It was the third time today Hermione had hit someone in the head with a scroll of parchment. Not that she was keeping score (although Harry and Ron had been attempting to make a game out of it for quite some time), but it was rather difficult to ignore the indignant yells coming from the offices outside the archives.
“Sorry!” she called out, wincing slightly.
There was only unintelligible grumbling in reply and the parchment came hurtling back inside, only missing her head by the breadth of a hair. Honestly. It was hardly Hermione’s fault that they had yet to upgrade her to an office with some shelf space. If she had an office of her own, she could keep the parchments she needed for her research within reach at all times. Her tiny cubicle near the corner of the vast office landscape belonging to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement did not allow such luxuries, which meant that she spent an inordinate amount of time sending scrolls of parchment soaring through the air to her cubicle with a flick of her wand.
If they’d given her the office that old Bletchely left behind when he retired, they wouldn’t be having the constant threat of flying parchment poking people in the eye. As things were, however, they hadn’t given it to her. Instead, they’d given it to Malfoy who not only started working in the department a full year after her but was also a convicted felon for Merlin’s sake. It was unfair to judge him for that, she supposed. As a member of the Law Enforcement team she knew that people paid their dues to the system and then they should be able to move on, but did he have to move on with so much bravado?
That was a ridiculous question. Of course he had to move on with bravado – he was Draco Malfoy. It was typical of him to not only find a job after serving his time, but also manage to get a position in Law Enforcement of all things. He was a thorn in her side – an aching one that repeatedly poked her whenever she tried to move. The second most annoying thing about him was that he was awful and infuriating most of the time. The most annoying thing about him was that he wasn’t wholly awful and infuriating all the time and that was a lot more difficult to deal with.
She sat back with a groan, rolling her stiff shoulders experimentally. Leaning back against the tall shelf stretching into the ceiling far above her, she dropped her head back against the boxes full of scrolls and focused on her breathing. Hermione wasn’t very fond of spending time in the archives. It gave her too much time to think about how much Malfoy surpassing her in the ranks really bothered her and how huge of a dead end she was finding herself in with her research. It was also really dusty. She’d really rather like to be back in her cubicle where that large red velvet cupcake with the bright pink frosting was perched on her desk just waiting for her to peel the paper gingerly aside and take a bite.
There was a deep love between Hermione and the red velvet cupcake. It just couldn’t be helped. Especially now that she was so stuck in her research, the single treat she indulged in every day had become a highlight. Maybe that was sad, but Hermione didn’t really care. As far as she was concerned, she earned that cupcake by being stuck in a tiny cubicle doing research for a department that would rather take a chance on ex Death Eaters.
Promising herself a break in half an hour, she went back to work, digging through the dusty old boxes of scrolls looking for anything she could find on crystal ball regulations. She bit back a sigh at the thought of her research project. Of course they would give her the crystal ball regulations. One of these days she really would take Harry up on transferring to the Auror department.
“You need to work on your aim.”
Hermione pushed a stray curl out of her slightly flushed cheeks and looked up, rolling her eyes when she found Malfoy hovering in the doorway. He was very good at hovering and he worked a lot on perfecting his technique, especially around her.
“My aim is brilliant, I’ll have you know,” she said, getting up on the tip of her toes to bring down another box. “I’m touched by your evident concern for me, though.”
“Please. I’m only concerned for the really important reports on crystal ball regulations and how they would suffer dreadfully if this riveting piece of parchment remained in the rubbish bin.”
He gave a haughty grin, looking down at her as he leaned his shoulder against the doorway.
Clenching her jaw, she wondered if the best thing was to just ignore him completely. She’d never been particularly good at that, though. “Yeah, maybe you should be worried. The illegal crystal ball smugglers are quite a randy bunch, you know. Better get them under control sooner rather than later.”
“Ah, the illegal crystal ball smugglers. Yes, they’ve been a terrible nuisance,” he said dryly, giving a smug smile.
Merlin, she wanted to hex him sometimes. He knew it was a useless topic of research that meant next to nothing to anyone except maybe Professor Trelawney and it wasn’t like that was anyone Hermione was looking to impress anyway. Come to think of it, Malfoy was probably the one who got the project assigned to her in the first place.
She squared her shoulders and forced herself to ignore him, just letting her hands run across the scrolls of parchment and the title cards attached to them. It was only when she heard him shift in the doorway that she looked up and pasted a smile on her face.
“Be a dear and drop that on my desk on the way to your office?” She chose her words carefully.
It was their game. If anyone were to overhear them, no one could fault them for not being polite or for creating tension. Their words were nothing but courteous, but it was in the tone that everything scathing passed between them. They both knew that there were thinly veiled insults and deeply rooted sarcasm below every strained smile and polite exchange, but no one could prove it.
He straightened up and his expression was the definition of detached civility. “I’ll see if I can find some room for it on your desk.”
When he finally left her alone in the archives, she pushed the box she’d been rummaging through roughly back in its place, giving it a punch or two that she would have denied if anyone asked about it. Fucking Malfoy. Fucking Malfoy and his Pureblood privileges.
Even after she’d cast several cleaning spells, there had still been enough dust to leave her sneezing even after she left the room. Her co-workers glared as she passed their desks, sneezing into her hand as discreetly as she could. Dropping down by her desk, she found scrolls of parchment lying everywhere and she began stacking them in neat piles, pulling her lip into a slight grimace as she began planning which ones to tackle first.
She dropped the scroll as if she’d been burnt when she saw the empty cupcake paper beneath it. There was barely a crumb left of her red velvet cupcake and she touched the paper gingerly as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. And she couldn’t. She wheeled around, studying everyone in the vicinity. Narrowing her eyes, she looked at all of them in turn, but none of them had any tell-tale traces of frosting on their fingers or crumbs around their lips. Who would do this? She slumped in her seat, looking forlornly at the empty paper decorated with little gold snitches.
“Hermione!” The voice was loud and deep, making everyone look up from their work and crane their necks to see what was going on.
Frowning, she turned around in her seat, looking around the room for whoever was calling her name. Her frown deepened when her eyes found him lounging against the doorframe of his office as he swept his hair away from his forehead with an exaggerated flourish. What did Malfoy want now? She was really not in the mood for this. His eyes were glued to her and when he moved from the doorway, he came like an animal on the prowl towards her, swiftly and elegantly seating himself on the edge of her desk.
“Your eyes,” he said, reaching out to place one finger under her chin, tilting her head up as he studied her. His lips pulled into a smile that was absolutely nothing like their usual strained attempts at politeness. This one had a tiny quirk at the corner of his mouth, turning it into something unbearably intimate.
“What about my eyes?” she said, turning her head to escape the finger under her chin. “Did I poke myself with a scroll again?”
“Your eyes,” he said again, unperturbed, “they bore into my soul. I wish only to feel your brilliant gaze upon me, sparkling like a polished gem set in gold. The richest, silkiest chocolate cannot rival their colour. Your orbs remind me of the fresh earth in the spring, where the flowers bloom and the trees bud, and the animals frolic and bring forth new life after a cold, barren winter."
Hermione stared at him, her eyebrows rising slowly by every word until she was out of forehead to show her complete and utter shock. Gaping at him, she tried to grasp what he was saying, but no – she had not heard that. She was hallucinating all of this and would soon be sent to St. Mungo’s. This was because someone had eaten her cupcake and she had been so overcome with grief that she now thought Malfoy was talking about her flowery eyes or chocolate or…something.
Rooted to the spot, she looked at him with horror as he leaned in and twirled a lock of her hair around his finger. He was so close now that she could feel the puff of his breath against her skin and she could see his flushed cheeks. Maybe he had a fever. That would explain a lot.
“Your hair is as vibrant and full of life as your inner spirit, Hermione,” he said, his voice deep in a way that she’d never heard before. It was with dawning horror that she realised this was Malfoy’s ‘I’m picking up girls’-voice. “I wish to run my fingers through it and absorb its vitality, its energy. Like the erumpent that prowls the African savannah, it cannot be tamed. Do not hide it from me! Ah, do not hide it from the world! Let them all witness the glorious brown strands framing your face, reaching new heights of beauty!"
It was so quiet in the workroom that one could’ve heard the flapping of pixie wings. Hermione stared at him, his face so close and foreign stripped bare of the usual detachment. Merlin. She felt completely blindsided, not knowing what to say or do as he waxed on about her hair (of all things!). Biting her fingernails as she always did when she was nervous (and had been trying to quit, thanks to Ron’s harassment about her manly hands), she tried to collect her thoughts and focus. She could figure this out, whatever it was.
Hermione jumped when his hand came out to move her finger from her lips. He held it in his own, looking down at it with a clouded gaze.
“My sweet, do not treat your nails so poorly! Do you not see how they are an extension of your perfect hand? You should treat them as the treasure they are! Would you whittle away at the Venus de Milo? Would you take sandpaper to the Great Pyramid? Your hand is a work of art and should be worshipped as if it were painted by one of the Great Masters!"
“Have you been reading my Muggle books?” she asked with a wide-eyed stare.
He threw his head back and laughed – a sound so weird that she gripped the armrest with her free hand.
“’Tis enough watching your enchanting lips as you speak words of insurmountable wisdom. It is all the literature I need.”
It was when he held her hand up to his lips and pressed his lips to it in a soft kiss that she realised exactly what was going on. This was not something Malfoy would say in a million years. She’d seen him drunk off his arse under his desk hiding from a Ministry function and if he didn’t say these things then, he certainly wouldn’t now. And he may be a pompous git, but he did not kiss anyone’s hand – not even as a joke.
Ripping her hand from his grip, she jumped up from her chair, knocking her knee against her desk as she made her mad escape. She ran through the room, winding her way through the cubicles as she ignored the throbbing in her knee. There was something definitely magical about the way Malfoy was waxing poetic over her fingernails, and the more distance there was between them, the better it was for both of them.
She heard footsteps behind her as she stopped by the lift, pressing the button with increasing desperation. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw him sprinting towards her down the hallway just as the lifts opened. She threw herself inside and continued to pound the button to shut the doors before he could follow.
“Hermione! Please, do not leave!” he yelled, reaching out his hand towards her and falling to his knees. “Surely you must feel the same! Such a beautiful truth should not be allowed to go unacknowledged! Together we can surely enter the realms of unbridled ecstasy and etch our epic love story on the cornerstone of heaven!"
The doors mercifully closed and she braced herself against the wall, forcing herself to take deep breaths. Well, that was... It was... really fucking weird. She held her hands up to her blushing cheeks, wondering what Malfoy was doing back on their floor and if their co-workers had gotten him under control. She took the lift all the way to the top floor, just standing among the workers getting in and out, thinking about what on earth had just happened. It was beyond bizarre and it came out of nowhere. He’d been completely normal when they were talking in the archives and then he’d left to drop off her scroll and... Her breath hitched and she groaned loudly, making several heads turn in her direction. The cupcake.
When she found Harry and Ron at the Auror headquarters, they were sitting bent over Harry’s desk snickering in a way that reminded her of five year olds being caught nicking sweets. She stopped in front of them, crossing her arms over her chest, just looking at them until one of them noticed her. It was Ron who glanced up first and a grin spread across his face as he leaned back in his chair, regarding her with badly disguised excitement. He elbowed Harry in the side and she rolled her eyes when they both grinned at her in a terribly unsubtle way. Well, at least there was no mystery concerning who had tampered with her cupcake.
“Don’t you have anything to say, Hermione?” Ron asked, his lip quivering slightly.
Hermione sighed and looked at him sternly. Maybe she’d be amused about this too if it hadn’t been so awkward and incredibly public and also Malfoy. “Probably not what you expect.”
“Any...proclamations... of any kind?” Ron suggested, looking very pleased with himself.
Harry, however, seemed to be catching on and was only looking her up and down with an expression that seemed to get more frazzled by the second.
“Malfoy stole my cupcake.”
The silence stretched.
“We’re buggered.” Ron threw his hands up. Harry seemed to be frozen in place.
“What the....What the hell, guys?” Hermione said, throwing her arms out. “Malfoy’s down there spouting off lines from some sort of weird romance novel. In the office. In front of everyone.”
Harry winced. “Tell the poor girl we’re sorry. We didn’t mean to...well. We were just testing out something for George and we thought it’d be fun to test it on you because it’s kind of harmless isn’t it?”
“You can tell the poor girl yourself,” Hermione snapped, squaring her jaw in annoyance.
She looked away from them and tried not to blush. “I had to outrun him! He was waxing poetic about my eyes and my hair and my fingernails. And when I tried to get away he begged me to stay so we could ‘write our love in the cornerstone of heaven’.”
Ron’s eyes were almost impossibly wide. “What, but that’s... no, that can’t... Harry, do you have the instructions?”
Harry had already flattened out a slightly crumpled piece of parchment and was chewing on his lip nervously. “It says the serum is to ‘help’ you admit your feelings to people you like. Although, it’s obviously meant as a joke as well, so I don’t know...”
“Well, in that case, it obviously doesn’t work,” she snapped, failing to see the humour in any of this, really. “Also, that’s unbelievably cruel. To make people confess their affections for someone in such a ridiculous way? Tell George to knock it off.”
“It is just a bit of fun, though,” Ron said carefully. “No harm meant.”
“It doesn’t matter if it was intended, Ron. That thing can do a lot of harm.”
Ron raised his eyebrow at her, smiling crookedly. “So you’re saying it wasn’t funny to watch Malfoy declaring his love for your hair?”
“Oh, shut up,” she said, trying not to blush furiously again. “It was a little funny, I guess, but that’s just it... Let’s pretend the serum actually works and we’re not talking about Malfoy. What if you’d given it to Ginny and she professed her love for someone and they laughed in her face?”
The way to Ron’s heart (or at least his conscience) was always Ginny. It was very predictable.
He grimaced. “I guess we could tell George to change it so whoever drinks it just proclaims their love for the first person they see.”
“Yeah, that’s a lot better,” Hermione said dryly. “Plus, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened in the first place. Malfoy ate the cupcake and he saw me.”
“That’s not what George says,” Harry said, looking up from the parchment. “According to this parchment someone is holding a secret candle for –“
“Don’t you dare go there.”
Harry tried and failed to look innocent. “Hey, I’m just the messenger.”
“You were just testing this for George, so that means the product isn’t finished,” she pointed out. “You should tell him it’s faulty.”
“Sure. Faulty.” Ron grins.
“I hate you guys.”
Getting up from his seat, Harry moved up to Hermione and slung an arm over her shoulders. “Of course you do, Hermione. Now should we bring the antidote or do you want to spend the rest of the day being wooed?”
Hermione was completely unable to concentrate. She tapped her fingers against her desk in a nonsensical rhythm, staring at the sea of scrolls in front of her. Harry and Ron were going to suffer dearly for ruining an entire workday for her. It wasn’t that Malfoy was still under the effects of the serum, because that had been fixed several hours ago. Harry had come out of Malfoy’s office wincing and muttering that George would probably have to reduce the effects just a smidge, but Malfoy had been back to normal after that. Well, except he had barricaded himself in his office, but Hermione would have done that too if she were him.
She couldn’t stop thinking about it all, though. What if it really was true that the serum had made Malfoy declare his affections for someone he liked? It was a really ludicrous thought, but it stuck with her anyway and that was confusing. She didn’t care about Malfoy in the least, except that wasn’t true. She’d been angry that he surpassed her for the office space and that he seemed to have more influence in the department than her. That wasn’t indifference. He annoyed her, he got on her nerves, he... damn. Admittedly, she wasn’t mad that he had gotten promoted. She thought that was great for him, but she wish she had been too. And she kind of...sort of... missed him being in the cubicle next to hers, but she would be eaten by a dragon before she admitted that out loud. Of course her pride was wounded since that they hadn’t chosen her for the promotion, but that was only part of it.
Hermione groaned and looked over at the closed door to his office. She supposed she’d have to talk to him in any case. It would be really awkward if she didn’t. Ignoring the knowing looks she got from the rest of them, she walked up and considered whether she should knock or just walk right in. She caught Belby staring at her and narrowed her eyes at him until he looked down, a flush creeping up the back of his neck.
She knocked quickly without waiting for an answer and slipped inside, feeling incredibly relieved to be away from prying eyes. Malfoy looked up from the parchment he was reading and quickly looked away when he saw who it was.
“I just wanted to...” What did she want to exactly? She fidgeted slightly, noting how drawn Malfoy looked in the daylight from the enchanted windows. “I know you didn’t mean it, or anything. It was that stupid serum Harry and Ron got from George.”
“Yeah, I know how pranks work, Granger. I think it’d be painfully obvious that I didn’t mean it,” he said flatly, not looking at her as he spoke. His hair looked dishevelled – as if he’d been running his hands through it over and over.
“It was meant for me, though. The prank.”
“Do you really expect me to believe that? It’s Potter and Weasley after all.”
“Don’t you dare pin this on them as if they’re out to get you,” she said, frowning at him. “It was the cupcake you stole from my desk, Malfoy. Maybe if you’d stop taking things that are mine, you wouldn’t be in this situation. Some would even say you had it coming.”
His head jerked up then, his eyes narrow and angry.
“Taking things that are yours? You’re bloody delusional.”
“Really? Is that why you’re stealing cupcakes from my desk like some childish git?” she asked, suddenly feeling the bubble of righteous anger burst in her chest. “And steal this office from right under my nose?”
She regretted that one the minute she said it. Merlin, she sounded like a petty teenager.
Malfoy looked at her disbelievingly. “I didn’t ask for this promotion. I was offered it and I took it, because I’m not a fool.”
“Yeah, and fine. It’s great for you. But I’ve been here a year longer and I’m stuck researching crystal ball regulations!” It was difficult to stop when she’d opened the flood gates. Damn it. “And these dead end projects, they were fine when I thought they valued what I do and that I’d move up in the ranks. And we’d laugh about them together and you’d be a git about it and that was how we did it and...”
She forced herself to shut up, biting back the even more embarrassing things that were threatening to spill out of her mouth.
“Nevermind,” she said quickly. “I just came to let you know that I know you’re not in love with my chocolate coloured eyes or anything. Hope you enjoyed the cupcake.”
The next day, Hermione stared at her desk completely dumbfounded. Not only were all her things not on it, but someone else was sitting by it arranging their quills neatly. Great. Now she had been fired for letting Harry and Ron into the department to wreak havoc. That was just was she needed.
“Excuse me,” she said, pushing her shoulder bag further up. “This is my seat.”
“Uh, I was assigned here this morning,” the guy said, looking pale as a ghost. “I’m new and they told me this is my desk. I didn’t mean to, I just...”
She held up her hand to stop him. “No, it’s fine! I’ll check what happened. You just sit.”
He visibly relaxed, his shoulders slumping slightly forwards.
“I’m Hermione Granger,” she said, holding her hand out.
She returned his grateful smile. “Welcome to the department! It’s... not as bad as it seems.”
“Hey, Granger,” Malfoy said and she looked in the direction of his voice. “Stop harassing the newcomer.”
“I would if he wasn’t sitting in my seat.”
Malfoy gave a lop-sided smile. “He’s not in your seat.”
“Really. I’ve worked in the department for four years and I don’t know where my desk is? I’m so glad your opinion of me is so stellar.”
“Granger, quit whinging and get your arse in here.” He rolled his eyes and stepped aside, pointing at the door to his office.
“What...” The question died on her lips when she stepped into the office, finding it equipped with two desks facing each other and all her things were strewn across one of them.
She whipped around, staring at Malfoy with wide eyes. There was no way he had...had he?
“Yeah, yeah,” he said dismissively, looking uncomfortable. “Welcome to the office. It’s a bit cramped, but it’s not like we’re not used to that. Half the shelves are cleared for you. Gave your scrolls of parchment about crystal balls to Summers. Figured you wouldn’t mind.”
Sitting heavily down in the chair by her desk, she tried to wrap her head around what was going on. She ran her hand over the dark wooden desk, looking around the room. How long had she wanted this office? Probably ever since she started working in the department. She couldn’t stop smiling even though she knew it would probably be awkward.
“But this is yours,” she said softly, after the shock had settled and Malfoy had long since gotten back to work. “I can’t take it from you.”
He shrugged, pausing the quill in mid-movement. “I’m not that fond of operating alone anyway.”
“Are you saying we’re partners?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow at that.
“Unless you mind.”
“Well, we kind of have been since you started, I guess.”
“To my great mortification, yes.”
She shook her head, still unable to fully believe that he was voluntarily sharing his office with her. It wasn’t a proclamation about their epic love or her chocolate coloured eyes, but it was definitely...something. Yes, it was something. And maybe that should have made her uncomfortable, but it didn’t really. Hermione smiled widely at him as she dropped her shoulder bag by the desk, reaching for some of the parchments he’d left for her to read up on.
“Stop grinning like a fool, Granger. It’s making me change my mind.”
“Afraid I might bring some happiness into your life?”
“Yes. I’m very afraid of that, actually.”
“Well, get used to it.”