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“Get your bushy hair over here!” Ginny shouted down the hall. 

Hermione let out an aggravated moan as she begrudgingly trampled down the hallway to the flat that Ginny was forcing her to go to. This most certainly was not how she had planned to spend her Friday night. After another stressful week at the Ministry, she had hoped to hang up her robes and nuzzle in her armchair next to Crookshanks, finally finding time to read her book again.

But all that had vanished when Ginny had shared the news with her.

“Can’t we just celebrate tomorrow?” Hermione whined, feeling the warmth of her own flat’s fireplace calling her name.

The pair of shoes ahead of her stomped to a halt and spun around towards her direction. The clasp on Ginny’s robes rose and fell in sharp succession as its owner grew irritable with her companion.

“This is my first job since retiring from the Harpies, so I believe I have the right to dictate when we celebrate!” Ginny commanded. Hermione was instantly tugged from her position as Ginny latched onto her wrist, rendering Hermione’s escape essentially impossible. The redhead dragged her down the hall as they loomed closer to the dreaded destination.

“Are you at least going to tell me whose flat this is?” Hermione bitterly requested. She was certain that there was a more appropriate response, but this was the best she could surrender to Ginny’s plea without expressing how much she sincerely wished she was elsewhere. The entire walk over to the building had been a struggle, and despite her last efforts, it seemed like no matter how much Hermione protested, Ginny was set on spending the evening with whichever new coworker had invited her out.

“Daphne Greengrass,” Ginny explained in a rush. Hermione crinkled her nose a bit at the news. She had mildly been expecting it to be Daphne who had invited them.   During her ritual morning reading of the Daily Prophet, Hermione had noticed that the old Slytherin student now wrote for the paper, so it seemed logical enough that Daphne had been the one to extend a hand of friendship to her new compatriot. But it didn’t mean Hermione was too thrilled at the prospect of who else may be in tow.

Ginny halted in front of the second to last door in the hall and finally released her grip. Her imprint remained red on Hermione’s skin despite the brunette’s attempt to placate the slight burn. “Next time, don’t hold onto me like the handle of your broom,” she moped.

She could hear Ginny’s slight amusement at Hermione’s latest complaint. “Old habit. Now a quill’s the only thing my fingers will be wrapped around. Well, that and Harry’s…”

“I beg for you not to finish that statement!” Hermione protested, throwing her hands up in the air. Her shoulders quivered as her imagination completed the thought she so desperately didn’t want to envision. “He’s like my brother.”

“And back when you were with Ron, I had to hear about my actual brother!” Ginny joked.

“Oh, don’t remind me,” Hermione faintly lamented. “Now are you actually going to knock on the door or do you want to get me in an even fouler mood first?”

The friends shared a momentary smile as Ginny tapped gently on the wood. Hermione tried to keep it plastered on her face for the sake of appearances, but her mood did not match the exterior. Within a matter of moments, the door swung open and the pair was greeted by the older looking, but still familiar face of Daphne Greengrass. The colleagues hugged while Hermione stared self-consciously. They seemed legitimately excited to see each other again, only making Hermione feel exceedingly more excluded.

She blocked out their conversation as she took the opportunity to examine Daphne’s flat. While she currently felt alone in the space, she most definitely wasn’t. There were around fifteen or so other witches and wizards of various ages mingling around the open living and kitchen space. Off in the corner were a few wizards who were seeing who could conjure the biggest bubble from the surface of their drink. Hermione couldn’t help but roll her eyes at a game she thought that the boys should have outgrown after second year at the latest. There was another small group huddled in the kitchen, closer to the drinks, and Hermione started to feel the impulse to make one for herself when the slightly increased sound of the hostess’s voice redirected her attention.

“And Hermione Granger,” Daphne said with a strum of intrigue, “I must admit that I did not expect to see you around here. Where’s that redheaded boyfriend of yours?”

Ginny and Hermione exchanged a quick glance at one another. In the year since her and Ron’s break up, it had only just become a topic that she felt comfortable talking about with her friends, and even that was pushing it.   She had only recently finally cut her nasty habit of relapsing back to him every other weekend or so. Being a member of the trio that had taken down the reign of the Dark Lord had come with some massive caveats, especially when it came to finding a man who didn’t see her for fame. Casual hook ups were hardly an option, and even Hermione Granger had needs that books in a library couldn’t resolve.

A stern jab in the gut snapped Hermione back into the present. “Ex-boyfriend,” she hastily corrected. To be fair, most people didn’t know that she and Ron were separated. They were still seen in public enough that the majority just assumed that they were still together. And even so, it wasn’t as if she expected Daphne to keep up with her personal life. But thinking about it herself caused Hermione to have an even stronger hankering for alcohol.

Her eyes grazed back to the kitchen and the array of drinks. “If you’ll excuse me,” Hermione said as she abruptly let the conversation.

She wiggled herself between a nearby witch and the kitchen island counter so that she could grab herself a cup. The display in front of her was far from lacking, but the problem was that none of it seemed appealing. Since the war, most witches and wizards had developed enough common sense to include at least a few muggle chaser options, but it appeared as if that had yet to reach certain Slytherins. Probably some sort of stubbornness to stick to at least some wizard-only traditions, Hermione concluded. All things considered, she’d much prefer this practice to their tendencies of the past.

Resigning to the fact that there wasn’t going to be any Diet Coke, Hermione poured herself a glass of elf-made wine, deeming it the least offensive to her taste buds. She brought a quick sip to her lips and let the cold drink travel down her throat. The crisp white-tinted liquid came as such a relief, she took a more generous gulp the second time around until her first glass was already half-consumed.

“What happened to the Hermione that didn’t want to drink tonight?” Ginny teased, resting her elbow upon Hermione’s shoulder. Ginny had wide smile still stretched across her face which Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head about. The smile quickly vanished, replaced by an expression of concern. “This isn’t about Ron, is it?”

Hermione set down her drink to cover her laugh with both hands. The fact that Ginny could even think that was truly comical. “You know that’s not it,” Hermione reprimanded.

Ginny grabbed the bottle of whiskey and poured her own cup. “Well, then stop being such a buzzkill and look around you! You’re at a party whether you like it or not, and right now, you’re ruining my celebratory mood!”

Ginny raised her eyebrows at Hermione and she knew that she had no choice but to give in. Harry was out of town for an Auror mission and Ron was off on some job training in Egypt, so she was her closest friend there to celebrate. Ginny’s eyes grew larger, begging for Hermione to remove the unsavory tone from her present state. Hermione rolled her eyes one more time, and pick up her glass for a toast. “To Ginny. May she bring reputable writing back to the Daily Prophet.

“Cheers to that!”

The young women clinked their plastic cups and both downed the rest of their drinks. With her glass only containing wine, Hermione didn’t quite mind, but Ginny’s eyes crinkled shut and her lips pursed together at the aftermath of the straight liquor. She rattled her body with a firm shake and her contorted face returned to normal.

“That’s some potent stuff,” Ginny declared pointing to the bottle of whiskey. Her finger soon changed its trajectory and shifted so that it was now directed at Hermione. “And as for you,” Ginny announced with a smirk, “when’s the last time you had a decent shag?”

Hermione’s mouth dropped at her bluntness. “Ginny!” she cried in a hushed whisper.

“And my brother doesn’t count,” she pressed on.

Hermione and Ginny locked eyes, neither one wanting to waver. Ginny had always been more open than her when it came to these things, but it just felt too personal to Hermione! Yet Ginny now had her arms crossed, and Hermione was blocked in the corner of the kitchen. If she had any hopes of ever leaving the space, she knew she’d have to submit to Ginny’s request.

“Other than Ron?” Hermione thought aloud. She looked up at the ceiling, racking her brain for the last new partner. “Well, there was that one time back in 2002 when Ron and I took that break –“

“That was two years ago!” Ginny interrupted. “You mean to tell me that you haven’t been with anyone new since you two actually broke up?”

Hermione felt her cheeks turn slightly hot. That typically didn’t happen until at least a few more drinks in, so she unfortunately couldn’t blame it on the alcohol. “No one that I’ve slept with,” Hermione defended. She could recall a few sloppy kisses after failed dates and a snog session or two, but no one had quite caught her fancy in the past year. Hence the Ron relapses.

“Oh well that just won’t do,” Ginny remarked with her scheming smirk starting to spread. She poured herself another glass of the strong whiskey and then poured an equal amount into Hermione’s cup. “I know exactly what we’re doing tonight.”

Hermione couldn’t help but roll her eyes again. “We’ll see about that.”

They raised their glasses for another cheers but were distracted by the commotion coming from the entryway. Daphne had just released a high-pitched squeal and ran towards the door, wrapping her arms around the new party guest. As she pulled away, Hermione instantly recognized the white blonde hair. One look at him and she brought the recently filled glass to her lips and downed it.

Ginny stared at Hermione curiously, then followed her gaze to see Draco Malfoy and without hesitation, refilled Hermione’s glass.

“We’re gonna need a lot more of this if we’re gonna survive this party.”

Chapter Text

Hermione resisted to urge to throw back yet another glass of the amber liquid. If he was there, then she wasn’t going to chance letting loose all of her inhibitions.

“I had no idea he was going to be here,” Ginny assured Hermione, but Hermione was only half listening at this point. Her focus was still transfixed on her former childhood nemesis.

It wasn’t that him being there made her uncomfortable per se, but it didn’t exactly put her at ease either. In the six years since the war, she had had the displeasure of interacting with him on more than one occasion. With him now being forced to work at the Ministry, every once and a while, they would have to feign amiability for the sake of business. Most of the circumstances had been brief, but each time, there was always something nagging at the bottom of the pit of her stomach. While Malfoy hadn’t been overtly antagonistic in each of these interactions, she couldn’t help but wonder what was going on inside his head. His sudden shift towards, well, not friendliness, but not outward hostility, concerned Hermione that he was perhaps only doing so because of her post-war status and his lack there of. All things considered, though, she much preferred an agreeable Malfoy to the bully of their past. Nevertheless, she still didn’t fully trust him.

She took a sip from her glass, and swallowed harshly as she remembered that it was no longer wine. Ginny chuckled at Hermione’s revulsion.

“Keep that up and you’ll be drunk in no time,” Ginny teased.

Hermione dumped the remainder of the contents of her cup into Ginny’s, opting back to the much less offensive taste of the wine. “I would prefer not to get completely sloshed this evening if it’s no difference to you,” Hermione exasperated. “I want to get into the Ministry early tomorrow…”

“Hermione, you honestly need to stop working so hard!” Ginny complained. “I know you want to finish that new draft about house elves, but you don’t need to ruin your Saturday in the process.”

Hermione took a sip of wine as she mulled over Ginny’s words. Going into work on a Saturday didn’t bother her in the slightest. And it wasn’t as if she had much grander plans on how to spend her Saturday. As long as she was home for at least a few hours for alone time with her book, then she would happily spend the day researching prior cases on elf mistreatment.

To be fair, her weekends used to be much more eventful back when she was with Ron. Well, not exciting, but at least she had someone to keep her company other than Crookshanks. They had mostly kept to themselves as Hermione read and Ron played against the enchanted chessboard. But every evening, they would cuddle in front of the television that Hermione insisted they purchase and watch an episode or four of a show. And then they’d go to sleep. Actually, putting it like that, it all sounded quite mundane. Admittedly, it did grow to be fairly monotonous. They had fallen into a routine that had just felt… comfortable. It was the reason that she had broken up with him.

Comfortable had made her feel safe. In the years after the war, she wanted someone who was reliable and consistent. Ron had been both of those things. But now she had turn turned twenty-five years old and it didn’t feel like enough. Ginny may judge her for it, but diving back into her work had given her renewed purpose in the wake of the break up, especially now that she was putting her foot down when it came to hooking up with Ron anymore.

Ginny would hopefully soon come to understand how the proper desk job could find someone happiness. Or maybe not happiness, but at least sense of pride. Accomplishment. Well, it could when a person was successful at their job. After five years with the Harpies, she was moving on to a new career as a sports reporter for the Daily Prophet. It was the ideal job for the former Quidditch star. Harry seemed to be ecstatic about her new career and their relationship continued to be as strong as ever. Hermione was terribly happy for her friend, yet she still felt a slight twinge of jealousy creeping at the deepest depth of her stomach.

Ginny snapped her fingers in front of Hermione’s eyes, directing her attention back to her friend. “You okay, Hermione? You keep dazing out.”

“What? Oh. It’s nothing. The alcohol must be kicking in is all,” Hermione quickly justified.

She scanned her eyes across the room, and just for an instant, she made contact with the cool grey eyes. Without hesitation, Hermione sharply twisted her body to face the kitchen wall, yet she could still feel his piercing stare emblazoning her backside. She looked over her shoulder to give him a glare of her own, eyebrows crunched together and lips pursed to demonstrate her frustration, but to her dismay, her attempted menacing look seemed to have no affect on him. He merely let out a snort of laughter, knocking his head back in the process, and returned to his conversation with Daphne.

That only made Hermione even more enraged.

“That foul, little…” Hermione muttered into the echoes of her cup as she took another swig from her drink.

“You’re actually going to have to slow down,” Ginny cautioned. “Or do you not remember the Eggnog incident of Christmas past?”

“The problem is that I don’t remember the evening,” Hermione reminded her friend. “And by the look of things, I wouldn’t mind not remembering this evening either,” she said followed by another gulp of wine, consuming the final drip from the glass.

As she set the empty cup down, Ginny quickly snatched it from her friend’s reach. “I think it's time for you to take a bit of a break from the drinks for now,” Ginny advised. “If either of us is getting blackout tonight, it’s me, so you’re going to have to slow down.”

“Or you’re just going to have to catch up.”

Hermione reached past Ginny and attempted to reclaim her cup, but Ginny continued to block her path. Hermione stretched over the younger witch’s shoulder then around her waist under her shoulder, but Ginny’s Quidditch skills seemed to still be relevant even in retirement. If the Daily Prophet didn’t work out, she had a decent chance rejoining the Harpies as a Keeper. But with enough determination and ingenuity, even Ginny could be bypassed. Hermione dug into her pocket and grabbed her wand.

“Accio cup!” Hermione cried, the cup flying around Ginny and into her hand. She snagged the nearest bottle of wine and refilled her cup with a successful smirk.

Ginny simply rolled her eyes. “Fine then. But don’t say I didn’t try to stop you.” After taking a quick sip from her own cup, Ginny resumed her original mission with renewed purpose. “Now about that goal for the evening.” She rested her elbows along the edges of the kitchen counter and surveyed the prospected of the room.

Hermione decided to let her friend have her fun, even if she had absolutely no intention of actually finding someone to bunk up with for the night. The evening, after all, was supposed to celebrate Ginny.

“No, no good prospects here,” Ginny resigned to herself. “Those boys in the corner are too immature for your or any respectable witch’s liking, and everyone else here looks like a troll or someone who’s been hit by a stinging hex. Well, unless you count Malfoy, but you and I both know that he’s out of the running.”

Hermione let out a snort of a laugh, but Ginny had a point. Even if she did want to find someone, there certainly wasn’t anyone of interest at Daphne’s. And while she had to admit that despite his white blonde hair, Malfoy was technically attractive, his revulsive personality far outweighed any physical features.

“I guess we’ll just have to wait until we actually go out,” Ginny continued.

Hermione whipped her head and stared at her companion. “You mean we’re actually going out?” she questioned.

“Of course we are!” she retorted. “You didn’t seriously believe that this was all we were doing tonight? A few lousy mixed drinks in a cramped flat? This isn’t a house common room party. Plus, when was the last time you went out?”

“I go out all the time!” Hermione defended.

“I mean out out.”

“Well you didn’t specify.” Hermione reprimanded, but fully knew that’s what Ginny meant in the first place. Hermione began to ponder when was the last time she really did allow herself a proper night out, but was immediately interrupted by a looming presence behind her. She shifted her gaze to the source of her disturbance and instantly stiffened under its owner’s shadow.

She and Ginny had been so immersed in their argument that they had been oblivious to Malfoy sneaking up behind them.

“Well, well. If my eyes do not deceive me, we have been graced with the presence of Godly Granger and Weasley’s wicked sister,” Malfoy snarled through his greeting. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned up against a nearby wall, smirking to himself in satisfaction.

“That seriously the best you can do?” Ginny fired back. “Some sarcasm and weak alliteration? Your standard for quips has deteriorated over the years.”

“Or maybe I don’t feel the need to waste my best criticism on you anymore,” he fake yawned to himself. “After so many years, I think my opinion of you is already engrained enough in your mind.”

Hermione let out a scoff and Malfoy jerked his head in her direction. “What’s the matter, Granger? Finally at a loss for words?”

The blood in Hermione boiled as the grip on her cup became firmer. She started to feel its flimsy sides crinkle beneath her fingertips and the crunch of plastic emanated into the kitchen. Hermione quickly loosened her hold. If one was thing was certain, she didn’t want Malfoy to know how much his presence irked her.

“Just observing how truly different you act in private compared to at the Ministry,” she responded through heavy huffs and feigned friendliness.

“What did you expect, Granger?” he scowled. “Or shall I pretend to give a rat’s ass about whatever latest doomed elf legislation you’re working on?”

Hermione sucked in a massive breath of air through her nose as her chest rose, but pursed her lips as tight as possible to prevent herself from lashing out at him. He may be acting like a petulant child, but she was an adult who didn’t need to stoop down to his level.

Before she could think of semi-civilized response, their quarrel was interrupted by Daphne standing on top of a chair to make an announcement. “Finish your drinks! We’re heading out!”

Ginny furtively eyed Hermione who was now in front of Malfoy with a balled up fist at her side. To insult her and Ginny was one thing, but to insult her work was just low! Memories of third year flooded back to her with the satisfaction of what Malfoy looked like after she had snapped the first time and punched him in the face. The thought of repeating the event tonight was satisfying, but she wasn’t quite at that level yet. If she had to interact with him much more this evening, though, she wasn’t making any promises.

“Well, Granger, it seems like we’ll have to continue this another time,” he smirked, and then shifted away from them, headed towards to the door.

Hermione downed the rest of her wine then quickly refilled it with another swig of fire whiskey. She threw it back down her throat, the hot spike of the alcohol hitting her with the final gulp. She shuddered and slightly gagged at its unpleasant taste.

As she did so, Ginny watched on incredulously. “What happened to taking it slow tonight?”

“Malfoy happened.”

*** 

Hermione swooshed around the drink in her hand, observing as the liquid crept up the edges and swirled around in hypnotizing circles. They had been at the Leaky Cauldron for the past hour, but it had felt infinitely longer to her. Her head was in a bit of a daze as the alcohol from Daphne’s house began to permeate inside her body through her bloodstream. She sat there thinking of how much she ended up consuming prior to leaving, but even that was a tad blurry at this point. By conservative estimates, she’d had at least five drinks already, which was more than plenty for Hermione’s petite body. She looked down at her glass again, hoping that her choice to switch to water would soon start to make her feel better.

Ginny was off across the bar, chatting with Daphne, probably going on about some piece she was excited to write for the Prophet. Hermione could see the elation in her face as she spoke with Daphne, and that slight twinge of jealousy was back. She remembered what it felt like to be young and excited about one’s work. Sure, Ginny wasn’t really that much younger than her, but this was a new type of job for her, whereas Hermione had been working for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for more than four years at this point. Back then, she had been just as eager, optimistic that she would be able to completely revamp the department, but after the past three failed laws, she was becoming a bit more uncertain. And Malfoy’s earlier jibe wasn’t helping.

She felt the weight of the bench beneath her sink down and she looked up from her cup to see Malfoy sitting next to her. She impulsively scooted in the other direction, widening the gap between them.

“I’m not in the mood, Malfoy,” she grumbled, without as much force as she would have preferred.

“Yes, well, your sour mood is currently being quite the damper for the rest of us, so I’m going to need to you lighten up or kindly leave us be.”

Hermione furrowed her brow and stared at him incredulously. “Oh! Well my apologies that my mood is disturbing you from your evening of fun! But if I recall correctly, it’s you who caused me to feel this way in the first place!”

Malfoy flinched backwards and looked at her up and down in disbelief. “You aren’t seriously still miffed about what I said about your lousy elf legislation, are you?” He waited a beat while Hermione avoided his gaze, returning to watching the water in her cup. “For Salazar’s sake, Granger! If it’s going to put you in such a tizzy, just fucking tell me about it.”

Hermione shot up from her glass and stared at Malfoy with a bit of a snarl to her lip. “And why the bloody hell would I waste my time telling you about it?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Cause if you’re being honest with yourself, you know that there’s a slim chance that anyone else in the Ministry will ever read it and you’re probably aching for at least one other person to hear your thoughts.”

“And why do you want to hear it?” she pressed, still suspicious of his intentions.

“Cause otherwise, you’ll continue to sit here in a slump, and I’m just drunk enough to pretend to care.”

Hermione continued to stare at him, contemplating whether or not she should even bother. But Ginny was still on the other side of the Leaky Cauldron, oblivious to her friend’s present company and didn’t seem the least bit disturbed by Hermione’s absence. No one else even seemed to have noticed Hermione’s solitary sulk, so why was Malfoy even trying? Yet, Hermione had to admit that it would actually feel good to have someone to rant to about it. Malfoy certainly wouldn’t have been her first choice, but she was feeling bitter enough and more than intoxicated enough at the moment to ignore that.

“Fine,” she finally muttered. Malfoy lifted his head, a bit surprised by her acceptance of the offer, but to Hermione’s astonishment, he didn’t protest.   She brought her legs up onto the bench and tucked them next to her on her side so that she could properly face Malfoy.

With a slight sigh, she thought about where to begin.

“Ever since the war, I’ve been working on trying to get house elves equal rights in all sectors of the government. I know that we’ve already succeeded in getting house elves wages for their labor, but there’s so much more to equality than just that! They are still seen as inferior to wizards, and I simply do not understand why so many wizards are reluctant to acknowledge that just because they are in a different form, they should be treated any differently!”

Malfoy began to open his mouth, but Hermione held her hand up before he could utter a word.

“I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t want to hear it. House elves have so much more potential than many wizards recognize. And in a way, isn’t that due to in part by the name that we have instilled them with? House elves? The name itself implies that they should be confined to house work for witches and wizards!”

Malfoy seemed to want to interrupt again, but Hermione refused to let him. He was the one who said that he wanted to hear what she had to say and she wasn’t going to permit him to interject with his opinion!

“No, Malfoy! House elves should be given more say in their treatment and should be allowed to work in the Ministry and be a part of the organization that dictates their laws! Yet for some reason, no one seems to understand that a group of witches and wizards is not an appropriate population to create laws for creatures who have the ability to speak for themselves! They deserve representation and liaisons between their community and ours!”

She let out a huff and folded her arms, raising an eyebrow at Malfoy. He stared at her blankly and blinked a few times before he spoke up. “Are you done now, Granger?”

She nodded. “Yes, but if I were you, I’d be careful with your response, or you won’t get your wish of getting me out of my ‘sour mood.’”

Malfoy closed his eyes and nodded for a moment, considering Hermione’s threat as she waited on his response, instantly regretting her choice to confess it all to him. What was she thinking tell this to Malfoy? This was Draco Malfoy she was talking to! The boy himself had been essentially raised by house elves so how could she possibly believe that he would understand where she was coming from? And now he would just be able to use all this against her and find some new way to torture her and…

“I agree with you.”

Hermione’s head jerked with the interruption of Malfoy’s voice. At least she believed it had been Malfoy’s voice, but she wasn’t certain because those words didn’t seem like anything that Malfoy would ever say to her.

“Pardon?”

“I said,” Malfoy repeated, a bit of bite to his voice, irritated that he had to reiterate his thought, “that I agree with you.”

It was now Hermione’s turn to stare at him blankly. She leaned forward and squinted her eyes, examining him, trying to discern if this really was Draco Malfoy in front of her. Or perhaps it was just some imposter with Polyjuice. Because there was no way that he had now said twice that he agreed with her.

“Oh sit up, Granger,” he scoffed. “That look isn’t very becoming on you.” She followed his direction, but continued to stare him down with wild skepticism. He merely rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, I agreed with you on something. Make sure to tell Weaslette to write an article about it for Monday’s Prophet.

“I don’t… I don’t understand,” Hermione stammered.

“I. Agreed. With. You,” Malfoy enunciated one final time. “For everyone calling you the brightest witch of our age, is this really that hard of a concept for you to grasp?”

Hermione couldn’t take her eyes off of him. She had encountered many challenging questions over the course of her education and had been able to figure them all out, but Malfoy was one problem that she simply couldn’t solve. What in Godric’s name had not only caused him to agree with her, but also to admit to agreeing with her?

The more she looked at him, the more confused she became. He seemed… different. His hair was a bit more unkempt that unusual. He had long ago forgone with his slicked back hair, and this new look was more casual, not as… snobby. The bags under his eyes weren’t as prevalent as she had remembered them being either. Was he getting more sleep now that the war was over and neither of them had that looming cloud constantly in their presence? But the crinkles next to his eyes were still there. Probably from all the glaring he used to do back at Hogwarts.

“Hey, Malfoy! Don’t you have someone else to bother?”

Hermione shook away her thoughts as she heard Ginny’s cry headed their way. She looked at Malfoy one more time, but he was now scowling in Ginny’s direction.

“Perfect. I was just looking for a new target when you started heading my way,” Malfoy said with a disgusted look. He turned back to Hermione and added with a sneer. “Chin up, Granger. I don’t want to have to see you moping again.”

He rose from his seat and walked past Ginny, intentionally bumping into her shoulder in the process. Hermione watched as he snaked through the crowd, rejoining Daphne and a few other friends. For having just spent a significant time with Malfoy, she oddly no longer felt “mopey” as he liked to put it. It really did feel better to talk about her opinion, even if it was to Malfoy. And then he had agreed with her on it. Instead of feeling down, now she just felt… curious. And more than a bit intrigued.

She was still staring in his direction when he turned her way and made eye contact. Instead of avoiding his gaze this time, Hermione kept on looking as Malfoy gave her a slight smile before returning to his conversation.

Yes, she was definitely intrigued.

Chapter Text

Ginny nudged Hermione on the side, bringing her attention back to her friend.

“What was Malfoy doing over here?” she asked through strained voice. “I swear to Merlin that boy just does not know when to quit!”

Hermione sunk her teeth into her lip, uncertain how to reply. Even if she did tell Ginny about her conversation with Malfoy, she surely wouldn’t believe it! Hell, Hermione herself barely believed it. He must be just as drunk as she was and misunderstood what she said or something. Yet, he had seemed so adamant in claiming that he agreed with her…

“Hermione!” Ginny snapped.

“Sorry, I…”

“… Got lost in your thoughts again?” Ginny finished with a sigh. “Yeah, you keep doing that. You sure you okay?”

“I swear!” Hermione affirmed, taking a large gulp from her cup for good measure. Ginny’s eyes grew big as she witnessed her friend take three more swallows. She consumed the final drop and set the glass back down on the table. “Don’t worry, it’s water,” she assured her friend.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” Ginny sighed with relief. “For a moment, I was certain that you’d end up in St. Mungo’s by the end of the night!”

Ginny rose from her seat beside Hermione and outstretched her hand, motioning for Hermione to latch on.

“What’s this for?”

“It means that you need to get up and socialize with everyone else. I don’t know what Malfoy said to you this time, but you can’t let him spoil our evening. Get up, or I’ll be forced to find some other method!”

Ginny thrust her hand out with a bit more force and Hermione lifted up her own and grabbed onto Ginny, who pulled her up from the bench. Hermione flattened out her robes and returned her attention to her friend. “And now what?”

“And now we go back to the original plan,” she responded with a devilish grin.

Hermione thought for a moment and then connected the meaning behind Ginny’s words. “Oh, not this again!” she complained. “You really aren’t going to stop, are you?”

“Absolutely not,” she said with a satisfied smirk. She linked her arm with Hermione’s and dragged her away from the walls of the Leaky Cauldron and more into the center of the room. “Look all around you!” Ginny implored. “There are at least fifty wizards here! Certainly at least one of them strikes your fancy!”

As Ginny said it, Hermione knew that unless she found a distraction soon, there would only be one wizard on her mind this evening, but it wasn’t as if it was because she fancied him! He just… intrigued her. She needed to come up with another word to describe it... Fascinated her? Hmm. Captivated her? Oh, no, that wasn’t it. Too flattering. Interested her? Not that either. Didn’t capture her curiosity enough. Well, she’d just have to settle on ‘intrigue’ for the moment.

“How about that wizard over there?” Ginny suggested, pointing to a man on the opposite side of the room.

Hermione cocked her head and analyzed the man in question. He seemed decent enough. His robes were crisp, which suggested that at least he wasn’t a complete and utter slob. And his haircut was appealing enough. Short on the sides and slightly longer on top making him look taller than he actually was. But it was still a good look. She looked a bit closer and noticed that he had one of his ears pierced and her upper lip shifted into a slight grimace. Not that she didn’t respect his choice to do that – it just wasn’t her preference.

“No, not him,” she eschewed.

“Hmm,” Ginny contemplated, scanning the room for another wizard. Hermione began to look around as well, yet she kept getting distracted by the white blonde hair not too far behind her on her left. She quickly turned the other direction, but his sharp features still cut into her vision. He would be infinitely easier to keep out of her mind if he didn’t stand out in a crowd so much!

“The guy over there’s pretty cute,” Ginny proposed, tilting her head towards a wizard seated at the bar. “A bit older than you, which could mean more experience?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at Ginny’s commentary, but still considered the latest candidate. She did have to admit that this one was fairly attractive. He had a bit of a scruffy beard and she imagined that without it, he’d be much more her type, yet it didn’t distract her enough to eliminate him as a possibility from the onset. “He seems decent,” Hermione said, and as soon as the words escaped her mouth, Ginny yanked her by her wrist and dragged her towards the bar.

“What in Godric's name are you doing?” Hermione commanded.

But Ginny didn’t say another word until they had reached their destination and were standing right next to the mystery man. Ginny wedged herself between him and another wizard next to him and leaned up against the bar, facing him. She let out a slight cough and the man gave her a hasty look up and down and quickly dropped his jaw before lifting it back up.

He appeared as if he was about to talk, when Ginny started first. “Do you mind if my friend and I join you?”

He glanced at Hermione and returned his gaze to Ginny, staring at her a bit flabbergasted for a moment, until he snapped himself out of it. “Yes, of course. Let me buy you a drink. What are you having?”

“Firewhisky for me,” Ginny answered and turned to Hermione for her response.

“Just water.”

“She’ll have a firewhisky as well.”

“Three firewhiskies!” he yelled to a bartender.

The man dug in his pocket for a few sickles as Ginny tugged on Hermione’s arm, forcing her next to him. Hermione gave her a disapproving look, but nevertheless complied with her friend’s implicit desire.

“So, um, what’s your name?” Hermione started off as the bartender returned with their drinks.

“Christopher,” the man responded, handing her one of the glasses of firewhisky.

“Nice to meet you, Christopher. I’m…”

“Hermione Granger, I know,” Christopher quickly interjected with a wide grin.

Hermione returned a fake smile but knew that the conversation was now doomed. Of course he already recognized who she was, but it would have been nice for him to at least let her pretend as if the entire wizarding world didn’t know her name and face. It sort of killed the illusion that she could go up to someone and meet him or her like any other ordinary witch or wizard.

Ginny snatched the third glass of firewhisky and quickly threw it back before setting the empty glass down on the bar. “Well then!” she exclaimed. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Christopher, and thanks for the drink.” She gave Hermione a wink, and before Hermione could beg for her to stay, she had left her all alone with Christopher. Hermione gave him a soft smile and pretended to take a sip from the firewhisky she had absolutely no desire to actually consume.

“So, Hermione,” he started off. “How does it feel to know that you helped save the wizarding world?”

Hermione would have left immediately if she didn’t know that Ginny would just instantly drag her back or force her to find another man that would result in the same conversation. Ginny just didn’t understand. She had been with Harry since the end of the war and didn’t have to endure this endless cycle of dead ends. While Ginny had played a part in the war efforts, she wasn’t nearly as recognizable as Hermione. Well, that wasn’t a fair statement. Ginny was famous in her own regard as a Quidditch player. But that was different. People would sometimes ask her for an autograph, but everyone wanted to have a conversation with Hermione about the war. Didn’t they know that there was more to her than what she had done six years ago?

“To be honest, I don’t think about it much nowadays,” Hermione said in attempt to veer the conversation in any other direction. “I’m currently working on achieving equal rights for house elves.”

“Oh, but how could you not!” Christopher cried, utterly ignoring the second half of Hermione’s statement. “I mean, you watched Harry Potter kill You-Know-Who.” He paused for a moment as his eyes light up in newfound excitement. “Merlin’s beard, you know Harry Potter! What’s he like?”

Hermione’s heart sunk to her stomach. It was her second least favorite topic after the war. If people weren’t asking her about the war, they were inevitably asking her about Harry. Was it too much to ask that people just want to know her?

“Umm, well, Harry’s…”

“A complete tosser if you ask me,” came a voice from behind her. She didn’t need to look to know who it was. And for the first time in her life, she was not entirely irked by his presence.

Christopher looked back and forth between Hermione and their new guest, mouth agape in shock. “But you’re…”

“Yes, yes, it’s a mini Wizarding War reunion in the Leaky Cauldron tonight. How lucky you must be to run into not only Gryffindor’s princess, but also the man who nearly spoiled it all?” Malfoy snarled through heavy sarcasm. “Now, go scurry off and tell all your boring friends about this one exciting moment in your otherwise dull life.”

Christopher reverted his attention to Hermione, appearing to wait for her to protest, but she remained silent. Disheartened, he let out a resigned sigh. “In that case, it was nice to meet you, Hermione,” he said with a polite nod. He picked up his half finished drink as Malfoy stared him down as he left the unlikely pair alone at the bar.

“You’re welcome,” Malfoy commented with assured confidence.

Hermione finally whipped her head and around and faced him. “And what exactly am I supposed to be thanking you for?”

Malfoy laughed to himself, not slightly fazed by Hermione’s retort. “For saving you from that dreadful conversation.”

The fire started to rise inside of Hermione. “Save me? I don’t need saving, let alone saving from you, Malfoy!”

“Fine, then don’t call it saving,” he conceded with no indication of actual acceptance. “But you can’t seriously tell me that you were enjoying that conversation.”

Even though he wasn’t wrong, Hermione didn’t want to give him the satisfaction in knowing that any part of her was grateful to have escaped. “He was a lovely wizard,” she blatantly lied, but Malfoy saw right through the façade.

“Oh please, Granger,” Malfoy scoffed. “He was about as interesting as a flobberworm. Hell, I’d even venture to say that Weasley might have been more interesting than him. At least he would have been smart enough to talk about your elf legislation instead of the war.”

Hermione had a million different responses racing in her head. While it was a backhanded compliment at best, he had said something… not awful about Ron. But there was something much more pressing on her mind…

“Wait a moment,” Hermione hesitated. “How did you know I mentioned my elf legislation?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “You seem to have forgotten just how loud you are, Granger. I expect half the bar could have heard your rambling.”

He continued to stare at her with his usual air of arrogance, but Hermione didn’t let it faze her. Hermione knew that she had the tendency of using a louder voice than most normal people, but the bar was fairly crowded and she found it hard to believe that he had simply overheard their discussion.

“You know, if you wanted to keep talking about my proposal, all you had to do was ask,” Hermione defended, a knowing tone in her voice.

He simply scoffed. “Don’t flatter yourself, Granger. This is all just the alcohol talking.”

“Drunk words are sober thoughts,” she protested.

“Is that some sort of Muggle nonsense?”

“It is not nonsense! Or are you admitting that you only agreed with me about how equal rights for house elves because you're drunk?”

“Believe it or not, no.”

Hermione paused for a moment. Her alcohol buzz was only just starting to diminish, but her memory was still not as fully sharp as normal. “'ll be honest, because of the way I phrased the questions, I'm not totally clear on what your answer meant.”

“I still agree with you.”

Hermione stalled again as she tried to gather her thoughts. “Okay, but I…”

“You’re reading too much into this, Granger,” Malfoy droned. “Now I beg that we talk about literally anything else.”

She looked at him curiously. “And what else are you and I supposed to talk about?”

Malfoy looked around for a second, picked up Hermione’s still full glass of firewhisky, and walked a little bit away until he pulled out a chair from a nearby empty table. With a slight wave of his hand, he indicated for Hermione to join him. She remained planted at her spot for several moments, contemplating whether or not she should follow his lead. This was Malfoy, after all. But blame it on the booze or her unyielding curiosity, she gave in to his request and joined him in the partnering seat.

“Now, Granger, was that so hard?” he toyed.

Hermione sat up straight in her chair, still a bit cautious towards showing much more easiness around him. “Get to your point, Malfoy,” she countered. “What do you want from me?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes and kicked his feet up onto the table. “Can’t two old schoolmates simply catch up?”

“Oh, please,” Hermione chided. “You and I were never ‘mates.’”

“And what a shame that is,” he added nonchalantly, looking Hermione directly in the eyes.

Hermione glared back and narrowed her lids, examining him intently, but oddly, she couldn’t detect any sarcasm. As he continued to look at her with his cloudy eyes, an ever so slight smile started to appear from the corner of his lips. The more she looked at him, the more confused she became. While his tongue was still just as sharp as she had remembered, the words out of his mouth continued to surprise her. But her focus was quickly interrupted.

“You have got to be kidding me!” Ginny shouted as she pushed her way through the crowd towards their table.

“Here we go again,” Malfoy mumbled under his breath as Ginny approached their side. He slid his legs off the table and shifted his body in her direction. “Well, well, Weasley. Here to steal Granger, I presume?”

She stuck up her hand in Malfoy’s face, ignoring his presence completed. “What happened to Christopher?” she asked Hermione.

“Christopher was a bore,” Malfoy responded lazily, knocking her hand out of the way.

Ginny snapped her head towards him. “I’m not talking to you at the moment, Malfoy.”

“And yet, here you are, talking to me,” he smirked.

She let out a grunt and redirected her attention back towards Hermione. “Well?”

“He only wanted to talk about the war,” Hermione bitterly explained.

Ginny let out a sigh, her shoulders drooping in the process. “Well that’s a shame. But let’s go find you someone else.”

She reached out and grabbed Hermione’s hand, attempting to yank her away from the table, but she remained rooted in her seat, still across from Malfoy. Ginny looked back at the heavy weight preventing her progress, confused at Hermione’s lack of movement. She pulled again, but Hermione tugged back, causing Ginny to lose some of her balance and stumble back towards the table.

“Come on, let’s go,” Ginny commanded, but Hermione still didn’t budge.

Hermione looked at her friend and back over at Malfoy, who was observing the scene with an amused grin. His arms were folded across his chest, and he was slumped down in the seat, resembling a boy watching his favorite show on television. He was arrogant, and snarky, and for some reason, Hermione didn’t want to leave.

“I’m, um, actually going to stay here,” she told Ginny. Based on the widening smile on Malfoy’s face, he was quite pleased with her decision.

Ginny stared at the two of them. “And why would you ever want to spend more time with Malfoy?” she hissed.

Malfoy laughed. “She finds me…”

He paused for a moment, thinking of how to finish the sentence.

“Intriguing.” Hermione completed.

Malfoy smiled again. “What a fitting word. She finds me intriguing.

Ginny looked at her friend in disbelief, confusion, and complete bewilderment. “You sure?”

Hermione looked at Malfoy again. He raised his eyebrows at her and then flashed her that smirk yet again. Against all her better judgment, yes, she was sure. She nodded at Ginny who just shook her head in continued skepticism.

“Fine,” she finally resigned, and then glared at Malfoy and spoke with a menacing tone. “But I’ll be keeping my eye on you, Malfoy.”

“I know I’m more attractive than Potter, but that doesn’t give you permission to stare,” he shot back.

Ginny released one more huff and then stormed in the other direction. When she was just barely out of sight, Malfoy pushed back from the table and stood up.

“We’re going, Granger.”

“What?”

“Well, I don’t intend to hang around here if the Weaslette is going to keep weaseling into our business,” Malfoy scolded.

Hermione looked over her shoulder, back in Ginny’s direction and felt torn. She was supposed to be spending the night with Ginny. It was, after all, her celebration. But she was back to talking to Daphne and a group of other young witches and wizards she presumed to be her new coworkers. If she snuck out for just a few minutes, Ginny wouldn’t notice, right?

Malfoy was already standing, hands in the pockets of his robes, just waiting for a response from Hermione. She was still undecided, but with a final look at Ginny, she assured herself that Ginny would be plenty occupied for a few minutes. All she really wanted was a little time with Malfoy. Just enough to answer some of her questions. Ten, fifteen, minutes tops.

Hermione arose from her chair and gulped down the old glass of firewhisky for some last minute artificial courage.

“Okay, Malfoy. Where to?”

Chapter Text

Malfoy held the door open as the cool breeze of early fall sent a shiver down Hermione’s neck. She gripped the collar of her robes, hitching it up slightly so that she wasn’t quite as exposed to the wind.

It was fairly late in the evening now and the streets of Diagon Alley were nearly empty sans a few stranglers traveling along the cobbled path. Down the way, she could see the faint illumination of another pub’s window, but every other establishment was closed for the night. She headed in the direction of the one other open store with a slow, lazy stroll. With each step, she watched her feet intently, finding childish pleasure in ensuring that her shoe landed directly on top of a stone.

The chilled air filled her lungs and cleared some of the alcohol induced clouds muddling her brain. She savored just how refreshing it was to step out of the suffocating warm heat of the Leaky Cauldron into the crisp midnight. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and let it consume her, clearing her thoughts in the process. Out here in the open, nothing could disturb her peace.

“Hey, Granger!”

Except Malfoy.

He picked up his pace and caught up to her. “What in Merlin’s name are you doing?”

She kept her eyes shut, refusing to let him ruin her serenity just yet. “Just enjoying the breeze,” she said with a relaxed sigh, feeling all the tension leave her shoulders as the wind swept away the last of her inhibitions. For just a moment, she could forget about the stressors of work and how the rest of society continued to put her on a pedestal. The air tickled her ankles and danced at the hem of her robes, fluttering behind her.

“Well, you look ridiculous and sound like a sodding Hufflepuff.”

But just like the wind, the moment was gone in an instant. And reality was back.

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” she exhaled remorsefully, resuming down the path of Diagon Alley.

Malfoy stuck his hands in his pockets, jogging to get next to her and then shortening his strides so that they matched hers. “Try me,” he asserted. “If I recall correctly, I’ve already surprised you once tonight.”

Hermione looked at him through the corner of her eye, but his focus was locked ahead of him. A sudden gush of wind bellowed down the alley, catching several strands of hair in her mouth. She ran her fingers through her mane, bunching a small portion of it in one hand.

She paused for a moment, deciding if it was worth being honest. Yet the alcohol let the truth slip through her lips. “Sometimes I just like to take a moment to pause and not think,” she explained.

“Hermione Granger taking a moment to not think?” Malfoy exclaimed. “I bloody don’t believe my ears!”

Hermione’s cheeks heated up in mild abashment. She looked down at the cobbled stones and smiled to herself. “Ridiculous, I know. But sometimes it gets to be too much, you know?” She looked over to Malfoy whose focus was now entirely on her, but he didn’t give any further acknowledgement of her confession.

As they continued down the path in silence, a witch headed the opposite direction. Hermione just so happened to notice that she gave Malfoy a frightened stare as she passed them. It seemed like Malfoy caught it too.

He cleared his throat and dipped his head low. “I… I get it,” he faltered. “Needing a moment to pretend that nothing else around you exists?”

“Yeah,” Hermione’s voice cracked. “Something like that.”

They strolled farther down the street, completely bypassing the other pub and wandering deeper into the unlit alleyway. Hermione looked back in the direction they had come from, and the light emitting from the Leaky Cauldron was now far behind them. She had already been gone for at least ten minutes at this point, and she had no doubt that Ginny had probably noticed her absence. Yet she kept going forward, with no mental plan to return to the Leaky Cauldron for the time being.

Walking down path with Malfoy was oddly relaxing. It was as if all their bad blood was getting swept away in the breeze. The wind had slowed down, whispering soft songs into her ears, and the moonlight shined, giving everything a pleasant glow. In the deceptive glimmer, even Malfoy didn’t appear as intimidating. Of course, his continued silence helped his case as well.

He cleared his throat again, pounding a fist against his chest to alleviate the congestion. “So tell me, Granger,” he meekly began, breaking the stillness, “what brought you out tonight?”

Hermione kicked a loose pebble in the street and watched as it skipped across the bigger stones. “Well, you know, Ginny got the job at the Daily Prophet, and she guilt tripped me…”

“Oh please,” he tormented, his usual tone coming back to him. “As if Ginny Weasley could sucker you into doing something you didn’t want to do.”

She got the strange sense that he was only joking with her, but she still went for the defensive. Hermione narrowed her eyes and stared at him. “Not that you would know what it feels like, but sometimes you just do something for a friend.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I still want a better reason.”

Hermione stopped in her tracks and rolled her eyes in his direction. “What do you want to hear? That I was searching for adventure and a change of pace or something?”

Malfoy paused and smiled, apparently finding enjoyment in egging her on. “Ah, yes, that’s more like it.”

“Oh, shove off, Malfoy,” she cried back, pushing him on his shoulder, but was surprised by herself when she realized that it was more of a playful nudge than anything. Sure, it caused him to stumble backwards for a moment, but he was still smiling, and now she was too.

“If my reason is so subpar, then what brought you out tonight?” Hermione asked, actually somewhat curious to hear his response.

Malfoy shrugged. “Daphne and I hadn’t seen each other in a few months since I had quite the nasty break up with her sister. Turns out she has a meaner right hook than you, Granger.” He brushed two fingers along the edge of his nose at the memory. “Yet somehow, I reckon I still have better taste in perspective partners than you, though.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Hermione barked, any part of her starting to feel comfortable around Malfoy suddenly vanishing as her defenses quickly rebuilt themselves. If that git thought for a single moment that his taste was superior because he only dated pure-bloods from “sacred” families then she’d have to remind him just how strong her right hook could be!

Malfoy looked on with amusement as Hermione bunched her hand into a fist in anticipation. “No need to get your wand in a knot, Granger! You know very well how I feel about Freckle Face. But you shouldn’t have bothered with that Christopher bloke.”

Hermione’s heart went racing and the blood rushed to her face. “Look Malfoy, just because I’m Muggle-born and he’s a wizard doesn’t mean…”

“Oh, calm down, Granger!” Malfoy interrupted with a shout. “Merlin’s beard, you sure do think you know everything don’t you?” He paced towards her, irritation spreading across his face. “Presuming that I won’t agree with you on elf reform? Believing that I won’t understand the need to remove oneself sometimes? And now this? Did it ever cross your brilliant mind that the reason you find me so ‘intriguing’ is because I contradict some preconceived notion you still have about me from six years ago?”

Hermione’s heart was still beating fast and her chest rose and fell in time with her pulse. “Then what pray tell did you supposedly mean?” she snarled through gritted teeth.

“That the fool was way below your intelligence level!” Malfoy bellowed. “You need someone challenging, Granger! Someone more complex, who will actually cause you to think!”

Hermione wasn’t quite sure what snapped inside of her at that moment, but as soon as he said it, her brain shut down and the final glass of firewhisky kicked in at full force. She was always one who thought through every action prior to doing so, but tonight seemed to be the exception.

Within an instant, her hands her were pressed against his cheeks and her lips connected with his. She closed her eyes tight and counted to three before her brain rebooted and realized what she had just done. Her eyes shot open and met the grey pair already staring directly at her.

As quickly as it had begun, Hermione removed herself, taking three step backs, but for each pace she took, Malfoy took another tracing her path. The event of the past minute flashed in her memory. She was usually smarter than this! What had she been thinking? Kissing Malfoy? She knew exactly what he thought of her! Sure, he had been relatively pleasant tonight, all things considered, but to interpret it the way she had?

She turned to face away from Malfoy and began walking back towards the Leaky Cauldron at a quicker pace, starting to regret the irrational action, but Malfoy caught her hand, and pulled her back in. Keeping one hand latched to her own and reaching the other behind her head, he brought her in for another kiss.

This time, it was Hermione who kept her eyes open with shock. Shocked that Malfoy had voluntarily kissed her again. Shocked that his lips were soft and welcoming. Shocked that she enjoyed it. She finally submitted herself and closed her eyes for just an instant before she withdrew herself.

“I need to…” she started to mumble, but Malfoy cut her off, thrashing his lips against hers once more.

He only stopped to utter himself, “Don’t back out on me now, Granger.”

He began to kiss her again, sinking his teeth into her bottom lip. The pressure made Hermione eager, and she deepened into him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Malfoy reciprocated by digging his hand beneath Hermione’s curls and upon finding her hair’s base, gripped tightly so that her roots hurt ever so gently. Hermione let out a soft moan into his mouth, causing him to tug harder, pulling her head back in the process.

“Come back to my place,” he whispered in her ear, and Hermione froze up. She withdrew herself from his touch, reality catching up to her again. But there was something in the way that he was looking at her that made her feel like she should stay for some reason. Her brain fought for common sense to kick in, to tell her no, to go back to the Leaky Cauldron, but her inhibitions had been lowered too far at this point.

“What about Ginny?” Hermione muttered.

Malfoy gathered a handful of her robes, drawing her nearer, and interspersed kisses along her neck. “Daphne’s still there,” he rationalized.

Hermione pushed him back. “But she’ll want to know where I am.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “You’re a grown woman, Granger. At this point, she probably assumes that you decided to go home to your stupid cat.”

“His name is Crookshanks.”

“Fine. You went home to Crookshanks. Satisfied?”

Malfoy outstretched his hand, and Hermione knew that if she latched on, he would apparate them back to his place. She looked back over her shoulder and the dim light of the Leaky Cauldron on the opposite side of Diagon Alley. Ginny was probably still in there, continuing to celebrate her new job, and Hermione was supposed to be there with her. But it had also been Ginny who had insisted on Hermione going home with someone that night. So in a way she was still honoring her friend’s wishes.

Hermione looked down at Malfoy’s hand and then back up at him. His eyebrows were raised and he cocked his head, expressing his growing frustration as Hermione continued to contemplate her choices.

She grabbed his hand and hoped it wouldn’t be a mistake.

 

 

They landed with a bit of a tumble and Hermione latched onto Malfoy’s shoulders to prevent herself from completely toppling over. She quickly picked herself up and looked around at her surroundings and was instantly relieved. In her rash decision to go home with Malfoy, she hadn’t considered the heavy implication of where his home was. Or rather, apparently used to be. 

“This isn’t Malfoy Manor,” she blurted out.

“Imagine that Granger. In six years, I managed to move out of my parents’ place,” Malfoy scoffed. “Now if you’re done with your inane commentary, let’s cut the chit chat.”

Before Hermione could utter another sound, he slammed her against a wall and his lips crashed onto her with fierce craving. She had only barely begun kissing him back when his hands traced down her face to on top of her chest. Without breaking contact, he began tampering with the latch of her robes, releasing its hold and urgently shoving the fabric off her shoulders and onto the floor. Not wasting a moment, he maneuvered his hands to her breasts, grabbing their mass in their entirety. 

Hermione knocked her head back, accidentally slamming it against the wall in the process, but her groan was obstructed by Malfoy’s ever-present lips. Malfoy barely seemed to notice as he continued his ravenousness. Her heart sped as she felt his cool hands dip underneath her shirt and inch the fabric up over her shoulders until her top was completely off and discarded halfway across the room.

He pulled away for a moment and looked Hermione up and down, a mischievous smile stretching larger by the second. The way he was eyeing at her made her feel… naked, both metaphorically speaking and quite literally. He was still fully clothed, yet she was standing in his front entryway with nothing but her pants and bra on. She shyly slinked her arms around her stomach, feeling only slightly less exposed to his unrelenting gaze.

But there was no stopping Malfoy.

“Bedroom. Now,” he growled.

He removed Hermione’s hand from the curve of her waist and escorted her through the first door, into his dark room, barely illuminated by the minimal light provided by the early morning moon. As he pushed her inside, she crashed up against the doors of his closet, immediately locked into place by his agile body. He sunk into her neck as his hands navigated behind her, fumbling with the flimsy clasp that was the last barrier remaining between him and what she knew would be the point of no return. The dark crevices of her mind whispered that this was wrong, that it wasn’t too late for her to put her shirt back on and pretend like she had never succumbed to the temptation.

But she had.

The fabric slacked and Malfoy practically ripped the loose lingerie from her body. Hermione felt the first wave of passion as Malfoy suckled her sensitive breasts as his fingers desperately toyed with the fastening on his own robes.

“Fuck, Granger, I’m not the only one doing the work here,” he fired, lifting his head off her chest for a tortuous moment, standing back up to glare at her.

Hermione’s fingers fumbled as she stretched out for his robes, finally releasing him from the outermost layer of clothing. Malfoy responded by lunging into her, their foreheads pressed together as he reached for the button of her pants with his heavy breath panting down on her. She instinctively latched onto his wrists, blocking any further progress.

Granger,” he hissed with frustration.

“No,” she whispered in his ear as she removed his hands from her waist and let go once they were rested by his sides. “Not until you’re properly undressed.”

Malfoy’s smirk returned as Hermione fiddled with the topmost button of his shirt. She battled with the opening, trying to carefully slip the button through the hole, but her semi-blurred vision wasn’t doing her any favors.

“Screw it, Granger,” he snapped, taking command of the action and briskly undid each button one by one until he yanked the fabric prison off his chest. Hermione reclaimed his arms and stretched them above his head so she could easily slide his undershirt off. As she lifted the shirt, she revealed his sturdy torso, resisting the impulse to run her hands across his pecs.

Finally free of his shirt, Malfoy swiftly returned to the clasp of her pants as Hermione kicked off her flats. Finding success, he shoved them down the length of her legs, letting his body sink down with it. He paused for a moment as he rested his head on her stomach, humming pleasantly at the sight of what was awaiting him. He traced a single finger over her knickers, soaking in her wetness as a new surge of intimacy started to quiver inside of her.

And suddenly, Hermione didn’t resist any further. It had been too long since she had been with anyone other than Ron, and if it was Malfoy, so be it.

She stepped out of the legs of her pants, and pushed his body off of her, navigating him to the bed. He sat down on the edge and hastily removed his own shoes. As he sat up, Hermione forced his back onto the comforter and tugged his pants off his body. Left with nothing but their underwear on, Hermione pleasingly observed that Malfoy already seemed more than ready.

Hermione settled on top of him, straddling him on either side and ran the palm of her hand up the inner side of his thighs and up the tented portion of his boxers.

“Fuck,” he moaned through faint breath. “Fuck, fuck,” he cried with more urgency. “Get them off quick, Granger.”

Hermione slid the last article of clothing off his body and then removed her own, officially leaving nothing to the imagination. Malfoy propped himself up and observed her body, cherishing the sight before him. He ever so slightly shook his head as his smug expression shimmered in the dim glow from the window.

She reached down and grasped his length, causing him to arch his head back in the process as she gave it three firm pumps. He looked back up at Hermione, and she gave him an affirmative nod as she shifted her body so that she was now just barely above him. She clamped onto his shoulders as he took control and guided himself into her opening, sinking farther in with each passing second.

She let out a gasp when he had entirely sheathed himself inside of her, the pure sensation causing a release of bliss. Never before had she felt anything quite like it. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but he was different from Ron. Good different. She felt herself contracting around him without a single additional movement. She lifted herself once and slowly retracted back onto him, already feeling the slickness as she easily glided down.

He closed he eyes in the euphoria and released a slow moan as he mumbled indiscernible cries into the nothingness. “Shit,” he muttered more audibly, as a sense of panic rushed over his expression.

Malfoy abruptly flipped Hermione, now pinned beneath him on the bed. He stared down at her, no trace of lust visible in his eyes. There was nothing but carnal need as he started to bear into her, the determination of his thrusts increasing with each push. He slammed into her, shutting his eyes tightly, grunting as he repeated the process. Hermione gripped onto the covers, the fire building inside of her.

But suddenly it felt different. And this time, it wasn’t for the better. She felt… emptier. Malfoy stopped mid-thrust, and then just laid there. He ducked his head, relaxed his elbows, and unceremoniously pulled himself out of Hermione.

Malfoy muttered under his breath, and Hermione started to feel self-conscious again. She found a stray blanket on the floor and used it to cover herself as Malfoy left the bed and paced back and forth across the length of the room.

“Malfoy?” Hermione whimpered, but he ignored her.

She heard him mumble a series of scattered expletives, but he didn’t once acknowledge her.

“Mal-“

He picked his boxers up off the ground and disappeared into an adjoined bathroom, leaving Hermione alone with her thoughts.

She wasn’t quite sure what was going on with Malfoy, but one thing we certain. He hadn’t finished.

Chapter Text

Hermione counted the ticks of the passing seconds as she waited for Malfoy to emerge from the bathroom.  Each new click resonated in the otherwise still room, a steady reminder that she was there alone and naked in his bed.  She slid herself off the mattress and huddled the blanket around herself as she searched the bedroom for her discarded undergarments.

She found her knickers not too far from the foot of the bed and slipped them back on before rummaging for her bra.  It had become obscured under his dress shirt, which she haphazardly tossed aside. She stretched behind her body and rehooked the clasp, feeling only infinitesimally less vulnerable now that the most personal parts of her body were covered.

Time ticked on and she could swear Malfoy had been in there for an hour, but it couldn’t have actually been more than a few minutes, tops.  She returned to the edge of the bed and kept the blanket draped around her shoulders as she dropped her head into her hands.

In the alcohol-induced moment, sleeping with Malfoy had seemed like a good decision.  Not the best decision, but one that was supposed to at least bring her a sense of enjoyment.  And at the current moment, she was far from feeling that way.  He had been her first new partner since Ron, and in retrospect, perhaps Malfoy wasn’t the ideal person for the job.  Sex was supposed to be intimate.  It meant you could trust the person.  Well, at least to a certain extent.

But could she even trust Malfoy that much?

Did he trust her?

He hadn’t finished…

Everything had started off normally.  He hadn’t been particularly affectionate, but this was a one night stand.  It wasn’t as if she had expected it to be warm and tender. But something had changed halfway through.  He had seemed panicked, fearful.  And then he stopped.

“No…” Hermione whispered under her breath.

Her inner fears started creeping into the forefront of her mind.  They had both been drunk, that was for sure.  But what if he had started to realize what he was doing? Or rather who he was doing?  What if he still saw her in… that way?  Even if it was just subconsciously…

She tried to push the feeling aside, telling herself that she was being irrational, but once the theory poisoned her thoughts, it was inescapable.  She felt dirty.  The mere idea that she could have slept with someone who still perceived her as inferior. Filthy.

Hermione jolted up from the bed, no longer feeling comfortable in the space.  She scampered around the room, looking for her pants, but all she could find were his. Her heart started to beat faster, not knowing when Malfoy would resurface, and she wanted to at least have the decency of departing without having to confront him.  

She heard the door creak open, and she knew it was too late.  He caught her on her hands and knees on the floor, patting around for her pants.  Startled by his presence, she whipped her head in his direction, and instinctively retrieved the blanket, ensuring that the majority of her body was covered.

“Whoa there, Granger,” Malfoy teased.  “It’s not like I haven’t already seen you naked.”

But Hermione was barely listening.  By the way he was standing in the bathroom doorframe, he just so happened to be perfectly illuminated by the sliver of moonlight, the Dark Mark on her forearm blatantly visible.  How had she not noticed it before?  Hermione’s heart beat faster, absolutely certain now that she had, in deed, been naïve and misguided.  She clamored around the floor more quickly, finally found her pants, and yanked them back on.

“Granger, what are you doing?”

“I… I have to go,” she stammered, facing away from Malfoy to wipe away a single tear beginning to pool in her eye.  She knew she had to compose herself for just a few more moments while she got out of his place because there was a snowball’s chance in a dragon’s den that she was going to let Malfoy detect any sort distress or hesitation in her actions.  She scanned the floor of Malfoy’s bedroom.  “Crap, where’s my shirt?” she moped.

“It’s still in the entryway,” he answered, observing her with a sense of astonishment.  Or was that relief?

She slipped her shoes on and started heading towards the door, but Malfoy stuck up his arm, barring her exit.

“Malfoy, I need to go,” she insisted, fighting through the crack edging in her voice.

“What happened while I was in the bathroom?” Malfoy firmly commanded.  She thought she may have detected actual concern, but it must have just been her brain trying to rationalize her actions.   This was Malfoy, she reminded herself.

Hermione didn’t say a word, her focus too distracted by the mark brandishing the arm blocking her path.  Malfoy followed her gaze and quickly dropped his arm, hiding it behind his back.  He started to open his mouth, but Hermione didn’t wait to hear what he had to say.  She darted out of the room and searched for her shirt.

Malfoy barely left his room, watching her intently as Hermione tore through the entry, but she paid him no mind.  The faster she could get out of there, the better chance she had of leaving with a semblance of her dignity.

She found her shirt in a far off corner and tugged it firmly into place.  Hermione headed towards the fireplace, deciding that she was in no state to apparate safely, but she was desperate to leave and have a moment alone to fully process her evening.  As she approached, there was something, or rather someone, in her way.  Malfoy was propped up in front of the fireplace, still dressed in nothing but his boxers, holding up her robes.  Hermione outstretched her hand to reclaim them, but Malfoy jerked them in the opposite direction.

“Give them to me, Malfoy,” she asserted, grasping for her robes, but he lifted them farther out of her reach.  She was so close to escaping, and she had no tolerance for his games.

“Just tell me one thing, Granger,” he responded sharply.  Hermione crossed her arms, anticipating his question but made no promise that she would actually answer. “What the hell happened while I was in the bathroom?” he repeated, this time with more insistence.

Hermione held her ground, lips pursed and hip popped, but her eyes betrayed her resolution.  They wandered back to the Dark Mark seared into the arm holding her robes.  Malfoy tracked her stare and instantly dropped her final possession.  Hermione scrambled to pick them up, but Malfoy still didn’t move.

“So that’s what this is about?” Malfoy asked, a sour, defeated tone to his voice.

“You already got your one question,” Hermione retorted, trying to push past Malfoy, but he continued to block her path.

“And technically you didn’t answer it,” Malfoy snidely commented.

Hermione struggled to bypass him, but the tight entry made it impossible for her to leave with Malfoy in her way.  “This was a mistake,” Hermione insisted, hoping that her admission would be agreeable enough for him to let her go, but it was to no avail.

Malfoy glared at Hermione in disbelief.  “You think that that was because I still think of you as a…”

Hermione looked the other way, unable to look at him as he spoke without breaking down.

“For fuck’s sake, Granger!” Malfoy shouted.  “Did you seriously not listen to a single word I said tonight?  Or did you think that all of that was some sick ploy to get you in bed?”

Hermione jerked her head back and stared him right in the eyes, raising her voice to match his intensity.  “I wouldn’t exactly put it past you, Malfoy!”

“That’s completely sick!” Malfoy yelled, his cry piercing Hermione’s ears.

“And what? I’m supposed to believe that you, Draco Malfoy, Pure-Blood Prince, had some sort of ethical awakening and suddenly wanted to sleep with a Muggle-Born?”

Malfoy tugged at his hair as he screamed at the top of his lungs.  “It’s been six bloody years since the war ended, Granger!”

“Yet you still have to act all kind and feign friendliness whenever you see me at the Ministry!” Hermione fired back.

“Who said it was just an act?” Malfoy roared.

“Oh, please.  As if you would have any other reason to act all kind to me!  You’re probably just trying to save face and hope that everyone will just forget what you did!”

“Bloody hell, Granger, I’d settle for myself forgetting what I did!” Malfoy’s face turned a disturbing shade of red as he bunched his hand into a fist.  Even Hermione became alarmed by his reaction, but she wasn’t quite done yet.

“Well, if you’re oh so noble now, then explain what happened back there!” she exclaimed, pointing harshly back towards the bedroom.

“I’m bloody hammered!” he bellowed out, his hands thrusting into the air in utter frustration.  “Merlin’s beard, Granger!  I couldn’t…” his voice started to lower, the anger starting to dissipate as he took a pause with his words.  He knocked his head back against the wall and scrunched his face in apparent irritation.  His voice returned to a normal decibel, fading into embarrassment.  “I wasn’t able to… Fuck, don’t make me say it.  I couldn’t, you know …”

He raised his eyebrows at her, hoping she’d catch onto whatever he was alluding to, but Hermione kept looking at him confusedly, not quite sure how any of this was relevant.  She was fairly drunk, too, yet she didn’t just walk out on them!

Malfoy let out a deep sigh, banging his head on the wall a few more times for good measure.  “Shit, Granger,” Malfoy exasperated.  “I couldn’t keep it up, happy?”

Understanding hit her like a lightning bolt. “Oh!” Hermione exclaimed, the pieces of the puzzle starting to fall into place in her mind.  She paused for a moment, recalling what had happened for her to fully analyze.  “When you started getting all panicky, it was because you stopped being hard and were trying to cover it up by distracting me,” she stated, perhaps too matter-of-factly for the situation.

Malfoy’s face twisted.  “Well if you’d really like to know, I was actually trying to make myself hard again, but thank you for your kind recounting of the events. You make it all sound so romantic,” Malfoy jeered.  He stepped aside from the door and started walking back towards the bedroom.  “Now, are you ready to quit all this nonsense and come back to bed?  Or would you rather continue trying to vilify me?”

Hermione remained frozen, unsure how to respond.  Her chest rose and fell in time with the ticking clock as Malfoy awaited her response.  She felt slightly embarrassed that she had to make Malfoy so blatantly explain himself, but could he really blame her?  It wasn’t as if her fears were unjustified.  But now he wanted her to actually go back to the bedroom?  To do what?  Malfoy didn’t exactly strike her as a cuddler.  Or maybe he thought he was ready to try again.  It couldn’t exactly go worse the second time.  But neither one of those options sounded desirable.

No matter how she looked at it, one thing was undeniable.  He was Draco Malfoy and she was Hermione Granger. They had a history.  And it wasn’t a pleasant one.  It was best to just call it a night and for them to both move on with their lives.

“I’m actually going to go,” Hermione whispered.  “We still shouldn’t have done it,” she added meekly.

Malfoy closed his eyes and scoffed as he shook his head.  “Say whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better, Granger.”

He moved away from the fireplace and handed her the box filled the Floo powder.  She gave him a slight smile as she took a handful and called for home, hoping to Godric, Rowena, Helga, and Merlin that she wouldn’t run into him at the Ministry any time soon.

 

Hermione woke up the next morning to a harsh pounding on her front door.  She looked at the time and noticed it was already half past nine.  She groaned at the pulsing throbs in her head and reached for the Tylenol and glass of water she had preemptively laid out for herself.  Most wizards insisted on hangover potions, but those had always made her feel queasy.  Some things were better done the Muggle way.

The pounding on her door persisted and Hermione had half a heart to muffle the noise with her pillow and sleep off the hangover well into the afternoon.  Whoever it was could wait.  Yet the pounding thumped on.  Hermione reached her hand onto her bedside table for her wand to cast a silencing spell, but it wasn’t in its usual spot. Resigning to the fact that her morning visitor wasn’t going to leave, Hermione begrudgingly shuffled out of bed and headed towards her door.

Another pound.

“I’m coming,” Hermione said in a raised voice.  Much louder would have just made her own head hurt even more.

Hermione opened the door and was nearly knocked over as Ginny torpedoed into the room.

“I swear I’ve been knocking for twenty minutes!” she exclaimed, heading straight to Hermione’s kitchen, immediately making herself at home.

“Why are you here so early?” Hermione probed as she slumped onto her sofa, massaging her temples to alleviate at least some of the pain.  It was too early in the morning to be interactive with such a chipper Ginny.

Ginny opened the cabinets and pulled out two glasses and began to fill them with water from the sink.  “Well, I figured you weren’t actually going to make it to the Ministry this morning given your night last night and thought you might want some company.”

The two glasses now full, Ginny joined Hermione on the couch and handed her one of the glasses of water, which she happily accepted.  She took two sips of it, but hesitantly put it down when she noticed that Ginny was staring at her with a massive grin.

“Is there something wrong with the way that I drink my water?” Hermione asked.

Ginny knocked Hermione in the shoulder.  “No, there’s not anything wrong with how you drink your water!”  Ginny raised her eyebrows at Hermione expectantly, but Hermione just looked back at her in confusion.

“Then, why are you…”

“Are you seriously not going to tell me?” Ginny nagged.  She perched herself up on the sofa and tucked her legs underneath her so that she properly faced Hermione.

“Tell you…”

“About last night!”

Hermione let out an internal groan as the memories of last night came rushing back to her.  In her early morning hangover struggle, she had managed to suppress any thoughts of the night before for a grand total of around seven minutes.  The mere flashes of images in her mind made her head pound again. But what exactly did Ginny know?  Hermione decided it was best to start off playing dumb.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hermione protested, but as she expected, Ginny dismissed her feigned innocence.

“Oh come off it, Hermione!” Ginny disputed.  “After I couldn’t find you at the Leaky Cauldron, I came back here, and when Alohamora didn’t work, I used your spare key…”

“That’s just for emergencies!”

“Well I didn’t know where you were so it was kinda an emergency!” Ginny rashly justified.  “Anyway, Crookshank’s water was empty and you weren’t in your room, so…” Ginny smiled at Hermione and looked at her hopefully.

“So, what?”

“So, tell me about it!” Ginny pressed.  “Who’s the lucky man?”

Hermione felt her lungs contract as she held her breath at the question.  Well at least all Ginny knew was that she left with someone last night.  She could only imagine how Ginny would react if she knew it had been Malfoy!  Someone would definitely be on the receiving end of a nasty hex, and Hermione wasn’t willing to wager that she wouldn’t be the victim.

“I, um, went back and gave Christopher a second chance,” Hermione lied.

Ginny raised a single eyebrow at Hermione in suspicion.  “I thought you said he was a bore?”

“That was Malfoy, not me,” Hermione promptly corrected.  “I just said that all he would talk about was the war, but, um, we got to talking again and got past all that.” Hermione could feel her pulse increasing at alarming speed hoping that her deceit was believable enough.  Across the sofa, Ginny was narrowing her eyes, and Hermione couldn’t help but fear that Ginny had seen right through the fabrication.

But Ginny shrugged her shoulders, seeming to erase any questions.  “Works for me if it works for you.”  Hermione released a slight sigh as Ginny scooted closer to her on the couch.  “So tell me about it!  Just as experienced as I expected?”

“Ginny!”

“What!” she objected.  “I don’t get to do these things anymore, so I have to live vicariously!  Was it good?  Better than Ron?  Wait… don’t answer that one.  Do you think you’ll see him again?”

Ginny leaned in close, eagerly anticipating Hermione’s answers.  But Hermione honestly had nothing to report back.  It wasn’t as if Hermione was going to gush over Malfoy!   There wasn’t even anything to gush about.  It had been… confusing.  Things escalated quickly, she made an impulsive decision to go back to his place, and it didn’t end… as hoped.

Had it been the best decision?  Probably not.  But at least there didn’t seem be any negative repercussions from it. Even so, it was still probably for the best if no one found out.  It was safe to bet that Malfoy wouldn’t tell anyone about their night.  He might have tried assuring her that he was fine sleeping with Muggle-borns, but she doubted that some of his friends or family would approve.  Plus, if Hermione thought Ginny’s reaction would be bad, that would pale in comparison to Harry’s or even Ron’s.  The fewer people who knew about it, the better.  And two was already plenty.  She had quite literally slept with the enemy.

Or former enemy?  Malfoy had seemed to be pretty adamant in trying to convince her of the latter.  And she had to admit that he had made a pretty convincing case. Back at school, he would barely even acknowledge her, yet their conversations last night had been mildly pleasant.  Heated and still filled with disagreements, but he had never called her Mudblood.  That was at least modicum proof that he wasn’t as much of a cockroach as he used to be.  Maybe now he was just a flobberworm.  Not as foul and loathsome as a cockroach, but still not something that one would choose to interact with.

Hermione!” Ginny snapped.

“I did it again, didn’t I?” Hermione sighed apologetically.

“Yes.  But don’t think that got you out of answering the question,” Ginny warned.  “How was it?”

Hermione smiled to herself at Ginny’s persistence.  So why not indulge her a bit?  While Hermione wasn’t going to admit that it had been Malfoy, there certainly wasn’t any harm in talking about what had occurred the night before.  Ginny would just assume it was Christopher.

“If I’m being honest, not great,” Hermione stated simply.

Ginny gave a half serious frown.  “Small dick?”  Hermione grabbed a pillow and threw it the other’s direction, hitting Ginny squarely in the chest, who was already laughing. “Fine, fine!  Just a joke! Then what was the issue?”

Hermione paused for a moment to piece her thoughts together and determine how to address it as tastefully as possible.  “Has Harry ever… not finished before?” Hermione cautiously asked.

Ginny covered her mouth, obscuring a smile, but a few strangled laughs broke through the cracks in her fingers. Hermione grabbed another pillow, but Ginny flinched before Hermione even had the opportunity to chuck it at her.

“I’m gonna take that as a yes,” Hermione teased.

Ginny kept laughing.  “I mean, it happens! Disappointing, but not the worst thing that could happen.  The poor guy was probably just drunk!  It is called whiskey dick, after all.”

“I don’t think that’s the proper medical terminology,” Hermione corrected.

Ginny rolled her eyes, disregarding Hermione’s input. “Psh, don’t get technical.  Some guys just under perform while under the influence.”

Hermione gave Ginny a bit of a side eye for her word choice, but had to admit that it did make her feel better that Malfoy probably wasn’t lying when he blamed it on his drunkenness.  Although, Hermione could do without the knowledge that it had happened to Harry before, too.  In all her years with Ron, she supposed she never slept with him when they were drunk.  When they had rarely had been, she would typically pass out on their bed before they even made the attempt.

“You know, actually, there is another potential reason,” Ginny flippantly added, but Hermione did not respond so casually.

“Like what?” Hermione quickly asked.

“Well, he could have been so nervous because it was you that he psyched himself out!” Ginny explained.  “In which case, it’s sort of a compliment in an odd sort of way.”

“You’re making that one up,” Hermione dismissed.

“Honest I’m not!” Ginny defended.  “Although I can’t speak on personal experience for that one.”

“Oh, please.  You can’t seriously make me believe that Mal- Christopher couldn’t keep it up because he was nervous!”

“Completely serious!” Ginny avowed.  “Christopher was downright flabbergasted when he saw that it was you talking to him!  And can you blame him?  Half the wizards in the Leaky Cauldron would have dueled for the chance to talk to you.” Ginny let out a slight snort thinking back to the previous evening.  “Hell, there were moments last night that I could have sworn that even Malfoy was staring at you.”

Hermione choked on her sip of water and immediately propped up at the mention of his name.  “What?”

“Crazy, right?” Ginny laughed.  “But even you must have noticed how often he kept coming up to you.  And then I swear that when you were at the bar talking to Christopher, I caught him checking you out.”

“Yeah, crazy,” Hermione faintly agreed, but she could feel her cheeks slightly heat up at the idea of Malfoy being jealous of her talking with another man.

Snap out of it, Hermione commanded herself. This is Malfoy we are talking about! There was no use thinking about him more than she had to.  They had a drunken hook up, and that’s it.  The best course of action was to just not think about him or what had happened.  Hopefully that would be the last mention of Malfoy for the morning. Or for the rest of the week, or even month, if Hermione was lucky.  The greater distance she could have before his name came up again, the less likely the truth would come out.

Hermione looked at the time and it was already past ten in the morning at this point.  She seriously needed to get to her office if she wanted to be productive at all today.  Plus, it served as a pretty valid excuse to get out of this conversation before anything slipped.

“Actually, Ginny, I’m going to head to the Ministry now,” Hermione began, collecting the two now empty water glasses and bringing them back to the kitchen.

“I haven’t even gotten any of the sordid details!” Ginny objected.

“You’ve already gotten plenty of details!” Hermione countered.  “Regardless, if I can get this draft of legislation in first thing Monday morning, Kingsley promised to personally find time to read it over himself.”  She desperately wanted this new proposal to pass, and if the Minister of Magic was offering to help, she wasn’t going to squander the opportunity.  The work also had the added benefit of being a good distraction from anything Malfoy related.

Ginny rolled her eyes.  “Merlin, I hope I won’t have to work on weekends as much as you.  But don’t think we’re done talking about this!” Ginny said.  “Drinks Monday after work?”  Hermione began to protest, but Ginny cut her off.  “Trick question. You’ll be there.  It’s my first day, and I want to celebrate.”

“I thought we celebrated last night!” Hermione retorted.

“Last night we celebrated me getting the job.  Monday we celebrate me doing the job.”

Hermione couldn’t help but wrinkle her nose at Ginny’s absurd specification, but naturally she’d still go.  At least this celebration wouldn’t involve running into Malfoy. “Fine, I’ll be there.”

“Perfect!” Ginny announced as she stood up from her seat on the sofa, making her way towards the door.  “Harry will be back by then, and I'll invite Daphne, too. I'll owl you tomorrow with details.”

The friends parted ways, and Hermione took a moment to release a sigh of relief once the door clicked shut.  Ginny was relentless when it came to her questioning, but luckily Hermione was fairly quick on her feet.  She’d have to keep up with the Christopher façade for a little bit longer, but hopefully Ginny would drop it after Monday. Then, Hermione would be able to go back to her typical routine and forget that Malfoy ever happened.

It was just simpler that way.

Hermione went back into her room and grabbed a few books off one of her shelves that she thought might be useful in drafting her legislation and shoved them firmly into her already overflowing work bag. She then returned to her bedside table to find her wand, concluding that she must have accidentally knocked it off the surface over the course of the night. She crouched onto the floor and looked on either side, under her bed, and behind the table, but it wasn’t in any of those spots.

She went back into the kitchen. Perhaps she had left it on the counter when locating the Tylenol last night. But it wasn’t there either. Or on the kitchen table. Or wedged between sofa cushions. Or anywhere in her flat for that matter.

Hermione tried to think back to when the last time she used her wand was and let out a long groan when it came back to her. She could remember using it at Daphne’s and was fairly certain she had felt it in her robes pocket when she and Malfoy had strolled down Diagon Alley.  That left one option.  Her wand must have fallen out of her robes at some point while she was being, well, disrobed.

So much for hoping to not see Malfoy again.

Chapter Text

The rest of the weekend proceeded just as uneventfully as Hermione had wished it would have in the first place. After three earlier drafts, Hermione put the finishing touches on the fourth copy of her house elf legislation proposal and left it on Kingsley’s desk by 7pm Saturday night. Yes, that meant that she had essentially put in an additional full day of work, but she had found it relaxing and satisfying after the hangover eventually faded. And it wasn’t every day that she had the chance for the Minister himself to review her work.

When she got home, Hermione settled into her old, broken in armchair and read her book while Crookshanks nuzzled on her lap, exactly how she really wanted to have spent her Friday night. At least she was getting to do it eventually.

Saturday bled into Sunday and Hermione still ignored the main issue at hand. A quill and parchment didn’t require a wand and neither did many of the things she had to do at home. She had made it eleven years without a wand, so a couple days without one wasn’t the end of the world. But come Monday morning, Hermione knew that she would inevitably have to interact with Malfoy. The less, the better, though.

Hermione returned to the Ministry at promptly 8:54 am Monday morning and went straight to her own office and shut the door. She pulled back her chair, grabbed a pale-violet piece of parchment, and dipped her quill into the canister of ink. The quill scratched across the paper as she scribed instructions for Malfoy to follow.

“I’ll be in my office until 6pm. Have an assistant drop it off before then.”

The words were curt as to not leave much room for interpretation from him. Dear Merlin, she hoped he understood that she was referring to her wand. She’d be more specific, but she didn’t want to risk anyone intercepting the message and getting any ideas. “It” could refer to anything. Someone could just assume they were working on some new legislation together. It wasn’t as if it was unheard of for their departments to collaborate. Magical Creatures were often brought across country borders and they needed assistance from the Department of International Magical Cooperation from time to time. But these were luckily always small projects. Nothing like the MACUSA disaster of 1926!

She read over her note one more time, and feeling satisfied, she folded the parchment the old fashioned way, manually creasing it into shaped. Hermione proceeded back to the entrance of her office and opened the door, releasing the origami aeroplane into the air. The enchanted parchment took control, and Hermione watched as it glided through the air and swerved around the corner towards the Department of International Magical Cooperation.

No more than thirty minutes later, Hermione heard a knock on her door and she quickly dropped her quill and rushed to the door. She knew it was early in the morning, but she hoped that perhaps Kingsley had already found time to provide her feedback. If he had, she’d still have plenty of time to revise it again before her interdepartmental proposal meeting on Friday! Or maybe Malfoy had sent someone over with her wand. She certainly wouldn’t complain about being able to do spells again. While some things were better done the Muggle way, other things were just easier the Magical way.

Hermione opened up the door and nearly slammed it in his face, but he blocked it before it shut.

“I told you to send an assistant,” Hermione grimaced, arms crossed indignation.

Malfoy sauntered into her office, clearly unfazed by her lack of welcome. He looked around her office, soaking in his surroundings as he went. Hermione observed through narrowed eyes as he cavalierly approached her bookshelf and perused the titles. Just seeing him again made Hermione feel uneasy. He looked just as self-assured and infuriatingly yet effortlessly attractive as he always did, but the latter was obscured through his habitual arrogantness. How dare he so blatantly disregard her wishes! Her heart was starting to beat faster, and she wanted to tell herself it was only out of anger, but as she watched his fingers travel across the spines of the books, she couldn’t resist recalling how it had felt to have them tracing the curves of her body.

Fortunately, her reverie was promptly dismissed when the pompous prick started talking again. “I figured you didn’t want me to explain how I became in possession of your wand in the first place,” he bluntly justified, a coy smile already creeping on the edges of his lips.

Hermione sneered, unenthused by his response. “Then you should have put it in a box or something,” she snapped back. This was not how her morning was supposed to go! All she wanted was to get her wand back without interacting with him. Was that honestly too much to ask for? But now she was forced to confront him and pretend that she wasn’t getting mildly distracted by the strand of white blonde hair falling in front of his eyes. It was so much easier to ignore the events of the weekend when the object of her drunken attraction wasn’t strutting around in front of her!

“Oh, yes, Granger,” Malfoy challenged. “Because I keep a plethora of extra empty boxes lying around in my office just for this occasion.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, trying not to let his insolence strike too much of a nerve with her. To the best of her memory, which was quite strong by the way, they had all mastered transfiguring objects into boxes back in fifth year! But she couldn’t afford spending any additional time arguing with Malfoy than was necessary. She needed to stay composed. Deal with him properly so that he would return her wand and be on his way, and she wouldn’t have to spend another confusing moment in his presence. She thrust out her hand in his direction. “Whatever, Malfoy,” she seethed. “Just give it to me.”

Malfoy dug into his pocket, revealing her wand, and stuck it out for Hermione to reclaim. She was mere millimeters away when he snapped it back.

“You didn’t seriously think I was just going to hand it over so easily, did you Granger?” he provoked with a sly grin spreading across his face.

Hermione ran her palms against her face and strained her head back. Of course Malfoy wasn’t going to let this be a simple ordeal. Since when were things with Malfoy ever easy? “What do you want, Malfoy?” Hermione grumbled.

He placed her wand back into his pocket and ambled towards her with an air of determination. “On Friday…”

“Good Godric, we’re not seriously discussing this,” Hermione interrupted with disbelief. This was her worst nightmare! She had enough wild thoughts running through her mind as is without having to actually discuss any of it with Malfoy!

On Friday,” Malfoy repeated more sternly, “you said that it was a mistake…”

“Yes, I recall,” Hermione stated simply. Wouldn’t it just be easier if both of them pretended it never happened? Drunk mistakes happen! Oh, but the longer he stood there, the more she questioned if it truly was a mistake. Yes, yes it was, she assured herself.

“Why?”

Hermione jerked her head and scrunched her eyebrows. Why? He was asking why? Malfoy was staring back at her, actually waiting for her to respond. Wasn’t “why” obvious enough? She might be attracted to him, but that couldn’t blind her from their history.

“I hardly think I have to explain that to you,” Hermione sharply retorted, hoping that it would be enough for him to finally stop with his questioning. But apparently, it was not.

Malfoy scoffed. “And I didn’t think I’d have to explain to you what limp dick is,” he shot back. “So why don’t you be a good girl, Granger, and just humor me.”

Hermione resisted the urge to berate him for his condescending words, so she clenched her fist to channel her frustration instead. He had to understand. They couldn’t proceed. “You’re you and I’m me,” she clearly enunciated. “It’s as simple as that.”

“That tells me absolutely nothing,” Malfoy starkly criticized. He glared at her resolutely, waiting for a response, only making Hermione more annoyed.  

Why couldn’t he just see! Or did he just assume that he had the right to know what was going on inside her head? He wanted to know why? Oh, she knew why. Because despite their present, she couldn’t pretend like what happened in their past didn’t happen! Because while it was six years ago for him, it still felt like yesterday to her! Because while he had made bad choices, she had been the one targeted. And she hadn’t forgotten what side he was on. 

But she wasn’t going to tell him that.

She shook her head back and forth. “It tells you enough,” was all she said. She didn’t know what else she could actually articulate to him, but it took more than one night for her to forget seven years. It would just be easier if he left. “Now, please leave, so I can return to work."

Malfoy looked at her for just a moment longer, as if he was deciding whether or not to protest further, but Hermione didn’t give him the chance. She returned to her desk and sunk into her seat, cradling her head in her hands, signaling that she, for one, was done with the conversation. The subtle clacking sound on her desk let her know that Malfoy had set down her wand and she peeked through her fingers just to confirm. 

Through the slit in her fingers, she could see that Malfoy was still looking at her. His face was stern, but there appeared to be just a glimmer of longing in his eyes. She quickly shut her fingers to block the view. She didn’t want to see more of him than she had to. It was too much. But she couldn’t shake the image from her head. As she heard the door swing open, she didn’t raise her head to watch him go, but after several seconds, she didn’t hear it close. She brought her head back up, and Malfoy was still standing in the door frame, watching her intently.

When their eyes met, he averted his gaze, and his Adam’s apple discernibly rose and fell with a gulp. After a second, he looked back at her. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes for a moment, seeming to consider something. He reopened them but still avoided her eyes. “Your new proposal is good, by the way,” he quickly stated as he turned from her and closed the door behind him.

Hermione stared blankly at the brown swirls of the door at the place that Malfoy had just been. Her brain took a moment to process, but then her heart started to speed up. She leapt from her seat, abruptly pushing her chair back from behind her and grabbing her wand, and burst the door open.  

Around her, the rest of the Ministry was already aflutter with dozens of witches and wizards proceeding with their business. She weaved her way through the crowds and scanned for white blonde hair. In her haste, she nearly toppled over a wizard holding a handful of scrolls, but Hermione quickly apologized to him as she dashed down the hall and around the corner.

And then, not too far in the distance, she finally caught sight of him. 

“Malfoy!” she shouted, but her call got lost in the surrounding commotion. She picked up her pace, and within a few more seconds, she was close enough that she could reach him. “Malfoy!” she cried again, grabbing onto his wrist in the process.

He first looked down at her hand clamped around him, and then up at her. He certainly didn’t seem overly pleased to see her again so soon. His eyebrows were furrowed and his chest rose in a deep breath as his face revealed a scowl. He tried to yank his wrist away, but Hermione only latched on tighter.

“So now you want to talk to me?” he snarled.

Hermione ignored his question. That wasn’t the point. “How did you read my proposal?” Hermione pressed. She didn’t understand. She hadn’t shown it to anyone. Not even the other witches and wizards in her office. It wasn’t as if the Ministry was bustling with people on a Saturday. And then she had immediately put it on Kingsley’s desk. It just didn’t add up.

She felt Malfoy’s wrist wiggle free and slip out of her grasp. In the distraction of her thoughts, he had taken advantage of her slackened grip. He still looked irritated with her, but it wasn’t as if that was something new between the two of them. Yet it still felt like some internal part of her was bruised from the harsh impact of his glare.

His upper lip twitched as he looked around them. Some passing witches and wizards gave them skeptical glances, but it wasn’t anything more than usual. It did seem to irk Malfoy to a certain extent, though. “Look, Granger,” he sneered. “I’m not discussing this here.”  He started to walk away, but Hermione wasn’t going to let him get out of this.

She paced up next to him, and reclaimed his wrist, clamping on with all her strength as to not let him escape this time, and dragged him into the first door she found. To her dismay, it was an old cramped supply room that didn’t leave much space for the two of them, but it would have to work. Hermione took out her wand and whispered Colloportus, locking them into the small locale.

“Careful, Granger, or people will think we’re doing it in here,” Malfoy jeered, as always, not passing up the opportunity to agitate Hermione.

She considered slapping him across the face, but figured it best to ignore the comment. He was probably just trying to get a rise out of her, anyway. And she had a purpose for bringing him in there.

How did you read my proposal?” she reiterated.  

Malfoy crossed his arms and leaned his back against the shelving lining the wall, the smug smirk already starting to reappear on his features. “Ah, now you’re the one with all the questions, aren’t you, Granger? See how frustrating it is when someone won’t tell you what you want?”

“This is different!” Hermione cried. “This is work related! And has absolutely nothing to do with… with what we did Friday!”

He let out a short laugh at her rationale, pushing himself off the shelving and taking a step closer to her. “And who said the two are unrelated?”

“Of course they’re unrelated!”  Hermione lashed out, trying not to get distracted as he took yet another step towards her, the space between them shrinking to an uncomfortable amount. “One is my job and then other is… the other is something else entirely,” she stammered.

“Oh, but don’t kid yourself, Granger.” He smirked as he paced up to her until he was close enough for her to feel his hot breath on her own skin, and her heart raced at the proximity. “What caused you to chase after me, huh? Have you consider that?”

“I just want to know how you read my proposal!” she rashly reasoned, not wanting to entertain the thought that she had done so for any other purpose. Hermione’s mouth was starting to run dry, yet she still felt the need to swallow after her statement. She had to wipe the sweat that was starting to accumulate on her palms as well. He needed to answer her soon. She had already spent too much time with him this morning, and it was seriously starting to affect her in ways that she wasn’t thrilled about.

He took a step forward as Hermione stepped away, until she was backed against the other set of shelving. “That may have been a small part of it, Granger, but admit it. You’re curious.”  

“Come off it, Malfoy,” Hermione spat, even if her body was telling her otherwise. “You do think you’re such hot stuff, don’t you?”

“You seemed to think so Friday night,” he toyed.

“I thought I told you we were done discussing what happened Friday!” Hermione fumed.

“You might be, but I’m not,” Malfoy asserted, propping his arm against the shelves, officially closing Hermione in with his body. “Just admit it, Granger. There’s a part of you that’s still intrigued by me.”  

Oh gods, she was definitely still intrigued, even if she didn’t want to be. He made her absolutely furious, but she could swear her heart was about to beat out of her chest. It only got worse as he leaned in and she could feel his cheek brush up against hers as he whispered into her ear, “You’re just craving to know how it is that I agree with you. Dying to know why I read it in the first place.”

She closed her eyes as his words tickled her eardrums but promptly snapped out of it. She shoved him back off of her. “You’re incorrigible, Malfoy.”

But Malfoy was undeterred. “Don't say you’re not the least a bit flattered, Granger.”

Hermione would never admit such a thing! And since when had he managed to get the upper hand in this conversation? She brought him in there, and it was time that he remembered that. “You never answered my question,” she argued, swiftly changing the topic.

“I never claimed I would,” he retorted as if it was no sweat off his brow.

Honestly, did everything with him have to be so exasperating? But curiosity had taken over her. She had to know. “I’ll answer yours if you answer mine,” Hermione compromised. She somewhat doubted whether he would take the bait, but as much as he was trying to hide it, she knew that Malfoy was just as yearning for answers as she was.

Malfoy paused for a moment to contemplate her offer. He crossed his arms and looked her up and down like he was sizing her up for a Quidditch match. She focused her eyes at him to see if he would waver, but he did not flinch. And when he gave a subtle nod and smirked, Hermione knew she had finally won. A minor victory, but satisfying nonetheless.  

“Deal,” Malfoy agreed, straightening his posture to address her. “Since you so desperately want to know, I had a meeting with Kingsley first thing this morning. When I noticed your proposal on his desk, I made a copy when he wasn’t looking.”  Hermione opened her mouth in shock, but that only caused Malfoy to be even cockier about his action. “If you didn’t want people reading it, you shouldn’t have left it lying in a place that people could so easily get ahold of it.”  He finished his confession, and then had the audacity to wink at her as if stealing something off the Minister of Magic’s desk was as insignificant as misplacing a single beetle’s eye!  

“You know very well that you shouldn’t be poking around at things on the Minister’s desk!” Hermione barked, but Malfoy curtly brushed it away. He truly was insufferable, yet as much as she hated to say it, his explanation was surprisingly believable. He would have no other way of knowing that Kingsley had the draft of her legislation otherwise. There was still so much more she wanted to know, though. “Why were you meeting with Kingsley, anyway?” she pressed.

“That’s not relevant,” Malfoy dismissed, narrowing in on her. “You had your question. Now answer mine.”

“You’ll have your chance. I’m not nearly done,” Hermione assured him. She’d get to his question eventually. Maybe. If he cooperated. “Why did you read it?”

Malfoy shrugged. “It seemed more interesting than my meeting.”

That wasn’t nearly sufficient reasoning, and he knew it! “Malfoy, ” Hermione warned. She demanded real answers.

But it didn’t seem likely that she’d be getting them. “Nice try, Granger,” Malfoy challenged in a deceivingly friendly tone. “But I believe... What were your words? Ah, yes… that ‘tells you enough.’”

Malfoy glared at Hermione with a grin and mischievous glint in his eyes, and she was forced to look away as to not get sucked into the swirling grey death traps. He was sorely mistaken if he thought he had somehow outsmarted her by throwing back her own words. If he wasn’t going to answer all her questions, then she wouldn’t fully submit to his either.

“Now it’s my turn,” Malfoy boasted, oblivious to Hermione’s intentions. “Why was Friday night a mistake?”

“Because you’re an insufferable prat who won’t answer my questions,” Hermione smartly retorted, feeling assured in her new command of the situation. She leaned back against the shelves and cocked her head with a mocking smile just to rub it in.

As expected, Malfoy wasn’t going to surrender just yet. He eased towards her, his own smirk not fading for even a moment. “Someone’s not playing fair,” he taunted, inching ever closer to her, until he was squared in front of her.    

Hermione lowered her head and faced a different direction so that he couldn’t look at her with those tempting grey eyes. She knew he was waiting for her to say something, but she was determined that her resolve would be stronger than his.

Malfoy chuckled as if all of this was just a game. “If you’re going to be stubborn, I suppose I’ll just have to guess for myself.”

He crooked his index finger under Hermione’s jaw, pulling her attention back to him. Hermione resisted at first, but the sudden soft touch of his finger made Hermione’s skin feel like it was instantly ablaze as her heart began to flutter.  

“Let’s see, Granger,” Malfoy cooed, tracing his finger along her jawline. “Is it because you find me.... infuriating?” He leaned in close so that his final word wisped into her ear and lingered just a little bit longer, sending a slight shiver down body. He pulled away and smirked at her. “Oh, but, you’ve known that for years.”

Don't fall for it, Hermione commanded herself, but it was a feeble attempt. Her defenses had been standing guard for the past half hour or so, and she wasn't sure how much more they could withstand. And as always, Malfoy wasn't making it easy.

“Or perhaps it’s because I’m a selfish prat who ardently pursues whatever he wants,” he continued to purr, grazing the curve of her torso with the back of his hand. Her breathing began to shallow as she swallowed another heavy gulp under his caress. She tried to resist, but her eyelids naturally fell shut at his seductive strokes, wanting to fully embrace their impact. As his contact slipped away, her vision returned to the smug look on Malfoy’s face, fully aware of the effect just a simple touch had on her body. “You know, if that was the reason, I wouldn’t say you were wrong,” he hissed into her ear.

His words sent a shudder throughout her entire body. She knew she should keep fighting it. Hadn’t that been what she had been trying to do all morning? But there were some things that her brain just couldn’t control anymore. It, too, had fallen victim to the dangerous desires that the rest of her body was screaming for.

He returned his treacherous fingertips to her face. His thumb grazed her cheekbone and traveled down, tracing Hermione’s lower lip. Hermione felt her stomach churn in warm excitement, her entire attention dedicated to the sensation.     

He withdrew himself, but only for a moment as he pressed his body against hers, trapping her once again between him and the shelving. This time, she didn't even feign disagreement.

“But if you ask me,” Malfoy whispered in her ear, “it’s because you’re scared of how intrigued you are by me.”

Malfoy bent down, and within an instant, their lips were reconnected and her own fingers lost their battle of willpower, latching onto his blonde locks. She tugged harder as he pushed his body closer to hers, the shelving behind them rattling in the process. All her body ached for more, savoring each stroke of his tongue against hers.  

She felt him start to recede, and she attempted to pull him back in, but his strength overpowered hers. His lips detached as he clamped down onto her bottom lip and slowly extracted himself.

He grazed his own bottom lip with the edges of his teeth and then let out a short laugh to himself. “That’s what I thought, Granger.”

She knew she should be upset with herself for surrendering to his temptation, and she'd surely have enough time in the future to scold herself for it, but at the present moment, her body was too satisfied with itself. It was totally, entirely, completely wrong, but dear Merlin, why did it feel so right?

Malfoy reached into his pocket and grabbed his wand to unlock the door, then promptly returned it to its home. “Wouldn’t want to lose this, would I?” he tormented with a grin. He proceeded to the door, and once his hand was already on the handle, he turned to face Hermione one final time. “You said you're leaving tonight at six?”

Hermione took a moment to realize he had spoken to her, and then stumbled her response, unsure why he was asking. “Yes, but-”

“Well, then,” Malfoy interrupted, “I'll see you there.”  He shot Hermione another wink and twisted the knob, leaving Hermione alone and dumbstruck in the supply room.

She took a moment to process his farewell, but did not like the results her brain had settled upon. Oh hell no. Not many situations called for profanity, but this seemed to be one. She threw her head back and banged it against the shelving. While she couldn't be certain, she had a pretty good guess. And knowing Malfoy, he had somehow found out about drinks with Ginny and was planning on crashing. Swell.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day felt as if the grains of sand in her internal hourglass were falling at an impossibly slow pace. Each minute was another torturous moment sandwiched between two unsavory events.

The morning had been anything but ideal. She had wasted nearly an hour bickering with Malfoy and then arguing some more before… before things got out of hand. She had once again fallen victim to temptation, and what was worse was that this time, she couldn't even blame it on lack of sober judgment.

When she left Friday night, she had the upper hand. He had been the one who had soiled their evening, and she was the one who had rightfully put it to an end. But after this morning, he had her practically crumbling under his touch, and he knew it.

Oh, it was infuriating! He acted as if he had her all figured out! “You’re scared of how intrigued you are by me.” Where did he get off! She wasn’t scared! Just… confused. At this point, it was impossible to deny that she was attracted to him, but he would never be able to mask his foul personality. He might have been able to feign it for a handful of scattered moments, say a few passingly nice things about her work, but then he would pull stunts like what had happened this morning and ruin all of it! What they had done was unacceptable, unjustifiable, undeniable, unavoidable… no! Wrong, wrong, wrong! If she had Friday to do over again, she would march right out his flat time and time again!

What was the deal with his insistence in knowing why she left, anyway? The stupid prat probably just needed to have his poor bruised ego healed. Verification that even when he couldn’t complete the job, he still had witches begging for more. Well dammit, she would not be one of those witches! And if she had to see him tonight, she would not, would not, engage in anything more than necessary.

At the end of the work day, Hermione packed her bag, double checked that she did in deed have her wand, and made her way towards the fireplaces in the atrium. While walking towards the lifts, she noticed that Malfoy’s entire department already seemed to have left for the day. Hopefully that meant he was long gone to somewhere, anywhere, other than the pub she, Ginny, Harry, and Daphne were going to.

Hermione arrived at the pub shortly afterwards and scanned the room for her friends. The establishment was filled with witches and wizards of various ages, all enjoying a quick pick me up after a long day, but luckily, Ginny’s hair made her pretty easy to spot. The redhead was seated at a table with only two other individuals, a woman and a shaggy black haired man. Hermione let out a massive sigh of relief at the absence of Malfoy. He had just been messing with her. The day was salvageable.

“Hermione, over here!” Ginny cried from across the room, spotting Hermione still standing in the entrance. Hermione waved back with a smile and passed through to crowd towards the table.

As Hermione approached, Ginny greeted her with a tight squeeze. “Congratulations on your first day!” Hermione beamed, pulling back from their embrace. “Already bored of a desk job?”

“No, not quite yet,” Ginny responded. “But ask me again at the end of the week.”

Harry stood up from beside Ginny and also gave Hermione a hug. “You didn’t work too hard while I was gone, did you?”

Hermione shrugged. “No more than usual. But I got my new legislation draft done!” Harry returned to his seat, and Hermione rounded the table to the empty chair. “I had to work essentially all of Saturday, but I think it’s my best yet, and tomorrow Kingsley’s..”

“Excuse you, Hermione,” Daphne interrupted in a sour note, but Hermione opted to ignore it.

“... going to return his feedback, and once he does that…”

“Hermione!” Ginny now snapped, actually getting Hermione’s attention. “That seat’s taken.” Ginny gave Hermione an apologetic frown, and it confirmed exactly what Hermione had feared. Her heart sank into her stomach, especially when she heard the suave voice behind her.

“About time you got here, Granger.”

Hermione closed her eyes and took a moment to compose herself before turning around to confront him. Perhaps when she opened her eyes, he wouldn’t be there and the past fifteen seconds would have been a sick hallucination. But as she faced him, he was no figment of her imagination. She felt a lump accumulate in her throat. Of course Malfoy was there.

His trademark smirk was already poised across his features. He shot her a wink as he took a sip from his fresh from the bar drink, but Hermione dismissed him with a huff. She stormed off to a neighboring table and grabbed an unused chair which she dragged to the farthest corner of their own table from Malfoy. It was better, but as long as she and Malfoy were in the same room, he was too close to her.

“You didn’t tell me he would be here,” Hermione harshly whispered to Ginny beside her.

“You think I invited him?” Ginny softly scorned. “Of course not. But apparently he and Daphne are a package deal or something,” she sneered.

“Great,” Hermione bemoaned, slumping back into her seat. Hermione was pleased that Ginny had found a work friend already, but was there no one better at the Daily Prophet? Someone who didn’t come with that soul sucking cockroach in tow?

Her eyes wandered across the table to Malfoy who was still staring at her with a devilish grin as he took another sip of his drink. For Godric’s sake, she hadn’t been planning on drinking that evening, but seeing she couldn’t trust herself around him either drunk or sober, she might as well get mildly buzzed to make his contemptuousness more tolerable.

“Harry, we’re grabbing a drink,” Hermione directed, not giving him much of an option as she tugged his arm and practically pulled him out of his seat. The legs of his chair began to teeter under him, but he had the good sense of giving into Hermione before he fell flat on his bum. Harry would serve as an excellent soundboard for her initial ranting prior to engaging further with Malfoy. If there was anyone else who was just as displeased by Malfoy’s presence, it was sure to be him.

Hermione pushed her way between two wizards to finagle a spot against the bar. “Two meads!” Hermione requested to the barmaid as she counted out eleven sickles from her pocket.

“I know what you’re thinking, Hermione,” Harry started off before Hermione even had the chance to begin. “And trust me, I don’t like Malfoy being here either.”

Hermione let out a scoff. That was putting it mildly. He didn’t even know the half of it! “Any chance we can place a silencing charm on him all evening without Daphne noticing?” Hermione willfully suggested.

The barmaid set down their drinks and Hermione grabbed the two glasses, handing one to Harry. “I reckon no, but even if we did, Malfoy would find a way to make his presence known regardless.”

Hermione felt her lip curve into the slightest bit of a smile for just a moment, but then proceeded to shaking her head, the irritation starting to grow the more she thought about it. After Friday, she had known running into Malfoy at the Ministry was bound to be inevitable, even if she had inadvertently expedited it through her own carelessness. But seeing him this morning had been a necessary evil! There was absolutely no reason for him to barge in on her evening other than to provoke her further.

She looked back at the table and saw Malfoy laughing about something with Daphne, not a care in the world while Hermione fumed about about his presence. “I just can’t believe that git thought that him showing up here today was acceptable! He knows perfectly well how we feel about him!”

“You don’t have to explain that to me, Hermione,” Harry said, trying to appease her. “You should have heard Ginny when Malfoy first showed up. I could have sworn that she was going to hex him into next week. Threatened to transfigure him back into a ferret if he made even one foul comment. That seemed to shut him up. He promised to play nice after that.”

“And you believe him?” Hermione spat, side eying Harry with heavy skepticism.

“Absolutely not,” Harry quickly avowed. “I’ll be keeping my hand gripped around my wand the entire night.”

Harry smiled at her, although it hardly made her feel much better. Even so, thank Merlin she had Harry because otherwise she probably would have stormed straight out of the pub. With both him and Ginny on her side, Malfoy would hopefully refrain from make too much of scene. Fat chance, though.

“I don’t trust him being here,” she growled, taking a few more sips from her drink. “Knowing him, he wants something.”

“So it’s just another Monday for Malfoy,” Harry commented, elbowing Hermione at her side to lighten her quickly deteriorating mood.

She couldn’t help but smile at his remark. “Yes, pretty much.”

They both brought the glasses of mead back to their lips in the slowly dissipating tension. Harry glanced over his shoulder at the three unlikely companions at the table and grimaced at the display. “We better head back,” he concluded, although he didn’t appear at all pleased with this idea. “Ginny’s lips are doing that thing where they twitch every few seconds. I’ve seen that look on her face before, and it usually doesn’t end well for the recipient.”

Hermione briefly chuckled, imaging a quivering Malfoy just from the mere action of Ginny withdrawing her wand. “That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world!”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to get kicked out the pub,” Harry joked as the pair proceeded back to the table.

By the time they were seated again, Hermione’s drink was already half gone. Malfoy and Daphne were still talking, but it no longer seemed as cheerful. Ginny sat there observing, the twitch on her lip continuing as the Slytherin mates carried on.

“You can’t seriously be upset about this, Daphne!” Malfoy ridiculed. He slumped back in his seat and folded his arms across his chest, completely uninterested in whatever it was that Daphne was displeased about.

Hermione turned to face Ginny and scrunched her eyebrows, looking between both Daphne and Malfoy. Ginny sighed and whispered to Hermione behind her hand. “We were just talking about Friday night when they started arguing.”

Daphne propped up, her entire body twisted so that she could address Malfoy directly. “I’m just pointing out that you and I rarely spend time together anymore,” she stated with an apathetic breeze, although this hardly appeared to be something that didn’t truly irritate her. While Hermione barely knew Daphne and couldn’t understand why anyone would be complaining about not enough time with him, she could at least sympathize with how exasperating it was to deal with Malfoy.

“Well, what did you expect?” Malfoy perched up and leaned in closer to Daphne as if her last statement had somehow struck a nerve in him. “When you’re not at work, you’re almost always with your sister, so forgive me for respecting Astoria’s wishes by not coming over anymore!”

The Gryffindor trio remained silent as their companions bickered on. Ginny still appeared aggravated by the whole ordeal, but just like Harry and Hermione, she recognized that it was probably best to let Daphne continue uninterrupted. Besides, it was sort of refreshing to see someone else argue with Malfoy for a change.

“You better have after you broke my sister’s heart!” Daphne shot back, raising her voice for the first time. “I fully understand your strained relationship with Astoria which is why I only invited you out on Friday. In return, I expect you to say goodbye before you disappear on me! For all I knew, someone had dragged you out back to beat you up again! At least when Hermione went missing, Ginny was able to figure out that she had left with someone!”

Daphne crossed her arms in indignation and raised an eyebrow at Malfoy, challenging him to respond, but they heard nothing but the surrounding sounds of witches and wizards merrily chatting away, oblivious to the tension filled table in their midst. Malfoy glared at Daphne with a hatred that Hermione thought was only reserved for Harry.

Hermione may not exactly like Malfoy the vast majority of the time, but she could figure out for herself that Malfoy had most likely been targeted for his past actions, and she felt strangely sorry for him. Not that he hadn’t done awful things, but, for some reason, the thought of him getting hurt was oddly jarring. She peered across the table at Harry and even he didn’t look amused by the notion of someone beating up Malfoy. His eyebrows were furrowed and he had a puzzled look, clearly contemplating something. Next to him, Ginny also appeared to be in deep thought as she locked eyes with Hermione and shifted her focus to Malfoy, but at least her lip had finally stopped twitching.

Hermione’s gaze followed Ginny’s as she finally allowed herself to look at Malfoy again. His chest was rising and falling in rapid succession, his nostrils flaring with each exhale. Hermione had thought she had seen Malfoy mad before, but none of it compared to this. After several moments, Malfoy broke the silence, his voice low and seething. “I thought I told you to never bring up…”

“Hold up,” Harry interrupted. Malfoy sharply turned to the wizard who dared to cut him off, but Harry barely noticed. His face still read of confusion as he shifted towards Hermione. “You left with someone, Friday?” Harry asked. “As in a man? That’s not Ron?”

Hermione froze. Her head shook for a moment as she blinked repeatedly. What… Why… How did Harry know? She replayed the last few minutes of the conversation in her head. As Daphne’s final words came back to her, she closed her eyes as tightly as possible, grimacing at the thought. She had been so distracted by the idea of Malfoy getting hurt that she hadn’t even processed that Daphne had said anything about her.

She looked around the room, avoiding Harry’s eyes and more importantly Malfoy’s. “I, um, yes,” Hermione sputtered, her vision settling on her darkened reflection in the mead. Dear Merlin she hoped that Harry would have the good sense to just ask her more about it later. Literally any other time or place that Malfoy wasn’t present.

Harry didn’t say anything, but she could still feel him staring at her. She took a nervous sip from her drink, refusing to speak more on the matter. Eventually he seemed to look away, back to Malfoy. “Sorry. You two can keep arguing now.”

“No need to apologize, Potter,” Malfoy said, much too cheerful for a man who seemed ready to curse someone mere moments ago. “Daphne and I can continue in private later, but it seems as if we have stumbled upon a much more interesting topic of conversation.” Hermione didn’t need to look up from her drink to picture the smirk that was probably plastered across his face. She let out a groan as she anticipated his intentions. “If I heard correctly, Goody Granger went home with a man Friday night.”

Hermione took back what she said earlier this morning. That wasn't her nightmare. This was.

She downed the rest of her of her drink in two solid gulps and started to rise from her seat, but Ginny quickly laid her hand on Hermione's thigh to bring her back down. “Shut it, Malfoy,” Hermione warned, but the smile across his face only grew at her irritation.

Malfoy leaned across the table, staring directly at Hermione. The table creaked as he rested his elbow on the surface and balanced his chin under his palm. “Oh, but I'm sure we’d all love to hear about the incredible wizard who struck the fancy of Hermione Granger.”

“If she doesn't want to talk about it in front of you, then she doesn't have to,” Harry spat, coming to his friend’s defense, hand already reaching for his wand.

“One more word out of you, and I swear I’ll have you turned into a ferret faster than you can call for your father!” Ginny threatened.

Daphne leaned back in her chair, snickering slightly, but remained out of the conflict much like the rest of them had when she had been the one fighting with Malfoy. Hermione couldn’t blame her for not wanting to get involved, even if she had been the one to accidentally incite the feud.

It was no matter anyhow. While Hermione appreciated her friends’ efforts, if today had proven anything, it was that even in adulthood, Malfoy would not quit until he got what he wanted. To think that for a moment there, she had considered actually feeling sorry for the detestable prat! Yet again he had proven that as soon as she thought for a mere second that there was more to him, he would go back to making her life a living hell.

Malfoy dismissed Harry and Ginny’s retorts with a blasé wave of his hand. “No need for that. I'm simply asking her some questions. Getting to know her better,” he taunted. “So tell me about him, Granger. He must be a spectacular wizard.” It was evident to the entire table that his words dripped of sarcasm, but only Hermione was able to detect the underlying meaning that was disguised by his jeers.

“Back off, Malfoy,” Ginny interceded. “Christopher was a pleasantly nice man. Not that you would recognize one if he stumbled on top of you!”

Malfoy sharply turned to Hermione and let out a full-hearted laugh. Hermione released another heavy groan. As if this situation could deteriorate even further! Ginny had good intentions, but dear Merlin, Hermione really could have gone without Malfoy knowing about her lie.

“Christopher?” Malfoy snorted. “Christopher. Seriously? Oh, Gods, that is positively rich!”

“Well, if you ask me, he was a perfectly fine suitor,” Hermione feigned, but Malfoy hardly listened, too consumed by his laughter.

His chuckles subsided but only for him to fire another retort at her. “I beg to differ, Granger. You and I both know he was a nothing, so who do you think you’re fooling?”

Hermione’s cheeks heated up, but she couldn't determine if it was due to embarrassment or frustration. Honestly, it was probably a mixture of both. It was quite difficult to argue with Malfoy when they both already knew that he was right.

“Malfoy, you're done,” Harry asserted, raising his wand in Malfoy’s direction, as always, remaining loyal to her defense.

Ginny followed suit, quickly snatching her wand and leveling it next to Harry’s. “Last chance for you to stay out of this,” she threatened. “This doesn't involve you one bit.”

Their wands remained pointed at Malfoy’s chest, but he paid them no mind. His focus was still engrossed entirely on Hermione, much too amused by the situation. Did absolutely nothing faze the man? The table remained at standstill for a handful of heartbeats until Hermione motioned for Harry and Ginny to lower their wands. Harry looked at her askance, but she stared at him until they both reluctantly complied. She knew they only meant to help, but this wasn’t their battle. She had to be the one to deal with Malfoy.

He smirked directly at her and his eyes sparkled with haughtiness that set her on edge. That look couldn’t mean good news, and her blood boiled just thinking about his perpetual blasted audacity. His grin crept ever larger as he addressed Ginny directly. “How naive of you,” Malfoy jeered. “I believe it involves me much more than you think.”

Hermione snapped. She pushed her chair back and slammed her hands onto the table before Ginny had a chance to hold her back again. “Stay out of my personal life and go fuck yourself, Malfoy!” she shouted loud enough for half the pub to hear. A few heads turned at the commotion, but she didn't care anymore. Malfoy had crossed the line.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows and pretended to examine his fingernails, remaining just as poised as ever. “If it’s no difference to you, I’d rather not take you up on that last suggestion. I tend to prefer when a witch does that for me.” He gave short blow on his nails and then looked up at Hermione with a sly, suggestive smile. And then he winked.

That PRAT! She lunged forward, ready to remind him once and for all what it felt like to be punch by Hermione Granger! But this time, Ginny was faster.

Harry already had his wand back out and pointing at Malfoy, while Ginny remained preoccupied holding Hermione back. Hermione flailed her arms, attempting to wrestle herself free from Ginny's lock, but her Quidditch strength was serving plenty handy. “He's not worth it, Hermione!” Ginny said, trying to placate Hermione, but she was too fired up.

“Fine Malfoy!” Hermione spat, her anger quickly taking over. “You want to know all about the wizard? Well, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that it turns out he was and always will be nothing more than a prick!” This was it! She had had more than enough of his games! It didn't matter how attractive she thought he was. He'd never be more than a vile, pompous bastard!

Despite all the commotion, Malfoy merely smiled more, nonchalantly taking a sip from his drink. “That's not very nice of you, Granger,” Malfoy flouted. “I'm sure he has many redeeming qualities, including his prick.”

Oh, his vanity had no bounds! Well, so be it. He wanted to play dirty? Then it was time for the low blows. Hermione tried to tug herself free again, but it was another feeble attempt. She settled on leaning in as close as she could despite Ginny’s restraint. “Actually, Malfoy, if I recall correctly, his prick was exactly his problem!”

Across the table, Malfoy started choking on his drink, unable to catch a full gasp of air. He attempted to speak, but all that came out were more straining coughs. Hermione looked on, finally finding a reason for her to be the one who smiled. Served him right for dragging her into this wretched conversation in the first place! She finally stopped trying to wrangle herself free, and Ginny released her grip.

Ginny looked at Hermione slightly shocked. “Well, I didn’t think you were going to bring that up.”

“Wait a minute,” Harry urged, lowering his wand, the look of confusion back on his features. “Can someone explain to me what's going on?”

Ginny glanced at both Hermione and Malfoy to see if either would answer, but Hermione’s focus was locked on Malfoy who was still struggling to regain his composure. She sighed as she turned to address Harry. “Well… Christopher had… issues Friday night.”

Hermione shifted her gaze to Ginny for just a moment, alarmed by the emphasis on Christopher’s name, but she was immediately drawn to Daphne who spoke for the first time in what seemed like ages.

“Shit, Hermione,” Daphne chimed in, finally finding something to give her input on. “Sorry the bloke was a bust.”

“Hold up,” Malfoy wheezed, coughing away the remains of his drink down the wrong pipe. “Let’s take a step back here. Just because he had issues, doesn’t mean the man was a bust.”

“I mean, it entirely depends,” Daphne rebutted. “Shit happens, but there’s other ways of pleasing a woman. Did he at least get you to finish?" 

Oh Gods! Hermione may have wanted a single moment of poking fun at Malfoy, but this was too far off the deep end! There was no way she was discussing this here! “You know, I don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing my sex life with all of you,” Hermione bluntly justified, her cheeks returning to the subtle shade of pink.

Malfoy snorted and Hermione jerked her head in his direction. “Yet you feel comfortable enough telling the entire table that he couldn’t keep it up?” Malfoy chided, clearly just as irritated as she was at the present conversation. Well, she didn’t feel a single bit of compassion for his pain.

“You know what, on second thought, let’s discuss,” Hermione resolved. Malfoy glared at her, entirely unenthused. He didn’t want her to talk about it further? Then he best believe she was going to. Now he would know how it feels! She straightened herself out and threw her curls back behind a shoulder in smug confidence, just to rub it in further. “No. He didn’t let me finish,” Hermione shared. “The pitiful excuse of a wizard straight up walked out on me without a word.”

Ginny grimaced at Hermione’s revelation. “You hadn't told me that. On Saturday I assumed you were disappointed, not actually this upset. For some reason I originally had the impression you liked him.”

From the corner of her eye, Hermione could see Malfoy perk up at Ginny’s latest overshare, but there was absolutely no truth behind this statement either! This was most certainly not an invitation for him to get the impression that she ever liked him or ever would! “Yes, well, I’ve had a lot time to think it over since then, and I most certainly don’t like him,” Hermione replied, staring Malfoy straight in the eye as she did so.

Malfoy sat up and leaned in closer as his confidence slowly came back to him. “Opinions change Granger. He had an off night, but I’m sure he could more than compensate a second time around.”

Her stomach coiled and she could feel herself dry heave at the mere insinuation of another go with him. Malfoy thought that he was deserving of a second chance? On what grounds? “How curious, Malfoy,” Hermione soured. “So now you’re coming to Christopher’s defense?”

“I’m not defending Christopher for a single second, and you know that Granger,” Malfoy sharply retorted.

“Will you two just quit it for just a moment!” Daphne loudly hissed. Hermione continued to glare at Malfoy as Daphne pressed on. “I’m quite done hearing you two bicker about this, so let’s just settle it. The bloke had a bad night, and he may or may not be an arsehole. Whatever, I couldn’t care less. But if you had a decent enough time with him before that, then he could be worth seeing again.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow and leaned back in his chair, waving a hand for Hermione to respond to Daphne’s proposition.

“No, Daphne,” Hermione resolved as she stared at Malfoy. “I am certain that he’s not worth seeing again.” Hermione arose from her seat, done with the conversation herself. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need another drink.”

Malfoy pushed back his chair. “I need one, too.”

Hermione stomped past him on her way to the bar. “You can wait til I'm back, Malfoy,” she sneered, but unsurprisingly, he ignored her command and followed her.

Great. Now she could count two evenings intended to celebrate Ginny that had been completely spoiled by the rotten presence of Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

She maneuvered her way through the crowd and found a spot along the bar. She raised her hand to get the barmaid’s attention. “I don’t care, as long as it’s strong,” Hermione instructed.

Malfoy followed suit and managed to make room for himself next to Hermione. “Make that two,” Malfoy shouted after the barmaid.

Hermione’s fingernails dug into the palms of her hand, sure to leave crescent indents, but it was all she could do to prevent herself from continuing to lash out at him. Good Godric, would that boy just leave her alone! “Are you quite enjoying yourself tonight, Malfoy?” Hermione snarled at him.

“Just as much as I’m sure you are,” he promptly quipped.

“In that case, thank you very much for making it a miserable evening for the both of us,” she said bitterly. “If you're quite finished mocking me, you can go for all I care. Then we might actually get to celebrate Ginny’s job tonight.”

The barmaid returned with their drinks, and Hermione reached towards her pocket to retrieve some sickles, but Malfoy blocked her.

“It’s on me, Granger,” he insisted, placing a galleon on the counter. She didn’t need Malfoy paying for her drink! She motioned towards her pocket again, but he swiftly stopped her once again. “You know, Weaslette isn’t the only one whose Quidditch skills still come in handy.”

Groaning, Hermione resigned herself to defeat and irritably grabbed the drink and started chugging. Malfoy took a few sips for himself, but set it down after just one swallow. The barmaid certainly hadn’t ignored their request for something strong. The alcohol slightly burned as it traveled down her throat, but Hermione was in desperate need for something to alleviate the tension. Malfoy looked on, apparently impressed by her ability to stomach so much of the harsh liquid. She slammed the empty glass on the table with a harsh clink. Malfoy grabbed another galleon and raised his hand, the barmaid quickly returning with a fresh drink.

“You just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, Malfoy?” Hermione seethed, ignoring the new drink placed in front of her. “So you went off and invited yourself when you obviously knew I would be here!”

“Able to deduce that much, were you, Granger?" Malfoy ridiculed. "Ten points for Gryffindor." He took another short sip from his drink, before setting it down and gazing around the pub with a disgusted look. “I wouldn’t come within ten meters of this dingy place if I didn’t think you’d be here.”

Hermione scowled. “Am I supposed to take that as a compliment or something?”

Malfoy made a short nonchalant raise of a shoulder and narrowed in on Hermione. “Why don’t you be the clever witch you are and figure that one out for yourself.” Hermione scoffed at the inane remark while he raised the glass to his lips again, but paused just before taking a sip. “But I must say, Granger, what were you thinking?”

“When I slept with you?” Hermione snapped defiantly. “I honestly have no idea.”

Malfoy didn’t seem pleased with her retort. “I mean why the hell are you going around blabbing to She-Weasel about what happened Friday night?”

“What do you care?” Hermione asked, finding mild satisfaction in Malfoy’s annoyance. “She still thinks it was Christopher. Unless, you’d like me to go back there and let the whole table know that it was actually you.”

“Granger…” Malfoy growled.

Hermione ignored him. “I'm sure they’d love to hear all about how the Prince of Slytherin can barely control his own snake.” She was starting to understand Malfoy a bit more. It was fun pressing his buttons when she had the upper hand.

“Gods, you’re insufferable,” he hissed under his breath.

Hermione mirrored his indifference with a flippant single shoulder shrug. “But don’t say you’re not intrigued,” she said with heavy sarcasm.

“Oh, I am, Granger. I’m not the one denying that to myself.” Malfoy immediately responded. Hermione’s head twitched back, his reaction the opposite of what she had anticipated. “You can keep up with your charade all you want, but I assure you, Granger, we have unfinished business that I plan to complete.“

She grabbed the untouched drink and threw it directly in Malfoy’s face.

“Would you look at that?” Hermione jeered. “I guess the drinks really were on you tonight.”

The remnants of the drink dripped down his cheek and trickled off his jaw, settling onto his now half soaked robes. He scrunched his eyes tight as he grabbed a napkin and dabbed his face dry. His normally pristine hair was now soiled with the tinge of the amber liquid. Malfoy looked utterly infuriated, but Hermione had to say this was probably her favorite look on him.

“Listen, Granger,” he sneered, his frustration reaching a new peak.

“No, you listen to me,” Hermione harshly snapped back. “Let me make this plain and clear. You and I will not be a repeated offense. So you’ll just have to cope with the fact that there was one witch that you were not able to satisfy and go back to whoring around with the rest of the wizarding world.”

She turned away from him and started back towards the table, but Malfoy was right behind her, snatching her wrist much like she had done to him earlier that day in the Ministry hallway.

“Don’t walk away from me like that, Granger!” Malfoy snarled. “And stop parading around all the time thinking that you know everything, because clearly you do not!”

Hermione scoffed. “I know a great deal more than you!” She had barely gotten the words out before Malfoy tightened his grip and dragged her deeper into the pub to the isolated hallway leading to the bathrooms. Hermione jerked her wrist free, settling her arms in a fold across her chest. “What exactly --”

“Will you ever stop talking for just a moment!” he lowly bellowed, interrupting her objection. His cheeks started to heat up, and she knew that she had struck a major nerve with him. Good. He deserved to be just as upset as she was!

“You think that I go traipsing around shagging any witch left and right? I’d be a damn fool doing that!” he fumed, his arms jutting into the air in irritation. His features softened for a fraction of a second, before he proceeded with his berating. “You heard what Daphne said. People still want to hurt me. Half the witches would murder me in my sleep cause they think I’m the Dark Lord incarnate, and the other half only talk to me because they think that me knocking them up would have them set for life.”

The words were harsh, but she could discern just a flicker of agony masked in his expression. The aftermath of the war may not have been easy for him, but the war hadn’t been easy for her. “Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for you?” she criticized. “Because right now, I’m much more inclined to side with the women of that first group.”

“Gods, just shut up!” Malfoy exclaimed. Before Hermione could fully comprehend, his hands were pressed against her cheeks and he had her back slammed against the wall. His lips crashed into hers, but only for an instant until she was able to unfold her arms and slap him across the face.

“What the hell was that, Malfoy!” Hermione chastised.

He ran his palm across his burning cheek where Hermione had struck him, his upper lip twitching. “This isn’t just a cat and mouse game to me, Granger,” Malfoy grumbled. He lowered his voice to a calm, deep tone so that he articulated each word sharply. “You’re aggravating as hell, exceptionally obstinate, and bossy beyond belief.”

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Malfoy carried on. “And yes, I’m arrogant, vain, cocky, and whatever else you want to call me. But name one other wizard who gets you as heated as I do, both intellectually and physically.”

Hermione furrowed her brow and pointed her finger in his direction, but he dismissed it. “Don’t pretend to object. You may claim you hate me and normally I wouldn’t blame you, but even you can't explain why you're so intrigued by me. You and I both felt it this morning. And Salazar, strike me down...” he drew out his hand and tucked a lock of Hermione’s curls behind her ear as he leaned in so his last words were just a whisper “... I’m just as intrigued by you as you are by me.”  

Hermione swallowed a hard gulp as she pushed Malfoy away. “What type of fool do you take me for!”

“I don’t believe you to be a fool one bit,” Malfoy stated plainly.

“Then what was all… that about?” Hermione scowled, her breaths becoming short and her cheeks turning red.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I just made myself perfectly clear. But if you’re too stubborn to realize that, then we have nothing else to discuss.”  Another drop of drink fell from the fringe in front of Malfoy’s eyes and he followed it with irritation. “Now, excuse me while I rid myself of this mess you’ve burdened me with.”

Malfoy stormed down the hall and pushed open the door to the bathroom, Hermione following after him but stopped at the shut door. “If that was your misguided way of trying to get me to sleep with you again, then it was a failure, cause I still think you’re a complete arse!” She waited to see if he would shout something back, but after a few moments, she stomped away.

She officially had it with him! He may think he could trick her by saying that he was intrigued by her, but she could see right through him! She wasn’t being stubborn. She was completely and totally reasonable. As if he sincerely meant that he liked her in any way! What a rich concept! He just wanted the satisfaction in having her fawn over him. As if that would happen!

She was now certain that that morning had been nothing more than an anomaly. The mere remnants of a drunken night out. But this evening permanently erased whatever illusion her murky memory had fabricated of him, and she could firmly say that she would never share a bed with that insufferable man ever again!

Returning to the table, she yanked her chair back, feeling even more heated than when she had left all those minutes ago. Hermione sat down in a huff, the entire table pausing to stare at her.

“So your conversation with Malfoy clearly went well,” Harry commented.

Hermione grunted. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, this truly has turned out to be quite the lovely evening, don’t you think?” Daphne chimed in with mock sincerity.

“Come on, Daphne,” Ginny objected. “You started arguing with him first.”

Daphne hesitated for a moment. “He and I have a... complicated friendship, so it’s different when we fight. But with you all, there is years of anguish.”

Harry glared at Daphne. “Is that what we’re calling the war now? ‘Years of anguish?’”

“I’m not trying to downplay the war,” Daphne rationalized. “But keep in mind that while I didn’t fight for the Dark Lord, but I didn’t fight for your side either. I know Draco’s a jerk, but if you actually gave him a chance, you’d see how all his hard work these past few years has paid off.”  

Hermione’s head snapped up. “And what are we supposed to believe? That he’s had some grand awakening and now he’s magically changed?”  

“You have no idea how much he’s been through the past three years!” Daphne retorted, her voice rising slightly.

Been through?” Hermione nearly roared. “Forgive me if I don’t equate having to start a court mandated job at the Ministry as going through something!”

Daphne slammed her palms against the edge of the table, clear agitation in her consistently increasing tone. “He’s been doing other things!”

Hermione let out a scoff this time. “Like what?”

Daphne leaned back in her seat and averted her gaze from Hermione.

Like what?” she repeated with more insistence.

Harry, Ginny, and Hermione all looked at the Slytherin, anticipating a response, but Daphne quickly grabbed her drink and began to chug instead. Hermione looked over at Harry who turned to Ginny who merely rolled her eyes in disinterest. It wasn’t as if Hermione had asked Daphne an insane question! Based on Daphne’s response though, she seemed to think that she had already said too much.

But what was it that Daphne was hiding? Earlier in that evening, Malfoy had been beyond pissed when Daphne had mentioned that he had been physically targeted by others. That surely must have taken quite the blow on Malfoy’s ego, but a good punch third year hadn’t changed him one bit, so she doubted that a back alley beating had knocked much sense into him either. Besides, Daphne had already spilled about that incident, so there must have been something else that she didn’t want to tell them. Or rather, he didn’t want her to tell them.

Hermione had so much more she wanted to pry out of Daphne, but the conversation’s end was quickly confirmed as Malfoy returned, his hair back in place as if he had never been touched by her drink.

He pulled back his chair and observed the four silent companions. His vision settled on Hermione and she prompted looked away, but not before she caught an irritatingly sly grin poise his features.

“What’s wrong with you lot? Can’t think of a conversation without my presence?” Malfoy quipped. The rest of the table continued to stare at each other in hushed awkwardness. “No? Okay, Weaslette. Tell us about your first day at work.”  

While he addressed Ginny, his eyes remained locked on Hermione. She tried to still avoid his piercing gaze, but it was pretty hard to ignore when he was staring so intently. She could feel the little hairs on the back of her neck prick up under his cool glare and she did not appreciate that sensation! Why was Malfoy even pretending to care about Ginny’s day, anyway? Ginny looked between the two of them, just as suspicious of Malfoy’s intentions as Hermione was.

When no one said anything, Malfoy took his seat and chuckled to himself. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that is why we’re here after all.”

Ginny narrowed her gaze at him, but Daphne, bringing herself back into the conversation, let out a slight cough and kicked Ginny under the table, prompting her response.

“It was… good,” Ginny answered hesitantly. “Mostly learning the ropes.”

“Ah,” Malfoy said, as if a conversation between the two of them was a common occurrence while Harry and Hermione exchanged anxious expressions. “And what section are you writing for?”

“Sports,” she responded, still seemingly wary.

“Hmm.” He nodded as he processed. “I saw you play two years ago. I’m not typically one for women's Quidditch, but it was worth it to see the look of defeat in Wood’s eyes.”  He let out a slight laugh. “I only wish I would have been able to do it myself once.”

“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Hermione promptly interjected. Had he been Imperiused while in the bathroom or something? All of a sudden he was acting all friendly as if they were all… friends or something?

Malfoy poised himself with a calculated expression as his lips quirked into a smile. “I didn’t pick you as someone to forget so easily, Granger. Or do you not recall telling me at the bar that we needed to get back to celebrating Ginny’s job?”

Hermione clenched her fist under the table, her fingernails digging into her skin again. She did not appreciate him using her words out of context like that!

Malfoy flashed Hermione another closed lips smile before returning to Ginny. “Reporting Quidditch matches I imagine?”

“Yes,” she grumbled curtly.

“In fact,” Daphne cut in, sounding way too pleased with herself as she spoke, “Ginny’s covering the Canons game against the Wasps this Sunday.” She smirked to herself and Hermione instantly had a bad feeling about whatever was coming next. “We should all go.”

“What?” Hermione, Ginny, and Harry cried in unison.

“You know, support Ginny at her first report and what not,” she justified, smiling at her plan. “And I’ve never known you to turn down a Quidditch game, Draco. I’m sure we can wrangle up enough comp tickets from the Prophet.

The Gryffindors shared apprehensive looks amongst themselves, but Malfoy seemed all too pleased by his classmate’s suggestion. “I’ll be there,” Malfoy resolved. Hermione and Malfoy locked eyes for a split second, but she quickly looked away, her mind already brainstorming excuses to get out the game. “I’m paying for my own ticket, though,” he corrected with a snarl. “I won’t stoop so low as to accept free things from a Weasley.”

Ginny clawed her fingers into Harry’s thigh, Harry resisting the urge to cry out. Ginny feigned a smile. Merlin’s beard, she must have really wanted to maintain this friendship with Daphne if she was willing to endure a comment like that from Malfoy.

“Fine,” Ginny gritted through the fake facade. “I have before-match interviews starting at eleven, but the rest of you can meet Daphne at tickets by noon in time for kick off.” The table murmured in agreement. “Well, if that’s all settled, as lovely as this celebration has been, I think it’s time Harry and I get going,” Ginny declared, elbowing Harry so he caught on.

“Uh, yeah. Early day tomorrow. Got a new batch of Aurors that still need training,” Harry agreed.

Hermione picked up her bag, grateful that this night was finally coming to a close. “I should get going, too, in that case. But it’s been such a pleasure, Malfoy,” she said, making no attempt to mask her insincerity. She turned to Daphne, not overly pleased with her either, but at least she could pretend to be nice to her, if nothing else than for Ginny’s sake. “And Daphne, well, good seeing you again.”  

The three of them left the pub, leaving the Slytherin pair behind. Harry pushed open the front door, the refreshing breeze of the early autumn air rushing through their hair.

“That went well,” Harry said with animosity.

“It was a bloody nightmare,” Ginny groaned as she paused to adjust her robes. “And what was all that between you and Malfoy, Hermione? I swear I’d never seen you two at each other’s throats quite like that before.”

Hermione took a deep, heavy breath in and out. Her brain was already exhausted after having to deal with Malfoy all evening. The last thing she wanted to do now was to discuss him further. “Uh, just work related stuff,” she muttered.

Ginny held her look at Hermione a bit longer before hitching up her robes a little tighter around her neck as they proceeded down the street towards the Apparition point. “So I guess we’re stuck going to the Quidditch game on Sunday,” Ginny bemoaned. “At least I’ll be busy working for most of it.”

“Which do you think will happen first,” Harry asked, “someone catches the Snitch or I push Malfoy off the Quidditch stand?”

Hermione slightly smiled at Harry’s remark. “I’d say there’s a greater chance that the Canons actually win than we go the whole game without threatening to hex Malfoy at least seven times.”

“And I venture he spends the entire time going on and on about how he could have been a professional Quidditch player when he couldn’t even beat poor Harry over here.”

Harry looked at Ginny in a bit of shock. “Was that a jab at my Quidditch skills?”

“Which one of us was the professional Quidditch player?” Ginny said with a breeze.

“I could have been professional if I wanted to!” Harry quickly defended.

“There!” Ginny exclaimed, a massive smile spreading across her face. “That’s exactly what Malfoy’s going to sound like!”

The trio laughed for a solid moment, and Hermione already felt better, leaving the sour memories of Malfoy behind at the pub. It was so refreshing to feel at ease rather than constantly being on edge that someone was going to later use her words against her.

Ginny picked up her pace a bit and started walking backwards so that she could face Hermione. “Seeing Sunday’s going to be hell for all of us anyway, mind if I invite Ron too? He gets back from Egypt on Saturday and he’d absolutely murder me if we went to a Canon’s game without him, even if Malfoy is in tow.”

Hermione’s heart stopped for a moment. Handling Malfoy tonight had been one thing, but coping with his snide, suggestive comments while also balancing her ex there? “I don’t know…”  

“Come on, Hermione.” Ginny urged. “I love you and respect your reservations, but you’re seeing other people now. You two have to be able to interact at these things.”

“I’m not seeing anyone,” she hastily corrected, “but even if I was, it’s not that I don’t want to see Ron,” Hermione justified, looking down at her feet as she walked, her mind quickly working to find an escape route. “But perhaps you should just take Ron instead of me. I have my big meeting with Kingsley and the rest of the departments on Friday anyway, so I’ll probably have to do final revisions over the weekend, and…”

“No way, Hermione,” Harry protested. “If I have to endure Malfoy, you’re gonna be there with me. Otherwise, who will be there to prevent me from pushing Malfoy off the edge? Merlin knows that Ron will just encourage it.”

Hermione couldn't resist continuing to smile. “Who says I won’t do the same?”

But then her focus was slightly interrupted by what she thought was the call of her name down the street. She twisted her head behind her shoulder but didn’t see anyone.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked.

She briefly paused and scrunched her eyebrows before facing back ahead. “Nothing. I just thought I heard something.”

They continued walking down the path, nearing the Apparition point, when Hermione was distracted again, this time by what she thought was pounding footsteps but decided to ignore it and keep walking instead.

“Granger!”

That got her attention.

She picked up her pace, but within a few moments, his hand was on her shoulder.

“Merlin’s beard, Granger, do you serious have to walk so fast?” he said, hunching over slightly to catch his breath.

“I don’t know, Malfoy,” Hermione snapped back, annoyed that she was seeing him yet again that day. “Maybe you just need to learn to jog faster.”

“I’m a Quidditch player, not a runner,” he countered.

“Any quality athlete wouldn't be so exhausted right now.”

Malfoy’s lip twitched into a snarl. “Excuse you, but I could have been professional if I wanted to!”

“Wow, we didn’t even have to wait til Sunday,” Ginny said, a triumphant smile on her face. Malfoy shot her a nasty glare but she shrugged it off.

Malfoy returned his attention to Hermione. “A moment, Granger?” She jolted with a startle as he grabbed her hand, trying to pull her away from her friends.

“I think you've already had plenty to say tonight.” Harry confronted, stepping in front of Malfoy’s path.

He dropped Hermione’s hand and folded his arms across his chest. “Fine, Potter. Why don't we let Granger decide.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Unless she'd prefer that I share what I have say in front of you two.”

Hermione looked nervously between the two adversaries and concluded that it was in everyone’s best interest that Malfoy just said his piece and finally leave her be. “Let’s get this over with, Malfoy.”

She shoved her hands into her pockets and left a considerable distance between them as she followed Malfoy around a corner for some privacy. Malfoy stopped a little ways down a nearby alley, just shy of where the shadows hit. Hermione withdrew her wand and began casting various spells around them.

“What are you doing?” Malfoy impatiently asked.

Hermione ignored him as she completed the spells and safely returned her wand to her pocket. “I’m not risking Harry and Ginny overhearing any of this conversation.”

“Look at that. Something you and I can agree on,” Malfoy said with a bit of a smile.

Hermione let out a resigned sigh. She didn’t want to hear any more of his snide jokes or comments. She had already endured more than her fair share earlier in the evening. “What do you want, Malfoy?”

Malfoy took a step in closer to Hermione. “I think I’ve made that clear.” He slowly started to extended his hand towards her face, but Hermione quickly smacked it away.

“And I’ve made myself perfectly clear, too!” she berated. “I am not some slag shag for your perpetual amusement!”

Malfoy let out a scoff and took another step forward, forcing Hermione to step back, inching closer to the brick wall behind her. Flashes of earlier that day came back into her memory, but she promptly shoved them back into the darker crevices in her mind. That was the last thing she wanted to be thinking about at the moment.

“Do I need to write it down for it to sink into that pretty little thick skull of yours then?” Malfoy scowled, taking yet another pace in her direction. His grey eyes seemed to darken as he narrowed in on her. “Or would you prefer that I have it published in a bloody book? Is that what it would take for you to actually understand what I have to say?”

“I understand you perfectly clear,” Hermione spat, stepping aside so Malfoy was no longer encroaching on her space.

Malfoy huffed as he shoved his hands deep into his pocket. “No, you evidently don’t if you’re still calling this some ‘slag shag.’”  

“What would you prefer I can it then?”

Malfoy shrugged and then smirked. “Let’s just call it… heated interest.”

Hermione couldn’t resist rolling her eyes at his crass remark. “That’s just a fancy word for horny.” She threw her mass of curls behind her shoulder and started to walk past him, back towards the main street. “Goodnight, Malfoy.”

She felt the cool wave rush through her as she exited past the magical wards, freeing herself from the conversation. She had nearly rounded the corner when she heard Malfoy shout for her to wait, but Hermione kept going. She was tired of waiting for him. He had yet to prove that he was worth waiting for.

“I fucked up! Okay, Granger?”

She kept walking.

“Look, I’m sorry!”

Hermione spun around. “You’re what?”

Malfoy was stopped in his tracks, shaking his head back and forth. “Seriously. Are you hard of hearing, or do you just choose to block out half the things I say?”

“I just don’t think my brain knows how to register you issuing an apology.” Hermione folded her arms as she slowly walked back towards him. “And what pray tell are you sorry for?”

Malfoy turned his head to face the brick wall and then down at his feet. “A lot of things.”

Hermione observed as Malfoy stood there, his shoulders slightly slumped, exhibiting only a fraction of his usual sense of self-assuredness. She had only seen him this unguarded a handful of times in her life, most recently only a few days ago when he had hid his Dark Mark from her gaze. But saying sorry was meaningless when there were no specifics attached.

“That tells me nothing,” Hermione fumed, refusing to let him think that all he could say was some vague statement and everything would be forgiven. She was far from accepting any sort of apology from him.

“You're right. It doesn’t tell you enough,” Malfoy said, his confidence slowly returning. He picked his head back up and started walking closer to Hermione. “But go out to dinner with me on Friday, and I’ll tell you more.”

Hermione scoffed. “And why would I do that?”

“Cause you’re intrigued,” he toyed, once again attempting to bridge the gap between them, but Hermione blocked it.

“No, Malfoy,” Hermione insisted, staring him directly in the eyes so he wouldn’t misinterpret what she said. “Not anymore.”  Malfoy’s smile quickly dropped. “You proved tonight that you’re the same boy from school. Whatever I thought was interesting about you has been completely washed away, and you have no one to thank besides yourself.”

Hermione turned to walk away but Malfoy pulled her back. “You’re getting all worked up over some harmless fun,” his voice shaking mildly as he spoke.

“I wouldn’t consider tonight’s conversation to be harmless!” Hermione sneered in response. “You were cruel and knew I didn’t want you to bring up anything alluding to this weekend!”

“Oh come on, Granger. That’s what you and I do. We bicker back and forth and push each other’s buttons.”

“Am I supposed to find that endearing?” Hermione seethed. “And let me say this once and for all. You and I do nothing together. Goodnight, Malfoy,” she stated firmly, hoping this would be the last time she had to say that to him that evening. She rounded the corner, and not too far away, she could see Harry and Ginny, anxiously awaiting her return.

“Granger, wait!” Malfoy called after her again, jogging to catch up to her.

Hermione let out an aggravated sigh. “Just leave me alone,” Hermione hissed softly to ensure that Harry and Ginny couldn’t hear. “Forget Friday ever happened and never, ever speak of it again. It was a mistake.”

“This morning begs to differ,” Malfoy countered.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Add it to the list of mistakes.”  

“It sure as hell didn’t feel like one.”

Hermione stepped forward and pressed a solitary finger against his chest. “And that is where you and I will just have to agree to disagree.”  She turned away from him and refused to look back.

“This isn’t over, Granger!” Malfoy shouted after her.

“Yes, it is!” she cooed back without giving him the decency of looking at him.

Hermione returned to the safety of her friends, and Ginny immediately linked her arm with Hermione’s. The three of them walked down the block to the Apparition point, the place of safety that would finally bid her of Malfoy.

“What did Malfoy want?” Harry asked with concern.

“Forget about it,” Hermione grumbled. “But let’s just say I’m firmly on Team “Push Malfoy Off The Quidditch Stands” on Sunday.”

Chapter Text

Hermione spent all of Tuesday doing everything in her power to keep Malfoy out of her mind. That insufferable git had managed to ruin both her weekend and her Monday, and she refused to let him soil any more of her week. Yet, somehow, this turned out to be a much more difficult task than she had anticipated.

It should have been easy. She had more than plenty to do in preparation for Friday’s meeting now that her draft had been returned to her. Kingsley’s feedback had been glowing and she couldn’t help but feel like she actually had a chance of her proposal passing this time. It had been months since her last major legislative accomplishment, and she had been starting to dread that she was reaching a dead end. As she read through Kingsley’s notes, though, she grinned with pride.

Until she was reminded of him.

“Your new proposal is good, by the way.”

She could hear his words echo through the chambers of her mind, and they spread through her like a poison. It shouldn’t matter one bit what Malfoy thought of it! After all, she already had approval from the Minister of Magic himself. Then why couldn’t she get Malfoy’s words out of her head?

Hermione resolved to immerse herself with Kingsley's comments. Maybe if she kept reading over what he wrote, those would be the first words to pop up inside her head instead. The feedback as a whole was positive, pointing to her level of detail and inclusion of poignant prior laws. But there was one comment in particular that stuck out. 

Have you considered expanding your proposal beyond just house elves? A colleague has recommended you add werewolves to your list of magical creatures to be represented in the Ministry. Perhaps you may want to consider goblins as well.”

Expanding on her proposal? Kingsley must really believe in her and the chances of it passing if he wanted her to add more. Plus, it was just the distraction she needed to forget the events of Monday while she was left dreading what was bound to be a disastrous Sunday. A strict deadline would mean countless hours of digging through old Ministry laws and revising drafts until it was nothing short of perfection.

She spent the rest of the week tiring away at the proposal. Every second of the work day consisted of her scanning through volumes of books, analyzing failed propositions from the past, and scribbling down whatever facts she thought might be the slightest bit helpful. Even after staying hours later than necessary, she would grab a pile of books and go home, only to continue working in the comfort of her flat with Crookshanks purring next to her on the sofa, a wide spread of books opened in front of them. Hermione made sure to leave enough time to quickly scarf down some food, but other than that, everything else was put on hold.

By Friday morning, Hermione scrambled into the Ministry, her meeting only fifteen minutes away. She had managed to finish her final draft at five in the morning leaving her barely enough time to get two REM cycles of sleep before she had to return to the office. Her hair was a riotous mess and the bags under her eyes were so deep they were bound to take weeks to subside, but it had all been worth it. The proposal was good. Better than good. It was her proudest accomplishment to date (well, at the Ministry at least). And now she only had to get the final approval from the other departments before it was placed before the Wizengamot Monday morning.

She dashed down the hall, her arms filled with the duplicated copies of her hard work for each representative. The meeting was now only ten minutes away. She found the conference room, twisting her hand on the knob as best she could without dropping anything.

The two witches and a wizard already seated around the conference table observed as Hermione entered, one of the scrolls falling to the floor as she made her way inside. She started to bend down to pick it up, but Kingsley got to it first.

“Ms. Granger, glad you could make,” he said with a familiar smile as he placed the scroll on the table.

Hermione let out a sigh of relief as she released the rest of the scrolls beside the first one. “I’m sorry I’m a bit behind schedule, Minister. I tried to get here as fast as I could.”

“No need, Ms. Granger,” Kingsley assured her. “We’re still waiting on a couple more departments. Besides, there’s a few minutes until we’re supposed to begin.”  He placed a calming hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Take a seat and relax. I’ll be here to observe, but other than that, the floor is entirely yours. I know the bill is in good hands.”  

Hermione gave him a firm nod and proceeded to her seat at the opposite end of the table from Kingsley. She pulled out the stack of notecards with her prepared speech, but it seemed so meaningless to rehearse it one more time. The proposal was completely ingrained in her memory. Whatever questions the other departments had for her would be easy to address. She tucked the cards back into her pocket for safekeeping, opting to take Kingsley’s advice to just wait there and relax.

Two more wizards filed in, almost all of the chairs around the meeting space now filled. Kingsley looked at the time, it now five minutes past their designated start. Despite the time, there was one chair still empty. There were only seven wizards in the room, meaning one department, much to Hermione’s dismay, was yet to arrive. Kingsley checked the time again, his face falling as he glanced up at Hermione, giving her the go ahead to start with her presentation.

It was time.

“Good morning, and thank you in advance for your consideration,” Hermione began, arising from her seat. “As you all should be aware, for the past two years, it has been of mission of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to advance the ethical treatment of all creatures. We have already made significant progress, but there are further steps that we must take.”

She grabbed the scrolls and handed one to each person around the table, feeling confident as she took command of the room, the wizards locked on what she had to say. “You are now receiving a copy of the latest version of a law proposing the formation of a magical creature liaison cohort consisting of house elves, werewolves, and goblins. These three creatures…”

Hermione stopped mid sentence as her focus was instantly distracted by the final attendee entering late to their meeting. Hermione tried to obscure her irritation at the gall of someone to barge in after she had began, but it became impossible to hide her resentment when she recognized the white blonde hair.

She took in a deep breath like she was sucking in all the foul words she wanted to shout in his direction. What the hell was he doing there? This was her presentation and there was no doubt in her mind that he was fully aware of this fact prior to his arrival.

Hermione hid a clenched fist behind her back and feigned patience as Malfoy mumbled something in Kingsley’s ear who simply nodded in response and then motioned for him to take a seat at the last empty chair. Kingsley didn't seem at all surprised by his attendance, but usually his department sent someone else to these types of meetings! The last thing she needed this morning was his irritable presence distracting her.

Much to her dismay, she could not lash out at him. Well, not yet, at least. There were more important things at the moment. She had worked too hard for Malfoy to ruin yet another thing in her life. If that required a polite work demeanor for the duration of the presentation, so be it. She released the tight grip of her fist and ran her sweaty palm down the side of her robes. Tolerating Malfoy wouldn’t be easy, but it had to be done. And as soon as she was finished, she could drag him out of the room and berate him properly.

She begrudgingly waited to continue as she followed Malfoy with a firm, piercing gaze. As he dallied to his destination, he barely acknowledged her. Any onlooker could be easily convinced that they truly were nothing more than co-workers. Good. Maybe he had finally learned to give her proper distance. But she highly doubted it.

“Apologies,” he stated simply as he finally sat down and looked at her. “Please continue, Ms. Granger.”

Hermione nodded acknowledgement, resisting all urges to roll her eyes in his direction, but it seemed unnecessary with him exhibiting the same amount of feigned civility. The room remained in still silence as she quickly racked her brain to recall where she had left off.

She found it rather hard to focus solely on her speech, though. Malfoy peered at a neighbor’s parchment, reading over the proposal just like everyone else had done during the interruption. All she could think about was grabbing him by those overly priced robe and yelling at him like he deserved. That has to wait, she reminded herself. Resolved to get back to her much more important priority, she reached into her pocket and scanned over her cards, refreshing her memory.

“As I was saying,” she resumed through a fake smile, trying to maintain professionalism as best she could, “it is our responsibility to ensure that all beings have a voice, human or not. When I look around the Ministry, and even this room, I see witches and wizards from a variety of backgrounds. Half-bloods, purebloods, and Muggle borns. Members of the Order of the Phoenix, people who didn’t fight for the war, and even… former Death Eaters.”

Hermione stopped for a moment and peaked through the corner of her eye to see if Malfoy had any sort of reaction, but his face remained stoic, focused on Hermione as she spoke. Hermione had to admit that she was impressed that her comment hadn't sparked any sort of response from him. Not even the arch of an eyebrow. Or a slight snarl of the lip. Nothing.

Her sensible heels clicked against the tile floor as she began to regain her momentum and strode around the room, resolving to ignore Malfoy for the remainder of her presentation. “Despite our various backgrounds, we all share a common magical bond. But we are not alone in this regard. This brings me back to house elves, goblins, and werewolves. These are highly intelligent, magical creatures, yet they have no representation in the Ministry of Magic.

“If we and the Wizengamot pass this legislation, we would form a liaison committee consisting of members from these communities, serving as their voice inside our government. After assessing its effectiveness, we would consider extending this offer to other groups such as giants, centaurs, and merpeople who are more removed from our world but should have the opportunity to provide their input on how our rules and regulations affect them.”

Hermione pulled out her cards and glossed them over to ensure that she had hit all her main talking points, but that seemed to have covered everything for now. She scanned her vision across the room to read her peers’ initial reaction, but most of them remained neutral. The only face that stood out was the one that she had been avoiding, the half turnt up smile on his face the sole indication that anyone in the room seemed to agree with her.

Hiding her disappointment in everyone else’s lack of reaction, Hermione addressed the room for a final time. “Please peruse the document, and I will take questions in a couple minutes.”

The witches and wizards slowly started to follow her request, mumbling reactions to one another that Hermione ached to catch a snippet of. The first half of the meeting was done, but the most difficult part was still to come. Although she had Kingsley’s approval, her legislation wouldn’t make it to the Wizengamot unless she garnered enough support from the other departments. She only needed the majority of them to agree, but she had been in situations before in which her hard work met failure in this very room. And she desperately didn’t want to relive that disheartening pain this morning.

As the other witches and wizards read over the proposal, she knew it was the perfect time to get a few questions of her own answered. She casually walked over to where Malfoy was working with another wizard and placed an artificially friendly hand on his shoulder. “Excuse me,” Hermione said, interrupting their conversation with a casual tone. “But Mr. Malfoy, may I speak with you outside so I can catch you up on what you missed?”

Malfoy raised a suspicious eyebrow at her, but she maintained her contact until he agreed. Silently, Malfoy arose from his seat, submitting to Hermione’s request as he followed her out the door.

As soon as he closed the door behind them, Hermione narrowed in on him. “What the hell are you doing here, Malfoy?” Hermione harshly whispered, keeping her voice down as to not be overheard by the people just on the other side of the door.

Malfoy folded his arms, and while he couldn't disguise the snark in his voice, he stared at her adamantly. “Aren't you supposed to be the clever one?” he criticized. “I’m representing my department, just like every other wizard in that room.”

“Don't get smart on me,” Hermione sneered. “How on earth did you come to be the one representing your department, anyway?” she asked, her tone turning slightly more pressing.

Malfoy raised a cavalier shoulder. “Perhaps no one else found your proposal worth considering.”  

Hermione hit him sharply in the shoulder. “My proposal is good, and you know it.” She lowered her gaze and whispered menacingly. “I swear to Merlin,” Hermione precautionarily threatened, “if you mess this up for me, I’ll -”

“Oh, calm down, Granger,” Malfoy scolded, scoffing at her frustration. “I came because I like the bill, not because of you. Believe it or not, I'm not the only one who knows how to prioritize their job over their personal life.”

“And you expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with the events of last weekend?” Hermione seethed, her nostrils beginning to flare.

“Look, Granger,” he snarled, his dissatisfaction reaching the same point as Hermione’s, “I am quite aware that you think I’m full of shit, but I wasn’t lying when I said that it’s a good proposal.” He paused for a moment to let his words sunk in. “You and I both know that you need three more departments to vote yes in order to push this through to the Wizengamot, and if you’d listen to me for two seconds, you’d come to realize that you already have my vote. Whether you accept it or not, I’m the best ally you have in there.”

Malfoy? Her ally? She nearly laughed at the ridiculous concept! But there was no sarcasm in his voice. She eyed him up and down to judge his sincerity, but he seemed to be telling the truth. “You’re voting yes?” Hermione floundered.

“How is this such a surprise to you?” Malfoy chided, his voice closely approaching anger. “I’ve told you at least three times now that I agree with you. And assuming that you didn’t fuck it up too much between Monday and Friday with these new additions, I believe it is ready for the Wizengambot.” Hermione continued to stare at him silently despite the break in his words. “Now, if you have nothing else to yell at me for, I advise we get back inside and you go back to pretending to tolerate me.”

“I wasn’t yelling,” Hermione quickly defended, but Malfoy cocked a disbelieving eyebrow.

“Maybe not on the outside, but I can see it in your eyes, Granger.”

With that, he turned from her and proceeded back inside, giving Hermione just a few seconds to herself before she too would have to return. As she should have expected, he had managed to boil her blood and irritate her in ways that only he could. But it was somehow reassuring to hear that she already had one affirmative vote, even if it was from Malfoy.

He was hardly the most trustworthy person she knew, far from it to be exact, but he considered himself her ally? Somewhere in Azkaban, Lucius Malfoy would probably beg for the Dementor’s kiss if he had heard his son utter those words to her. In what universe did a boy raised in a mansion surrounded by house elves and indoctrinated from birth that he was superior due to some arbitrary blood status even entertain the notion of magical creature equality?

She wanted to sit down and ponder it over, but she had to push those thoughts aside for now. She took a deep breath and opened the door for herself and headed directly to the front of the room. The witches and wizards immediately silenced at her return.

“I am now ready for your questions,” Hermione announced.

Two wizards at the far corner of the table mumbled to themselves before one of them shuffled some scrap parchments and began to speak up. “Bill Northam, Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes,” the man introduced himself. “I find the idea of a magical creature liaison committee enticing, especially seeing we often have to address incidents involving their kind. But shouldn’t we test it with one species, instead of three?”

Hermione smiled to herself, already having anticipated this reaction. “Thank you Mr. Northam. And yes, I thought the same at first, but the Minister recommended that I expand on this proposition, and I came to understand the merits behind it. A committee of just one creature is not enough and would not be a meaningful addition. Originally, I only intended house elves, but goblins already work with wizards, and werewolves are human beings that we have ostracized. It is necessary that we bring more acceptance of their kind into our society.”

“Wesley Emmons, Department of Magical Transportation,” the wizard beside Northam introduced himself. “But don’t you think werewolves are a bit too dangerous?”

“Not when they’ve had the Wolfsbane potion,” Hermione rationalized calmly. It was horribly frustrating that people still had that presumption about werewolves. In the years after the war, one would think that people would be more accepting, but many witches and wizards still prescribed to these outdated, prejudices towards magical creatures! This was exactly why they needed this legislation to pass!

“I must agree with Mr. Emmons,” a witch on the opposite side of the table promptly added. “They did fight for You-Know-Who, after all.”

“Not all of them,” Hermione responded, but she could already detect the agitation becoming apparent in her voice. “Remus Lupin fought valiantly and gave his life for this cause.”

“He’s just one example,” the witch disagreed, dismissing Hermione’s remarks entirely.

“But isn’t just one example enough to prove that collaboration is possible?” Hermione retorted, her cheeks starting to heat up.

“And what about all the innocent children who lost their lives that same day?” Emmons countered. “Are we supposed to forgive them for having sided with You-Know-Who?”

“I’m not asking for forgiveness,” Hermione fired without even waiting a beat. “There are people whose lives were negatively impacted by their actions that cannot and should not be forgotten. But we need to learn to move forward and recognize our own flaws as well. We weren’t exactly the most welcoming of werewolves to begin with. In many ways, we pushed them towards siding with Voldemort through our unjust treatment of them!”

“That’s no excuse,” the witch scoffed. “They made their choices. And now you expect us to bring them into our society with open arms?”

“Sometimes beings realize their choices were wrong and deserve second chances!” she snapped, no longer able to completely hide her anger.

“Just like former Death Eaters?”

Hermione wasn’t initially convinced she hadn’t imagined him saying it, but the shocked expression on several other faces confirmed that Malfoy had in fact uttered those words. The whole room was staring at him, but his look was locked firmly on Hermione. He had an eyebrow cocked and she knew that he was going to read more into this than she intended, but she needed to prove a point.

“Yes,” Hermione said. “Just like some Death Eaters.”  She felt Malfoy’s cool gaze remain on her as she took a moment to regain her composure, ensuring that her voice was calm and level. “We have welcomed a few repentant former Death Eaters back into society, and to my knowledge, Mr. Malfoy has yet to do anything completely foul since the end of the war.”

“Can I get that in writing?” Malfoy toyed, a mischievous sparkle in his eyes and an arrogant smirk to match poising his features.

Hermione whipped her head to glare at him, but her attention was quickly reverted back to the combative witch.

“That may be sufficient for you, Ms. Granger, but I for one have trouble trusting certain groups after the war.” She stared directly at Malfoy. “Including Death Eaters.”

Malfoy instantly arose from his seat, his chest puffing up, his eyes narrowing in on the witch. Even Hermione had to admit that she was more than mildly infuriated by the woman’s remark, but no one seemed more upset than the Minister himself.

“You will not speak like that to another member of our ministry, Ms. Knox.” Kingsley demanded, his voice firm and commanding. Hermione was startled to hear him speak, expecting him to stay quiet the entirety of the meeting, holding to his word of simply observing, but it appeared as if he was no longer able to hold his tongue. “The war started by treating others as inferiors, and I will not tolerate any resentment towards others in this room. I trust Mr. Malfoy, and therefore, so should the rest of you.”

The witch seemed dissatisfied with Kingsley’s speech, but covered it up well, leaning back in her chair and failing to speak further.

“On that note,” Kingsley continued, “I believe we have gotten off topic. Shall we get back to the matter at hand?”

“Yes, of course,” Hermione acknowledged. She glanced at Malfoy furtively who gave her a short reassuring nod of the head. “As I was saying earlier, we as a Ministry need to take more action to show that we respect these other beings and value their communities and input.”

Emmons looked at Kingsley hesitantly but still proceeded with his question. “I still want to know why we should forgive werewolves when they sided with You-Know-Who in the first place?”

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but Malfoy beat her to it. “If I may Ms. Granger,” he began, “but I believe I can address this.”  He coughed and gave a sharp triumphant look at Knox before turning to answer Emmons.

“The werewolves were working with the Dark Lord because of the way that wizard-kind treated them. He made promises to them that made them believe that their lives would be better under his control.” His voice began to falter for a moment, but he quickly picked it back up. “As for the forgiveness, I, more than anyone, understand the difficult implications associated with this. But as Ms. Granger said, there is a difference between forgiveness and moving forward. By establishing Ms. Granger’s proposed system, we would show our desire to rectify our own wrongs, thus giving them the opportunity to do the same.”

The room remained in standstill for a moment until another wizard shifted in his seat and spoke up. “But if there’s no threat of another resurgence of a new Dark wizard, then why should we bother?”

“What sort of mentality is that?” the other witch in the room snapped back. “Shouldn’t we take whatever precautions necessary to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again? Mr. Malfoy makes a good point.”

“But how do we even know that cooperating with werewolves has ever had conducive results?” a different middle aged wizard asked.

Malfoy cleared his throat. He quickly looked at Hermione before turning to the man. “In 1637, the French Ministry of Magic experienced issues of werewolf attacks after wizards encroached on their designated land. The werewolves formed a committee to meet with the French Ministry, settling on agreeable terms. After that interaction, wizards and werewolves had no issues for several decades.”

“That's just one instance!” Knox scoffed, clearly feeling comfortable enough to share her opinion again. “What about --”

“In 1864,” Malfoy continued, his voice growing firmer and more commanding, “American muggles were in the midst of a Civil War resulting in the destruction of hundreds of acres of crops, essentially eradicating all wolfsbane plants. Werewolves were highly dangerous, and many children, muggle and wizard alike, were attacked. It only stopped once MACUSA cooperated with our Ministry and increased trade of wolfsbane from Scotland.”

“Yes, but…”

“In 1902 --”

“Fine!” Knox spat. “We get it Mr. Malfoy!”

“You clearly don't,” Malfoy calmly countered, his voice low and chilling, on the edge of threatening. “If we don't want another resurgence like so many of us fear, then we need to cooperate with all beings and listen to their concerns.”

Hermione observed with her mouth slightly agape, entranced by the entire interaction. She had spent nearly all week immersed in books, reading all she could about werewolves and their interaction with ministries so she was fully aware of the incident with the American werewolves, but she hadn’t heard of the French incident. Nevertheless, it perfectly proved her point. They needed more cooperation. And if this conversation had proven anything, it was that even within the Ministry, people were still severely biased against werewolves.

Knox nervously looked around the room, many of the people’s focus on her, especially Kingsley’s. She massaged her temples and released a massive, begrudging sigh. “If werewolves are included in this proposal, then there need to be added caveats,” the witch finally settled, clearly unenthused at what she was suggesting. “Whatever werewolves appointed need to be… well behaved.”

“Fair enough,” Malfoy conceded. “Then we’ll need to add an addendum that increases availability of wolfsbane,” he proposed. “It would perfectly demonstrate our sincere willingness to increase their rights from the start.”

The room remained silent.

Kingsley leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table as he closed his eyes to ponder. All remaining eyes in the room kept their focus on the minister as he processed Malfoy’s suggestion. He nodded to himself and then leaned back in his chair. “I think that is a fine idea, Mr. Malfoy,” Kingsley announced. “I want you and Ms. Granger to write this addendum so that we can attach it to the proposal for Monday.”

Hermione’s face fell flat. An entire auxiliary proposal by Monday was a steep enough request, let alone when it required collaborating with Malfoy! He may have been her ally within these four walls when surrounded by colleagues and the Minister of Magic, but she could almost guarantee that he’d revert back to his typical self the moment it was just the two of them.

“You have my word, sir,” Malfoy agreed before she had the opportunity to protest. He turned to Hermione with a suggestive smirk.

“I’ll will make sure it's completed,” Hermione countered, not at all promising to cooperate with him.

Kingsley nodded, and then sat up to address the rest of the room again. “I understand that werewolves are a sensitive subject, but that underscores the necessity for this bill. Now, I must remind you of the purpose of this meeting. We are here to provide feedback to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures regarding the legality and practicality of this proposal. All of these concerns about morality would be addressed by the Wizengamot. Are there any other concerns for this present bill?”

The witches and wizards looked at each hesitantly, too nervous to voice any further concerns. Knox continued to look displeased, but even she didn’t challenge the proposal any further.

Kingsley arose from his seat. “In that case, I believe it is time that we vote.”

Hermione’s heart stopped. It hardly felt like they had discussed the bill properly! What about the house elves? They hadn’t even mentioned goblins either! The entire conversation had been taken over by prejudices against werewolves! Knox certainly wouldn’t be voting yes, and many of the other wizards still seemed on the fence. In fact, she wasn’t positive anyone in the room agreed with her! Well, besides Malfoy.

All she needed was three votes. Just three. Or, rather, two more. Provided that Malfoy voted yes. And she had no reason not to believe he wouldn't.

“Mr. Northam?”

She closed her eyes.

“Yes.”

Her eyes darted open. Yes? Yes! Just one more.

“Ms. Knox?”

“No.”

Her heart dropped. It was entirely expected, but that didn’t mean hearing her spiteful vote didn’t sting like a billywig.

“Mr. Emmons?”

He paused for a moment.

“Yes.”

Hermione clamped her hand over her mouth, obscuring the smile blatantly spreading. She couldn't celebrate yet. It wasn't official. Oh, but she could already feel the excited tingling at the lowest depths of her stomach!

“Mr. Malfoy?”

He took a moment to look at Hermione and gave her a sly smile before facing Kingsley.

“Yes.”

Hermione didn’t even hear the rest of the votes, too consumed with her own elation. She had the yeses she needed! Her proposal would be headed to the Wizengamot on Monday!

The wizards around her started to shuffle out of the room and she vaguely heard a wizard extend his congratulations before he exited, but she was still engrossed in her thoughts. Oh, she couldn’t be more excited! She was one step closer to success!

“Ms. Granger and Mr. Malfoy, meet me in my office in ten minutes to discuss the addendum.”

Provided that she survived potentially writing this addendum with Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Kingsley left the room and only a few people lingered behind, until the rest of them finally filed out. Except for Malfoy. Hermione was still on an emotional high after the successful passing of her proposal to the Wizengamot, but she knew it would soon be tainted by whatever Malfoy spewed out next at her. She tried to ignore him as she gathered the left behind scrolls, but she wasn’t foolish enough to actually believe that they’d remain in peaceful silence for long.

He pushed in his chair and slowly strolled in Hermione’s direction, a much too cheerful smile creeping on the edges of his lips. “Looks like we’ll be spending another weekend together, Granger.”

“I don’t need your help, Malfoy,” she calmly countered, refusing to even acknowledge his completely unnecessary insinuation.

Malfoy laughed to himself. “I beg to differ, Granger,” he said as he bridged the gap between them. “You and I did make quite a team this morning.”

Hermione picked up the final scroll and angrily shoved it into her bag, the parch ment folding under the pressure. “You and I were not a team. I did not ask for your assistance and was doing just fine on my own.”

“Oh, come on, Granger,” Malfoy tormented with a coy smile. “Just admit it. I knew more than you for once.”

“You did not!” she immediately refuted, her cheeks turning bright red, all her celebratory elation already gone. “I could have easily made those arguments for myself!”

Malfoy released a short huff and shook his head back and forth. “Hermione Granger is a liar. Who would have thought?”

“I’m not -”

“Don’t even bother defending it,” Malfoy said lazily.

“And what makes you say that?” Hermione promptly retorted. “It’s not like you’re a legilimens.”

Malfoy scoffed. “Is that the only explanation you can think of as to how I can best you in something?” He subtly shook his head again but his arrogant smile never faded from his face. “Swallow that Gryffindor pride of yours for a moment and admit for once that I’m right.”

“I absolutely will not!” Hermione said, grabbing the straps of her bag and hauling it over her shoulder, making her way out the door.

Malfoy sauntered after her, following her down the hall towards Kingsley’s office. “Fine,” Malfoy said from behind her. “But if you’re going to be this stubborn, it’s going to be a long weekend.”

Hermione stopped in her path and turned to face him. “You and I will not be working together,” she stated firmly.

“Oh?” Malfoy asked, a pleased expression on his face. “Is Goody Granger defying the Minister’s orders?”

“Stop calling me that,” Hermione said, pointing her finger in his direction. “In fact, stop talking to me all together.”

“You know, that’s quite difficult when we’re heading to the same meeting.”

Hermione grunted in exasperation and resumed storming down the hall, undoubtedly with Malfoy not far behind. Just as expected, he was back to his insufferable, arrogant self and she had no patience for it. It didn’t matter that he was right. All she wanted was to get Kingsley’s meeting over with so she could get permission to write the whole thing by herself.

Malfoy caught up to her, keeping pace with her long strides. In a huff, she faced the other direction so she wouldn’t have to suffer looking his boastful expression, but Malfoy clearly wasn’t going to drop it.

“Tell me, Granger,” Malfoy said. “You also knew about the incidents with the French and American ministries?”

“Yes,” she curtly lied.

“Really, now?” Malfoy said in enjoyable disbelief. “And where exactly did you read about the French Ministry?”

Hermione looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and he was slyly smiling back. He was trapping her in this lie and she didn’t like it one bit. Especially when she had no ground to support it on.

“Fine,” she surrendered. “I didn’t know about that one, but I knew about the American incident. And where exactly did you learn about it?” She paused for a moment and stopped mid-step to face him. “You didn’t make it up, did you?”

Malfoy let out a low laugh. “Perhaps you should have paid more attention in History of Magic.”

“Codswallop!” Hermione retorted, offended by his accusation. “I was the only person who paid attention, so perhaps you should start telling the truth too!”

But Malfoy merely winked and continued walking, rounding the corner to Kingsley’s office.

“That’s not an answer, Malfoy!” she shouted down the hall.

She paused, grateful to catch even a short break from him. Gods, he was insufferable! How on earth did Kingsley expect her to work with such an infuriating individual when he wouldn’t even share with her where he got his information from? Kingsley wanted what was best for the bill and forcing her to spend any more time with Malfoy wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone involved.

Hermione resumed down her path and caught up to Malfoy who was standing outside of Kingsley’s office, chatting with the receptionist.

“How nice of you to join us, Ms. Granger,” he said casually as if it was their first time seeing each other in ages, not a handful of seconds.

“The Minister is already waiting for you inside,” the receptionist kindly greeted her. “It was nice to see you again, Mr. Malfoy.” The receptionist stood up and grabbed a pile of parchments before leaving her post.

“Always a pleasure, Audrey,” he said after her. He then turned to Hermione and motioned towards Kingsley’s door. “Shall we, Granger?”

Hermione glared at him and slowly walked towards the door, Malfoy beside her.

“You know, Granger,” he whispered, “I can’t help but notice that you seem to be quite curious about me again.”

“Am not!” Hermione adamantly refuted.

“Actions speak louder than words, sweetheart.” He gave her a quick wink and Hermione resisted the urge to slap him right there as Malfoy opened the door.

Kingsley arose from behind his desk, welcoming them into his space. “Ah, Mr. Malfoy, Ms. Granger, take a seat.”

Hermione shined a faux smile as she approached the Minister and sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, Malfoy doing the same. Merlin’s beard, if she could barely tolerate the idea of sitting next to him for the rest of this meeting, there was no way she was leaving this room without Kingsley dropping this insane request.

“This addendum about wolfsbane,” Kingsley began, taking his seat behind his desk, “it needs to be entirely airtight. Ms. Granger, you know how important this committee would be for our wizarding community, and I don’t want to see it fail, just as much as you don’t. We can’t have a repeat of what happened with Ms. Knox.”

“Yes, of course, sir,” Hermione agreed. “But if I may, sir, with all do respect, I have been working on this for many weeks. I can finish it all on my own as well.”

Kingsley took a moment to consider, closing his eyes to think. Hermione waited painstakingly, hoping desperately that the Minister would concede, but her desire was shortly shattered. “While I admire your work ethic, Ms. Granger, this is larger than that,” Kingsley said. “You have created a strong initial proposal, but the majority of your background is only with house elves.” He paused to face Malfoy. “Have you been reading those books I recommended?”

“Yes, sir.” Malfoy answered firmly.

Hermione looked at Malfoy curiously, her eyebrows scrunched in confusion about what books the two men were discussing, but Kingsley quickly carried on.

“Good.” Kingsley nodded to himself. “Mr. Malfoy will be a good addition to our efforts, Ms. Granger.”

Hermione kept her gaze on Malfoy and could see that he was maintaining his professional demeanor. That wasn’t the Malfoy she’d be forced to work with, though! “Sir,” Hermione protested, leaning in closer to the Minister, “I assure you that I can do the research on my own.”

Kingsley laced his fingers together and rested them upon the desk before him. “If we had more time, perhaps that would be an option, but you are clearly tired and need assistance,” Kingsley said.

Hermione instinctively ran two fingers under her eyes, hoping it would cover up her eye bags for even an instant, but she knew it was to no avail. “But, sir -”

“Ms. Granger,” Kingsley sternly interrupted. “I have made my decision and that is that. You will be working with Mr. Malfoy.”

“Yes, but -”

“And that’s final.”

Hermione sat back in her seat, knowing that there was no more fighting it. She turned to Malfoy, but all she saw was that stupid, plain faced, Ministry approved expression. If only Kingsley knew what Malfoy was really like when it was just the two of them! Although Kingsley had made his final decision, it wouldn’t inhibit her from finding another way to avoid working with Malfoy without the Minister knowing. But for now, she would agree. Sort of.

“We will make sure to have the final draft on your desk by Monday morning,” Hermione eventually said with her fake smile, still refusing to promise any sort of actual collaboration. The addendum would be completed and on his desk by Monday. Just perhaps with not as much assistance from Malfoy as Kingsley intended.

Malfoy nodded in agreement as the now partners stood up.

“Thank you, Minister,” Hermione said, sticking her hand out to shake the Minister’s.

“And thank you, Ms. Granger,” Kingsley returned.

“Minister,” Malfoy said with a nod.

“I would actually like to speak with you more in private, Mr. Malfoy.” Kingsley turned to Hermione. “You may now return to work, Ms. Granger. But remember, I expect you to prioritize the bill.”

He raised an eyebrow at her and she understood exactly what he meant. After years of working together, Kingsley knew Hermione well enough to figure that she was already brainstorming ways to complete the addendum without Malfoy’s help, but he should also know her well enough to conclude that she would always prioritize the bill. And in this instance, if prioritizing the bill meant ignoring his command, she would.

“The bill comes first, Minister,” she assured him.

Hermione grabbed her bag off the floor and headed towards the exit, and as she left, made sure to leave the door slightly ajar. Kingsley’s receptionist wasn’t back at her desk yet, and Hermione was curious about what Kingsley had to say to Malfoy. She had a sneaky suspicion that it had to do with her proposal and anything Kingsley had to say to Malfoy about it could be said in front of her.

She carefully set down her bag and aligned her ear just shy of the doorframe so she could just barely hear Kingsley begin to talk.

“You did good back there, Draco.”

Hermione was immediately startled by Kingsley’s use of Malfoy’s first name. He had only referred to her as Hermione outside of Ministry walls! She held her breath to avoid making more noise than necessary so that she wouldn’t miss a single word of what Malfoy had to say.

“Thank you, Kingsley.”

Hermione jaw physically dropped this time. Never would she dare call Kingsley his first name to his face! He was the Minister of Magic and deserved to be referred to accordingly! Hermione expected Kingsley to respond in a similar regard, but the conversation continued unhitched.

“You know we need to talk about your reaction to Ms. Knox’s actions, though.”

“She provoked me!” Malfoy quickly defended.

“I am not denying that,” Kingsley stated calmly, not rising to Malfoy’s level, “but we have discussed how you should control yourself in those situations.”

“And what did you expect me to do? Just sit there idly while she demonized me in front of everyone?”

“I was there to defend you, Draco. Her comments were unwarranted.”

Malfoy scoffed. “At least she had the guts to say it to my face.” His voice seemed to falter for a moment, slightly weaker than normal. “You know half the wizards in that room were thinking the same thing as her.”

Hermione felt her gut turnover. This conversation was not going as she expected. Malfoy and Kingsley were acting like… friends? And Malfoy was sharing more with him than she had ever heard him open up to anyone else. She almost felt guilty for eavesdropping on what was clearly a personal conversation, but she was much too interested to pull away.

The deep voice of Kingsley brought her out of her thoughts and back into the present conversation.

“Draco -”

“You know I’m right,” Malfoy interrupted, his voice growing stronger and turning to outrage. “I still face it all the time! People whispering about me in the hallways, pointing at me from across the street. Hell, even Granger…”

His voice trailed off and Hermione’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest at the mention of her name.

“What about Ms. Granger?”

“She…” Malfoy began to stumble over his words but hastily cut himself off. “Forget it. My point is that they all still see me as this… menace.”

“Even Ms. Granger?”

Hermione leaned in closer to hear Malfoy’s response, surprisingly curious to know what he thought her opinion was of him. The floor beneath her feet creaked, and she instinctively drew back slightly but ensured that she was still within range.

Malfoy remained quiet for a handful of seconds before speaking up again, his voice low and choppy. “I don’t want to talk about her.”

“Seeing as which I just ordered for you two to work together on this addendum, we need to address this, Draco.” The men sat in silence for a moment before Kingsley continued. “I am more than fully aware of your history with her --”

You don’t know the half of it,” Malfoy grumbled under his breath.

“-- but I think it will be good for you.”

Malfoy scoffed again. “And how’s that?”

“You’re tired of people seeing you as a menace? Then show them that you’re not a menace. Starting with Ms. Granger.”

The conversation kept going, and Hermione could already hear Malfoy beginning to raise his voice again, but she opted to back away from the door, having already heard more than enough. She placed her hand on her heart to try to placate its rampant beating, but it was proving futile. Her mind was racing, trying to rationalize what she had just heard.

Malfoy was clearly still miffed about Knox’s allegation that former Death Eaters couldn’t be trusted, but even Hermione had to admit that she herself had difficulty completely trusting Malfoy. Who could blame her! He had made her school years hell and had treated her like scum. A week of mildly better behavior did nothing to erase that.

But Hermione trusted Kingsley. She had no reason not to. He had been a loyal member of the Order, was a strong leader for the wizarding community, and continued to assist her in her career. Back during the war, she had put her life in his hands as he guided her polyjuiced self to the Burrow, and to this day, she had full confidence in his loyalty.

It pained her to even consider it, but what if…

Oh gods.

What if… she did listen to Kingsley and… gave Malfoy a chance to prove himself.

But just once! If he irked her even the slightest bit, it was over.

The door next to her flung open and Malfoy came storming out. Hermione was so startled by his resurgence that she called out after him before she even realized it. Malfoy whipped his head around and blinked quickly as if making sure that he wasn’t imagining Hermione’s presence. His eyes narrowed as he slowly and deliberately walked towards her.

“I thought the Minister told you to get back to work.”

“He did,” Hermione stammered, “but I was, um, waiting for you.”

Malfoy arched an eyebrow at her suspiciously. “And why’s that?”

“I can’t exactly get started on the addendum without you,” she rationalized.

“You don't fool me, Granger,” Malfoy scolded, though his eyes didn’t hold the same anger that they typically did during one of their usual arguments. “You and I both know perfectly well that you have no intentions of actually listening to that order.”

He made to walk away, but Hermione latched her hand onto his shoulder, locking him in place. Malfoy slowly twisted his head to glare at her over his shoulder before shoving her hand off of him. He turned to face her again, crossing his arms. “Okay, Granger, what do you really want?”

Hermione shifted the weight on her feet and adjusted the heavy mass of her bag on her shoulder. “What did you and Kingsley talk about?”

“Nothing that pertains to you,” he sharply responded, clearly indicating that he didn’t want her to press any further.

A pit momentarily formed in her stomach before it quickly faded away. It wasn’t as if his response was unexpected, though. He certainly wasn’t going to admit to her anything that he had said behind what he presumed was a closed door. She ran her fingers through her hair and gathered all the curls over one side of her shoulder. “Well, in that case, we need to set up a time for us to meet and write this addendum.”

“You’re serious?” Malfoy looked at her incredulously and if she wasn’t mistaken, there was a flash of relief on his face before it quickly returned to its normal sternness. When Hermione didn’t react, he checked his watch. “I have a meeting at one, so you can meet me in my office me after.”

“Can’t,” Hermione said. “I’m giving a report to Hopkins at three.”

Malfoy checked his watch again and pursed his lips. “I guess we’ll just have to meet some time tomorrow then.”

“Wait til Saturday?” She may have agreed to working with Malfoy, but they were still going to do things her way, and that meant starting as soon as possible. “You do realize that we have to research and write an entire addendum by Mo nday, correct?”

“And you do realize that your eye bags are so large that they rival that bloody bag you carry with you everywhere?” Malfoy shot back.

Hermione crinkled her nose and secured her grip on the strap of her bag. “I need to keep my things somewhere!”

Malfoy scoffed. “Go home, Granger, and get some rest. We’ll resume tomorrow.” He began to walk away, but Hermione wasn’t losing this battle, even if she was already starting to regret complying with Kingsley’s wish.

“We start tonight or I will do it on my own,” she demanded, storming after him.

Malfoy hastened his pace back to his office, but Hermione kept up. “And what if I already have plans?” he asked.

“Like what?” Hermione scowled. “Found someone else to ensnare in your trap when I turned down your flimsy request of a date tonight?”

Malfoy’s pace became irregular for a few steps before it returned to normal. He looked at Hermione from the corner of his eye and huffed at her. “What’s the matter, Granger? Jealous?’

She shot a handful of curious glances in his direction while still maintaining his speed. “You mean you actually have a date?” He gave her another cursory look over and she knew he was telling the truth. “I’m not jeal-- No, I just thought --”

Malfoy stopped in his tracks. “That I’d sit around waiting for you to agree to go out with me?” He shook his head slightly before resuming down the hall with a scoff. “Believe it or not, some of us are smart enough to realize when someone doesn’t like them back.”

Hermione raced to keep up with him. “Well maybe if you stopped acting like a ten year old boy with a schoolyard crush and weren’t so bloody mean to me all the time --”

Malfoy halted again. “Then what, huh? You and I would ride off into the sunset together?”

“Stop interrupting me, Malfoy!” Hermione cried.

They stood there, alone in the hall, glaring at each other. Hermione’s chest was huffing up and down at an alarming rate and both of Malfoy’s hands were balled up into tight fists. They couldn’t even agree upon a time to meet to discuss the addendum, so how in Godric’s name were they ever going to design an entire piece of legislation together!

She was doing this for Kingsley.

She was doing this because it’s what Kingsley thought was best for the bill.

And if tonight turned out to be the waste she expected, she still had all of Saturday and Sunday to rectify whatever it was that Malfoy screwed up. Then, when it all went up in flames, she could honestly tell Kingsley that she tried.

“What time is your date?”

“Eight.”

“Then we have plenty of time after work to get started.”

The upper edges of Malfoy’s lips twitched. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’ll meet you outside your office when my meeting is over, and we can stay here working until your date,” Hermione resolved.

Malfoy’s lips settled into a grimace, but he eventually conceded. “Fine. Meet me at my office. But we’re doing this at my place. I have things there that will be useful.”

“Fine.” She wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of returning to his place, but at least it was a plan. Without any sort of farewell, she turned from Malfoy and proceeded back down the hall in the opposite direction.

“It’s a date, Granger!” he sneered as she stormed away. 

Chapter Text

The pile of books teetered in Hermione’s arms as she carried them down the hall down towards the Department of International Magical Cooperation. She would have much preferred to shove them into her bag, but it was already overflowing with various scrolls and notes she had accumulated over the course of her research the past few weeks. Malfoy claimed he had some resources at his place, but she doubted they would provide him with sufficient background knowledge to be somewhat useful. Granted, she didn’t have as much information on werewolves and wolfsbane as she did on house elves, but she had luckily acquired some bits of pertinent facts through past assignments.

Without a free hand, she knocked her hip against Malfoy’s office door to announce her arrival shortly before five in the evening. As the door swung up, the smug face greeted her with an amused chuckle.

“Think you brought enough books?”

Hermione scoffed at yet another inane remark from him and welcomed herself into his office, dropping her books onto his desk for a temporary break. Completing this addendum with Malfoy’s help was going to be a proper pain in her arse. She repeated to herself that she was doing this for Kingsley. For the werewolves. For the betterment of wizarding society.

Malfoy strolled over to the mountain of books and ran his finger down their spines, skimming over their titles. “So I take it you’ve gotten a head start?”

Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but was overcome by a sudden yawn which she promptly masked by turning the other way. Faking a cough, Hermione refaced Malfoy. “I figured you’d need to do some reading up before you’d actually be helpful.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her and smirked. “There you go again, believing you know more than me.”

She started to speak again, but this time, the yawn escaped her lips before she was able to obscure her drowsiness. Her hand clasped over her mouth, but Malfoy had already caught sight.

He chuckled to himself as he folded his arms across his chest. “Still tired, Granger?”

“That's irrelevant,” she dismissed.

“Perhaps you should have taken a nap instead of wasting your time accumulating these useless books.”

She reclaimed the pile of books and thrust them into Malfoy’s arm. He grunted at the unsuspected weight bearing into his stomach. “Bugger off, Malfoy. Carry these to the fireplaces,” Hermione demanded.

Malfoy still appeared entirely amused by the situation. “I didn't take you as a practitioner of chivalry.”

Hermione scoffed again and picked up her bag, making her way out of his office. Malfoy followed, always remaining just a few paces behind her, as they made their way up the elevator and across the atrium to the exit. If Malfoy was going to insist on making his typical remarks, then she would not talk to him any more than necessary. She only acknowledged his presence once they reached the fireplaces.

She motioned towards the low lying green flames. “Where should I call to?”

Malfoy adjusted the stack of books to one side of his shoulder so that his face was not longer blocked. “Call for the Malfoy Residence. But make sure to annunciate the ‘residence’ part.”

Hermione glared at him. “As if I would actually say ‘manor’ by accident.”

Malfoy returned the stare. “No need to get snippy, Granger,” he sneered. “It wouldn't be good for either of us if you ended up there.”

She ignored his comment as she stepped into the heightened green flames and did as instructed. She felt the familiar suck as she was lifted upwards and transported to the connected fireplace. Her bum crashed to the ground as she landed in the relatively unfamiliar location and promptly moved out of the way with Malfoy undoubted not far behind.

As she rose to her feet, she tried to appease the pain for a moment before she had a proper chance to look at the room around her. The last time she had been there, all the lights had been off and she had been a bit preoccupied. But in the early evening remaining daylight, she could see everything much more clearly.

It wasn't decorated too much, quite the opposite of the lavishly decorated manor that she tried to erase from her mind. There were a few paintings on the walls, but everything was fairly monotonous. The couch was black dragonhide and of the highest of quality, a stark contrast from her broken in armchair that was so old, she was certain that it was forever molded to her body.

But Hermione was quickly drawn to something else that caught her attention. Next to the couch, on the side table, was a stack of six books. Along the coffee table, there were three more books, each one cracked open, exposing their littered margins, filled with notes and annotations.

As Hermione strolled into the kitchen, she was met with a similar sight. The table was covered with even more books, all just as thoroughly worn. She leaned in closer to look at the page of one of the books that looked centuries old, and was surprised to find that it was all written in French. With nimble fingers, she traced her fingers along an adjacent image of a man who seemed to be in terrible pain and clawing at his skin.

Opting to choose something that she could actually read, she picked up a different book and began to leaf through the dog-eared pages until the fireplace reawakened. In stepped Malfoy, landing much more gracefully than his predecessor, which was especially impressive considering that he still had the large pile of her own books. He set them down on a free spot on the coffee table and met Hermione in the kitchen.

“I'd appreciate if you didn't lose my page,” he said casually as if there was nothing at all unusual about the scene.

Hermione inserted a finger to keep his place and temporarily shut the book to look at the cover, Hairy Snout, Human Heart.

“I don't understand,” Hermione said with scrunched eyebrows.

“I thought Hermione Granger understood all books,” Malfoy commented through a pompous smirk. “Unless you’re referring to Le Dilemme Du Loup-Garou in which case I suppose you get a pass on that one.”

Hermione felt her cheeks heat up. “That’s not what I’m referring to and you know it,” she scolded. “But all these books. They’re all about werewolves.”

Malfoy’s smirk only grew at Hermione’s observation. “You didn’t actually believe that I knew all those dates about werewolves off the top of my head, did you, Granger?”

“I just assumed you knew them from some previous legislature,” Hermione explained. “I mean, the only other person who knew that I was adding werewolves and goblins to the proposal was...” Hermione paused for a moment, everything suddenly coming clear to her. “You!” she exasperated, almost on the edge of shock.

Malfoy pulled back one of the chairs at the kitchen table and kicked his feet up onto its ledge, laughing to himself. “Took you long enough.”

She shook her head back and forth, staring at Malfoy as if he was a stranger. “You’re the ‘colleague’ who told Kingsley that I should add werewolves to my proposal?”

Hermione rested her palms on the back of one of the other kitchen chairs to stabilize herself. She was finding it all quite hard to comprehend. Last week, he had mercilessly mocked her for her work only to then agree with her, and now he had provided a significant suggestion for improvement? It all seemed too unbelievable. Too un-Malfoy.

She glared up at him through narrowed eyes as Malfoy maintained his laughter. “You can keep staring all you want Granger, but it’s not going to change the facts.”

Hermione continued to shake her head, still is disbelief. “But it doesn’t make any sense,” she stammered. Every bit of her rational body didn’t know how to process the new information. “Why?”

Malfoy lifted a cavalier shoulder. “Doesn’t matter why, just that I was right in the end.” He arose from his spot and maneuvered around Hermione towards the cabinets. Reaching into one of the above cabinets, he grabbed two glasses and used his wand to fill them with water. He proceeded back to the table and handed Hermione one of the glasses, which she readily accepted.

“I do have to admit, though,” he continued as he sat back down, “I was thrown for a bit of a loop at the inclusion of goblins.” Malfoy took a sip of his water and grimaced. “Can’t stand the things. Greedy, backstabbing creatures.”

“So you’re suddenly okay with werewolves and house elves, but goblins are where you draw the line?” Hermione asked suspiciously.

“Unfortunately for you, Granger, this isn’t the Malfoy Tell-All hour,” Malfoy reprimanded, putting an end to their conversation. “If I recall correctly, you are here for a purpose, and I have a date in-” he checked his pocket watch “-two hours and thirty seven minutes, and I’m not one to show up late. So I advise that you quit your interrogation, Granger, and we get to work.”

With that, he grabbed the old French book and resumed reading it. Hermione had so many more pressing questions bursting inside her head that she was aching to know the answers.

“Since when do you know French?” she pressed but to no reaction from Malfoy. He remained engrossed in his book as if he was impervious to her words. She peered at the book from over his shoulder, trying to decipher anything of meaning from its foreign pages. “Is this one of the books you got from Kingsley?”

At the mention of Kingsley, Malfoy grimaced slightly. “I’m working, Granger.”

Resigning herself to the fact that she wouldn’t make any progress at the moment, she grabbed another book off the table and sat across from Malfoy. She opened the book to the first bookmarked page and began to read.

Wolfsbane, also referred to as aconite or monkshood, is a very useful plant. Its sprigs have been known to keep individuals awake with the Wideye Potion. Inspired by these results, I hypothesized that this plant could also be used as a temporary antidote for lycanthropy, serving as a means to keep the human mind more aware and figuratively ‘awake.’

Hermione temporarily closed the book to look at the cover and noticed that it had been written by Damocles, who she recognized as the potioneer who invented the wolfsbane potion. She opened the book back up and skimmed over the rest of the page which detailed his trials over its creation. Each blank spot was covered with Malfoy’s scribbles. Hermione squinted her eyes, trying to decipher his notes, but the book was promptly snatched out of her hands.

“What was that for!” Hermione cried.

Malfoy closed the book shut and placed it beside himself. “That book won’t help you,” he stated without looking up at her. “You’ll be better off with one of the books next to the couch.”

Hermione crossed her arms across her chest, not at all enthused by his rude interruption of her reading. “If it’s not helpful, then why did you bother writing all over it?”

But Malfoy didn’t answer. Merlin, it was irritating that he wouldn’t just answer her questions! Well, if he wasn’t going to answer, then she’d still find the answer for herself. Pretending to move to the couch, she slowed down as she passed Malfoy and quickly reclaimed the book from beside him.

“What the hell, Granger!”

She darted towards his bedroom, knowing that she’d only have a few seconds before Malfoy inevitably caught up to her. Picking up her pace, she scurried into the connected bathroom and locked the door behind her. The door wiggled as Malfoy tugged at its handle.

“Granger!” he shouted through the door.

“Occupied!” Hermione cooed as she flipped through the pages, trying to absorb as much as possible until Malfoy had enough time to get back to the kitchen and grab his wand.

On the page listing the final ingredients, she tilted the book to its side and read Malfoy’s annotation.

Replace unicorn hair with one measure of crushed unicorn horn.”

The door shook as Malfoy returned, pounding on it with a harsh fist. “Open up, Granger!”

“Just a minute!” she shouted back.

She could hear Malfoy’s frustrated groan through the door before he finally muttered alohamora and the door swung open. Hermione closed the book and hid it behind her back.

“If you needed to use the bathroom so badly, I would have let you go first,” she teased.

Malfoy stood before her in the doorframe, his lips pursed and his cheeks a vibrant red against his pale skin. His chest heaved and his nostrils flared. “Give me back my book, Granger,” he demanded in a low, threatening voice.

Hermione surrendered the book as she brushed past him, through his bedroom and back to the kitchen. “I just wanted one more peak,” she stated casually, which only made Malfoy more upset.

“I already told you the book wasn’t useful,” he fumed from behind her.

Hermione turned around to face him. “Then why is it that you didn’t want me reading it?”

“Listen, Granger,” he seethed, “you don’t like it when I go rummaging through your things, so don’t go through mine.”

“Oh, you mean how you initially read my proposal without my permission?”

Malfoy scoffed and rolled his eyes, returning to his seat and resuming where he left off in his other book. But if he thought that his silence would be the end of the conversation, he was sorely mistaken.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you seem quite interested in the composition of the wolfsbane potion,” Hermione persisted, much to his aggravation. “Reading Damocles original trials, commenting on his ingredients…” Hermione trailed off as the pieces started to fall into place in her mind. “Are you trying to figure out another formula for the wolfsbane potion?”

As expected, he ignored her question, but the slight twitch in his lip and momentary stiffening of his back confirmed her suspicion.

“Malfoy, why-”

He banged his palms onto the table. “Stop talking, Granger!” He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath before twisted his body to face her. “Stay out of my business, and-”

“This is no longer just your business!” Hermione insisted, starting to raise her voice as well. “If you and I are working together, then I need to know what your plan is!”

“Well it’s not like I’m going to find a new potion by Monday morning, am I?” he near shouted.

“Ah!” Hermione cried, cracking a bit of a smile. “So you are trying to find a new potion!”

Malfoy scowled as he grabbed Damocles’ book and a handful of others before he headed back to his bedroom. “I’ll be reading in my room. Don’t bother me.” He stormed away, slamming the door behind him.

“Great teamwork!” she shouted at the closed door. “Kingsley would be really proud right now!”

She knew that Malfoy was probably sneering at the mention of the Minister, but he deserved it at the moment. Kingsley expected them to work together, and as predicted, Malfoy wasn’t making it easy. If he wanted to mope around and refuse to share why he was working on the wolfsbane potion, so be it. She would just return to her original plan.

She searched through her bag for a file of parchments and grabbed one of the books from her own pile, settling on the couch. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as her armchair at home, and she considered flooing back to her own flat so that she could work on the addendum alone in peace. At home, she wouldn’t have to think twice about the brooding Malfoy on the other side of the wall. But as much as she hated to admit it, Malfoy did have beneficial resources here. And she didn’t want to chance needing one of his books and not being able to access them.

She fidgeted against the stiff dragonhide and tried to get comfortable as she spread out the parchments before her and cracked open her book. If they were going to make wolfsbane more available to werewolves, they would have to alleviate its steep cost. And if more werewolves were going to be consuming the potion, there would need to be more potion makers brewing it, potentially even requiring some full-time potion makers to be employed by the ministry. It wasn’t going to be cheap.

The parchments in front of her seemed to mock her, as if underscoring just how difficult her task was. Each page outlined the finances of the ministry, how many galleons were allotted to each department. She glared down at her own department’s budget, its measly figure a pitiful amount, barely enough for them to function. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and she would stay up all night calculating readjustments if that’s what it took.

At least, that’s what her mind kept saying. Her body, on the other hand, was screaming otherwise. As she scribbled away on a fresh piece of parchment all the potential funding changes, she felt her lungs betray her cause, forcing her to yawn every few minutes or so. She fought through her exhaustion as long as possible, but slowly, her eyelids began to fall victim to sleeplessness as well. The words on the parchment began to blur together and her head started to lull, before she startled herself back to full cognizance.

Hermione had been working nonstop all week, and her body was finally starting to lose its battle. Soon enough, even the rigid couch seemed like a welcoming place for a few moments of shut eye. She told herself it would only be for a couple minutes, just enough time for her eyes to rest before she’d resume her work. But as her brain surrendered to the overpowering will of her eyelids, she slumped into the couch cushions and drifted into a deep sleep.

 

By the time Hermione awoke, the sun had set and nightfall had overtaken the flat. Hermione began to stir, a painful kink in her neck from the awkward position she had been in on the couch. She tried to lift a hand to massage it, but discovered a blanket draped across her body blocking its path. As tired as she had been, she was absolutely certain that she hadn’t been the one to have retrieved this blanket.

She outstretched her arms and looked out the window, the sun having long disappeared beyond the horizon. It must have been well past eight at this point, so Malfoy was undoubtedly already on his date. She leaned back down on the couch for a couple more moments before she would need to actually get up and collect her belongings. She didn’t know Malfoy’s modus operandi, but she’d prefer not to be there if he came home with his date.

Her stomach did summersaults imaging him barging through the door, just like they had last weekend, his hands running up and down some other witch, his lips hungrily pressed up against hers, his fingers tracing through her hair...

Hermione erased the image from her mind. Malfoy with another woman was the last thing she needed to think about at the moment. The faster she packed up her parchments and papers, the sooner she could be home to Crookshanks and her armchair that didn’t leave her with a strained neck.

She rubbed away the final remnants of slumber from her eyes, bringing the entirety of Malfoy’s flat into focus. The place was dark except for a small flicker of a lantern on his kitchen table. In its faint light, she could have sworn she saw a body seated at the table, but she must have just been imagining it. She blinked her eyes several times, yet the vision never disappeared.

She wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and grasped its edges just above her breasts and slowly walked towards the table, careful not to disturb Malfoy. He appeared to be still at work, dipping his quill into the ink cannister and scribbling across a piece of parchment. His posture was firm as he sat poised in his seat, in deep thought, the glow of the candle reflecting on his white blonde hair. She slightly smiled to herself when she realized that he was wearing glasses. He seemed pensive. He looked peaceful.

Without all the constant reminders under daylight, the darkness brought out a different side of Malfoy. It was just like that first night after the Leaky Cauldron when they had walked together under the moonlight. He just didn’t look as callous as usual. Something about the shadows just made him look less intimidating.

“Are you going to continue to stare or are you actually going to say something?” Malfoy said, not taking a break from his notes.

Hermione drew back the partnering chair and joined him at the table. “I didn’t know you wore glasses.”

Malfoy grabbed the corner of his glasses and removed them, setting them down on the table. “I’d prefer if you didn’t go around spreading that. I don’t want people to think I have anything in common with Potter.”

Hermione knew he probably didn’t intend it to be a joke, but she still halfheartedly smiled a bit. “You know, you don’t have to take them off. Your secret’s already out. And besides…” she looked down at her old cup of water from earlier and traced her finger around its brim. “The glasses look good on you.”

Malfoy’s quill paused for a moment, but he didn’t acknowledge her comment any further than that. He returned to his book and flipped to the next page. While she was glad to see that he was continuing to work on the addendum without her having to pester him, it didn’t explain why exactly he was still here so late into the evening.

“I thought you had a date?” Hermione cautiously asked.

“Yes, well, it turns out I got stood up,” he responded, still not breaking from his work.

“Oh,” Hermione said simply, not sure how else to react to his statement. While she had never experienced that pain herself, she could only fathom the blow to one’s self confidence it must have. Yet for some reason, she didn’t feel totally upset to hear that Malfoy’s date had been a no show. At least it meant that he had been able to continue working on the addendum while she had been out of commission.

He remained immersed in the book, but Hermione didn’t want to drop the topic just yet.

“Malfoy, I’m sorry your date-”

He set down his quill and looked up at Hermione. “I don’t need your fake sympathy, Granger.”

She grabbed the edges of the blanket and fimbled with the frayed tassels. “I’m not faking it. She should have at least had the decency to say it to your face.”

Malfoy leaned back in his chair and sneered. “Don’t worry you pretty little head over it, Granger. She wasn't the first, and she won’t be the last.”

While Malfoy was remaining relatively apathetic about the whole ordeal, Hermione couldn’t help but wonder how he actually felt about it. There was no way that Malfoy, perhaps the most self-obsessed, egocentric person she knew, took it lightly that women recurrently didn’t show up for dates.

She thought back to Monday night. In the midst of their endless argument that night, he had shown a few flickers of vulnerability. He had told her then how difficult it could be for him to find people to go out with, but she honestly hadn’t thought about it too much. Not that she had a reason to.

He resumed his writing, and Hermione sat up uncomfortably in her chair. “Are these blind dates or do they know it’s you?”

Malfoy grunted. “It tends to be quite rare that people willingly go out with me, Granger. Believe it or not, you’re not the only one who see me as-”

“A menace?”

His quill paused for a millisecond at her choice in wording, echoing his fear from earlier that day. Hermione nervously shifted her weight on the chair. Ever since she had overheard the word during his conversation with Kingsley, she had been asking herself whether or not she really did consider him to be a menace.

At Hogwarts? Absolutely. There was no question that back then, she wouldn’t hesitate to call him that.

But now? It wasn’t as easy to answer. He could certainly be unpleasant, but she didn’t feel unsafe around him. Irritated? Without a doubt. Scared? Not particularly.

She looked down at her fingers, picking at her fingernails, refusing to look at him, her voice slightly shaking. “I, uh, don’t think you’re a menace. Perhaps a pompous arse, but, um, not a menace.”

Malfoy returned the quill to the ink cannister and pushed his chair back, crossing both his arms and his legs. “Is that so, Granger?” he questioned skeptically. “Then tell me. Why do you insist on acting like your knickers are in a complete and utter twist every time you’re forced to interact with me?”

“Not every time,” she corrected. “Probably only around eighty-five percent.” Hermione tugged at her hair and twisted it into a knot at the top of her head. She readjusted her body on the chair, criss crossing her legs so that her entire self was perched on top of its seat. “But it’s not as if you make it easy when you’re constantly so abrasive.”

Malfoy shrugged. “You’ve known me for years, Granger. It’s not like this is a surprise. How else do you expect me to act?”

“Well, first of all,” Hermione started, “I expect you to respect my wishes and not taunt me about last weekend in front of all my friends.”

Malfoy scrunched his eyebrows and leaned in across the table. “Is that what this is all about? Monday night?”

“That’s a major part of it!” she exclaimed. “And while I take full responsibility for sleeping with you-”

“And then kissing me.”

“You kissed me. Twice. And don’t interrupt,” she reprimanded him. “You cannot deny that you were a complete and utter arse at the pub!”

“For the record, it was you who kissed me first last Friday,” Malfoy smugly justified.

“That’s not the point Malfoy!” Hermione scolded, her cheeks beginning to heat up.

Malfoy chuckled to himself and arose from his seat, grabbing Hermione’s old water glass and dumping it out in the sink. “And in case you forgot, I did apologize afterwards.”

“Oh, please,” Hermione mocked. “That was barely an apology.”

“I told you I’d give you a more proper apology if you’d agreed to go out with me tonight!”

Hermione pushed back her chair and got to her feet. She paced over to Malfoy and pressed a threatening finger against his chest. “I shouldn’t have to go on a date with you in order to get the apology I deserve!”

He nonchalantly brushed her finger away, undisturbed by her rising frustration. “It seemed like the most likely way to get you alone for a solid period of time, but clearly I was mistaken,” Malfoy justified. He repeatedly shook his head in succession as he leaned back against the edge of the counter, shrugging in her direction. “Besides, you’re not exactly innocent in this.”

“Excuse me?” Hermione near cried.

“You put on this act, Granger. Monday morning you were quivering under my touch-”

“I thought we weren’t bringing that up,” Hermione hissed.

“Tsk, tsk, Granger,” Malfoy teased. “What happened to no interruptions?” He pushed himself off the counter and slowly strolled closer to Hermione. “You went from melting over me-”

“I was not melting!”

“Dear Merlin, let a man complete his thought!” Malfoy snapped. “Say what you want Granger, but you cannot deny that there was something between us Monday morning and then you turned ice cold just a few hours later!”

“Because you were being an arse!”

“Or are you too afraid to show any sort of interest towards me in public?”

Malfoy grew dangerously close to Hermione and she could start to feel his warm breath against her skin. She had been in this position and knew how it had ended in the past. She took a step back for safe measure.

Hermione scoffed. “I’m not afraid, Malfoy.”

“Oh that’s right,” Malfoy fake laughed to himself. “I forgot that Gryffindors are too proud to ever admit to being afraid of something.”

“I’m not afraid,” Hermione repeated more adamantly

“Fine,” Malfoy resolved. “Just stubborn.”

Hermione threw her hands up in the air in surrender. “I’m done talking about this, Malfoy. We need to get back to work.”

Malfoy released a low huff and resumed his seat. “Typical.”

Malfoy return to his scroll of parchment and Hermione stormed across the living space to the coffee table with her own parchments. But as soon as she actually looked at them, she realized that her reallocation notes were missing.

“Looking for this, Granger?” Back in the kitchen, Malfoy held up a pieces of parchment with her distinguishable handwriting all over it. She stomped back to the table and snatched it back.

“What are you doing with my scroll?”

“I thought you said we were a team,” he ridiculed.

“And I thought we agreed we don’t like it when the other rummages through their things!”

“My mistake,” Malfoy spat sarcastically. “Next time, I’ll make sure to wake you first.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “For Merlin’s sake, do you always have to be so insufferable?”

She snatched back her parchment and then grabbed the piece he was working on for good measure. All of his notes complemented her own, a similar list of suggestions for funding reallocations. The only difference, however, was that all of his notes related to his own department. She continued to read it over, trying to figure out what to say to him.

She was still glaring at it when Malfoy carefully took back the scroll and rolled it up. “Wipe that dumbfounded look off your face, Granger. Turns out your idea wasn’t complete shit.”

“If that’s a compliment, you need to work on your delivery,” Hermione scolded. “But you didn’t need to reallocate from International Magical Cooperation. We could have made it work just fine with the funds from-”

Malfoy raised a skeptical eyebrow as he cut her off. “You never would have been able to get anything else done if you dedicated all your money to this project. There are other things that need funding as well.”

Hermione glanced over his math once more. If his calculations were correct, then this really would be sufficient for them to properly subsidize the wolfsbane potion for the werewolf population. Each werewolf would still need to contribute a few sickles, but overall, it would make the potion much more readily available.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“Don’t thank me yet, Granger,” Malfoy snarled. “We still need to actually write this addendum and pray to Merlin that the Wizengamot passes the thing. But we can start that tomorrow.”

“Malfoy, we can-”

“Granger, stop,” Malfoy interrupted her again. “You’re going to over-exhaust yourself. Go home, get a proper night’s sleep, and we’ll resume in the morning.”

Hermione crossed her arms across her chest defiantly. “I can function on no sleep!”

Malfoy glared at her disbelievingly. “I’m sorry, or did I just imagine that you spent the last three hours passed out on my couch?”

“And now I’m refreshed!”

Go home,” Malfoy insisted.

He raised a threatening eyebrow and Hermione eventually submitted. She started to grab her parchment, but decided to leave it on the table. Perhaps she really would just go home and sleep. No need to take everything back to her place when she’d be back in the morning.

She half smiled at Malfoy and made her way to the fireplace. She reached into the urn next to the fireplace and scooped up a handful of floo powder. Just as she was about to step into the flames, Malfoy called out for her.

“Hey, Granger!”

She looked up from the flames to his barely illuminated figure across the room.

“Sleep tight.”

She looked down and smiled to herself. “Yeah, you too, Malfoy.”

He was a proper pain in the arse, but there were some moments where she supposed he wasn’t completely intolerable.

Chapter Text

The sunshine crept through the cracks in Hermione’s curtains and she outstretched her arms in the early morning glow. Her sleep had been peaceful, not a single dream or nightmare, just a much needed deep rest after such an exhausting week. Already the day was off to a good start, and if her mood kept up, she and Malfoy should be able to complete the addendum without much of a hitch.

She fluttered out of bed and perused the items in her closet. Lately, it wasn’t often that she left her flat on the weekend outside of going into the Ministry for a few hours, so this would actually be somewhat of a welcome change, even if it was just going to Malfoy’s place. She considered wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt under her robes, but opted for a dress instead. The day seemed a bit warmer than usual for a fall day, and very soon, she wouldn’t be able to wear the dress until spring rolled around again. She tugged it over her head and made her way to the kitchen with Crookshanks scurrying behind at her heels.

Hermione reached up into the cupboard and felt around for her tin of tea, but when she eventually found it, it didn’t rattle. All her tea had already been consumed so she was stuck high and dry. The night’s sleep had been helpful and left her feeling refreshed, but it didn’t feel like a proper morning until she had her cup of tea.

She retrieved her wand off her nightstand and started to walk out the door, but paused momentarily at her passing reflection in the vanity mirror. Her hair was splayed out in several directions, even more than usual. She scooped a dab of Sleekeazy’s hair potion and applied it from the roots, running her fingers through her mane until it actually looked quite nice.

She grabbed her set of robes off their designated hook and shoved them into her bag. Bidding farewell to Crookshanks, Hermione headed out the front door and down the stairs until she exited onto the main street. Instead of turning her usual left towards the apparition point, she made to the right towards Muggle London.

It wasn’t often that Hermione found the time to return to her Muggle roots, but every time she did, it still felt familiar and reminiscent of her youth. Even though many years had passed, she could easily navigate through the narrow streets until she found her favorite cafe, ordering two teas and muffins, happy with herself for always keeping a few spare pounds at the bottom of her bag in case of emergencies. Not that this was an emergency per se, but morning tea was a must.

She used her back to push her way out of the shop and proceeded to the apparition point so that she and Malfoy could resume their efforts, but she got distracted by herself in the window. She did look good that morning. A nice fitting dress, in control hair, and a bright smile on her face as she carried the tray of two teas.

Two.

Hermione frantically set her purchases down on a nearby table and urgently ruffled up her hair so that it returned to its usual state of frizziness. That was better, but it was hardly enough.

She picked up her items and maneuvered through the crowd on the sidewalk, a bit more unnerved than before. Her mind darted, trying to avoid the truth behind her unconscious efforts, but try as she might, the thought kept creeping into the forefront of her mind. Was some part of her actually trying to impress Malfoy? The idea itself seemed absurd. She had spent the majority of the past week actively criticizing and berating him, perhaps slightly more than what was warranted, but honestly, that had nothing to do with anything. He had just been… typical Malfoy.

The second tea mocked her, a reminder of whom she had purchased the cup for. She was only trying to be nice -- a sign of camaraderie after a productive night. But now, she doubted her intentions. And there was no way she would let Malfoy question them as well.

She walked slightly off the path and removed the lid from one of the cups and dumped it onto the patch of grass, discarding the empty cup in a waste bin. There! Now neither one of them would get the wrong idea about what it meant.

She needed to get this addendum over with so she could go back to the way her life had been a week ago. Anything involving Malfoy was a bad idea. A very bad idea. Not just because of what her friends would say, but because… well… Well, she'd think of some other solid reason, but it wasn't a good idea! That she knew for sure.

Reaching the destination, Hermione concentrated on the vague memory of the outside of Malfoy’s flat and soon felt that familiar suck through her stomach as she apparated to his place. She tapped on the door, softly at first, but after several minutes, Malfoy did not respond. Her motions turned to firm bangs and eventually into harsh pounding.

“Malfoy!” she cried, thumping on the door.

The door swung open, and Malfoy shielded his squinted eyes from the hallway’s bright lights, his entire flat still dim. The expression on his face twisted in grogginess, apparently having just awoken. Hermione quickly averted her gaze and looked down the hall when she noticed that Malfoy was wearing nothing more than his boxers.

“For Salazar’s sake,” Malfoy groaned, his voice cracking, “what the hell are you doing here so bloody early, Granger?”

Hermione held a hand over the corner of her eyes, blocking his shirtless, undergarment clad body. “The addendum won’t write itself.”

Malfoy paused for a moment, and Hermione was growing impatient. She wished he’d just let her in so they could get started, but more importantly, she wished he’d go get properly dressed. Hermione slightly cracked open two of her fingers so she could see if Malfoy was still there. He remained in the doorframe, not slightly fazed by his state of undress.

“What’s in the bag, Granger?” Malfoy asked, still adjusting to being awake. 

“Don’t worry, I didn’t bring any more books,” Hermione responded, but Malfoy just chuckled.

“I don’t care what’s in that awful carrier bag you insist on lugging around everywhere,” Malfoy said. “I’m referring to the paper bag.”

Hermione’s eyes fell on the brown bag still clenched in her other hand. Merlin’s beard, she had been so consumed by the second tea, she hadn’t considered that she had also bought a muffin for him. She reluctantly dug into the bag and revealed the matching pastries.

“I, uh, brought breakfast,” she stammered.

He eyed it suspiciously as he examined the unfamiliar logo printed along its lining. Shrugging to himself, he took a bite and sauntered back inside.

When he faced away from her, Hermione noticed that there was a dark brown clump of paste wedged in his hair. She reached out to try to remove it, startling the both of them the moment her fingers touched him. She instantly retracted as Malfoy set down the muffin and dragged his finger through his hair, trying to remove the paste himself, but only managed to get a small portion.

He looked at the residue on his fingers and groaned. “Give me five minutes. I need to take a shower.”  He opened his bedroom door and stepped halfway inside before turning back to Hermione. “And don’t touch anything while I’m gone.”  With that, he shut the door and all that remained was the faint echo of the showerhead turning on.

She stared blankly at the door for a split second before she returned to her own muffin. She had barely managed to consume a few bites from it when a large banging noise came from the other side of his flat. Hermione jumped up, the muffin crashing to the floor, her whole body startled by the loud interruption. She quickly withdrew her wand and scanned the room for the source of the sound, but nothing seemed out of place. She cautioned across the room with constant vigilance just like Mad-Eye Moody had always advised her.

The sound returned, this time even louder. Hermione took another step forward and realized it was coming from behind a closed door. She swung the door open, the wretched smell instantly attacking her nose. The whole room reeked of something worse than rotten eggs. She could barely see anything, the entire room practically pitch black. She whispered lumos and the tip of her wand illuminated, bringing the vials of liquids and bubbling cauldrons to sight.

The floor beneath her feet creaked as she entered the new room, allowing her to fully see inside. Two grand tables extended the entire length of the room that was even larger than his bedroom. There was not a free space on the tables, their entire surface covered by brimming cauldrons, dirty vials, and opened books. The walls were lined with various ingredients, some of which even she wasn’t fully certain of their usage.

Her eyes wandered across the contents of the table, and she noticed that Damocles’ book was there, reopened to the page that Malfoy had tried to prevent her from reading the night before. She brought her wand closer to its surface so that she could get a proper look. There were new scribbles lining the pages and some of the previous ones had been updated.

“Replace unicorn hair with one-half measure of unicorn horn.”

She peered into the cauldron beside the book, dark brown liquid gurgling inside. A large bubble started to form on the surface and she just barely withdrew herself before it popped, the resulting sound echoing in the room.

“Stand back, or you’ll be the one forced to take a shower next.”

Malfoy stood in the entrance to the room, his side balanced against the doorframe with his arms crossed. Hermione braced herself for Malfoy to yell at her for intruding on what was clearly his personal potions lab, but it never came.

“Did you brew these after I left last night?” she asked, hoping that his lack of confrontation might be an opportunity for answers.

Malfoy slowly paced towards her, dragging his fingers along the edge of the table. “Reallocating funds will work for the time being, but we still need a long term solution.”

“Why do you care so much about finding an alternative formula for Wolfsbane?”

His fingers grew dangerously closer to hers, but he bypassed them and shut Damocles’ book instead. “That's a story for another time, Granger.”

He exited the room, leaving her alone in the darkness. She knew she should just follow him into the kitchen so they could begin, but she wasn’t quite ready to get to work yet. Hermione continued to peruse the objects on the table, picking up various vials to examine their contents.

It seems particularly odd that he hadn’t berated her for intruding on his side project, but she supposed she shouldn’t complain. Her mind was still filled with urgent desire to know more. Malfoy had found another way to surprise her. First with her house elf legislation, later with his apparent friendship with Kingsley, and all the other small little things that piqued her interest in the past week. Malfoy was proving to be quite the enigma. She couldn’t help but feel intrigued by the whole thing.

She nearly dropped the vial in her hand at the return of that word. It had been a solid five days since she had permitted herself to even think the word, yet here it was again. Intrigued. It was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place, and now it was back. 

The door to the potions lab swung open and Malfoy returned, startling Hermione even further. “If you were going to dawdle, you should have at least let me sleep in later.”   

Hermione actually dropped the vial this time. She fell to the floor and quickly retrieved it, placing it back on the table.

“I warned you not to touch anything,” he joked.

Her cheeks flared into a vibrant blush, and she was eternally grateful that the darkness obscured it from his vision. Gods, she needed to put a stop to this. “I’ll be right out,” she stammered, still coming to grips with her recent realization.

“Well, don’t take too long.”

He left the door open for her, but she still had enough privacy to release her held breath. She frantically shook her head, desperately hoping that it would somehow shake these thoughts out of her mind, but it was useless. The thoughts were there to stay.

She eventually left the room and found Malfoy at the kitchen table where he already had scrolls of parchment, ink, and quills prepared. Malfoy was in his seat, glasses perched on the top of his nose, reading some new book.

She slowly looked him over, hoping that he’d be too distracted to notice. In the daylight, he looked just as poised in his glasses, but that was hardly what captured her attention. He was dressed in simple muggle clothing, a casual black v-neck and joggers, yet he still managed to look more dignified than the average man. The dark tones underscored the stark difference in his pale skin and still-wet blonde hair.

“You're staring again, Granger,” he said in a bored drawl, peeking over the top of his book. “Just because I’m reading doesn’t mean I don’t see you.”  Hermione continued to look at him with fixation as he set down the book and toyed the frame of his glasses. “If you’re going to make another comment about the glasses -”

“No!” Hermione hastily interrupted, surprising both of them. “I mean,” she said, looking down at her hands, “I, I was just noticing that black suits you well.”

The right edge of his lip just barely curled upwards before he stopped himself. “Well, if that's everything, Granger, we best get started."

 

They worked throughout the afternoon, Hermione continuing to push them until they were nearly finished. Every now and again, Hermione had found herself looking at Malfoy a bit longer than necessary, but she would always promptly snap herself out of her self-induced haze. Finally, after two empty inkwells, three scrapped drafts, and four broken quills, Hermione read over the latest version, quite satisfied with the results. 

A grumble released itself from her stomach and she promptly clamped her hand over herself, knocking over a third inkwell.

Malfoy took out his wand and quickly scourgified the mess. “Okay, Granger, it’s time for a break.”

“It’s nearly done!” she protested. They only needed thirty more minutes max and then this would all be over with. She could leave and forget that the day and any of her thoughts involving Malfoy had ever happened.

But Malfoy dismissed her objection. “It’s been hours. All we’ve had to eat today is a muffin and that’s being generous considering you only took two bites out of yours.”

“That’s not my fault!” Hermione asserted. “I would have eaten the whole thing if you didn’t have a secret potions lab on the verge of explosion!”

“It was hardly on the ‘verge of explosion,’” Malfoy mocked, “but more importantly, who knew Gryffindors scared so easy.”

Hermione pretended to throw a crumpled up discarded draft at him, and he flinched at her threat, laughing at her fake attempt. “Come on, Granger,” he insisted. “It’s been hours. We need something to eat.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow, egging her on, crushing her defenses. “Fine,” she eventually conceded. “What do you have?”

Malfoy chuckled. “Please. I don’t cook.”

“Then what is the kitchen for?”

“For show.”  He removed his glasses and pushed back from his chair. “What do you want to eat?”

“Um, just something from the Leaky Cauldron is fine.”

Malfoy near burst into laughter this time. “I’ll eat there when I’m actually starving. I’ll surprise you.”  He made his way to the fireplace and just before he disappeared into the blazing green flames, he smiled at Hermione. Hermione caught herself smiling back, and once he was gone, she sheepishly bit down on the inner edges of her lip.

Seconds later, she brought herself back to reality. What was going on with her! Sure, the day had gone better than hoped. In fact, she was finding it quite hard to find anything to complain about. They had gotten in a few minor skirmishes, but that was mainly over wording. And honestly, he had made some quality contributions. She hated to admit it, but Kingsley had been right about them working together.

Yet her head was still in a convoluted fog. Being productive with Malfoy had only added to her confusion over him. Perhaps at times they did make a decent team, but that was hardly the point. He was… he was Malfoy for crying out loud! A man more arrogant, presumptuous, and irritating than almost anyone else she had ever met. Yet the more time she spent with him, the more she was seeing those behaviors peel away.

The fireplace lit up and Malfoy reappeared, a restaurant bag already in hand. He stepped out of the flames and brought their dinner to the kitchen table. With a flick of his wand, their hard work from the day flew from the table to the counter, clearing the space for their meal. Reaching into the cabinets, he retrieved two plates and set the table, then pulling the prepared entrees out of the bag.

Hermione returned her thoughts to the back of her mind, determined to not let them back out until she was away from Malfoy and was in a proper headspace to fully think about it. She looked at the empty bag, reading the name of the place. “Club del Doge?” Hermione asked. “Where on Diagon Alley is this?”

He grabbed two long-stemmed wine glasses and placed them beside both plates. “Who said anything about Diagon Alley?”  Hermione cocked her head in confusion and Malfoy smirked at her. “Working for the Department of International Magical Cooperation does have its perks.”

Hermione grabbed the bag and reexamined it. “You didn’t seriously go to Italy for dinner Malfoy!”

He shrugged as if it was no big deal. “You and I deserved a bit of a treat. And if you weren’t so high strung about getting the addendum done, I would have suggested we actually eat there.”  He opened up the fridge and surveyed the bottles of wine before picking two. “You would love it there, Granger. Right along the water with a perfect view of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. All very rom--”

His voice trailed off. Their eyes met for only instant until both of them looked away. He rummaged through one of the drawers and pulled out a corkscrew. “Red or white?”

“Which one do you suggest?”

“Definitely the white.”

“White, then.”

Malfoy poured them both a generous serving of wine and set the bottle down on the table. He raised his full glass. “To the betterment of house elves and werewolves.”

And goblins.” Hermione added.

Malfoy released a short snort. “And goblins.”

They clinked their glasses and both took a sip before digging into their food. For a while, they sat there in mostly silence, the sole sound coming from their silverware scratching against the plate beneath their pasta. Every now and then, Hermione stole a short look at Malfoy, but then returned her focus to her meal. The longer they sat there, the harder her heart pounded in her chest.

The silence was becoming deafening. With neither one of them talking, her curiosities were creeping forward. She needed to squelch them and the only solution was to ask. She swallowed her current bite of food and washed it down with a sip of wine. “Can I ask you something, Malfoy?”

Malfoy looked up from his dish, surprised that she had broken the stillness. He set down his fork and patted his mouth with a napkin. “Depends. Do I get a question in return?”

Hermione took a moment to consider. They had made deals like this before, and it hadn’t proven entirely successful. But she was willing to try again. “Sure.”

“You promise to actually answer it this time?”

Hermione hesitated for a moment. “I will if you will.”

“Unbreakable vow?”

Hermione dropped her jaw into a smile. “Absolutely not!”

“What’s the matter, Granger? Scared?”

“Am not!” she protested. “We just don’t have a witness!”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure that’s your only reservation.”

The two of them smiled at each other before Malfoy took another sip of his wine. “Go ahead then, Granger. What’s your question?”

Hermione paused to consider. If she only got one question she needed to choose wisely. “You and Kingsley. How did you two become friends?”

Malfoy winced a bit, apparently not anticipating that question at all. “Who said he and I were friends?”

“Whatever you want to call it,” Hermione amended, not letting him skirt around giving her a proper answer. “You clearly know him better than in a typical Ministry employee fashion.”

Malfoy finished his glass of wine and set it back down on the table. “As a part of my... involuntary... hiring at the ministry, I was forced to have weekly meetings with Kingsley for him to check in on me.  After my required year of service, though, I stayed on, but our meetings never stopped.”

“Is that why you were in his office Monday and how you read my proposal?”  

“You already got your one question, Granger,” Malfoy played. She balled up her napkin and threw it at him. He smiled as he picked it up off the floor and set it beside his own. “Fine, fine. Yes, that’s why I was in his office.”

It all seemed logical enough. She recalled what a commotion his sentence had caused throughout the Ministry. No one seemed to want to have him on their team.  But Kingsley must have promised to keep an eye on him, and apparently, it had all gone well. “He must really trust you.” Hermione softly added.

Malfoy came in closer and rested his elbows on the edge of the table. “Do you trust me?”

Hermione paused for a moment a sucked in a deep breath. “I don’t… distrust you.”

Malfoy leaned back in his chair. “I guess that’s enough for right now.”

The table feel back into silence, both of them searching for the words to fill the void.

“You know,” Hermione finally spoke, “I think that counted as your question.”  

“No way, Granger,” Malfoy said, playing along with her game. “Beside, I gave you two questions, so I get at least one more.”  

“Well then you better make it a good one.”

Malfoy picked up the bottle of wine and topped off his glass as well as Hermione’s. He took a few gulps before returning it to its spot. Now he was the one staring down at his dish. Hermione nervously sipped from her own glass, starting to wonder if it was a mistake to promise to answer whatever he asked. She had just begun to actually feel comfortable around him, but maybe it was too soon to have let her guard down.

“You and Weasley,” he muttered and Hermione’s heart stopped. “What happened?”

If Malfoy hadn’t anticipated her question, she most certainly hadn’t anticipated his. Her entire body felt frozen at the mention of Ron’s name, especially coming from Malfoy’s lips.

“You don’t actually have to answer if you don’t want to,” Malfoy began to backtrack.

“No,” Hermione faintly responded. “It’s fine. I said I would answer.”  She picked up her fork and began to stab the uneaten pieces of pasta. “I guess we just grew stale. There wasn’t any of the same spark. None of that excitement you’re still supposed to feel even after the initial butterflies die out. I guess… I guess I was beginning to feel trapped.”

Malfoy gave a slight sound of acknowledgement, but then the tension filled silence returned, both of them pushing around the food on their plates, but never taking another bite. Even after having consumed half her dish, she still felt like nothing was in her stomach.

Hermione set down her fork, officially giving up on trying to eat anything else. “Can I ask another question?”

“You can ask, but I won't promise that I'll answer.”

Hermione ran her finger around the rim of her wine glass, still not wanting to make eye contact with Malfoy. “When you said you were sorry the other day… What did you mean?”

She slowly looked up from her glass, but now Malfoy was avoiding her gaze. “I…” he started off, but his words fell flat. He rested his elbow on the table and propped his head upon his hand. “I did a lot of bad things in the past. I am fully aware of that, as is everyone else who will ever meet me. I can’t change that. But I can at least try to make amends for some of my actions.”

His hand fell onto the table as he began to shake his head back and forth. “I think of all those children who were attacked by Fenrir Greyback and the rest of the werewolves during the war and I just… I don’t want to see them ostracized from wizarding society because of things that my family and I were a part of.”

Hermione reached out and grabbed his hand. Her heart stopped for a moment as Malfoy stared at their connected limbs, but he didn’t withdraw his touch. Her whole body felt numb as she began to slowly rub her thumb against the top of his hand.

“Is that why you’re working on the potion?” she near whispered.

Malfoy closed his eyes. “If I figure out a way to cheapen the potion, then perhaps things would be slightly easier for them. It’s like what you said yesterday. I’m not looking for forgiveness. I just would like a chance to prove myself to have changed.”

Hermione got out of her seat, never losing their grip. She crouched next to him, placed her free hand on his cheek, and without overthinking it, kissed him.

Chapter Text

The kiss lingered for only a second before Hermione began to draw away, but she found that something was keeping her in place. Malfoy had one hand draped around the nape of her neck, the other gripping onto her dress as if letting go would cause him to plummet to his death. Hermione had intended for it to be a short kiss, but it seemed like Malfoy had different plans, and for the life her, she couldn’t find a single objection.

His lips brushed up against hers, gently tugging each time he pulled back. The slower his kisses, the faster her heart beat and the bolder she felt. Her thumb traced the curvature of his cheek while her other hand ventured to the base of his neck, letting his hair fall through the spaces between her fingers. He pulled her in closer and she let out on instinctive moan.

At the sound of her pleasure, he rose from his seat and drew her up with him. He removed his grasp, only to immediately grab her around her waist and hoist her on top of the table between their long forgotten meals. Malfoy stood between her dangling legs, and as he leaned in closer to her, the space between them became near nonexistent, keeping both hands pressed to her cheeks, never breaking from his kiss.

Hermione was completely lost in the moment. It was as if all her hesitations from the last week became irrelevant when their tongues were too busy to start any more altercations. She leaned back, trying to stabilized herself on the table, but her hand collided with one of the wine glasses, accidentally pushing it off the table, causing it to shatter.

Hermione instantly pulled back from Malfoy, staring at the broken glass. “I'm so sorry!” she stammered, but Malfoy didn't seem the least bit concerned by her blunder.

While Hermione remained distracted by the mess on the ground, he moved his attention to other places on her body. “Forget about the stupid glass,” he said between kisses along her neck.

She gently pushed him away with a hand against his chest, trying to ignore how firm it was under her touch. “But one of us could step on it.”

Malfoy glared at her disapprovingly from under his eyelashes. Hermione cocked an eyebrow at him, determined that she would be the one to win the battle of their wills, and eventually, he begrudgingly tore himself away and conceded to her wishes.

He dug into his pocket, retrieving his wand, and began to usher the shards into the waste bin. As Hermione observed, she nervously bit on her already too short index finger nail. She didn’t need a mirror to know that her cheeks were already blazing red, but there was hardly anything she could do to prevent Malfoy from noticing. She dropped her finger, shifting her attention to her bottom lip, watching as her feet swung from the edge of the table.

She had liked kissing Malfoy. When he let his guard down and wasn’t a pompous prick, there was a part of her that didn’t completely hate him. Well, she supposed it was a tad more than just a lack of hatred. In fact, she was quite nervous that she was starting to cross a line into uncharted territory. Anything other than unwavering animosity was still an entirely new concept, and all of it was happening too fast.

She pushed herself off the table and bent over to retrieve her bag. Just a quick pat on her cheeks confirmed that they were definitely burning hot. Hermione made sure to keep her head ducked as she spoke.

“I didn’t realize how late it was,” she muttered, although the clock barely read past six.

Malfoy looked up from the almost clean floor and scanned her over quickly, his eyes immediately drawn to her bag resting on her shoulder. “Hold up,” he asserted, taken aback by her remark. “You’re leaving?”

Hermione’s stomach flipped once over. “I, um, need to feed Crookshanks.”

“I’ve seen that thing you call a pet,” Malfoy scoffed. “He can fend for himself.”

Hermione didn’t even bother to address his comment. “I need to go,” she maintained. She readjusted her bag and tried to exit the kitchen before Malfoy made another attempt for her to stay. He was quicker than her, though, and latched onto her wrist, pulling her back towards him.

“You kissed me, dammit,” he fumed.

His eyebrows were scrunched in close together and his lips were twisted into a scowl, but his eyes didn’t hold nearly the same amount of anger as she expected. They just seemed wistful. For a slight second, she considered staying, but she ultimately couldn’t risk what might happen if she did. She closed her eyes and yanked herself away, heading directly to the fireplace.

“Don’t do this, Granger,” he shouted after her. Hermione could just barely detect a slight crack of desperation in his plea as she was surrounded by the green flames and was transported away.

Her bag fell to the floor and she let out a sigh as she arrived back in her own flat. Crookshanks leapt off his perch on the cushion of the sofa and nuzzled between Hermione’s legs, welcoming her home. He whimpered soft meows in greeting, but Hermione ignored him. She crashed face-first into the cushions of her sofa, burrowing herself into one of the pillows, releasing an exasperated groan.

Crookshanks wasn't at all disturbed by his owner’s distress. The old cat just seemed pleased that she was home, pawing at her for attention. Hermione groaned again. “Give me a moment, Crookshanks.”  

She was away from his flat, and more importantly, away from him and the confusion that came with it, yet her stomach still felt about as steady as a ship in the middle of a summer storm. She didn’t regret kissing him. She really didn’t. But that was exactly the issue. She didn’t regret kissing him. Her mind was racing and she desperately needed something to get her mind off of all of it. If she didn’t think about him, then she didn’t need to address what had happened and how she potentially felt.

Crookshanks traveled to on top of Hermione’s back and started to knead into her spine. “Okay, okay,” Hermione finally resigned, prying her head away from the cushion. “I suppose you actually are hungry.”  She pushed herself off of the sofa and Crookshanks happily followed her into the kitchen. Hermione poured him a fresh bowl of food and refilled his water, which he happily lapped up.

She looked around her flat and didn't know what to do next. It was a Saturday night and she had exactly nothing  to do. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. They weren’t completely done with the addendum yet, but in her haste to leave, she hadn’t considered retrieving it. She supposed she would have to get it back from him eventually, but now was obviously not the time. Hopefully Malfoy would be smart enough not to touch it without her. Regardless, she couldn’t step foot back in his place tonight, even if she did want to continue working.

Trying to kill time, Hermione changed out of her dress and swapped it for her flannel pyjama bottoms and a long sleeve shirt. It was nowhere near time for bed, but there was no harm in putting on something more comfortable. Besides, for being such a nice day earlier, the night had returned and with it, the cool autumn air.

Finding nothing else to do, Hermione resorted to the only thing that had always entertained her regardless of the situation:  reading. Slumping into her old arm chair, Hermione cracked open her book and resumed where she had last left off. After finishing his bowl of food, Crookshanks jumped up onto her lap and Hermione lazily pet him while immersing herself in another world, another time period, far away from anything Malfoy related.

After two hours of reading, her brain started to grow weak. She had been working hard all day on the addendum, and even her brain needed a bit of a rest from time to time. She tried her best to focus on the words printed on the page.

Her father was walking about the room, looking grave and anxious. “Lizzy ,'' said he, “what are you doing? Are you out of your senses, to be accepting this man? Have not you always hated him?''

How earnestly did she then wish that her former opinions had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate! It would have spared her from explanations and professions which it was exceedingly awkward to give; but they were now necessary, and she assured him, with some confusion, of her attachment to Mr. Darcy. 

“Or, in other words, you are determined to have him. He is rich, to be sure, and you may have more fine clothes and fine carriages than Jane.  But will they make you happy?"

“Have you any other objection,'' said Elizabeth , “than your belief of my indifference?''

“None at all. We all know him to be a proud , unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him.''

“I do, I do like him,'' she replied, with tears in her eyes.

Hermione had to shut her book. The book was supposed to be her distraction, not cause her to think even more about Malfoy! And yet, as she read about Elizabeth’s change in heart towards Mr. Darcy, she couldn’t help but be reminded of her own situation. The smart, quick-witted girl hated the wealthy, haughty man, only to later realize that they were actually meant to be. Not that Hermione was saying at that she and Malfoy were meant to be! Dear Merlin, no! But if Elizabeth was able to see past that with Mr. Darcy, could she at least do that much with Malfoy?

She needed time to think, to process, and clearly, reading more of her book was only going to cause more issues. By now, it was only half past eight, but Hermione couldn’t think of what else to do, so she brushed her teeth and slipped into bed, determined to call it a night.

She turned off the lights and settled underneath the sheets, ignoring the final remnants of sun that peeked through the bottom of her blinds. She closed her eyes and hoped that sleep would find her easily. All her energy was concentrated on clearing her mind, yet behind her eyelids, she could still vividly see his visage. His appearance was different than how she typically imagined him, though. Instead of his usual snobbish expression and air of superiority, she kept replaying the painful look in his eyes when she left.

She rolled over in bed and hoped a new position would bring better results. Her eyes were sealed shut as if that would somehow aid her mission, but once again, he popped back into her head. Reaching desperation, she covered her head with a pillow. Perhaps there was a chance she could literally squeeze them out of her brain. But it was all useless. Her mind kept wandering back to him.

She yanked off her sheets and headed to the bathroom, digging through the medicine cabinet for some potion that could help in any way. Hermione finally located her bottle of Sleeping Draught, but when she uncorked it, she grew very frustrated with herself when she realized it was empty. Even if she did have all the ingredients, brewing up a new batch would take at least an hour and a half, and she sincerely hoped it wouldn't take her that long to fall asleep.

Hermione rubbed her temples as she proceeded back to her room and hid herself under her sheets again. At this point, it was actually dark outside, but she didn’t feel any closer to slumber. She dragged herself out of bed once more and located the most factual, mundane book she could think of and started to read. Luckily, within a few pages, her eyelids started to become heavy and she could feel herself finally starting to drift into a peaceful sleep.

She placed the book on her nightstand and pulled the sheets up over her shoulders, nestling into them. Her bed finally felt comfortable, a warm and welcome place for her to rest. She smiled as her mind started to wind down. At last, she was content.

The weight of the bed shifted as Crookshanks joined her. He pranced around in a circle a few times before settling into a ball next to her stomach. Hermione couldn’t blame him. It was bound to be a cold night, and he probably just wanted a warm body to be next to. Someone to curl up beside him, someone to run fingers through his fur, someone to be there when he woke up. She let out a soft moan as she pictured all of those things. His body curled up behind hers, his fingers running through her hair, his warm embrace when they woke up…

Hermione’s eyes darted open and she once again found herself out of bed, this time pacing back and forth, gripping the roots of her hair. This was insane! All she wanted was a pleasant night’s sleep! Her throat was dry and her stomach felt completely empty. Granted, she really hadn’t had that much to eat for dinner, but she knew that wasn’t the cause for her easiness.

She reach into her closet and grabbed her cardigan and grasped it closed around her waist. Her mind shifted to autopilot as she retrieved her wand, slid into her slippers, and found herself back at the fireplace. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, she was in his flat.

The lights were all already off, and she stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do next. Usually she relied on heavily thought out plans, and surely this situation should have called for one, but her feet had somehow led her there, and now she was too nauseous to move.

The door to his bedroom burst open and Malfoy dashed out, his wand at the ready and pointed directly at her, pyjama pants laying low around his hips. The alarm on his face quickly vanished when he recognized her. Hermione sheepishly wrapped her arms around her still queasy stomach and looked down at her slippers. Malfoy crossed his arms as he paced towards her.

“I don't really know why I'm here,” she stammered in a whisper when he was just a few steps away.

He looked like part of him wanted to say something cruel, something about how she had deserted him just a few hours prior, but he held his tongue. Slowly, his features began to soften, although he still kept a bit of distance between them. He looked at her own pyjama clad body and chuckled. “Couldn't sleep?”

Hermione smirked for a moment and shook her head. Her gaze returned to her feet, but only for an instant before Malfoy took another step forward and lifted her chin with a hooked finger. Their eyes only met for a moment before he closed his and kissed her. The tension in her shoulders immediately slacked and for the first time since she left his place earlier that evening, her mind was finally clear.

Malfoy pulled away and looked down at her again. Only this time, his eyes were wide, filled with doubt, as if he was questioning himself. But for Hermione, there were no more questions. She was done pretending she didn't want this. Cause, hell, she wanted this.

She reached up and pressed both palms against his cheeks and kissed him again, allowing herself to fully savor it. His lips were soft and felt smooth against her own. Malfoy’s hand wandered to the back of her neck and grabbed a handful of her hair, locking her in place. He sunk in deeper with the kiss, and Hermione readily followed suit. Through their thin shirts, she could almost feel his beating heart jumping out of his chest as fast as hers.

He pulled away and rested his forehead against her own. “You better not be messing with me, Granger,” he whispered softly. But she had absolutely no intention of stopping any time soon.

Malfoy went in for another kiss. It started off slow, but each time their lips connected, both of their desperation grew. He bit down on the edge of her lower lip and forced her mouth open, allowing his tongue to slip inside. Hermione resisted a moan as he moved his hands to her arse and her fingers entangled themselves in his hair, leaving nearly no space between them.

He clamped down on her bottom lip one final time before pulling himself away much too soon for her liking. She needed more. His finger traveled down her jaw and traced the length of her arm until it reached her hand. He latched onto it and looked down at her expectantly. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat as she nodded. He paused for a moment before he tightened his grip and led her into his room.

He closed the door behind him, and immediately they were back on each other, leaving all sensibility in the living room. In the dark shadows of his bedroom, there was no longer any doubt about what they both wanted, regardless of what the consequences would be.

Hermione’s hands shook as she tugged the bottom of Malfoy’s shirt and ushered it over his shoulder, revealing his bare chest that she had so carefully avoided looking at just earlier that day. Malfoy did likewise, hurriedly pulling off her cardigan and then her sleeping shirt. Hermione couldn’t help but subtly blush when she recalled that she had already removed her bra for the evening, but she was sure that Malfoy would have no objections.

Their lips reconnected in an urgent kiss as he slammed her up against a wall and they both began to explore each other’s bodies. Last time, Hermione had been so preoccupied with thoughts of whether or not she should or should not be with him, but all that hardly felt relevant this time. Her whole being was focused on the feel of his soft skin against her own and the crisp lines of his abs pressed against her stomach. He rocked his body against hers and she could already feel his hardness hitting between her thighs, making her moan in anticipation. She couldn’t wait much longer.

Hermione took control and pushed Malfoy to his bed. He sat on the edge and kept his legs spread wide. She sank in between and slipped off his pyjama pants, leaving him completely naked. Without hesitation, she licked the length of his cock, and Malfoy let out a hiss in satisfaction, only causing Hermione to smile. She brought herself up and gripped him slowly.

“Get on with it, Granger,” Malfoy moaned. She slowed her touch even further and Malfoy knocked his head back in a mixture of frustration and pleasure.

Hermione temporarily released her hold and and gently kissed Malfoy. She pulled back and traced the subtle scars that adorned his chest. She knew some of them were undoubtedly from Harry, others from the war, but how many of them were from since then? She kissed him on the lips once more before sinking back down to her knees, this time, taking all of him into her mouth.

Malfoy cussed under his breath as Hermione’s lips wrapped around his length. Hermione closed her eyes and took him in as far as she could without needing to gag. “Fucking hell,” Malfoy hissed, gripping her hair and pulling her away from him.

Hermione looked up him confused and slightly concerned. “Am I doing something wrong?”

“Not at all,” he said with a smirk.

“But then why -”

“You first,” he interrupted. “I do owe you after all.”

He led Hermione onto the bed and crawled on top of her, leaving a trail of kisses up her neck. “You look absolutely incredible,” he whispered in her ear as one of his hands snuck under the waistband of her pyjamas and the fabric of her knickers and tucked two fingers inside of her. They slipped inside easily and Hermione’s back arched at their sudden intrusion. Malfoy smirked at her pleasure. “And you feel even better.”

He pumped his fingers inside of her and Hermione writhed under his touch. “How does that feel?” Malfoy asked, but Hermione was way too consumed to muster a response. “Or do you prefer when I do this?”  He added his thumb to on top of her clit and she absolutely lost it, moaning his name, no longer able to hold back.

He planted another short kiss on her lips before he lowered himself, yanking off the remainder of her clothes. Hermione tried to sit up and watch, but her head immediately fell back when Malfoy licked her entrance. He lapped lazy circles around her sensitive nub, keeping two fingers inside of her at all times. The heat in Hermione built until he pushed her over the edge, and she cried out his name in complete ecstasy.

Malfoy smiled up at her from between her legs with a sense of pure satisfaction and accomplishment. It was oddly satisfying to see the man who once bullied the hell out of her go to such lengths to please her. “Malfoy, I -,” she began to say but he cut her off with another kiss, forcing her to taste herself along his tongue.

“We’re not done yet, Granger.”

He took her into his embrace again and kissed her until he was now the one with his back pressed against the bed. Hermione sat on top of him and they stared at one another for a handful of moments before he took his length into his own hands and guided it into her. Hermione lowered herself on top of him, feeling herself stretch out around him.

They stilled for a moment. Malfoy’s eyes were closed and his face was twisted in deep concentration. Hermione slowly began to move her hips, raising herself up and down, the tension starting to rise up inside of her again. The first time, it hadn’t lasted long enough for her to savor him inside of her, but she fully intended to soak in every moment this go around. He filled her up completely, almost to a point that it hurt, but the more that she moved, the more she became accustomed to his size, and the more she enjoyed it.

Malfoy grabbed her hips and directed her movement on top of him. It started slow at first, but they soon found a rhythm, her breasts bouncing each time she slammed down onto him. With each new motion, she felt herself slicken and he started to glide into her with ease. “Malfoy, I -” she started to whimper again, but Malfoy pulled her hair and kissed her again, her words lost in their connection.

“Don’t talk,” Malfoy whispered, coming off more as a desperate plea than as a command. “Just don’t… say anything.”  

He flipped over and crashed his lips to hers, not waiting for her to reciprocate. The moment he pulled away, he slammed into her with a grunt, pulling himself out, and then slammed into her yet again. He kept a firm hand beside her on the bed and continued to thrust into her with full force.  The fire grew between her legs, and she was so lost in the action that she couldn’t even utter a sound. She could tell that she was right on the edge. If Malfoy kept this up much longer, he would more than compensate for his failures from last time.

His thrusts increased their speed, and Hermione began to whimper, but in an instant, without any warning, Malfoy tore himself away and pulled himself out of her. “Fuck!” he shouted, followed by an aggravated cry.

Hermione sat up in bed, confused and concerned. “Malfoy, what -” He punched into the bed beside her. She quickly sneaked a look down at him and immediately understood what had happened. Again. But he wasn’t even drunk this time! “Malfoy,” she stated more firmly. “What’s wrong?”

Malfoy didn’t bother to answer. He grabbed his pyjama pants from the floor and slipped them back on.

“Malfoy!” Hermione shouted. He was not going to do this to her again! She deserved a damn explanation!

Malfoy froze but kept his back to her. “Just go,” he said, his voice full of resentment. “We both know you’re just going to regret you let this happen again.”

He made his way to his bathroom and slammed the door shut behind him. It was like last weekend all over again! But no. Hermione wasn’t going to let him get away with it this time. She needed an answer.

And for the record, no, she didn’t regret that she let it happen again.

Chapter Text

Hermione got out of bed and slowly started to locate her scattered clothing discarded on the floor. She yanked on her knickers and searched for her shirt. If she was going to barge in on Malfoy and whatever it was he was doing in the bathroom, she better at least have some of her body covered. A large crashing sound emitted from behind the door, and Hermione picked up her pace, more urgent to figure out what was going on in there. Unable to find her shirt, she settled for her cardigan, keeping a tight hand around its opening as she stormed into the bathroom, not even bothering to knock. 

She called out for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. If he had apparated somewhere, she was going to brutally hex the coward the next time she saw him! She continued to scan the room, fully convinced at this point that he had truly left her this time, but then she spotted him hidden behind the counter. He was slumped on the floor, cradling a bloody fist, a fresh hole punched in the wall beside him.

Her jaw hung open for a moment, but she promptly shut it. “Malfoy, what is with you?” Hermione commanded, still trying to process the image in front of her. Malfoy looked absolutely sullen, not acknowledging her one bit. All his attention was on his still clenched hand. Hermione took a step forward. “Malfoy?”  she repeated, but he still did not respond. “Malfoy!” she said once more, finally getting his head to snap up.

“What!” he cried back.

“What?” Hermione practically shouted back. She was somewhat relieved to see that he hadn't completely abandoned her, but by no means did that mean she wasn't still upset. “You stormed out on me again, that’s what! And now… and now you punched a wall? What the hell is going on?”

Malfoy quickly pried himself off the floor, wincing as he forced his weight onto his injured hang, and walked straight past her to the sink. He turned on the faucet, the crimson blood mixing with the water against the porcelain. “Shouldn’t you be gone by now?” he grumbled.

“I’m not leaving before you tell me what happened back there,” Hermione asserted. “And you can’t blame it on alcohol this time.” He turned off the faucet and yanked a towel off its mounted holder, using it to wrap his fist. The entire time, he kept his back to her, not once looking at her. It was utterly aggravating and Hermione had no patience for it. She snapped two fingers in front of his eyes. “Malfoy, talk to me!”

Malfoy finally turned around, a sour expression on his face. “Look,” he fumed. “You got what you came here for. You can bloody leave now.”

“Leave?”

“Yes, leave,” Malfoy spat. “That seems to be what you do best! Any time something happens between us, poof, you leave!”

She wasn't quite sure what this had to do with anything, although she admittedly didn’t have the best track record so far. “That may be true,” she confessed, “but not this time.”

“Oh, I'm sure,” he mocked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He shook his head back and forth before reverting back to his state of dismay. “You say that now, but dammit, Granger, you only came here tonight cause you were lonely, took pity on me, whatever. But tomorrow morning, you’ll wake up just the same and nothing will change.”

Malfoy started to storm past her, but Hermione ran ahead of him, blocking his path to the door.

“Get out of my way, Granger,” he growled, trying to circumvent her, but she held steady.

“No,” Hermione asserted, backing up until she hit the door. She sat down in a huff, crossing both her legs and her arms, determined to hold her ground. “We’re not going anywhere until I get a full and complete explanation!”

The red in Malfoy’s cheeks flared. “You need an explanation?” he seethed. “As if this is all about you? Have you ever taken a moment to consider what’s been going through my head this past week?”  Hermione kept a scrunched look on her face and tried hard not to waver in her resolve, but she felt herself crack for a brief second, just long enough for Malfoy to notice. “That’s what I thought.”  His nostrils flared and she could see the rapid beating of his heart through the pulsing vein in his neck.

Hermione lost all of her determination not to react. She brought herself up and stared Malfoy right in the eyes. “Okay, then,” she said, keeping her arms folded across her chest. “Then why don't you just tell me?”

Malfoy kicked the air beside him and tugged the roots of his hair with both hands, ignoring the pain that must have come with from his still hurt hand. “I fucking told you on Monday!” he shouted, his frustration reaching a new peak. “This isn’t a game to me!” He gripped both hands onto her shoulders and shook her. “I like you, Granger. I bloody fucking like you! How much fucking clearer can I make it?”

He released his hold and Hermione stared at him blankly, not knowing how else to react, as he let out another aggravated cry. She supposed it shouldn't exactly come as to news to her that he liked her, but it still wasn’t adding up. If he liked her, then what was his, well, issue?

Before Hermione could say something, though, Malfoy threw his hands in the air, his rampage storming on. “But who the fuck cares what Draco Malfoy thinks!” he cried. “He did some shitty things six years ago, so let's all just pretend like his feelings don't matter!”

“Well, that's understating it,” Hermione couldn’t help but interject.

Malfoy near broke out in psychotic laughter. “That's your reaction to what I just said!” He wandered in place, like he didn't know what to do next. “I tell you I like you, and you make a comment on my phrasing?”  Hermione tried to assemble the words to explain, but he grabbed Hermione's shoulders again, jostling all her thoughts out of her. He pulled her out of his way, forcing a path for himself to the door. “This is what I fucking get for ever thinking...” he started to grumble to himself before his own words trailed away, and he stormed out of the bathroom.

Hermione darted after him. If they were ever going to get to the bottom of a conversation, he needed to stop running out on her! “For ever thinking what?” she shouted at him.

Malfoy stopped cold in his tracks. His shoulders rose as he sucked in a deep breath and slowly turned around. His face was filled with anger, resentment, but he just stood there, not saying a single word. His eyes shifted to the wall for a moment before her stared Hermione right in the eyes. “For ever thinking that someone like you would even consider the likes of me.”

Hermione scrunched her eyebrows. “I don't under-”

“Gods, do I need to spell everything out for you?” he exasperated. He grimaced and turned his back to her once more. “You're Hermione Granger, and I'm Draco Malfoy.” Malfoy moved to the edge of the bed and cradled his head in hands. “Laugh all you want at me, especially with it being you, but there was some insane part of me that thought I’d found someone who could actually see past the things I had done instead of hating me just like everyone else out there.”

Hermione sat down beside him. She reached out to put her hand on his back but decided it was probably for the best to keep a bit of space between them. “I mean… I don’t exactly see past them,” she whispered. Malfoy seemed to freeze at her words, but she cautioned on. “You did some terrible things, and they didn’t just hurt me, but hundreds and thousands of other wizards.”

He sucked in a deep breath. “Then we’re in agreement.”  

“Well, no,” Hermione corrected, her voice growing a bit stronger. “I don’t forgive you for what you did, but I have more than a feeling that you don’t forgive yourself either.” She paused as she took in a breath for herself. “It wasn’t an easy time. For any of us. And I’m not excusing what you did, but you’ve shown me that you’re trying to make amends for your actions. And that’s a good place to start.”  She took a moment to consider her next move, and then gently placed her hand on his knee. He brought his head up from his hands and looked at her from the corner of his eyes. “Like we both said at the meeting. There’s a difference between forgiveness and moving forward.”

Malfoy pushed her hand off of his knee. “You say that, but it’s hard to actually believe when all the time, I deal with people refusing to see otherwise. And yet one of the only people who has given me a chance is you.

“Daphne and Kingsley must mean something to you, though,” Hermione pointed out.

Malfoy released a dismissive snort. “But I’m not trying to fuck either one of them, though, now am I?”

Hermione half-smiled to herself, although she was reminded why they were stuck in this conversation to begin with. She dug into the pocket of her cardigan and retrieved her wand and then reached out for Malfoy’s hurt hand. At first, he snapped it away, but when she looked at him again and he let their eyes connect, he surrendered. She whispered a spell and his hand returned to normal. He opened and closed his fist a few times before setting it back down to his side.

They sat in silence a few more moments while Hermione’s mind raced. For being such an arrogant jerk at work, he certainly didn't seem a quarter as sure of himself behind closed doors. And she could understand his reservations. She had endured many similar questions over the past week, wondering how it was that the two of them had ended up in this situation. It was sort of a sigh of relief to hear that she wasn't the only who had concerns. But her primary question was still left unanswered.

“Malfoy,” she began, her voice soft so that she wouldn't scare him off. “I get your fear. I certainly never imagined this happening, and I'm still rationalizing it in my own mind.”

Malfoy shook his head. “That's exactly it. You're rationalizing it. Cause you know on a certain level that being with me is fucked up.” He clenched his eyes shut and balled his hand into a fist. “I can't get this picture out of my head. Of You. Walking out. Again.” His face twisted before he proceeded. “The moment you started talking in bed, I couldn't help but imagine every bad way your sentence would end. I… I couldn’t sleep with you if I thought that even a part of you didn’t want it. Or regret it, for that matter.”

Her heart started to pound against her rib cage and she grabbed his hand before he could protest. “Maybe rationalize was the wrong word.” She hesitated, trying to think how to best put it. “I guess it's more coming to terms with the fact… with the fact that I think I like you too. I can't really explain why or how, but I think I do.” She waited to see if he would respond, but he remained silent. Her chest rose as she swallowed and looked down at their combined fingers. “And besides,” she whispered, squeezing his hand. “I was clearly enjoying earlier.”

“You wouldn't get it,” he grumbled, but at least he didn't loosen his grip on her. “In my mind, that’s not how I see it. Everyone worships the ground you walk on. Psh, just take that duffus Christopher for example.” Malfoy’s eyes fell closed as his voice dropped low. “I know what they say about me. My name is dirt. People stare at me on the streets, call me despicable…” He hung his head low and scowled. “They take me into alleys and beat me up.”

Hermione brought his head up so that he was forced to look at her. “You think I don’t get it?” she criticized, a sour note in her voice just barely apparent. “Do you not realize that's exactly how you made me feel for seven years?” Malfoy tried to interject, but this was something she needed him to hear it. “You told me I was inferior. Tried to hurt me. Literally called me dirty. Mud-”

“Don't say it.”

“Mudblood, Malfoy. Mudblood.” He winced as she said the word she hadn't heard or uttered in years. But she was willing to make this rare exception to make her point.

“I know,” Malfoy whimpered. “I'm not trying to deny it. And I would take it back if I could. But it happened. So how the hell am I supposed to know that you won't consider this a mistake again?”

Hermione placed her hand on his cheek. “You just said why. Cause you would take it back if you could.”

Hermione softly brushed her lips against his, but he instantly pushed her away. His eyes were glazed over as he stared at her. “Granger, you don't have to do this,” he murmured. His voice dripped of desperation, half to ensure that she wouldn’t go through with this if she didn’t sincerely want to, half hoping that she would.

Hermione closed her eyes and kissed him again, only this time, he didn’t immediately pull away. She withdrew herself and smiled at him. “Weren't the one who told me that no one could sucker me into doing something I didn’t want to do?”

She rolled her shoulders back and slowly slipped her cardigan off. Malfoy sucked in a deep breath and remained stagnant on the edge of the bed, his eyes never wavering from her direction. He was being overly cautious, but Hermione needed him to understand that it was okay. She brushed her fingertips down his jawline and traveled down until her hand was pressed up against his chest. His heart was beating in rapid succession, pounding against her palm. Hermione leaned in to kiss him once more before she grabbed his hand and intertwined it with her own.

Each kiss was a gentle reassurance that this was something that she sincerely wanted, and eventually, Malfoy started to kiss her back. She kept her fingers laced with his as she wrapped her free hand around his neck. Malfoy seemed to slowly regain his confidence, the urgency of his kiss building with each new connection.

She released his hand and began to lead it up the plain of her stomach to her breasts. His hand hovered for just a millisecond before he took proper hold of one. Hermione swallowed a moan as he massaged around her breast, every so often, giving it a squeeze. His fingers grazed along the surfaces and took hold on her nipple, running circles around it until it was stiff. Her body immediately responded, her head knocking back and her other breast begging for the same attention.

“The other one,” Hermione directed, and Malfoy waited no time to follow her command. He repeated his ministrations on her other breast as he left a series of kisses along her neck, allowing Hermione to properly react to each touch. His finger grazed the tip of her nipple and Hermione whimpered and gaped at the sensation. She closed her eyes, permitting herself to become completely immersed in how it all felt. The more he touched her, the more her body begged for it. Her hips involuntarily bucked forward in rhythm with his movements, her body already eagerly anticipating what was to come.

She reached her hands out to his own body and ran her hand down his chest. His skin was smooth alternating with the rough scars that were scattered all over. Her palm continued traveled to down, not stopping even when she reached his boxers. She traced her fingers along his upper thigh, Malfoy hissing at her tormenting, but Hermione didn't keep him waiting too long. She dipped her hand under the waistband and released a mental sigh of relief to herself when she discovered that he was well on his way to being ready for her.

Hermione wrapped her fingers around his length and slowly started to move her hand up and down. With each pump, he grew harder and Hermione prayed that it would finally be enough. She severely wanted this, but Malfoy clearly needed it.

She arose from the bed and stood before Malfoy. He propped himself up and stared with wide eye excitement as Hermione hooked her thumbs under the waistband of her knickers and began to slowly draw them down. They were doing this for the second time this evening, but somehow, this time felt different. Everything that had happened to him the past several years had messed with his head in so many ways. Between the judgment of strangers and the harsh rejection of others, he had obscured his pain though a thick mask. Now that he had revealed what laid underneath to her, she wanted to prove to him that she was still there, and she wasn't leaving.

Hermione sunk down to her knees and grabbed hold of his boxers. He pushed down on the bed and lifted himself up, making it easy for her to slip them off. They pooled at his feet and he kicked them to the side before he scooted to the back of the bed, Hermione eagerly following.

His head was propped up by a few pillows, and he just looked at her. She could only assume what was going on in his mind at the moment, but she hoped that he wasn't questioning her or himself anymore. Judging by what she could see, though, he appeared plenty ready to try this again.

She swung one leg to either side, finding herself once again on top of him. “You sure?” Malfoy asked and Hermione nodded. She was absolutely sure. She took his length into her hand and guided it inside of her, closing her eyes as he filled her once more.

Malfoy let out a gasp and took hold of her hips, keeping her movements in time with his thrusts. Hermione clamped down on her lower lip as he easily glided in and out of her. He continued to sheath himself inside, filling her to the brim, then almost completely withdrawing himself before slamming himself right back in.

Hermione's eyes remained closed, her whole body consumed by Malfoy, until she felt a hard slap against her arse. Her eyes darted open, but Malfoy was now the one with shut lids, his whole face twisted in stern concentration. Hermione leaned down and kissed him, and he slapped her arse again. It had startled her the first time, but she was quite surprised that she actually enjoyed the second one.

His hand remained gripped on her arse, rubbing the spot his had just hit, before her pulled back and did it again. This time Hermione let out a whimper of his name.

Malfoy jerked inside of her. “Fuck, say my name.”

He grabbed onto her hips and slammed into her. “Malfoy!” she cried.

He slipped his thumb to on top of her clit and started to rub. “No, my actual name.”

Hermione was too far gone to even consider not following his request. “Draco,” she mewled. Malfoy pressed his thumb harder and moved up and down faster than she had ever see him. She felt her whole body respond, the warm heat of down below starting to spread to her whole body. “Draco,” she cried again, not wanting him to stop, and he did not disappoint. He slapped her arse again, and Hermione was gone, crying his given name as his own head dipped back and he spilled himself inside of her, shouting out her own name at the same time.

She plopped down on top of him, too spent to even bother removing him from her. He placed a kiss a top of her head, and they just laid there, not saying a single word.

His heart was beating rapidly from below her chest, but that could have also been her own. He wrapped his arms around her back, keeping her in place, but she had absolutely no intentions of moving in the slightest.

“Thank you,” he whispered in her ear between choppy breaths. Her ran his fingers through her hair and pushed her curls to the other side. “For not leaving.”

Hermione pushed herself up just high enough so she could kiss him. They shared a slight smile before Hermione resigned to herself that it was time from her to disconnect. She laid down next to Malfoy in bed, and he wrapped his whole body around her. She closed her eyes and let herself fall asleep in his arms.

 

The early morning glow illuminated the bedroom, and Hermione tried to stir but happily found that there was something in her way. His body was curled up behind hers, his fingers lazily running through her hair, his warm embrace surrounding her as she woke up -- all exactly as she had imagined it. She let herself relax, her whole body melting into him. His fingers brushed along her hairline and tucked a strand of hair behind her ears, leaving a kiss along her cheek. Hermione’s eyes fluttered shut, and she purred softly. It was so simple, but there was no better way to start the morning. 

She flipped herself over so she could face him. His cheeks had a soft pink tint to them that they didn't normally have, highlighted by the fact that he was also smiling more than usual. His hair was a ruffled mess with several pieces jutting out from the back of his head. He looked completely disheveled compared to what the outside world saw, and she loved every bit of it.

He brushed another bit of hair away, this time, leaving his hand enmeshed in her curls. “You're still here,” he said, his voice rough in the early morning hour.

“I told you I wasn't leaving this time.”

Malfoy pulled her forward and left a soft kiss upon her lips. He wrapped his arms even tighter around her, removing any space that was between them to begin with. Malfoy hummed to himself, both of them just soaking each other in. Hermione let her eyelids return to resting position, permitting her body to savor just a few more minutes in bed.

It had been a long time since she had woken up in this fashion. Each one of those recent times with Ron, she would leave as soon as possible, trying to get on with whatever else she had to do that day. But here in bed with Malfoy, she was at ease, not even thinking about anything outside of these four walls. He could still be an outright jerk and total pain in the arse, but he also had proven to her that he was so much more than that. The idea of it was still completely foreign to her, but she couldn’t deny it any longer - she most certainly liked him.

Malfoy stirred a bit, pulling her in even closer, nuzzling his nose into her curls. “I could stay like this all Sunday.”

Hermione’s eyes darted open and she quickly pushed herself away from him. “Dear Merlin, it’s Sunday!” she exclaimed. Her feet hit the ground and she yanked her knickers back on.

“Yes,” Malfoy stated, staring at Hermione with flustered confusion. “That is typically the day that comes after Saturday.”

Hermione ignored his comment. “Oh, gods, what time is it?” she mumbled mostly to herself. “I hope we’re not late!” She couldn’t believe it! How could she forget! Typically she was so on top of her plans and the things she had to do. Oh, and they weren’t even done with the addendum yet! She found a clock and released a sigh of relief when she realized that it was only a bit past nine. They still had plenty of time, but it still wasn’t ideal. She paced around the room and slowly assembled the rest of her belongings, continuing to ramble under her breath.

Malfoy perched up in bed and glared at her. “You do know we don’t work on Sundays, right?”

Hermione grabbed his boxers off the floor and threw them in his direction. “Yes, yes, even I know that,” she said, tugging her shirt on over her head. “We have the Quidditch game today.”  Malfoy stared at her blankly, clearly having forgotten more than she had. “The Quidditch game? With Daphne, Harry, Ginny, and…” her voice trailed off into a groan, remembering who else was supposed to be at the game, but she didn’t want to begin to address that part now.

Malfoy crashed back onto bed and groaned. “Fuck, I bloody forgot all about that.”  He grabbed a pillow and pressed it down over his face. “We don’t actually have to go to that damn thing, do we?” he grumbled.

“You’re the one who agreed to it first,” she reminded him. “And Ginny would absolutely murder me if I didn’t show up.”  She sat back down on the edge of the empty side of the bed and hopelessly fell back onto the mattress.

Malfoy reached out to her and started playing with the ends of her hair again. “Or we could just come up with some excuse,” Malfoy said simply. “Merlin knows it’s entirely believable that you and I have to spend all day wrapping up the addendum.”  He leaned forward and kissed her on her forehead. “Besides, then we can stay like this all day like I said.”

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut. It certainly would be easier if she just didn’t go to the game. She didn’t like Quidditch games on a normal day, let alone games that involved her having to see her ex. And the thought of spending an entire day in bed with Malfoy made her stomach flutter with excited pixies. But she had told Ginny she’d be there, and Hermione would keep her word. “No, I have to go,” she resigned. “I promised her I’d be there.”

Malfoy groaned. “Damn Gryffindors.”  He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed to himself. “Well, if you’re going, then I guess I’m bloody going too. But only under one condition.” Hermione bent her head back and looked at him. “I get to make you breakfast, first.”

She sat up and narrowed her eyes at him. “I thought you don’t cook.”

Malfoy smirked. “I don’t, but I pour a really good bowl of cereal.”

Hermione grabbed one of the pillows and hit him with it, sparking laughter out of both of them. "Deal."

She supposed they could postpone wrapping up the addendum for just a bit longer.  

Chapter Text

Hundreds of witches and wizards passed them by in a sea of orange and yellow, crowding into the Quidditch pitch behind Harry as Hermione arrived for the game. She looked around to see if Malfoy was there yet and soon spotted him off in the distance picking up the tickets with Daphne. The old friends exchanged a quick greeting but were cut short as the eager spectators bumped into them and pushed their way towards the entrance.

A burst of wind blew against Hermione’s face and she tugged at her plain robes, perfectly content with not showing support for either team. She hadn’t been a Muggle sports fan growing up, and she had never bothered finding a Quidditch team to root for in adulthood either. Sure, she had cheered for Ginny while she had played for the Harpies, but if anyone had ever asked her about their standing or any sort of detail beyond whether or not they had won a recent game, she would have been hard pressed to provide any sort of comprehensible answer. She may have a lot of interests, but Quidditch had never been one of them.

Yet here she was, standing outside the Wimbourne Wasp stadium on a cold fall afternoon, a stark contrast to the sunshine they had yesterday. She most certainly wasn’t envious of the people who would soon be forced to endure flying through these conditions. But she wouldn’t wish to be up there on a broomstick even on a perfect day.

She adjusted her jumper underneath her robes and scanned the crowd for signs of red hair. She knew Ron should be arriving soon, and despite her reservations earlier, she was actually excited to see him. He was, after all, still her friend. After three weeks in Egypt, it would be nice to catch up, provided that he kept everything strictly platonic between them.

When she had finally told Malfoy that Ron was also coming, she had feared the worst - that he would gripe and complain and add it to his list of grievances about them attending the game. Instead, he just smirked and chuckled to himself, which was somehow worse. She didn’t know what he was thinking, but she figured for both of their sakes, she shouldn’t ask. If he was plotting something, plausible deniability was her safest option at this point.

So instead, she opted to focus on wrapping up the addendum before she kissed him goodbye and left to get ready for the game. She would have stayed longer, but it was for the best that she and Malfoy arrived separately. Not that she was ashamed to be seen with him! Now just... wasn’t the time. Besides, she doubted that her friends, especially Ron, would take it well.  

Harry swayed in place, his hands safely hidden inside the pockets of his robes. “So how’s it going between you and Malfoy?” he asked casually.

Hermione quickly jerked her head and stared at him, her body growing stiff at the mention of Malfoy’s name, her eyes significantly wider than usual. “What?” she stammered.

Harry cleared his throat. “Uh,” he started, “with the addendum?”  Hermione instantly felt the tension in her shoulder’s disappear and she was able to breath again. “Kingsley told me about it.”

“Oh, yes, yes, that,” Hermione said, still much more alarmed than warranted. “It’s, um, we actually finished it already,” she quickly responded, hoping Harry would drop the topic.

“Really?” Harry asked. “And he’s somehow still alive?” Harry was clearly trying to keep her in a good spirits prior to Ron’s arrival, resorting to something that he was certain would make her at least smile. In his defense, it would have worked any day prior to today. How could Harry have predicted her change in feelings about Malfoy? Merlin himself couldn't have seen it coming.

She tried to open her mouth to switch topics, but Harry was already continuing. “And you mean you actually wrote it with him? I was convinced you’d just write it all yourself and slap Malfoy’s name next to yours when you were done!”

“Yes, well, that was my original plan,” she absentmindedly admitted to Harry, looked over her shoulder back at Malfoy who was still getting the tickets. Perhaps they really should have just come up with an excuse and avoided this whole thing. Merlin knew she wouldn’t enjoy the game. They could still be in bed, doing who knows what. Well, she had an idea what they’d be doing. She smiled to herself, feeling her cheeks heat up, but she was promptly pulled back to reality when she heard Harry call out Ron’s name, having spotted him in the crowd.

Harry waved his hand to capture his attention, and Hermione found herself doing the same. Ron beamed when he caught sight of them, waving back and headed their direction. As he came closer, Hermione couldn't help but laugh a bit when she saw that his face was adorned with orange stripes. Few things in life were certain, but she could always count on Ron to proudly rep the Chudley Cannons.

“Welcome back!” Harry said, giving him a hug and a solid pat on the back.

“Thanks,” Ron said. “It’s good to be back.”  He hugged Hermione, and she couldn’t help but notice that her hug lingered a bit longer than his with Harry. “Hey,” he said, a small smile stretching across his face.

“Hey,” she responded with a friendly smile, trying not to read too much into his actions. It was just a hug after all. “How was Egypt?”

Ron lit up and started to speak excitedly. “It was incredible! Bill led me through everything that he used to do for Gringotts. You wouldn’t believe the curses that the Ancient Egyptians used to use! I mean, I had seen a lot of them before, but now I actually know how to disable some. I don’t how many we’ll actually encounter here in England, but it’s still good to know, just in case someone used them in some old castle in Yorkshire or something. But you’d find it all fascinating, Hermione. I’d love to tell you all about it over lunch or something some time this week.”

Hermione just nodded along to whatever he said, having already completely tuned him out, her mind much more focused on someone else. Off in the distance, Malfoy and Daphne were heading back towards their group, tickets finally in hand. Malfoy smirked at her, and when his eyes met the vibrant red hair next to her, the corner of his lips only spread. His eyes twinkled with mischievous intention. “Be nice,” she mouthed to him, although she highly doubted it would do much good.

Beside her, Ron seemed as if he was going into shock. “You’re kidding,” Ron moaned. “What’s he doing here?”

Harry scrunched his eyebrows. “Didn’t Ginny warn you?”

Ron shook his head. “I mean, she did, but I just assumed she was screwing with me. I don’t mind Daphne, but hell, Malfoy? Since when do we voluntarily spend time with the git?”

Hermione’s attention was brought fully back into the conversation when she heard his name. “You know, that’s not very nice to say, Ron,” she corrected, hoping against hope that she could miraculously stomp out some of his ill sentiment before the two had to interact. Even before he responded, she knew the chances of that were slim to none.

“Oh, c’mon, Hermione,” Ron dismissed, exactly as anticipated. “We all know what a proper dick he is.”

Hermione felt her own cheeks starting to turn red now, flush with frustration. “He’s actually not that bad once you get to know him,” she said, doing her best to defend him without revealing too much.

Ron and Harry looked at each other and then back at her in disbelief. “You can’t be serious, Hermione,” Harry said. “You were ready to push him off the Quidditch stand after everything he said Monday night!”

“You do know we’re talking about Malfoy, right?” Ron added, still in shock. “Pale blonde, really pointy jaw, constantly walks around with his nose permanently stuck in the air?”

Hermione glared at her two friends. “I know,” Hermione said, forfeited the battle for the time being. “But things can change. I’m just saying maybe we should give him a chance.” Obviously she knew they wouldn't accept what she had to say, but if she had any hope of them ever coming around, she had to start somewhere.

Ron and Harry exchanged another concerned look. Ron grimaced and shook his head, completely incredulous. “I’m never going on another work trip again if this is what happens when I’m away.”

Malfoy and Daphne finally broke their way through the crowd and joined the group. Ron took a side-step closer to Hermione, but Malfoy still managed to wedge his way next to her.

“Fancy seeing you here, Granger,” Malfoy said under his breath with a coy smile as their other companions greeted one another and exchanged tickets.

He stuck out a single ticket and slipped it into her pocket. Hermione peeked a look at him, resisting the urge to smile. “Cause it’s been so long since I saw you last.”

He leaned in closer and whispered in her ear, “Yeah, but I bet you still missed me.”

Hermione pressed her lips closed, still forcing herself to conceal her smile. “You wish, Malfoy,” she toyed and playfully pushed him, although a bit too hard, because he lost his footing and stumbled backwards into Ron.

“Oy!” he shouted, his face growing stern as he glared at Malfoy. He shoved himself in between them, ensuring that Malfoy was forced to keep his distance. “He bothering you, Hermione?” His eyes were harsh, and he seemed ready to pounce on Malfoy if Hermione gave even the slightest indication that he had actually offended her in any way.

“We’re perfectly fine,” Hermione insisted, trying to stop the men before it escalated any further, but it was too late.

“Yes, nothing to bother yourself over, Weasley,” Malfoy added with a satisfied smirk, and Hermione immediately got a bad feeling about whatever Malfoy would say next. “Like she said, she’s doing perfectly fine without you.”

Her ex’s face turned as red as the wings of a Chinese Fireball, and his chest puffed up as his hand itched for his wand. Hermione’s nostrils flared and she glared at Malfoy through piercing eyes. While she didn’t exactly disagree with what Malfoy had said, it still didn’t constitute playing nice!

“What!” he said to Hermione. “He set me up!”  But Hermione did not let up. Malfoy huffed, seemingly ready to continue to protest, but he caved after not too long. “Fine, fine,” he grumbled, looking as if his next words would be painful to utter. “It’s not… entirely terrible to see you again, Weasley.”  He stuck out his hand for Ron to shake, but Ron just stared at it, as if touching Malfoy would cause his own hand to melt off.

“Oh, suck it up,” Malfoy snapped, grabbing Ron’s hand and forcing it into a handshake, much to Ron’s horror. He dropped their connection abruptly and faced Hermione. “That better, Granger?”

Hermione sighed to herself. She supposed it wasn’t completely horrible, although Ron might beg to differ. Ron’s entire face was a vibrant crimson and he appeared to still be irked by Malfoy’s presence. Too perturbed to say anything else, he dismissed himself and returned to Harry and Daphne who were chatting with each other just a few paces away now that the crowd had started to thin out.

Malfoy took a step next to Hermione. “You're lucky I like you,” he spat under his breath. “I tolerate Weasley about as much as I do goblins.”

Hermione crossed her arms and cocked an eyebrow. “After the addendum we just wrote, I’d venture to say you treat goblins better. Would it kill you to be just a bit nicer to him?”

“Tolerating goblins, tolerating Weasley… I can only do those things as long as it gets me closer to what I really want.”  He looked over at Hermione who was glaring at him from the corner of her eye, arms still in lock across her chest. “You don’t look satisfied.”

“I didn’t just say ‘tolerate,’” she fired back. “Ron is my friend and I want you to be nice to him.”

Malfoy snorted. “I think he has a bit more than friendship on the mind.”  He tucked a curl behind her ear. “Although I can’t exactly blame him.”

Hermione slapped his hand away. “Not here, Malfoy! Our friends are literally right behind us!”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Oh, yes, cause it hasn’t been the least bit suspicious that you and I have barely acknowledged the rest of the group. But how about this,” he said with a smile. “I’ll make you a deal.”

Hermione eyed him suspiciously. “Two deals in one day?” she asked, already fully aware that she'd most likely give in to whatever he said. “Seems like a steep request.”

Malfoy’s lip twitched into a full smile. “It does seem to be the most effective way to get you to do what I want, after all. But I'll tolerate Weasley -”  Hermione’s stare turned sharp and threatening, cutting him off. “Fine,” he begrudgingly conceded, but the smile was still plastered across his features. “I’ll be nice to Weasley, but I want to hear you say it again.”

He waited for her to respond, but she wasn’t going to give in that easy this time around. “And what exactly would that be?” she toyed, even though she knew perfectly well what he was referring to.

“What you told me last night,” Malfoy said as he took another step closer to her.

“I don't know, Malfoy,” Hermione responded with feigned uncertainty. “I sure did say a lot of things last night.”

He tucked another piece of her hair behind her ear and smiled down at her. “Yeah, but there’s only one that I want you repeat.”

“You wouldn't want to hear me say that I like you, would you?” she eventually gave in, her own smile matching his.

“That’s the one.”

The way he looked down at her in that moment was entirely encapsulating. His soft grey eyes seemed to pierce through her until they were the only thing she could see anymore. It was as if everything else around them - the constant sharp breeze, the distant cheers of fans, and even the potential judgement of their friends - was no longer relevant. All she could think about was how much she was starting to actually like the stupid prat for some forsaken reason. There had always been a thin line between love and hatred, and it seemed that she had allowed herself to slip to the other side of the scale.

She bit down on the lower edges of her lip, resisting every urge in her bones to lift herself up on the tips of her toes and kiss him. But there were limits that she needed to remember for now. She settled for gently shoving him, the most contact she could get away with without being completely obvious to their companions.

“You know, for being such a pompous prick, you sure do need a lot of reassurance,” she playfully observed.

“Maybe so,” he said with a cavalier shrug. “Or maybe I just like hearing those words come out of your lips.”  

He pressed his lips together, and that desperate urge to kiss him returned. She nearly lost her will to resist, when she heard Ron’s voice, shattering any trace of that desire from her body.

“Hey, Hermione and Ferret Face!” he shouted from behind Malfoy. “You can keep arguing inside, but the game’s gonna start soon!”

Hermione expected Malfoy to snap into offense mode at Ron’s sneer, but instead, he was chuckling to himself. “Arguing, huh? The poor bloke really is in denial, isn’t he?”

Hermione glared at him. “We’re just friends,” she reiterated. “And you promised to be nice!”

“Well, technically, you still haven't upheld your end of the bargain yet. I need to hear you say those words, all by themselves.”

“Oh, it was close enough!” she mockingly jeered. He wasn't going to get out of this on a mere technicality! “And I'd be careful if I was you. My feelings can change, you know.”

Malfoy’s face fell for only an instant, but it was just long enough for Hermione to catch it. His eyes glossed over and she recognizes the same desperate expression that she had seen the night before. “Hey,” she said softly. “You know I’m just messing with you, right?”

“I am aware,” he claimed, but he temporarily averted his gaze. “Just... don’t push it too much.”

“Oy!” Ron shouted again. “Seriously, we need to get inside or Ginny will beat us to the seats!”

Would he shut up for just two seconds while she tried to talk to Malfoy? She had thought that all of Malfoy’s concerns had disappeared after last night. He had seemed so cheerful when they had woken up! She needed more time to talk to him, and preferably somewhere a bit more private, but Malfoy had already turned his back to her and was walking away. She hurried after him and grabbed his hand before he got too far. “Wait,” she gasped, her heart beating against her chest, although not entirely from running. “I… I do like you, Malfoy.”

Malfoy half-smiled down at his shoes, until he finally looked at her again. She met his gaze with a soft sympathetic smile. Her fingers twitched with the desire to brush back some of the strands of hair that had become displaced in the wind, but she shoved them in her pockets instead.

“You better not be messing with me about this, Granger,” he whispered. “Random witches are one thing, but I won’t be able to bear it if you end up walking out on me.”

Hermione sucked in a deep breath, trying to ease her racing heart. “I’m not.”

Malfoy closed his eyes and paused as her words sunk in. “Good,” he faintly mustered. From over his shoulder, he looked the rest of their group who were already halfway to the stadium. “Guess we need to catch up with them. You better go talk a bit with Potter and at least say hi to Daphne before we completely blow our cover. And I suppose I’ll go try to be nice to Weasley, but I’m not making any promises."

 

They travelled up the tall staircase until they reached their box in one of the upper rings of the arena. There was no one else in the box yet, so Ginny must have still been conducting the necessary reporting for The Daily Prophet. The game wasn't set to begin for quite some time, so Hermione wasn’t too worried about her absence. She was much more concerned with the continued unrelenting wind. Up that high, the breeze blew even harsher, and Hermione tugged her hair into a ponytail at the base of her neck to prevent it from constantly catching in her mouth. 

Daphne entered the row first, sitting in the chair at the end of the aisle. “Pretty nice seats,” she commented, admiring the yellow and black decorations. “It’s The Daily Prophet’s own private box, but it appears as if no one else at work wanted them today.”

Malfoy sidestepped to the next available seat with Hermione following shortly behind. He scoffed as he looked out at the non-sold-out crowd. “I mean, can you blame them? It’s a Wasps-Cannons game. It’s not exactly the match of the year.”

Ron, with orange stripes still adorning his now flushed pink cheeks, sat down next to Hermione and leaned forward so he could glare at Malfoy. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he spat.

Malfoy rolled his eyes and Hermione quickly jabbed him in the side with her elbow, but she doubted it would do much good at this point. He already seemed more than poised to ignore the constant reminder for him to be nice to Ron. Malfoy scooted forward in his seat so he could better face Ron. “The Cannons aren’t exactly what most of us consider a good team,” the blonde sharply responded.

The men on either side of her leaned in closer, and much to her dismay, she found herself quite literally in the middle of their dispute.

“You know, just because they don’t win doesn’t mean they aren’t a good team.”

“I’m sorry, but remind me again what the purpose of a Quidditch team is.”

“It’s more than just winning! The Cannons have spirit, and character, and -”

“And absolutely no chance of ever winning.”

The two continued to fire back and forth and Hermione had had quite enough. She whipped out her wand. “Silencio!” she shouted, rendering both of them speechless. Malfoy and Ron both glared at her in resentment, which seemed to be the first thing either one of them could agree upon.

“You two are both children when it comes to your sports!” she criticized now that she had their full attention. “No, Ron, the Cannons are not very good. Their motto is ‘Keep your fingers crossed.’  They sound like they’ve simply given up hope at this point. But as for you,” Hermione fired with added emphasis as she fumed at Malfoy. “Just because the Cannons aren’t good doesn’t mean that people don’t still cheer for them. Take the Red Sox for example. They didn’t win the baseball World Series for nearly a hundred years, yet their fans stuck with them, and just last month, they finally won. So you’d do well to not so readily criticize the Cannons and be nice.”  

With her last word, she threateningly glared at Malfoy once more before waving her wand again and removing her charm. Both men gasped a bit at the return of their voices and huffed at her.

“For the record, the motto’s ‘Let's all just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best,’” Ron muttered under his breath.

Malfoy looked more confused than anything. “What the hell is baseball?”

“You know nothing about Quidditch yet you know so much about American baseball?” Harry chimed in.

“I actually don’t,” Hermione justified with a sigh. “But my father wrote me a whole letter about the World Series when it happened. Apparently there was some sort of curse on the team and he wanted to know if someone named Babe Ruth was a wizard I had learned about in school. I spent a week digging through books trying to find anything on him, but it turns out he was just some Muggle with a lasting grudge on the team.”

Harry started talking to Ron about something else, and Malfoy did likewise with Daphne, but she just sat there silently, for the first time in her life, wanting nothing more than for a Quidditch match to start. The countdown on the scoreboard still read that they had around fifteen minutes left until kick off. She groaned to herself. She didn’t need to have the Inner Eye to predict that sitting between Malfoy and Ron for the game was going to be miserable.

“You know, I’m feeling lucky today,” Ron said in a louder than necessary voice, catching the entire group’s attention. “I think today is really the Cannon’s day.”

“Oh, yeah?” Malfoy piped up. “Are both sets of fingers and toes crossed?”

Hermione closed her eyes and threw her head back, not even trying to stop them this time around.

“I don’t need to,” Ron said back confidently. “Olfias is injured today so the Wasps will be playing their second string Seeker.”

“And you think that poor, old Gudgeon will be able to snag it instead?”  Malfoy chuckled to himself. “Okay, Weasley. Put your money where your mouth is. Five galleons.”

“Ten!” Ron enthusiastically countered. “And not only do we get the Snitch, but we win by fifty points.”

Malfoy didn’t even pause to consider it. “Deal,” he said with a smile, extending his hand which Ron shook in agreement. “And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get myself a Butterbeer before the match begins.”

Hermione didn’t bother to open her eyes at the sound of his departure, but there was a firm poke in her side, startling her to sit up. Ron looked at her curiously. “You okay?”

Down at the end of the aisle, Malfoy quickly jerked his head towards the stairwell before he disappeared down the steps. She closed her eyes for another moment and considered whether or not she would follow him, not entirely enthused by his actions from the past few minutes, but at least she would finally have a moment of actual alone time with him.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she eventually answered Ron with a groan. “I just, uh, need to go to the toilet before the game begins. Don’t want to miss anything.”  

She proceeded down the stairs and stopped at the seconding landing from the top where Malfoy was waiting for her. He had a smile on his face, which Hermione did not even come close to reciprocating. She marched right up to him and smacked him hard on the shoulder.

“Ow!” Malfoy cried, gripping the place of impact. “What the hell was that for?”

“What was that for?” she near yelled back. “Did you hear yourself upstairs?”  Malfoy looked around incredulously as if the answers were carved into the wooden supports, but Hermione had no patience for this. “You weren’t exactly nice to Ron back there!”

Malfoy’s mouth fell open in disbelief. “Bloody hell!” Malfoy complained. “Is that why you were so snippy at me?”

“I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself.”

Malfoy ran his fingers through his hair and gripped at the roots at the back of his neck. “Believe it or not, that was me being nice to him.”  

Hermione tucked her head low and glared at him. “That’s your definition of nice? No wonder you didn’t have many friends at Hogwarts.”

Malfoy’s cheeks heated up. “Low blow, Granger,” he growled. “I know what it means to be nice, but this is still Weasley we’re talking about. What did you expect me to do? Ask him to tell me all about his trip? Inquire about the rest of his family? Make small talk about the weather?”

“That would have been a good start!” Hermione agreed, not quite sure why Malfoy found all those topics to be so absurd. In her mind, that was exactly the types of things people talked about when being nice!

“I’m not going to ask Weasley those things, because first of all, I don’t actually care about any of it, but secondly, he knows I don’t care about any of it. How do you think he’d respond if I did in fact ask about dear old Mum?”  

Hermione remained silent, refusing to answer his question because she didn’t like the turn that the conversation had started to take. She couldn’t deny it. Ron wouldn't trust Malfoy’s intentions for a second if he asked about Molly, probably sparking a bigger skirmish than what she had just endured. Malfoy was making sense, which meant that she was probably wrong and he was right, and there was no worse feeling than Malfoy being right.

“You want me to play nice?” Malfoy continued. “So I struck up a conversation about Quidditch. A loud, slightly antagonist conversation, but we spoke about a mutual interest and neither one of us ended up with their wand point at the other. So, yeah, in my books, I consider that a win.”

Hermione crossed her arms and pouted a little bit, still not saying a word. It truly was very, very aggravating when he was right. “I guess you have a point” she grumbled.

“What’s that?” he said with the beginning traces of a smile. “I couldn’t quite hear you.”

“I said that you have a point,” she repeated, even though she was fairly certain he had heard her perfectly fine the first time around.

“Ah,” he said with a full-fledged grin. “In that case, I believe someone owes me an apology.”  He bridged the gap between them and brought her in close to him. “I typically only accept galleons, but in your case, I’ll permit other forms of payment.”  He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her, wiping away any lingering traces that had been mad at him. She wanted to still be at least a bit angry about the whole ordeal, but it honestly was no use.

Malfoy pulled himself away, but she didn’t even try to leave his embrace. There were still a handful of minutes before the game began, and if they missed the kick off, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. She rested her head on his shoulder and sighed. “You’re a real piece of work, Draco Malfoy. You know that, don’t you?”

Her head rose in time with his chest as he chuckled. “Yeah, but don’t say you don’t like it. That it’s not apart of my charm.”  He gave her a kiss on the forehead and she smiled.

“You’re lucky I think you’re cute,” she said into his robes, but his tightened grip around her confirmed that he still heard it.

“Is that so?” he said.

“I suppose,” she said, tearing her head away from him. “I also still think you’re an arrogant jerk at times, but they seem to balance each other out.”

Malfoy placed his hand on the side of her cheek and brought their lips back together, slightly more gentle this second time. His lips were much too soft for it being so dry and windy out, but she would not complain. She wrapped both arms around his neck and he lifted her up so that she was now balanced on the handrail.

Perhaps they really should head back up to their seats, but Hermione still wasn’t ready quite yet. Once in front of their friends, they would have to go back to feigning disinterest in each other, which was now going to be harder because all she’d be able to think about was when she’d be alone with him again. But in the meantime, she let herself get completely consumed by the moment, tuning out everything else around them.

Which proved to be a mistake.

“I fucking knew it!” came a distinct female voice from behind them. Startled by the sound of someone else, Hermione instinctively shoved Malfoy away from her and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. At first, Malfoy was appalled, but when he turned around and recognized their intruder, his face turned to the same level of shock as Hermione’s. Standing before them was Ginny, her arms crossed and a smug smile stretched across her face.

“I, uh, I can explain,” Hermione stammered, her eyes flickering back and forth between her friend and Malfoy.

Ginny threw up her hands and took a step back. “Oh, no explanation necessary. You two were as obvious as an erumpent in an open field on Monday. Although, it is still satisfying to get confirmation.”  She laughed to herself as she slowly made her way towards them.

Hermione pushed herself off the railing and landed firmly on the landing. “So everyone knows already?”

“Oh, please,” Ginny said. “You know Harry. He wouldn’t pick up on it even if he was the one who just caught you two snogging. And while Daphne does quite like to gossip, she tends to stick strictly with what she’s told and doesn’t read too much between the lines.”

“I can vouch for that one,” Malfoy grumbled under his breath.

“Well I suppose it could be worse.”  Hermione resigned to herself, still not entirely thrilled at the prospect of Ginny being in on what she had hoped to keep a secret between her and Malfoy for at least a little bit. Ginny was taking it surprisingly well, but Ginny had never been the one she was concerned to tell. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell anyone else about this for the moment,” she continued. She looked back at Malfoy who nodded his head, urging her to finish. She hadn’t had the opportunity to actually discuss any of it with Malfoy, but there was an implicit understanding that they would try to keep this underwraps for the time being. “It’s just that -”

“Hey,” Ginny jokingly interrupted. “Like I said, no need to explain. If I was with Malfoy, I’d want to keep it a secret, too.”  

Malfoy scoffed as walked up behind Hermione and kissed her on her cheek. “Lucky for both of us, I’m with Granger, not you.”  Hermione leaned her head back and glared at him again, but he merely chuckled at her dismay. There was that jerk side of him beginning to show again, but she had to admit that it was slightly endearing at times. Yet she still had a strong feeling that she was going to grow quite accustomed to staring him down if she continued spending so much time with him.

Ginny faked a gagging noise. “Oh, gross,” she complained. “I said I’d keep your secret, but only if you don’t make me watch it.”  She headed up the stairs, but paused when she reached the top of the next landing. “Seriously, though. Malfoy?

Hermione shrugged as she looked back at him. “It’s a long story.”

Ginny shook her head and sighed to herself before running up the stairs while crying back, “Dinner! Tuesday! You don’t have a choice!”

Ginny rounded the corner, vanishing up the next flight of stairs, and Hermione faced Malfoy, pounding her head against his chest. He kissed the top of her head as he smoothed out of the back of her hair. “This is not how I imagined the day would go,” she groaned into his robes.

“I’m not going to say I told you so, but I do recall advising that we just stay at my place instead.”

Hermione pried herself away from his chest just long enough to glare at him before returning back to the warm spot on his robes. “I refuse to say you were right twice in one conversation.”

“What’s that?” he teased. “Is Hermione Granger admitting that I knew better than her?”

Hermione obscured her smile as she held him tight. “Don’t get used to it.”

She closed her eyes as they stood there in the stairwell, not ruining the moment with any more conversation. There was a little voice in the back of her head trying to remind her who it was with his arms wrapped around her, but she simply didn’t care anymore. She had spent so much energy the past week yelling and complaining about him, when it was so much easier to just finally let herself relax in his embrace.

He ran his fingers through the upper fringes of her hair, drawing her attention back to him. “We better head to our seats before any more of your friends catch us,” he murmured. He took her hand into his and started towards the stairs, but Hermione remained rooted in place. He turned to look at her, yet she kept frozen. His eyebrows furrowed together as he walked back to her.

Hermione swallowed as she stared at the tips of her shoes peeking out from the hem of her robes. “You know, we still need to talk about what happened last night.”

Malfoy released a soft groan and closed his eyes. “Can’t we just… never bring it up again?”

Hermione cocked her head. “That won’t solve anything.”

“Yet bringing it up now right, minutes before the start of the game, will?”

Hermione half smiled. Okay, three times that he was right today. “No,” she admitted, “but I just wanted to check in.”

He leaned in and kissed her once more. “I’m doing just fine today,” he whispered.

“Good.”

He intertwined her fingers with his own and led her through the dark shadows of the stairwell to the box, only dropping her hand when they reached the second to last step. She grabbed his hand once more and brought him down a few steps and kissed him one last time before they returned to their friends.

“Be nice to Ron,” she threatened, but the smile on both of their faces lessened the severity of her words.

She entered the box first, and as she walked in, Ginny raised a suspicious eyebrow at her, but Hermione walked straight past her. If she was looking for any sort of answers, she’d just have to wait until Tuesday at this point. Hermione returned to her seat next to Ron, and a few moments later, Malfoy entered the box himself, sidestepping his way to his own seat.

“You took a while,” Ron commented to her. “You sure everything’s okay?”

“Oh, yes,” Hermione quickly answered. “There was just a long line.”

“What happened to the butterbeer?” Daphne asked Malfoy.

“Already drank it,” he cooly lied. “Got a bit preoccupied with something else downstairs, though.”

Down on the opposite side of the aisle, Ginny started coughing wildly.

“You need something to drink?” Harry asked concernedly.

Ginny's coughs subsided and she wheezed through choppy breaths. “Whiskey if you’ve got it.”

Harry exchanged an anxious look at Ron who merely shrugged.  “But you’re working right now,”  Harry said.

“Trust me," Ginny sighed. "If you knew what I knew, you’d be asking for something hard too.”

Ron suddenly looked concerned, although not at all about his sister.  “Oh shit, don’t tell me Kasser is still injured!” he bemoaned. “If he’s not playing today, then the Cannons don’t stand a chance!”

Malfoy began to open his mouth, but promptly shut it, allowing Ron to continue his conversation with Ginny and Harry without interruption. “See, I can control myself when I want to,” he proudly commented to Hermione.

“How mighty fine of you,” she teased.

“Oh!” Daphne said, perking up in her seat. “I meant to ask you, Draco. How was your date with Alessia on Friday?”

The hairs on Malfoy’s neck stood up and his back grew slightly stiffer. Hermione keep close watch on him, concerned about how he would react, but also a tinge curious about what he would say.

“She didn’t come,” he eventually responded, looking the opposite direction from Daphne.

“Then there must be some sort of miscommunication!” Daphne tried to justify. “She promised me that she was actually interested. I’ll have to owl her and see what happened.”

“Don’t worry about,” Malfoy dismissed, but Daphne powered on.

“Really, I insist. It’s been months since you’ve been on a proper date, Draco. You need to get yourself back out there.”

“I said don’t worry about,” he reiterated through gritted teeth. His hand tightened around the edge of his seat cushion, and Hermione could tell that he was starting to grow frustrated, yet Daphne still seemed none the wiser.

“I mean, if you don’t like her, I can find someone else. I’m sure I can think of someone -”

“Daphne, stop!” Malfoy shouted, capturing the attention of everyone in the box. “Not here,” he grumbled to her.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” she huffed. “Last week, you were practically begging for me to set you up with someone, and now -”

“I’m seeing someone, alright!” he eventually snapped. Hermione’s head jerked to him and Ginny keeled over, her burst of choked coughs returning. Malfoy quickly looked at Hermione whose cheeks were undoubtedly turning as pink as a pygmy puff, and he began to backtrack. “I mean, there’s someone I’d like to start seeing,” he said. “She’s, uh... I mean, if she wants to keep seeing me, of course.”

Hermione ducked her head to try to obscure her blush, but she doubted she was very successful at it. Ron, at least, didn’t seem to notice.

“Who’s the unlucky girl?” he tormented.

Malfoy smirked to himself. “I actually think you’d quite like her, Weasley. She’s just your type.”

“Oh, sweet Merlin,” Ginny groaned, her coughs starting to subside. “Seriously, someone get me a drink.”

Malfoy seemed way too pleased with himself when Hermione glared at him this time around. “I know what you’re gonna say,” he whispered with a satisfied smirk, “but I couldn’t resist. Last one, I promise.”

Harry agreed to get Ginny a drink, while Daphne rambled on. “You didn’t tell me you were seeing someone!” she said, the slight resentment just barely apparent. “Well, if you’re taken, who else am I going to play matchmaker with? You, Hermione?”

Hermione jerked into attention, not expecting her name to come up in. “You know, I really don’t feel comfortable -”

“Oh, what about that guy from last weekend?”

Ron’s head snapped up and Hermione felt him staring at her. “What guy from last weekend?”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she tried to dismiss, but now Malfoy’s gaze was on her. “I mean, he’s not nothing,” she stammered. “He… oh gods, what do you expect me to say?” she groaned into the sky.

“Did you give the bloke a second shot?” Daphne continued to pry.

“A second shot?” Ron whimpered in echo.

A roar of cheers erupted from all around them and the Quidditch players zoomed out from either edge of the field. Streaks of yellow and orange buzzed through the sky and dashed in front of their eyes. The crowd cheered, making any sort of conversation utterly impossible.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” Hermione whispered to herself, relieved that she wouldn’t have to answer any more questions, but Ron didn’t even seem to notice.

“What… what guy?” Ron continued to ask, his face completely sullen even though his favorite players were flying right past him.

Hermione tried to open her mouth to speak, but no words would come out. She didn’t even know where to begin, with any of it, but luckily Malfoy stepped in.

“Over there!” he shouted above the cheers, pointing to across the field. “Looks like Kasser is playing today. It appears you still have a chance after all, Weasley.”

Ron immediately dropped his concerns and started yelling out the players names, losing his voice to the rest of the crowd.

“Thank you,” Hermione mumbled under her breath.

“How many times have I been right today?” he arrogantly commented. “I’m beginning to lose track.”

“Careful,” she warned with a slight smile. “I did tell Harry last week that I wasn’t against pushing you off a Quidditch stand, and you and I both know that I keep my promises.”

He smirked down at her, but then they joined the rest of their friends on cheering on the teams, ready to watch the match.

 

“I can’t believe it!” Ron exclaimed, half skipping across the field away from the stadium. “The Cannons won! They actually won!”  Ron’s smile stretched wide across his face, the happiest that Hermione had seen him since, well, ever. He started to pace backwards and faced Hermione and Malfoy who were walking side by side, maintaining a reasonable distance between them. Ron looked triumphantly at Malfoy and stuck out his hand. “Cough it up. A bet’s a bet.” 

Hermione couldn’t help but smile as Malfoy dug into his robes’ pocket and retrieved his bag of galleons, counting out ten gold coins. He thrust it out into Ron’s hand. “I do suppose donating to charity is the nice thing to do. Be careful not to spend it all in one place.” 

But Ron didn’t even acknowledge Malfoy’s comments, still on an adrenaline high from the game. “I mean, did you see that? Huxley had the quaffle, but then Yurez came up behind him with the bludger and WHAM smacked him right in the gut!”  Ron ran up next to Hermione and excitedly acted out each of the plays, imagining that he was the one who had swung the bat. “Or, or when Gudgeon saw the snitch and he bent down on his broom and bloody hell, he darted so fast you could barely see him!”  He gripped his hair and shook his head back and forth. “What a game,” he smiled in content disbelief.

“Yes, yes, all very thrilling,” Malfoy absentmindedly agreed. 

Ron smiled and chuckled to himself. “You know, you aren’t half bad, Malfoy.”

Malfoy’s face lit up into a impish smile and he elbowed Hermione mockingly. “You hear that, Granger? Weasley says I’m not half bad. Imagine that.”  Hermione rolled her eyes. She already knew she’d never hear the end of this from him.

“Yeah, well don't get too used to it, Malfoy,” Ron forewarned. “I'm sure you'll find a way to ruin it somehow.”

“You know, I'm sure I will,” he said with a coy smile directed at Hermione. “Now if you’ll excuse us, I would like to speak with Granger alone for a moment.”

Ron scrunched his eyebrows together and Hermione stumbled to come up with an excuse. “We’re presenting a bill in front of the Wizengamot tomorrow,” she quickly justified.

“Together?” Ron asked incredulously. “Seriously, what the bloody hell happened while I was gone?”

Hermione faintly smiled to herself. “It’s been an eventual past few days.” 

Ron ran to catch up with Harry, Ginny, and Daphne and Hermione and Malfoy found themselves alone once again. Malfoy stuck his hands in his robes and kicked the ground with the heel of his shoe. “About what I said earlier…”

“About you wanting to start seeing me?” Hermione asked with a hopeful note.

“Well, yes, that. How about dinner Friday night? Something casual. I promise to keep it within the country this time around.”

Hermione released a short laugh. “Dinner sounds great.”

Malfoy nodded his head and obscured a tight lipped smile. “Friday it is.”  He scratched the back of his head and smirked ever so slightly. “I know I can’t actually kiss you right now, so just imagine I did.”  And with that, he turned from her and caught up with the rest of the group.

Hermione stayed behind for just a moment longer so her cheeks had enough time to return to a normal shade. Friday seemed so far off, but she already felt a mixture of nerves and excitement at the prospect. Not that she would have to wait that long to see Malfoy again, though. Tomorrow’s meeting with the Wizengamot would determine if their hard work would have been worth it, and she prayed to Merlin that it would all work out.

Chapter Text

Hermione sighed to herself as she carefully organized the pile of parchments on her desk that she had neglected Friday afternoon. It was quite hard to believe that the weekend was already over, although she did only have herself to blame. She could barely quantify it as a break when she had spent the vast majority of her Friday, Saturday, and even part of Sunday centered around the addendum. To be fair, she supposed she couldn’t complain too much about the whole ordeal. After all, her efforts had paid off in more ways than one.

But, nevertheless, it was back to the Ministry and with that, their looming meeting with the Wizengamot. The meeting wasn’t for another thirty minutes, but she was left with essentially nothing to do until then. Not that she didn’t have other matters that required her attention - it was just that some of her future actions depended entirely on the passage of the bill. The Beast and Being Divisions were once again debating about which werewolves fell under, but it would be so much more meaningful if they actually considered a werewolf’s opinion for a change! Not to mention the fact that the Goblin Liaison Office had been breathing down her neck about improving wages at Gringotts for weeks now. Yet again, all this would be significantly more efficient and purposeful if there was a group of Goblins who directly spoke for themselves instead of her relying on the secondhand accounts of a ministry employee!

A firm knock on her door echoed in her office. “Come in!” Hermione shouted from behind her desk. Harry walked in and smiled at her.

“Morning,” Hermione greeted him, her mind still on the pile of papers on her desk. “You need something?”

Harry shrugged. “Nothing in particular. Just checking in on you this morning. Today’s the big day, huh?”

Hermione’s stomach coiled at Harry’s reference to the meeting. She was trying to put on a brave face, but if she was being honest with herself, she was more than slightly nervous. After working so hard on it, she would really hate to see it fail when it was so close to passing. More importantly, she knew how much it meant to Malfoy. Although Hermione wouldn’t complain if it came with the added bonus of her being able to march down to Knox’s office and rub it in her face.

There was another knock on the door and Malfoy sauntered in, completely oblivious to Harry’s presence. His eyes were glued to the parchment in his hands which Hermione recognized as the final copy of their addendum, reading it over for what must have been at least his twentieth time. He adjusted the frame of his glasses as he scanned over the document.

“We need to make a slight modification in line forty-five. We say that -” he looked up and stopped when he saw Harry standing before her desk. His fingers latched onto the glasses and immediately tore them off his face and shoved them into his pocket, startled by the other man’s attendance. “Didn’t expect you to be in here, Potter,” he said, although Hermione could still detect the startle in his voice.

Harry held a fist over his mouth, doing a bang up job of concealing a smirk. “I’m sorry, but did we just catch you wearing glasses?” Harry turned to Hermione, expecting her to find this equally humorous, but she just raised a warning eyebrow back at him.

Malfoy jeered at Harry’s comment with a scowl. “I’ll give you twenty galleons if you never mention this to anyone.”

“I don’t know, Malfoy,” Harry tormented with a laugh. “It might take a bit more for me to keep my mouth shut.”

Malfoy shook his head with a huff and ignored Harry, returning his attention to Hermione. He placed the addendum on her desk and pointed halfway down the document. “In line forty-five, we state that 35% of funding for the Wolfsbane will come through my department and 75% from your department, but -”

“But that obviously doesn’t add up,” Hermione finished, seeing their error in their calculations. She looked at the time. This was the last thing they needed so close to the start of their meeting. Making adjustments this close to a deadline always made her uneasy, and she was already feeling anxious as is. “We’re going to have to add up the numbers again,” she said with a resigned sigh.

Malfoy broke a bit of a smile. “No need. Kingsley and I read it over this morning and already did the math. It’s 65% from your department, not 75.”

Hermione released a deep breath, grateful that they had already fixed it. “Thank Merlin,” she said. “You had me a bit worried there.” She tapped her wand to the parchment to remove the seven and then dipped her quill into the ink, forming a six in front of the five. She read over the sentence and smiled at the fix. “All better.”

Malfoy nodded and reclaimed the parchment. “Would you look at that? All done and we still have twenty minutes to spare. Whatever shall we do with all this extra time?” He shot Hermione a subtle wink and she glared back at him.

“In your dreams!” she whispered harshly back at him.

“What’s that?” Harry piped up.

“So it seems!” Hermione quickly said aloud. She arched an eyebrow at Malfoy, but he still had his trademark smirk plastered across his face. He sure did get satisfaction in testing how much he could get away with in front of her friends. He was lucky she was fast enough to come up with viable explanations and ruses!

“Would you excuse us, Potter?” Malfoy said, his eyes still glued to Hermione. “Granger and I still need to do some other last minute preparations.”

Harry scrunched his eyebrows. “Didn’t you just say you were all done?”

Get out, Potter,” Malfoy said in a much more commanding tone, and Harry didn’t object this time.

“I, uh, okay,” he mumbled. “Uh, good luck then.”

The second the door shut behind Harry, Malfoy took hold of Hermione’s hand and dragged her next to him. “Get over here,” he growled before he captured her in his arms and kissed her. He kept a firm grip on her robes as his tongue slipped inside and met hers. Hermione wrapped both arms around her neck, pulling him in even closer.

When he pulled away, there was a bright smile on his face. “Sorry,” he said, although there was no trace of actual regret in his voice. “I’ve just been dying to do that since around noon yesterday.”

Hermione blushed down to the floor and bit her lip. “Me too,” she confessed. She tucked a curl behind her ear and picked up one of the piles on her desk, not sure what else to do with her hands.

Malfoy moved himself behind her and balanced his chin on her shoulder, reading the documents from over her. “They’re debating whether werewolves count as beings or beasts again, huh?”

Hermione sighed. “Yes. Again. Neither division wants to deal with them, so every few years, they pawn it off to the other one. Makes it practically impossible to get anything done.”

“Hopefully not after today,” Malfoy said, leaving a kiss along the crook of her neck. He spun her around so that he was pressed up right next to his chest. “Are you nervous?”

Hermione sucked in a deep breath. “No.”

Malfoy smirked. “Liar. Your hands are trembling.” 

Hermione looked down at her hands. She hadn’t even noticed that she had been shaking. “Fine. Yes, I’m nervous,” she conceded. “You?”

Malfoy mockingly laughed. “Bloody terrified.” He dipped his head and shook his head back and forth, a smile still perched across his lips. “Sure, I came in here to tell you about the mistake, but I could have easily fixed that myself. I honestly just needed to see you to calm my nerves.” He grabbed her hands into his and she was alarmed by how frigid could his touch was, but she didn’t pull away. Malfoy looked down at their hands as he continued to speak. “I know this bill is important to you, but I’ve also got a lot riding on this decision. Whatever I do is never going to fix what happened, but passing this today would be a good start.”

He released a short sigh and smirked at Hermione. “I don’t know how you damn Gryffindors do all this brave shit all the time.”

“You know, being brave means doing things even when you’re scared,” she observed. “In which case, there might be a bit of Gryffindor in you yet.”

Malfoy scoffed as he released his grip and playfully pushed her away. “Don’t you dare ever say that again!” he said. “And especially not around Potter. He already knows about the glasses. I can’t bare for him to hear that, too."

 

 

They proceeded down the dungeon hall, their paired footsteps echoing off the stoned walls. Each step closer to the Wizengamot doors, the hole amassed even greater in her stomach. Hermione mumbled as they walked, reciting the main points under her breath.

“House elves, werewolves, goblins. A committee formed entirely by them, with representation in the Ministry. A supplementary addendum to offset the cost of Wolfsbane.” 

Malfoy glanced at her as he maintained their pace. “Don’t you have that all memorized by now?” He chuckled to himself with apparent amusement. “I suppose you have an entire speech written up and everything.”

Hermione had to pause her thinking to process Malfoy’s words. While she didn’t have an exact speech written out, she did have an outline of key points for her proposal. She hadn’t spent all this time writing this legislation not to have something prepared for once they got in there!

“Just going over my main arguments,” she explained. “I don’t suppose you came with anything prepared,” she added.

“Please. I don’t need it.” Malfoy said with a smirk. “I’ll win them over with my charm.” Hermione stopped in her tracks and crossed her arms, glaring directly at him. “What?” he said, failing to erase the smug expression on his face. “It seemed to work with you.”

Hermione tried to maintain her scowl, but Malfoy smiled at her and she couldn’t help but follow suit.

“You may be good with words, Granger,” he carried on, “but if there’s one thing Malfoys are good at, it’s talking their way into things.”

They arrived outside the doors and stopped before entering. Hermione peered through the translucent glass, the members of the court already in their seats, anticipating their arrival. Malfoy stalled and his smile faded away, replaced by those tell-tale traces of doubt. He was a master of masking his insecurities, but now was one of those moments where he was starting to crack.

Hermione took a deep, calming breath as she took Malfoy’s hands into hers. “No matter what happens in there, we aren’t going to stop,” she assured him. “I believe in this bill, and so do you, but I promise you that we’re going to continue to fight until we make progress with werewolves.”

“And house elves,” he said with a faint smile.

And goblins.”

“Let’s not push it,” Malfoy said with a laugh, and although she didn’t intend it as a joke, she was glad he was at least back to being in a happier mood.

He placed his hand on the handle of the door, holding it there for a moment, not making any movements towards actually opening it. His grip tightened around the handle, but then slackened once more, until he removed himself completely. Hermione started to configure what she could say to encourage him, but suddenly, his lips met hers for a last minute kiss.

“For good luck,” he said with a smirk.

Hermione took the rolled up addendum and hit him with it. “Oh, get in there you, prat!” she teased.

Feeling much more confident, Malfoy flung open the door, the pair walking into the room, showing no sign of the nerves that were bubbling inside both of them. Fifty sets of eyes stared down at them from their elevated seats, the Chief Warlock poised in the center. The room was chilly, at least that’s what Hermione told herself as a shiver traveled down her spine.

The Chief Warlock raised his hand, silencing the muffled murmurs of the plum-robed witches and wizards. “We now call to order bill number 27A-06, written by Hermione Jean Granger in collaboration with Draco Lucius Malfoy,” the Chief Warlock announced in a booming voice which echoed around the stoned chamber. “The court is presided over by Patrick Orin Reynolds, Chief Warlock; Tonya Spencer Quait, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Isaac Benjamin Gerrish, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister; Court Scribe, David Alvin Kutz. Ms. Granger, please present your bill.”

“Thank you, sir,” Hermione said with a nod, taking a step towards the court. She peered over her shoulder to smile at Malfoy who subtly nodded his head, providing her with some last second reassurance for her to proceed. “Members of the Wizengamot, Mr. Malfoy and I come to you today to discuss our proposal of forming a committee consisting of house elves, werewolves, and goblins which would be a part of the Ministry of Magic. For far too long, witches and wizards have let their laws dictate these communities, when these being and creatures have voices that should be heard and represented in our government. This bill outlines the formation of said committee, including its powers and selection process. This committee would be a benefit to a variety of departments already established within the Ministry, enabling direct access to the feedback of those outside of our kind.”

Malfoy proceeded next to her, seamlessly transitioning to his portion of their argument.

“Upon meeting with the different departments of the Ministry, we reflected on the hesitation that some members of our society have towards werewolves. Since then, we have devised an additional addendum that would increase the availability of Wolfsbane through governmental subsidies. We have redistributed funds from the Department for the Regulation and Control and Magical Creatures as well as the Department of International Magical Cooperation in order to properly allocate funding. These costs will include the Ministry absorbing some of the price of the potion, as well as increasing the number of potioneers employed by the Ministry so that more of the potion can be brewed.”

The Chief Warlock nodded as Malfoy took a step back, symbolizing the end of their initial presentation. “We shall read the documents over as you prepare for questioning.”

The witches and wizards of the court buzzed in chatter as they reviewed the proposal and addendum, leaving Hermione and Malfoy a few moments to speak.

“You did good, Granger,” Malfoy smiled at her.

“Not so bad yourself, Malfoy,” she chimed in.

“See,” he said with a smug grin. “No memorized speech necessary.”

They waited as the members of the Wizengamot reviewed the documents, until finally, the Chief Warlock waved his wand in the air, silencing the rest of the court, signaling the end of their discussion. “We will now proceed with questioning,” he announced.

A wizard in the back row craned his neck and spoke in a deep voice, garnering their attention. “Why pull funds from the Department of International Magical Cooperation?”

Malfoy cleared his throat to address the court. “We ran the numbers, and if we pulled entirely from Ms. Granger’s department, they would not be able to uphold their other current programs, which are just as important to our community. If you look at the break down of the cuts in spending for the Department of International Magical Cooperation, you will notice that the majority of that cut is from my own salary.”

This caused a bit of commotion among the court, and even warranted a startle from Hermione. “What?” she asked, but Malfoy didn’t answer, keeping his focus forward. Hermione, on the other hand, kept staring at him. She had to partially take blame for having not looked at his figures that closely, trusting him with his own department, but that was just uncalled for!

“Mr. Malfoy,” someone else on the Wizengamot spoke up, “while that is very magnanimous of you, that is not a viable long term solution. Eventually you will no longer hold your position and someone else will need to be salaried.”

“And besides,” came another voice, “these numbers work now, but what about in the future? If we subsidize Wolfsbane, that would increase werewolf life expectancy and chances for mating with other witches and wizards.”

“You say that as if that’s a bad thing!” Hermione spat, tearing her attention away from Malfoy.

“I’m not making a comment on if it is or it isn’t,” he corrected. “But it would result in an increased werewolf population, which would mean that as the years continue, more Wolfsbane will be need to be available.”

The Chief Warlock nodded as he heard the arguments. “Do you have projection numbers for this?” he inquired.

Hermione and Malfoy both shook their heads. “No, sir, we do not have projection numbers,” Malfoy explained. “And I share your concerns about the long term viability of this subsidy. However, we are looking to take steps now that will make a positive impact on our society in the present rather than further along in the future.”

“But once we start with the subsidies, werewolves will expect us to continue!” someone added.

“Perhaps we should table werewolves for now and just focus on house elves and goblins for the time being,” came another voice. “House elves are harmless and goblins already have their own liaison office. Maybe if there was another solution besides simply subsidizing the cost of Wolfsbane, we could entertain the thought of adding werewolves.”

Hermione’s head jolted up and Malfoy immediately turned to her, both of them thinking the same thing. She faced him, but he was vehemently shaking his head back and forth. “Don’t do it, Granger,” he barely got out, before Hermione proceeded anyway.

“Mr. Malfoy is currently working on developing a cheaper Wolfsbane potion!” she cried out.

Malfoy squeezed his eyes shut with a grunt as the Wizengamot exchanged a flurry of whispered comments. The Chief Warlock ushered for their silence again as his narrowed in on Malfoy. “Tell us more about this potion you are creating,” he directed.

Malfoy glared at her before he took a step forward. Hermione could already tell that he was not pleased with her about sharing about his research, but it seemed like their bill was crashing, and she refused let that happen. Malfoy’s chest rose as he pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. “I have been testing different substitutes for ingredients to design a similar, yet equally effective potion as Wolfsbane, but it is still in early development.” As he emphasized his final words, he glared at Hermione again.

“And have you made any progress?”

“I have gotten close a few times, but like I said, it’s still in early development.”

The Wizengamot exchanged more hushed whispers before the Chief Warlock spoke once more. “Mr. Malfoy and Ms. Granger, please step outside while we openly discuss this new development.”

They thanked the court and proceeded back to the hall, making sure to shut the heavy doors behind them. Once they were alone, Malfoy groaned. “I told you about my potion in confidence!” he criticized.

“I know,” Hermione confessed, “but we needed to do something! They were on the verge of failing the bill!”

“They weren’t going to fail it entirely. They would have granted the committee without werewolves, but that’s already more than what you were initially asking for last week.”

He had a point, however, in the past week, her focus had shifted, and he was entirely to blame for it. She sighed as she slouched against the cold stone wall. “Yes, but it’s not just about my work anymore.”

Malfoy looked at her from the corner of his eyes and then down at his feet. He released a long, heavy groan as he backed up and rested beside her on against the wall. “And what if I fail, huh?” he mustered. “I’ve been working on this potion for three years, yet I’ve only made minimal progress.” He hit his head back against the wall, and shook his head. “I needed this bill to pass today so that I had more time. I am fully aware that the subsidy wouldn’t work long term, but it would have bought me a few more years before I had real results.”

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re going to fail. You’re a lot of things, Malfoy, but I also know that when the situation calls for it, you’ll stick it out til the end.”

Despite her efforts, Malfoy didn’t appear to be any more confident, so they waited in silence. Hermione rested her head on his shoulder, to which he reached out for her hand and intertwined their fingers. He planted a soft kiss into her curls and she closed her eyes and smiled, even if her stomach was filled with jitters.

Through the doors, they could hear the continued discussion of the Wizengamot, some voices seeming to reach the point of yelling at each other. She couldn’t hear any of their exact arguments, but at least it was a sign that they were still considering their proposal.

“You nervous?” Malfoy asked her.

“Yes,” she answered this time around.

Malfoy half-smiled. “Me too.”

The minutes ticked by slowly, and they stood there patiently as they awaited the final decision. Every once and awhile, Malfoy paced up and down the hall, but he would always return after a few laps, brining his hand back into hers.

Eventually, the chamber doors cracked open and they heard their names beckoned from within.

They exchanged anxious glances with one another. Hermione reached up and kissed him.

“For good luck,” she said with a faint smile.

They re-entered the chambers, and Hermione wished she could latch onto Malfoy’s hand as they awaited the decision. Malfoy glanced over her too and she could tell that he was thinking the same thing. So instead, they stood next to each other very closely, their robes brushed against each other. It wasn’t much, but at least this way, their shoulders were just barely touching, and it was enough of a reminder that they were in this together.

The Chief Warlock cleared this throat as he made his announcement. Hermione closed her eyes as she listened. “After careful consideration, we have decided to pass your legislation on a temporary trial basis.” Hermione couldn’t help the bright smile that flashed across her face, meeting the look of shock on Malfoy’s. “Ms. Granger, your committee is to be formed within the month and then headed under your supervision the first year. During this time, we will permit the reallocation of funds to offset the cost of Wolfsbane."

Hermione could hardly believe it, but she withheld her full celebration as the man continued.

“In addition we will give Mr. Malfoy a six month stipend for his research. Funding for this will be pulled from Section 91.75 from the Department of Mysteries. In conjunction with this decision, Mr. Malfoy will provide bi-weekly updates on his progress. The court reserves the right to terminate or lengthen this stipend at any time. That is all.”

The Wizengamot began to clear out of the room, but Hermione and Malfoy remained frozen in their spots, still letting the news sink in. Hermione’s jaw hung slack, completely agape since halfway through the Chief Warlock’s decision. It wasn’t entirely perfect, but it was about as good as they could have hoped for all things considered. She eventually shook herself enough out of shock and nudged Malfoy who was still standing completely still.

“Did you hear that?” was all she could muster.

Malfoy shook his head in disbelief. “They actually passed it.”

Hermione fluttered in front of him, a taunting smirk across her face. “Say it.”

“Say what?”

“Say that I was right this time.”

Malfoy scoffed. “Absolutely not.”

Hermione’s smile widened. “I was right to bring up your potion and now you’re getting a stipend to work on it.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Lack of funding was never my issue.”

Hermione sighed and let her head fall back. “Don’t ruin this right now. I believe in you and clearly the Wizengamot does too.”

“Six months isn’t a very long time.”

“But they said there’s the potential to lengthen it!”

“As well as the potential to shorten it.”

“Oh, don’t be such a pessimist right now!” she countered. Their committee was being formed and they were making a positive impact like they had intended. There was hardly much to complain about for the time being.

She grabbed hold of Malfoy’s hand and ushered him towards the door. ”Let’s get out of here so we can actually celebrate.” Malfoy raised a suggestive eyebrow at her, but she quickly shut it down. “Absolutely not!” she near shouted.

Malfoy smirked. “It was worth a shot,” he said with a grin. “But I do have a bottle of champagne in my office.”

Hermione couldn’t help but smile. “Someone was a bit presumptuous.”

“Perhaps so. But let's not let it go to waste.”

Chapter Text

Hermione kept her eyes on the copy of the Prophet clenched in her hands as she made her way up the stairs to her flat. Ginny was not far behind, gripping onto their bags of takeout. The redhead nipped at Hermione’s heels, reading over her shoulder and whispering the words in unison as Hermione read the article aloud.

“‘At the end of the day, the Cannons really have Olfias’ absence to thank for their win. If you keep your fingers crossed long enough, once and a while, things will actually work out in your favor.’”

Hermione chuckled as she set down the newspaper. “Ron’s gonna kill you for that last line.”

Ginny merely shrugged, careful not to disturb their dinner too much. “He can debate it all he wants, but I stand by everything I wrote.”

“It's a good article,” Hermione commended. “And I mean that! I was able to read through the whole thing and understand almost everything!”

Her keys rattled as she retrieved them from her bag, but before she opened her door, she got distracted by something waiting outside her flat.

“You’ve got to be joking,” Ginny grumbled as she too noticed the large bouquet of flowers placed beside her door.

Hermione flashed her a quick scowl before dipping down to retrieve the card. Her fingers ran over her name inscribed across the envelope. Of course, her last name was there, but he had included her first name as well. It sounded stupid and childish, but she liked seeing her given name in his handwriting. Unable to resist reading what laid inside, she sliced her finger through the crease at the top and silently read the card to herself.

To the woman who is obnoxious as hell, but equally brilliant,

In honor of our victory yesterday. Thank you for believing in me even when I didn't fully believe in myself.

Yours,

DLM”

Hermione bit down on her bottom lip, already feeling her cheeks start to redden. Ginny let out a heavy groan. “Do I even want to know?” she sighed, but clearly a part of her did, because she took the card out of Hermione’s hands, reading the words for herself. She began to fake gag again the moment she reached the end. “Oh, good Godric,” she moped. “It was worse than I thought!”

Hermione rolled her eyes at her friend as she picked up the flowers and jammed her key into the door. She had known Ginny long enough to know that all the teasing was mostly in good fun, but honestly it was getting to be a bit much. She understood that the majority of her cynicism was rooted in reality. After all, from Ginny’s point of view, she could understand how the notion of anything sweet coming from Draco Malfoy would be repulsive, particularly anything sweet directed specifically at Hermione.

Ginny kept the notecard clenched in her hands as she followed Hermione inside. “I mean, seriously. Who knew Draco Sodding Malfoy had any sort of romantic bone in his body?” She glanced back down at the card. “My mistake. His middle initial is an L. Draco Loathsome Malfoy.”

The flowers thumped down onto the table, Hermione reaching a breaking point. “Can’t you just be happy for me for a moment?” she criticized.

Ginny tossed the notecard onto the table and laid the bags of food beside it. She sighed as she drew back one of the chairs and took a seat. “I’m glad that you seem happy and all, but I’m gonna be honest - I’m more than a bit skeptical. This is Malfoy we’re talking about. I let it slide at the game cause I wasn’t going to get into it there, but all week, I’ve been trying to figure out how the hell this happened, yet for the life of me, I can’t.”

Hermione retrieved the plates and silverware from the kitchen and joined her friend at the table. “Trust me, I asked myself the same thing at first,” she admitted, grabbing the container closer to her and dishing out a serving. “But, you said so yourself that he was checking me out when we were at the Leaky Cauldron -”

“Yeah, but -” Ginny began to interrupt, but Hermione refused to let her.

“Hey! Do you want to hear my side of the story or what?”

Ginny immediately pretended to zip her lips and let Hermione continue.

“Well, I don’t know,” Hermione said resignedly. “I was fairly drunk that night, and we got to talking, and I started to realize that he was actually quite interesting to talk with. He surprised me in a couple ways, and you had gotten it into my head a bit that I should sleep with someone, so…”

“So it’s my fault that you slept with Malfoy?” Ginny interrupted again.

Hermione laughed to herself, finding amusement in the traces of horror on her face. “In some ways, yes.”

Ginny shook her head and cracked a teasing smile. “I’ll never forgive myself.”

Hermione grew slightly more comfortable, Ginny seeming to ease up with the return of a light-hearted joke. “Well, he did almost ruin it for himself after all the stunts he pulled last Monday, but when he started working on the addendum together, he just sort of…” Hermione paused trying to think about how to best put it. “Well, he just sort of opened up to me.”

Hermione took a deep breath as she pushed around her food, looking down at it as she continued. “Malfoy’s… complicated. He’s tightly shut and doesn’t open up to many people, and if you pry too hard, he’s just going to stay locked up. But if you’re gentle with him, he slowly loosens up and lets you in.”

Ginny set down her fork and Hermione looked up at her. “That’s all well and good,” she stated calmly. “But he’s still Malfoy. He still did all those things. Yet just like that, all is forgiven?”

Her friend looked at her, sincerely concerned for Hermione. The brunette picked up her napkin and began to tinker with it in her lap. “The forgiveness part is tricky,” she faltered. “We’re still navigating how to best handle the past, but it’s not something that we’re ignoring. For right now, we’re focusing on moving forward.” Hermione felt her heart start to quicken as she nervously ripped the paper napkin. “He’s very much aware of his mistakes, but he’s working on it. He’s not very open about it, but he’s really trying to prove himself. Not just to me, but to everyone.”

“I trust you and your decisions, and you can do whatever you want, but just know that I’m still hesitant about the whole thing,” Ginny concluded. “I want to believe you that Malfoy’s changed or whatever, but honestly, I won’t until I see it for myself.”

Hermione sighed to herself. It was fair. She hadn’t believed it herself until he had told her about the potion. More than anything, Hermione wished she could just tell Ginny what Malfoy was doing, but he had been so alarmed when she had told the Wizengamot.

“Hopefully you’ll see for yourself sooner rather than later,” Hermione eventually said. “I can’t go into much detail, but if everything goes well, you’ll see within the next six months.”

“Six months is a long time.”

Hermione half-smiled to herself. “Tell that to Malfoy. He doesn’t seem to think so.”

The table fell silent for a handful of seconds before Ginny took a sip of water and cautiously spoke up. “And what about Harry and Ron? They’re gonna flip when you tell them.”

Hermione’s attention returned to the napkin. “Can we just not tell them for a bit longer?” she said in a mere whimper. “It’s barely been a week.”

Ginny released a heavy sigh. “I won’t tell them. Partially cause it’s your prerogative, partially cause I don’t want to be the one to tell them. But if you don’t tell them soon, they’re gonna figure it out for themselves. You and Malfoy may both be clever, but you’ve been terrible at hiding this.”

Hermione actually chuckled. “Yes, I do suppose so, but just a bit longer. At least let us get through a date first.”

 

Hermione returned to Malfoy’s flat that Friday night with her stomach in absolute flutters. It was completely absurd how nervous she was - it was just dinner for Godric’s sake! Besides, she had been to Malfoy’s place plenty of times in the past two weeks. Well, only three times… and one of those times didn’t end so well… but still, it was enough times that it didn’t justify her fears.

She had spent most of Friday after work scrounging through her closet, trying to determine what to wear. Ginny may not be fully on board with her and Malfoy, but she still came over and helped her pick an outfit. They eventually settled on a crisply lined skirt and a blouse. It was simple enough that it didn’t look like she was trying too hard, but it still flattered her figure in the right places.

As she exited from the fireplace, dusting off the traces of Floo powder that lingered on her robes, Malfoy looked up from his book and smiled, already awaiting her arrival. Hermione quickly surveyed his flat and immediately scrunched her eyebrows.

“I thought we were doing dinner?” she asked, no sign of plates or food in sight.

“We are,” he said with a smirk, setting down his book on the side table. “Just not here.”

Hermione was now even more confused. Perhaps she had just assumed that they were both in agreement that they would be having dinner at his place. But he reached out for her hand and her concerns subsided for just a moment.

“You trust me?’

“A little.”

“Good. Then hold on.”

She squeezed his hand tight as she was sucked out of his flat and they landed in the entry of some restaurant,.

“Ah, good evening, Mr. Malfoy!” the maitre d’ welcomed them, bowing as he did his greeting. “May I take your robes?”

Malfoy handed the man his robes while Hermione still looked around. It was without a doubt elegant restaurant. The lights were dimmed low, but she could still clearly see the delicate molding that ran along the edges of the ceiling and the obvious lack of other patrons.

The maitre d’ held out a bent arm for Hermione’s robes and she unbuttoned the latch and handed them to him, suddenly feeling underdressed. If she had known, she certainly would have chosen that blue dress that Ginny had insisted on! But it was pointless worrying herself over things she couldn’t change at this point.

She wrapped her hands around Malfoy’s upper arm as the maitre d’ led them to the only table with a lit candle. “I don’t understand,” she whispered to him.

“Thought you might appreciate something a bit more low key,” he explained.

“And renting out an entire restaurant is low key?” she said skeptically.

“Perhaps not the most low key, but I wanted to take you on a proper date and this was the only way I could ensure that no one would be glaring at us the entire time.”

Malfoy pulled back a chair for Hermione, and she took her seat at their table. As he proceeded to his own spot, she barely had time to appreciate the sharp suit he was wearing. She smiled down at herself, grateful that most of her blushing would be obscured by the dim candlelight.

A waiter filled their glasses with water as Malfoy beamed at her. “You look incredible tonight.”

Her blush only worsened at his remark. “You do, too,” she said meekly. “And thank you for the flowers by the way. They were completely unnecessary.”

“You may not have found them necessary, but believe it or not, there are certain good values that my parents instilled me with, and one of those was that you treat a lady kindly.” He paused as he took a sip from his glass. “And besides, you earned them.”

“I can’t take all the credit.”

“No, not all the credit, but a decent share of it. You wrote ninety percent of it. I merely leeched onto what you had already done.”

Hermione laughed. “You were not a leech!”

“Well, partially,” he insisted. “But enough about work. This is a date. I hereby ban any mention of house elves, werewolves, wolfsbane, addendums, and most of all, goblins.”

Her stomach lurched and she feebly attempted to hide her fear. “But… then what will we talk about?”

Malfoy chuckled. “I know you tend to think that work is the only thing in life, but there are other, more interesting aspects.” Hermione still stared at him blankly. “Just tell to me about you,” he offered.

“Malfoy, you’ve known me for years,” Hermione countered.

“Pretend I didn’t,” he said. “I know I’d appreciate if we could just… erase some of those years.”

Hermione timidly looked down at her lap and shrugged. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“Then let me help you.” Malfoy reached out for her hand and for a moment, it felt like her heart stopped. She stared as he gently brushed his thumb over her knuckles, managing to pacify her nerves with each new touch. He slowly withdrew himself and took another sip of water. “Let’s start off easy. What’s it like growing up with muggles?”

Hermione half-laughed. “You honestly want to know?”

“Seeing as which I never took Muggle Studies, I don’t know anything, so why not?”

Hermione sighed and drank from her glass, permitting herself just a few seconds to think, but her mind was still drawing blanks on what to say. “I mean, it’s not as if it’s that different from growing up in the wizarding world,” she eventually settled on. “I have parents, and they raised me.”

“You know, you aren’t being helpful,” Malfoy said with an arched eyebrow.

“I just don’t know what to say!”

“Fine, you can be difficult. In that case, I’ll ask you something that’s been bothering me all week.” Malfoy’s face turned solmen and Hermione’s heart sank, her mind rushing to figure out what he needed to ask her. He must have been able to read her startled expression and soon cracked a smile, eradicating Hermione’s worries as he continued. “What the bloody hell is baseball?”

Hermione couldn’t resist but burst into laughter, the first time anxiety fully left her that evening. “You had me actually concerned for a moment!” she ridiculed.

“That was the point,” he teased.

“You know, just for that, I’m not going to tell you,” she tormented in return.

“And deny me the opportunity to learn something about muggle culture? That doesn’t sound like the Hermione Granger I know.”

Hermione smiled at the sound of her first name coming out of his lips, even if it was still attached to her last name. “It’s an American sport,” she caved.

“I had already gathered that much myself, thank you very much.” Malfoy retorted. “I meant more along the lines of how it’s played. Is it like Quidditch?”

“Not really,” she began. “Imagine you removed everything from Quidditch except for the bludgers and the bats. Or rather, perhaps the Quaffle because the ball can’t fly. But it’s smaller than a bludger, yet bigger than a snitch.” Hermione paused, starting to doubt herself. “I am getting those words right, aren’t I?”

“Surprisingly, yes,” Malfoy assured her with a grin. “But if there are no brooms, how do they get around?”

“They run,” Hermione stated simply.

Malfoy appeared as if this was the most ridiculous thing in the world. “And muggles pay to watch people do this?”

“Well, not here. It’s mostly an American game. British muggles prefer football.”

Malfoy leaned in closer, clearly enthralled with the notion of muggle sports. “And what’s football?”

Hermione sighed, not really sure how she had found herself stuck in a conversation about sports. It wasn’t as if she was an expert by any means. But she was quite enjoying Malfoy’s interest in all of it, so she decided to continue, sharing whatever she did know about the game.

“It’s much like it sounds,” she explained. “Two teams kick a ball around with their foot and try to get it into the goal. Well, really, you can hit it with any part of your body, just not your hands.” She paused, trying to focus on the last time she had seen her father watch the sport on their television, thinking of any other details that would help him understand. “In some ways, it’s more similar to Quidditch. Except again, no brooms. And there’s only one goal. And I’m not sure how many people are on a football team, although I believe it’s more than seven.”

Malfoy held his hand up, motioning for Hermione to stop. He closed his eyes and placed a finger to his forehead, deep in thought. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “In football, you hit the ball with your foot, yet it’s called baseball not batball? How does that make any sense?”

“Says the person who plays a sport called Quidditch!” Hermione playfully countered. “At least muggle sport names are derived from a portion of the game! Well, unless we’re talking about the American version of football. ”

They’re different?” he asked in disbelief.

Hermione smiled and briefly laughed to herself. “I couldn’t even begin to explain that one to you.”

A waiter came up beside their table and refilled their glasses of water. “Pardon me, but are you ready to order?”

“Oh goodness, we haven’t even looked,” she babbled, having completely forgotten that they were at a restaurant. Hermione picked up the menu beside her, noticing it for the first time. She barely had time to glance it over before Malfoy gently tugged it out of her hands.

“No need for that,” he stated smoothly. “We’ll have the chicken kiev and braised lamb for dinner.”

He smirked at her, apparently getting quite the thrill out of ordering for the table. Hermione cocked an eyebrow at him. “And what if I want something else?”

Malfoy’s smirk turned into a full-fledged grin as he cooly took a sip of water. “You said you trusted me, and trust me, these are the best things on the menu.”

“I believe my exact words were that I trusted you ‘a little.’”

“And after this, I expect I’ll have your full trust.”

The waiter finished writing down their order and looked back at Malfoy. “Would that be all sir?”

He picked up the menu and reached it out towards Hermione. “Unless you would actually like to look?”

“No, no,” Hermione mockingly surrendered. “If you insist, then it will just be that much more satisfying if you’re wrong.”

“Oh, I won’t,” Malfoy smugly contended. He glanced down at the menu and then back at the waiter. “We’ll also have a bottle of your finest Sauvignon Blanc. And that’s all.”

The waiter nodded his understanding, and with that, he left them alone.

“Don’t think that interruption got you out of talking,” he said with a smirk. “Now that you’ve finally loosened up, it’s time for you to start spilling.”

“And what exactly do you want to hear?” Hermione asked, still at a loss for where to begin.

“Merlin’s Beard, woman!” he cried out so loudly that it surely would have rendered the attention of others if there was in fact anyone else in the room. “Just tell me something I don’t know about you! A childhood story or something. It’s not like your life just magically began at Hogwarts.” He paused as Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. “Play on words fully intended, by the way.”

The waiter returned with the bottle of wine and uncorked it in front of them, buying Hermione just a bit more time to think of something, anything, that he would find interesting. Malfoy briefly smelled the cork and nodded his approval at the selection. Soon, their wine glasses were filled and the waiter left once more, leaving the rest of the bottle on the table.

“Okay, I think I finally thought of something,” Hermione said, much to Malfoy’s satisfaction. “How about the day I found out I was the witch.”

“Now we’re talking!”

Hermione took a sip of the wine and leaned forward in her seat, balancing her head in her hand as she thought back to that day. “Well, it was the summer before first year, and I was sitting in my bedroom reading this book called Matilda.

“I’m sorry,” Malfoy already interrupted. “You were reading? This story is supposed to tell me something about you that I don’t already know.”

“Oh, shut it and let me continue!” Hermione spat back. She would have thrown her napkin at him if they weren’t at such a nice restaurant, but she settled on just verbally chastising him. “I assume you’ve never read a muggle book in your life, so I’ll briefly explain. Matilda is a young, precocious girl with horrible parents and a headmistress who refuses to let her take advanced classes even though she essentially already knows everything. Well, she gets quite upset about all of this, so she uses telekinesis to play pranks on the headmistress until ultimately the headmistress leaves the school. It’s quite silly, but as I read it, I couldn’t help but feel a certain connection to Matilda.”

“Can’t imagine why,” he commented as he refilled her glass. “She sounds just like you.”

“Please! I would never do that to a headmistress!” she quickly defended.

“You’re joking, right?” Malfoy said with a chuckle. “You literally drove Umbridge out of Hogwarts with a stampede of centaurs.”

“That was different!”

“Doesn’t sound too different to me, but we’ve digressed. Please continue.”

Anyway,” she stressed, “I was in the middle of the book when my mother called me downstairs, and Professor McGonagall was sitting calmly on our sofa, while my mother’s cup of tea rattled as she tried to take a sip. Naturally, my mother was completely shocked to find out that I was a witch, but I wasn’t. It felt like everything suddenly made sense. You see, there had been a couple odd occurrences with bullies at school. This one time, a foul boy named Henry snatched my book out of my hands and the next thing I knew, I had it back, even though I hadn’t taken a single step and Henry was halfway across the yard.”

Hermione sighed as she recounted her days of primary school. She hadn't thought much about them in that past several years and it felt odd to talk about them again after so much had changed. She was fairly certain she had never even told Ron and Harry much about it. By the time they had become friends, she had already completely immersed herself in the wizarding world.

She took another sip of her wine as she leaned back in her chair. “I suppose I always knew I was different, I just didn't know quite how different.”

Across the table, Malfoy looked decisively uncomfortable. He played with the knot on his tie and then cleared his throat, all the while, avoiding Hermione’s gaze. “You were bullied?” he asked weakly.

Hermione didn't need to be a legilimens to know what was going on inside his head. She ran a finger around the edge of her glass, watching as it traveled around the delicate rim. “I was unfortunately quite accustomed to mean comments by the time I was eleven,” she confessed. “I had just learned how to properly handle it by the time I got to Hogwarts.”

“Like how?”

Hermione couldn't resist. “By punching them.”

A feeble smile trickled across his lips. “Fair enough.”

The waiter returned yet again, and Hermione couldn't be more grateful for his timing. Their meals were perched in his hands and he set them down in the middle of the table without any further interruption.

Hermione quickly resumed her story, not wanting to spend any more time alluding to their troubled history. “Well, long story short, I asked McGonagall a thousand questions to the point that I think even she got annoyed. She recommended a few books to me, and the very next day, I dragged my parents to Diagon Alley and bought all of them.”

Malfoy laughed and Hermione was instantly relieved that his mood wasn't permanently soured. “Sounds about right,” he joked as he picked up one of the plates. “Which would you like first? The chicken or the lamb?”

Hermione weighed her options and then grabbed the entree out of his hands. “I’ll start off with the lamb.”

She cut off the corner of the meat and had barely managed to take a bite before she had to cover her mouth to prevent it from dropping. “Good Godric, this is delicious,” she said once she had swallowed.

Malfoy finished his own piece, his confidence quickly returning. “Say it,” he taunted.

“Alright, alright,” Hermione played along. “Once again, you win.” She shook her head as she washed down the bite with another sip of wine. “How is it that I’m always the one admitting that you’re right?”

Malfoy shrugged. “Perhaps you don’t give me enough credit.”

“Or maybe I just enjoy you surprising me.”

He cut off a chunk of the chicken and placed in on her plate. She did the same with the lamb, although she found it hard to believe that the chicken would be able to top what she already had. They both took a portion of their new entree and Hermione couldn't believe that the chicken turned out to be just as delectable as the lamb. Truth be told, though, she shouldn't have been that surprised that Malfoy had good taste in fine dining.

“Okay,” Hermione said between bites. “Now it’s your turn. Something I don’t know about you.”

Malfoy looked up at the ceiling as he swallowed. “Hmm…” he contemplated.

“See? Not so easy to just come up with something, is it?”

Malfoy chuckled as he patted the edges of his mouth with his napkin. “I suppose I now have to admit that you were right, don’t I?”

Hermione couldn't hide the wide smile stretched across her face. “At least now we're even for the night.” She began to cut off another piece of chicken. “Surely you must have some endearing childhood stories.”

He cleared his throat and glanced down at his plate. “You, uh, don't want to hear those,” he said curtly.

Hermione almost pressed further, but the solemn expression on his face compelled her to stop, and she instantly understood. “Oh.” She pushed away the piece of chicken, no longer quite as hungry. For a brief moment in time, she had managed to forget exactly who she was on date with and the implication of his past returned like a ominous cloud looming overhead. Her childhood bore no signs of strife between them, but she could only assume what might lie in store if they discussed his.

The tension at the table grew thick, neither one certain how to recover the conversation. Eventually, Hermione landed on an idea. “Then why don’t you tell me what happened to you after the war?” she softly suggested.

Malfoy immediately tensed up, evidently just as unenthused to share any aspect of that portion of his life either. Hermione reached out and grabbed his hand, comforting him much like he had done to her earlier that night.

“I know there might be things in there that are rough,” she gently carried on, “but if we're ever going to make this work, I need to know what happened between then and now that led you to be the man you are today.”

His shoulders slackened only slightly, but he didn't protest any further. “No. You're right. It’s, um, only fair that I tell you.”

He closed his eyes to compile his thoughts while Hermione kept her hand latched onto his.

“Um, things were, uh, tough for a bit,” he started calmly, his voice low and steady as he spoke. “All of us were essentially ostracized from society, and I was stuck trying to figure out what to believe anymore.”

He retreated from Hermione’s grasp and brought both hands in front of his lips in a tight fist, sucking in a deep breath before he proceeded. “I know you lost friends too, but losing Crabbe… didn’t hurt half as much as it should have. It was one of many wake up calls over the next few years. For a while, I tried maintaining friendship with Goyle, but he was always a bit of a nothing, so I ended up seeking out new companions. Of course, not many people wanted to be friends with a former Death Eater, so my prospects were bleak. Eventually, I reconnected with Daphne. Would hardly have considered her a friend back at Hogwarts, but she was a bit more understanding than most.”

Hermione tugged at the cloth napkin in her lap. “Is that how you met Astoria?”

The pain in Malfoy’s eyes intensified as he looked away again. “If I thought finding friends after the war was difficult, that paled in comparison to trying to date.” His breathing became heavy and he closed his eyes. “It was right after I started at the Ministry. I thought that everything in my life was finally turning around. A steady job, even if it was court mandated, and a solid friend.”

He briefly shook his head back and forth before swallowing and reopening his eyes, but he kept his focus on the flicker of the flame. “One day at drinks, Daphne brought Astoria, and we hit it off. Started dating shortly after. Hell, she even moved in. But after several months, things started to turn sour.” He coughed and sipped the wine to clear his throat. “You see, Astoria didn’t work. She didn’t have a need when I was paying for everything. But every night, the same damn thing would happen. I’d come home, she wouldn’t say a word, the place would be littered with bags of whatever she’d purchased that day, we’d order food, I’d drink myself into a stupor, and we’d go to sleep on opposite sides of the bed.”

Hermione’s mind raced as she tried to appropriately react to everything that he said, but she just felt numb and let him continue.

“Once and a while I’d try to kiss her, but she’d turn the other way. Well, if we were in private that is. In public, you’d have no clue what was truly happening. She’d cling to me as if there wasn’t a problem in the world.” Malfoy cleared his throat and tugged at his collar. “It, uh, really messed with my head,” he faltered. “I knew something was wrong, but I was too scared to admit it to myself. I figured that if I couldn’t make it work with Astoria, I’d never find anyone else.”

“So what changed?” Hermione mustered enough courage to ask.

“Well,” he continued, his voice finally sounding at least slightly more positive, “one Monday, I came into work, still drunk from the night before. I went into my usual meeting with Kingsley, but he could immediately tell. Once he got me a sobering potion, he talked me through all of it, and I couldn’t deny it anymore. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, Astoria was just another person pursuing me for my money.”

With a sigh, he poked at his half eaten portion of lamb. “After that, I reevaluated my life. Kingsley promised to keep me on as an employee past the required one year, and we’ve continued with our weekly meetings ever since. The beginning was rough, but he stuck by my side and helped me create a course of action.”

“By working to better the treatment of werewolves?”

For the first time in what seemed like ages, Malfoy smiled. “I told you that word was banned tonight.”

Hermione couldn’t resist a frail laugh. “Is that seriously what you’re going to focus on?”

Malfoy shrugged. “I’m a man of my word.”

Hermione half-smiled as she reflected on everything he had shared. There was so much to unpack, she didn’t even know where to begin. Although, if there was one bright side to all of it, it was that Malfoy must trust her enough to keep all that a secret.

“Can I just ask one thing?” she asked, careful not to push him farther than his limit. “I thought Daphne said you broke her sister’s heart?”

Malfoy immediately scoffed and shook his head. “That’s only what she thinks happened. I can’t find it in me to tell her the whole story, and I’m sure from Astoria’s perspective, yeah, I did break her heart. Just not in the way that one would conventionally think.”

Malfoy reclaimed his utensils and returned to his meal, but Hermione still didn’t have the stomach for it. “I’m sorry all that happened,” she said. “I had no idea.”

“How would you?” he stated plainly. “And I’m sorry if that ruined dinner.”

“Don't apologize. You didn't. I’m glad you told me.”

The waiter returned, clearly unable to read the mood or see the fact that their meals still remained half eaten. “Will we be ordering dessert this evening?” he asked to both of their amusement.

Malfoy looked down at their plates and grinned. “What do you say? We lighten up the mood with something sweet?” Hermione promptly agreed. “Great. Have the chef surprise us."

 

Malfoy laid down a heavy bag of coins next to their check. She couldn't tell how much was in the bag, but it was probably for the best that she didn't know just how expensive it had been to rent out the restaurant.  Hermione had adamantly insisted on paying for her portion of the evening, or at least, the cost of her food, but he refused to entertain the idea, not letting her anywhere near the bill.

When the transaction was complete, they walked back to the entrance, his hand intertwined with hers. He only broke contact so that he could retrieve her robes from a hook and help her put them on. Once back in his own robes, he stood in the entryway, his weight shifting from foot to foot. He cleared his throat as he took her hands back into his. “If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to call it a night here. I’m obviously still working through a lot of things, and I don’t want to mess up whatever this is between us.”

Hermione flashed him a reassuring smile. “I think you’re doing a fine job.”

He dropped his hold on her and grazed his palm across her cheek, tilting her head slightly so his lips just barely brushed against hers. Hermione’s heart fluttered as his warm lips pressed up against hers, and he pulled her in closer, demanding more from the kiss.

It only lasted a few seconds before Malfoy tore himself away. “We better go before I drag you back to my place,” he said with a smirk.

“I wouldn't be opposed,” she beamed back.

“Trust me when I say it’s for the best if we don’t tonight.”

Hermione rested her hand against his cheek. “I trust you.”

Malfoy’s eyes glistened at the sound of those words out of her lips, but it was true. Against the odds, he had managed to earn her trust.

His lips twitched into a smile before he kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodnight, Malfoy.”

“Goodnight, Hermione.”

Before she had time to fully process what he had said, he was gone.

Chapter Text

After the giddy school girl excitement from their date Friday night, the rest of the weekend paled in comparison. The evening had left her feeling like she was floating off the ground, her skin tingling with constant exhilaration. They had a couple of snags here and there, but all in all, she wouldn’t hesitate to call it a successful first date.

Yet the Earth continued to spin, and the weekend faded away, bringing in another week of work. Hermione found that she had absolutely no reservations heading into the Ministry that Monday. With the passing of the proposal and addendum solidly behind them, it was time for the actual work to begin. Most of the guidelines on how to form the Magical Creatures and Beings Committee were already clearly laid out in the legislature, so it would just require the realization of all her efforts. It was all quite exciting!

And if she happened to run into Malfoy somewhere in the Ministry, she wouldn’t exactly complain.

She spent a couple hours focused on some of her other obligations, but by a quarter past eleven, her desk was a cluttered mess, covered with a myriad of parchments documenting population records. In order to find the best candidates, she would have to reach out to the different communities and find who would be willing to serve on said committee, convince them to submit letters of intention, schedule interviews with the finalists, and then make her selections accordingly. It wouldn’t be the simplest thing she’s ever done, but it would be far from the most difficult.

Getting in touch with the house elves wouldn't be that much of a challenge. She had already collaborated with a decent number of them throughout her campaign for wages, so she had plenty of contacts within their species. Werewolves would but a bit trickier, especially with so many of them still opting to keep their condition secret. All things considered, it would probably be easiest to begin with selecting goblins for their committee. A quick trip to the Goblin Liaison Office would provide her with a few recommendations and a firm starting point.

She grabbed a copy of the proposal - or rather, the confirmed legislation - and headed down the hall to their office. She had barely made it halfway when suddenly, her vision was obscured and she felt cool, firm hands covering her eyes. Her heart started to flutter at his touch and she bit down on her lip, savoring his warm body brushing up behind her. It was a bit public, but she supposed there wasn’t any harm if no one else was around.

“Now what would the likes of you be doing down here?” Hermione toyed with him.

“Looking for you, of course,” came the male voice behind her, but it most certainly wasn't the one she expected.

She quickly removed his hands from her face and spun around to see his red hair. “Ron!” she exclaimed, completely thrown off guard that it wasn't Malfoy behind her.

His face fell flat at her lack of excitement to see him. “Who did you think it was?”

Hermione nervously ran her fingers through her curls and pushed them over one shoulder. “I, uh, thought you'd be Harry,” she rashly reasoned. “I guess I'm just not accustomed to you being back in the office.”

Ron's expression softened, and Hermione breathed a mental sigh of relief that he seemed to have accepted her flimsy excuse. That had been too close for comfort.

“Maybe you'd remember better if we'd gotten to properly hang out since I got back,” he said, traces of disappointment blatantly apparent. “I tried to find you after work on Friday, but Ginny told me that you two had other plans.”

“Oh, yes,” Hermione played along, making a mental note to thank Ginny for covering for her. “But I promise I'll see you soon. Maybe some time this weekend?”

The tips of Ron’s ears transitioned to pink as he scratched at the skin behind one of them. “I actually came down to ask if you wanted to grab lunch,” he said sheepishly. “And, you know,” he continued, his voice starting to crack, “just catch up.”

Hermione looked up at the clock on a nearby wall and then back at Ron. “I don't know,” she began to weakly stumble. It wasn't that she didn't want to catch up with Ron. She did want to see him! They really hadn't had the chance to speak much since he got back, and he probably had plenty of interesting things to tell her. She just wasn't certain that a one-on-one lunch with him was the best idea in light of everything.

Ron sensed her hesitation and blushed even further. “C’mon, Hermione. Everyone's gotta eat.”

Hermione started racking her brain for any form of a justifiable excuse, but a shiver travelled down her back as she sensed someone else join their conversation.

“Shame, Weasley, but she can't,” he said cooly, this time, the actual Malfoy looming from behind her.

Ron’s face fell flat once more. “And how would you know that?”

“Cause she's getting lunch with me.”

To both Ron and Hermione’s surprise, Malfoy held up a bag of food. The red head immediately shifted his attention to Hermione, looking for any sort of confirmation from her.

“It's, uh, a work thing,” she quickly lied, motioning towards the rolled up legislation in her hands for added “proof.” “I was actually just heading to his office when you ran into me.”

Ron still looked confused and crestfallen. “You're still working with him? I thought your meeting was last Monday?”

“Indeed it was, but believe it or not, after proposals pass, you then actually have to do what you said were were going to do,” Malfoy explained.

“Oh,” Ron moped, but returned his attention back to Hermione expectantly. “Well, then how about lunch tomorrow?”

Malfoy tsked as he jerked his head slightly. “We’re actually under tight deadline. We’ll be pretty busy all week. But you’re welcome to try again next week.”

Before Ron had a chance to respond, Malfoy proceeded down the hall, back towards Hermione’s office. She gave Ron a half-hearted shrug and mumbled a short apology, leaving Ron in flustered shock as he was left standing alone.

Hermione quickened her pace to catch up to Malfoy, completely disregarding her initial purpose for leaving her office in the first place. It was lunchtime after all, so who’s to say that anyone would even be in the Goblin Liaison Office at this hour? She could just resume working after a brief lunch. Besides, Ron wasn’t wrong. Everyone’s gotta eat.

She snatched the bag out of Malfoy’s hand and examined its contents. “Making food choices for me again, I see?”

“Figured I’d surprise you,” he returned with a smirk. “But I must admit I didn’t mind rubbing it in Weasley’s face. That was quite the added bonus.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. Of course he enjoyed that. Although, he wasn’t making it any easier for her whenever she’d have to eventually tell Ron about them.

As they closed the door to her office behind them, Malfoy didn’t wait a beat before he pulled her in and met her lips with a searing kiss. His fingers threaded through her hair and settled just above the nape of her neck, keeping her firmly in place. He pulled away but lingered close enough that she could still feel his lips graze against hers.

“You’re lucky I didn’t do that in front of Weasley,” he said. “I was thinking about you all weekend.”

Hermione was grateful that he was too close to see her blush at his remark. “I, uh, thought about you a lot too,” she confessed, letting her fingers intertwine with his.

He placed a kiss on her forehead and then led her to the center of the room, taking the bag back into his own grasp. “In an ideal world, this would have been a picnic, but it’s a bit too late in the year for that, and you know, other reasons, so I had to come up with my own solution.”

With a flick of his wand, the mess of parchments on Hermione’s desk were whisked away and were directed off into a corner, floating into neat piles. The rest of her materials soon followed, not a single drop of ink spilled on her carpet as they flew through the air. From under his robes, he pulled out a bedsheet and spread it over her recently cleared desk. He brushed away the lumps and then placed the bag of food in the center before he hopped up on top. With two pats on the space across from him, he motioned for Hermione to do the same.

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to just set this up on the floor?” she asked as she joined him. 

“Probably. But there’s something about sitting on top of elevated surfaces that makes it more fun.”

He reached into the bag and retrieved the first wrapped sandwich. He unfolded it along its sliced middle and examined its fillings. “This one is roasted turkey with bacon,” he said, setting it down to grab the other, “and this one is mozzarella, tomato, and basil. Which would you prefer?” 

“Split them like Friday?” she suggested.

“Works for me.”

He ripped the paper lining around the turkey sandwich and handed half to Hermione and placed the remaining half down in front of him. He then pulled out two bags of crisps. “I didn’t bother to get different flavors, so we’re both stuck with regular salted.”

Hermione took one of the bags and tore it open. “For future reference, I prefer salt and vinegar,” she said, taking one into her mouth.

“I’ll make note for next time.”

They both ate a few bites of their sandwiches before Malfoy took a pause from his meal. “So how’s your day going so far?” he asked, shielding his mouth as he finished chewing.

Hermione swallowed the remaining bit in her mouth. “Good so far. Starting the search for member for the committee. I was heading to the Goblin Liaison Office when I ran into you.”

Malfoy smirked. “See? I did you a favor. Not only did I get you out of lunch with Weasley, but also out of having to talk with goblins.”

“Honestly!” Hermione laughed. “What is with you and goblins?”

Malfoy shrugged. “Don’t worry. No mournful sob story about this one. Merely don’t like the things.”

“Perhaps you just don’t have enough exposure to them.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “I assure you that is not the issue. Have you honestly had a positive experience with a goblin?”

Hermione took another bite from her sandwich to allow her time to think. Surely she must have, but admittedly, she was having a difficult time coming up with an example off the top of her head. Griphook hadn’t exactly proven himself loyal and she didn’t approve of their treatment of the dragon at Gringotts, but that was besides the point. Regardless of her attitude towards some of their actions, it didn’t change her stance on their right for a say in the Ministry.

“I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree,” she eventually settled. “How’s it going on your end?”

Malfoy released a deep groan. “Not great, honestly,” he confessed. “I’ve been hitting a lot of dead ends the past few weeks and didn’t make much progress on the potion this weekend, either. I thought I was onto something by replacing unicorn hair with crushed unicorn horn, but that hasn’t seemed to make any difference.”

“Then why don’t I help you out?”

Malfoy snorted, evidently not taking her suggestion seriously.

“Hey!” Hermione complained. “What was that for?”

He set down his sandwich and looked at her. “No offense, but you were never very good at Potions.”

Hermione crossed her arms against her chest. “That’s not true!” She was perfectly adept at Potions! She got an O on her O.W.L. after all! And wasn’t she the one who could brew Polyjuice Potion as a second year?

But still Malfoy glared at her skeptically. “I'll amend my statement. You were good at following directions. But you were never good at going off book, and there's absolutely nothing for us follow on this one.”

Memories of sixth years Potions can rushing back and Hermione had to shove them away. “Fine. Perhaps I prefer to stick to the brewing instructions than experimenting on my own, but that’s your strength. I’m good at research and thinking logically.”

“You think I haven’t researched?” Malfoy countered. “I’ve read nearly book in existence on the subject.”

“Yes, but you were doing it alone before. Together we made a better bill, so together we can make a better potion.”

Malfoy paused as he took in a deep breath and sighed. He shook his head and smiled to himself. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t turn down more help. Plus, if it means spending more time with you, I won’t object.”

He leaned across their meal and kissed her, cupping his hand against her cheek. As he pulled away, she bit down on her lower lip followed by a matching smile spreading across her face. She let herself fall back and rested her head inside his lap. His own smile softened, and he let his fingers run through her hair.

She let her eyelids fall heavy and close as his gentle strokes continued. Her lunch could remain untouched for a few moments. Worse comes to worse, she could always continue eating it on her own later. She was much too comfortable as is to even consider taking another bite.

“Hey, uh, Her-, Grang-, uh.” He beat his fist against his chest and cleared his throat. “Hey,” he resumed, causing Hermione’s eyes to open and meet his. He was looking down at her, his silver eyes narrowing in. “I don’t know if I have to actually articulate this, but I want to make something clear. I have no intentions of dating anyone else, and I'd prefer if you did the same. Weasley or whoever else.“

Hermione raised an eyebrow at him, already fairly certain she knew the response to her question, but if he was going to get so much amusement out of messing with Ron, she might as well have a bit of fun in return. “You don’t seriously feel threatened by Ron?” she toyed, even if she knew perfectly well that he wasn’t.

Malfoy merely scoffed. “Please. I'm just covering all my bases.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped. “Is that a baseball reference?”

He laughed as his smile grew, clearly satisfied that she had picked up on it. “I may have done some additional research on the sport over the weekend, and a few Muggle idioms may have come up.”

“So are you trying to ensure you don’t strike out with me?” Hermione couldn’t resist.

“Dear Merlin, that’s so groan-inducing, I’m not even going to acknowledge it,” he tormented, pinching her sides as he said it.

Hermione immediately jolted up with a shriek and a smile. In self-defense, her hands scrambled atop her desk and found the half-eaten bag of crisps. She burrowed her hand inside and flicked one it at him, squarely hitting him in the jaw. She had to cover her mouth to hide the wide grin now poised across her features, thoroughly enjoying the look of fake disgust on Malfoy’s face as he wiped away whatever the greasy crisp may have left behind.

He then dug his hand into his own bag, retrieving a hefty handful and throwing them in Hermione’s direction. She impulsively released a short cry as they flew in her direction. She would have ran away, but that was easier said than done when she was seated on top of a desk. Instead, she quickly reached for her wand, but it was to late. The cascade of crisps fell on her, one managing to slip past her robes.

“Oh, now it’s stuck under my clothes!” she complained, shaking the jumper underneath her robes and trying to wiggle it out.

“You know, I think I can help you with that,” he said with a mischievous smirk, pushing her back against the desk. He positioned himself on top of her and kept a tauntingly close distance away from her lips as his hand dipped under her jumper, past her bra and retrieved the crisp. The entire time, he kept his gaze plastered on her, biting down on his lip in the process. Hermione had to mask her eyes to prevent herself from laughing to hard at the whole ordeal, finding it all way too absurd, but still enjoying every second of it.

What the -”

Hermione and Malfoy both promptly sat up, yet again taken off guard by one of her friends. Only this time, instead of Ginny, it was Harry, standing absolutely horror struck in her door frame. His skin had grown two shades paler, giving Malfoy a run for his money. The parchment that must have been in his hands moments prior was now left discarded on the floor, completely forgotten by its owner. His jaw hung low and his eyes stared large and unblinking as the rest of his body remained completely still.

“Nothing to lose your mind about, Potter. Was merely getting something out from under her shirt,” Malfoy said, holding up the incriminating crisp as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

Hermione witnessed this from the corner of her eye, her attention much too focused on the shocked expression of her best friend, neither one of them able to muster any words.

After what felt like an eternity, Harry shook himself out of his stupor and picked up his parchment. “Yeah, I’m not dealing with this right now,” was all he said as he turned his back to them and walked out.

Several moments passed even after Harry was gone, but Hermione still remained frozen.

“You know, all things considered. that’s probably the best we could have expected from Potter,” Malfoy joked, but her brain barely registered it. “But for future reference, you should keep your door locked whenever I’m in here. Probably move a bookshelf or something in front of it too just for good measure.” Hermione found enough movement just to twist her head and glare at him, eliciting a chuckle out of him. “Knew that would get a response from you.”

She continued to stare at him disapprovingly. “You’re not helping.”

“The damage is already done,” he said nonchalantly.

“Hardly! Harry’s going to kill me,” she groaned, knocking her head back in frustration. He may not have reacted too negatively now but she knew that was definitely not the end of it.

But Malfoy remained completely unfazed. “More likely he’ll kill me, but seeing as which he only knows one spell, I think we’re safe for the time being.”

She actually laughed at his latest attempt to pacify her nerves. At least one of them was keeping a level head about the situation. And besides, Harry was bound to find out eventually. Perhaps it was for the best that he now had time to process it without her having to draft out sixteen different scenarios of how she would confront him and Ron. Of course, now this meant she’d have to tell Ron much sooner than she originally planned. Hopefully she could trust Harry to keep his mouth shut, but she doubted he’d be able to withhold something like this from Ron for too long.

But that was an issue for later. For now, she still had Malfoy in front of her. And the Goblin Liaison Office to return to.

She pushed herself off the surface of her desk. “I guess I better get back to work,” she concluded, wrapping up the leftover sandwich.

Malfoy did the same and then folded up the sheet. “I suppose that is actually what we get paid to do.” He brushed the pad of his thumb across her cheek and faintly smiled at her. “Tomorrow. Come over. We can start working on the potion.”

Hermione returned a slight smile and nodded.

“Great. Then it’s a date.” He shot her a quick wink and left.

Chapter Text

Malfoy?”

“Yes.”

“But… Malfoy?

For the past ten minutes, Harry had been saying the same words in rotation, stuck pacing back and forth across the length of her office. His hands rested on the back of his head, and his eyes had yet to return to a normal size. It may have been a whole day since he had caught her and Malfoy in a less-than-work-appropriate position, but he was evidently still trying to process it.

“But he’s… Malfoy!”

Hermione sighed, his roundabout questioning growing quite dull. “Are you going to say something of substance, or can I get back to work?” She cocked her head and took a step back to her chair, but Harry finally stopped his incessant walking.

“But… how?” he asked, the first new word to come out of his mouth.

Her sigh turned more into a groan. It felt like last week all over, once again stuck justifying her choices to her friend. She knew she didn’t actually owe them any sort of explanation; it was her own opinion that mattered. But they were her friends, and she did want them to at least accept it. After all, it seemed like Malfoy was going to be around for awhile. She just really didn’t want to have to go into the backstory for a second time.

“Ask Ginny,” she finally resolved.

Harry’s eyes somehow grew wider. “You told Ginny before me?”

Hermione cracked a slight smile. “I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘telling’ her. It seems you two both have a tendency of barging in on people.”

“That’s not fair,” Harry defended. “I shouldn’t have to walk in on things like… like that at work!”

“And you should learn how to knock!”

Harry shook his head, dismissing her statement. “That’s not the point right now. The point is, well, you and Malfoy? For Merlin’s sake, how long has this been going on?”

“Just over two weeks now,” Hermione answered.

“Yeah, but two weeks ago was Daphne’s…” Harry stopped mid thought. Slowly, the expression on his face shifted. Instead of one of shock, he looked much more pleased, edging on the side of satisfied, which did not bode well for the conversation. His lips curled into a smirk, and he started to conceal a laugh.

Suddenly, it hit Hermione.

Harry,” she warned, but it was too late.

“Oh, no,” he said, showing no sign of stopping. “This just got good. Cause if Malfoy’s the one from Daphne’s party, and he’s the person you went home with that night, that means that Malfoy’s the one…”

Hermione didn’t even let him complete that sentence. “Don’t you dare ever bring that up!” she threatened. Malfoy had enough issues with everything as is without Harry throwing it in his face!

As expected, though, that was not the reaction that Harry wanted to hear. “Come on!” he complained. “You can’t expect not to make fun of him for that! I haven’t told a single soul about him wearing glasses. You gotta give me this one!”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Absolutely not! Those two are entirely different!”

Hermione hadn’t even considered that telling Harry would mean him finding out about Malfoy’s early mishap. Goodness, that felt like forever ago. So much had happened since then. And yet, all of this was hitting Harry at once. She supposed she could cut him a bit of slack. However, that still didn’t give him permission to tease Malfoy over it.

“You know, you’re hardly one to talk,” she advised him. “Ginny told me that it’s happened to you before, too.”

Harry’s face fell, and he quickly sprung to his own defense. “That’s was only two or three times out more than a hundred! Every guy has a rough night here and there!” He froze as he looked at Hermione once over. “Dear Merlin, please don’t say you’ve slept with Malfoy a hundred times.”

“No, only -”

“Stop!” Harry instantly cut her off. “I don’t want to know. I don’t ever want to know.” His whole bodied shivered as if the mere thought of her with Malfoy disgusted him. Which, truth be told, was probably exactly what was going through his head. “If you want to be fuck buddies with Malfoy, just don’t make me hear about it.”

The upper edge of Hermione’s lip twitched. “We’re not ‘fuck buddies’ as you so crudely put it,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. Honestly! She knew that he was having difficulty accepting that she was seeing Malfoy, but he still didn’t need to phrase it like that!

“Fine,” Harry conceded, rolling his eyes at her insistence. “Whatever you want to call it, then. I’d say ‘friends with benefits,’ but that requires friendship first.”

Harry still looked as if he didn’t approve of the whole thing, but there was something missing. “Harry,” Hermione cautioned, starting to fear that he didn’t fully comprehended the situation. “You do understand that Malfoy and I are, well, dating, right?”

The pale complexion on his face returned.

“Wait. You’re… dating?

Her cheeks turned vibrant red as she looked down at her feet and shrugged. She just assumed he had already figured that out! Although that did explain why hadn’t gone completely berserk on her yet. “Well,” she said, feeling herself starting to babble, “we haven’t exactly used the word yet, but we’ve been on a date, or maybe two, I’m not sure what counts, but he essentially asked me to be exclusive.”

“But… MALFOY?

Harry stumbled back to her desk, needing something to balance himself on. He looked as if he was teetering on the verge of sickness, but he did his best to not make his disgust entirely apparent. He leaned up against the edge, and Hermione joined him, both of them remaining silent as the news sunk in.

His eyes were frozen, fixated on some point in far distance of office, as Harry repeatedly shook his head back and forth - the only sign that he still had mental function. Clearly this was going to take a lot more for Harry to get used to.

Hermione placed her hand on his knee. “I know,” was all she could think of to say.

“But -”

“Malfoy?” she completed for him.

“Yeah,” he said blankly. “Why?

She took in a deep breath. “How about I explain all that once you’re not in such a state of shock.”

The room remained in a stand-still, Harry stuck in a paralyzed condition. Eventually, the color in his cheeks slightly returned, but he remained just as numb as he turned to her. “Hermione,” he said, his voice turning serious. “You gotta tell Ron.”

The solemn expression on his face confirmed the unspoken implication apparent in his advice.

“Is it that obvious?” she faltered.

“That he’s still in love with you? Uh, yeah.”

Hermione picked at her nails, too nervous to meet Harry’s eyes again. “I don’t know how to tell him.”

Harry sighed, all too familiar with her and Ron’s on and off again situation. She rested her head against his shoulder, grateful that she could still count on him to be her friend even though he was undeniably holding back a million and two questions at the moment. “Just go easy on him,” he answered. “And do it sooner rather than later. We don’t need him walking in on you, too.”

 

Several hours passed, and Hermione sorted through the papers on her desk, reviewing her work from the day. The goblins had given her a solid list of starting points, and tomorrow she’d begin reaching out to a few of them. Ritsy had also agreed to organize a meeting for her with a group of house elves, so the formation of the committee was looking positive so far. All things considered, it had been a productive day at work.

That didn’t even mention the side research she had done between tasks. All of last night and whenever she could spare a few moments throughout the day, she had read through Damocles’ research, determined to have a firm understanding on the components of the Wolfsbane Potion before she got to Malfoy’s. If she was going to be any help tonight, she needed to do her own research first.

She was in the process of reviewing some of her notes on the book when she heard a knock on the door. “Come in!” she called absentmindedly, keeping her eyes on the parchment in front of her. 

“Hey,” came the familiar voice, just as weak as she remembered from yesterday. Ron stood in her doorframe, looking quite awkward as he gave her a faint smile. “Is now a good time?”

“Uh, sure,” she said, pushing her notes to the side.

Ron opened the door and made his way to the front of her desk, scratching the back of his head as he approached. “Malfoy made it sound like you two were gonna be busy all day, so I thought I’d try to catch you before you left,” he said, starting to take a seat but ultimately choosing to remain standing instead.

“Well, you caught me,” Hermione said, rising from her own chair so that Ron wasn’t left being the only one. It was blatantly obvious that Ron was still acting off around her, and her conversation with Harry from earlier rang through her head, but she wasn’t just going to spring it on him like this. “So, uh, how was your day?”

“It was, uh, fine,” he stammered. “But I came down here for another reason. I’ve, uh, been trying to talk to you for the past few days, actually.”

Hermione swallowed a hard gulp right as there was another knock on her door. She had never been more grateful for an interruption in her entire life! Ron did his best to hide his disappointment when Hermione granted the person entry instead of just ignoring it. Malfoy entered the space, not bothering to look up from the face of his watch, his cloak resting on his arm, briefcase in hand.

“You ready to go, or do you want to just meet at -”

Hermione desperately cleared her throat before Malfoy had a chance to finish his sentence and say something that would completely blow their already flimsy cover. He finally looked up and chuckled to himself when he saw the annoyed look on Ron’s face. “Weasley,” he greeted with a nod.

“Malfoy,” he returned, his voice low and icy. “Can’t you just leave me and Hermione alone for ten minutes?” Ron spat, clearly already having had enough of Malfoy for the week even if it was only Tuesday. So much for any amiability there had been at the Quidditch match.

Hermione tried to get Malfoy’s attention to get him to stay, but he didn’t seem to catch on. “I suppose a few minutes won't hurt,” Malfoy agreed. “But don't keep her too long. She and I have… work to do.”

Perhaps he would have put up more of a fight if it wasn’t for the fact that he’d be seeing Hermione shortly anyway, but that wasn’t going to help her in her present predicament! When Ron’s back was to the door, Malfoy mouthed, “Meet at my place,” but before he caught her final silent plea, he closed the door behind him, leaving her alone with Ron and whatever he had to say.

With the sound of the door hitting the frame, Ron pulled back one of the chairs and finally took a seat. “Jeez,” he grumbled. “Is that guy always fucking here?”

Hermione prayed that her cheeks didn’t reveal anything. “Well, I am working with him,” she explained, even if she knew she was still keeping most of the truth from him. Her stomach coiled, getting a horrible feeling about where this conversation was headed.

“Seriously, though,” Ron continued to gripe. “It’s like I can’t ever get you alone anymore.”

“I know, but I’m just really busy nowadays,” she tried to justify, but Ron didn’t seem to be giving up that easily.

“Yeah, but I really need to talk to you.”

Ron avoided Hermione’s gaze and her heart started to beat frantically, feeling like she was stuck on a broom that was about to crash with no way to pull up. There wasn’t any doubt in her mind where Ron was going with this, yet all her protests fell flat before they ever reached her lips, until it was already too late.

“I, uh, I know we technically broke up, and I heard what Daphne said about another guy or whatever, but I, uh…”

Ron reached across the table for her hands, but Hermione’s reflexes kicked in and snapped them away before he got the chance. His eyes only met hers for an instant, but in that brief glimpse, she could see the horror-stuck look on his face.

She couldn’t let him keep holding on like this. She had to tell him.

Go easy on him, she reminded herself.

“I’m, um, actually seeing that guy now,” she said softly.

The blood rushed out of Ron’s face, and she could swear she heard his heart plummet onto the floor. “Oh,” he said dryly, pulling his own hands back and hiding them behind her desk.

When Harry had told her to tell Ron sooner rather than later, she really hadn’t anticipated having to tell him the very same day. This certainly wasn’t the way she would have preferred to tell him. But at the same time, she really couldn’t postpone it any longer.

“It’s, um, fairly recent,” she continued, hoping that would somehow soften the blow, but she doubted there was much more she could do right now to make him feel any better.

Ron still looked completely mortified, refusing to meet Hermione’s eyes. “Oh, uh, that's, um, great,” he stammered.

“I'm sorry, Ron,” Hermione tried to assure him, “but we've been broken up for nearly a year. This was bound to happen eventually.”

The edges of his lips drooped into a mild frown. “Yeah, I guess, but I kinda just assumed we'd eventually get back together like last time, and that's why we hadn't made any sort of public statement.”

“It's also no one else's business who you and I are dating.”

“Yeah, that too, I suppose.”

Ron awkwardly scratched the back of his head again, his embarrassment still in full force. Neither one knew what else there was to say. Well, Hermione was fully aware of a major key detail that she hadn’t yet shared, but now wasn’t the time. Ron couldn’t only take so much in one sitting.

Slowly, he pried himself off the seat cushion. “I’m, uh, just gonna…” He motioned towards the door and then made his way to the exit, his pace slow as he hung his head. The door opened just slightly before he turned back to Hermione, still crestfallen.

“You like him?”

Hermione gave him a feeble smile. “Well, yes.”

“You love him?”

“It’s hardly been two weeks. But maybe one day.”

Ron half smiled, doing his best to be supportive. “Well, I hope he’s a good guy. You deserve it.”

“Thanks. And he is. I promise.”

Chapter Text

Hermione pulled her hair back into a bun and then dusted off the remaining particles of Floo powder that lingered on her robes. She unclasped the fabric, having had enough of them for the day, and laid them on the sofa before making her way to the kitchen. Her heavy bag crashed onto the kitchen table as she set it down in front of where Malfoy was sitting.

“Well, well. Look who finally decided to show up,” he said with a smirk.

“Ha, ha,” Hermione mocked, still not entirely enthused that he hadn’t figured out to wait just five more minutes so she wouldn’t have been trapped in that situation with Ron. Granted, Ron had taken it all rather well, but that was beside the point.

Malfoy, however, seemed to merely laugh about the incident. His feet were propped up on the table, a clever smile inching ever larger. “You mean you didn’t enjoy your chat with Weasley?” he tormented. “That looked like such a pleasant conversation I was walking in on.”

His smile turned slightly sinister, and Hermione knocked his feet off from their casual perch. “You knew, didn’t you!” she spat, but Malfoy just chuckled.

“Even a blind man would have been able to see the horror etched in your face.”

“Then why did you leave!”

Malfoy shrugged as Hermione glared at him, but he didn’t seem at all perturbed. He pushed himself off his chair and pulled out two wine glasses from the cabinet. “If I’m being honest, I was actually growing quite tired of watching Weasley pitifully pine after you,” he lazily confessed as he poured the wine. “So I suppose I didn’t really have a mind to stop it.”

He handed the drink to Hermione, but she kept a careful eye on him as he returned to his seat. “Is that so?” she questioned, still not entirely convinced that he didn't have some sort of angle he was playing at. It seemed too easy for him to just give up on having such an advantage over Ron.

“For Salazar’s sake! Someone had to take him out of his misery!” he snapped back. “Hell, if his sister, Potter, and Daphne already knew, we couldn’t very well let him go on thinking he still had a shot.”

Hermione couldn’t resist rolling her eyes. “How magnanimous of you.” She took a sip of her wine, but quickly set it down. “Wait… you told Daphne?”

The chair legs scraped against the kitchen tiles as he pushed himself back and stood up. “Told her Saturday night,” he explained as he came closer to her. He brushed away some of the stray hairs that still lingered over her eyes and gave her a soft smile. “Figured I didn’t have anything I wanted to hide anymore.”

He had just… told her? Just like that? Hermione couldn’t help but feel mildly jealous that he could so simply tell his friend without being overly concerned about the adverse ramifications. She supposed there wasn’t any sort of bad blood between her and Daphne like there was between Malfoy and her own friends, making matters much easier on his end, but it still stung.

“How’d it go?” she asked, oddly hoping to hear about at least a minor snafu. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it would somehow make her feel better knowing that her friends weren’t the only ones with reservations.

“It went well,” he said, and to her embarrassment, her heart fell. “Although, I think a part of her is still disappointed it didn’t work out with me and Astoria.”

“Oh,” Hermione said, trying not to sound too relieved, but guilt quickly took over, remembering just how poorly it had ended with his ex. “I’m, um, sorry,” she added.

“Don’t be,” Malfoy promptly responded. “I’m sure as hell not.” He left a gentle kiss on her cheek and started to head to the urn next to his fireplace, priming himself to use the Floo. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. I would have chosen a place for dinner, but you seemed to indicate that you prefer being a part of these decisions.”

Hermione faintly smiled to herself, satisfied that he had picked up on that fact, but she had already made other plans for them that evening. She reached deep into her bag and shuffled the items around. “Actually, I had a different idea,” she explained, pulling out a bag of produce from inside its depths.

Malfoy sauntered back into the kitchen and examined the vegetables through the translucent bag. “Merlin,” he griped. “I know I’ve commented on that bag before, but bloody hell, how much do you have in there?”

“Only the essentials,” she promptly responded, pulling out a box of pasta and bringing the items next to the cooker.

Even though her back was now turned to him, she could still feel his confused expression directed at her. Hermione decided to play naive and let Malfoy simmer in his bewilderment. In the meantime, she dug through his cupboards, searching for any utensils that would be helpful whatsoever, but just as she had expected, he really didn’t have many. Eventually, she found the drawer of silverware and began to slice the tomatoes on one of his plates.

“Hold up,” he finally uttered, a solid minute after she had left him staring blankly at her bag. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Cooking dinner,” she stated plainly.

“I don’t own any pots or pans.”

“No worries,” Hermione said. She had prepared as much. “There should be a set in my bag somewhere.”

Malfoy’s eyebrows deepened in a mix of surprise and further confusion. Honestly, he should have known she prepared for all possible situations. It was only necessary if she was going to be successful. He suspiciously opened up the flap of her bag and was surprised when he shoved his hand inside and it continued to travel down past the barriers the exterior presented. “Seriously! How big is this thing?” he cried.

Hermione laughed to herself as she ignored his commentary and moved on to chopping the peppers. The pots landed next to her in a clang, their deliverer staring at Hermione in disbelief.

“You know, I could go to Diagon Alley and be back with dinner before you’d even be done cutting those things.”

“Yes,” Hermione agreed, but she still refused to back down, “but you’re twenty-four years old, and it’s about time you learn how to cook a simple meal.”

Malfoy didn’t seem at all pleased about this prospect and picked up the box of pasta. “And we’re supposed to eat this?” he asked, shaking the contents curiously.

“Well, we have to cook the pasta first.”

His jaw physically dropped, bringing the box closer to his eyes. “This is pasta? But it’s… dry?”

Hermione rolled her eyes again as she pried it out of his hands. “Have you never seen food prepared in your life?”

“Of course not,” he promptly responded, sounding as though this was a fact he was actually rather proud about it. “It always just… appeared for me.”

“Well, then consider this your lucky day to learn,” Hermione said with a smile, thrusting a steel pot into his unsuspecting arms.

He looked down at the pot, sincerely no idea what on earth to do with it, and then back at Hermione. “No way,” he said sharply. “I have a reputation to uphold.”

“Ron can cook pasta,” Hermione said casually, returning to the vegetables before her.

Unsurprisingly, that was all she needed to say to convince him. Malfoy snapped the box off the counter and read through the directions. He grumbled to himself in dismay as he set the pot on top of the cooker and grabbed his wand to fill it with water and then light a fire underneath. At this point, his blood was boiling more than the water was, only causing Hermione even more enjoyment watching him begrudgingly go through the preparations.

She laid the knife down and snuck up behind him while he was trying to figure out just how much pasta to put into the water. Hermione wrapped her arms around his waist and popped up on her toes, leaving a kiss on his cheek. His previously tense shoulders slackened at her touch, and he whipped his body around to face her.

“Just so you know, I can’t think of anyone else who could convince me to cook my own food,” he said with a smirk, resting his hands on either side of the cooker.

“Better get used to it. If you succeed with this one, next week we’re making roasted chicken.”

Malfoy scoffed. “Don’t push it.”

 

 

Hermione handed the recently cleaned plate to Malfoy who had a tea towel in hand, wiping the excess water off the surface of the dishes. To both of their surprise, the meal had turned out quite good. For his first time, Malfoy had managed to do an acceptable job with the pasta. Hermione would have preferred it to be a bit more al dente, but she wasn’t going to comment on that. She was mostly just impressed that he had been wise enough to use a cooling spell on the handle of the pot before lifting it to drain.

The clock already read half past seven, only leaving them a few more hours before she would have to go home. She was normally all for staying up until the early morning hours doing research, but she didn’t want to push it too far their first night working together. Well, not that this was actually their first time collaborating. It was different this time, though. When they had worked together on the addendum, it had been through the lens of strictly coworkers. But now, they had pushed past that. And even more so, she knew just how important this all was to him. It would just be for the best if they took this project a bit slower. Besides, this time they had six months to complete it, not just a weekend.

Once the kitchen had returned to its pristine state, no traces of cooking having ever occurred within those walls, Malfoy led Hermione back to his personal potions lab, the notes from her readings and research gripped tightly in one hand.

The room was just as dim as she remembered until Malfoy struck a match and lit three lanterns in the middle of the first of the long tables. Three cauldrons were already brewing, each one varying vastly from its neighbors. The first one was a soft shade of yellow with a series glimmers illuminating from the surface. Next to it was a brass cauldron whose contents were as black as tar and glumped with massive bubbles. Malfoy headed straight to the final of the three potions, a stirrer balanced along the lip of this one. He mixed the pale lilac concoction with precise movements: two full rotations to the right, followed by a half rotation to the left, then repeat.

Beside each of the cauldrons were pieces of parchments, detailing Malfoy’s observations and conclusions. Apparently the golden potion contained too much ammoniacum, and the black potion had been left to boil for too long. She read through his notes, her mind already working on what other feedback she could provide. Malfoy returned the stirrer to its resting position and reviewed his annotations from over her shoulder.

“How much ammoniacum did you put in this one?” Hermione asked.

Malfoy reached across her and grabbed a small leather-bound notebook. As he thumbed through it, Hermione could see that each page was titled with a different trial number, followed by an outline of the ingredients used in each test potion. He stopped once he reached number two hundred seventy-six. “This one had four drops, but…” he turned back five pages, “I had previously tried with three drops, and that didn’t work either.”

He handed the notebook to Hermione so she could more easily flip through the pages. She turned to the front of the book to the first trial from three years ago, all his notes just as meticulous back then as they were in the present. “Do you mind if I take this with me when I leave? I’d like to read through what you’ve already tried.”

“Be my guest,” he responded. “I’ve read through it so many times at this point, I could probably recite every word to you anyway.” He walked down the length of the table and retrieved a clean cauldron and placed it in front of them. “But I’m in desperate need for some fresh ideas.”

Hermione laid the notebook down and looked back at her own notes. “Well, I read through Damocles’ book, and it seems to me that the most important thing we need to consider is the poisonous nature of aconite. Aconite can be a tricky plant, which is why you need the ammoniacum and unicorn hair to counter it.” Malfoy nodded along, undoubtedly having already figured out most of this for himself. “But if we’re substituting unicorn horn for unicorn hair and want it to still be cost effective, perhaps we need to add a different offsetting element.”

Malfoy continued to nod as he closed his eyes to concentrate and think. His eyebrows came closer together and the wrinkles on his forehead deepened until he slowly returned his sight to Hermione. “Antidote to Common Poisons,” he stated simply, and Hermione smirked, having already come to the same conclusion earlier that day.

“Exactly,” she said, pointing to a spot halfway down on her notes-covered page of parchment. “It only requires a pinch of unicorn horn because most of the poison is counteracted by the --”

Bezoar,” he completed in unison with her.

Their heads turned to exchange a quick smile with one another before Malfoy promptly sprung to action, shifted his head as he scanned the contents of the table. “I know I have a collection of them here somewhere,” he muttered to himself. Hermione joined in the search as they examined the various vials and jugs that littered the surface of the two tables until Malfoy found the correct one and placed it in front of the cauldron.

“Okay,” he said with a smile directed at Hermione. “Bezoars acquired. What next?”

They assembled the rest of the necessary ingredients and accumulated them around the base of the cauldron. Sprigs of wolfsbane were in full blossom, lying beside the vial of crushed unicorn horn, stems of ammoniacum, and a bag full of standard ingredient. Malfoy scooped four measures of standard ingredient and dropped it into the base of the cauldron. He then took the sprigs of wolfsbane and started to crush them with a mortar and pestle. Without further direction, Hermione grabbed the stems of ammociacum and began pressing it until the gum-resin started to seep out of the ends.

As she worked, Hermione paused every once and a while to admire Malfoy’s focus. He worked in absolute silence, all of his energy directed on the careful pounding of the plant, ensuring that the pieces were the proper size. No doubt that after so many trials, he had this part down to an exact routine, but he remained completely immersed in the process. She returned to the ammociacum, and once there was enough of the extract, she moved onto the bezoar, using a different mortar and pestle to crush the next ingredient.

“This is nice,” he said softly as he gathered the pieces of wolfsbane and dropped them on top of the standard ingredient. Hermione set down the pestle and looked up at him. “Normally it’s just me in here, but even just having you next to me makes this so much better.”

Hermione could feel a blush coming on, but she didn’t even try to hide it. She placed her hand on his cheek, lifting herself up so that she could kiss him before they both resumed their tasks. Another smile started to form across her lips as he pulled out his wand and lit a small fire under the cauldron. For as much as he had complained about her forcing him to make dinner, it really wasn’t much different from potion brewing, come to think of it. Give him enough practice, and perhaps he’d turn out to be just a good of a cook as he was a potioneer.

Once all the ingredients were in the cauldron, Hermione stood back as Malfoy carefully stirred the contents, maintaining the same alternating pattern of two clockwise turns and a half anticlockwise. After several rotations, Malfoy stepped away, gazing down at the pale blue potion.

“Well, at least it’s the right color,” Hermione commented, recognizing the shade from the one she had seen Lupin drink all those years ago.

“The color may be meaningless,” he said with a sigh. “With new ingredients involved, that outcome may vary.”

“So then how exactly do we test it?”

“We’ll have to wait and see if it causes a werewolf bone to deteriorate.”

Hermione’s head jolted back, alarmed at the casual way Malfoy had stated it. “First of all, where are you getting werewolf bones from, and secondly, how do you know? I read Damocles’ book cover to cover twice and didn’t see a single mention of that!”

Malfoy picked up the used pestle and began wiping off the remains of wolfbane from its base. “I had the opportunity to briefly speak with him before he passed away a few years ago. It was right at the start of my research, but I knew all my efforts would be meaningless if I didn’t have an effective way of testing it. I figured there had to be some method before giving it to werewolves themselves.”

More questions flooded into Hermione’s mind, first and foremost being how exactly he had managed to have a conversation with Damocles himself, but that didn’t seem entirely relevant to her overall need for other, more pertinent, answers. “You still didn’t answer my first question,” she pointed out, “and why werewolf bones?”

“Around two and a half years ago, Kingsley spoke with some werewolves on my behalf, and when a few passed away, they donated their bodies to help my research,” he explained. “They wanted to do whatever they could to help others battle lycanthropy.” He put away the now cleaned mortars and pestles and then returned in front of Hermione. “And as for your now third question, the poison in aconite directly affects the bones. If the potion doesn’t work for other reasons, it can be treated with other antidotes, but any damage done to the bones is most likely fatal.”

“Then we better make sure we avoid that,” Hermione retorted.

“That is the intention.”

They put away the rest of the supplies, leaving the latest trial brewing over the small flames. It still had several hours of heating until it would actually be ready, but for the time being, it seemed promising. She picked up Malfoy’s notebook and ran the pages over her thumb. “Well, if we’re done for the evening, I better head home,” Hermione said. “But I have a good feeling about this.”

“Me too,” Malfoy said with a smirk before leaving a kiss on her forehead.

Hermione exited the room and started to shove the rest of her belongings into her bag. Malfoy remained perched in the doorframe of the potions lab, watching her intently as she crammed a cooking pot inside.

“You know, I was thinking,” he said, keeping his side rested upon the frame. “As much as I enjoy working with you, I believe it’s time you and I had another proper date.”

“Oh, yeah?” Hermione responded with a smile.

Malfoy ambled across the sitting room and slinked his arms around her. “Well, I figure since our friends now know and we’re both still alive to tell the tale, a celebration is in order. Perhaps we could do something a bit more public for our next date? Something that gets our minds completely off work for an entire evening?”

“I’d like that,” Hermione agreed. “How about Friday again? But I get to plan this one.”

“I’ll hold you too that.”

Hermione tried to pick up her bag, but Malfoy kept his arms around her, making the task much more difficult. She tried to wiggle herself free, but he only clamped himself around her even tighter. "I need to go!” she cried out with a laugh, but he still refused.

“No, I changed my mind. You can’t leave yet,” he teased. She couldn’t see his face from the position she was trapped in, but she could tell that he, too, was smiling.

“We have work in the morning, and it’s late!” she tried to rationalize, but she already knew that he was likely to win.

“But your work here isn’t done yet,” he playfully argued back. “You have to stay here til morning so that you can see the results.”

He flipped Hermione around so her back was now against the edge of the table and he was peering into her, arms still keeping her locked in on either side. The glint in his eyes softened as he swept back more curls that had managed to free themselves from her bun. His jovial manner slowly dissipated and was replaced a soothing demeanor.

“C’mon, Hermione,” he appealed. “Stay the night. A simple sleepover.”

Her heart started to pound. She hadn’t originally anticipated his offer, but she most certainly hadn’t anticipated him once more calling her by her first name. When he had done so at the end of their first date, she chalked it up to nerves or perhaps just a slip, but hearing it again, it sounded much more like a conscious decision.

He kept his gaze locked on her, and it melted away any part of her that intended on leaving. For a second, she considered that perhaps it was a bit unfair to Crookshanks, but surely he could spend one night alone. Besides, that cat knew how to fend for himself. So, Hermione didn’t argue any further. She took his hand into hers and led him into his bedroom.

The moment they stepped inside, Malfoy began to peel off his clothes from the day. Hermione pretended to cover her vision, but she made it blatantly clear that she was still staring through the massive gap between two of her fingers. She bit down on her bottom lip as she admired his form. Dear Merlin, she truly was a lucky witch.

He proceeded to his dresser and dug around the bottom drawer, pulling out his pair of pyjama bottoms.

“And what I am supposed to wear?” she said as he yanked on the bottoms, not bothering to put on a shirt.

Malfoy searched through his clothing items and tossed a shirt in her direction. Hermione caught it and opened it up. Gods, he was predictable. He watched with a satisfied smirk as she stretched out an old Quidditch jersey of his, green and silver colours and all.

“And where are the bottoms?” she asked, but she had a feeling she already knew the answer to this question.

“I’d prefer you in just this actually,” he said with a coy smile.

“I thought you said this was just a casual, innocent sleepover?”

“I never used the word casual, and I most certainly don’t intend it to remain completely innocent.”

He strolled up in front of her and slowly moved his hands to the bottom hem of her shirt. He tugged it upwards and Hermione raised her hands into the air so that he could remove it. She swallowed a short breath as his cool hands ran up the plain of her bare stomach. His fingers slowly grazed their way towards her bra, but then he quickly drew them away.

“We can do casual if that's what you really want, but after all that work, I think we deserve some play.”

Hermione nodded her response, the Quidditch jersey lying forgotten on the ground. Malfoy immediately pulled her in even closer, maintain a firm grip at the base of her neck. His lips pressed softly against hers, but only for a moment until his tongue demanded entrance. Suddenly, her hair came cascading down, Malfoy having tugged the hair tie around her bun loose. He burrowed his hand into her locks, refusing to let her slip out of his reach.

“You’re absolutely beautiful,” he whispered, pulling away from their kiss so he could admire her. Hermione dipped her head shyly, still not accustomed to receiving compliments like that, but he lifted her head up and kissed her once more.

Hermione took a step back, Malfoy keeping a watchful eye on her as her arms twisted behind her and unclasped her bra. She removed the straps at a tortuously slow pace, Malfoy's chest heaving in bated anticipation. The fabric slinked off her shoulders, and when she removed it, she immediately covered the exposed skin with her hands.

“Someone's not playing fair,” Malfoy said, his voice dripping with frustration.

“Actually, I believe this counts as just adding to the game.”

She shifted her body so her back was to him. She unzipped her jeans and brought the fabric down, allowing Malfoy to savor the sight of her knickers clad bum for only a handful of seconds before she dipped down to pick up his jersey. The jersey was loose fitting and much too big for her, the fabric ending just below her knickers. When she turned back around, Malfoy had his lip clamped between his teeth, shaking his head back and forth at her.

“As much as I love seeing you in my colors, I would have preferred different results.”

“Well, perhaps you can have it both ways.”

She took him by the hand and led him up her thigh, slipping it under the bottom of the jersey so that his hand rested on the waistband of her knickers. Her didn’t need any further guidance. His other hand followed suit and slowly brought her knickers down the length of her legs. She stepped out of the cotton fabric as Malfoy trickled back up to full height.

He caught her off guard and pushed her back against the bed. She landed with a bit of a bump, but the smile never faded from either one of their faces.

“Honestly, what did I do to deserve you?” he said, before he bent down and brought his lips to hers, a new wave of need sweeping through both of them.

Hermione draped her arms over his shoulders as he kept one hand planted beside her to prop himself up. She bit down on his bottom lip and began drawing it back when suddenly she had to let go, her mouth gasping open as two fingers entered her heated core. Her back curled off the mattress at the sudden intrusion, her body radiating with warmth as he pushed himself all the way in.

“Oh, Merlin,” she mewled as he withdrew himself but kept his fingers tracing the slit between her thighs. Malfoy buried his face into the comforter, emitting heavy groans every few seconds as he continued to torment her. “Please,” Hermione whimpered, her body craving more from him. She spread her legs further apart, making it easier for him to enter her, his fingers diving further inside her depths.

She struggled for breath as he hooked his finger, sending convulsions throughout her. His fingers slid in and out of her easily, her body positively dripping for him. When his thumb grazed over her clit, she clung to his shoulders, drawing herself off the bed, a desperate cry escaping her lips. His motions intensified, and Hermione urged herself to hold in a scream, until it all became too much.

The walls around his fingers pulsated as he continued to rub her clit. “Fuck, yes, that’s it,” he growled into her ear as she tightened around him. She lifted herself off the bed, pulling her chest against his. Hermione cried out in satisfaction, her juices surrounding his digits. He kept his fingers inside of her as she rode out her orgasm, finally falling flat against the bed once more.

Malfoy looked down at her with satisfaction and then curled next to her on the bed. He brushed a few strands out of her face and kissed her before drawing back the covers and slipping underneath them.

“Wait,” Hermione asked, when she recognized his intentions to just go to bed. “But what about you?”

Malfoy’s eyes were already closed at this point. “Consider this my payback for walking out on you the first time. And the second time.”

“You don’t need to -”

“Hermione.” That got her to shut up. “I just wanted to satisfy you tonight. Don’t worry about me.”

She sat up on the bed. “But, I -”

Malfoy peeled his eyes back open. “You just being here is enough for me. Now get into bed, or you’ll be exhausted at work tomorrow.”

Hermione did as she was told, settling herself under the sheets next to him. He pulled back some of her curls and left a gentle kiss on her neck.

“Goodnight, Hermione.”

She almost mustered, “Goodnight, Draco,” but the words fell flat before she could utter them.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week seemed to slip away, and before Hermione knew it, it was already Friday evening. She hadn’t seen much of Malfoy after their initial attempt to make the Wolfsbane potion together. He seemed disheartened when it wasn’t successful, but she assured him that it would have been highly unlikely that they managed the crack the formula on their first try. Besides, they still had months until the Wizengamot’s deadline. At the same time, however, she understood his frustration. He had been trying for years at this point. He was in desperate need of a well-deserved break, and tonight would hopefully get his mind completely off of it.

She checked the clock for the what felt like the eighteenth time and sighed. He was supposed to be there fifteen minutes ago. He better not be working late! Normally she wouldn’t be opposed to such a practice, but this was their date night, and she had put a lot of thought into it. Although, it was entirely possible that he somehow managed to get lost in the Floo Network. It was his first time at her place, after all.

A whooshing sound echoed from the sitting room, and she set down her book which she honestly hadn’t read a word of in twenty minutes. Hermione smiled when she saw Malfoy standing in front of her fireplace, a bouquet of flowers in hand. Tonight he was wearing Muggle clothing, just as she had instructed him. Similar to the robes that he usually wore, his shirt was a darker material, contrasting well with his pale skin. It was quite odd to discover that he owned Muggle jeans, let alone a pair that fit him so smartly. She obviously wasn’t going to complain, though.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, stepping away from the dying flames. “A bit more notice about the Muggle clothing would have been appreciated. But I did bring these as an apology.”

The flowers were a vibrant array of orange and pink, a dash of sunshine in contrast with the increasingly cold season. “They’re beautiful. Although, you really shouldn’t’ve. I only just threw out the ones from the other week!”

Malfoy chuckled to himself. “Well, then you proved that it was in fact time for me to get you another batch.”

Hermione made her way into the kitchen and grabbed a vase from one of the bottom cabinets. “These better not have made you any later though,” she said in a raised voice so he could hear her over the running water filling the vase. “It’s horribly rude to be late for a date. You’re lucky I didn’t pick something that requires reservations!”

She made her way back into the sitting room just in time to see him shrug. “The flowers took me maybe an additional two minutes. I already had them waiting for me at Floriblunders.”

Crookshanks curled around a corner and slinked his way into the room. He slowed his wandering to a calculated stroll, examining the intruder in his domain. Malfoy didn’t seem to notice, opting to peruse the surroundings while Hermione tended to the flowers. She set them down on a side table, and stifled a laugh when she noticed that the cat now lingered around Malfoy’s ankles and had begun sniffing his shoes. The permanent scowl on the cat’s face faded momentarily and turned upward as he nuzzled up against Malfoy’s leg.

Malfoy’s reflexes kicked in and he snapped his leg up, pulling himself away from the cat’s affectionate advances. Crookshanks released a sharp disapproving hiss, and Hermione quickly bent to the ground to sweep him up into her arms.

“For the love of Merlin, that cat is somehow larger that I remembered!” Malfoy cried out in alarm.

Crookshanks kept a watchful gaze on Malfoy as his owner repeated soft caresses along his back. “Well he seemed to like you before you scared him like that!” Hermione brought her face close to Crookshanks. “You were just trying to be nice, weren’t you?”

“It wouldn’t have been so terrifying if he hadn’t snuck up on me like that!” A quick shudder traveled down his body. Apparently he wasn’t a cat person. But no matter. Ron had grown to like Crookshanks eventually. Well, tolerate. Either way, he had come around somewhat, and she had no doubt Malfoy would, too. “But regardless,” Malfoy continued. “Where are we going tonight if you claim we don’t need a reservation? And apparently requires Muggle clothing?”

Hermione grabbed a Muggle jacket off the armchair and slipped it on. “Out,” she stated simply, a smile stretching across her cheeks.

Malfoy was not amused. “I don’t particularly like surprises.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Says the person who seems to be consistently surprising me with things! Lunch in my office, private dinners --”

“The fact that I’m actually not the worst person in the entire world.”

She smiled a bit. “That too. But that’s a surprise I actually enjoyed.”

Malfoy leaned in and gave Hermione a kiss, squashing Crookshanks between their bodies. The cat let out a yelp and clawed his way out. He hissed disapprovingly and made his way to the kitchen.

“Okay, enough with the bloody cat!” Malfoy exclaimed. “Let’s get out of here.”

They exited her building and took a right once they reached the main street. It was a cool evening, and she gripped her jacket closer to her body to prevent the frigid air from intruding more than necessary.

Malfoy looked over at her, and smirked. “If we had Apparated, you would have been spared from the cold.”

Hermione chuckled. “Are you so opposed to walking? Muggle doctors recommend that you get ten thousand steps a day in order to live a healthy lifestyle.”

“And who lives longer? Wizards or Muggles?”

“Wizards. But who’s to say that Wizards who walk ten thousand steps don’t outlive those who don’t?”

Malfoy sighed, but still smiled to himself. “Once we’re done with the potion, I’ll help you investigate that one, just so I can prove you wrong. But let’s keep to one major research project at time.”

The lampposts illuminated their path, and after a few more minutes of small talk, Hermione stopped outside their destination. The letters on the sign were faded, and a couple of the lights out front flickered, but that hardly deterred Hermione. Perhaps it wasn’t the finest establishment, but it would fit her purpose exactly.

Malfoy continued walking a few more steps and had to turn back around when he noticed that Hermione was no longer at his side. He examined their dingy surroundings and stared at her intently as if trying to figure out the answer to a riddle.

“You can't be serious,” he said, his eyes falling upon the building. He raised an eyebrow. “If this was all a long game for you to murder me in a sketchy building, I must admit that I’m impressed.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Oh, calm down,” she scolded. Just as she had anticipated, he was skeptical, and to be fair, the building rivaled The Hog’s Head in appearances.

Malfoy didn’t seem to be hiding his doubt anytime soon. “I take you on a romantic private dinner, and you lead me to… this?”

“Ugh, just follow me.”

She took his hand into hers and dragged him into the Muggle pub. Inside, the lights were low, and there were a few neon signs that illuminated behind the bartender who was cleaning a dirty glass. Much to Hermione’s delight, only a handful of Muggle patrons were seated at the booths. Perfect. She wasn’t completely certain how Malfoy would react to being in a Muggle establishment, so she erred on the side of caution. Certainly there were nicer pubs she could have taken him too, but she also wanted him to get the full experience.

She looked back at Malfoy and the leeriness had yet to fade from his face. His eyes slowly scanned the pub. “Your big plan for our date is a Muggle pub?”

Hermione released a soft snort, followed by a grin. So far, his reactions were perfectly aligned with her expectations. She took hold of his hand once more and pulled him around a corner to a series of green felt-covered tables. There were a few more Muggles in this section of the bar, which was good, because Hermione doubted she’d be able to properly explain it all by herself without someone else there to model.

“You had such an interest in Muggle sports on our first date that I thought I'd introduce you to one,” Hermione explained.

One of the men at the pool table next to them carefully positioned his cue stick behind his target. He crouched down to ensure that the balls would be lined up with the pocket, and then leaned forward, releasing the cue and hitting the white ball directly.

Malfoy turned to Hermione, still unimpressed. “This doesn't look like a sport.”

“Okay, maybe it's more of a game than a sport, but the International Olympics Committee does recognize the World Confederation of Billiard Sports, so technically speaking, I’m not wrong in calling it a sport.”

“Oly-pia-what?

Hermione sighed and laughed to herself. Don’t know why she bothered trying to explain that part to him! She cut to what she knew he’d really care about. “It means you and I get to compete against each other.”

For the first time since they stepped in front of the pub, Malfoy grinned. “Now you’re speaking my language. You’re on.”

“Great,” Hermione said. Now for the more difficult part. “Okay, so to play, you need to --”

Malfoy sharply shook his head for her to stop. “I prefer to watch and learn myself, actually.” He took a step closer to the pool table next to them and balanced a single finger across his lips as he carefully inspected the game. The Muggles took turns striking the cue ball against the yellow and red balls, the man playing with the red balls proving to be much more skillful as he got two into a pocket in the same shot.

After a few minutes of keen observation, Malfoy returned to Hermione's side. “So I think I've got it. Each person has a long… stick, for lack of proper terminology, and they have to hit the white ball first so that it knocks one of the colored balls depending on which color is their target?” Hermione nodded her head in agreement. “And I assume you want to avoid the black ball?”

She smiled. “Well, almost. That's the one you want to hit in last.” It was refreshing to be with someone who liked to figure things out for himself instead of her always being the one to give the answers. Although, she had spent a decent amount of time brushing herself up on the rules just in case. “There are a few more minute details, but I'll explain those along the way.”

She left Malfoy alone at the table for only a moment as she went to the bar to order food and rent the rest of the equipment. When she returned, Malfoy was bent over the table, practicing with a sole red ball that he must have borrowed from the party next to them. He pulled the cue stick back, and shut one eye in order to better focus. Before he had the chance to take his first shot, Hermione placed the set of pool balls down on the table, ruining his focus.

“Excuse you,” he snapped, “but you may have noticed I’m in the middle of something.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Sorry,” she quipped, even though the smirk on her face made it clear that she really wasn't. “Can't let you have an unfair advantage.”

“An unfair advantage?” he mocked. “Already scared that I'm gonna be better than you?”

“Psh,” she quickly dismissed. “Just because you’re good at Quidditch doesn’t mean you’ll be good at this. Pool requires aim, accuracy, and patience.”

“And you don't think Quidditch requires all of those?” he said, raising an eyebrow to match hers.

“Fine, fine,” she said with an airy breeze. “Just don't go crying to your father when I beat you.”

She organized the balls into the proper formation inside of the triangle and positioned it in the middle back of the table, ready for the game to begin. When she looked up, Malfoy was narrowing his eyes towards the balls.

“One last thing before we begin,” he said, a strum of annoyance in his tone. “Do we seriously have to play with your house colors?” He strolled over and picked up one of the yellow balls. “It was one thing when they were playing with that combination, but the least you could have done was pick a green set for me.”

His hand slipped inside his pocket and pulled out his wand, and she barely managed to stop him before it tapped the surface of the ball.

“What?” he asked, clearly not catching on that what he was about to do was a horrible idea.

“Put your wand away, we’re in public!” she hissed under her breath.

“No one will notice. They’re too busy playing their game, and everyone else is too far away.”

“Yes, they will,” Hermione contended. “They’ll know something is off because these are the colors that they come in. You can’t just change it! It's like... like a magenta bludger or a teal quaffle. Those just don’t exist!”

Malfoy scoffed. “Well, of course not. Those are horrible colors.”

“Not my point!”

“Fine,” Malfoy said, clearly not thrilled. “Then I’m picking red. I’d rather be confused as a Gryffindor than a Hufflepuff.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. As if any of that sincerely mattered anymore. It had been years since they were at Hogwarts. They were just colors, for Merlin’s sake! If he wanted to get all bent out of shape about it, he’d do well to look down and notice that the whole table was covered in green felt, but she wasn’t going to get into it any further.

She removed the triangle from around the stack of balls and lined up the cue ball on the opposite side of the table. Malfoy handed her one of the cue sticks, and took a step back from the table, giving her proper space to play. His hands perched on top of tip of the cue stick and he balanced his head on it as he watched her start the game. The tip nearly brushed the surface of the white ball before Hermione pulled it back to realign. She then released the stick forward, hitting the peak of the triangle directly. The combination of red and yellow with a dash of black balls scattered across the felt, but none of them made it into one of the pockets. It wasn’t the best first shot, but at least it was a clean break.

“Well, big shot, now’s your chance to prove how good you are,” Hermione taunted, stepping aside so that he could access the table. She found a spot against the wall to lean back upon and watch.

Malfoy smirked in return. “Oh, I have no doubts that you’re going down.”

He mimicked Hermione’s actions, but when his stick made contact with the cue, it only managed to roll a couple inches, not even reaching any of the other balls. Hermione had to clamp him lips between her teeth to prevent herself from giggling, but that didn’t prevent Malfoy from catching onto her amusement.

“This is a terrible stick,” he grumbled, peering down at the cue in disgust.

“Or you’re just learning!”

“Perhaps if someone had let me practice, I wouldn’t be making a fool of myself right now!”

“Yes, but this is so much more entertaining,” she said back with a grin.

Malfoy continued to glare at her disapprovingly, which only made her want to smile more. There was something so satisfying about watching his ego getting taken down a peg, especially when it involved sports. If this had been a few weeks ago, she would have played it out longer, really made him suffer. But nowadays, she ultimately wanted him to actually have a good time.

She sighed and pushed herself off the wall. “Here, let me help you. Show me how you hold it.” He leaned over the table and duplicated his actions from a few minutes prior. “You’re holding it wrong,” she corrected him. “You’re gripping it like your wand, but it needs to be much looser.” She picked up her own stick to show him. “See how I have my three fingers on the table and then the cue resting between my pointer and thumb? That allows me to guide it.” She lined up the stick against cue ball and hit her target squarely, hitting one of the yellow balls into a pocket. “Because I’m not holding onto it so tightly, the cue has more power.”

Malfoy tried again, and failed.

“That’s it!” he declared. “I officially hate Muggle games!”

Hermione rolled her eyes once more and sighed yet again. “No, you just haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.” She moved herself behind him and placed her arms against his, helping maneuver himself in the proper position. She had to practically pry his pointer finger off the cue to allow enough space for it travel, but eventually she got him in a good enough formation. “Okay, now, aim, pull back slightly, and… shoot.”

This time, he struck the cue ball and it made contact with a nearby red one, causing it to roll closer to a pocket.

“You did it!” she squealed.

“Didn’t actually get it in one of those hole-things,” he continued to complain.

Hermione couldn’t help but laugh a bit. “It’s called a pocket. But you’re not going to be satisfied until you beat me, are you?”

“Of course not.” Malfoy smiled and kissed her on the cheek. “We’ll come back here every Friday night until I do.”

“You couldn’t even beat me at school,” she playfully reminded him.

Malfoy chuckled. “And to this day, I consider that one of my greatest failures.”

They continued to play, and for the first few turns, Hermione had to correct his form, but eventually, he seemed to catch on. They only paused for a few minutes when their food arrived, taking a moment to get a few bites in before they returned to the game. In the beginning, Hermione had a clear lead, sinking in three balls almost immediately. Yet somehow, by the end of the night, Malfoy had managed to catch up to her, both of them with only one ball left. Perhaps it was just his competitive nature, or maybe he was actually natural talented, but he was admittedly quite good.

Malfoy lined up his cue and knocked his final red ball into the pocket. A successful smirk stretched across his lips, fully aware that he was now ahead of her. “Would you look at that?” he boasted. “I believe now is the time that I aim for the black ball?”

“Yes, yes, get on with it,” Hermione insisted. She already knew he was going to be insufferable when he won.

Before he even lined up his shot, Hermione dug into her pocket and place a hand on the base of her wand. He bent over one final time and pulled back the stick, hitting the cue ball. The white ball spiraled towards the black one, but it appeared to be coming up short. She checked her surroundings and made sure that no one was watching, and then made a sharp swishing movement. The cue ball picked its speed back up and hit the black ball, leading it directly into the pocket.

Pool was fun, but she really didn’t think she could tolerate doing it every Friday night.

His arms flung into the air in excitement. “Told you I would beat you!” he beamed at her, planting a massive kiss on her lips. His cheeks pushed upwards, causing his eyes to form crescents, his smile taking up half his face. “Aim, accuracy, and patience? Simple.”

As expected, he wasn’t the most humble winner, but it made Hermione feel happy regardless. He was probably the happiest she had seen they had started seeing each other. Good. Then the evening had served its purpose.

“So,” Hermione said, interrupting his victory party, her own triumphant smile starting to show. “Not such a terrible date after all?”

Malfoy placed another kiss on her lips. “Absolutely not."

 

Monday morning rolled around, and Hermione was back at her desk, once again laboring over the members of their liaison committee. There was a gentle knock on her door, and Hermione dropped her quill. Harry had mentioned something about stopping by that morning, but she didn’t anticipate him so soon. She called for the visitor to come in, and to her delight, a blonde head peeked inside instead.

“You busy?”

“Always, but still come in.”

Malfoy closed the door behind him as Hermione made her way to the other side of the desk, where he greeted her with a good morning kiss. When she pulled away, it occurred to her just how oddly normal it felt to kiss him so casually. But after a few dates, it just felt right to greet him so, even if they were still at work.

“How’d your meeting with Kingsley go?” she asked, maintaining the normalcy of it all.

He shrugged and placed his hands in his pockets. “Good. Nothing of much consequence. He did ask about you, though.”

“Oh?”

“He wanted to check in and see how things were going between us. After all, word around the Ministry is that you and I don’t always get along.”

A smile crept across her lips. “And how did you respond?”

“I told him I had no complaints,” he said with a smirk, bringing her in for another kiss.

No, she supposed she didn’t have any complaints about him either. She smiled to herself, thinking back to had adamantly she didn’t want to work with him at first. But Kingsley had proven to be wise when he forced them together. Turns out Malfoy was quite a useful addition in more ways than one.

He proceeded to her desk and looked at the parchments scattered on its top. He picked one up and propped himself against the edge the desk, scanning the document over. Hermione joined him and read over his shoulder.

“Got Yarrog to sign on, I see,” he commented, pointing to one of the names on the list. “Fair warning, he’s got a bit of a temper. But then again, what goblin doesn’t?’

Hermione jabbed him with her elbow. Malfoy chuckled at her attempt to pacify him. “What’s it going to take to convince you that goblins aren’t evil?” she asked, even though at this point, she assumed it wouldn’t do her much good.

“Look,” he said, “I’ve already changed my mind on a myriad of other things. Muggle-borns, house elves, werewolves? You’ve got it. But at least let me have one thing I can continue to disagree with you about.”

He wrapped his hand around her waist and left a gentle kiss on her forehead, and she couldn’t help but smile. She rested her head on his shoulder as he continued reading.

“So, you’ve got six members so far?”

Hermione hummed her agreement. “Two goblins, three house elves, and one werewolf. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Ideally, I’d like to have at least ten members by the end of the month, especially more werewolves, but they’re proving to be a bit harder to convince.”

“Have you spoken with Kingsley about it recently?” Malfoy suggested. “He still has a decent amount of werewolf contacts.”

“Yes, but those are mostly with the more Northern wolfpacks. I really need help with --”

Her office door creaked open, and the person let themself in.

But it still wasn’t Harry.

“Hey, Hermione, I was just --”

Hermione immediately sat up, but it was too late. Ron’s gaze was already locked on her and Malfoy.

Malfoy simply groaned. “Seriously do your friends not know how to knock? I'm swear I’m going to teach you the strongest locking spell there is.”

Hermione’s heart crashed repeatedly in and out of her ribcage, neither her nor Ron saying a single thing. She felt like she had been hit with Petrificus Totalus, except even her eyes couldn’t move, too fixated on Ron. It couldn’t have been more than a handful of seconds since he had walked in, but it felt like time had slowed down. His expression had immediately shifted from cordial to stone faced, and it had yet to morph beyond that.

Malfoy remained beside her, somehow remaining oblivious to Hermione’s internal plight. “Kneazle got your tongue, Weasley?” he joked, but Ron didn’t react, his eyes still frozen in their direction. Malfoy glared at him. “Well, out with it, already! Tell us what do you want so we can carry on with our day!”

And yet Ron still didn’t budge. Hermione finally snapped out of her own trance and followed Ron’s gaze which was locked on Malfoy’s hand still resting on her waist. She slowly removed it, setting it down on the desk beside her. Malfoy finally looked her way, only to immediately peer down at where his hand had just been, and then back at her.

“What’s going on?” Malfoy whispered to Hermione, but now it was Hermione who failed to answer his question.

For the first time in her life, her mind was blank, and she didn’t know what to do. She was the type of person who always had a plan and thought twelve steps ahead, but she hadn’t planned for this situation -- the exact situation Harry had warned her would happen if she wasn’t careful. And yet, despite his advice, she had delayed the confrontation until it was about to blow up in all of their faces.

The paralysis seemed to slowly fade from Ron’s body. His nose moved first, twitching upward, and then his hand, which immediately balled into a clenched fist. Next came his chest, followed by the outward flare of his nostrils.

“Him?” he snarled, his knuckles turning an alarming shade of white the tighter he gripped his fist.

She could feel Malfoy’s eyes piercing in her direction, but she couldn’t bear to look at him. “What the hell is going on?”

“Shut up, Malfoy!” Ron snapped, his confidence coming back to him. He took a step forward and Hermione impulsively pushed herself backwards up onto the desk. “Him? Him? He’s the one you’re dating?”

“Hold up,” Malfoy interrupted, his gaze growing more severe. “I thought you told him?”

Her mind jumped back to last Tuesday and her conversation with Ron and what exactly she had told Malfoy about it. And truth be told, she hadn’t be completely transparent with either of them.

“I did,” she whimpered. “I just never told him who I was dating.”

She briefly looked at Malfoy, which she instantly regretted. His glare was worse than she had anticipated. It was like they were back at Hogwarts, that familiar look of disgust she had grown all too accustomed to seeing on his face returning for the first time in years. Only now, she actually deserved it. Malfoy pushed himself off the desk and marched to the opposite side of the room from her, gripping the bridge of his nose as he went. Her heart fell into her stomach. This was never what she intended!

For a brief miraculously moment, she had somehow managed to forget that Ron was still there, but the return of his harsh voice sharply reminded her that Malfoy was only a third of the fight. “You said you were dating a good guy!” Ron shouted. If he had noticed their side quarrel, he didn’t seem the least bit interested in commenting on it.

“He is, Ron. I promise!” she avowed, looking straight past him to Malfoy standing with his back to her in the corner. Malfoy huffed at her comment, clearly not impressed with the attempt to offset her mistake. It was too little, too late.

“Oh, I’m sure,” Ron sneered. “If he’s such a great guy, then how come you didn’t just tell me?”

Across the room, she could hear the distinctive sound of Malfoy scoffing. “Great fucking question,” she could barely hear Malfoy mumble as he turned around. He stepped away from the corner, but he kept Ron between them, his arms firmly folded across his chest in discontent.

“Ron, can we discuss this more in private?” Hermione pleaded. She understood that he was upset, but he was going to be upset regardless of when she told him. Right now, she needed to talk to Malfoy. Explain to him fully. He kept avoiding looking in her direction, and it was tearing Hermione apart.

But apparently, Ron had no intention of stopping his tirade. “Seriously, Hermione!” he bellowed, his voice reaching a new peak. “Malfoy? A good guy? I’ll believe that the day his Dark Mark fades away.”

Malfoy’s fingernails gripped into his arms, inches away from the tarnished skin. “Well, I must be a better man than you if she chose me over you.”

Ron’s cheeks turned vibrant red, the sentiment clearly not settling well with him. His lips turned into a snarl. “You sided with Voldemort!” he screamed loud enough for the entire Ministry to hear. “There’s literally nothing you can do that can erase that! Yet all of a sudden, you think you’re good enough for her?”

The moment the words came out of his mouth, the mood in the room shifted from bad to worse. Malfoy’s back immediately straightened and his face grew stern. His words from the other night flooded back to her, the similar question on his own mind just as recently as last week. What had he done to deserve her?

Hermione took a step towards him but he ushered her away.

Get out, Weasley,” he growled, his words slow and menacing.

“What’s the matter, Malfoy? Have I said something untrue?”

The two men glared at each other, years of pent up resentment rising to the surface, and they appeared all too prepared to break out into their own Third Wizarding War. “Honestly, Ron, please,” Hermione practically begged. She needed to get him out of there before one of them hurled the first curse. “We can discuss this together later. We can get lunch or something.”

“Oh, so now you’ll get lunch with me?” he spat, breaking his eye contact with Malfoy. “Forget it, Hermione.” He sneered as he looked Malfoy up and down. “Enjoy laying in bed with the snake.”

Ron barged out of her office, but as soon as he slammed the door shut, Malfoy started following the same path. She quickly reached out for his wrist and held on as tight as she could.

“Please don’t leave.”

Her grip loosened and he yanked his arm free, but at least he didn’t take another step closer to the exit. He clamped his eyes shut. “You know what?” he stated in a disturbingly low and calm voice for the situation. “I do have a complaint. A big, bloody complaint.”

“I know, I --”

“How could you not tell him?” His eyes reopened, the glimmer of hurt and betrayal gnawing away at her.

“You saw how uncomfortable I was in that conversation last week,” she tried to reason. “He wasn’t ready. It’s... different with him. And I didn’t want to hurt him.”

“So instead you hurt me?”

Hermione’s heart plummeted. “Not intentionally.”

They stood there in silence. Hermione didn’t know what else to say. Every thought that popped into her mind was wrong, because there was no way out of this. She was guilty. A part of her had known that Malfoy had assumed she had told Ron about him. She just… didn’t bother to correct him. After all, she intended to tell Ron soon. Just not immediately. Her intentions were good. They really were. But some time between then and today, she should have just told Ron. She should have.

Malfoy clenched a fist close to his face and then lowered it. “Friday night was lovely,” he said, but she could already tell that there was going to be a ‘but’. He seemed to be trying to keep his voice level as best as possible, the resentment in his voice hard to hide. “But it wasn’t what I expected. When I said I wanted to do something public, I meant Wizarding public. Because I’m not ashamed to be seen with you.”

“I’m not ashamed to be seen with you either,” she sputtered. Her vision started to gloss over. It would be mere seconds until the inevitable tears started to fall.

“Then fucking prove it!” he shouted, apparently no longer able to feign composure. “Cause right now, it doesn’t feel that way! Ginny had to walk in on us, Potter had to walk in on us, Weasley had to walk in on us. You didn’t tell a single one of your friends by choice!”

Malfoy shook his head back and forth and made his way back to the door.

“Draco --”

His name slipped out before she could catch herself, and she could immediately tell it was the absolute worst thing to say. His back stiffened and his hand lingered on the doorknob for a couple frantic heartbeats until he spoke.

Now?” His voice was icy cold as he remained frozen with his back to her. “You choose now to say my name?” He slowly turned around. His lips seemed be to set in a permanent scowl. “Do you know how long I’ve waited to hear you say that? And no, saying it once in bed cause I asked you to doesn’t count.” He took a single step closer to her. “You may think I haven’t noticed, but, oh, I have. You haven’t said my name once since our first date. Not Draco, not Malfoy, nothing. Did you think you could just ignore it?”

Hermione was once again at a loss for words.

She had been so close the other night. Why hadn’t she just said it?

Malfoy shifted away from her again.

“I need time to think.”

He left, and she didn’t chase after him.

Chapter Text

She couldn’t sleep. She had managed to make it through the rest of the workday, but an awful haze had followed her as she did. She had merely gone through the motions of her job, but the whole time, her mind was off elsewhere. 

Why hadn’t she just told him the truth?

The question had haunted every echo of her mind all afternoon, all evening, and even now as she shut her eyes. Her brain just wouldn’t turn off despite how much she tried. She considered taking a heavy dosage of Sleeping Draught, but that felt like cheating. There was a reason she couldn’t sleep, and she needed to confront the missteps that had led to this disaster.

There was no way to deny that she had messed up and that she was in the wrong here, but in some ways, she still stood by her decision. Well, at least part of it.

She knew why she hadn’t told Ron everything at first. Like Harry had said, she needed to go easy on him. When he had come into her office that evening, he was practically in the midst of asking her on a date. He may not have gotten that far, but they both knew what would have happened if she had let him finish that sentence. It must have been tough enough for him to hear that she was seeing someone else. Then wasn’t the time to tell him.

The problem was everything that came after.

She should have gotten lunch with Ron sometime later that week. Just as friends. She owed him that much. They could have gone somewhere public to avoid him causing too much of a scene, and she could have just explained it all then and there. Although, admittedly, part of her had been trying to avoid it -- but only because she had just had the same conversation with Ginny and Harry! She needed at least a few more days without having to go into it yet again.

But that still wasn’t the main issue. Ron was always going to be hurt, confused, disappointed, upset, and a whole range of other negative emotions regardless of when she told him.

What hadn’t she just told Malfoy the truth?

That was the real question that clawed away at her. The one she didn’t have an answer to.

And yet none of this addressed the other ordeal that she hadn’t even realized was an issue -- his name.

Over the past few weeks, she had noticed every time he opted to call her Hermione. Sure, it was unexpected and a bit odd at first, but she liked it. In fact, she now preferred it. But she hadn’t done the same for him. She had been so wrapped up in everything else that she hadn’t even noticed not using his given name -- or any name for that matter.

She grabbed the closest pillow and released a scream into its padding. There were so many things she wished she could take back. But as her mother always told her, hindsight is twenty/twenty. And as much as she was tempted, a time turner couldn’t fix this. Only she could.

Hopefully, it would be better in the morning. Even just a little bit.

But it wasn’t.

From the moment she stepped foot in the Ministry, the day was sour. She and Ron ended up on the same lift during the morning rush, something she didn’t recognize until the gates were already closed. The compartment was plenty full, so she could have easily avoided him altogether, but she still gave him a small smile when he caught sight of her. He immediately looked the other way and got off on the next floor, even though she could safely assume he had no business with the Department of Magical Games and Sports.

Around lunchtime, Hermione was trying to find Harry to tell him what had happened when she near tumbled over Malfoy coming out of the Wizengamot Administrative Offices. She had barely been able to muster an apology when he walked right past her without a word. Hermione let him take the first lift down before she turned and left the floor herself, no longer in the mood to talk about it.

By two, Kingsley sent her an interdepartmental memo advising that she and Malfoy work separately on their projects until further notice. She didn’t want to know what Malfoy had said to him.

An hour later, she had already drafted fourteen memos explaining the day before until she ultimately discarded all of them. Malfoy said he needed time to think, and she was going to have to respect that, even if all she wanted to do was talk with him.

As soon as the clock struck five, she shoved her parchments aside and grabbed her bag. Hermione couldn’t remember the last time she had left her office so promptly, but she wasn’t sure she could endure a single minute more in that room, the memories of the day before still too raw. She pressed the button for the lift, but instead of going down towards the Atrium, she headed up the second level, wandered the familiar path, and knocked on Harry’s door.

“What are you doing down here?” Harry asked as he opened the door, his cloak already on. “I was just on my way out.”

“Good.  Because I need your help.”

 

Harry rubbed his temples as he crashed onto her couch. “Wow, you weren’t exaggerating when you said you messed everything up.” He ran his fingers down the length of his face and knocked his head back against the cushions. “Even I just assumed you had told Ron by now.” 

Crookshanks let out a disapproving hiss as she picked him off from the floor and planted him on her lap. “I get it,” she griped. “I should have told him sooner. You’re only the third person to tell me that.”

“Is it too soon to say ‘I told you so?’” he said, picking his head up so he could smile at her.

Hermione simply returned a glare. Yes, it was most certainly too soon!

“Fine,” Harry surrendered. “But this is precisely what I warned you would happen.”

Hermione groaned. “No need to remind me.” She stood up from her armchair and set Crookshanks back on the ground. The cat scampered away into her bedroom, out of reach so Hermione couldn’t disturb him again. “But now they’re both mad and me, and I’m at a bit of a loss on what to do next.”

She started to tap her toes against the flooring, beating in time with her racing heart and mind. Not a single part of her body was able to take even the slightest break. Sitting down didn’t feel right, but neither did standing. She began pacing back and forth, but that didn’t soothe her either. She froze in front of the sofa and toppled down next to Harry.

She shook her head and let out a deep sigh. “This is far from the first time Ron and I have ever fought. It’s honestly hard to keep count at this point. But we always make up. So I’m not too worried about him. He just needs space right now.”

She paused and looked down at her hands and started to pick at her thumbnail.

“It… um… Draco I’m concerned about.”

Harry winced. “Since when is he Draco?”

Hermione swallowed. “It’s a, uh, rather recent development,” she quickly justified. If she was going to fix this, she needed to start calling him by his first name eventually, so there was no point in delaying it any further.

Harry looked as if he had just had the misfortune of eating a rotten flavored Bertie Bott’s bean. “First of all, I hate it,” he said as a shiver echoed down his body in disgust. “But second of all, yeah, you’re going to have a hell of a time getting yourself out of this one. Although I have to say, I don’t know why you’re asking me for advice. It’s not like I have any experience in making amends with the guy.”

Hermione knocked her head back into the pillows and groaned. “No, I suppose you don’t.”

Harry frowned. “Sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be much help.”

“Well, thank you anyway,” she said, although she was a bit disappointed. “I guess I’ll have to figure something else out.”

Harry patted her on the back and gave her a reassuring smile. “You wouldn’t be Hermione Granger if you didn’t.”

 

 

The next morning, Hermione put on her usual robes, but instead of grabbing a handful of Floo powder, she grabbed her cloak and made her way towards the Apparition point. A few minutes later, she stood in front of the intricate brass doors that belonged to the Daily Prophet. After asking the receptionist the location, she headed down the corridor until she found the right office. Her fist hovered over the grain of the wood, taking a few more seconds to consider her plan, and then knocked. 

The door opened, and Daphne stood before her. The woman overdramatically rolled her eyes. “What do you want?” she spat, raising an irritated eyebrow at Hermione.

While they had never been friends, Daphne had also never been outright rude to her before. There could only be one explanation -- Draco had told her about Monday. At least she was spared from that part of the conversation.

Hermione straightened her posture and spoke clearly, not letting Daphne’s antagonistic tone deter her. “Can I come in? There’s something I would like your opinion about.”

Daphne rested her hand on her hip and tilted her head. “I assume you’re not here to pick my brain about Ministry business, are you?”

“No, I am not.”

Daphne looked down at her watch, seeming to pause to consider something, and sighed. “You have five minutes.”

That wasn’t much time, but Hermione didn’t protest. Besides, with such a short window, it ensured that they didn’t belabor the obvious. She followed Daphne into her office, a room that was much smaller than her own. They both took their seats, and Hermione got straight to business.

“I take it Draco’s told you?”

Daphne leaned back in her chair and frowned. “Calling him ‘Draco’ now isn’t going to fix this.”

“I know that,” she admitted. “And that’s why I’m here. I need to know what I can do.”

Daphne sucked in a breath and exhaled it slowly. Her eyes wandered around her office, looking at everything other than Hermione. It appeared as if she didn’t want to speak on the subject, but eventually, she swiveled her chair back towards Hermione.

“Look,” she said, her voice reaching an intensity that she wasn’t sure she had ever heard before. “Draco would kill me if he knew I was talking to you about this, but I haven’t seen him this depressed since he and my sister broke up, and hell if I’m going through that all over again.”

Hermione nodded her head in unspoken agreement to not let their conversation go outside these walls.

“Listen carefully, because I’m only going to say this once.” Daphne’s eyes narrowed on Hermione so there would be no question that she was serious. “You fucked up, Hermione. You somehow found a way to hit him in every place that he’s vulnerable.”

Hermione didn’t say a word.

“He knows what people think of him. The past few years have been hell for him because of it. But he thought that you were able to see beyond all that. You gave him the opportunity to have a semi-fresh start by trying to move forward.” Daphne paused and shook her head, and Hermione knew the real blow was about to hit. “But by not telling your friends, it makes him think that you’re still living in the past. That there’s still a piece of you that sees him for what happened.”

“That’s not --”

“Hey,” Daphne stopped her before she could complete her objection. “I’m just telling you what he told me. If you have something to say on the matter, you’re going to have to speak to him. I’m not your owl.”

Daphne looked down at her watch and stood up from her chair. The five minutes were up.

“I have a meeting,” she explained, picking up a stack of newspaper clippings off her desk. “I don’t know what you expected me to say, but if you’re as smart as everyone says you are, you already know that I can’t tell you what to do. You have to figure that out for yourself. But for the love of Merlin, don’t fuck this up any more than you already have.”

 

 

Hermione spent the rest of the workday locked in her office, not risking running into either Ron or Draco anywhere inside the Ministry. Just to be safe, she waited until an hour after regular work hours before leaving for the night. Besides, she needed to compensate for arriving late, so it was only logical to stay. 

The moment she stepped foot into her flat, her bag tumbled onto the ground, and she laid her body across the length of her sofa. Now that work was over, she had to return to her personal problems. Daphne may not have given her a solution, but their conversation had given her plenty to consider. She was fully aware of how much the past continued to haunt Draco. Wasn’t that why they were working so hard on the Wolfsbane Potion? To prove that he was more than what people assumed him to be? And yet, instead of being the one to help pull him out of his slump, she had only managed to drag him down deeper.

She wasn’t trying to live in the past. Every part of her just wanted to move forward. The only issue was proving that.

From the floorboards beside her, she heard the unmistakable sound of claws against fabric. Undoubtedly, Crookshanks was scratching at her bag, perhaps hoping to find a treat in there. The cat was probably hungry, although it wasn't that much later than his typical supper time. She’d tend to him in a bit. Just give her five more minutes of thinking.

Crookshanks proved to be impatient. He pawed away at her bag until the flap opened up.

Crookshanks,” Hermione groaned, not in the mood to get up. She batted her hand in his direction. “Come on, boy. There’s nothing in there for you.”

The cat simply ignored her. He pushed his way into the bag, only his hind legs and bushy orange tail remaining visible.

That was too far! She tore herself away from the cushions and swooped down to pick up the aging pet. Crookshanks hissed and put up a fight, but the abnormally large cat was no match for the strength of a human. As Hermione tugged him free, she noticed that Crookshanks had a leatherbound notebook clamped between his teeth.

“What’s that you got there?” she asked, pinching the hinges of his jaw so that he was forced to release the notebook into her awaiting hand. Her thumb grazed across its cover, not recognizing it at first, but when she opened the first page, she saw the familiar scribbles and the precise “Trial #1” printed on the top margin.

Crookshanks sat up and managed to twist his scrunched face into an attempted grin, evidently quite pleased with himself. Apparently, his selection wasn’t a coincidence.

She had forgotten that Draco had let her borrow it. She flipped through the pages, admiring the detailed notes that he had accumulated over the past few years, each one just as thorough as the next.

Hermione sat back down on the sofa and started at the beginning with his first of many unsuccessful trials. For the first time in over forty-eight hours, she felt herself sincerely smile. She knew Draco wasn’t really with her, but having his notebook at least gave her something.

Crookshanks leapt onto the sofa and settled on Hermione’s lap. His paw stretched out to the open page of Draco’s notebook, and then he quickly looked back at her, humming a soft purr as his eyes closed.

Hermione placed the notebook beside her and stroked his fur. “You’re an odd cat. You know that, Crookshanks?”

His body vibrated with the sound of another purr.

“I’m guessing this means you like him, huh?”

The cat hummed in agreement.

She sighed to herself as her hands grazed over his soft fur. “Yeah, me too. Me too.”


The next day, Hermione was up before the sun, but she had no intentions of making it into the Ministry that morning or even by the afternoon for that matter. She had owled in “sick” for probably the first time in her career. Even when she had come down with a nasty cold last year, Hermione had insisted on going in. She felt quite guilty for faking an illness, but desperate times called for desperate measures. So, Hermione Granger played hooky.

Her personal collection of books was spread out before her, alongside a pile of parchments and a quill. Ever since finding Draco’s notebook, she hadn’t been able to put it down. Crookshanks had stayed up with her all night, at times being a nuisance when he sat on top of her parchments as she tried to write, and after a few hours of sleep, she awoke and started it all over again.

She withheld a yawn as she flipped through his notebook for what must have been the seventh time. It was remarkable all the things he had tried out: different measurements of aconite and ammoniacum, rearranging the order of the ingredients, varying the direction of his churns. It must have taken him thousands of hours of research and potion brewing, and even though he had yet to succeed, he also had yet to quit.

And now she was the one who refused to quit. He was mad at her, and rightfully so. But if she angled this the right way, maybe she’d be able to convince him that she really did see him for the man that he was today, not the man that he’d once been.

When the clock struck four-thirty, she gathered her notes and a few relevant books. She made one quick stop on the way but soon arrived outside Draco’s flat. She set down her belongings and waited.

At around a quarter past five, the distinctive whooshing sound echoed from within, and she knew that he was home. She picked up her bag and the pile of books and knocked on the door.

He swung it open, but when he saw it was her, he near slammed it in her face.

“Draco, wait!”

Her hand thrust out to stop the door from closing, causing the books to teeter onto the ground. Draco stood in the door frame, not making the slightest effort to helping her, but at least the door was still open.

“What do you want, Granger?”

The return of her last name sent a lump to the pit of her stomach. It hurt, especially now that she was trying so hard to refer to him by his first name.

She deserved that.

She could feel his cold gaze piercing down at her as she retrieved the last of her scattered belongings. When she stood back up, his eyes lingered on the notebook at the top of her stack.

He reached out and snatched it. “I’ve been looking for that,” he snarled.

“You let me borrow it,” she explained, watching him intently as he leafed through the pages. She wasn’t foolish enough to think he’d be happy to see her, but that didn’t make it any easier.

He closed the notebook and brought the cover close to his face. “Are those… bite marks?”

Hermione faintly smiled. “Crookshanks sends his regards,” she said, a feeble attempt to lighten the mood.

But Draco didn’t seem to find any humor in it. He merely continued to scowl at her in silence.

She wasn’t certain how much longer she had until he tried to shut the door on her again. She reached into her bag and pulled out a roll of parchment.

“I read through all your notes.” She waited for a second to see if he would respond, but when he didn’t, she started to ramble. “The amount of detail you put into it was rather impressive, and honestly, your experiments have been quite brilliant, but I did some more research, and I was thinking that perhaps if we slice the bezoar instead of crushing it, then it will --”

“Most people bring flowers in the form of an apology. Not research.”

Hermione stopped mid-thought. He glared at her, evidently unimpressed with her efforts. She masked her disappointment. That’s okay. That’s why she had a plan b.

She reached into her bag once more, this time pulling out a bouquet of flowers.

She gave him a soft smile. “The lady at Floriblunders said that these are your favorite.”

Draco eyed the flowers, and then turned his back to her, returning to his kitchen. Hermione remained in the corridor, still holding the rejected bouquet. She waited to see if he would actually invite her in, but he didn’t say another word. Although, he had left the door open.

She cautioned a step inside, and when he didn’t utter a protest, she entered completely and closed the door behind her.

Off in the kitchen, Draco poured himself two fingers worth of whiskey and took a generous sip. His eyes peered down at the amber liquid, not once looking in her direction.

Hermione didn’t bother to put her bag down, still uncertain how long he’d let her stay.

He took another pull from his drink, the sound of the glass returning to the counter echoing in the otherwise silent flat.

She stepped closer to the kitchen, testing how far he’d let her go, until she was close enough to set the books, parchment, and flowers on the table next to him. He appeared to glance at them, but he still didn’t utter a sound.

Well, there was no use prolonging the inevitable.

She cleared her throat.

“I didn’t tell Ron because I didn’t want to hurt him.”

Draco’s head lifted ever so slightly, proof that he must have heard her.

She ran her fingers through her curls, ushering them over one shoulder and took a deep breath. “He had just been in the process of asking me out, and he looked absolutely devastated when I told him that I was seeing someone else. He took it so well that I didn’t want to ruin it. I was going to tell him soon. I promise. I just... figured I’d do it in pieces.”

He huffed. At least that meant he was still listening.

“I’m not ashamed of you,” she added, her voice growing stronger. “Quite the opposite, actually. I’m… proud to be your girlfriend. I think the work you’re doing with Wolfsbane is really… Well, it’s fairly noble of you.”

Draco scoffed this time and shook his head.

“What?”

“You just called yourself my girlfriend.”

The pit in Hermione’s stomach returned. She hadn’t initially planned on using the word, but she also didn’t correct herself when it slipped out. “I mean, I’d like to be,” she said. “As long as you’ll have me.”

He returned the glass to his lips, the whiskey gone by the time he set it back down.

“I said I needed time to think.”

“I know,” she said, a slight plea starting to take hold. “But it’s been a few days, and if we don’t talk about it soon, I’m afraid we might never recover.”

“And now we’ve talked about it.”

He left the empty glass on the counter and walked straight past Hermione without acknowledging her any further. He headed into his bedroom and closed the door behind him so that there was no mistake that the conversation was over.

Hermione stood frozen in the kitchen, her eyes lingering on the barrier between her and Draco.

She had really hoped that would work -- or at least improve things. But it didn’t seem likely.

Her eyelids fell shut, and tears started to form in the corners. She shoved her sadness aside. That would have to wait until she was home.

She went to pick up her books and the parchment but decided to leave them. If he wanted to stay upset, she would just have to accept that and live with the consequences of her actions. But regardless of what their future had in store, she still wanted his potion to succeed.

After putting the flowers in a vase full of water, she looked at his door once more, hoping beyond hope that he would come out to say goodbye, but she knew it was an irrational thing to even consider possible. She wiped away another tear and took the Floo Network home.