Hermione Granger’s favorite place in the Ministry of Magic was the overflow wing for the Auror Subdivision on the fourth floor.
Her office was on the second floor, in the chaotic bustle of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It wasn’t that she didn’t love the frequent drop-ins from Harry or Ron. She did. She enjoyed smirking at the gossip delivered by Mandy Brocklehurst each morning, and the distinct rap of Ginny’s knuckles on her door each Monday before she dragged her out to lunch.
Even the bad was familiar. She’d roll her eyes at the constant hoard of memos that swooped to attack her the moment she cracked her door, and she knew to change her sign to “out of office” at the sound of Percy Weasley’s booming voice. She knew not to eat the candy in the breakroom unless she fancied vomiting glitter for a full afternoon (Anthony Goldstein’s idea of a practical joke), and to steer clear of the toilets if Sally Fawcett had been in there anytime within the last hour.
But for all its charms and familiarity, Hermione worked best in silence and stillness. And there was only one place in the entire Ministry that was quiet enough for her to hear the sound of her own breaths.
The first few corridors of the fourth floor were always packed, brimming with oddly dressed visitors and the occasional stampede of nifflers or bowtruckles. But she found her heartbeat quicken in time with the reverberation of her heels whenever she finally rounded the corner of the long stretch of marble that led to the lonely overflow wing.
It held only three offices: one for Gilda Evermonde, who’d been on sick leave for the past year, one for Neville Longbottom, now on the second year of his “sabbatical” at Hogwarts, and one for Draco Malfoy.
Hermione suspected those who made snide remarks about the location of Malfoy’s office had never been inside it. It was so much more spacious and open than her cramped room downstairs. The windows on the east side of his room stretched from ceiling to floor, enchanted to mirror the London skyline. She’d stare out of it for hours, if she could.
He was waiting for her as she slipped inside. She quickly locked the door, cast a nonverbal Silencing charm, and spun around to see why he’d summoned her.
Oh, no. No, no.
“Pity.” His eyes roved over her, lingering on his favorite spots.
Hermione folded her arms tightly across her chest. “Our meeting is in ten minutes.”
“Thirteen, actually.” His eyes slowly drifted up to her face. “What’s the problem?”
“The problem,” she said severely, “is that I’m not about to be late just because you want a quick shag.”
He lifted a lazy brow. She was just about to leave and put an end to his nonsense when he abruptly pushed off his desk and crossed the room, looming over her.
“Who said anything about being late?” His tone was casual, but the way it vibrated in his chest sent a rush of heat down her spine.
“There’s no time.”
“Three minutes to the lift, two to the board room. I believe that gives me”—he lifted his forearm to check his watch—“eight minutes to make you come.”
Fire pooled in her belly. “A bit cocky, are we?”
“I’ve gotten you off in less.”
She frowned. That couldn’t possibly be true. Even with all their secrecy, in hidden rooms, behind locked doors, he always liked to take his time with her.
“At the Christmas Party,” he said, anticipating her. “There was also that time at the ginger’s birthday dinner—”
“If you’re referring to Ginny—”
“—and St. Patrick’s Day above the Leaky Cauldron. The night before the raid in Cairo was close, but I’d still wager I had you screaming by seven and a half.”
She blinked up at him, watching his pupils dilate as he stared down at her. The indignity of losing the argument paled next to her astonishment of his memory. It was almost as if he’d been keeping a list.
Then his fingers found her thigh, and her mind went blank as they skated up, up, up. She shivered as he nipped her earlobe, her neck, his breath hot on her skin, biting her lip to keep quiet.
Damn him and his stupid mouth and his stupid tongue—
One hand dipped to the small of her back, pulling her body flush against his as he captured her lips. She surrendered a moan once his wandering hand found her knickers, digging her fingers into his shoulders as he traced the dampened center seam. She pushed her tongue into his mouth as he cupped her possessively with his palm, grinding against him until he ripped his hand away and grabbed her waist to stumble them back to his desk.
Malfoy shoved his chair aside and cleared the surface with a single swoop, propping her on the wood and reclaiming her mouth before she could squeak.
His lips trailed lower, lower, until her neck tilted back to the ceiling and gravity ceased to exist beyond his arms. Then she was flat on her back, his fingers tearing through the fabric of her knickers, and she would have been angry if his hands weren’t rucking up her skirt, unbuttoning her blouse, tugging the cups of her bra down—
Until he paused, his breath ghosting over her nipples.
She lifted her head to find him staring at her, his eyes black.
“Tell me I’m right.”
She let out a breathy laugh, shaking her head. “Those were one-offs.”
His eyes flickered and his mouth twitched. “One-offs.”
She pushed him to standing and slid to the edge of his desk, reaching to unbuckle him as her thighs bracketed his. “Three isn’t a pattern.”
“No?” He cupped her chin as she worked to free him, tracing her bottom lip with his thumb.
“It’s far too small a sample.” She knew how ridiculous she sounded, but their games were always ridiculous.
“What about our first time, then?”
Her hands froze on his zipper.
In their eight months of shagging, they’d never once spoken about that night. It had been hard and fast on the couch in the Heads’ dormitory and had taken her by complete surprise. One week later, she’d turned in her final N.E.W.T.s, boarded the Hogwarts Express, and refused to let herself spare another passing thought about it.
That had been almost four years ago. Sometimes she wasn’t even sure it had happened.
But sometimes—sometimes he fucked her like he remembered.
“Tell you what, Granger,” he said, his voice low. “You’re going to come before our meeting.”
She blinked up at him through her lashes as he dipped his thumb inside her mouth. He hummed in approval when she sucked, never breaking her gaze as he withdrew his finger and moved her hands from his trousers, unzipping and freeing himself.
He pumped himself a few times before he began rolling her nipples, over and over, until she was jerking and whining low in her throat. He moved his cheek to her temple. “And if I get you off first, you owe me.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed when he drew back, slipping his hand beneath her leg to spread her open. He stared at her mouth, her exposed breasts, then down to her center as he positioned himself at her entrance. She quickly thrust her hips forward to swallow the tip of him and he hissed, fingers digging into her thigh.
She’d get him off first this time. And then he’d owe her.
“Deal,” she snapped. “Enough teasing.”
His eyes shot up to hers, and she caught the ghost of a smirk. His hand moved to grip her neck, his thumb stroking the soft skin of her throat. Her eyelids barely had a moment to flutter before he thrust inside her to the hilt.
She keened, arching her back for him. It was always like this: the pleasure burning, the pressure stealing her air. She took deep breaths and curled her fingers in his shirt while she adjusted to his size.
It was always an adjustment.
He paused, searching her face, and she nodded once she was ready. His eyes never left hers as he slightly withdrew, his hand releasing her neck to slide down her sternum and wind around her back. She propped one hand behind her, ready to move, but then he sharply pulled her into him just as his hips pistoned forward. She cried out, whipping her head back, and he caught her lips in a bruising kiss as he began to move.
It was a punishing pace.
His fingers tangled in her hair as their hips met, both grappling for control. His teeth nipped her lips and neck as she pulled and grabbed at his shoulders. She ripped her leg free when his hand dropped between them to massage her, slamming their bodies together, her heels digging into his arse. He growled and began rolling his hips, his free hand palming her breasts as his forehead pressed against hers. Her clit was growing hotter with each swivel and pinch, so she yanked his fingers to her mouth and sucked on them until he was distracted enough for her to reach down with her free hand and cup his balls.
He grabbed her wrists and wrangled her flat underneath him, pinning her on the desk as his hipbones ground against hers. She whined with each thrust, her arms straining, her pelvis thrashing. The aching spread as his hips rubbed her over and over, searching for the spark.
Her face scrunched and her lip caught between her teeth. She had to hold it in—
“Don’t you dare”—Malfoy gave a particularly hard thrust—“be quiet, Granger.”
His face was rapt; unflinching. Like she’d stolen something and he was determined to fuck it out. Her lips parted, her eyelids fluttering as he panted over her, pulling her higher and higher.
She wanted to give him everything. She wanted him to pin her down and take it from her. She wanted to lose herself until there was nothing left but the way he made her feel.
The thoughts jolted her.
She twisted beneath him, releasing his hips and swinging her legs wide open, her feet scrambling against the side of the wood. He frowned, but then her heels caught the drawer handles on either side of him and she sharply thrust up her hips to meet him. He gasped.
She did it again and he stilled, his jaw tightly clenched. Another tilt of her hips and his head dropped to her chest.
“Fuck—fucking death of me—”
His words swept through her veins, drugging her, egging her on. She rocked forward, impaling herself on his cock while he stood rigid. The newfound friction made her quiver, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
The vice on her left wrist vanished. Her eyes flew open as fingers cupped her face. His tongue dove into her mouth, consuming her, swallowing her until her lungs were drowning in him.
“I want you to come,” he said, his breath ragged on her lips as his hips began pumping again. His hand slid between her legs and she moaned, clutching his forearm while he pinched and circled her, her control slipping like water from her fingers.
He freed her other hand to brace his weight on his desk, hovering above her, his neck dropping to watch as he pounded into her. “You like getting fucked on my desk, Granger?”
Her assent was a strangled cry as she threw her head back, scrabbling at his waist to pull him deeper.
He kissed down her chest, sucking one nipple after the other, his strokes steady and relentless as his fingers strummed her clit. “So beautiful—fucking perfect—”
Her body trembled. “Malfoy, I—I’m—”
“That’s it—watch you come all over my cock—”
She began to scream as her insides ignited, the burning erupting as he rubbed her from the inside out. He wrung out wave after wave from her body until she was whimpering beneath him, his eyes never leaving her face. Gripping her hips, he stood, cursing as he slammed himself home, his thrusts so hard she saw stars.
He collapsed on top of her once he was finally spent, his cock still twitching, her chest pressed against his. All thoughts and reason were lost to the weight of him, full and heavy above and inside her. She willed her legs to wrap around his hips and pulled him closer, locking him deep. She thought she heard him mumble her name.
Then again, she was probably imagining it.
They caught their breath, their pants filling the stillness of the room. Her hands skated up his shoulders, toying with the strands at the back of his neck. Malfoy sighed, his muscles relaxing, his face still buried in her neck. It was dangerous territory, but her mind was too hazy to rebuke her.
She’d lost the match, but she couldn’t be arsed to care. Not with the humming of her skin, or the delicious soreness between her legs. Her heartbeat fluttering in perfect synchrony with his.
“Why’d you leave that night.”
Her fingers froze and her eyes shot open.
That night at Hogwarts, four years ago, she’d scrambled out from underneath him before their sweat had even cooled. She’d snatched her discarded clothes and hobbled back to her room, not bothering to clean up the mess they’d made. She’d avoided him the next morning, and the next evening, and every day afterward until they’d boarded their last train and went their separate ways.
Hermione swallowed and shifted uncomfortably. “You were seeing Astoria Greengrass.”
“A rumor you didn’t believe for one second.” He lifted his head to look at her. “Try again.”
His expression was inscrutable as she studied him, chewing her lip. She wasn’t sure what he wanted to hear. Why it suddenly mattered to him.
“It never would have worked,” she said simply.
His muscles tensed. She barely had a moment to wrap her head around her mistake before he swiftly withdrew, exposing her to the chilly air. She shivered and squeezed her legs together, staring at the ceiling as she listened to him shuffle with his clothes.
Back then, she’d meant to say. It never would have worked back then.
But now—things might be different. If that was even something he wanted.
She’d never let herself assume anything. They got each other off, he was a damn good Auror, and she—enjoyed his company sometimes. Even with his clothes on.
Still, he seemed unhappy with her answer. She should correct herself, shouldn’t she?
Heart racing, she licked her lips, willing herself to say the words.
“We should leave in two minutes.”
“Oh.” Her lungs deflated. Her shaking fingers moved to tug up her bra and button her blouse, her back still flat on his desk. “Could you fetch my wand? I need to clean up.”
He normally vanished the mess for her, but she supposed that was too much to ask.
There was a long silence as he moved about the room, pausing in front of his chair. “No.”
She sat up, wincing at the rush of wetness from her core. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
He straightened his collar, his eyes dark as they skated over her. “I’m collecting my dues. You can have your wand back, but you’re not cleaning up. That’s my price.”
“What are you—?” She moved her mouth wordlessly. “I can’t just walk around like this, Malfoy!”
“With you dripping from me!” Heat flooded her cheeks.
He buttoned his sleeves and shrugged on his outer robes. “Who’s going to know besides the two of us?”
“Everyone between here and the fifth floor! You ruined my knickers, you idiot!”
He put his hand in his pocket and stepped in front of her. Suddenly there was a flash of red lace directly in her eye line, dangling from a long, pale finger. He’d repaired them.
She snatched them away. “You arsehole.”
“You’re not reneging on our little bet, are you?” He gave a mocking pout.
“Happy to oblige you in about”—he glanced at his watch again—“an hour and four. Now get dressed.”
She cursed him violently under her breath as she slid her heels through each leg of her knickers and worked them up her calves. Her eyes widened the moment she hopped off his desk.
“All right there, Granger?”
She could feel him smirking at her.
She shrugged. “It’s your floor,” she said sweetly.
Ignoring him, she pressed her thighs together, yanked up her knickers, and smoothed her skirt in as dignified a manner as she could.
She’d get through this. And she’d make him pay for it later.
“You have thirty seconds.”
She plucked her wand from him without a word and quickly cast a reflection spell to assess the damage. She straightened her necklace, charmed off her smudged lipstick, and banished the love bite blooming on her neck.
As for her hair—she scowled, running her fingers through it. He always ruined her curls beyond all hope of repair. If he had been anyone else, she’d have thought it was on purpose.
With a final flick of her wand, she styled it in a messy bun. She marched out the door, not bothering to cast a backwards glance.
She’d made it precisely ten steps before she froze. It was the same kind of sensation that usually made her run straight for the loo to see if she’d started her monthly. Adrenaline pumped through her veins as she peered down at her legs, at the floor. Her knickers were holding up, thank God—but it was uncomfortable to say the least.
“Shall we?” came a drawl from behind her. She closed her eyes, preparing to toss him a nasty reply—but then his fingers skated across the small of her back, and it came out as a squeak.
Hermione threw his hand off her back and stormed ahead of him, her heels clicking angrily on the marble.
“Prick,” she said under her breath, tapping her foot as she waited for the lift. “Prick, prick, prick.”
The lift opened, and she rushed inside, even though she’d have waited for another one if it was any other day. It was already packed.
She’d just thought she was out of the woods when a pale hand stopped the hinge from closing.
“My apologies,” said Malfoy smoothly. Not a single hair was out of place as he slipped inside, sliding between the grumbling wizards and flustered witches. Moving to the back wall— right next to her.
Her silent cursing intensified.
To her horror, Hermione realized that the lift was descending instead of ascending to Level 5, where Harry had reserved a room for their meeting. But thanks to Malfoy, being late was now the least of her problems.
She was squirming relentlessly by the time they stopped on Level 2. Her knickers were soaked through, her thighs sticky and wet. She could feel them chafing as they rubbed together.
A wizard coughed to her left, and she surreptitiously glanced at Malfoy.
She could vanish it all when he wasn’t watching. As long as her spell was nonverbal, he’d be none the wiser.
Her fingers glided to her waistband. She had just gripped the handle of her wand when long fingers locked around her wrist.
“No cheating,” Malfoy whispered, his breath ghosting across her ear.
She yanked her arm free and huffed, shifting from one leg to another to move away from him. The woman next to her turned to glare at her.
The lift finally opened on Level 1. What was left of the crowd piled out, only to be replaced by another small group. And by small, they were literally so—the elevator had been invaded by a group of children.
They shrieked and giggled and stomped as they tumbled into the lift. One boy with smeared glasses lit up all the buttons with his elbow while Hermione looked on in horror. A harried-looking witch rushed inside in the nick of time.
“Sorry,” she wheezed to Malfoy and Hermione. “We’re having a field trip—fingers out of your nose, Sam! ” She spun back to them, eyeing them appraisingly. “There’s lots of couples here at the Ministry, aren’t there? Well, if I have any advice, it’s to wait until you’re fifty before you have children.”
Mercifully, they got off on Level 2.
Malfoy smirked as Hermione stared determinedly ahead, fully aware how red her face was.
“What say you, darling? Fancy a couple of sprogs?”
He laughed. “Not a chance.”
She scowled and stepped to the right, away from him. She should have known better, because he pounced the moment she'd put as much space between them as possible.
“Malfoy, people will see!”
He caged her against the back wall, ignoring her. “You know what I find positively titillating?”
The bell dinged pleasantly, and Draco lazily spun to face the opening lift doors. If anyone had been standing there to greet them, they would have looked like the picture of polite, albeit a bit close-standing colleagues.
And they would have been, were it not for the fact that Malfoy’s hand—his hand was gently tugging up the material of her skirt, exposing the bare skin of her arse to the back wall. Hermione stared bug-eyed at the doors until they closed.
“What are yoummmph—”
He consumed her, swallowing her objections. He was pinning her against the wall, kissing her dizzy, and somehow he was hard again, and they really shouldn’t—
She gasped as his hand slipped between her thighs, his fingers shoving her knickers aside to run through her drenched folds. He let out a strangled groan.
His free hand grasped her throat as his mouth pulled away, moving to nip along her jaw. It was her turn to groan as he pushed deeper, slipping one, two fingers inside her, his thumb coming to circle her clit. She was still sore and sensitive and it was too much and not enough—
“That’s my come in your knickers, Granger. And you know what that means?”
The bell dinged, and he abruptly shoved her into the corner, stepping backward and standing tall so his shoulders blocked her entirely from view.
His fingers were still inside her.
“As you can see from the report, domestic terrorism is clearly on the decline,” he drawled. He continued to thumb her, his pupils black and bottomless. “Over the last five years, we’ve seen the most activity in Eastern Europe”—his fingers curled, and her knees trembled—“even though it ranks eighth in our expenditures.”
The doors closed.
He was up against her in a blink, his fingers still rubbing, his thumb still circling as he stared down at her.
She moaned and clutched his shoulders, her head lolling as he pumped into her. It never was this easy for her, but her body was alight, her nipples tight and clit aching—
“It means that you’re mine.”
Her lips parted in a wail. Her mind went blank as she clenched around his fingers, shaking as her orgasm tore through her body. He drew it out until she was boneless against him, her fingers tangled in his robes.
He gently removed his hand and pulled down her skirt, one hand on her hip, steadying her.
Her legs gradually returned to her, and she slowly blinked up at him. Earlier, he’d almost been baring his teeth. She recognized that look. But now—now he was looking down at her with something unfamiliar. It made her stomach flutter. “Malfoy—”
“Shhh.” He slipped his fingers inside her mouth.
It tasted like them—tangy and bitter and sweet. And Merlin help her, she sucked. Hollowing out her cheeks and gliding her tongue, watching him watch her through hooded eyes.
“Fuck,” he breathed.
The bell dinged, and they both turned to find Marla from accounting staring at them with wide eyes.
Hermione abruptly spit out his fingers, shoving him away. “Urgh!” She threw up her hands and stormed out of the lift, her cheeks burning white-hot.
“You’re late,” said Harry, glancing at the clock on the wall.
“Sorry, Harry.” She wiped a sweaty palm on her skirt. I was just—”
“Helping me fix some numbers in the report.” Malfoy moved around her, dropping a thick volume of parchment on the table in front of Harry. “Davies miscalculated some of last year’s financials.” He flicked his wand, and updated copies materialized on the tables.
“Good afternoon to you, too,” Roger grumbled.
Flustered, Hermione grabbed the nearest open seat, her heart still thumping in her chest. She let out a quick breath of relief when Malfoy headed to the opposite side of the room. He pulled out the chair with a flourish and took a seat, his eyes locked on hers.
Of course he looked perfectly unruffled.
“Hey, Ron.” She gave him a weak smile.
He leaned in. “Hermione, your hair’s a bit...” Ron gestured a large halo around his head.
“Oh.” She could feel the tips of her ears burn as she quickly brandished her wand, fixing it. “Thanks. I was in a bit of a hurry.”
“Love that skirt,” said Angelina, who was sitting on her other side. “Madam Malkins’?”
“A little focus, please?” Harry pushed up his glasses, looking sternly at them over the bridge of his nose.
“Sorry,” Hermione mouthed. She shared a knowing glance with Ron, trying to suppress her smile. It was only Harry’s second meeting as Junior Head of the Auror Department—a position created by Elizabeth Vance to help lighten her load. Hermione couldn’t have been prouder of him.
“As soon as Granger and Weasley finish making eyes at each other, I’d like to bring your attention to another error on page 19,” said Malfoy coolly.
Hermione jerked her head to glare at him.
“In Weasley’s section.”
Ron’s neck bloomed a rich shade of puce.
An hour and a half in, they were only halfway finished with the report, and Hermione was ready to tear her hair out. Malfoy was never shy about speaking up in meetings, but he was being far more combative than usual. Of the thirty or so Aurors at their meeting, he’d raised at least half of the questions or concerns. Even Harry, who’d turned out to be an unexpected defender of Malfoy’s at the Ministry, looked annoyed.
Worse yet— for Hermione, anyway—the meeting had rapidly devolved into a thinly veiled competition between Malfoy and Ron.
From the moment he’d joined the Auror department, Malfoy had made it clear just how much he detested Ron Weasley. All of his old weapons from their old school days—his vicious sneer, his lashing tongue—were reserved for Ron alone. And of course the feeling was mutual. When they were still dating, it had taken all of Hermione’s willpower not to cast a Muffling Charm anytime Ron would go on one of his Malfoy rants.
Hermione suspected their antagonism had played a role in Elizabeth’s decision to reassign Draco from France to Ukraine, since the networks there had virtually no overlap with Ron’s territory. But a consequence was that Hermione had to work closely with Malfoy over the past eighteen months, as several blood supremacist groups had active branches in both Egypt and Ukraine.
At least they worked well together. In more than one respect.
Her mood soured further as she listened to Ron’s voice rise in protest. Malfoy had just challenged his analysis of Dark Wizard activity in Ireland over the last year.
She should have known Malfoy’s comment in the elevator was part of this stupid pissing contest. But no: she just had to melt and bat her lashes at him like a silly schoolgirl.
She narrowed her gaze in his direction. Malfoy was reclining in his chair, his right ankle on his left knee, thumbing through his report as he tossed out one challenge after another. Harry frowned down at the pages, trying to keep up; Ron was sputtering next to her. Hermione rolled her eyes.
She didn’t think that Malfoy had first pursued her to one-up Ron. There had already been plenty of tension between them from—before. But the first time he’d pinned her against his desk, a look of triumph in his eyes, had been when she told him she’d broken up with Ron.
Since then, he’d asked her about Ron. Once or twice.
He’d asked her why she’d ended things. She’d told him they’d fallen into a relationship simply because it was expected. That neither of them had what the other needed to be happy.
The part she hadn’t told him was that she’d had a panic attack the morning she found Ron’s grandmother’s engagement ring tucked in his sock drawer. That sex with Ron had left her cold because she couldn’t stop comparing it to him.
He’d asked her if Ron wanted her back. She’d responded with the truth, which was that he did. She’d read and written countless letters, and cried herself sick so many times she was sure her tear ducts were permanently damaged. But she’d held strong, insisting they were better off as friends. And Ron—imperfect, wounded, loyal Ron—had said that having her in his life at all was better than the alternative.
“Earth to Hermione.”
She startled to find the entire room staring at her.
“Egypt?” Harry asked, brandishing his report.
She managed a quick nod. “Right.”
At least she was well-prepared. Hermione crisply reviewed her summary, discussing the highlights and limitations on each page, confident that a vast majority of her numbers were impeccable and her sources robust. Harry tried to stay impassive, but she caught him mouthing “excellent” once or twice. His stoicism was an almost comical contrast to Ron, who was nodding so vigorously she actually broke off once to make sure he was alright.
Malfoy, on the other hand, was completely silent. But she could feel him watching her.
When they finally reached the end of her section, a couple of hands shot in the air—Ron’s and Dean Thomas’. Hermione nodded at Ron first.
“There was something we glossed over in my section, but I wanted to wait until you were finished.” Ron’s eyes were bright as he looked up at her. “Did you read the transcript of my interview with Odius Kelly?”
Hermione opened her mouth, but was cut off by a low scoff.
“I interrogated him last month.” Ron flipped back a few pages in his report, oblivious. “I sent you a copy.”
“Yes, I remember. But—”
“He has ties to at least six pureblood terrorist groups, including one in Egypt. I’ve listed them on page 22.”
A low chuckle from across the room, and Ron’s shoulders tensed. Harry sighed.
“I assume you’re referring to Kelly’s claim of an Abna Nuqi sleeper cell in Scotland.” Malfoy’s voice was thick with disdain.
Ron’s fist curled on the table. “Yes, I am. What of it?”
“Is this the ‘intelligence’ he gave after being kept awake for 38 hours straight?”
Hermione could feel Ron boiling next to her as Malfoy’s eyes flickered to meet hers. She glared at him and tore them away.
“Kelly’s interview was certainly interesting, Ron. But I still think we should wait for his Veritaserum motion to pass—”
“And risk something happening before then?” Ron turned to Harry, who was rubbing his temple. “Harry—I think we should consider a special assignment so Hermione and I can look into this. Effective immediately.”
Hermione swallowed. “Ron, I’m not sure that’s the best—”
“I’ll ask Elizabeth,” said Harry. “But I think she’ll agree with Hermione.”
The tips of Ron’s ears began to burn red. “Well, we can’t just ignore it for months while the Wizengamot drags their feet—”
“Here’s a thought, Weasley,” came a cold voice. “How about you focus on your actual job instead of making pathetic excuses to force your company on your ex-girlfriend?”
The room went dead silent. Hermione froze, uncertain if she’d heard him correctly. Perhaps it had been a terrible figment of her imagination.
Ron turned a richer shade of red than she’d ever seen him.
“Completely lost the plot, fucking ferret,” he snarled. Hermione jumped as he shoved back his chair. “Never should have hired your foul, arrogant, pasty—” Ron stormed out into the hallway, leaving the room in an even more awkward silence than before.
Harry turned to glower at Malfoy, his expression murderous. “That was completely out of line.”
Malfoy’s mouth opened for a moment before he settled on a frigid smile. “Apologies. I’ll just see myself out.”
“Do that,” Harry snapped.
In a few long strides, Malfoy was gone. Hermione stared at the empty doorway, still reeling.
“Meeting dismissed—we’ll have to finish next week.” Harry pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look for my owl.”
The air returned to the room as voices began murmuring and chairs began dragging. Angelina and Alicia exchanged knowing glances; Oliver Wood hid his smirk behind a long sip of tea. Hermione ducked her head and quickly gathered her things, refusing to make eye contact with any of them.
She halted halfway to the door. Harry waved her over, gesturing for her to stay. Her stomach twisted, but she nodded and forced a smile.
“Well, that was something,” said Harry, once the last of the stragglers had filed out.
Hermione hummed her agreement, not trusting herself to speak.
“Right.” His mouth was grim. “I’ll handle Ron. You go take care of Malfoy.”
“Why would I…” She cleared her throat. “I have no idea what got into him, Harry. Your guess is as good as mine.”
He gave her a searching look. “Everybody knows, Hermione.” Her eye twitched, a slow burning wave of mortification sweeping over her. “Everyone.”
“I’m not angry with you. I am, however, annoyed you thought I was stupid enough not to notice.”
Hermione swallowed. “Harry, I didn’t—”
“His sulking has been bad enough, but if he starts another row, I will write him up. I’ll expect you both to schedule an appointment with me by the end of the week.”
Hermione blinked stupidly at him.
“Go .” He shooed her out.
“Right. I’ll just...” Having no better option, she spun on her heel and began walking away.
“Cast a silencing charm when you patch things up,” Harry called after her. “There are rules around here, you know—”
She waved him off as she briskly turned the corner, certain her face was as red as Ron’s.
Malfoy was waiting for her in his office, leaning on his desk as she stormed inside. She slammed the door and cast a silencing charm with an angry jab of her wand.
“What in the fresh hell was that about?” she hissed, spinning to face him. “You acted like a complete prick back there. Harry knows, Malfoy, and if the rest of the department didn’t, they certainly do now. Now all three of us have to mop up this mess. And don’t even get me started on Ron—”
“—behaving completely irresponsible and childish—” She broke off. “You what ?”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, running his fingers through his hair. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it. You had no right—”
“I’ll apologize to Weasley.” Malfoy licked his lips, looking slightly nauseous. “I’ll need to give it a few days.”
Hermione wavered, torn between her anger and astonishment. “I—thank you.”
A long pause.
“I’m sure you meant well”—she wasn’t, actually—“but I can handle Ron myself. I don’t need you jumping in on my behalf.”
“I know. It won’t happen again.”
“Good.” Frowning, she shifted her weight. She’d expected far more resistance from him. “Look, Malfoy. I’m not sure what set you off today—”
“Come to dinner.”
She blinked. “Sorry?”
“Dinner. Tonight.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, suddenly fascinated by his loafers. “There’s a new place in Westminster. You like French food, don’t you?”
“I thought so. What about seven?”
He shrugged with feigned indifference, and Hermione stared at him. She could hear her heartbeat in the silence. Her brain was clicking, spinning out impossible theories.
“Are you telling me that you sabotaged a department meeting and made me walk around the Ministry leaking come because you—wanted to go to dinner with me?”
Malfoy went very still, like a rabbit in the headlights. She watched his fists clench, a flush spreading across his cheeks. Her eyes widened.
It was ludicrous… and yet.
The emotions she’d kept carefully locked away whimpered, stirring in her chest. She’d been silencing them for months now. Years, possibly.
Malfoy opened his mouth. Then his jaw tightened and he snapped it closed, almost angry with himself.
And then she knew. He just didn’t know how to ask.
The box inside her rattled and tipped over, flooding her with warmth and yearning and a thousand things she’d never let herself name.
She began to laugh. She wasn’t sure how it started, but once she did, it was impossible to stop. Malfoy paled as he watched her, which only made her laugh harder.
“What’s so funny?”
“Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting...”
She burst into a fresh round of giggles, doubling over. By the time she collected herself, she found him staring at her coldly. “If you’re finished, feel free to see yourself out.”
“It was a stupid idea.” He abruptly strode to his window, turning his back on her.
Her lips parted, and the butterflies in her stomach sank. “Draco.”
His spine stiffened. She never called him by his given name unless he was inside her. Even those few times had been mistakes—a handful of tokens he’d pried from her lips.
He remained frozen before the glass. She looked past him, over his shoulder.
The skyline was blanketed by a thick, oppressive fog. A visitor might have called it miserable. But a Londoner would point out the fragile gold tendrils on the horizon.
Her legs propelled her forward. “Draco, please look at me.”
He finally turned, and her breath caught in her throat. His expression told her she could break him if she wasn’t careful enough.
“Draco,” she whispered. She stepped up to him, cradling his face in her hands and skating her fingers across his cheekbones. Slowly, his hands lifted, coming to rest on her hips. Raising on her tiptoes, she kissed his mouth, his cheeks, his forehead. His eyes flickered, burning into her.
She smiled at him when she pulled away. “Take me to dinner. And then to bed.”
His mouth remained hard. “Just tonight, then?”
“However many nights you’d like. And mornings, too.” She looked down as she placed her hands over his, interlacing their fingers. “Of course you don’t have to stay over if you don’t want to. To be fair, Crookshanks hates men—”
Draco tugged her to his chest, threading his fingers through her hair as he kissed her, and kissed her. In the space beyond his arms, sunlight glittered through the gray.