“Please, dear, let the house-elves take care of that,” said Narcissa in a stilted voice, sending her daughter-in-law a withering look across the breakfast table. With unveiled contempt, she added, “It is what we pay them for, is it not?”
Ignoring Narcissa, Hermione gently brushed aside the flustered elf trying to assist her. “Thank you, Pippy, but I am perfectly capable of pouring my own juice. I am quite certain you have already done enough this morning to earn the measly wages they are paying you.”
Unsure of which mistress to listen to, the poor elf stood uncertainly by Hermione's side wringing her hands in distress.
“Now, you've gone and upset it,” grumbled Lucius, scowling at Hermione. “Can I not have one morning without burnt toast and runny eggs?”
“We pay them more than enough,” huffed Narcissa, offended by Hermione's snide comment. “Certainly more than any other pureblood family. None of whom have an ungrateful daughter-in-law forcing them to free their house-elves and give them wages they don't need or want.”
“It is the principle of the matter, Narcissa. House-elves are not beneath wizards and witches. They are our equals and should be treated as such. If you would read those pamphlets I gave you–”
“Oh, not that spew business again,” barked Lucius, throwing his newspaper down in disgust. “It's bad enough we had to free them in the first place. Must we keep talking about it all of the time? It's enough to make me want to spew.”
“What would they even spend more wages on?” continued Narcissa as though no one else had spoken. “They already have clothes, seeing as we had to give that to them in order to free them.”
“It's what comes from having Mudbloods... Oh, pardon me,” Lucius sneered, “I mean Muggle-borns mixed in with the rest of us. They just don't understand how our society works.”
“I understand how your society works just fine,” said Hermione dryly. “I'm trying to fix it, so it's not only fair for elitist wizards such as yourself, but for everyone. That's why I continue my efforts with S.P.E.W. and–”
“Oh, for the love of Merlin!” exclaimed Lucius. “Quit talking about that abominable organization.”
“Really, dear,” agreed Narcissa disdainfully. “It's bad enough that our son is married to a... Ministry worker. Must you continue to disgrace the family in your spare time as well?”
“There is nothing disgraceful about standing up for the rights–”
“Oh, Draco, darling!” Narcissa exclaimed as soon as she saw her son. “Thank goodness you're here. The conversation is always so droll without you.” She gave Hermione a pointed look.
“Good morning, Mother,” said Draco cheerfully, kissing her cheek as he passed by her. He nodded a greeting to his father and gave his wife a swift kiss on the head before sliding into the seat next to her. Smirking slightly, he said, “And I hope your morning is going well, Hermione.”
“Harumph!” was his wife irritated reply.
“Pippy!” snapped Narcissa. “Master Draco is here. You can serve us breakfast now.”
Letting out a little squeak, Pippy quickly Apparated out of the room and almost immediately heaping plates of eggs, sausages and toast appeared on the table.
Picking up a piece of toast, Lucius glared at Hermione and waved it in front of her. “Burnt.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and picked up her own piece of toast. Angrily slathering it in marmalade, she said, “Perhaps if Draco spent less time primping in front of the mirror and came to breakfast on time like he promised he would, like he always promises, the toast wouldn't be ever so slightly overdone.”
“Oh, pish posh,” said Narcissa dismissively. “Draco's timing is impeccable as usual. He didn't miss anything at all important. And I think he looks very handsome. You could learn from his example, dear. I dare say you could do with a little more time spent in front of the mirror,” she added insultingly, looking down her nose at Hermione.
“See? I'm just in time,” said Draco, playfully tugging on one of his wife's many stray curls just to annoy her.
Hermione angrily swatted his hand away and ignored any further attempts from him to capture her attention. Lucius rolled his eyes at their antics and went back to hiding behind his paper.
Narcissa, on the other hand, shrewdly watched the couple sitting across from her. After observing them for a while, she finally broke the silence. “We had dinner with the Parkinsons last night,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I heard a bit of news that you might be interested in, Draco.”
“Really?” said Draco in a bored tone, helping himself to some eggs. “I can't think of anything about the Parkinsons that interests me.”
“Mrs. Parkinson said that the youngest Greengrass girl broke off her engagement last week.”
“So?” replied Draco disinterestedly, taking a sip of tea.
“So, she's available!” Narcissa practically sang.
Hermione, who had just taken a bite of toast, immediately started choking on it.
Putting down his paper to give her a smug look, Lucius dipped his own toast into his tea and said rather unsympathetically, “A bit hard to swallow, isn't it?”
Ignoring him, as was her usual practice, Hermione said to Narcissa, “I think you are forgetting that Draco is not available.”
Narcissa shrugged her shoulders indifferently. “Draco is still young. He should have options.”
“Draco is married,” Hermione practically growled, starting to lose her temper.
“An elopement hardly counts as a real marriage,” Narcissa said coolly, obviously still bitter over the matter.
“It does according to the Ministry,” countered Hermione.
“Lucius? Are you still on friendly terms with the Ministry?”
Lucius reached into his robes and pulled out a bag of gold. Tossing it on the table, he replied, “I'd say I am.”
Narcissa gave Hermione a superior look. “Sometimes things change, dear.”
“Draco and I are married,” Hermione seethed, “and no amount of money or wishful thinking is going to change that. Like it or not, Draco is my husband. So please try to refrain from setting him up with stupid blonde bimbos in my presence.”
“Jealousy is very unbecoming, dear,” Narcissa scolded, giving her a disapproving look.
“I think it's sexy,” Draco said, giving his wife a wink.
Hermione glared at her husband.
“You know,” mused Narcissa, tapping her chin thoughtfully. “I can't help but notice that lately the two of you have been fighting more and more frequently.”
“It's probably because of the close quarters,” Hermione grumbled, stabbing her food with her fork.
“That's ridiculous,” replied Narcissa haughtily. “The Manor is quite spacious. We have the largest home of all our friends. And it's certainly larger than the hovel you grew up in.”
“I did not grow up in a hovel,” said Hermione indignantly. “My parents are quite well off. They're dentists.”
“Oh, I know exactly what your parents do,” Narcissa responded, her lips pursing. “They stick their hands in people's mouths for money. It's a dirty, disgusting way to make a living.”
“They also knock out defenseless, old Muggles and steal their teeth,” added Lucius accusingly. “Replace them with fake ones. Despicable.”
“It's a perfectly respectable profession. And they only remove teeth that have gone bad.”
“Does that really make it right? Does it?” asked Lucius, his eyebrow arched.
“Do you really think you're qualified to make moral judgments on anybody, Lucius?” Hermione huffed. “You were a Death Eater, for Merlin's sake.”
“I never stole anyone's teeth,” Lucius declared adamantly, his tone superior.
Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath in an attempt to control her temper. Deciding it best to steer away from the seemingly controversial topic of Muggle dentistry and go back to the original conversation, Hermione turned back to Narcissa and said, “We do not fight anymore than any normal married couple.”
“I can hear you shouting all hours of the night. That is not typical married behavior. I can ensure you that you would never hear that kind of unseemly shouting coming from our bedroom. Isn't that right, Lucius?”
Lucius grunted something unintelligible and Draco muttered, “Thank Merlin.”
“We're not always fighting. Sometimes we're just having animated discussions,” Hermione said, giving Draco a warning look.
Draco, of course, did not get the point. “And sometimes she's just shouting my name over and over again,” he said with a big stupid grin on his face.
“Because I can't find him in the Manor,” Hermione added, glaring at her husband.
“I told you the Manor was large,” said Narcissa haughtily.
“Yes, it's quite large,” said Hermione, letting out a defeated sigh. “I only meant–”
“You know what I think?” said Narcissa, cutting her off.
“I'm sure you're going to tell us,” muttered Hermione.
“I think the two of you should see a couples counselor.”
“Absolutely not,” was Hermione's immediate response.
“But I've already hired her,” Narcissa pouted.
“Then you can unhire her.”
“She's very qualified. She's married to a Muggle.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Hermione asked.
“Well, she's used to dealing with your sort.”
“My sort?” questioned Hermione, her voice starting to rise.
“Now, Hermione, perhaps we should listen to what Mother has to say,” intervened Draco. “We have been fighting more than usual and for us that's saying something.”
“You know very well why we've been fighting more than usual,” Hermione hissed.
“All I'm saying is that it wouldn't hurt to hear her out. Mother only has our best interest at heart.”
“You mean she has your best interest at heart,” Hermione grumbled.
Ignoring Hermione, Narcissa beamed at her son. “I knew you would listen to reason, Draco. Couples counseling is very in vogue right now. All of the fashionable families are doing it. The Greengrass's hired this same couples counselor for their daughter and got her out of a most undesirable marriage. I think it's just what this family needs.”
“We don't need anyone meddling in our marriage. And we don't need a couples counselor either,” said Hermione dryly. “Draco and I are perfectly happy with each other.”
“You're just in denial, dear.”
“No, you're the one in denial. About our marriage. You didn't even hire a marriage counselor, for Merlin's sake. You hired a couples counselor.”
“Couples counselors deal with all sorts of troubled couples, married or otherwise,” Narcissa replied haughtily. Although by the tone of her voice, she made it quite clear that Draco and Hermione fell into the otherwise category.
“There is nothing wrong with our marriage,” Hermione stated emphatically.
“So, you're not concerned at all that a couples counselor might reveal your marriage to be one giant mistake?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why are you scared to talk to her?”
“I'm not scared to talk to anyone.”
“Wonderful,” said Narcissa, clapping her hands in delight. “She's in the parlor.”
“She's here? Now?” Hermione sputtered. “You've had her waiting in the parlor this whole time?”
“She's married to a Muggle. I'm sure she's used to being treated poorly.”
“Draco,” Hermione growled, obviously having had enough of her mother-in-law.
Draco let out a sigh. “Oh, let's just get it over with. When Mother's mind is set on something, there is no getting around it. I'm sure a couples counselor will confirm what we already know – that we're perfect for one another.”
“Fine,” Hermione grumbled grudgingly.
“She's an old girlfriend of yours, Draco,” said Narcissa, leading them to the parlor. “I wanted someone you would feel comfortable with.”
“How thoughtful of you, Narcissa,” said Hermione sarcastically. “You always think of everything, don't you?”
“I find it best to always be one step ahead of everyone else, unless of course, you're walking into a lion's den. Then you let someone expendable take the lead.” Narcissa stopped and opened the door to the parlor. “After you, dear.”
“Why is it always the parlor I'm tortured in?” Hermione muttered as she walked past Narcissa. “Don't you people ever use the dungeons anymore?”
“Hello, Draco,” said Cho shyly, standing up when they entered the room.
“Hey, Cho,” said Draco awkwardly, not sounding at all comfortable.
“Hermione,” Cho acknowledged coldly, the past obviously not forgotten.
Not bothering to return the less than friendly greeting, Hermione's head snapped toward Draco. “You dated Cho?” she said in disbelief.
Draco shrugged sheepishly. “Slytherin prince, remember?”
Hermione turned back to Cho. “How is that friend of yours from school? You know, the sneaky one with all of the pimples.”
“Scarred for life but you already knew about that, didn't you,” Cho replied icily. “I'm afraid I can't say anymore about it. Healer-patient confidentiality, you know.”
“Oh, are you a Healer? I was under the impression you were just a couples counselor.”
“I am a Healer,” said Cho evenly. “I specialize in Marital Maladies.”
“Oh, so you're not a real Healer then,” replied Hermione patronizingly.
“Yes, I am,” Cho insisted, starting to get irritated.
“I wasn't aware that St. Mungos had a floor devoted to meddling in marriages,” said Hermione snidely. “Perhaps, you can get a job there, Narcissa.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” scoffed Narcissa. “Working is for the poor.”
“I don't work at St. Mungos actually,” Cho said, clearing her throat. “I have a private practice.
“Of course you do,” said Hermione, giving her a triumphant look.
“My work is very important,” replied Cho testily. “I assure you that some of my cases are quite difficult.” She gave Hermione a pointed look.
Hermione glared back.
“Well,” said Narcissa, looking all too pleased with herself, “it looks like the three of you will get along just fine. I'll let you get to work.” Narcissa started to leave but stopped in the doorway and turned around to speak directly to Cho. “Do feel free to be brutally honest with them. There is no sense in us all wasting our time on what is obviously an ill conceived marriage.”
Narcissa looked down her nose at Hermione, and then regally swept out of the room. The door unceremoniously slammed shut behind her.
“Was that really necessary?” Draco drawled.
“Yes, it was,” Hermione snapped, her wand still held tightly in her hand. “Because apparently my husband is too much of a mama's boy to ever think to do it for me.”
“Mother doesn't really respond well to that type of behavior. I prefer a more subtle approach.”
“You mean like doing nothing?”
Draco smirked and shrugged.
Hermione let out an exasperated sigh and turned to Cho. “Let's get one thing straight, Cho. This is Narcissa's idea, not ours. There is nothing wrong with our marriage. We do not need couples counseling.”
“Yes, I can see that,” replied Cho sarcastically.
“I know why you are here,” said Hermione, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Narcissa is paying you to break us up. Well, it's not going to work.”
“I am not getting paid to break you up. That would be completely unethical and against the oath I took when I decided to become a Healer.”
“Yes, it would be unethical... for a real Healer,” Hermione added under her breath.
“Let's get started, shall we?” began Cho, putting on a fake smile. “I have found that sometimes brutal honesty is best.”
“I'll go first,” said Draco. “Hermione's hair is way too bushy. You would think by now, the so called smartest witch of her age could have learned a few haircare spells to tame it. Am I right?”
“I meant for you to be brutally honest about yourselves,” clarified Cho.
“Oh. Well, my hair is perfect. So, I've got nothing.”
“Well, Slick. I happen to think you use way too much hair gel. To be brutally honest, it's a little sticky for my taste.”
My hair is not sticky,” protested Draco. “It's very silky.”
“It is silky,” Cho agreed, her eyes widening as she realized she said that out loud. “Not that that matters in the scheme of things. In fact, it's a very insignificant detail that doesn't have anything to do with anything. Let's move on, shall we?”
Hermione looked between the two of them suspiciously. “Did you two sleep together?”
“Noooo,” scoffed Draco. Then glancing over at Cho, who looked like she wanted to curl up in a ball and die, asked, “Did we?”
Cho's uncomfortable silence pretty much answered his question.
In an attempt to justify it, Draco finally said, “There's no need to make a big deal over it. Obviously it wasn't very memorable, now was it?”
“I lost my virginity to you,” Cho murmured quietly, not looking at him.
“Hmmm. I take that back. I guess it was memorable then... for one of us.”
“This is just great,” huffed Hermione. “Not only am I stuck wasting my day in couples counseling when I have real work I could be doing, I'm also stuck spending the day with my husband's ex-lover. I hope you enjoyed Harry's leftovers, Draco.”
“She was a virgin,” Draco pointed out. “Potter may have always beat me to the Snitch, but it looks like I beat him to the snatch.” He looked very smug for a minute about it but then seemed to reconsider. “Oh, I guess that's not really helping my case, is it?”
“No, it isn't,” Hermione growled.
“This is really good,” said Cho, writing down some notes on a piece of parchment. “Communication is the most important tool you can use to keep your marriage healthy.”
“Is that right, Cho?” said Hermione dryly.
“I'd really prefer if you would refer to me as Healer Chang while we are in therapy. I like to keep things professional.”
“Says the woman who slept with my husband,” Hermione muttered under her breath.
Not hearing Hermione's comment or making a conscious effort to ignore it, Cho continued, “Now, I want you to look into each others eyes and tell each other what you want.”
Hermione's response was immediate. “I want to move out of your parents' house.”
“I'll lose my inheritance!” exclaimed Draco.
“So, money is more important to you than us?”
“You know it isn't, but it's only a year. I am aware my parents are a bit of a handful, but–”
“They are more than a handful,” Hermione interrupted, “but the problem isn't your parents, Draco, it's your mother. Your father and I have an understanding. We hate each other. And we don't pretend otherwise. Your mother, on the other hand...”
“To drive me insane.”
“I think you are overreacting.”
“Your mother has never once said my name.”
“So? She likes to use endearments. What's wrong with that?”
“She calls me, dear. And she says it like she's a hunter about to shoot her prey right through the heart.”
“Deer,” repeated Draco, thinking out loud. Then he let out a chuckle. “Yeah, she does do that, doesn't she?”
Hermione hit him in the arm. “It's not funny, Draco.”
“It kind of is. Besides, it's not like you don't refer to my parents as Lucius and Narcissa.”
“Because that's their names!” said Hermione exasperatedly.
“But you know that they don't like you being so familiar with them.”
“Whether they like it or not, I am their daughter-in-law, and I have every right to be familiar with them. In fact, I think I am going to start calling them Mum and Dad.”
“You wouldn't dare.”
“Wouldn't I?” Hermione replied, giving him a smug look.
Draco rubbed his face with his hands. “Look, this isn't easy for me either.”
“I beg to differ, Draco darling,” Hermione retorted with her best Narcissa impression.
Draco sighed. “I know our current living situation isn't exactly ideal–”
“Ha! That's an understatement.”
“But it's only for a year.”
“Would you spend a whole year living with my parents?” Hermione questioned.
“Exactly. So I don't see why you expect me to do it. You know that she only set that condition to drive me away, don't you?”
“I know.” Draco smirked. “But she underestimates just how stubborn you really are.”
Hermione almost cracked a smile. Almost.
“It will all be worth it in the end, Hermione. You just have to trust me.”
“I don't think there is any amount of money that could make all of the crap I put up with worth it. Besides, it's not like we need your inheritance. I work. I can support us.”
“Speaking of that... I want you to quit.”
“I don't like you spending so much time with Nott.”
“What do you have against Theo? Sure he's a greedy, egotistical prick but so are your other friends. So are you for that matter. Just because he wasn't one of your toadies at Hogwarts–”
“That's not what I have against him although that would be enough to not like him. Independent bastard.”
“Is it that annoying smirk?” Hermione questioned. “Because you have that too.”
“No. Hey! I thought you found my smirk sexy.”
“Be serious, Draco.”
“I am serious. You do find it sexy. And I bet you find his smirk sexy too. Admit it.”
“Is that what this is about? You're jealous? Of Theo?”
“I've heard rumors,” said Draco ominously.
“What rumors?” asked Hermione indignantly.
“I've heard the reason that you work all hours of the night is because you're doing all kinds of unspeakable things with Theo Nott.”
“Who did you hear that from? Your mother?” Hermione guessed. “Well, she's right. We do do unspeakable things with each other. Because we're Unspeakables!”
“Well, I don't like it.”
“And I don't like you telling me what to do. If I wanted to be married to a jealous asshole, I would have stayed with Ron!”
“You did not just go there,” said Draco angrily.
“I did. And I'll go there again if I want to, you weasel wannabe!”
“You better take that back or–”
“Or what?” Hermione taunted. “You'll tell your mother on me? Or maybe your ex-lover here?”
Cho decided to intervene at that moment before things got anymore heated. “Alright, I think that is enough communication for right now.”
“What are you doing? We haven't even got to the angry wall sex part yet,” Draco complained, glaring at her.
Cho noticed Hermione was glaring at her as well. Picking up her quill again, she hastily jotted down a note. “Relationship extremely dysfunctional,” she mumbled aloud.
“This is completely pointless,” grumbled Hermione.
“No, it's not,” Cho insisted. “I think we're getting close to a breakthrough. “It's obvious you both have some trust issues. I think we should try a trust exercise. I want you to take turns levitating each other.”
“I'll go first,” volunteered Draco.
“You'd better not say it wrong,” Hermione warned bossily. “Remember it's Wing-gar-dium Levi-osa with a long 'gar'. It doesn't work right if you don't make it long.”
“I know how to do a simple levitation spell. I'm not an idiot. That's a first year spell. Wingar–”
“Your swish isn't big enough. It's a nice big swish and a quick flick.”
“Don't tell me what to do!” snapped Draco. “I'm capable of doing it without your help.”
“You need to let go and trust him, Hermione,” instructed Cho.
“But he's not doing it right,” insisted Hermione.
“Can I hit her with a Petrificus Totalus first?” queried Draco.
“That's really not helpful,” replied Cho.
“How about I hit him with a Langlock jinx? Would that be helpful?”
“No,” said Cho.
“He could still cast the spell. Unless, of course, his nonverbal skills aren't up to snuff,” Hermione taunted.
“My nonverbal skills are just fine,” retorted Draco, flipping her the bird.
Scowling, Hermione pointed her wand at him threateningly, but it kept wavering up and down indecisively as though she couldn't quite make up her mind whether she should go for the obvious finger removing spell or try for another appendage all together.
Cho intervened by holding up her hand. “Just relax and close your eyes, Hermione. He's not going to drop you.”
Grudgingly, Hermione relented, and taking a deep breath, closed her eyes. Draco cast the spell adequately enough that she was soon floating high in the air. Hermione was just letting her body relax when the door suddenly burst open, causing Draco to lose his concentration and drop Hermione on her ass. Narcissa swept into the room carrying a large tea tray.
Setting it down on the table, Narcissa said, “I thought you might like some refreshments.” She looked down at Hermione still sprawled on the floor. “Really, dear. I know you were brought up by Muggles but do try and act proper. Civilized people sit in chairs. Ladies always cross their ankles while sitting. But I suppose we can't expect that much out of you.”
Muttering a string of obscenities under her breath, Hermione stood up.
“Ladies do not mumble either. If you have something to say, dear, speak up.”
Hermione gritted her teeth. “I was just commenting on your impeccable timing.”
“Timing is everything, dear.” Narcissa smiled.
“It is curious though.”
“What's curious?” Narcissa asked, her smile faltering slightly.
“You doing the work of a house-elf. Perhaps you have been reading those pamphlets I gave you after all.”
“Don't be ridiculous. I'd sooner read the filth Draco still hides under his mattress.”
“Oh, are those still there?” Draco said awkwardly, avoiding his wife's gaze.
“I would have sent Pippy in,” continued Narcissa, “but she is on a break at the moment. One of the many unreasonable conditions you demanded when you invaded our household.”
“I did not–”
“Thank you, Mother,” Draco interrupted, quickly ushering her toward the door. “I think we're all set now.”
“Sorry if I interrupted anything important. I didn't mean for you to drop everything for me.” The sincerity of Narcissa's apology was slightly marred by the smirk on her face.
As soon as Narcissa left the room, Hermione immediately rounded on her husband. “You drop me every single time your mother appears. This time literally!”
“Maybe if he tries again–” began Cho.
“No, it's my turn now,” interrupted Hermione, pointing her wand at Draco. “Levicorpus.”
Draco was immediately hoisted into the air by his ankle. He dangled upside down in the air with a scowl on his face. “Put me down,” he growled.
“Fine. Liberacorpus,” said Hermione, carelessly flicking her wand and causing him to fall to the floor in a heap.
Before they could get into another fight, Cho said, “Let's try something a little different. I'm going to give the two of you a test that will help me better assess your situation.”
“Do we get to study first?” Hermione immediately asked.
“It's not that kind of test.”
“Oh, a pop quiz,” Hermione said excitedly. Turning to Draco, she boastfully added, “I'm going to kick your ass.”
Cho pulled out some cards from her satchel and said, “I am going to show you a series of ink blots, and I want you to interpret them for me.”
“You're giving us the Rorschach test? Isn't that test normally used by Muggle Psychologists? It doesn't really seem appropriate for couples counseling.”
“I've found it extremeley helpful in evaluating my patients,” Cho replied haughtily. “Frankly, I find it a little offensive that you are questioning my methods.”
“It just seems like an unsual practice and quite unneccessary in this case. Not to mention, that test isn't even reliable.”
“How do you know? Have you taken it before?” Cho asked.
“No, but I've read about it.”
“Well, that doesn't really count then, does it?” Cho replied, snippily. “I think I'm more qualified to judge the merrits of this type of testing since I am the Healer here.”
“So you say,” muttered Hermione.
“Hermione is probably just scared I'm going to score higher,” Draco taunted. “Better to discredit the test now than to face failure later. Am I right, dear?”
Hermione glared and retorted, “I wouldn't know about failure. Why don't you tell me about it, darling?”
“Shall we begin?” Cho said, placing down the first ink blot.
“I see a blob of ink,” said Draco. “What does that say about me?”
“That you're not putting any effort into it,” retorted Hermione.
“Oh yeah? Well, what do you see?”
Hermione studied it carefully and then finally said, “I see a snarling dog or wolf. Possibly a Grim.”
“Hmmm,” said Cho, scribbling something down in her notes.
“What are you writing?” Hermione asked anxiously.
“That particular interpretation is an indication of paranoia.”
“That's ridiculous,” Hermione huffed. “You're just out to get me because of what I did to your blabbermouth friend. Well, I have news for you, she deserved it, and I'd do it again. And if you're trying to get some kind of pathetic revenge–”
“Paranoia confirmed,” Cho murmured aloud as she wrote it down in her notes.
Draco snorted but opted not to say anything when he saw Hermione's dark look.
Cho place down another card. “What do you see in this one?”
“A cat,” replied Hermione confidently.
“Has trouble relating to people,” Cho mumbled while writing. Looking up, she said, “Nothing surprising here. Draco, what do you see?”
“And you can't say ink blob this time,” ordered Hermione.
“Alright,” said Draco grudgingly. “I see two witches playing patty cake.”
“Ha!” Hermione laughed. “What kind of psychotic meaning does that have?”
“That's actually a perfectly normal response,” answered Cho. “Good job, Draco.”
“What!” exclaimed Hermione, outraged. “This is bullshit.”
“Who said this test wasn't reliable? So far I've found it to be suprisingly accurate,” said Draco just to spite his wife.
“Let's try another one,” said Cho. “Hermione?”
“It's two men,” replied Hermione less than enthusiastically.
“I'll have to disagree,” said Draco, giving his wife a superior look. “I say, it's two women.”
“It's obviously two men tap dancing with tuxedos on.”
“You're wrong. It's two women... cooking... with aprons on.”
“You are a male chauvinist pig! And you're just disagreeing to disagree,” Hermione huffed. “You are so... so... disagreeable!”
“I think the word you're searching for is smart. Because that's what I am. So far, you have gotten every single answer wrong. At this point, it would be stupid not to disagree with you.”
“I have not gotten any answers wrong. It's the test that's wrong, and she's using it to make me look bad.”
“Paranoid much?” Draco smirked.
“Men,” Hermione growled.
“Women,” Draco countered.
“Interesting,” said Cho, writing something down.
“Ha! She's wrong again, isn't she? Does it reveal that she's an insufferable, know-it-all swot who can't admit when she's wrong?”
“No. Actually, it reveals that you have homosexual tendencies.”
“What!” Draco sputtered.
Hermione started laughing. “Now, how do you feel about the test, Draco?”
“Completely unreliable,” he huffed.
“Are you sure?” Hermione asked teasingly. “Because before you found it to be surprisingly accurate.”
“It's complete bullshit.”
Cho started writing again. “Acute denial.”
“I am not in denial. You can't be in denial about something that isn't true. If I did have any homosexual tendencies, women everywhere wouldn't be calling me a sex god. Men would. I think the main point I'm trying to convey here is that, either way, I would be a sex god but since it has definitely been the ladies reaping the benefits since the moment I hit puberty, I think it's obvious I have no such tendencies. In order to have and give a really good orgasm, you have to be into it. And believe me, I've had and given more than my fair share. My proof is in the string of satisfied, satiated women I have left behind. Now, of course, there is only one woman for me,” said Draco, giving his scowling wife a wink, “but before Hermione, there were a lot of satisfied women. A lot. And no men. Therefore, the test is wrong. I do not have any such tendencies. Hermione knows it, and you know it too,” said Draco, pointing at Cho.
“I don't know any such thing,” Cho replied haughtily.
“How else would you explain your first sexual experience being so phenomenol?”
“How do you know it was phenomenal? You don't even remember it,” snapped Cho, momentarily losing her temper.
“I... I... I just know it! Besides, I was just disagreeing with her to disagree. I didn't really see two women.”
“So, you're saying you did see two penises,” said Cho.
“What? No! I am definitely not saying that.”
“Then what do you see here?” asked Cho, pointing to one of the supposed penises.
“A fucking blob of ink!”
Hermione started laughing again.
“How is seeing a penis even the right answer?” Draco ranted. “The proportion is all wrong. It's way too small of a blob to be a real penis.”
“Don't flatter yourself,” Cho muttered under her breath.
“What is that supposed to mean?” asked Draco angrily.
“Just because you have forgotten our encounter doesn't mean that I have,” Cho retorted just as angrily.
“My cock is huge! You're just trying to belittle me because I took your cherry and don't even remember it.”
Cho picked up her quill and angrily wrote, “Delusional and paranoid.”
Hermione smirked at her husband.
“That's it,” said Draco, crossing his arms angrily. “I am not looking at anymore so called penis blobs.”
“I think I got the information I was looking for anyway,” said Cho, putting the cards away. “I have something else in mind now.”
“So, what's your next bright idea to save our marriage?” Hermione asked disinterestedly.
“You can't give us Veretaserum,” Hermione scoffed. “That's illegal.”
“It's perfectly legal for medical use. I am a Marital Healer and am allowed to administer it in dire situations. And believe me, your situation is as dire as it comes.”
“I am not taking Veritaserum,” Hermione declared adamantly.
“Why? Do you have something to hide?” asked Draco suspiciously.
“No,” said Hermione. “Do you?”
“If he does, he probably doesn't remember it,” muttered Cho, dumping the contents of a small vial into the tea pot. After swishing it about, she poured two cups of tea and handed them to Draco and Hermione. “Bottoms up.”
Glaring at each other, they both drank.
“The effects of the Veritaserum are immediate. From here on out, you will only be able to speak the truth.”
“Can we talk about my hair again?” Draco asked Cho. “I bet she thinks it's silky too.”
“No,” replied Cho, blushing slightly at her earlier faux pas. “I think we should move onto more important issues.”
“What could be more important than my hair?” asked Draco, lovingly smoothing back his hair.
“You mean like our sexual relationship?” Draco asked, raising his eyebrows up and down.
“Well, that's certainly part of a healthy relationship. Are you having any problems in that area?”
“Hermione doesn't like me coming home through the back door if you know what I mean,” said Draco, nudging Cho with his elbow.
Hermione's mouth dropped open in shock, but she quickly recovered and spat, “Well, sometimes Draco comes home a little too early, if you know what I mean.”
Draco let out a loud gasp and then sputtered, “When I do come home early, which is hardly ever, I make up for it by letting her come home on my face!”
“He enjoys that!”
“So does she!”
“Well, sometimes I fake coming home!” Hermione spat.
“You heard me. Sometimes you take too long, and I have work to do, so I fake it.”
“I'm taking so long because I am thinking of dead puppies so I don't come home too early!”
“Well, if it's a work night, I'd prefer you come home early. And if you'd bother to ask for directions, perhaps I could come home early too.”
“I am not lost,” said Draco, offended. “Sometimes, I just like to take the scenic route. Because when you come home early, I don't get to come home at all. I get locked out of the house because you're too busy reading.”
“I don't even know what we are talking about anymore!” Hermione exclaimed in exasperation.
“You have an oversensitive clit.”
“I do not!”
“Yes, you do. If I pay too much attention to it, you come too early and then I'm shit out of luck.”
“Maybe the reason you're out of luck is because you are an insensitive dick!”
“No, I'm pretty sure it's because of your oversensitive clit.”
“Why aren't you writing this down!” they both shouted at Cho.
“Um, this is making me a bit uncomfortable.”
“Perhaps you would be more comfortable if I made an ink impression of her clit for your files,” Draco suggested snidely.
“Are you sure you're qualified to do this?” Hermione inquired skeptically.
“Yes,” replied Cho, gritting her teeth.
“Because to be honest with you, which as you are aware, I feel compelled to be at the moment, this isn't going very well.”
“That's because we haven't gotten to the root of the problem yet.”
“There is no problem,” Hermione insisted.
“We will see about that,” said Cho determinedly. “Let's talk about the rumor about you and your co-worker.”
As if on cue, Narcissa peeked in the door. “I have a surprise guest for you! And I'm pretty sure he doesn't need an introduction.”
“Surprised, dear?” asked Narcissa, looking directly at Hermione. “I take it, you weren't expecting your... co-worker to show up here of all places.”
Hermione turned to Draco. “Your mother really needs to stop watching those Muggle talk shows.”
Draco shrugged. “It's your fault for bringing in that Muggle contraption.”
“Should I get rid of the telly then?”
“No! I'll miss my stories.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and addressed Theo. “Not to be rude or anything, but what are you doing here? Did Narcissa put you up to this?”
“Why would I do such a thing?” answered Narcissa, acting offended. “I don't even know Mr. Nott. Except by reputation of course.” She then shared a not-so-secret glance with Draco.
Theo looked between them as if trying to figure out what was going on, but only said, “Sorry for bothering you at home on a Saturday, Hermione, but the Minister of Magic owled this to me and insisted that I personally deliver it to you.” He handed her a roll of parchment.
Hermione opened it to discover next week's lunch menu for the Ministry's cafeteria.
“Mmm. Taco Tuesday,” said Draco, reading over her shoulder.
Narcissa, still standing in the doorway, gave Hermione a smug look that suggested that Lucius was indeed still friendly with the Ministry.
“Thank you, Theo. Well, I'm sure you need to be going. I'll see you on Monday,” said Hermione, starting to escort him toward the door.
“Where are your manners, dear? Why don't you invite Mr. Nott in to have some tea?”
“I don't think he would like this sort of tea,” said Hermione through clenched teeth. “I know it's leaving a very bitter taste in my mouth.”
“Nonsense,” said Narcissa, taking it upon herself to pour a cup for Theo. “I made it myself. Why don't you take a sip and tell me what you think, Mr. Nott? Tell me the truth now,” she said in an almost singsong voice.
Theo cautiously took a sip. “It's delicious, Mrs. Malfoy.”
“I told you,” said Narcissa haughtily, giving Hermione a superior look. “I'm certain Mr. Nott would not tell a lie.”
Hermione's eyes narrowed. “Perhaps, you would like to join us, Narcissa. There's plenty of tea left.”
“No, no. You young people enjoy yourselves. I have other things to do, what with being the only lady of the house and all.” Once again, Narcissa left the room with the door slamming shut behind her.
“I think you should be aware that you just drank Veritaserum,” Hermione told Theo.
“I figured as much,” said Theo.
“And you still drank it?” Hermione asked incredulously.
Theo shrugged. “I don't have anything to hide.”
Hermione glared at Theo. “I think it's best you leave now.”
“Why are you so eager for him to leave, Hermione? Is it because the rumors are true?” challenged Draco.
“I want him to leave because we are in the middle of something personal. This is between you and me and your ex-lover here. Not my co-worker.”
“How do I know it isn't between you, me, my ex-lover and your current lover? You haven't answered my question yet.”
“Do we really need to do this in front of him?”
“Fine,” Hermione grumbled, “but I need to do something first.”
Hermione started looking around the room. She checked in vases, behind books. She ran her hand under the mantle. She was halfway under the sofa when Draco finally asked, “What are you looking for?”
“You won't find any bugs in the Manor. Mother wouldn't allow it.”
“She would if she planted them,” Hermione muttered.
Draco had no idea what she was talking about, but Hermione finally caught sight of what she was looking for. She found it on the floor right next to the door. A flesh-colored piece of string. Carefully, she lifted one end of the string. Giving Draco a smug look, she yanked on it. It resulted in a loud bang against the door. Hermione flung the door open to reveal Narcissa, standing there rubbing her head.
“Did you need something, Narcissa?” Hermione asked, unable to hold in her smirk.
Narcissa glared at her.
“You look like you have a headache, Narcissa,” Hermione said unsympathetically. “You should probably go lie down.” With that, Hermione slammed the door shut and deposited the flesh-colored string in her pocket. She turned back to Draco. “Now, where were we?”
Draco rubbed his hands over his face. “Mother is really not going to be happy about that.”
“Then she should keep her nose and Extendable Ear out of our business,” Hermione snapped.
“So you are having an affair with him, aren't you?” Draco accused. “All those long hours you work are just an excuse.”
“No, I'm not having an affair with him. I can't tell you what Theo and I are doing at work because it's top secret, but I can tell you what we are not doing. We are not having sex. Satisfied?”
“No,” said Draco and Theo at the same time.
Draco refused to look up to his former schoolmate who was almost a head taller than him, so instead of looking him in the eye, he scowled straight at his neck. “Do you want to have sex with my wife?” he asked angrily.
“Yes,” replied Theo without any hesitation. He didn't seem at all bothered by his admission. Shrugging nonchalantly, he said, “I suppose I do.”
“I knew it!”
“Theo, stop joking around,” Hermione demanded, glaring at her co-worker. “Tell Draco that you do not want to have sex with me.”
Theo casually took a sip of tea and replied, “But I do.”
“Ugh! Come Monday, I am so sending you back to the Middle Ages and leaving you there,” Hermione snapped, losing her temper. Then realizing what she said, she sheepishly looked around and added, “Um, forget I said that.”
Theo smirked. “I forgot how much that feisty temper of yours turned me on.”
“She's mine,” Draco growled possessively.
Theo smirked. “But I had her first.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Fuck you, Theo,” Hermione snapped. “I don't know what your agenda is, but you need to leave now before I do something... Unforgiveable.”
“There is no agenda,” said Theo. “There's tea.” He raised his cup in salute.
“Oh, stop with the bloody tea. You did it on purpose. For some reason, you want Draco to know that we had sex.”
“You had sex with Nott!” Draco exclaimed.
“You had sex with Cho!” Hermione yelled just as accusingly.
“Healer Chang,” Cho corrected.
“Shut up, Cho!” they both shouted.
“I don't even remember having sex with her!”
“How does that even make it any better!”
“I don't know! It just does!”
“Look,” said Hermione, trying to calm the situation. “I can't say I've exactly forgotten having sex with Theo, but believe me, I wish I could. It was a mistake. A mistake I have to see and put up with five days a week. But it happened a long time ago. Way before us.”
“You said you were a virgin at school.”
“I did not. That's what everyone else said.”
“And she was until me,” added Theo unhelpfully.
“Theo, would you fucking shut up!”
“You let Nott take your virginity!”
“Well, it's not like you wanted it back then. Mudblood, remember?”
“Of course, I wanted it back then. I was a teenage boy. I took her virginity, didn't I?” said Draco, pointing at Cho.
Cho scowled at him.
“Well, maybe you should have shown some interest in me, and I would have turned to you instead of Theo when I was feeling rejected by Ron.”
“I'm sorry, but I was a little busy trying to kill the Headmaster that year and save my family from a frigging lunatic.”
“And yet you somehow managed to find the time to deflower Cho,” said Hermione sarcastically.
“Only because we kept running into each other because we both spent the whole year in the same broom cupboard trying to avoid Potter. You, on the other hand, were usually with Potter. Except when you were with Nott I suppose. And where were you with Nott?”
“Figures,” said Draco, rolling his eyes. “So tell me, did you scream out his name like you do mine?”
“Ha! In your face, loser!” said Draco, doing a little victory dance.
Theo's only reaction was to smirk.
Draco stopped dancing and looked at Theo. “What?”
“Why don't you ask her why she didn't shout out my name?”
“Was it because he was a horrible lover?”
Hermione shook her head no.
“He has a small penis?”
Hermione shook her head again.
“Well then, why?”
Hermione let out a long sigh. “The reason I didn't shout out his name was because, well, we were in the library.”
“She did whisper it over and over again though,” said Theo. “Does that count?”
“So, the sex was good then?” said Draco, crestfallen.
Hermione didn't want to say, so she nodded her head.
“It was more than good,” bragged Theo. “Especially after we found that book in the Restricted Section.”
“Is that where you learned to do that... that thing?” Draco asked.
“Oh yeah, that thing,” said Theo with a reminiscent smile.
“You did that with him?” Draco gasped. “I thought that was just something you read about.”
Hermione shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I did read about it... in the Restricted Section.”
Draco looked like he was about to explode.
“I think you should be going, Theo,” said Hermione, pushing him toward the door.
“But we're having so much fun talking about old times,” Theo protested.
“Where is this even coming from? We have worked together for two years, and you have never once brought up our sordid past before. I thought we both silently agreed to pretend it never happened.”
“Well, Mrs. Malfoy hinted that you might be available soon, and it got me thinking about things. You know, sexual things, and I thought...”
“Well, you thought wrong. Draco and I are happily married.”
Theo looked at Draco who was standing there with his arms crossed scowling at his wife and then over at Cho who was slowly shaking her head back and forth with a grave expression on her face. “Yes, I can see that now,” he said with an amused smile on his face.
“I'm serious,” huffed Hermione. “I love my husband, and he loves me.” She waited for Draco to jump in and back her up, but he was too busy sulking, so she gave him a pinch. “Would you at least act like you love me,” she hissed.
“Ow! What was that for!”
“I am trying to convince them of how much we love each other!”
“So you frigging pinch me!”
“Because I love you!”
“Well, I love you too!” shouted Draco, returning the pinch.
“Ow! That hurt,” said Hermione, pinching him back.
Draco pinched her again. “Well, apparently, love hurts.”
“You started it,” grumbled Draco.
Hermione took in a deep breath and then let it out. “So, as you can see, Theo, Draco and I are very much in love.” Draco tried to put his around her, but she shoved it off.
“Well, I guess I should be going then. I'll see you on Monday, Hermione.” Theo gave her a wink before leaving. The door slammed behind him.
“Well, I think that went well,” said Cho after a while.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” asked Hermione incredulously. “You just made me confess to my husband that I slept with another man and enjoyed it.”
“I didn't make you do anything.”
“You gave me Veritaserum.”
“It wasn't really Veritaserum,” Cho admitted.
“It was a placebo. I'm not actually allowed to give you real Veritaserum.”
“Ha! I knew it!”
“Is that why you were spouting all of that embarrassing stuff about yourselves?” asked Cho, her eyebrow arching.
“I think the real issue here is that you deceived us.”
“It was a tool to get you communicating,” said Cho, defending herself.
“That is a load of crap!” Hermione exploded. “You need to face facts, Cho. You are a horrible couples counselor. They should take away your license. That is if you even have a license which I seriously doubt. Because of you, Draco knows all about a sexual relationship I had a long time ago with someone, who coincidentally happens to be my co-worker, who I have to see everyday. Husbands should not know about such things, particularly when the sex was really good. You tricked us into revealing things that were personal and none of your business. And if that wasn't bad enough, you slept with my husband. Granted, he was probably just yet another one of the many bad choices you made over the years, but it still pisses me off. I find you to be a liar, a sneak and a completely unlikeable person. You're seriously lucky that you're not already sprouting mean-spirited pimples all over your face just like that horrible friend of yours. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble making up my mind which horrible word to spell out!”
“You know what, Hermione? I think you are the horrible person. In fact, I think you're a bitch! And in my professional opinion, you and that insensitive, virginity-stealing git are the worst match in the history of the Wizarding World. If you care at all about humanity, you should get a divorce immediately. Before you give birth to spawn of Satan!” burst Cho, running out of the room in tears.
“What's her problem?” asked Draco.
Hermione shrugged. “She wasn't very professional.”
Draco laughed. “You just made our counselor cry. Merlin, I love you.”
“As well you should. We're perfect for one another. I told you we didn't need a couples counselor.”
“She certainly wasn't very good, was she?”
“I don't know what you and Harry ever saw in her.”
“Well, she is pretty.” The deafening silence that followed that statement caused him to look up and see Hermione's expression. “Pretty annoying,” he quickly added. “Stupid teenage hormones. Hey, I'm sorry I slept with her and all those other women. I wish I would have waited for the woman I love. I wish I would have waited for you.”
“And I'm sorry I slept with Theo. I wish I would have waited for you too.”
“Speaking of that, I still want you to quit your job.”
“You know I don't like being told what to do,” Hermione scolded, “but coincidentally, I have been thinking about making a career change. I want to have a broad range of experience within the Ministry for when I run for Minister of Magic. I figure it would be nice to have at least one Minister who isn't in your father's pocket.”
“I like that idea. Then I'll have a Minister of Magic in my pocket. And my pants.” He raised his eyebrows up and down suggestively.
“You are incorrigible,” said Hermione, laughing and giving him a kiss. “But I love you anyway.”
“And you are a bloody know-it-all and stubborn as hell, but I love you anyway.” Draco smiled. “You know, Hermione, you remind me a lot of my mother.”
“Aren't you a nasty boy?” said Hermione, straddling her husband's lap. “Perhaps, we should call Healer Chang back in here to sort out these inappropriate feelings of yours.”
“No, seriously. You're both horribly opinionated, head strong and completely impossible. But you're also both strong, intelligent, caring women. I just wish...” Draco trailed off.
“I just wish you would give each other a chance,” Draco finished. “If you would just get to know each other...”
“Is that why you're always late to breakfast?” Hermione asked. “You want us to spend time together?”
Draco nodded. “And because I'm primping,” he admitted with a wink. “But mostly to give you time to get to know each other. I want us to be a real family.”
“So, you mean to tell me, the real reason we're staying here is because you want your parents to... to accept me?”
Draco shrugged, trying to act casual. “I was hoping you would grow on them. Like you did on me.”
“That is so... sweet. Completely fucked up and never going to happen, but really sweet.”
They were about to kiss when Narcissa suddenly swept into the room, having overheard everything on her spare Extendable Ear. “Oh, Draco, darling,” she gushed, pulling Draco into a tight embrace and knocking Hermione onto the floor in the process. “I'm so sorry, darling. I had no idea you felt that way. If you really love her then we'll make do. We only want you to be happy.”
“I am happy, Mother. Hermione makes me happy. Is it too much to ask that my two favorite women get along?”
Narcissa looked down at Hermione and seemed to think about it. After what was more than likely quite the internal struggle, she finally held out her hand to Hermione and helped her off the floor. “I suppose for a Muggle-born with a Ministry job, who has wild hair and even wilder ideas regarding house-elves... I suppose as far as daughter-in-laws go, you're not that horrible,” she said stiffly.
Choosing her words carefully, Hermione replied, “And you may be an overbearing, backward-thinking pureblood snob who spends way too much time interfering in her son's life, but as far as mother-in-laws go, I suppose you're not that horrible either. Oh, who am I kidding? You're a complete nightmare. But you are Draco's family and therefore you are my family too. If you're willing to try, I am too. What do you say... Mum?” Hermione held out her hand.
Narcissa's eyebrow quirked. “Don't push it. You may call me, Narcissa,” she said, taking her daughter-in-law's hand.
“And you may call me, Hermione.”
Narcissa let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh, very well... Hermione... dear,” she couldn't resist adding. “Welcome to the family.”
Hermione smirked. “I suppose we should go in and tell, Dad, the good news.”
Narcissa smirked back. “Yes, let's do.”
Draco watched his two favorite women walk out the door arm in arm. It looked like couples counseling had worked after all. He would have liked to rub Hermione's face in it and say I told you so, but then that wouldn't be very subtle. So, he settled for patting himself on the back and plotting to rub his face in his wife instead.