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The weekend had been dreadful. Hermione hadn’t left her flat. She’d ignored the messages that Georgia had sent her, turning over her phone so the glow would leave her alone. Two consecutive days without alcohol had already taken its toll because her mind had gone into overdrive. It was hard to understand what to do with the thoughts that preoccupied Hermione’s mind over the weekend. There wasn’t anything for it. Seven days wasn’t enough to decide on what she wanted to do and two had already passed so she was down to five. She felt like she wanted to explode every time she tried to take her mind off of Malfoy. She paced around her kitchen as she waited for the familiar click of the kettle. This was mad. She hadn’t talked to him or seen him face to face in six months and suddenly she’d been thrust into a situation that she very much wanted to avoid. And that was the problem wasn’t it? Avoiding everything until she’d fallen into this hole. And the way that he’d kissed her and then smiled, in that stupid way she secretly adored, was infuriating. She wanted to scream. The words he’d said about doing whatever it took to earn her trust back had stunned her. He had relinquished some control, but the ultimatum was still said on his terms. He had given her a deadline as though he hadn’t spat those words that had broken her down in the first place. At this point she didn’t know what she wanted from him. It hadn’t been an option for her to have him back in her life in any capacity. She’d thought they’d both go their separate ways and forget that it had ever happened.

She sipped on her cup of tea as Crookshanks rubbed against her calf as he uttered a tiny meow at her. Hermione sighed as she bent to scratch the top of his furry head. Crookshanks had become unusually clingy awhile back and she knew it was because he’d known she was struggling with something. If there wasn’t another body in her bed she’d wake up with Crookshanks purring beside her in the morning pawing at her sheets. His golden eyes would focus on her every time she downed the potions inside her bedside table. It was very obvious to her that he judged her for her behaviour, but not even Crookshanks’ judgement could stop her from behaving otherwise. This morning had been different. There hadn’t been any potions that she needed before work. Although, maybe she should’ve tried to find a calming draught to be rid of her current anxiety. Hermione was sure that her mind would be on anything but work while she sat in her office today. Or rather the entire week. It had been easier to compartmentalise everything when she’d thought there wasn’t a chance to reconcile with Malfoy and now her mind was trying to find some sort of logic behind all of the emotions that she’d buried.

The truth was that she didn’t have any experience to compare this to. What she felt for Ron so long ago wasn’t the same in any capacity. She’d never felt this emotion the way she did and it felt like she was fighting herself each time she was conscious of it. Physical attraction was easy to understand. There were many people she’d felt attracted to and she didn’t need to explain why or how. It could be something small like someone’s voice, their hands or freckles smattered on their cheeks that interested her. She didn’t have to question that. Malfoy was conventionally attractive, there was no doubt about that. It was ridiculous to watch the way some of the women and men acted around him at the Ministry. Their eyes shining when they spotted him as they held their breath hanging onto every word he said. Malfoy was aware of the effect that he had – it was irritating. She hadn’t thought that he’d have a personality to match that would engage her in a way that no one else had. There were many dates that had gone nowhere – she’d tried dating Muggles and Magical folk alike. Sometimes the sex was good, oftentimes it wasn’t enough. She didn’t equate sex with love and she didn’t feel bad for feeling that way. If she was horny it was only reasonable to find another likeminded individual to scratch that itch. It had been that way with Charlie and it was so easy. She liked fucking him and she hadn’t fallen in love with him. She liked fucking Georgia and had a fondness for her, but she wasn’t in love with her after all these months. Malfoy was the exception to the rule. There was a spark there that she hadn’t felt with anyone else even when she’d tried so hard to look for it. At first she’d thought there was something wrong with her when she saw everyone coupling up. She couldn’t follow the conversations where other people had spoken about how they thought they were falling for someone that they’d been dating. It didn’t make any sense. She had met so many people and this feeling had never been triggered. There was always a bit of excitement or nervousness getting to know someone new, but that novelty wore off quickly and she found herself back at square one. Ginny and Harry had told her that her standards were too high. Luna had said she wasn’t ready because she couldn’t see what was in front of her. She was always perceptive in a way that Hermione had thought were surely the beginnings of insanity until she’d gotten to know her more.

Luna was the complete opposite of Hermione. She was in touch with her emotions and didn’t give much thought to being rational all of the time. Her emotional intelligence and willingness to approach those emotions were traits that Hermione sometimes envied. Luna didn’t support the way Hermione refused to deal with how she felt, but she had never lectured her. There was one afternoon that she spent with Hermione in her flat helping her stopper hangover potions in silence before Hermione had broken it.

‘Thank you, Luna,’ she said softly. ‘But you don’t have to help. I’ve got this.’

‘I know,’ she replied. ‘I want to be here.’

Luna had scourgified the cauldron and put everything away into one of the closets before turning back to face Hermione. ‘It always gets worse before it gets better, Hermione.’

At the time Hermione wasn’t sure if it could get any worse than it already was. As much as she craved escaping there was no actual pleasure in being numb all of the time. There was no pleasure in acting one way when she was feeling the opposite way of what she was portraying. It held up well – no one had thought anything was out of the ordinary. She supposed there was that at the very least. She could only imagine the uproar if Harry found out what she was doing with her spare time. She imagined it would be on the same level as everyone finding out that she fancied Draco Malfoy. She didn’t want to care what people thought about her, but she did care about that to some degree. She had been out of the news for so long that she didn’t want to see herself back on the pages of the Daily Prophet or Witch Weekly. She’d very much kept her personal life private to avoid being hounded. She would sometimes appear in the background of pictures when she attended an event, but she hadn’t granted any interviews regarding her professional life either. There were a lot of pieces of parchment sent out with ‘No comment.’ attached to the owls they sometimes sent her. Dating Malfoy openly, if she ever chose to, would be everywhere and the thought of that was daunting. Suddenly she felt her wand vibrate in her robe signalling that it was time for her to leave for work. She sighed. It was going to be a long day.

----------

Hermione had barely done any work today. She was starting to crave a drink and she had been watching the clock on her desk tick down ever since she’d stepped in. Not even an hour into her shift she’d decided that she was going out tonight. There wasn’t a condition that said she couldn’t continue following the routine that she’d built up. It was fine. It wasn’t really, but at least being dosed with potions meant that she would actually be productive at work. She felt stupid going through her filing cabinet only to read and re-read the same damned sheet with regulations that she had drafted a couple of weeks ago. It was perfect, she didn’t need to edit it. She had already submitted it for review so there really was no point in her looking it over. None of what she was did today made any sense. She placed her forehead on the cool wood of her desk to try to centre herself. Malfoy was in the same building as her and he was probably sitting at his desk doing actual work. She groaned. Maybe she should’ve taken the bloody week off because her focus was worse than she had expected. This was such a waste of time and it was all his fault. She would have gotten over him eventually if he hadn’t pulled that stunt a few days ago. And now he was sitting at the forefront of her mind and she had to decide whether or not to give him a chance. It wasn’t even like she could’ve refused the ultimatum because he was gone by the time she could utter a word. It was so very infuriating not to be in control. Who did he think he was anyway? And why did he –.

Suddenly there was a small familiar tap at her door that she hadn’t heard in months. She wasn’t going to survive this week. The tapping continued.

‘Yes, yes,’ she said, bracing herself. ‘Come in.’

Alice Tolipan pulled the door open with her rosy face beaming as she rushed in holding a few folders with her aubergine robes floating behind her. Her hair was red and fell in soft waves down her back. Her blue eyes were bright as she took Hermione in.

‘Hiya, stranger!’

Hermione’s eyes were worriedly glued to the folders she held against her chest and Alice had followed her gaze.

‘Oh! Don’t worry, these aren’t for you,’ she exhaled like she’d been running up and down the corridor. ‘It’s for Duncan, I reckon he made a mistake somewhere. Draco wasn’t too happy.’

Hermione frowned as she absorbed what Alice had said. So Malfoy had been getting help from Duncan Inglebee this time. She’d wondered if he had reached out to anyone in the department. Duncan was a decent replacement she supposed. He was almost as good as her. Almost.

‘…Are you alright, Hermione? You look a bit peaky there.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry, Alice,’ she apologised, standing to approach her to give her a small hug. ‘I have a lot on my mind. There’s a lot to do.’

‘You’re always busy, busy, busy!’ Alice said, shaking her head. ‘I’ve been dying to come up here for ages because you stopped coming round after you’d finished that project. And then Draco handed off all of the work for this floor to that new girl. I ignore her most of the time. Anyway, I think she’d had a disagreement or something with someone, so I’m baaaack!’

Alice clasped her hands together excitedly ruffling the folders. Hermione wanted to die. Alice suddenly sounded so much like Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown squealing in the dorm rooms. She’d really never seen her look this excited before, but she assumed she was more muted around Malfoy because he would never find this behaviour acceptable.

‘It’s really nice to see you, Alice,’ Hermione responded. ‘You’ve always been lovely.’

‘Oh, I think you’re so lovely,’ Alice exclaimed. ‘You’re so helpful and you always had an answer when I –’

‘I’m sorry for interrupting this little reunion, but you left this behind Alice.’

Hermione froze as she peered behind Alice’s shoulder catching those familiar grey eyes she wanted to avoid. Now she really wanted to die. She should’ve taken the entire damn week off like she’d thought earlier today.

‘Oops, I’m sorry, Draco,’ Alice said, turning to grab the folder that Malfoy was holding out. ‘I’m off to Duncan’s. Bye Hermione, see you soon!’

It felt like it had happened in slow motion as she watched Malfoy step aside to let Alice through with her red hair floating in the air while she raised her hand up to wave goodbye to Hermione disappearing into the corridor behind Malfoy. Her fingers gripped her wand.

Petrificus Totalus!’

Malfoy’s body fell into her office with a thud and she shut her door quickly casting Muffliato before Alice heard any commotion and turned back around. He had face planted into the floor and she wasn’t sorry if it hurt. She hoped his nose was broken. She levitated him into the cushioned seat across from her desk. His nose was bleeding. Her palms were sweaty and her fingers were twitching.

‘Right,’ she started as she sat in her seat catching his eyes. ‘You don’t get to look at me like that.’

If he could be more expressive she didn’t know if it was possible for him to look even more murderous than he already did. And what did it matter? He’d almost done the same thing to her. Tit for tat.

‘I don’t know what you’re up to, Malfoy,’ she hissed. ‘But I have doubts that Alice left that folder behind. I’m not playing this game where you randomly show up in my office every day this week so you can fuck with my head even more than you already have.’

She breathed out as she rested her elbows on her desk and cradled her face in her hands. ‘This is so mad.’

For a few minutes Hermione could only focus on her breathing. She didn’t know what she wanted to say to him. She really didn’t expect him to be idiotic enough to show up at all. She’d stupidly assumed that they would go on as they had until she contacted him Saturday if she chose to. 

‘I’m infuriated with you for more than one reason, but you already knew that. This entire situation is perplexing in all of the worst ways. You don't get to corner me or come to my office like you haven't been ignoring me for six months. You really have some nerve don't you? I could hex you or punch you or even both and I’d still be infuriated.’

She charmed a tissue to clean his face as blood travelled down his chin. She watched it dance around the lower half of his face, the crisp white turning slowly to red as it absorbed his blood.

‘I’ll have you know that kissing me doesn’t just make everything go away. You gave me seven days and I’m taking advantage of that. And if I’m going to think about giving you a proper chance you need to leave me alone until Saturday. I’m going to go out and you aren’t going to follow me. You aren’t going to watch me. You’re going to leave me alone until I tell you otherwise. Those are my conditions. You gave me your bloody deadline and now I’m giving you these conditions. Blink once if you understand and twice if you don’t.’

Malfoy blinked once. She bit the inside of her cheek. ‘You will never repeat what you did to me on Saturday. Do you understand?’

He blinked.

‘I don’t know how to talk to you anymore,’ she admitted, breaking eye contact to focus on the brass doorknob behind him. ‘I want to scream when I think about you. And now you’re sat here in front of me and I don’t know what to say to you.’

She assumed he was cursing her in his head the same way she’d cursed him when she’d been trapped in Blaise’s flat. How could two fully grown adults act so immature and nonsensical? This was so beyond her normal behaviour. It seemed when it came to Malfoy she always acted out of character. It was worrying. The bridge of his nose was starting to swell.

‘You have to promise not to hex me once I release you.’

Malfoy blinked.

It happened very quickly then when she was lifted from her chair to be pressed into the shelves on the far right of her office. She grunted when she felt the wood digging into her back as he held her arms down to her sides. She turned her head away from him lest he try kissing her again.

‘Jesus,’ she breathed. ‘Do you have to always be such a bast–’

‘Yes, I’m always a bastard,’ he hissed. ‘Especially because you’ve just Petrified me at work.’

No harmno foul, remember? How does it feel to be held against your will and spoken to like a child that can’t respond? It's a shame I don't have someone to do my dirty work for me.’

‘Point taken. Consider us even then,’ he said, releasing her arms.

Hermione was still stiff against the shelves.

'You can stop with the face,' he breathed, a puff of his breath hit her cheek. 'I'm not going to do anything.'

'Don't,' she managed to utter when she saw his hand reaching towards her. 

Malfoy paused. ‘It wasn’t so long ago that I had you right here, Hermione.’

She shut her eyes. It was alarming to hear her name fall from him lips again albeit in a different tone from Saturday. ‘This isn’t how you earn my trust back, you prick.’

‘I’m not here to play a game.’ Malfoy reached into his pocket and dangled a silver charm that was in the shape of key with her name engraved on it in minuscule letters. ‘This is how I’ve been tracking you. I'm here to give it back.’

The charm had been from a charm bracelet that her mom had given to her two Christmases ago. She hadn’t worn in it months – it was forgotten somewhere in a jewellery box in her room. It must have fallen off around the last time she’d seen him. She watched it glitter in the light before she raised her hand to take it.

‘I’m even less inclined to trust you,’ she muttered under her breath before putting the charm in her pocket. ‘You could’ve owled it, you know.’

‘And miss having a chance to see you?’

‘Well, now you’ve seen me,’ she said, moving away to put distance between them by sitting back down in her chair.

‘I meant what I said on Saturday.’

‘You have a very strange way of showing it,’ she responded quietly eyeing him.

Malfoy paused before leaning against the corner of her desk. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I see you and everything that I’ve restrained wants to unravel.’

‘Malfoy,’ she sighed. ‘We can’t do this here.’

‘I know.’

‘I’ll see you on Saturday.’

He stared at her and shook the wrinkles out of his robes as he straightened his form. ‘Right.’

‘I can assure you that it’ll be here faster than either of us expect it.’

‘For you, maybe.’

She swallowed. ‘Maybe.’

She couldn’t imagine that the days were going by slowly for him, but it seemed like he was implying just that. It was strange to have him in her office again. The last time he’d been in here his hands were all over her ass while she fumbled with the buttons on his trousers because he’d only had twenty minutes before he had to go to a meeting. She sniffed as she pushed the thought out of her head. She would have cackled in disbelief last Monday if anyone had told her that this was going to happen. His face was as unreadable as ever as he turned away from her. She would’ve never known there was anything lurking beneath the surface. To her knowledge Malfoy had never been an emotional person, but to hear him say that he didn’t know what to do was a little disconcerting. She expected him to have some sort of plan or even an idea on how to navigate through this.

‘Saturday,’ he said, before rubbing his nose and shutting the door softly behind him.

‘Saturday,’ she responded to no one in particular because he was already gone.

----------

Hermione breathed in the warm air of the club. It was unusually busy because of Monday Funday, but she didn’t care – she always took advantage of the cheaper shots. Sometimes Georgia covered her tab and she knew how much that annoyed Hermione, but she seemed to ignore that. Hermione spotted Georgia in the corner of the bar shaking a cocktail shaker. Georgia had her dreads braided to the side which she swung over to rest on her shoulder. She poured the clear liquid into a martini glass and dropped olives into it before pushing it over to someone. Georgia caught her eye and winked while she waved her over. Her eyelids sparkled with gold blended onto them.

‘Hey,’ Hermione said, sitting down on the black bar-stool.

‘You’re alright, yeah?’ Georgia asked. ‘Been ignoring my texts.’

Hermione flushed a little. ‘It wasn’t you…bad weekend.’

Georgia raised an eyebrow. ‘Wanna talk about it?’

Hermione shook her head. She never really wanted to talk about it and very rarely had she opened up to Georgia about what was bothering her. Georgia still didn’t know the exact reason why Hermione drank so much, but she had to suspect that it had to do with another person. Georgia didn't really ever push for more of an explanation, but she was always there if Hermione needed her. She hadn't let the lines blur and Georgia knew Hermione would never become romantically involved; it wasn't something Georgia was looking for anyway. Georgia was fun. Georgia was outgoing. Georgia liked to be free. She was a year or two younger than Hermione and she had to be one of the most impulsive people, besides Harry, that Hermione had ever met. There wasn’t very much that Georgia said no to or questioned. A shot of tequila was pushed towards her. Georgia knew by now that Hermione didn’t need a chaser and didn’t provide any salt or limes.

‘For your bad weekend, babes,’ Georgia smiled.

Hermione raised the glass to cheers her and downed it immediately. It burned a little, but it was smooth. Her mouth watered for more, she felt like she’d been parched all day and no matter what she drank nothing could satisfy the thirst that she had. It had only been two days and Gods had she missed this already. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do without it. As she played with her shot glass she could feel Georgia watching her.

‘Never seen that dress before. Special occasion?’

Hermione scoffed. It wasn’t a special occasion, but she’d wanted to wear something other than the black dress that Malfoy had described. The dress she had on was navy blue and more formfitting that usual. It was cut short clinging to her thighs while the straps rested along her upper arms leaving her shoulders exposed. There wasn’t anywhere else that she would’ve worn this. It was an impulse buy because it had been on sale.

‘Go on then. Give us a little spin,’ Georgia waggled her eyebrows.

This was stupid. Hermione laughed as she stood to give a very quick twirl before sitting back down.

‘It was on sale, alright,’ Hermione said, pushing her frizzy hair back. ‘You’ve always told me to live a little.’

‘Trust me, you’re living right now.’

Hermione let Georgia do her thing as she served the hordes of people that were starting to crowd the bar. She had three shots of vodka to keep her preoccupied as she sat alone and bobbed her head to the beat that was pulsing through her. Hermione was enjoying the familiar buzz that spread through her body. She didn’t have very much running through her head as she watched a group of people dancing and then she felt someone sit down beside her.

‘Really, Granger?’

She stiffened as she turned to her left. Zabini. Of course he would be here. She couldn’t get away from these fucking people.

She took a shot before speaking. ‘Please tell me that I’m so drunk I’ve started hallucinating.’

‘Why the hell are you back here?’

‘Are you here because he asked you to watch me, Zabini?’

‘Draco doesn’t know I’m here,’ he said with finality.

‘You need to leave before you ruin my buzz.’

Zabini studied her. His dark eyes falling down to the dress. She was going to knock him in the face if he made a comment about how he didn’t realize that she was a woman until just then.

‘You look attractive, Granger,’ Blaise finally said. ‘I’m not hitting on you, so don’t run along and try to tattle to Draco. It’s an observation.’

‘Always full of observations, aren’t you?’ She replied, grabbing the second shot and swallowing it down. ‘Why are you here?’

‘I’d hoped that you’d come to your senses and decide to stay away from this place since you can’t seem to hold your liquor. Regardless, I tried because I know old habits die hard.’

‘That still doesn’t explain why,’ she said, rubbing the glass of her last shot. ‘Be quick about it.’

‘The last time we talked you asked me how I’d known about you I wasn’t entirely honest.’

‘And you’re telling me now because?’

‘I was there when the both of you were having a row in my sitting room,’ he stated, his fingers removing the grasp she had on the last remaining shot. He knocked it back.

‘Hey!’

‘You don’t need it.’

Finally she rolled her eyes at him. ‘So tell me. What is it that you need to share with me so badly?’

‘Astoria’s going to contact Rita Skeeter about you.’

‘Wait. What? How do you know this?’

‘I have my sources.’

‘But Malfoy said –’

‘I know what Draco said. Astoria cares, Granger. Do you really think it makes her family look good when it officially comes out that the engagement is over? No one has said anything about this. You and I are the only ones outside of the families that know. You don’t understand how seriously Purebloods take these things. When was the last time you’ve seen the dissolution of a Pureblood marriage or relationship in the papers?’

Hermione was silent.

‘Exactly. It won’t be spread about in the Daily Prophet. People talk, Granger. High society still exists even if they don't rub it in everyone's faces anymore. There's a reason there are still events held by the so called elite that you will never be invited to. The only way for Astoria to salvage her reputation to find herself another prizewinning bachelor is to throw Draco under the bus. It’ll be even more of a scandal when they find out Little Miss Perfect Hermione Granger is the other woman,’ he stated. ‘What will you do then?’

‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘Because you need to know what you’re getting yourself into, Granger. Whatever it is you decide you need to be aware of the consequences because my mate’s about to put everything on the line for a confused little girl who’s pretending alcohol can solve her problems.’

‘I’m not a little girl.’

‘Then stop acting like one.’

Her fingers twitched by her side.

‘You can’t hex me in a Muggle club, Granger.’

‘I’m well aware,’ she remarked. ‘It’s a reflex. You’re starting to annoy me.’

‘I apologise if the truth annoys you,’ he sneered. ‘And before you ask, Draco knows. He’s been trying to negotiate with the Greengrass family and without Lucius backing him financially it’s a bit of a lost cause.’

‘Why hasn’t he told me this himself?’

‘Why do you think? You’re barely talking to him as it is. He wants you to be able to make a decision on your own without thinking about what it means for him. He’s being a git right now because of you.’

‘He wouldn’t be the only one affected by this, Zabini,’ she snapped. ‘I’m pretty sure the best case scenario at the Ministry is that both of us get written up. Worst case scenario Draco’s fired. He doesn't manage me, but we worked together on a project he was in charge of. What does it look like if someone who's technically his subordinate is fucking him on the premises? This is bloody amazing. Social and professional suicide.’

‘Don’t be too sure about that, Granger. Draco's good at covering his tracks.’

‘Well, apparently not good enough for his fiancé to not find out who he was cheating with!’

Hermione caught Georgia’s hazel eyes watching her with Blaise in the distance. She wondered how loud she had to have been for her to suddenly look over. She groaned. Now she felt obligated to explain herself to Georgia and she didn’t have the time to tell her what exactly was wrong because she had to deal with Zabini first. Her day was supposed to improve when she’d gotten here, but the exact opposite was happening which added to her already shit day.

‘Zabini, just wait for me outside.’

Zabini followed her gaze. ‘That’s the Muggle, isn’t it? Merlin, Granger, you’ve done well for yourself. I mean, Draco was blabbering on, but I didn’t know she looked like that.’

‘Oh, sod off.’

Hermione nudged him hard enough to throw his balance off of the bar-stool before Georgia made her way over looking concerned. Hermione tried to smile, but she knew it didn’t reach her eyes.

‘Is that him then?’

Hermione blinked. ‘Him? Who…Oh. No, that’s not him.’

‘You don’t have to lie,’ Georgia said sceptically. ‘Not dressed for a special occasion, eh?’

‘Look, Georgia. I swear that isn’t him. It’s someone that knows him. It’s…complicated.’

‘It’s always complicated. He’s waiting for you.’

Hermione felt about ready for her brain to start denaturing. Zabini couldn’t even follow simple instructions. What the fuck was wrong with everyone? Hermione grabbed Georgia’s hand.

‘That isn’t him, I promise you, Georgia. Just trust me this one time. I’ll explain everything tomorrow.’

Georgia’s thumb rubbed her hand. ‘Alright, yeah.’

‘I’ll text you tomorrow, I promise. Put everything on my tab I’ll cover it later.’

‘It’s covered,’ Georgia said, letting go of her hand.

Hermione sighed. ‘Georgia.’

It was futile to argue with her over this. She put her hand up in thanks as she pushed through several people in the dark and walked towards Zabini who was standing by the exit waiting for her.

‘I said outside, you prat,’ she said, pushing her way past him.

‘I had to see how that played out.’

‘Yeah, well, it’s really no one’s business except for my own.’

‘She doesn’t even know does she?’

‘She wasn’t supposed to know anything and now you’ve shown up and complicated everything. And before you start that bullshit that Malfoy was on about, she still isn’t my girlfriend. She’s my friend and during our involvement that has been crystal clear. Now she thinks I’ve been lying to her about who I’ve been shagging when there hasn’t been anyone. I would be annoyed too if I felt like someone was betraying my trust so blatantly.’

Zabini was quiet as Hermione grabbed the crook of his arm and pulled him into an alleyway to apparate home.

----------

Hermione kicked her heels off at the front door. Zabini was visibly uncomfortable standing in her flat as he took it in. It wasn’t even close to the amount of space he had, but it was decent for her. It was your typical flat, but she’d made modifications by adding a balcony (unseen by Muggles) that she enjoyed using to grow herbs through the summer. Crookshanks liked to be let out at times to bask in the sunlight. Her sitting room was cosy and simple – the walls were painted beige and there was a knitted burgundy throw resting on the faux leather sofa with a plush grey rug under the small glass coffee table.

‘Why is your kitchen in the same area as the sitting room, Granger?’

‘It’s an open concept.’

‘It’s a what?’

‘Zabini, forget it.’

Zabini slowly made his way over to the black sofa glancing over at her standing in the kitchen. He had his eyes squinted as he studied the marble island that divided the kitchen and sitting room with grey cushioned steel stools tucked into it.

Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘It’s easier than trying to find a spot for a dining table. It would offend you more if there was a small dining table shoved into the corner of my sitting room, trust me.’

Zabini scratched the back of his neck. ‘And this is acceptable for you or…’

‘I didn’t bring you over here so you could become my interior designer,’ she responded, placing down two multi-coloured mugs with hot tea as she sat down beside him.

‘I thought you’d at least have wine to keep yourself drunk.’

‘I only drink liquor.’

Zabini caught her gaze. ‘It would be best if you practised some control.’

‘I didn’t bring you over to lecture me either.’

‘Granger, you don’t know how easy it is to read you. I barely know you and even I can tell that you’re struggling to reconcile the idea that emotions don’t always coincide with the facts.’

Hermione held her mug in her hands. ‘You sound like Luna.’

‘Yeah, well, Looney Lovegood has a point then, doesn’t she? You need to sort yourself out before you find yourself in a bad way. It’ll start with the alcohol and then you’ll become dependent on the potions until you start seeking out harsher potions that you can barely live without.’

‘I went two days witho –’

‘Right, two days and by the third day you were already back. Amazing sense of control that.’

‘You don’t actually care what happens to me.’

‘I don’t, but Draco does.’

Right. That’s why she’d brought him over to her flat. Malfoy.

‘How did Astoria find out?’

‘It’s really bothering you, isn’t it?’ he smirked. ‘Can’t figure out how you’d be found out when you tried to be so careful. Except neither of you were careful enough. Astoria’s a clever girl. She managed to get Scarlett Lymphsham to apply for a role as an assistant. It wasn’t sheer luck that she landed in Draco’s department. Scarlett was spying on both of you. When you’re spying and you already know what you’re looking for it becomes easier to put the pieces together.’

Hermione hadn’t heard that name before, but surely she’d had to have seen her somewhere? She knew almost everyone on Malfoy’s floor and she couldn’t remember anyone new being introduced to her.

‘I would’ve noticed her.’

‘You can’t notice someone who doesn’t want to be seen, Granger. She wasn’t brought in to become your friend, she was there to spy for Astoria and stay out of your way.’

None of this was making sense. Astoria knew about her involvement with Malfoy that led to the end of their engagement. She had proof that could get them both slapped with misconduct at work. What was she waiting for? Blaise had said that they were the only two people that knew about the current situation, but that couldn’t be true if Scarlett had been privy to their entanglement. The appropriate charms had always been used whenever they ended up alone. If her spying ran deep enough then it meant she’d followed them along to Muggle London and watched them seemingly look like friends to the outside world. Hermione never touched Malfoy more than she had to and they never kissed in public. Wait. Alice had mentioned there was a new girl who’d gotten into a disagreement. Had she meant Scarlett? And if she did, there had to be a way that Malfoy had found out it was her if he’d sacked her.

‘You said Draco was good at covering his tracks earlier. What did you mean by that?’

Zabini brought the mug to his lips and took a small sip. ‘Why don’t you keep using that brain of yours. You're almost there, Granger. You’re thinking so hard I can almost hear your thoughts.’

There was only one answer that she could think of.

‘Malfoy obliviated her.’

‘There we go.’

This really wasn’t getting any better. Hermione didn’t support obliviation and if he was caught this would get him into more trouble than he was already in. What was wrong with this man?

‘They can trace that back to him,’ Hermione stated. ‘He’s absolutely lost it.’

‘Granger, you don’t need to worry about that. Draco’s a big boy, he can take care of himself. Either way, by the time the little bitch had been obliviated it was too late because Astoria already had what she needed.’

‘So now what? Either Malfoy pays the Greengrasses or Astoria goes to the press? Why is it taking this long for her to just spit everything out to Rita Skeeter?’

‘And that’s the question I was waiting for,’ Zabini said, setting the mug down. ‘The ploy for galleons is just that, a ploy. Astoria knows Draco can’t meet those terms. It’s a distraction. She wants him to choose between you or her. Malfoy has very obviously chosen you, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve agreed to it. If you decide on Saturday that you’ve had enough of him he’s going back to Astoria.’

‘He’s…what?’ Hermione swallowed. ‘But he’s already told his parents? And it’s been months. Surely there has to be an agreement between them. I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.’

‘He broke that agreement on Friday when he’d pressed me to help get you to talk to him.’

Hermione couldn’t follow this anymore. There were too many things that didn’t make sense.

‘The agreement being he couldn’t expose the end of their engagement?’

‘You’re smarter than this.’

‘I don’t understand!’

‘It’s very simple, Granger. Merlin, you have all the pieces of the puzzle. Look, Draco ended things with you very suddenly months ago, but he’s been following you without approaching you? Why? There were so many moments he could’ve ‘run into you’ or made an excuse for review at the Ministry. He did neither of those things. He hadn’t even written you a godforsaken letter. Astoria has been sitting on this for half a year and she’s only now threatening to use it against the both of you.’

Hermione looked at him blankly. She knew all of these things already. He was only rehashing what she knew repeatedly.

‘I thought your stupidity stemmed from being pissed all the time and you’re not even wasted,’ Zabini said under his breath. ‘Draco was free to go as long as he didn’t communicate with you, right. Astoria was willing to let everything go if he didn’t try to reunite with you. You think you’re pissed off? Astoria wants vengeance knowing that a Muggle-born has taken her rightful spot. And not just any Muggle-born, it had to be Hermione Granger. He had a choice to find someone else, who wasn’t you, and live his merry little life. And he’s done otherwise for a shot with you, Granger.’

‘I…’ Hermione faltered. ‘This…this is…’

‘Mental,’ Zabini finished.

She didn’t know how to react. This information was all too much to deal with. Astoria had let Malfoy go as long as he didn’t try to be with her. Malfoy had been free to find another person that he wanted to be with. And now that he’d chosen Hermione Astoria’s act of revenge would be to force Malfoy to see the marriage through with her if Hermione rejected him? All because Astoria hated her? This was more than mental. It was pure insanity.

‘That’s why you don’t fuck around with Pureblood women, they’re massive bitches.’

‘I think this is a little bit more than just being a bitch, Zabini.’

‘You’re right, Astoria's fucking mental,’ Zabini stated. ‘And it’s all because you weren’t there to provide any testimony for the Greengrasses with a character reference letter the way some of you did for a few ex-Death Eaters.’

That was ridiculous. None of them had ever interacted with the Greengrass family outside of Daphne and there wasn’t anything she could’ve done. She hardly saw Daphne through the last few years at Hogwarts. Nothing about her had changed the last time she’d seen her, so what could she have possibly contributed? They wanted her to lie for them? Because they were part of the Sacred Twenty Eight?  When it had come out how much the Greengrass family had been funnelling into Lord Voldemort’s ‘cause’ they had been done for. All of the paperwork held at Gringotts couldn’t be destroyed. The evidence was overwhelming. No one could have saved them from having their properties taken away from them. Hermione didn’t care. They deserved what they got and Astoria was lucky her parents hadn’t ended up in Azkaban for their contribution to the War. They weren’t remorseful, they were only sorry that they’d gotten caught. Three years of being under house arrest and then probation following afterwards was far too lenient of a punishment.

‘That’s what all of this is about? She hates me because I couldn’t save her family from getting what they deserved? None of us knew them!’

‘Doesn’t matter, Granger,’ Zabini said as he stood. ‘I’m just giving you the facts to work with.’

Hermione stared up at him. ‘And what am I supposed to do now?’

‘Stop the drinking. Stop the potions,’ Zabini winked and disapparated loudly.

Fuck.