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It started with little notes in the office.

Miss Patil, given that your responsibilities center upon education and other social services, I highly doubt you have the necessary experience to speak with any great authority as to the matter of cauldron imports. Please refrain from advising Minister Shacklebolt on the essential economic matters assigned to my purview. – Percy I. Weasley, Undersecretary of Commerce.

Padma rolled her eyes. She was one of three Undersecretaries to the Minister, each of whom was assigned to a different area of the government. They assisted Minister Shacklebolt in managing the restoration of the Wizarding world, keeping him informed of developments within the various departments they oversaw. She had no issues with Adrian Pucey, the Undersecretary for Defense and Diplomacy, but Percy Weasley was another story altogether.

Although she knew it was a bad idea, Padma summoned a piece of scrap parchment from across the room, leaning over her desk to scribble a response.

Mr. Weasley, my family has imported cauldrons and other sundry into Britain for over two hundred years. Given that I spent the greater part of my summers assisting in such business, I rather felt I had the necessary experience to answer Minister Shaklebolt’s simple question whilst you were indisposed. I shall keep it in the forefront of my mind that a few paltry years of actual experience pale in comparison to your epic treatise on cauldron bottom thickness from 1994. – Padma M. Patil, Undersecretary of Health and Magical Services.

She folded the note with more force than necessary, creasing it sharply with her nails. Lifting her wand, she shot the messenger spell off without faltering, giving a decisive nod as the parchment plane

“My, my. Weasley at it again, I take it?” Pucey drawled. Padma looked up from her desk, narrowing her eyes. He leaned against the doorframe of her office, a slight lift to the corner of his mouth showing he was amused.

Padma rolled her eyes heavenward. Merlin, grant me patience. “What do you want, Pucey?”

Pucey’s smirk grew. “Where are your manners, Patil?”

Padma balled up another scrap piece of parchment at her desk and threw it at him, which Pucey batted away easily. “You’re obnoxious,” she told him, but there was very little heat to it.

He gave her a mocking half-bow, before moving to take a seat in front of her desk. “I’m here about the French, actually.”

“Have you killed their diplomat again?” she quipped.

Pucey frowned. “You know very well it was only the once and completely justified,” he said seriously, although his lips twitched as he spoke.

“Sure, sure,” she countered.

Pucey took a breath before continuing. “They’re pressing for another Triwizard Tournament, actually.”

What?” Padma’s wand clattered on her desk.

Pucey nodded. “They’ve been at this for a while. I hadn’t brought it up, as I reckoned that Durmstrang certainly wasn’t in any condition to participate. Well, France managed to get Stigsson riled up, and now they’re both clamoring.”

Padma frowned, shaking her head. “There’s no way that Madame Maxime would participate again. She’s quite vehemently against it. Understandably so,” she added.

Pucey nodded slowly. “She was sacked. Two days ago. It’s being politely termed a retirement, but Perrault finally drove her out. Delacour is spitting mad, but the Union pour un Mouvement-Magique Populaire has solidified into a strong minor bloc, and is now stirring up national interest in it. Delacour is having to go along to try and keep his seat in the upcoming elections.”

“We still don’t have to agree. They can’t force us into it – at least I don’t think so,” she said. Given that Britain was still recovering from the war, researching the Triwizard Tournament had never occurred to her. After Cedric’s death, she’d naively thought it would never be held again.

“I’m going to talk to Weasley about it after this. We’re looking at an economic crisis if we don’t agree. Perrault and his cronies are holding most of their manufacturing and imports over our heads.” Pucey ran a hand through his hair, looking more stressed than Padma had ever seen. He had always been at ease, almost laconic – although it never stopped him from the quips and barbs about her escalating feud with Percy Weasley.

“And we’re far too dependent on the French right now for necessary imports to refuse.” Padma shook her head. “Damn. They have us backed into a corner over this. But why?

Pucey shook his head, shrugging a bit. “Even Delacour’s been unable to ferret it out yet. His youngest daughter is still at Beauxbatons. Can’t quite figure if the angle is to get to us, or if we’re just some tool to get at Delacour. I’ve got people on it, though,” he said with a decisive nod.

Padma sighed. “What would it take to get you to give the news to Headmistress McGonagall?”

Pucey let out a short bark of laughter. “No amount of money in the world, Patil. You’re on your own with that one. Tell me when you’re going to do it so I can be out of the country.”

“She’s going to go spare,” Padma said with a shake of her head.

Pucey echoed her sigh from a moment before. “I don’t blame her. How many students do you think will get offed this time?” he said cynically.

“Pucey!” Padma protested.

He got up from his seat, holding his hands up apologetically. “Sorry, sorry.”

“Let me know what you find out,” she called after him as he exited her office. He gave a slight wave backwards, acknowledging he had heard. Once he disappeared from view, she let her head drop, letting her forehead rest on the cool wood of her desk. She refused to cry about this until she got home. She would not embarrass herself by crying at the office. She had worked so hard to be taken seriously, despite being younger than most of the staff. She wasn’t going to undo that work by falling apart at bad news, even if the news dredged up those terrible memories of Cedric’s death.

Ahem.

Padma didn’t even look up. She could tell from the officious noise coming from his mouth exactly who it was. “Go away, Weasley. I’m not in the mood to put up with you being a prat.”

She could hear the rustle of parchment. “Miss Patil, we need to discuss this – this mode of communiqué you’ve decided to employ with me. The tone-“

Padma looked up, narrowing her eyes at him. “Weasley, if you don’t leave my office, I’m going to up that mode of communiqué with my wand.”

Percy frowned deeper, a flush creeping up his neck to show he was getting annoyed. “Miss Patil –“

Padma let out a sharp breath of air, huffing in frustration. “Weasley, I’m in the middle of a crisis here. Would you please just bugger off?”

“Yes, you looked quite busy with your head lying on your desk,” he said waspishly.

Padma clenched her jaw, resisting the urge to simultaneously let out a shriek of fury and start hexing. “Weasley, if you don’t leave my office in the next ten seconds, you will be the lucky person who tells McGonagall that there’s going to be a Triwizard Tournament this year.”

Percy almost dropped the stack of parchments he was holding, but recovered quickly, crumpling them as he quickly snatching them back up. “I must have misheard you,” he said slowly, his anger deflating in front of her.

Padma sighed. “I only wish. I just got the news from Pucey. He’s looking for you next. Apparently Perrault has enough power to make the push, although Pucey’s still in the dark as to his motives.”

“I see.”

A moment of awkward silence passed. “You should probably go find Pucey,” Padma pointed out, although her tone was less strident than it had been.

“You’re right.” Percy paused, clearly lost in thought. After another moment, he drew himself up a bit. “I should apologize, Miss Patil. Despite your lesser years at the Ministry, you are still quite competent in assisting the Minister.”

Padma arched an eyebrow at his officious tone. “Should apologize? Or are you actually apologizing?” she said mildly.

Percy coughed, running a hand over the back of his neck in a sheepish gesture. “I deserved that,” he admitted.

Padma laughed slightly. “Yes, you did. That was a pitiful apology.”

She thought he would get offended again at that, but he seemed to take it in stride. “Yes, well. It did sound better in my head,” he said, giving her a small smile with a bit of humor in it.

“I’m sure,” Padma said drily.

“You do a good job, Padma,” he said. “You’re smart – you don’t need me telling you what to do.” It was more personable than professional, and the most relaxed that Padma had ever seen him at the office. “I should go find Pucey,” he muttered, giving her a nod before abruptly leaving.

“I don’t think that was actually an apology,” Padma murmured to her empty office.

***

It got worse with the mystery of Perrault.

“Let me get this straight – you want me to join in on your little spy games and pose as Weasley’s girlfriend.”

“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you have the general gist. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Patil. All we’re asking is that you show up and look pretty,” Pucey said drily.

“Miss Patil, Mr. Pucey,” Percy Weasley remonstrated. “The Minister-“

Padma turned from glaring daggers at Pucey to Weasley. She crossed her arms.

“Really, Mr. Weasley. I heard far more crude sayings during my time as an Auror, You don’t need to worry about my delicate sensibilities,” Kinglsey Shacklebolt interrupted. He seemed amused at the scene before him. “Now, what was your plan, Pucey?”

“Well, we have an advantage with Padma, namely Parvati. We have no other identical twins in any of the Departments. With Parvati, Padma can be two places at once. And Parvati’s fairly seasoned at this point,” Pucey reasoned.

“That little rat. She’s an Unspeakable, isn’t she? I wondered why she took that job in the Portkey Office,” Padma muttered.

“Obviously that’s confidential,” Pucey interjected.

“For how long?” Percy asked. “Will this charade go on?” he clarified.

Pucey shrugged. “Not long, I’d expect. We have the ICW conference, the annual Union of Magical Europe weekend, and the Christmas Gala, but that last one may not even be needed, depending on how the first two go.” He paused, and then added, “Neither of you two will have to do much of anything, really. We just need Padma at the events, so Parvati can easily slip around with minimal notice. You’ll be expected to do the usual bureaucratic song and dance, simple as that.”

Kingsley was jotting a few notes on the parchment in front of him, and they all paused, waiting for his feedback. “It’s not a bad idea. Perrault will be looking for the usual players. The Patils are young enough to be an unknown. Showing up as Weasley’s girlfriend will also make them underestimate her.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Percy asked, bristling. Padma hid her laugh with a cough.

“You’re too transparent to play spy games, Weasley,” Kingsley said. “And I mean that as a compliment.”

Everyone turned to look at Padma expectantly. “Fine, fine. But I want a raise for this,” she grumbled.

Later that afternoon, Padma stepped into Percy’s office, hesitantly closing the door behind her. She felt awkward, which annoyed her. She much preferred the usual frustration and rage that Weasley provoked. “Are you busy tonight?” she asked. He hadn’t even looked up from his desk, where he was scribbling madly.

It took a moment for him to process she was speaking. He shook his head as if to clear it. “Come again?” he said, this time looking directly at her.

“Are you busy tonight?” Padma repeated.

Percy frowned, looking down at the papers in front of him and then back up at the clock. “Probably not. Surprisingly, I’ll actually have this done by five,” he said. “Why?” he said warily.

Padma crossed her arms with a huff. “I promise not to compromise your virtue, Weasley,” she said drily.

He spluttered a bit. “That’s not what I meant, Patil.”

“I think we should take some time to discuss that report we went over with Kingsley this morning,” she said. “There are some details to consider.”

Percy opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again. They had both been warned not to discuss the plan at all in public. “I’ve had a few ideas as well,” he said finally.

“Why don’t you come over to my place, then? I’d rather not stay late on a Friday night at work unless I have to. Plus, vino always makes work go quicker,” she said with what she hoped was a friendly smile.

Percy rolled his eyes. “That explains so much about the caliber of your work,” he replied, but his retort was blunted by the hint of a smile.

Padma resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him. She grabbed a scrap piece of parchment off his desk and scribbled her Floo address down. “How does five-thirty sound?” she asked.

Percy looked down at his report and then back at the clock again. “It should be fine,” he said with a nod, before returning to his scribbling. Padma shook her head and let herself out of his office, wondering how exactly she could manage to pretend to be his girlfriend without killing him.

He tumbled out of her fireplace in at precisely five-thirty on the dot. Padma came out of the small kitchen area into her open living room. “I’ve gone ahead and opened a Claret. Would you like a glass?” she offered once he had dusted himself off.

“That would be nice,” Percy replied, still formal and a touch wary.

“Please, have a seat,” Padma said, gesturing to the sofa and chairs. “I’ll just be a minute.” She returned to the kitchen, taking a large gulp of her glass before refilling it. She poured another for Percy. Unbidden, she wondered what he would be like tipsy, and she smothered a giggle at the thought.

She handed him the glass before taking a seat on the sofa across from him. “How did the report go?” she asked politely.

“Well enough. I doubt you care to hear the specifics on the fluctuations in price over the past year for newts,” Percy replied.

Padma laughed. “No, I’d really rather not. Particularly since I’ll get to hear it all in great detail at next week’s staff meeting.”

Percy took a sip of his wine. “Are we safe to talk here about that report?” he asked.

Padma nodded. “This apartment has been in the family for many years. We have quite a few layers of warding at this point.”

Percy sighed and took another sip of his wine. “So…” he trailed off.

Padma resisted the urge to gulp down her wine. “Merlin, this is awkward, isn’t it?” she said. She paused for a moment. “The reason I asked you here is because we need to work on planning this farce. We aren’t going to be very convincing as a couple if we know nothing about each other.”

“I’ve worked with you for over a year. We aren’t exactly strangers,” Percy pointed out.

Padma rolled her eyes. “Percy, do you know if I have any siblings other than Parvati?”

“No.”

“What about what I like to do outside of work?”

“Not a clue.”

“And wouldn’t someone in a relationship know those things?” Padma said.

Percy sighed again. “You have a point.”

“Alert the Prophet,” Padma replied with a grin.

He shot her a dirty look before taking another drink. “I can see why you recommended wine.”

“Well, I know you come from a big family. Everyone knows you come from a big family. No one will expect me to keep that straight,” Padma said with a laugh. “Other than Parvati, I only have an older brother, Naveen. He is thirty-two, married, and lives in India.”

Percy nodded, at least quirking a smile at her joke about his brothers. “And what do you like to do outside of work?” he repeated.

“I like to read, although that shouldn’t be surprising of a Ravenclaw,” Padma said with a shrug. “I like to dance. Sometimes I like to cook, although sometimes work is so busy I’m too lazy to actually make anything. I like to paint, but I haven’t had the time for it in a long time.”

“What do you like to paint?” Percy asked, looking intrigued.

“Well, I’m not very good at it,” Padma replied. “Mostly just landscapes. I don’t have the talent for portraits. I painted that one over there,” she added, gesturing to a small painting of trees hanging on the wall by the fireplace.

Percy got up from his seat and went over to the wall to examine it. “It’s not bad. You don’t have to be so modest. You certainly aren’t at work,” he said slyly as he returned to his seat.

Padma stuck her tongue out at him. While she refrained from doing so at work, she didn’t have to be professional at home. “Are you naturally this obnoxious, or do you have to work at it?” she said.

Percy laughed. “Now that would be telling.”

Padma took another drink of her wine and leaned back into the cushions of the sofa. “What do you like to do outside of work?” she asked. She couldn’t picture him doing anything but work, truth be told.

“I read some, although that can get a bit tiring after all the parchment we deal with. And, well - I like to go to Muggle museums, actually,” he said.

Padma was surprisingly intrigued. “What type of museums?” she asked.

Percy shrugged, taking another sip of his wine. “Mostly art. It’s fascinating how many museums there are in Muggle London alone.”

“I’m only vaguely familiar with Muggle art, through books and things. How complicated is it to go? I’m not very good with Muggle London,” she admitted.

“We can go one Saturday coming up, so you’ll know what to do in the future. The Victoria and Albert has a new exhibit on Pre-Raphaelite art that is starting soon. I think you’ll like that,” Percy offered.

The wine was clearly having an effect on Percy, then. “I’d like that,” Padma said with a smile.

“We can pretend it was our first date,” Percy added drily.

Padma laughed. “Two birds, one stone,” she said. “You are a model of efficiency, Mr. Weasley.”

***

It was not a surprise to Padma that, despite Friday night, Percy turned back into an uptight prat upon entry to the Ministry.

Mr. Weasley, need I remind you that I received an O in Potions? I am quite capable of discussing potential changes to the Hogwarts’ Potions curriculum with Professor Slughorn, without your “expert” commentary on the effects it may have on the school budget.- Padma M. Patil, Undersecretary of Health and Magical Services.

Rolling her eyes yet again at Percy’s inability to let others do their own jobs, Padma sent the parchment plane zooming out of her open office door with an audible zip. Pucey had to duck as he approached her door, shaking his head at her when he entered.

“You’re becoming a hazard with those things, Patil.”

“Blame Weasley. No one else makes me send them nasty notes,” she replied.

Pucey handed her a sealed packet of parchment. “Open it when you get home,” he said. You’ll have to prick your finger on the catch to get it open.”

“I just love presents that make me bleed to get them,” Padma replied.

“I’ll have to keep that in mind,” Pucey replied with a laugh before exiting. Padma shook her head in exasperation, tucking the package into the bottom of her bag. When she straightened, she found a note sitting on her desk, with a small, white violet.

I think this says it all. – P.I.W.

Padma looked from the note to the flower and then back again to the note. She had never paid attention that language of flowers that Parvati had always babbled about, in between divination and makeup. She shoved the flower to the corner of her desk, deciding to deal with it later. She did have that curriculum proposal to review before the meeting with Shacklebolt later in the week.

She only made it a few minutes before grabbing another scrap of paper to pen a note.

Parvati – What do white violets mean? Padma.

She tried to return to the proposal, but ended up drumming her fingers on her desk and fiddling with her quill until she got a reply from Parvati. When the parchment plane finally came flying into her office, she grabbed it out of the air quickly.

I told you those things were important! And they mean modesty. Who sent you flowers? Dish, sister! – Parvati.

Padma rolled her eyes, crumpling the note and tossing it in the trash. Now she had Weasley snarking at her in plant form. She picked up her quill to return to her notes, before throwing it back down on the desk. She bent over and fished out the crumpled note from Parvati. With a flick of her wand, she had conjured the ball of paper into a burr. She didn’t know that language of flowers, but she figured this would get her point across.

Ditto. – P.M.P.

She tacked the note to one of the spines of the burr, before sending it flying down the hall. She giggled, realizing after a moment that she had basically sent a weapon flying through the air. Perhaps Pucey was right, after all. She was a menace. Still, that feeling of satisfaction helped her return to her notes, whistling a jaunty tune as she got down to work.

However, her productivity didn’t last long.

Not ten minutes later, Percy was standing at her door and scowling, a burr firmly worked into the front of his jumper. “That was uncalled for,” he told her, the tell-tale flush of anger on his face.

Padma tried to stifle her laugh, but failed. “Oh. Oh, my.” She giggled again, before giving in and laughing full out. “I see you got the message,” she added with another laugh.

He looked down at the burr distastefully. “This is completely unprofessional,” he informed her, moving to cross his arms. He was stuck by the burr and recoiled, letting his arms drop back down to his sides.

“Arriving thirty seconds late is unprofessional to you,” Padma retorted. She did, however, rise from her desk and walk over to him. She leaned forward to examine the burr. It was tangled in the threads of his jumper, and summoning it would only rip it. She gingerly reached a hand out, fingers experimentally trying to find a spot in between the spines to grip the burr.

What are you doing?” Percy asked, jerking back from her.

One of the spikes stuck her as he moved, and she recoiled, shaking her hand to dull the pain from the prick. She swatted him on the arm. “Hold still, I’m helping,” she chided. She returned to gingerly working with the burr, untangling it from the threads of his jumper. It was awkward, standing so near him, and again she wondered how she would convincingly act as if she were infatuated with him. She took a deep breath as she was pricked again by the spines, and realized Percy wore cologne. It was a bit spicy, and reminded her of the masala chai her grandmother used to make. She glanced up and saw him looking down at her, an unreadable expression on his face. She hadn’t realized quite how tall he was before now.

“Are you sure you’re helping,” Percy asked. She glanced up again, noting the impatient look on his face.

“You can keep the burr there, if you’d like. Makes a nice corsage,” Padma replied, raising an eyebrow at him in challenge.

Percy huffed in annoyance. “Fine. Carry on, then.”

“With your leave, majesty,” Padma replied, bobbing her head in a mock curtsey. It only took a few moments more for her to work the burr free, and she gingerly banished it into the waste bin. “There,” she said decidedly, running a few fingers over the jumper to smooth the loose threads. “Good as new.”

“That’s debatable,” Percy replied.

You started it,” Padma pointed out, cringing at how juvenile it sounded, even as it came out of her mouth.

Although he was dry and sarcastic in speaking to her, the angry flush had faded from his face. If anything, there was a slight quirk to his smile, as if he might have seen the amusement in the situation. “And you have this infernal need to always get the last word,” he pointed out.

“It seems to be working for me so far,” Padma countered, looking up into his face again.

Percy seemed to realize at that moment they were still standing quite close. He took a quick step backwards, suddenly more awkward. “Yes, well. I’ll see you at the meeting, Padma,” he said, giving her a quick nod before retreating down the hall. Padma watched him go, feeling oddly less amused than she had before. She didn’t understand Weasley at all.

***

Things at the office had continued in their usual dance of sarcasm and cutting notes over the next few weeks, although she had spent a few enjoyable Saturday afternoons with Percy at various museums. While he was surprisingly good company outside the office, he always returned to being an officious prat upon entry to the Ministry. He never missed an opportunity to send her little notes, correcting her over the most minor of things, which always prompted Padma to retaliate. If it were anyone else, Padma would have rolled her eyes and ignored it, but there was something about him that rankled, and she couldn’t help but fire back.

If anything, it was always fun to see how he would react.

The ICW conference snuck up on her, and Padma wondered how the time seemed to pass so quickly. The days leading up to it seemed to pass in a blur as she coordinated outfits with Parvati and signals with Pucey. She still didn’t know exactly what Parvati would be doing, but as Pucey told her, plausible deniability was a good thing.

The first evening always opened with a gala, for all the diplomats, bureaucrats, and mugwumps to mingle, pretending to be friendly. Padma stood in her office, looking at her reflection critically. She made a few minute adjustments to the red dress she wore and pinned a loose hair up.

“You look nice,” Percy commented from the door.

Padma turned, noting that Percy looked nice in his dress robes as well. “So do you,” she said politely.

“Thank you,” Percy replied, if a bit stiffly. “These are for you,” he said, handing her a small corsage of dahlias.

“Thank you,” Padma said, using her wand to pin the corsage to her dress. “I suppose these are a bit more flattering than that burr,” she added with a grin.

That loosened Percy up a bit, and he laughed, looking more natural about the situation. “Yes, I felt these were a bit more fitting,” he replied. His tone was a bit odd, and Padma reminded herself to ask Parvati what dahlias meant.

Padma reached out to touch his arm, once she had finished adjusting her corsage. “Are you all right? Pucey’s not decided to turn you into spy for the night too, has he?” she asked.

Percy shook his head. “Not really. I was given some topics to try and bring up in conversation, just for reaction, but for the most part, I’m just supposed to mingle.” He gave her a self-deprecating grin, harkening back to their original conversation with Pucey and the Minister. “I guess I am rather transparent, aren’t I? This should come as no surprise, but I’m not exactly a lothario. I’ll be surprised if we last ten minutes as a convincing couple.”

Padma stepped forward to him to brush a small piece of lint off his lapel before attaching his boutonniere. “Oh, hush. You can’t be any worse to spend an evening with than your brother Ron.” At his puzzled look, she elaborated. “We went to the Yule Ball together at Hogwarts. It was quite terrible.”

Percy let out a short laugh. “Yes, well. I can imagine.” He shook his head, laughing once again at the thought. “I can at least promise you I am a passable dancer and a decent conversationalist.”

“Cauldron bottom thickness is not decent conversation, Percy,” Padma said drily, but she gave him a slight smile to show she was teasing.

“Neither are the educational standards of snotty-nosed brats,” Percy replied, giving her a grin in return. He looked down at his boutonniere, which was a small sprig of amaryllis. “Well it’s not the burr, but you’ve certainly still managed to make a point.”

“Perhaps I’m sharing my own pride at having such a handsome man on my arm?” Padma replied airily.

Percy rolled his eyes. “I know that many don’t prefer red hair, but I don’t think I look that bad, Patil.”

Padma frowned slightly. She hadn’t meant him to take it as putting down his appearance. She reached out to touch his arm again. “You do look very nice tonight, Percy. I mean that, all teasing aside,” she said sincerely.

Percy flushed a bit at that. “Well, you look gorgeous. No one is going to believe I ‘pulled a bird like you,’ as my brothers like to put it.”

Padma smiled mischievously. “Yes, well – I’ve got a plan for that,” she said.

Percy was less than amused once he encountered some of the details of her plan in action. Two of the women from the Goblin Liason Office took one look at him as he made his way back from the bar, and started whispering and tittering to themselves. He would have passed it off as nothing, but a trio from the Portkey Office gave him an appraising look as he went by.

Once he reached her, he handed Padma her glass of champagne and pressed his lips into a firm line. “What have you been saying?” he said grimly.

Padma giggled slightly, raising her glass as a toast to him before taking a sip. “Oh, the usual gossip. Our relationship is hot news, you know – no one predicted it,” she said with a touch of irony. “I was just informing the girls about some of your attributes,” she added, giggling again.

Percy groaned. “What, do I now have a hobby of reciting love poetry in flawless French or something?”

This caused Padma to laugh harder. “I’m afraid you’re a bit out of touch with the interests of modern women,” she replied. “I was referring to things a bit more intimate than that,” she said primly.

Percy choked on the sip of champagne he had just taken. “What?” he choked out. He had flushed red again, and Padma tried to tell if it was from embarrassment or anger.

“Oh, don’t be so modest, Percy,” Padma replied, grinning and giving him a wink. “A girl’s got to brag if she’s lucked out like I have.”

Percy took a large gulp of wine, although it was hard to tell if it was in reaction to her statement or to quell his choking. “You are terrible,” he retorted.

“And that’s what you like about me,” Padma replied with an easy smile, rising in her seat to greet some approaching French officials. Percy turned, shifting his glass from one hand to another.

“Oh, Monsieur Cloutier, Monsieur Travere. Good evening. Have you met my girlfriend, Padma Patil?” Percy said, making introductions all around.

Padma graciously shook their hands, interjecting comments into the conversation as necessary. She leaned into Percy slightly, sliding an arm around his waist and pinching his side when she felt him stiffen. They all made idle chit-chat about the weather and the upcoming conference for a few moments, before the two French officials made their way over to some others of their party.

Padma rose on her tiptoes. “Please try to act like you’ve been touched by a woman other than your mother, you prat,” she hissed in his ear. He stiffened again, drawing himself up and away from her hot breath in his ear. He guided her over to some seats along the wall and took a seat beside her.

“You pinched my arse,” Percy whispered back, and Padma couldn’t help the involuntary shiver down her spine as she felt his breath tickle her ear.

“You wish,” Padma retorted, keeping her voice pitched low. She leaned back in her seat, sitting upright again quickly when she realized he had thrown an arm over the back of her chair. She took another large sip of her champagne, hoping things were going well for Parvati.

“Now who’s being jumpy,” Percy whispered, and Padma squirmed in her seat slightly. She brought her hand up to his shoulder to push him back slightly.

“Stop it, that tickles,” she said, slightly petulant.

Percy smirked slightly. “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

Padma felt the ever-present desire to scream in frustration that bubbled up every time she was around him. “You are the most infuriating man I know.”

“You say such sweet things to me, darling,” he replied, still smirking.

Padma took another large drink from her glass before giving him another gentle shove on his shoulder. “Go get me another glass of wine.”

He went obediently and returned to his seat, still grinning. “Your girly chit-chat has spread. I had two blokes from Games and Sports congratulate me – apparently we’ve already christened every office on the first level.”

Luckily, Padma had yet to take a drink, although she was beginning to think she needed something stronger than wine. “You can’t be serious.”

“Even on the Minister’s desk,” Percy replied, lips twitching.

Padma laughed until there were tears coming from her eyes. “Evidently they don’t know how many wards and charms are on that thing.”

Percy joined her in laughing about the situation, and Padma noticed just how much younger it made him appear. He was always so stiff at the office, although she knew he had to have a sense of humor hidden somewhere.

“Pucey also said we’re free to go,” he said lowly. “We’ll be briefed tomorrow, but I’m assuming it was a success, given how quickly things went.”

Padma relaxed slightly, leaning back against his arm over her chair. “Oh, good. I really didn’t want to have to stay and play nice all night. It’s been a long week,” she commented, taking a more leisurely sip of her wine.

“It has,” Percy agreed, tweaking a strand of hair that had fallen down from her chignon.

Padma swatted at his hand and missed. “You’re incorrigible. Do you lie awake at night, plotting ways to tease me?”

Percy leaned down, so that he was able to whisper in her ear. “What do you think?”

Padma shifted to look at him, raising an eyebrow. His tone was a bit more suggestive and the breath in her ear was doing far more to her than tickling. “Well,” she said after a moment, a bit breathlessly. “Well. I think I’m going to go back to my office. Walk me back?” she asked, biting her lip.

Percy set his wine glass down rather quickly and stood, and Padma giggled slightly at his enthusiasm. She set her glass down a bit more leisurely before taking his arm. He looked as stiff as he ever was as they exited the Atrium, save for a tell-tale flush. He was even exceedingly proper and restrained in the elevator back up to the Minister’s offices. Once they reached her office, however, his reserve seemed to vanish in an instant. Before she registered it, he had propelled her into the office and shut the door, pinning her against the hard wood.

Padma sucked in a quick draw of breath, feeling him pressed up against her. He lowered his head again to her ear. “You drive me crazy,” he breathed, lips barely brushing her lobe. Padma arched upward, pressing herself against him more firmly as she felt a shiver go down her spine.

“Don’t be such a tease,” Padma replied, turning to catch his lips. He was slightly hesitant in meeting her lips, although it only took a moment before he deepened the kiss, deftly sliding his tongue into her mouth while one hand drifted from her waist and down the curve of her hip.

Percy shifted, using his knee to nudge her thighs apart. Padma let out a tiny, breathy moan as his lips went from hers down to her neck and collarbone. She ran her hands up his chest before wrapping them around his neck. He was inching her skirt up slowly and the feeling of anticipation was already making her feel weak in the knees. Percy snaked his hand under her skirt, running his hands over her thighs. He stroked his fingers down her inner thigh and then back up, fingers trailing at the edge of her panties. Padma arched against him again, moaning softly into his mouth before kissing him fiercely, all gentleness gone. They were both breathing hard, but Padma stilled when his fingers finally drifted over her panties. They were already damp.

She opened her eyes, catching their reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall. Percy’s eyes drifted back up from her body, seeing her gaze over his shoulder. He turned his head to see their reflection in the mirror, before looking back at her. He kissed her fiercely. “Watch me,” he murmured in her ear, before drawing her skirt higher. Padma could see her panties revealed in the reflection, his fingers toying with the edge of the elastic. She sucked in a sharp breath as his fingers slipped beneath the black silk, slicking through her wet folds.

Percy has his eyes opened, watching her as he slid the tip of his finger in her tight, wet heat. Involuntarily, Padma’s mouth opened, and she sucked in a frantic gasp of air. “Merlin, Percy,” she whimpered, her own hands sliding off his neck to grip his shoulders tightly. Her eyes slammed closed as he went from teasing her opening to penetrating her as deep as he could go. Padma moaned again as he withdrew the finger and pressed back in.

“You want me to fuck you, don’t you,” he hissed in her ear.

Padma’s right hand fisted in his dress robes, trying to pull him even tighter against her. Percy crooked his finger inside her and her eyes shot open again, wide. “Percy,” she choked out, voice pleading for more. He eased another finger into her, and she felt herself tighten around him. It wasn’t enough. She wanted more. Padma’s hand drifted lower down his chest, and then pressing against him through his trousers. Percy groaned against her neck, thrusting against her palm before nipping at her neck gently.

“Fuck, Padma,” he murmured. He withdrew his fingers from her entrance, curling around the damp panties that had been hurriedly pushed aside. In one fluid motion, he ripped them off her, before sliding his fingers back into her. He brought his thumb upward, making circles around her clit. Padma struggled with the zip of his trousers, her hand shaking and feeling weak-kneed.

Percy removed his fingers from her, nudging her hand away from his trousers before undoing the zip himself. He shoved his trousers downward, not taking the time to pull them off completely. He pulled her left leg up and Padma curled it around his waist, pulling him closer to her. He rubbed his cock against her, teasing her entrance and finally bumping against her clit. Padma drew in a shaky breath. “Please, Percy,” she whispered.

He kissed her fiercely and thrust into her at the same time, and Padma sighed against his mouth. He bit her bottom lip gently and Padma thought she would see stars. She was straining to stand on tiptoe of one foot as Percy withdrew and pushed in again deeper, pressing her back against the door. He thrust up into her and Padma felt herself tighten around him as he slid in against her clit.

“Oh, fuck,” Padma said, her voice higher with anticipation. Percy groaned against her neck, speeding his thrusts at her words. Padma made a choking sound deep in her throat, arching against him. She was so close. Her hand at the back of his neck drifted upward, fingers tangling in his hair. “Please, please.”

Percy slammed into her again and this time, Padma saw stars. She moaned as she felt herself tighten around him, head leaning back to knock against the hard wood as he continued to thrust into her. “Merlin, I’m going to come,” he muttered, and Padma felt her head knock against the door once more as he thrust deep inside her, jerking and swearing.

They both stood there, trembling and sweating for a few moments, before Padma began to slide to the ground, her legs still too shaky to support her. Percy grabbed her around the arms, and pulled her back up, planting a gentle kiss on her mouth. Padma gave a happy little sigh, watching Percy right his trousers through lidded eyes.

“That was even better than I told the girls in the Goblin Liason Office,” she said, grinning slightly.

Percy shot her a dirty look. “I’m not going to be able to look anyone in the eye for weeks because of that story.”

“If you come back to my flat, I’ll make it up to you,” Padma offered, her grin widening.

Percy stepped closer to her, snaking his arm around her waist so that they could Disapparate. “Remind me to send you a note on Monday about standards of professional conduct,” he replied, before they both disappeared from the Ministry building.

***

Things were no different than any other Monday.

They had been briefed early on the results of Parvati’s espionage, and Padma found the end result to be a bit of a let-down. Perrault didn’t have a complicated plan to overthrow the French government or attack a rival school. No, he simply wanted to rig the Tournament so that his son would be named Beauxbatons Champion. Then, the world would see how great Pierre Perrault was, and how foolish Gabrielle Delacour had been for rejecting him. The fact that Perrault stood to profit from the Tournament appeared to be an added bonus. It was rather ridiculous. Padma was not looking forward to explaining to Headmistress McGonangall that they would be holding the Tournament due to teenage melodrama.

At least Parvati had uncovered some damning evidence regarding Perrault’s business associates that had given them the leverage to tone down the tasks. Padma was determined to make this Tournament as safe as she could. She owed that to Cedric’s memory, at the very least.

She was busy trying to finish her reports on the St. Mungo’s annual charity ball when another parchment plane came whizzing in to her office. Padma batted it away from her head in annoyance, trying to reclaim the thought it had interrupted. She hastily scribbled down a note to herself on another scrap before turning to the note in her hand.

Need I remind you of the Ministry’s Standards of Professional Conduct? I do believe that snogging another employee in the lift is in direct violation of at least two sub-sections. Much as I enjoyed such overtures, I did not appreciate my secretary pointing out to me that I had spent most of my morning with lipstick smeared on my face. – P.I.W.

Padma laughed, grabbing another blank scrap for her reply.

Mr. Weasley, I know how important Ministry protocol is to you. Your note reminded me I had yet to fill out the Ministry’s “Project Introspective and Markings for Performance” (P.I.M.P.) that we are required to complete for additional assigned short-term duties or projects. I have attached my feedback for our undertaking on Friday night. Please review your P.I.M.P. score and let me know if you have any questions. – Padma M. Patil, Undersecretary of Health and Magical Services.

With a mischievous grin, she tapped her wand to the parchment and sent the note on its way. If she remembered right, Percy was usually in a meeting right about now.