Granger, I need to speak with you about Jenkins...
It took little more than a minute flick of my wand to incinerate that memo. A second one followed on its heels. I sighed. I will never get home tonight.
I am more than three floors away from you, and, as sure as I am of my own name, you incinerated my first memo the millisecond you recognized my handwriting. My secretary wrote this, so now I know that you'll have at least read to this point. About Jenkins...
I coughed into my hand as the second memo scattered ash around my office.
A third memo fluttered in through the doorway.
Third time's a charm, Granger. Jenkins is...
The third memo went the way of the first two, and now my desk and bookshelves were covered in ash, necessitating a dusting charm. As if I had time to dust my office. I hated dusting charms. Bastard.
MALFOY, STOP HARASSING ME WITH YOUR POINTLESS, STUPID MEMOS, WHOSE SOLE PURPOSE IS TO ASSIST YOU IN YOUR PATHETIC SCHEMES TO BECOME THE NEXT MINISTER OF MAGIC.
That should do the trick. I sent the Howler on its merry way.
Yesterday had been yet another long day; Ron was asleep when I arrived home. Today would be no better. Ron was still in bed when I left. I put bread in the toaster, more butter in the butter dish, jam on the table, and filled the kettle with fresh water. Guilty for being so late the night before, I even set the table with a cloth napkin and his favourite cup. Hopeless, really. He'd ignore everything, and meet Harry at the McDonald's down the block from the Ministry to eat something called an Egg McMuffin. He brought me a sample one morning on his way to the office. When I spat it out on the floor, he assured me that they were right tasty, when they were warm. God, Americans. I try to keep an open mind, but what can you say about a society whose idea of a cultural icon is Bart Simpson. A cartoon of which Ron is inordinately fond.
Flooing into work, I stood in front of the lift, mentally cataloguing what I had to finish that day, come hell or high water. Just as the doors opened, I let out an enormous yawn. Mouth agape, I faced an elevator full of wizards and witches, with Draco Malfoy standing right in front.
"Late night, Granger? Weasley keeping you up until all hours? Didn't know Aurors were such randy devils." This was said with his trademark smirk.
Snapping my jaw shut, I glared at him. "I'll wait for the next lift, thanks. You're full up."
"Nonsense, nonsense," he cooed. "There's plenty of room. Squish up, people. The faster Granger can get to her desk, the faster she can save the world."
The more polite occupants coughed into their hands to camouflage their snickers; the nasty little bitch from accounting, the one who always questioned my receipts, let out a high-pitched giggle. Probably wants to get into Malfoy's pants, no doubt, and thinks that laughing at his jokes will get her an expensive lunch, with an afternoon shag as dessert. His long-standing marriage to Pansy Parkinson notwithstanding, Malfoy's reputation as the most complete hound ever to grace the Ministry dogged him no matter how many promotions he got. I was probably the only woman in the entire building he hadn't tried to seduce. To know him, was to loathe him.
"You're early this morning, Malfoy. You usually don't toddle in here until around ten. Photo opportunity waiting?"
That got a few snickers of my own in; the bitch from accounting glared at me. I imagine a bad week for him is when Malfoy and/or his wife only appeared in The Daily Prophet every other day.
My recent promotion to Undersecretary of Muggle-Wizard Relations meant we were working side by side, as he was Undersecretary for the Department for Wizarding Law. The majority of laws in the wizarding world centred around protecting Muggles from wizards and wizards from Muggles. Both jobs were a natural springboard to the Assistant Minister of Magic. We found ourselves rivals once again, much to my utter disgust. The mutual antipathy toward each other forged in our Hogwarts days had not diminished one iota. I kept my contact with him to a minimum. The penultimate opportunist, Malfoy deduced early on in the war that the older Harry got, the more powerful he became. At a certain point, Voldemort's demise was inevitable. Malfoy's switch to our side had nothing to do with a belated attack of morals, and everything to do with winning. While many people ate up that claptrap Malfoy fed them about his father forcing him to take the Dark Mark, those in the Order never trusted him, and never would trust him.
At every stop, as people filed out in twos and threes, I resolutely worked my way to the back of the lift to avoid more of Malfoy's snarky comments. If it wasn't my husband he saw fit to ridicule, it was me. A rigorous teeth brushing and flossing, (once the daughter of dentists, always the daughter of dentists), a swipe over my face with a damp washcloth, and comb through my ever recalcitrant hair completed my toilette for the morning. Make-up. Manicures. Haircuts. It just seemed like too much bloody trouble. All that fussing. There was so little time to get done what I wanted to get done; it seemed almost immoral to spend thirty minutes a day primping in front of a mirror.
Because Malfoy couldn't best me intellectually, he sneered at my haphazard grooming. He took what I viewed as strength of character and turned it into a character flaw. In one recent meeting, I'd wrapped my hair into an unruly knot on the top of my head and wedged my wand into it to keep it in place. A few minutes later a note was shoved across the table. He'd written in his elaborate script, "You look a fright, Granger," and, as if there was any doubt, he then transformed my quill into a comb. Storming into the bathroom to splash cold water on my heated cheeks, I saw myself in the mirror and I did look a fright. Only last week, he'd caught my eye in a meeting, flicked his eyes down to my tortured cuticles, brought a perfectly manicured hand up to his mouth in a manufactured yawn, and then dropped a nail file in my lap on his way out the door.
I wish I could say that I cared less about his petty digs regarding my appearance, but it wasn't true. He made me feel frumpy. From the top of my now greying mop, to the soles of my serviceable ballet flats. A glance at my nails clipped down to the nail beds or my recently shorn bangs, and a tiny smirk would appear. A comment on how I couldn't be arsed to pay even the most remote lip service to my femininity. That smirk would make me start cataloguing exactly how long it'd been since I'd had a real haircut. When was the last time I bought new robes? When I'd put on lipstick. When I'd changed my earrings. Horribly self-conscious, I'd realize that my bras didn't have a soupcon of lace. That my underwear would have been given benediction by a Carmelite nun. Without even trying, he always managed to make me feel like the wedding ring was merely a prop to hide the spinster underneath. Today was typical, the knife thrust that went in twice. That crack about Ron, when he knew exactly the kind of hours I was working, with the tacit tag line, "Who'd fuck her?"
I couldn't even say it was personal. He watched everyone. An unrepentant gossip, he knew who was shagging whom, who was going to be promoted, who wasn't. If you'd had a fight with your boyfriend the night before, he knew and had a rose sent to your desk. If you were a bloke, he took you out for a drink after work. He noticed everything. Your weaknesses. Your strengths. And if you happened to be in his way in his rapacious climb up the ladder, he determined exactly how to make your strengths a weakness. All this had the added effect that since he was watching you, you ended up watching him, if only in self-preservation.
Time had been exceptionally kind to him. He'd grown into the pointy chin, and abandoning Quidditch for racquet ball had kept him as lean as he'd been as a teenager. I'd been in enough meetings with him to know that twice-weekly manicures must have been de rigueur; his nails always buffed and shaped to showcase those elegant hands to their utmost advantage. (That I took nail clippers to my nails only when they started to snag on my clothes doesn't even bear mentioning.) Weekly haircuts, no doubt. (When my fringe got too irritating, I hacked at it with the kitchen shears.) Even I knew that such tousled nonchalance cost Galleons to maintain. He'd gone completely grey in the last year, banishing all traces of the fair-haired boy he'd been. I wouldn't have put it past him to have glamoured it to make him seem older, but every chance I got I waved my wand near his head muttering a sneaky Finite Incantatum to no avail.
He'd learned that a lazy smile was worth a lot more currency than a sneer. To use a Muggle expression, You get more flies with honey. Malfoy naturally put his own spin on that: You get more flies with money AND honey. Not that he wasn't a sarcastic arse ninety percent of the time, but another thing he learned was that you could continue to say horrible, nasty things about people if you turned it into a joke.
Ron and I were frequently the butt of his jokes.
As if I needed another thing to hate him for.
The lift wound its way into the bowels of the Ministry and emptied out until it was just the two of us.
"You've missed your floor, Malfoy." I stabbed the button for the fourth floor as a reminder. I was housed down on the seventh floor, a gloomy sign of just exactly how important Muggle relations were viewed in the general scheme of things.
"On my way to see you, actually."
As there was no one else around, I took the liberty of exploding. "Oh for the love of-- Malfoy, give Jenkins a rest. He's in sports. How important is that? Plus, he's as stupid as he is short."
Oh my God, did I say that? I must be really exhausted. Ignoring Malfoy's amused snigger, I picked up my pace, hoping to reach my office door, open it lickety-split, and then slam it in his face.
He was too fast for me, however, and slipping in right behind me, slid into the chair in front of my desk, and then spelled silencing charms and warded the room against possible intruders.
I raised an eyebrow. Surely, Jenkins didn't warrant such drastic measures.
Malfoy ignored me and merely asked, "Coffee?"
I'd had so much coffee yesterday that the very thought of it made my stomach ache. I shook my head.
"Tea, then." He snapped his fingers. Two antique Spode cups, saucers, matching teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl appeared on the desk in front of me. Usually occupying a vaunted place in Malfoy's office, this set probably cost more than my house.
"I apologize for that remark in the lift. Can't disappoint people can we? They expect us to snipe at each other. I say, give them a show. Shall I pour?" he asked demurely. "You like it quite strong, don't you? So do I," and he sloshed a wee bit into the bottom of a cup to check its colour.
For one quarter of a second I was touched both by the apology and then by offer of tea. Fortunately, I came to my senses. Who is sitting across from you, Hermione Granger? Opportunistic Death Eater scum extraordinaire, Draco Malfoy.
"What do you want?" I snapped, mindful that my calendar was already chock full for the day and did not include faffing about with Draco Malfoy for an hour. At this rate, I'd be sure to miss dinner yet again. Which would make it five for five this week. "If this is about Jenkins, take your priceless tea set and leave."
"Splash of milk, one level teaspoon sugar?" he mock queried. It was clear by the tone in his voice he knew exactly how I took my tea. Such intimate knowledge of my habits made me certain it was only a matter of time. Classic Malfoy ops. Keep your friends close, your enemies closer. His knowing exactly how I took my tea was a harbinger of doom. Clearly, he'd decided that we'd gang up on Jenkins to take him out of the running for Assistant Minister; Jenkins didn't stand a chance against the two of us, then Malfoy would proceed to squash me like a bug.
"No Jenkins on the agenda this morning." He took his tea black, I noticed. "It's...more of a personal matter."
I sighed. "What's he done now? How many Muggles do we need to Obliviate this time? Half of greater London? Sorry. I've called in all the chits I can in regard to your son. He's just going to take it on the chin this time."
A grimace was not quite hiding behind the edge of the teacup.
"Somehow, I think not."
I took a sip of my tea. Damn it, perfect. Just the way I liked it. Something Ron hadn't mastered after twenty years of marriage, and the person I loathed most in the world gets it right first tick.
"I think not." He put special emphasis on the "t" and set down his teacup. "Mind if I smoke?"
"Would it matter if I said yes?"
"Don't be silly, Granger." A wave of his hand, and a pack of Players appeared. He'd never have destroyed the lines of his custom-made robes with the unseemly bulge of a pack of fags. He lit it with the tip of his wand. Pointless to argue. I transformed a paperweight into an ashtray and shoved it across the desk toward him. The corners of his mouth turned up in victory before taking a rather long and deep drag on his cigarette.
"Several photographers caught Dom waltzing absolutely stark bollocks naked in the fountain in front of Buckingham Palace."
"Do have the courtesy to not blow that foul smoke in my face. I don't see what the problem is. He does that sort of stupid nonsense all the time. Since you own The Daily Prophet--"
"What makes you think I own the Prophet, Granger?" He began blowing smoke rings.
"Because it should be renamed The Daily Pansy, as you and your wife appear in it almost daily. If you're going to use the one and only wizarding paper as your personal house organ, have the bloody sense not to overdo it."
"If I did own the Prophet,"--I rolled my eyes and looked at my watch; I was supposed to get that report to the Minister by one today--"I'd have no problem ensuring such revealing photographs would never see the light of day. Alas, Dom chose to pick a remarkably public place for his latest escapade. There are several Muggle newspapers, however, that need... How shall I put this? Need to forget this happened."
A completely unforeseen part of my new job description entailed hauling Dominico Malfoy's arse out of the ashes. It was getting old. He purposely antagonized his father by pulling these sorts of stunts in Muggle London. The fact that he was Draco Malfoy's son and his performance as a junior Auror were the only two things stopping said ashy arse from being fired. A testament to Harry's fair nature, he loathed the son but acknowledged Dom's brilliance as an Auror. Harry would appear in my office no less than twice a month, rant and rave about what a worthless piece of Malfoy shit the child was, like father and son, and, by the way, he saved my life in a raid last week, and could you please Obliviate all and sundry per his latest prank.
What was unusual--in fact, it had never happened before--was that Malfoy pere was asking for my help.
"It's always been Harry begging for favours on his behalf. What gives?" I asked. And what's it worth? I added privately. I suppressed my mounting glee. I had Malfoy on the ropes. For once.
The ever-present cigarette--Merlin, how many of those did he go through a day?--was brought up to his mouth, and he dragged on the end, almost in a caress, before letting the smoke curl out of his mouth in a lazy "s." The most pathetic bid for time I've ever seen and extremely uncharacteristic. And Malfoy's free hand was clutching his knee, knuckles white.
"He came to me. Asked me for my help." He stubbed out his unfinished cigarette and lit another.
"And?" I pushed.
"He doesn't ever ask for my help. Ever," he snapped. "He hasn't spoken a civil word to me since his first year at Hogwarts."
Parts of Hogwarts were still being repaired when Dominico Malfoy went off to school. Horrible probably doesn't adequately describe being the grandson of Lucius Malfoy, and, despite Draco Malfoy's effort to save his privileged hide by spying for the Order, there were plenty of people who remembered which side of the war he initially pledged his allegiance. And while the Dark Mark had faded with Voldemort's death, no money on the face of this earth could charm the tattoo off his arm.
Malfoy waved the cigarette back and forth, scattering ash everywhere. "Do you know how nice it was to see my son without a sneer or smirk on his face? He's usually an arrogant little prick who never says anything to me without being sarcastic or outright nasty."
"Now you know what it was like to go to school with you. Pot, kettle," I smirked.
He stubbed out the freshly lit cigarette and brought his hands together as if he were in prayer.
"Granger, I know you think I'm an utter bastard. I know that you think I'm still a Death Eater shitbag--"
"Actually, opportunistic Death Eater scum if you must know.
That should have gotten a glare but didn't.
"This might be my only chance with him. He came to me. To ask for my help. I have no intention of buggering this up. And if you want to hear begging, fine. I'll beg."
Said in his usual sarcastic snarl, like he'd sooner beg from me than light his robes on fire, I nearly told him to fuck off and get out of my office. And then I saw his eyes. Not narrowed in amusement at someone else's expense, or angry, or scornful, or the typical disdain. Somehow less grey, more silver.
We sat staring at each other, me tossing my wand back and forth between my hands, a stupid habit I have when unsure of myself, him, lighting yet another cigarette and pulling sharply on the end of his fag like it was his last.
He hates being beholden to anyone. This will blow up in your face, I said to myself. He will never forgive you for being in your power for even one bloody minute. I knew this to be true. Then there were his eyes. His voice might have been its usual snotty drawl, but his eyes were begging. Fucking hell!
The worst of it was that he knew my innate sense of decency wouldn't turn him down. He wouldn't have even bothered with the elevator ride if he wasn't sure of my help.
"I know I am going to regret this. Use this against me and I will castrate you. One last time. Which papers?"
"Why do you keep this soft side of you hidden from the rest of the world? Is it only me that sees the true you?" He poured me more tea. "Do you have any brandy in your desk? The papers are a worry but not the least of our worries."
"As if I keep fifths of booze in my desk drawer. If I did, I wouldn't be doctoring up my tea at," I looked at my watch, "eight o'clock in the morning."
"You might this morning. I told you that one day you'd regret winning that skirmish on wards prohibiting conjuring alcohol in the Ministry. Dom's dancing partner?"
Time stopped. Because Draco Malfoy didn't come begging to me for favours just because Dominico Malfoy decided to get publicly naked with some nameless Muggle or witch.
"Who?" I managed to squeak out.
"Lily Potter." He nearly whispered it.
"Hell. Has she gone mad? With that worthless bugger? Right. I'll make a few phone calls. Maxwell is tops at this sort of thing. I'll put her on it. And while I'm doing that--"
"Granger, you're not getting it!" he snapped at me. "This situation is a little more serious than waving a wand at a few Muggle newspaper editors."
Conjuring up a handkerchief, he brought it up to his forehead to wipe sweat off his brow. I stared at him. In Malfoy-ese, this was equivalent to detonating an atomic bomb. As a schoolboy he was so easy to taunt into a spitting rage. The war changed him completely. Out on raids with members of the Order, you could always count on Malfoy to clamp a firm lid on the hysteria that threatened every mission. I'd only seen him lose it once during the war, and that was when his father was killed. Since then, he'd been all cool, collected snark twenty-four seven.
"There's more," he said dully.
"More?" I repeated.
"The photographs I saw showed them waltzing in the fountain, two very lovely tattoos emblazoned over both their arses. Dom later confirmed it. Black and white photographs, of course, but I know a marriage tattoo when I see it."
Oh dear God. It was one thing to forgive Dom Malfoy for getting drunk and freeing all the animals in the London Zoo--what a mess Obliviating all those children who had watched a lion hunt down a zebra in their schoolyard. Or for deciding that all fire hydrants in the entire city should be charmed chartreuse. Or to send up Glamours in the sky so that Muggles thought aliens were landing. It was quite a different matter to marry Harry Potter's daughter and celebrate said nuptials by dancing naked in St. James' Park.
"You see why I need your help." This wasn't a question, but a statement of fact, and I bloody well agreed with him.
He nodded. "Most definitely on her third martini by now."
"I assume the She-Potter is getting the good news as we speak." He saw the look on my face. "Sorry. Ginny's getting the good news."
"Don't be thick. Not yet, obviously, since my son and I are still alive. Whatever you think of my father, he didn't raise an idiot. Give me some credit, Granger. Do you think I'd purposefully enrage the most powerful wizard in England? I am equally horrified at the prospect of this liaison, but since I wasn't raised by wolves--the same can't be said for Potter--I am managing to keep my rage at bay. The most important thing is to keep this quiet until cooler heads divulge our newly minted status as in-laws. Which is where you come in. Knowing what a Muggle whore Potter is, he probably subscribes to a Muggle paper. Do you really want him to discover that we are in-laws over his morning coffee?"
If I'd kept booze stashed in my desk, I'd no doubt be guzzling straight from the bottle right about now.
Thank Merlin, Malfoy at least acknowledged the seriousness of the situation. He didn't pass it off as some aristo dalliance to sweep under the rug. The granddaughter of James and Lily Potter did not frolic stark naked in fountains with the grandson of the most notorious Death Eater next to Voldemort. And she certainly didn't marry him.
"Can we get it annulled before Harry finds out?" A nasty rumbling threatened to tear apart my stomach lining. During the war, this was a damn accurate barometer of looming disaster.
Malfoy shook his head. "Afraid not. Dom claims they're in love, whatever in the hell that means, and..." he hesitated.
The words "She's pregnant" were no sooner out of my mouth than the wards around my office disintegrated and the very door vanished to shouts of, "Malfoy, I'm gonna fucking kill that son of yours. Fucking tear him limb from limb--"
Now it was Malfoy's turn to look at his watch. "I see Potter's on time for once."