as if she were a tricky Arithmancy problem. “Maybe we should do this outside of the Ministry, over drinks?”

“Out, out!” She grabbed Malfoy by his robes with one hand and dragged him towards her door. He shuffled along with her, looking down with alarm at where her fist was knotted in the cloth. Her face was flushed because of her rage, and not due to the sudden awareness of how her actions had served to pull the two of them together.

“Watch the clothes, Granger. You’re ruining their press,” he said sharply. She opened the door with a twist of her wand and practically shoved him through her doorway. It was ridiculous how much space he took up next to her, all sharp angles and broad shoulders, or how she seemed to be hyper-aware of how his robes had brushed against hers. It was just cloth.

“I’ll owl you,” he promised, as he adjusted his robes with a rakish wink.

Hermione looked out at the hallway with dismay. Sweet Merlin, no, there were co-workers—witnesses, her mind shrieked—standing nearby, gaping at the scene. She’d just shoved Draco Malfoy out of her office door, he was adjusting his rumpled robes, and he’d promised to owl her. In front of witnesses. By tomorrow morning, there would be a rumour around the entire Ministry that they were shagging. A rumour which had some small grain of truth, which made it all the more worse. Hermione did the only thing she could.

She drew herself up and spoke. “I’m sorry, Mister Malfoy, but the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is unable to help you with your problem regarding the removal of doxies from your property. Please consult your local bookseller for common household infestation removal advice.”

Malfoy frowned. “I’ll have you know that Malfoy Manor has never had a doxy infestation in my entire—”

Hermione slammed her door in his face.

May 31, 2002

Hermione spent all of Friday morning edging about in nervous anticipation. When Ron had dropped by for elevenses—he claimed that her private stash of tea was better than that in the Aurors’ offices—she’d braced herself for questioning. Instead, he’d crowed that he’d heard she’d gotten into it with Malfoy, and didn’t it serve that git right, getting thrown out on his ear?

So, apparently no one else had noticed that the scene in the corridor had strongly resembled an interrupted assignation. After all, nothing scandalous had occurred: there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for why his robes had been rumpled and her face had been flushed. It was the logical result of nerves and rage, and that was all.

It was also just nerves that had her stomach twisting when an imperious-looking eagle owl arrived just after two in the afternoon. She read the letter with astonishment. Malfoy wanted to meet-up with her this evening at eight o’clock, at some Muggle bar in Soho? Well, she certainly wasn’t going. The eagle owl hooted expectantly, waiting for a reply. She had to shoo it off before it would leave.

The rest of the day passed by in a blur of redundant paperwork and coworker calamities. By the time five o’clock rolled around, Hermione should have been chomping at the bit to get out. Instead, she found herself dithering over some paperwork, re-writing a three-paragraph proposal for the fifth time, as the Ministry emptied out around her. It wasn’t her fault if some things were urgent and couldn’t wait. The proposal was due towards the end of next month; that was barely twenty-five days away! By the time she’d re-written it to her satisfaction, it was seven o’clock. She walked through the deserted corridors with a spring in her step and cheerfully took the Floo back to her flat. It was far too late to contemplate going out—not that she ever had, of course—and she was ready to spend tonight curled up on her sofa with dinner, a book, and Crookshanks for company.

Only, her book didn’t seem as good as it had yesterday. There were several flaws in the plot that she’d been able to overlook the day before, but today they were gnawing at her mind. Her dinner seemed vaguely unsatisfactory. Even Crookshanks was in a sulky mood, choosing to sit by the window rather than come to the sofa and cuddle. Still, Hermione was determined to enjoy herself, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Eight o’clock rolled around. She changed into her pyjamas to see if being more comfortable would do the trick. Nine o’clock passed with no significant change to her mood.

Why was time moving so slowly, anyhow? This was all the book’s fault. It wasn’t holding her attention, and then she was thinking about time, and then she was thinking about how Malfoy might be at some blasted bar in Soho, waiting for her to show. Which she wasn’t going to. She hadn’t responded, after all. She looked at her book, not really seeing the words on the page.

Was it just her, or was her clock ticking particularly loudly today? She glared at it. Did it really have to count every second between ten and eleven after? It wasn’t as if she really wanted a reminder of how Malfoy might be waiting for her, abandoned at a bar. He didn’t even like Muggle bars that much, as he’d told her last week. He just liked that he could be anonymous for once; no one knew that he was a Malfoy, with all the name entailed, in a Muggle crowd.

And now she’d broken the moratorium on thinking about last week. Hermione glared at her hapless book, trying to ignore the creeping guilt that was curling up her toes and marching towards her heart. Perhaps she hadn’t been as clear as possible that she wouldn’t attend. She could have sent a note, after all. Something short and to the point would have sufficed. No response was a trifle open ended.

You’re behaving rudely, Hermione Jean Granger, her mind whispered. It sounded an awful lot like her mum. Hermione squirmed in guilt on her sofa. She should have sent him a note. She couldn’t send an owl now, because he might be in Muggle London. A Patronus was out, not to mention that anyone who’d fought in the war associated them with matters of life or death. Belatedly canceling a non-date certainly didn’t qualify. That left her with other traditional non-magical means. Namely, showing up and clarifying the matter in person.

Hermione stared at her book and then mournfully down at her pyjamas. There was nothing for it; the guilt wouldn’t let her sleep otherwise. She sighed and went to go find something more appropriate to wear to Soho on a Friday night.

It was ten o’clock by the time she pushed her way through the bar door. She’d Apparated nearby, of course, or she wouldn’t have even made it by midnight. The crowd was mostly university age or older. Her choice of a nice skirt, summery top and sensible flats made her blend in with the rest of the crowd. Malfoy was probably gone by now—it was pushing nearly two hours past the time she was due—but, in good conscience, she had to at least check the bar. She scanned the crowd and spotted that too-familiar white-blond hair. Her stomach plummeted; he was still here. Here at all, actually. Which meant that she’d been wrong on two counts: first, that he’d realise she hadn’t been planning on showing, and second, that any sensible person would have left by now. Although, Draco Malfoy had never actually been someone she considered sensible.

She made her way to the bar, slipping between patrons and busy staff. The bar was crowded, but not unusually so for a Friday night. There was a stool still open besides Malfoy. She was surprised at his lack of company, considering how good he looked. Still, as she stepped just behind him, she caught a glimpse of his expression. That scowl and the sullen way that he was prodding an half-empty pint glass had probably scared off all but the most determined. The sharp edge of his tongue—with which Hermione was long acquainted—had probably done it for the rest.

She cleared her throat. “Is this seat taken?” she asked, placing her hand upon the empty stool. He glanced up and opened his mouth, presumably to make some kind of sharp retort. When he recognised her, the scowl was quickly replaced by a pleased look.

“I’m sorry, I got held up,” she lied as she slid onto the stool.

“Don’t lie, Granger. It doesn’t suit you.” He sipped his pint, and Hermione watched the smooth ripple of his throat as he swallowed. He made drinking a pint look like sipping Chablais. He should have looked out of place in a bar packed with Muggle university students; there should have been some clue that he’d grown up wearing robes and riding brooms, not breaking in jeans and buying tacky band t-shirts, but Hermione seemed to be the only one aware of the inherent oddity of him being there at all.

He continued. “You’d no intention of coming, or you wouldn’t be nearly two hours late. So, what changed your mind?” Malfoy looked at her expectantly, and Hermione was all too aware of how close they were sitting. He almost missed the coaster when he set his pint back down. Her eyes narrowed. Exactly how much had he already had to drink tonight? So, she asked him precisely that and he gave her a smirk which did funny things to her insides.

“Granger, Granger. You think I’d tell? Enough—or maybe not quite enough—is what. Besides, you blew me off. What’s a bloke to do?”

He snagged her closest hand and kissed her fingertips, leaving her stunned. He was drunk. He must have been drunk, because there was no other plausible explanation for the how and why of what had just occurred. There was no point in expending effort trying to explain things tonight, about how last weekend had been a mistake and this meeting even more so. Never mind trying to unpack the sticky set of ethics and sense of obligation which meant that he only had to ask—not bribe—her in order to get her not to tell. In his state, she’d be lucky if he even remembered meeting her at all. As she sat there in a state of semi-shock, Malfoy flagged down the barmaid.

“A firewhisky!” he called loudly as the barmaid approached.

“Malfoy,” Hermione hissed, “it’s just whiskey. Not firewhisky.”

“Whatever, Granger, the lady knows what I mean.” And the lady did indeed, because a whiskey slid across the bar to where Malfoy was seated. “I even have some of the funny-coloured money that you Muggles like so much.”

Malfoy pulled out a stack of notes and dropped some onto the bar. By Hermione’s count, Malfoy was either drinking at the most expensive bar she’d ever heard of—unlikely, given the clientele and decoration—or he was leaving the barmaid twenty-pound tips. Probably the latter, given how fast the barmaid whisked the money away.

Hermione reached out and snagged his arm, intending to escort him away from the bar, and he looked at her with surprise. An expression which quickly turned to looking pleased, and Hermione found his arm around her waist as he reached down and scooted their stools closer. He looked ridiculously satisfied with himself. Hermione stiffened but couldn’t quite bring herself to pull away. She was probably acting as his major balance support; she didn’t want to see him fall over. She was going to have to sit here—just to make sure that he didn’t get hurt. His arm was warm around her waist, but not unpleasantly so. She started as his thumb stroked her hip, sending sparks down her spine and causing heat to curl in her stomach.

Malfoy’s whiskey sat neglected on the counter, and he reached up to tug on the tips of her hair. He leaned in and whispered, his breath ghosting across her neck. “I’ve always liked your hair. It makes you look absolutely wild.”

Hermione clamped down on her morass of absolutely inappropriate thoughts, which had been going in tempting directions. That was it. She was downgrading Malfoy from drunk to absolutely sloshed. There was no way she was leaving him around Muggles in this state.

“I’m taking you home, Malfoy,” she declared. He seemed unperturbed and merely followed as she guided them from the stools to the floor.

The barmaid nodded at them as Hermione prepared to drag Malfoy away. “He’s been going on about the war, you know.”

“Come again?” Hermione said, as a chill ran down her spine. He’d been talking about the war? To Muggles? She didn’t want to have to send for Aurors to arrest Malfoy in her spare time.

The barmaid snorted. “I know. Usually that sort’s a couple decades older, at the very least. I couldn’t even figure out which one he was going on about until he insisted that he was talking about the second one.” She waggled her finger. “It’s those end of term exams, I’ve always said. He’s not the first student I’ve seen who’s gotten his head turned funny.”

Hermione was overcome by a crushing sense of relief. Of all things, the barmaid had thought Malfoy had been talking about the second world war. He must have been really drunk—or still had some faint sense of self-preservation—to speak in terms vague enough to make the barmaid think he was talking about a sixty year-old Muggle war.

The barmaid continued her speech. “Take him home and tell him to stop obsessing over history and maybe pay more attention to what’s going on in his own time.” She gave a meaningful look to where Malfoy’s hand was wrapped around Hermione’s waist, as his other hand played with her hair. Hermione gave the barmaid a wan smile and dragged Malfoy to the door.

“I knew you’d come,” he whispered as they swayed towards the door in a parody of coordinated movement, “because I am utterly charming and you know it.”

Hermione didn’t dignify that with a response.

They stumbled down an alley around the corner from the bar. Malfoy was leaning more and more on her with every passing moment, and Hermione had to find somewhere she could put him down for a while. She wrinkled her nose. Make that somewhere which didn’t smell of stale beer and piss.

“Shagging in a back alley? I didn’t know that was your thing, Grang’r.” Malfoy muttered into her shoulder.

Hermione added “hopeful” and “deluded” to her list of adjectives about Malfoy’s current state, making the list stand at hopeful, deluded, and dead drunk. There was no way he could Apparate without Splinching himself; in his state, even being able to hold his wand was pushing it. Side-Along it would have to be, hopefully followed by shoving him head-first through her Floo shortly thereafter. She grabbed him tighter and braced herself for what was likely to be a very bumpy ride.

They arrived with a stagger into her flat. Malfoy showed absolutely no control or coordination and went arse over tea kettle upon arrival, taking her with him.

With a groan, she rose shakily to her feet. Considerately—albeit unintentionally—Malfoy had offered up himself as a sacrifice between herself and her hardwood floor. She’d planned on having him take the Floo home, but in this state she wasn’t sure if he’d be able to manage even that much.

“Grang’r, you only had t’ ask. I’d be happy t’ shag you into the floor,” mumbled the last scion of the Malfoy line, from his dignified position lying face-down on her sitting room floor.

It seemed that traveling by Floo was temporarily out of the question. There was no telling where he’d wind up. That left her with precious few options. There was no way she was going to owl Malfoy Manor and ask them to pick up their wayward son, as if she was asking how best to return a jumper that had been left behind. She could only imagine the note:

‘I have your son and heir. Free your house-elves, ban the Werewolf Registry and bring me an international treatise to improve magical creatures’ rights, and he’ll be returned to you unharmed.’

She snorted. Tempting, but there was no way that wouldn’t end in her front door being taken down by a Hit Wizard squad. Besides, given the lack of a Ministry-wide manhunt, Narcissa Malfoy wasn’t aware of her precious son’s habits of fraternizing with Muggles or one Muggle-born witch. Likely, Malfoy had some sort of elaborate series of lies going on and wanted to keep it that way. Hermione filed that theory away as material for future lines of questioning.

The sofa it would have to be. She levitated him off the floor and onto her sofa with a snap of her wand, spinning him slowly in mid-air so that he wouldn’t throw up. When he hit the sofa, he woke up a bit more. He pushed himself slowly up, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“Granger, I think I’m drunk,” he blurted.

Incredible. It only took him at least an hour after intoxication had occurred to come to that conclusion.

“Sober me up.” He waved vaguely at his head.

Sobriety spells were notoriously tricky, and had a fifty-fifty shot of leaving the recipient with a blinding headache. Overall, regular remedies like food, water, and sleep were much preferred, and she did not want to deal with a cranky Malfoy. Perhaps he was actually coherent enough to use the Floo?

“No. You’re going to go home and deal with it on your own. The fireplace is right there,” she said, pointing exasperatedly in its direction, “so grab the Floo powder and remove yourself from my sofa.”

He looked at her dazedly and slowly shook his head. “Nope. That wasn’t the plan.” He hiccuped. “If you don’t, I will.” He pulled his wand out of his back pocket and aimed it at his head.

Expelliarmus!” she shouted.

He looked surprised when his wand twisted out of his fingers and rolled across her sitting room floor. “Granger, th’s not very nice. If we’re dueling, you should’ve given a day’s notice. I don’t even have a second,” he said as he swayed on her sofa.

“Do you want to blow your head off, Draco Malfoy?” Hermione said, her teeth gritted. Magic—especially magic performed on living human beings—should not be attempted while drunk.

He sprawled back on her sofa, looking like Dionysus himself, and making absolutely no move towards her Floo. Hermione was pretty sure she’d seen that same mixture of dissipation and arrogant charm on the face of his stone counterpart at the British Museum. If a blinding headache was what he wanted, then it would be what he’d get, if it would get him off of her sofa and through the Floo. With that thought and a look at the clock—it was rapidly approaching an absolutely ghastly hour—Hermione cast the spell.

As it enveloped his head, Malfoy blinked and then clutched his temples. It looked like he’d gotten the headache after all; Hermione felt absolutely no guilt whatsoever. To her surprise, he quickly dropped his hands from his head and stood up, a smile on his face. No one smiled like that after a sobriety spell headache, which meant—

“Looks like Luck loves me after all,” he said. Hermione realised that he was standing quite close—far, far too close for comfort—and made to step back.

“Now, Granger,” he chided. “You went to all that effort to get me back to your place, and then you cut and run?” He reached out and trailed a hand down her arm. Hermione shivered as a sliver of need twisted her stomach. Damn him. Damn him for looking so good, damn him for clouding her judgment, and damn him for making her want him at all.

He stepped closer and brought up his other hand, running them up and down her arms. “I’ll go, if you want me to. Just say the word, and I’ll be through that Floo.” His breath was hot against her face. Hermione felt herself sway against him just the slightest amount. He dipped his head and kissed her, and Hermione closed her eyes and gave herself over to the moment. After a few mind-clouding seconds, she pulled back and looked at him. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but for an instant she saw a flicker of hurt on his face. He lowered his hands and started to step back.

“Stay,” she breathed, and she reached out to pull him closer.

June 2, 2002

Hermione had spent the next day and a half alternating between wallowing in guilt and feeling like the cat that got the canary, the cream, and satisfied her curiosity all the same time. Which, in turn, only served to make her feel guiltier. What happened to explaining that it was only a one time deal? Where had her good intentions and common sense gone? Had they vanished to another land? Hermione Granger did not shag Draco Malfoy; she did not shag him once, she did not shag him twice, and she most certainly did not debate with herself about the possible merits of doing it a third time.

Hermione poked desultorily at her cup of coffee. Normally it was too strong for her taste, but this week she felt as though she needed something with an extra kick. Maybe it would jolt her brain back into rationality. She added some cream and sugar while looking around at the chipper little outdoor patio at this week’s café. It was in Muggle London, which Hermione had felt was the safer choice, all things considered. If she didn’t talk to someone soon about what was going on, she’d drive herself round the twist. She needed outside advice, or at least someone to bounce ideas off of. Hermione was good at keeping secrets, but it didn’t meant that she liked keeping secrets from her friends. Harry and Ron were out, but Ginny—Ginny might understand.

She spotted Ginny down the street and waved. Ginny waved back, relief evident on her face, and soon was being seated and given her own cup of coffee.

“Sorry I’m late,” Ginny said. “I got a bit turned around on the Underground. What’s with the change of place?” She looked around the American-style café with interest.

Hermione fiddled with her discarded sugar packets. She’d already checked the area for other wizards or witches, and all of her scans had come up clean. Going this far into Muggle London was the best way to hide from unwanted listeners and too nosy gossips; setting foot outside of Diagon Alley was a guaranteed way to lose three-quarters of all of The Daily Prophet’s snoops, and venturing out this far into Muggle London was a near impossibility for all but Muggle-borns, half-bloods raised in Muggle environments, or those with close Muggle-born friends. Given the extremely small percentage of magic-users among the greater population, the chances of accidentally bumping into anyone who might recognise her were near null. Muggle London bought Hermione the kind of anonymity that no muffling charm could replicate.

“I have a confession to make and I wanted a bit of privacy,” Hermione said, steeling herself for the inevitable conversational fallout.

“A confession? Have you done something scandalous, I hope?” Ginny said with barely repressed glee, and she started to sip her coffee.

Hermione swallowed. “I slept with Draco Malfoy. Twice.”

Breakfast had gone well, all things considered, especially after they’d gotten Ginny a replacement coffee and Hermione had discretely removed the remains of Ginny’s coffee from her own shirt. They’d had to mop up the table, too, but luckily the waitress had been quick with the extra napkins.

Hermione had spent most of the meal explaining the general details of how it happened, and by the time they’d gotten to the messy post-mortem, she and Ginny had long since left the café in order to wander through St. James’ Park.

Ginny seemed dazed. “Just so I’m sure I’ve got things right. You met Draco Malfoy at a Muggle club, after being dragged there by your Muggle schoolfriends—”

Hermione nodded.

“—where you found out that he dances badly. Which somehow inspired you to take him home and shag him—”

Hermione nodded again, this time guiltily.

“—not once, but twice. On two separate occasions.”

“That would be an accurate summary of events.”

Ginny heaved a tremendous sigh. “Well, while I’m working my way through that, let’s talk about something utterly shallow.” She gave Hermione an impish look. “How was he?”

“Excuse me?”

“How was Malfoy. In bed,” Ginny said slowly, “Come on, Hermione! You can’t shag and then refuse to tell! I couldn’t ask before, because Ron’s my brother and that would be disgusting, but now you can tell!”

Hermione really did not want to give a detailed analysis of Malfoy’s bedroom technique. The idea just felt uncomfortable. “He was fine.”

“Fine is not an adequate description for shagging. Back at Hogwarts, rumour had it that he was either saving it for his wedding night due to some family curse that would hex his balls off otherwise, or he was an absolute demon in the sack. So, since you’re not married to him, was the latter true?”

Hermione sighed and pinched her brow. Ginny would hound her until she got the truth, but on the other hand, it was somewhat sensitive information. “Ginny, do you promise not to mention anything I say about Malfoy and his sexual prowess, or anything else regarding what happened that night?”

Malfoy and his sexual prowess,” Ginny sighed. “Talk about words I never dreamed would come out of your mouth. But, yes, I promise,” she said earnestly. “So, come on, spill!”

“Promise?” Hermione said seriously. Even though she’d been one of the two participants, for whatever reason, talking about it felt almost like gossip.

Ginny looked at her friend closely. When she spoke, it was deliberate. “I’m asking mostly out of fun, and I do want to know, but I do promise that I won’t tell. If you don’t want the details of what you and Malfoy did spread about, then rest assured that information will never pass my lips.”

Hermione took a deep breath. “Both rumours back at Hogwarts had no basis in fact—” Ginny looked disappointed. “—due to the fact that Malfoy’s not married, and there is currently only one person who’s been in an position to rate Malfoy’s ‘prowess’ in that particular arena.”

Ginny looked puzzled, working out the statement. Her jaw dropped. “How on earth did you not tell me this earlier?”

“I didn’t think it was relevant?”

“Not relevant—” Ginny’s voice trailed off. “You despoiled the Malfoy heir.” She grinned. “Maybe they’ll make you marry him.”

Hermione laughed shakily. She felt better that Ginny had taken it in stride, and hadn’t said anything cutting about Malfoy. “I’m pretty sure that kind of thing hasn’t actually been done in years. Centuries, in fact,” she said sardonically.

“Or perhaps you’re missing a very old, obscure bit of pure-blood cultural lore. Lore which I know,” Ginny leaned in close and whispered dramatically, “having been raised in a pure-blood family, not that my dad likes spreading that information around—”

Hermione smiled fondly. Only Arthur Weasley would downplay his family’s pure-blood status. He probably felt faintly embarrassed about being a pureblood; goodness knows that he’d been most disappointed when her and Ron had amiably broken it off over a year ago. Arthur had probably given his son a stern talking-to for letting an eligible Muggle-born witch escape.

“—so you should know that it isn’t unheard of for forced marriages to occur. Due to certain indiscretions occurring before a proper wedding night.” Ginny waggled her eyebrows and grinned lasciviously.

Hermione looked pointedly at her friend. “Ginny, you’re going to have to do better than that to convince me that the Malfoys are clutching their proverbial pearls and drawing up a wedding contract as we speak.”

Ginny shrugged nonchalantly, but her grin didn’t diminish one jot; she looked far too much like a prank-planning George for Hermione’s comfort. “I know, but the idea’s just fantastic.” Ginny looked out at the park grounds and the passersby, a dreamy look in her eyes. “The Malfoy-Granger wedding. It’d be the scandal of the century. They’d have to put both of you under the Imperius Curse to get you up the aisle, Ron would already be in Azkaban for attempted homicide, and Harry and I would have to swoop in on our brooms to evade Malfoy’s hired squad of security goons so that we could whisk you away at the altar.” Ginny looked back at Hermione, an impish grin on her face. “Which we would, of course. We’ve got some very fast brooms.”

“Should I ever be in danger of marrying Draco Malfoy, I’ll keep that in mind,” Hermione said. “The Malfoy-Granger wedding.” She shook her head. “Besides, if we’re talking about my theoretical wedding, it’d be the Granger-Malfoy wedding. I wouldn’t let his name go first. We’d do alphabetical order.”

“Very fair, very practical. To the honourable Hermione Granger, ruiner of pure-blood virtue and debaucher of the Malfoy heir.” Ginny said with false solemnity, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. “May she earn a place of infamy in the Malfoy family history.”

Hermione was certain that regardless of what had occurred—and would never occur again—between her and Malfoy, she’d already managed to accomplish precisely that.

June 29, 2002

As it had turned out, Hermione’s good intentions were all for naught. Over the next few weeks, two became three, three became four, and four had just finished becoming five.

Hermione lay on her bed and stared at her ceiling. There was a sleeping Malfoy by her side. How had this become her life? Her life was supposed to consist of saving house-elves, fixing the inner workings of the Ministry, putting out proverbial fires at work, or rescuing Ron and Harry from whatever disaster they’d recently gotten themselves into—be that schoolwork, Dark wizards, or their personal lives. Nowhere on that list had she written ‘shag Draco Malfoy on the sly.’ She was too busy for things like illicit affairs. How did she even have time to fit Malfoy into her life?

Although, these days Ginny had Harry pretty well in hand, Ron was enjoying playing the field, and there hadn’t been a serious Dark wizard uprising since the year or two after Voldemort’s defeat. Schoolwork was also a moot point, as Harry and Ron actually did well at things they enjoyed, and apparently Auror training was one of them. As for the Ministry—

Hermione could feel her muscles tense even thinking about it. Today had been the death-knell—delivered by interoffice memo on cheap parchment—in her attempts to get the Werewolf Registry abolished, a fact which had her swinging between bouts of rage and utter depression at failing Remus, Tonks and little Teddy Lupin. She wanted to punch her despicable flobberworm of a department head in the face. He’d said that he’d back her on this one, but apparently that included memo-ing other departments with little apologetic notes about ‘Granger’s idealism and womanly heart overcoming practical safety and long-standing best practices regarding the dangerous werewolf community.’

Every major change that required inter-departmental cooperation had been blocked by her own department head or some other one. Every single one. She’d failed to get werewolves reclassified, and there was no change in enforcement of the Registry. Werewolf Support Services was also a Ministry-wide joke, considering it also consisted entirely of Hermione Granger. She was also the department’s overseer of the Office of Misinformation, a supposedly prestigious post working with the Prime Minister. However, given the overall wizarding attitude towards Muggles and the whispered comments she’d heard in the halls about ‘like belonging with like,’ the position was nothing more than a transparent attempt to shove a Muggle-born witch off into a dead-end Ministry career.

At this rate, she was going to end up as one of those supposedly indispensable employees, so valuable in their current grossly overworked positions, that they simply couldn’t be spared for anything like a promotion that came with a pay raise or anything else that would allow her to leave pointless paper-pushing behind.

Death by paperwork, that was the plot. So far she’d been beating it with near-incessant abuse of Pepper-Up potion and quills that she’d charmed to correctly fill out forms in triplicate, but she couldn’t fight the whole Ministry.

At this rate, she should ask Shacklebolt to take down the sign that said ‘Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures’ and replace it with something that said ‘Hermione Granger’s Grossly Underappreciated Hard Work, But Someday I’ll Murder You All.’ Or something of that sort.

The entire system was stacked against non-humans, and lately she’d been getting pushback and hearing rumours about Muggle-borns not knowing their places. At this rate, she’d be head of the department’s smallest division by thirty—maybe they’d make one that consisted solely of herself—and hit the dead end in her career at the same time. It was a bureaucratic dead end, and it was not the kind of fight that Hermione was well-equipped to handle. Feats of courage? Not a problem. Daring solutions to unconventional research problems? She’d tackle it head-on. Dealing with the slippery mess of old regulations, long-held prejudices and false promises that lead to nowhere and nothing getting done? She felt out of her depth and frustrated beyond belief.

She sighed and looked over to the sleeping man beside her. Perhaps that was the answer to her Malfoy-related quandary. Here, at least, was something in her life that could be dealt with—or at least tackled—with clever application of hands, tongue, and kisses that seemed to burn her to the bone. Although, did that explain why she’d let him corner her in a dark, deserted nook of the Ministry, where he’d thoroughly distracted her for a quarter of an hour during which they’d discovered exactly how much weight some shelves could hold? Or why she’d dragged him to the Bodlian Library and ended up snogging him for an hour in the stacks? She was also going on what seemed like a tour of Greater London these days, with Malfoy by her side. She was using the Disillusionment Charm more frequently than she had since the war, and she’d had to refill her Oyster card three times as often as usual. She’d even coaxed Malfoy into getting one of his own, a concession which still boggled her weeks after the fact.

Speaking of Malfoy, he was in her bed, again, and she felt less than terrible about him being there. Actually, truth to be told, she didn’t feel guilty at all. Well, she felt guilty about not feeling guilty. At least that was something. She turned on her side to contemplate the newest puzzle in her life.

Perhaps there were two identical Draco Malfoys. One was an arrogant tosser that she saw occasionally in the Ministry’s halls, who looked as though he was perpetually smelling something foul in the room. The other was a Malfoy whom only she could see, who’d been raised by a kindly wizarding family whose members didn’t go around torturing people for fun; that Malfoy gave her a charming smile before shagging her practically through her headboard. Speaking of which, she really needed to renew the Cushioning Charm on both sides of the damn thing.

She leaned over and checked her theory. Nope, Shag-Me-Through-the-Headboard Malfoy had the Dark Mark. And they hadn’t exactly been passing those around like they were sweets during the last war. Not that she really expected her theory to go anywhere. It was more a testament to the devastating combination of insomnia and creeping emotional paranoia than anything else.

Quite frankly, she was no longer sure what was going on between them. If only he wasn’t so hard to read. Perhaps she could just ask him. It was only one o’clock in the morning. He might be still awake. She sat up and leaned over towards him.

“Malfoy,” she whispered. He didn’t respond. “Malfoy,” she whispered, this time louder, and accompanied with a vicious poke in the ribs. By golly, if she couldn’t sleep, neither would he. He made an unintelligible noise.

Malfoy,” she hissed.

He cracked one eye open and looked at her.

“Malfoy,” she whispered, “what do you think we’re doing?”

“Wah do I thin’ we’re wah?” he mumbled into his pillow.

“What do you think we’re doing? You know. Us. You. Me.” She waved a hand at the space between them, the bed, and her room. “This. All of it.”

“’m sleeping,” he said, sounding a touch more coherent. “’m sleeping with you.”

Hermione squeaked in surprise as his hand snaked around her waist and pulled her back down on the mattress. She found herself plastered against his side.

“Go back t’ sleep, Granger.” Malfoy mumbled into her hair, before taking his own advice. Hermione, who rarely took advice from anyone who didn’t have at least five publications to their name, instead watched her clock tick towards two in the morning, while listening to Malfoy breathe by her side.

July 7, 2002

They were half-way through their mimosas and an absolutely fabulous picnic brunch in St. James’ Park—courtesy of Kreacher and brought by Ginny’s hands—when Hermione confessed. The guilt about feeling not horribly guilty had finally gotten to her.

“It happened again. By again, I mean multiple times.”

“Again?” Ginny looked confused for a moment, then enlightenment dawned. “Hermione!” She quirked an eyebrow. “Are you telling me that you’ve accidentally made Malfoy into your sex slave?”

Hermione’s face turned at least three shades of red in rapid succession. “Ginny! It’s not my fault! He just—he just keeps on appearing, and he asks me places, and we end up talking, and then things happen.” Hermione conveniently skipped the times she’d been the one doing the asking, the dragging to places, and the instigator of things which had happened.

“I notice you don’t deny the sex slave accusation,” Ginny said. Hermione groaned. “Like a baby bird, he’s become inappropriately attached to the first thing he saw,” she continued. “How utterly adorable.”

Hermione put her face in her hands. “Technically, the first thing he shagged,” she muttered.

“Well, do you want him to go away?”

Hermione opened her mouth to answer. Nothing came out.

“Interesting. You and Malfoy.” Ginny whistled. “I’d never have seen that one coming.”

“There is no ‘Malfoy and me’ to be spoken of. It only happened fiv—a few times—and a few times is not a pattern, never mind a point for connecting our names together.”

Ginny looked at her dubiously. “It’s the beginning of a pattern.”

Hermione sighed and looked across the park. It was a gorgeous day, and she could see clusters of people scattered around the green, and two men nearby were chatting animatedly while tossing bread into the duck pond. No one was paying the slightest bit of attention to Ginny and herself. They sat quietly for a while.

“I really have no idea what, exactly, is going on,” she said. Hermione picked at her fruit salad while Ginny toyed with her toast.

Eventually, Ginny spoke. “I suppose the bigger question isn’t what you think of it, but how you feel about it.”

Hermione snorted. “It happened, but it shouldn’t have. The entire situation is a disaster waiting to unfold.” She began to tick off points. “I’m Muggle-born, he’s a Malfoy. I work for the Ministry, he does absolutely nothing with his time, as much as I can tell. I’m a war hero, for whatever that’s worth, and he was pardoned by the Ministry due to age and Harry’s testimony.” She ran her hands through her hair in frustration. “Usually when one’s friends ask for character references for one’s latest bloke, they’re joking, not asking for transcripts from the time that they testified at his trial for homicide, torture, kidnapping, endangerment of minors, trespassing, conspiracy, use of Unforgivables, and treason.”

Ginny looked at her with wide eyes. “You remember all of that? I mean, I was at the Malfoys’ trials as well, but I don’t think I could recall all of the charges.”

“I actually shortened the list a bit,” Hermione said, “but don’t you see my point?”

Ginny took a deep breath and looked at Hermione squarely. “Look, Hermione, I’ll never be an advocate for Malfoy—any of ’em. He was a terror to us in school, he’s an inbred, pompous twit, he thinks Galleons are better than friends, and he did terrible things during the war.” Hermione winced. It was all quite accurate.

Ginny continued. “On the other hand, there were damn good reasons for his pardon. You should know, you argued for it with Harry, when Ron said that you two shouldn’t even bother! You’re the last person who could be accused of not knowing his faults, but not once have you said anything along the lines of detesting him or not wanting it to happen again.”


“Come on, Hermione. Stop thinking about what you should want and start thinking about what you actually want. You can’t be the public persona of Hermione Granger for your entire life. No one can live in public every minute of their life. Be a little selfish. Come on.” Ginny looked at her pleadingly. “As your friend, I’m telling you to do this. You’re the one who told me, back in fifth year, to stop thinking about what Harry would want and to just be myself.” Ginny took a deep breath. “Well, now I’m telling you to stop thinking about what everyone else—whether they have a right to or not—thinks you should do, and to just do what you want instead.”

Hermione frowned contemplatively. Do what she wanted. Did she really want this? A summer affair with Malfoy?

Ginny sighed. “All right, I’m going to bring out the dragon-sized argument. Which is, after all, the most important one of them all.” Hermione looked at her friend with interest, curious as to what Ginny would consider the tipping point in this debate.

Ginny looked very stern, but there was a distinct twinkle in her eye. “What I’m about to say is in violation of the Weasley Family Oath Between the Youngest Four.”

“I’ve never heard of that one.”

“Well, it’s something that Fred and George made Ron and I swear back at Hogwarts. They tried to get us to make a Wizard’s Oath, but I said I’d hex ’em if they didn’t trust our honour as Weasleys. It simply states that we shall never utter anything complimentary about a Malfoy, ever. However, this situation is technically more a statement of fact rather than a compliment.” Ginny tapped her chin thoughtfully. “So, never repeat this to my brothers or Harry, but Draco Malfoy is eminently shaggable.”


Ginny laughed. “I’m not saying marry him, I’m just saying that what’s the harm in shagging him on the side?” She grinned. “The war’s over, you’re single, he’s fit and willing. And I haven’t seen you look all speculative like that about a bloke in, oh, just about forever.” Ginny lightly cuffed Hermione’s shoulder. “No marriage, though, I mean it! I couldn’t face a future with Draco Malfoy sitting down for Christmas dinner with my family.” Ginny stuck out her tongue and grimaced.

Hermione made a similar face. The very idea of it was horrifying. Harry would stalk Malfoy through each room of the Burrow and stare relentlessly at him over every course. Ron would probably have a stroke somewhere around the carving of the roast. Malfoy would spend most of the evening transfigured as a ferret, due to George. Bill, Fleur and Charlie would each try discretely inquiring if she needed to be smuggled out of the country for her safety. Mrs. Weasley would alternate between attempting to give Malfoy a slow death through carcinogenic cooking and dissecting his intentions towards Hermione. Mr. Weasley would have to pay to replace the entire dining room after it inevitably caught on fire towards the end of the festivities. The culprit would forever go unknown, unless it was Ginny, who’d later confess that she was trying to provide a distraction so that Hermione could flee.

“Besides, it’s not as if either of you are going to end up with a broken heart over this. Malfoy’s a hairy-hearted wizard if I ever saw one, and you’re, well,” Ginny made a vague gesture, “you. Malfoy just doesn’t seem your type.”

This was true. Malfoy wasn’t her type. Her type was kind-hearted, well-intentioned young men, who were loyal, faithful, and started off as friends. She could have fun with Malfoy for the summer, or until her interest ran out. He certainly wasn’t looking for anything permanent; he was probably just passing time with her until his family decided it was time for him to wed. They could fool around this summer and no one would get hurt. Right?

July 13, 2002

It was somewhere in the vicinity of noon, and they were sprawled out on her bed; she was lazily tracing designs on his back. It was almost hypnotic, drawing her fingers over curves of bone and muscle, and Malfoy was far from objecting. He’d practically melted into her mattress with contentment. At the current rate, Hermione wondered if she’d ever be able to pry him from her bed. It didn’t seem likely as long as the sunlight and her hands remained constant, and she was rather disinclined to stop.

She trailed a finger down his spine and watched him shiver. He turned his head to look at her, and she could tell that he was trying to judge the direction of her intent. She was fishing for conversation, although she’d be more than happy to explore the alternative later. As for right now, she had a theory to explore.

“Ginny canceled. Do you want to go to someplace tomorrow?” she said, as casually as possible.

“Sure. Got some place in mind?” He closed his eyes, arching up a bit against her hands. She traced a series of ancient runes on his skin, hidden words which were only visible in her mind.

“I was thinking someplace magical, for a change. I’ve never seen wizarding Paris, and I know that you’ve been a few times.” She waited for an answer, almost certain of what she’d hear. She’d been seeing a pattern in where they went. He’d go almost anywhere Muggle with her, despite not always being well-versed enough in Muggle ways to enjoy the trip. Though, he did sometimes try to stiffly interact with them beyond making a purchase or just being an anonymous person in a crowd. She doubted that he’d ever be quite comfortable in Muggle society; he was no Arthur Weasley, to exclaim with delight over Muggle things just for their own sake. For him, Muggle Britain was like a foreign country only one street over; a place he could go that was almost like home, but not quite, and where he could shed his identity along the way. He went willing enough with her, far more frequently than he’d gone by himself. That night at the bar back in May had been something of a fluke; all he’d say on the subject was that he’d had a disagreement with his parents that night.

Truthfully, despite his acceptance and growing curiosity about Muggle culture, she doubted that he would have ever set foot in Muggle Britain if not for the war and its aftermath. If getting him into Muggle Britain had once seemed an impossibility, these days getting him to go anywhere in wizarding Britain seemed far harder. The only places she’d spotted him—even before whatever they’d been doing all summer—were at the Ministry and occasionally in Diagon Alley. She’d never even seen him at any of the charity balls which his parents painfully, pointedly attended. Whatever else he did with his time, Draco Malfoy was most certainly not part of post-war wizarding society. She was curious about his reaction to her suggestion of somewhere magical outside of Britain, even if it was a country that was just across the Channel.

“Do you want me to go to wizarding places with you?” he said lazily, but she could feel his muscles start to tense.

She considered the question. “Not unless you want to.”

“So, let’s go to Oxford again. You’re always going on about the place, anyhow.”

Apparently, France was on the list of places that Malfoy avoided. She wondered how far-away a place she’d have to name before he acquiesced. At this rate, she was wondering if perhaps she should start with Brazil and work out from there. She sighed and splayed her hands over his back, mirroring the shape of his shoulder blades.

“When are you going to stop hiding?” she asked.

He was quiet for almost a minute, and Hermione wondered if she’d pushed too far. Harry and Ron had always said that she had a bad habit of cutting right to the heart of a problem while stomping over other people’s feelings along the way. She opened her mouth to apologise, but Malfoy spoke first.

“When are you going to quit your job?”

Touché. How fair was it to call Malfoy out on his unhappy pattern, when she was stuck in one of her own? At least he had a way out of sorts; merely showing up in public once again would do. For her, anything to do with work was a hall of mirrors; she couldn’t conceive of a way to get to another meaningful step. So, she gave her rote answer.

“As soon as I find something else more meaningful to do with my life.”

They were both quiet for a bit before he answered. “What if I said likewise?”

She paused before she replied. “Then I’d wish you luck, and hope that you found what you were looking for.”

She must have stopped moving her hands at some point, because Malfoy was turning over and leaning up. He reached out and pulled her down for a kiss. Very quickly, he managed to thoroughly distract her from their conversation.

August 25, 2002

Taking Ginny’s advice to heart, she’d spent the following weeks of summer with Draco more often than not. Still, they never bridged the gap between their time together and the rest of their lives. Which had only made things extraordinary awkward when events at the annual International Magical Cooperation Charity Ball had unfolded in such a way that had Hermione introducing Draco to her department head. She’d almost botched the introduction, hesitating over what name to call him. It wasn’t as if her department head didn’t recognise him; all of the Malfoys had been plastered in the papers before, during and after the war. In the end, she’d settled for Draco Malfoy; she was almost certain that no one had noticed the slight pause after his first name. Dra—Malfoy had been gratingly transparent to everyone else, eying her up and narrowing his eyes at her dress, likely leaving everyone with the impression that he transparently disliked her; he was irritatingly opaque to Hermione.

She’d almost called him Draco in front of witnesses, for goodness sake. She’d been thinking of him that way for the last two weeks, but never actually said it out loud before. He could have at least said that she looked nice. Unless, of course, she’d had some kind of formal dress-related disaster. It was always possible; her hair could be described as ‘unruly’ at best, even when coerced into better behavior, and Hermione wasn’t used to wearing make-up. It was amazing what unthinkingly rubbing one’s eyes could do to eyeliner and eyeshadow, leaving one resembling a participant in a bar fight. Hermione resisted the urge to find a mirror and check her makeup and hair for exactly ten minutes before storming off to find the ladies’.

Once there, she stared hard at a mirror. Nothing looked out of place. Her hair was still pinned up in a style that had taken Ginny and Angelina almost half an hour of combined effort. They swore up and down that it was anchored to her head and that nothing short of a hex would get it to unravel, despite the trailing ringlets. They’d dusted her face with something Ginny had called ‘bronze shimmer,’ and this close to the mirror, Hermione could see slight flecks of gold in her eyeshadow. The dark makeup around her eyes and her black dress made her skin look even paler than usual. The dress was tasteful and frightfully expensive; the result of shopping at Harrods. It had a boat neck and a Grecian drape to the floor-length fabric. Only her arms were bare. The fabric was loosely cut, and the only thing that gave it shape was a coil of gold chain wrapped around her waist. She’d borrowed the slightly archaic-looking chain from the Potter family vaults. Her beaded handbag hung from her wrist, as usual.

Hermione inspected herself. Everything looked satisfactory. She was pleased with her dress. It flattered her, and due to the boat neck, even with her slightly shorter stature she could wander around all night without worrying that anyone could see down the front of her dress. She sighed at the thought. She really ought to return to the ballroom and glad-hand all the donors who’d paid a phenomenal sum simply to spend a few hours in the same room as her, Ron, and Harry. Technically, no one was paying to spend time with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures’ third-most junior employee and a couple of trainee Aurors, but both of their respective department heads—as well as Kingsley himself—had made it clear that attendance was expected and required. The Ministry wanted to show off its war heroes, which meant that Hermione was as much a part of the evening’s decoration as the extraordinarily tasteless hippogriff ice sculptures which hovered around the room.

Upon re-emerging, she headed towards the cluster of her friends. Ginny was standing with an arm looped through Harry’s, and both of them were talking with Ron. Hermione hated being conversationally cornered by herself—something which looked likely to happen in so politicised a gathering—and so resolved to spend the rest of the evening with her friends.

At least the others looked like they were having a pretty good time for this kind of event. Harry looked stiff and awkward in his formal robes, but less so than usual. He’d never liked formal gatherings or politicians, but Ginny was deft at buffering him from overly intrusive well-wishers. She’d had plenty of experience dealing with both the press and fans, as one of the Harpies’ top players, and looked relaxed in a deep green dress with wide skirts and a plunging neckline. Ron was in his element, of course. He loved talking about their exploits, and ever since he’d bought a very nice set of modern formal robes—the complete opposite of that disaster from fourth year—he was always game for any party that had free food.

As she approached, Ginny spotted her and waved, while Harry gave her a wide smile, and Ron turned around to see who they’d seen. The area around Harry had cleared up a bit, for once. Either people were growing too intimidated to approach him—a distinct possibility, as Harry was prone to start growing visibly impatient as the evening wore on—or they’d been distracted by some other prey.

“’ello, Hermione,” Ron said around a mouthful of food, good-naturedly waving her over and making a place for her by his side.

“Hello, Ron,” she said. “Ginny, Harry. Is the food any good?” She inspected his plate. It looked like he’d absconded with most of a cheese tray, a selection of savory tarts, and some kind of little rolls with meat inside of them.

He swallowed whatever he was chewing. “Smashing. You’ve really got to give the buffet a try,” he said, gesturing over towards the towering display of food. It looked like the Ministry had really gone all out for the occasion, because she spied a selection of cakes, pastries, fruit and perfectly ripe chocolate-dipped strawberries that made her mouth water. It looked like the waiters were serving a higher quality of champagne than usual, if the color and sparkle of the contents of Ginny’s flute was anything to go by. Maybe later. She didn’t want to talk to people with chocolate in her teeth.

“It’s really quite the crush this evening,” Ginny said. “I’ve spotted the French Minister for Magic, as well as the German ambassador and her husband, not to mention the usual crowd.”

Ron jerked his head over to the left. “Did’ya see who came in? Can’t believe they have the gall to show their faces.”

Hermione looked over and saw Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy. She frowned; they were talking with a group that Hermione recognised as a rather pushy crowd of Russian traders, who’d been trying to get the Ministry to relax the importation standards on magical creatures.

Harry shrugged. “They’ve been pardoned. They’ve a right to be here, and they were invited. At least some of their Galleons are going to war repair efforts.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like them. You won’t see me going over to ’em and asking Lucius for a hand-out,” Ron said darkly.

“No one said you had to,” said Ginny sharply, with a quick look at Hermione. Hermione became very absorbed in fiddling with the end of the golden chain around her waist.

“Don’t see Malfoy, though, just like usual,” Ron said. He didn’t seem too perturbed, possibly due the fact that he was making great inroads on his collection of tarts.

Hermione made a noncommittal noise. She peered around the room. “Oh, look! There’s Neville and Luna. Let’s wave them over.”

Soon they were joined by Luna, who informed them that she was wearing a dress modeled after a Venomous Tentacula, and Neville, who looked quite pleased to have found people that he recognised.

The evening passed quickly after that, as apparently they’d achieved some critical mass of veterans of the Battle of Hogwarts which intimidated all but the most confident—or those who considered themselves extraordinarily important—from approaching. Hermione actually managed to unwind and enjoy herself, and by the end of the evening, she was sipping champagne and standing by—or rather, leaning against—Ron. It was nice to see her friends and she’d wound her hand through Ron’s arm. Ron looked down at her fondly, as the others chatted on.

“It’s good to see you unwind, Hermione,” he said. “Every time I come by that office of yours, you look like you’re either cramming for O.W.L.s or about to punch someone.”

Hermione sighed and rested her head on Ron’s shoulder. “I confess that I’ve sometimes thought about it.”

Ron shook his head and smiled ruefully. “You should’ve joined us as Aurors. You, me, and Harry would’ve made a smashing team.”

“Tempting, but even if I’m feeling rather stymied at work, I think I can make the most difference outside the Aurors’ offices.”

“Hey, we make a difference,” he said and frowned.

“I never said you didn’t. I just want to make a different kind of difference than what you two do.” She smiled. “I’ll make the rules, and you enforce them? How about that?”

Ron looked at her with exaggerated thought. “All right, as long as they’re good rules. And I get to keep on raiding your private tea stash.”

“Rest assured, you and Harry will always be welcome to raid my office at will,” she said dryly.

“Good, because those jammy biscuits you get are the best.” Which they damn well should be, at three pounds a box. Ron looked out over the crowd, back towards the main crush. “Will you look at that—I guess Malfoy’s here after all. What’s he looking so sour about?”

Hermione peered over in the direction that Ron was looking. Draco was standing by the set of twin hippogriff ice sculptures near the middle of the room, ostensibly making conversation with a group of senior delegates from Belgium, but he was most definitely glaring their way. When she caught his eye, he looked away.

“Looks like he showed up just to be unpleasant. Could have spared us all the effort,” Ron said flatly. Hermione looked up at Ron and then down at how she was leaning on his arm, and put the pieces together. She groaned inwardly. She and Ron were just friends, and she and Draco were just—well, they were something, but most definitely not officially together in any way. She extracted her arm from Ron’s.

“I’m going to go check out the buffet,” she said. Ron nodded absently and turned to speak with Luna.

Hermione quickly wrangled her way through the crowd and peered at the buffet selection. The chocolate-dipped strawberries still looked nice, and so did the little lemon cakes, and—oh, who was she fooling. She was irritated with Draco, for acting like he had some claim on her. And what a ridiculous claim to stake! As if she and Ron were going to get back together.

She poked a strawberry and contemplated getting a plate, when she became aware of someone standing closely by her side.

“Good evening, Hermione. You look lovely tonight.”

She straightened up and found at Draco standing by her side. He was near enough that it probably appeared as though the two of them were either close friends or speaking about something which they didn’t want anyone to overhear. Intimate, in a word. And he’d used her first name. She swallowed. He looked very, very good tonight. He was dressed to the nines in rich formal dress, and it looked as though the fastenings running down the front of his robes were goblin-wrought. He looked utterly at home at this gathering, as if he’d been coming to balls all of his life. Which, now that she thought about it, he probably had.

“Good evening—” She hesitated.

“Call me Draco,” he said, with a wicked smile. “After all, you almost did before.” Drat. He’d noticed after all.

“Good evening, Draco.” She supposed that it wasn’t too early to graduate to first names, especially as he’d spent a significant portion of last Saturday evening with his head between her thighs. Speaking of which, Draco was looking at her with heat evident in his eyes. Hermione shivered, but not unpleasantly. She resisted the urge to fiddle with the skirt of her dress. What on earth did he want? She wasn’t about to sneak off with him to find some deserted nook, not with half the ballroom keeping an eye on them; anyhow, she thought that their arrangement had precluded interacting at public events. Which they most definitely currently were. She could feel eyes on her back as people noticed Hogwarts’ most famous Muggle-born and most infamous pureblood making small talk

Hermione cleared her throat. “Have you been having a pleasant evening?” she said, grasping for some kind of appropriate conversational topic.

“Dance with me.”

“Come again?” Her heart thudded. What kind of game was he playing? She’d thought that they were keeping things clandestine. Dancing together at a ball packed with their friends, relatives and half the leaders of magical Europe did not count as clandestine.

“Dance with me,” he said patiently, as if all the reasons for his asking were obvious.

“I—Draco, why—”

“Come on, Hermione. It’s just one dance. You haven’t danced all night, and it would be a shame to let that gown and this rather excellent band go to waste.”

She was going to ask exactly how he knew that she hadn’t danced a single dance all night, but then he held out his hand and looked at her expectantly.

There was a very long list of reasons why she shouldn’t, starting with waltzing with pardoned Death Eaters not being exactly the kind of thing that was Ministry party line; many of her friends were standing a scant few meters away and they all had an excellent command of hexes; the entire room was packed with Ministry and international officials, including a good number of her co-workers. At the very least, there was no way she could calculate all the political fallout in less than ten seconds flat: there would be the inevitable Daily Prophet article on Hermione Granger dancing with Draco Malfoy at the International Magical Cooperation Charity Ball. Merlin, his parents were there, and only the guarantee of an Azkaban sentence—and the possible reinstatement of the Kiss—would keep Lucius Malfoy from flaying her alive for putting her Muggle-born hands all over his son. All of this ran through her head and more as she stared at Draco’s outstretched hand. She could hear the murmur of conversation around her and the rustle of robes which meant people were starting to turn and look.

The moment was becoming more tense with every second that she didn’t respond, caught between all the very excellent reasons to turn him down, and not understanding why she hadn’t done so already. She looked up from his hand to his face, and noticed that his expression was poised, but tight around his mouth and eyes. It was the look he wore when he was feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious, but didn’t want anyone else to notice. Sometimes he looked that way when she dragged him somewhere Muggle and new, but she’d never before seen it at someplace he should have felt utterly at home, standing amongst wizarding Britain’s high society at the kind of formal ball he’d been attending his entire life.

He started to drop his hand and look away, but she reached out and grabbed it with her own.

“One dance,” she said. Her dress felt two sizes two small, and every single eye in the ballroom was on them, but Draco gave her a small smile and she felt as though she were glowing from the inside.

They made their way to the other dancers, hand in hand, and Hermione deliberately ignored the whispers that spread in their wake.

As they took up their positions, Hermione focused very intently on making sure that her hands were properly placed and that she was standing perfectly straight. The cloth of his robes was very soft underneath her fingertips, and she could feel his hand lightly resting on her hip.

He leaned in and whispered. “Ready?”

She nodded, and he led her into the dance.

It wasn’t like it was in the books. There was no moment when she was only conscious of herself, him and the connection between them. It was possibly the most horrifically awkward formal dance she’d ever participated in, and that included when she’d had to help open the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum back in her fourth year. Everyone was staring. Even the other dancers were darting glances in their direction. Draco was nervous, although his face didn’t show it, but she could feel his hand grow slightly clammy.

Hermione raised her chin and looked squarely at him. Hermione Granger did not take part in social disasters; Hermione Granger destroyed conventions in the wizarding world, and she could damn well dance with whomever she felt like. She gave Draco a smile and felt his hold relax. By the time the song ended, they’d gone from stiffly self-conscious dancing to smoothly waltzing. It wasn’t that she’d decided to ignore their being the center of attention; rather, she’d decided to no longer care. She’d deal with the fallout later. Right now, she was dancing with someone who’d given her his trust, and Hermione intended to return the favor.

August 26, 2002

It was Monday, not Sunday, but it was the last week in August and so the Ministry was enjoying a bank holiday, which marked at least one Muggle tradition that the entire wizarding world had embraced whole-heartedly. And so Hermione joined hordes of other Londoners in meeting up with friends and family to discuss what they might have done over the past couple days.

Currently, she was sampling a rather excellent vanilla milkshake at a very charming Muggle ice cream shop. She always liked it when they used real vanilla bean instead of that cheap artificial flavoring. Perhaps she should take Draco here some weekend; he might—

Hermione frowned and stabbed her hapless milkshake with her straw. What was going on with her and Draco? They hadn’t had a chance to talk in private after that dance, and she hadn’t gotten a single owl or fire-call from him yet. She wished that she had the answer, because she had a feeling that Ginny— not to mention Harry, Ron, and the whole of the bloody wizarding world—was shortly about to ask. Or, rather, had already started asking. Today’s Daily Prophet had screamed Malfoy and Granger: Torrid Secret Love Affair? The accompanying picture of them waltzing had taken up practically the entire front page. Some too-sharp photographer had even taken the time to snap pictures of bystanders’ faces, which meant that she was treated to the sight of Lucius and Narcissa giving the ice hippogriffs a run for ‘most frosty composure,’ and Ginny pounding Ron on the back as he choked on a tart. She’d read the entire article, which had mostly been bunk, except for the parts that were true through sheer coincidence. Such as the fact that she and Draco actually were conducting a torrid secret lo—affair.

She shouldn’t have been conducting a torrid secret affair. That kind of thing hadn’t fit into her life plans. No, her only exposure to that kind of thing was supposedly accidental, the kind of thing she couldn’t avoid glancing at while reading The Daily Prophet and The Guardian. She wasn’t supposed to be part of the headline.

Maybe this was reflective of some hereby unnoticed personality flaw, such as a terrible weakness for egotistical blonds. Just look at the whole Lockhart incident, which Harry and Ron still hadn’t forgotten about. She’d been thirteen, for pity’s sake! Everyone was entitled to at least one small, stupid schoolgirl crush. Though, Draco wasn’t quite as egotistical these days, as he’d once been. And he wasn’t technically blond. More of a white-blond, actually, which sort-of-maybe didn’t count.

However, the egotistical blond criteria didn’t explain Ron or Viktor, but there was also the whole Quidditch player bit, and for someone who didn’t like the game that much, she spent an awful lot of time dating or kissing or shagging Quidditch players. Even Octopus-Hands McLaggen had played Quidditch. She was pretty sure that he was now some sort of Keeper for a professional team, as Ginny had mentioned playing him once or twice.

The data available suggested that a blond, egotistical Quidditch player might actually be exactly the kind of wizard who rung her bells. Hermione thought over her conclusion and frowned. Self-analysation was handy, but sometimes there was such a thing as learning a little bit too much about oneself. Merlin, she should find some dateable men who didn’t play Quidditch.

“Sorry, I’m late.” A Quidditch gear-bag slammed down next to the table, and Ginny swung herself into the opposite chair. “Coach kept us overtime. So, let’s get the interrogation started.”

Maybe she should also expand that criteria to some non-Quidditch playing friends.

“Don’t you want to get your ice cream?” Hermione asked in a desperate bid for time. Alas, the line was short, and she only bought herself three and a half minutes before Ginny returned with a banana split.

“Commence talking.” Ginny looked pointedly at Hermione as she sat down. “You and Malfoy. The ball. That was a relationship-thing if I ever saw one. Don’t even bother to deny it.”

“It was just a dance.” Such lies.

“Hermione,” Ginny said, pointing at her with her spoon, “I saved Ron from an untimely death due to cheese tart, I kept Harry from punching Malfoy in the face, and I told them both that I’d Bat-Bogey Hex ’em if they did so much as open their mouth to inquire how you were doing after you came back from the dance. There’s only one reason Ron and Harry aren’t having hysterics on your doorstep, and that reason is sitting right across from you. You owe me,” Ginny said. She jammed her spoon into her dessert, beheading her banana with force.

“We’re friendly these days. It would have been rude to decline.”

“So, you’d have me to believe that your bouts of wild monkey sex all around Greater London and public ballroom dancing are just the result of some kind of mutual fetish for giving your friends and family heart attacks?” A nearby woman gasped and gazed at them with horrified eyes, covering the ears of her toddler. Hermione winced as the woman hustled her child away. By now one entire scoop of of the banana split was gone; Hermione had forgotten how much Quidditch players ate after practice.


“Or maybe Malfoy’s got some kind of other fetish?” With the application of food, Ginny’s mood was sliding from testy to amused. “Perhaps he’s got an eye for the older witches?” Ginny said, as her mouth twitched with the effort to repress a smile.

Hermione glared across the table. “For your information, I am not even nine months older than him. Hardly the older woman.”

Ginny scooped up another bite of whipped cream and fudge before she spoke again. “So, you know his birthday.” Her voice was arch.

This conversation was not going according to plan. Hermione frowned. “No, I merely remember his gloating every year on the fifth of June back at Hogwarts. I’m surprised that his family’s owls could even get off of the ground, hauling in ten tonnage of sweets and overpriced gifts every year.”

The chocolate ice cream and pineapple chunks were devoured next by the tornado that was a starving Ginny. She licked her spoon clean of fudge and grinned. “Interesting. You were paying attention to his birthday back at Hogwarts.” She flicked Hermione’s crumpled straw wrapper across the table. It bounced off of Hermione’s glass and rolled onto the patio. “So, exactly how long have you fancied Malfoy?”

“I do not!”

By now Hermione’s vanilla milkshake had started to melt, and Ginny was chipping away at the last remains of the scoop of strawberry and slices of banana.

“That’s very convincing, Hermione. Maybe if you didn’t fancy him, you wouldn’t dance with him at balls and shag him all the time.”

“All the time is gross exaggeration.”

“Really? So, how many times has it been? More than three, at the very least?”

Hermione squirmed in her chair.

“Five?” Ginny asked archly. Hermione made no reply. “Seven? Nine?”

“I’ve lost count, all right!” Hermione snapped. “I stopped counting back in July. It seemed rather pointless.”

Ginny sighed with satisfaction and pushed back her ice cream dish and tossed her spoon into it. Her spoon rattled against the empty, sticky glass.

Hermione shook her head in reluctant admiration, staring at the remains of what had once been a banana split. “I will never get used to that.”

“Weasley family defense mechanism. She who eats slowly eats not at all. Or at least, not anything that she’d like.” Ginny wiped her fingers on one of the fluttery paper napkins that had come with her dessert. “Back to the subject at hand. You fancy Malfoy.”

“I’ve already denied that twice!”

“Fine, live in denial. But at the very least, Malfoooooy fancies yoooooou,” Ginny said with a smirk, dragging the vowels out as if it were a children’s song.

Hermione was starting to feel a touch of panic. Feelings had not been in the deal. She was not in a relationship with Malfoy. If she was, wouldn’t she have noticed by now? “He does not.”

Ginny looked at her incredulously. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed! That boy practically pines for you. I haven’t seen such a bad case of puppy-dog eyes since we left Hogwarts, and last night he looked like he wanted to personally remove Ron’s arm, the one that you were hanging on all night.”

“I was not hanging all over Ron.” Hermione looked chidingly at Ginny.

Ginny raised her hands apologetically. “I know, I know. You know, Ron knows, Harry knows, every Gryffindor and Luna knows that you two are only friends. But Malfoy—he’s a Slytherin—probably thinks holding hands is something you only do after you’ve been wedded and bedded, and even then only under the covers at night. Probably thought Ron was about to pop the question right then and there, which is why he was giving Ron that nasty look all night, because from the looks of it—” Ginny drew a deep breath before forging onward. “—I wouldn’t be surprised if Malfoy’s plans were leading in that direction.”

And with that, Hermione was left with no idea what to say.

August 31, 2002

Hermione had spent all week on every single outer-office assignment she could get, even going so far as only using the Floo or Apparating straight from her flat to dodge reporters, and incinerating the majority of her mail—a mixture of Howlers and bizarre letters from people she’d never met—before she read it. Her coworkers either ignored her or looked at her with wide eyes, and Ron had spent the majority of his elevenses either munching through all of her biscuits while glaring at her or opening his mouth to speak while nothing came out. Apparently, the hex was topic-sensitive, because Ron had certainly been able to ask for seconds and thirds of tea. She’d have to ask Ginny what particular hex she’d used to create that effect. Harry had simply looked vaguely betrayed every time she saw him, but usually patted her on the shoulder while looking at her mournfully.

It was now five days after that disconcerting conversation with Ginny. Hermione had woken up that morning next to a sleeping Draco, and all of the anxiety she’d been ignoring all week had shown up with a tidal crash. It was like all of her suddenly become awake; how had she not noticed how much Draco was in her life before?

She was drowning in Draco-ness, right there in her own flat, formerly a distinctly drowning-free zone. Her bathroom was a tide-zone of treachery. There were two toothbrushes in her bathroom, and she was sure that toothbrushes didn’t undergo spontaneous generation. There was shampoo she never recalled buying—a distinctly expensive, magical kind, unfamiliar until she flipped back the top and smelled that sharp clean scent that she now associated with Draco’s hair. The number of bath towels that she washed each week had doubled; now it was two.

Her bedroom was a bay of betrayal. When Draco was in the shower, she’d counted the number of his spare shirts, trousers and socks that had somehow ended up on the footstool in the corner. Why was Draco keeping nearly a week’s worth of clothing in her bedroom? A spare shirt or set of trousers was understandable, but nearly enough for a week? And why hadn’t she counted sooner?

Her kitchen was a high-tide mark for hypocrisy. Exactly when she’d started buying extra bacon, eggs, and juice for the weekends was a mystery. So was how she’d ended up in regular possession of the triple-sugar cinnamon raisin bread that Draco rather liked. Her tea was a more expensive brand these days, and her sugar was disappearing at an alarming rate. She’d gone over her grocery bills last week, and for the past three months they’d been up by nearly ten percent.

Her sitting room was a lagoon of latent regrets, especially the sofa, because it regularly sat Draco Malfoy and herself. Like right now, they were curled up on her sofa, reading, or rather she was reading and Draco was leaning against her and talking, while playing with her hair—and when had it become normal to spend every Saturday morning with Draco Malfoy and a book? She couldn’t exactly flee her own flat or excuse herself to have a panic attack in her bedroom, but things were looking rather dire. Draco was talking about weekend plans and she was determined that this time would be different; she wasn’t going to be dragged under by his plans yet again.

“—thinking that we could go to the Crystal Palace. I’ve never been to it before, and the Muggle books are always saying that it’s quite stunning, so—”

“No.” That was a little harsher than she’d intended. “I mean, no, not this weekend. I have a lot of work to do, and I don’t think I can spare the time.”

When he spoke again, he was much quieter. “Maybe some other week.”

Draco was a pretty deft liar, and Hermione had been thrown by him more than once before, but he’d clearly never mastered the art of lying with his body. When she’d said ‘no,’ he’d frozen up, stiff and angular instead of lazy and boneless, like he was bracing for the final blow. She’d had to squelch the urge to turn around and ask what was wrong, because she had a pretty damn good idea.

Later that morning, when he’d said that he had to go, he’d leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. There was a look in his eyes that Hermione didn’t know how to interpret, but if she’d been assigned a descriptive essay and given unlimited time, the word ‘vulnerable’ might have made an appearance once or twice.

Hermione wasn’t sure when she started thinking that Draco might have a heart, never mind a heart that she could break, but when she looked at him, looking at her, she started to worry.

September 13, 2002

Teddy Lupin was utterly adorable. He seemed even cuter every time she saw him, which was pretty regularly, what with stopping by Andromeda’s for tea at least once a month. Perhaps there was some exponential curve of cuteness that Teddy would ascend, until he had the ability to charm them all into going along with whatever he wished. Later, Hermione would blame the tiny blue-haired Metamorphmagus’s disarming qualities for why she was completely caught off guard.

After the second round of biscuits, Andromeda leaned forward and spoke. “Draco tells me that you two have been seeing each other.”

Hermione choked on her tea. After an embarrassing round of coughing, she was finally able to speak. “We—we haven’t really discussed anything. I’ve been seeing him a fair bit over the summer, if that’s what you mean.” Where was Andromeda getting her information from? What exactly had Draco said? Was it in passing and cobbled together with rumours from The Daily Prophet, or was Andromeda privy to more intimate discussions with Draco, being his aunt? How close were Draco and Andromeda anyhow? She’d know that they were estranged before the war that had taken Tonks and Ted Tonks’s lives, but she’d never asked about what had fallen out afterward between the remaining Blacks.

Andromeda looked at her speculatively. “I see,” she said, before sipping her tea.

They sat in silence for a bit, watching Teddy change his hair to match the color of his toy wooden dragons, until Andromeda spoke again. “How did you two meet?”

Hermione would normally demur when faced with such a question, but there was something about Andromeda that made her want to confess. Perhaps it was simply a matter of feeling that she owed Andromeda more than most; Andromeda, who’d lost her husband and her daughter in the war. Sometimes it was strange to look at Andromeda and see the resemblance to Bellatrix in the line of her nose, in the curve of her jaw, but these days Hermione usually spotted the differences before the similarities. There was also something of Sirius, too, in the way that Andromeda’s eyes seemed shadowed and haunted, and too many shades of Tonks in the way that Andromeda played the role of mother to her grandson. So, she told Andromeda, who looked like too many of Hermione’s ghosts, a story that was really quite absurd, all the more so for being true.

She’d run into an old Muggle school friend, Susan Zhang, in downtown London during early April. They’d been fast friends in primary school, until Susan’s family had moved away the year that Hermione had left for Hogwarts; they’d quickly rekindled their friendship despite over ten years apart.

A clubbing night in late May was the culmination of Susan’s many offers to show her around town, and Susan’s girlfriend—Penelope Okorafor—knew Soho like the back of her hand. The Muggle club had been everything Hermione’s friends had promised: packed with people, music loud enough that she was tempted to risk casting a charm to save her ears, and a crowded bar.

In short, it had everything necessary to complete temporary oblivion by traditional, non-magical ways. Oblivion was precisely what she wanted, because she’d wanted to forget everything from the magical world, at least for that night. No Quidditch scores being bandied about as if they were life-or-death news; no more significant looks from Ginny, Mrs. Weasley, or Ron as they asked about her love life; no well-meaning but interfering Harry asking about her workload at the Ministry; last, but not least, no more feeling as though she was throwing away all of her life in a dead-end job, meandering about in an endless quest for something that would put the meaning back into her life. She’d felt lost since the end of the war, as though not all the pieces of herself had survived the transition intact.

The three of them had danced until near midnight, and at some point in time Susan and Penelope had decided that she needed to be fixed up with a gentleman caller before they left for the night. Susan had apparently spotted someone promising, because she told Hermione to look for the fellow with the blond hair and ‘flailing hands.’ There were flailing hands all about, but only one set was moving to a beat which no one else could hear. From there she followed them down to a head of white-blond hair. And below that white-blond fringe, a very pale, pointed face.

At that point, Hermione realised that she was watching Draco Malfoy dance in a Soho nightclub, pretty much making an utter fool out of himself. Her friends had heard her babble something about an old schoolmate and how they’d never quite gotten along, and before she’d known it, they’d practically pitched her forward into Draco’s arms.

The faux-introduction had been a mass of staggering lies, as she and Draco had tried to interact somewhat normally before so many Muggle eyes. Not that much of a re-introduction was needed. Something along the lines of ‘Remember when I testified at your trial that you weren’t actually a complete and utter wanker who deserved to be thrown into Azkaban?’ would probably have sufficed, had they been among magical company. She’d doubted that either of them wanted to catch up with each other. As Andromeda knew well, unless they were Muggle-born, wizards and witches usually only went to Muggle bars to hide from others of their kind. It was odd, but under the constraints of being unable to talk about magic, they’d actually ended up talking as one person to another—rather than as Hermione Granger, the Muggle-born hero, and Draco Malfoy, the pure-blood heir to the Malfoy fortune and lands. In short, they’d hit it off. One thing led to another, and they’d ended up seeing each other all through the summer. Aside from Ginny, she hadn’t told any of her friends or family. She was pretty sure he’d done the same, or at least she had been until he’d asked her to dance at the ball. Right now, she had no idea, only that she hadn’t heard from him these last two weeks.

By the time Hermione had finished speaking, their tea had grown cold. Andromeda heated it again with a wave of her wand. She looked speculatively at Hermione, and poured milk into their newly piping hot tea.

“You know, when I was a little younger than you, I had everything planned out,” Andromeda said, her eyes distant as she considered an old memory. “I was preparing to get married, you know, as almost all pure-blood girls of our class were supposed to do. I’d stopped by Flourish & Botts to pick up a book—I can’t even remember the title—and I bumped into this wizard, a Muggle-born, whom I’d vaguely known from school. We got into a tremendous row, right there in the shop, and I stormed out and left my book behind.” She smiled wistfully. “Well, he ended up owling it to me with an apologetic note, and asked if he could buy me an ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s to make it up. I have no idea why I accepted—I was absurdly busy with the wedding preparations—but out of some fit of pique, I decided to go. Six months later I’d broken off my engagement, been burned off of the family tapestry, and was moving in with Ted.”

Andromeda sipped her tea. “One could say that it’s a ridiculous story, a life utterly unplanned, but I have no regrets about my choice. It would have been a false life, to leave Ted after I fell in love with him, just to go along with what others had planned.”

“Dragons fly,” said Teddy as he dropped his miniature wooden Ukrainian Ironbelly, which took off in flight.

“Indeed,” Andromeda said with a smile. She put down her teacup and went to pick up her grandson. As she held Teddy, she spoke. “I miss Nymphadora more with every passing day, but a life lived without ever having known her is not one that I would want. I think that you—both of you—are at an age where you’re deciding what you truly want.” She levitated a delicately carved Hebridean Black into Teddy’s hands. “Draco has come to me with questions of his own. I have found him to be a reserved young man and quite private with his feelings, but I can tell you this much. He seems particularly interested in hearing about myself, Ted and our life.”

“Best dragon,” Teddy said quite seriously, as he brandished the deep blue dragon in Hermione’s direction, his hair changing color to match even as she watched.

September 15, 2002

“Merlin, Morgana and Steve,” Ginny sighed.


Ginny looked embarrassed. “Sorry, Harpies thing. Steve’s our groundskeeper and he’s a holy terror when someone’s been mucking about on the field. Back to my point. Is this going to be the Granger-Malfoy relationship diagnosis, round five thousand, two hundred and sixty-one?” She looked accusingly across the table at Hermione.

“No?” Hermione said, her voice trailing off.

Ginny sighed and set down her orange juice. “Hermione, I love you like a sister, but I have exhausted my ability to listen. I would sooner take a Bludger to the head than hear one more word about Malfoy. You need to be having whatever conversation this is supposed to be with Malfoy, not with me.”

“Shh!” Hermione peered around the café patio. “Someone might hear or be able to read your lips. Call him something else.”

Ginny rolled her eyes and beheaded her blueberry muffin with a butter knife. “Fine. If you want to keep on seeing Muffin,” Ginny said, emphasizing the word more than Hermione thought was warranted for a code-name, “then you’ve got to admit it. At least to yourself.” A smile spread across Ginny’s face. “Actually, I think that now would be an excellent time.” She stood up from her chair and waved exuberantly. “Oi, Malfoy! Over here!”

Hermione whipped around to see if Ginny was having a bit of fun, but Draco was actually walking across the pavement towards them. He leaned on the little fence that separated diners from passersby and looked down at them with amusement. It appeared that teaching Draco to easily navigate Muggle London on his own had come back to bite her in the arse. Or perhaps greater—and by greater, she meant more treacherous—forces were at work, judging from Ginny’s poorly concealed lack of surprise at seeing Draco.

“Malfoy, fancy meeting you here.” Ginny was doing an absolutely abysmal job of hiding her grin. “We were just talking about Hermione and her incredible fetish for muffins.”

“Really?” Draco quirked an eyebrow. He glanced down at Hermione’s conspicuously muffin-less breakfast plate.

Ginny spoke up. “Oh, she’s already devoured hers. She gets her muffin every weekend. Can’t keep her hands off of it.”

Draco opened his mouth to speak and Hermione braced herself. “My house-elf—who refused to be freed, don’t give me that look, Hermione—makes fantastic muffins. Better than the ones at Hogwarts, even. I’ll have to bring you some. The recipe’s practically a family secret.”

Fantastic. Just fantastic. There was a secret Malfoy family muffin recipe. Looking at Ginny, who appeared to be about to expire from glee, Hermione wondered if she’d been slipped Felix Felicis that had gone horribly wrong. It was the only possible explanation for this entire conversation.

“I bet Hermione can’t wait to get her hands on your muffins,” Ginny said.

Ginny would die in Hermione’s impending mortification explosion, which would occur shortly after Hermione’s mind realised that it was not possible to be any more mortified, and therefore spontaneous combustion would have to occur to relieve internal emotional pressure. If she was lucky, she’d take out Draco and all bystanders at the same time. Leave no witnesses; it was a good motto to live by.

“My muffins are known to be excellent and of high quality,” Draco said dryly.

“Really? Well, then I’d better leave you and Hermione to have that discussion. About your muffins. Right, Hermione?” Ginny practically skewered her with a look as she stood up from her chair. She dropped some money on the table and practically fled, abandoning her half-eaten breakfast while Draco and Hermione looked at each other awkwardly.

“Astonishing. A Weasley left food behind,” Draco mused. “I didn’t think they were capable of doing that.” He rolled his eyes at Hermione’s half-hearted glare, and came round the fence to seat himself in Ginny’s abandoned place. The waitress quickly whisked Ginny’s plate and mug away and provided Draco with his requested tea.

“My Aunt told me that you spoke. She also mentioned that my name came up once or twice,” he said. Well, that was short and to the point. Hermione supposed that she could do the same.

“Are we seeing each other now?” she asked bluntly.

Draco looked at her thoughtfully. “I’d wondered when you’d notice.”


“That we’re seeing each other. That we’ve sort of been seeing each other for a while. You know, for a witch who’s supposedly so bright, you took an awfully long time to figure things out. And, for the record, we have been and are currently seeing each other. Unless you wish to object?” He spoke nonchalantly, but Hermione could see the tension that lay beneath his flippant manner.

Hermione looked at him, looking at her, and considered the unusual matter of being presented with Draco Malfoy’s unguarded heart. Such a gesture demanded something of her in return. It was time she was utterly honest with herself: she was more than a little bit in love with the bastard, and had been for a while.

“No objections, none at all.” She reached across the table and took his hand, which had been nervously fiddling with a spoon left on the table.

Draco gave her an utterly brilliant smile and Hermione laced her fingers through his. She really, really loved his long, fine-boned hands, which were quite talented at doing many important and clever things.

“Have you heard the saying ‘Behind every great woman is an utterly devious bastard’? No? Well, you have now,” he said nonchalantly, and he stroked her hand with his thumb.

She glared at him. “Draco Malfoy, are you plotting out my life for me?”

“I am indeed. You need to quit your job, for starters.”

“I’m not quitting my job and sitting around at home,” she said frostily.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Of course not. If anyone’s going to be sitting around at home, it’ll be me. I’m far more ornamental and decorative, and I need to be sheltered from the toil of the workplace.”

Hermione snorted in amusement. He gave her a look that reeked of false innocence and continued his speech. “By quit your job, I mean that we need to get you into the DMLE. All of those useless tossers in your department are there because of pure-blood backgrounds. Ministry regulations are biased in their favour—how else do you think so many otherwise incompetent fools get hired? You’re cleverer than near anyone else who came out of Hogwarts, and you’re slaving away in some broom closet of an office?” He leaned over the table, looking for all the world as if he were busy plotting. Which, technically, he was. “Transfer departments and gut the regulations from inside the DMLE, which has far greater leverage over Ministry policy. Once you’ve taken out most of the support structure for hiring and keeping incompetents, then you’ll be able to accomplish what you want.”

That was actually a rather good plan. A brilliant plan, of sorts. Hermione could see how it would all play out, how attacking the Ministry from another angle could yield the changes that she’d so craved. She’d tried to change it from the top down and had gotten nowhere, but once she’d knocked out the rotting patronage and nepotism-based supports? Then the real work could begin. Draco looked down at their entwined hands and then up at her.

“Then you’ll be able to look at my second cousin, once removed, without guilt,” he said softly. So, he’d remembered what she’d said about Teddy. Somehow, the fact that he’d remembered and cared was what tipped her over the edge and took away the last of her doubts about her decision.

So, things hadn’t actually worked out as she’d imagined. Her plan for her post-Hogwarts life hadn’t included a pure-blood socialite boyfriend, nor hatching a diabolical scheme to destabilise the Ministry’s internal hierarchy for its own good. However, as she looked across the table at her dashingly good-looking boyfriend, who was sitting in a Muggle café, and holding her hand while plotting how he could help her clean up the Ministry, she felt that this unexpected change of plans was going to suit her rather well.