Several drinks later, Hermione stumbled back to her office, feeling slightly tipsy but much better about the party. She had thankfully managed to convince Ginny to vary her invitation list to include single witches and married couples by insinuating that she might have some latent lesbian tendencies and may be up for a little experimentation, perhaps even a threesome. Ginny seemed a little overly excited about the threesome possibility, but at least it would look more like a real party now and not like some desperate attempt to find her a man.
As luck would have it, Hermione somehow managed to make it all the way to her office without running into her boss, Mr. Baddock. She was quite pleased about it because Mr. Baddock was a real jerk and was definitely no fan of hers. She had used her pull with Kingsley to get her particular division created to better serve the interests of house-elves. It was a more legitimate version of S.P.E.W. without the horrible acronym. She had been most careful when choosing a name to avoid that mistake again. Unfortunately, it fell under the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, which was overseen by Mr. Baddock. He was commonly known as "Bad Ass" Baddock, and he had earned that reputation. He wasn't very happy about all the extra paperwork her new office created. She did like her paperwork. Needless to say, she wasn't his favorite person. So, not running into him while ever so slightly intoxicated was quite lucky.
However, her luck seemed to run out the moment she walked through the door of her office and was met with a very unpleasant greeting. "You're late."
The man's voice came from behind her chair. He was facing the window and didn't even bother to turn around to look at her. That was so typical of him and never ceased to infuriate her. She liked to be acknowledged. This persistent lack of acknowledgment from her boss always brought back unpleasant memories of Potions Class when Professor Snape refused to call on her even though she was frantically waving her hand and was the only one that knew the answer anyway. Her boss didn't say anything else, and while she couldn't exactly see him, he appeared to be watching the rain fall out her window. It had been raining for months now, well, at least it had in her magical window. She had tried to bribe Magical Maintenance for better weather with hand-knitted scarves she had made herself but apparently they hadn't received them yet. Either that or they were ungrateful gits.
Fortunately, her boss's inattentiveness gave her some time to compose herself. While Mr. Baddock, was quite notorious for drinking his lunch, it was something Hermione would most certainly get sacked for. Not that she had had that much to drink. And besides, even if she had, she wasn't one of those annoying drunks who always made a fool of themselves like some people did. She didn't talk excessively like Mr. Weasley. She didn't swear a lot like Mrs. Weasley. She didn't talk too loudly and sing badly like the twins. She didn't laugh excessively like Ginny. She didn't blubber all over people like Harry. She didn't dance like Bill. She didn't throw up like Fleur. She didn't take her clothes off like Charlie. She didn't become overly affectionate like Lavender. And she did not fall on her face like Ron. In fact, she was the only one to survive a Weasley party completely unscathed with her reputation still intact. Surely, she could get through work without doing anything to embarrass herself. Her head was only feeling a little fuzzy after all.
Quickly, she shoved the dreaded invitation list down the front of her robes and tried to smooth down the escaped ringlets of hair that had fallen out of her tight chignon. Willing herself not to sound too drunk and get her sorry self fired, she launched into an excuse for her tardiness. Ordinarily, that would be pretty easy, as her boss had no idea what went on in the office anyway, but she was under the influence. Ever so slight that the influence was.
"I'm sorry, sir. I had a lunch meeting that went rather long," she said in a rush. "We were discussing case file number five hundred forty-two, which as I'm sure you know, has left the department in a real quandary. Seems a member of the Department of Mysteries is involved now. He's our star witness but refuses to speak on the matter because, you know, he's an Unspeakable and they, um, don't speak..." Hermione faltered. Darn. That explanation hadn't really come off the way she had wanted it to. It had sounded much better in her head. She should have just stopped at the case number. Numbers always confused him.
"Sounds like a crap excuse to me, Granger," said the man, turning around in her chair to smirk at her.
Hermione let out the breath she had been holding. "Oh, it's only you," she said, slumping in the chair across from her desk. Could her day get any worse? Getting sacked would have been better than having to put up with him today of all days.
"Is that any way to treat your best client?"
"You are hardly a client. You are a vagrant, a loiterer at best."
"According to your paper work here," said Malfoy, lifting a stack of papers off of her desk, "I am your number one client. So that means I must be the best client. Or does it mean I'm the only one?" He smirked.
There goes that smirk again. That stupid, sexy smirk. Scratch that. She meant to think stupid, annoying smirk. Or stupid, predictable smirk. Something of that nature. Definitely not sexy. Nothing was sexy about Malfoy, except for maybe his gray eyes. No! Not even his eyes. His eyes were... stupid. Hermione put her head in her hands. It was days like this that she wondered if it was all worth it. As she sat on the wrong side of her desk, trying to reign in the impulse to hex the living daylights out of the man sitting across from her, she couldn't help thinking that Ginny may have a point. Her job sucked.
Every week it was the same thing. Malfoy would saunter in and put his feet on her desk like he owned the place. Then he would launch into some outlandish complaint that would require hours of paperwork on her part. He didn't seem to understand, no matter how many times she told him, that it wasn't her job to protect his rights. That she was only there for the house-elves. He would just ignore her and continue to tell her about how his house-elves, who for some unknown reason he had decided to free, no longer ironed his socks correctly or refused to wear clothes that he had spent good money on.
"Why are you wasting my time, Malfoy?"asked Hermione, looking up and sighing.
"Oh, am I bothering you? I thought it was your job to listen to house-elf complaints. This is the House-Elf Complaints Department, is it not?"
"Yes, but as I have told you on numerous occasions, this office is supposed to be for the complaints of house-elves, not their spoiled master."
"Employer," corrected Malfoy. "Well, you should have been more specific when you were naming your department then."
Hermione scowled. "Let's cut to the chase. What horrible, nasty thing did your house-elves do this time? Obviously, they haven't killed you yet."
"My toast was crunchy."
"It's toast. It's supposed to be crunchy," replied Hermione, rolling her eyes. "If you wanted bread, you should have asked for bread."
"And my eggs were messy."
"Did you by chance order them scrambled?"
"Are you using Legilimency on me? I should report you."
"Are we through, Malfoy?" asked Hermione exasperatedly, checking her watch. She had wasted enough time with Ginny at lunch. She didn't think she could deal with him at the moment. She was starting to feel a little funny. Malfoy almost looked attractive to her today. She was definitely feeling off.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Do you have another appointment? Are there imaginary house-elves lined out the door waiting for your services?" asked Malfoy sarcastically. "And here I thought I was your only case. How selfish of me."
Hermione glared at him. The fact that he was her only case was a constant source of irritation to her. "Just because house-elves are shy in nature doesn't mean they don't need my help. I have lots to keep me busy. I make house visits, and I lobby other departments on their behalf. I write a newsletter..."
"Ooh, a newsletter," mocked Malfoy. "You are busy."
"It's very informative and quite useful," replied Hermione stiffly.
"Quite useful indeed," agreed Malfoy. "I do believe I've seen my house-elves use them to start the fires in the hearth. My toasty ass thanks you."
"Speaking of your ass," said Hermione, feeling more brazen than usual. "Get it out of my chair now." Hermione stood up to personally eject him from her chair but sat down just as quickly when her head began to swim. Standing up was not a good idea.
Malfoy raised his eyebrows slightly but only said, "I don't think so. This chair is much more comfortable. That other one you reserve for your second-class clients gives me a pain in the ass."
Hermione was going to make an angry albeit witty retort. She really was. However, the only thing that came out was, "Hiccup!"
Malfoy gave her a funny look and took his feet off of her desk. Leaning forward with a curious look on his face, he asked, "Are you drunk?"
"No. Certainly not," replied Hermione stiffly, careful to enunciate each and every word. "Hiccup!"
"Let me smell your breath."
Hermione shook her head and held her breath.
Malfoy waited. And waited. His smirk getting bigger and bigger.
Finally, Hermione couldn't hold it in any longer and her breath came out in a whoosh.
"Apples?" he questioned curiously.
Mmmm, that was the green drink. Delicious. Without meaning to, Hermione smacked her lips. Recovering, she answered primly, "Yes, I'm very fond of apples."
"And vodka? Are you very fond of that as well?"
Hermione glared at him through slightly bleary eyes. In this moment, Hermione could say without a doubt in her mind that Ginny was absolutely, positively wrong about Malfoy. He hadn't changed at all. He was still the same arrogant asshole he always was. The fact that she was now seeing two of him just to added insult to injury. And even worse, while she still detested the Malfoy on the left, she couldn't help thinking that the Malfoy on the right looked kind of sexy. Downright shaggable to be exact. She refrained from smacking her lips again, but she couldn't help feeling a little tingly. Perhaps, it was just the hardness of the chair she was sitting in. She would order a new one immediately. Her only consolation at the moment was that her hiccups seemed to be gone. Whether it was due to holding her breath or the thought of Malfoy turning her on scaring the crap out of her was debatable.
Scowling at the infuriating man smirking at her, whom she absolutely did not find charming at all, Hermione said, "I think we're through here. I'd say good day, but you would know I wouldn't mean it."
"Aww, trying to get rid of me already? I haven't even told you about my sausage yet," said Malfoy with a smirk.
"I have no interest in your... sausage," said Hermione, stumbling over the word, her face growing hot.
Malfoy was about to say something else that was sure to make her uncomfortable when there was a knock at the door.
"Hermione, it's me. Can I come in?"
Hermione's eyes widened. "Just a minute," she called. "Crap! It's Harry. Quick! You have to hide."
"Why should I hide?" asked Malfoy in annoyance. "I have a legitimate right to be here."
"I'd hardly say it's legitimate," Hermione responded sarcastically, "but it doesn't matter. Harry will jump to the wrong conclusion if he sees you in here. He'll assume things."
"Like what? That we're sleeping together?"
"God no," scoffed Hermione as though that were completely ridiculous. "He'll think you're plotting an overthrow of the Ministry using house-elves or that you are going to Imperius me to help you take over the world and become the next Dark Lord."
"Potter's an idiot. But even so, why wouldn't he think we're sleeping together?" asked Malfoy, sounding a little put off.
"Because that would be preposterous. I should think he knows me better than that," Hermione said snootily. "I do not do stupid things, and that includes you."
"It is universally known that I am a sex god. There is no reason he wouldn't think we were sleeping together. Unless... Are you still a virgin?" Malfoy asked, starting to smirk.
"No! Of course not! I mean, that is none of your business."
"You are still a virgin," he said, fully smirking now. "All of that bitterness makes so much sense now."
"I'll have you know, I have had sex loads of times," Hermione snapped angrily, her cheeks flushing.
"You've probably have only had sex with Weasel," he sneered in response. "That makes you still a virgin in my book."
"Hermione? Are you going to let me in?" Harry asked from outside the door.
"I said just a minute!" she snapped. "See. Now you've made him suspicious."
"You're the one acting suspicious," Malfoy accused. "I'm just sitting here in your nice comfy chair, trying to get my complaint taken care of. You should probably lay off the booze. You're a paranoid drunk. And drinking makes you irrational."
"I am not any type of drunk, particularly not paranoid. If you knew Harry as well as I do, you would know that I am being perfectly logical in my assumptions. You may not be aware of this, but Harry does not like you. Shocking, I know, since you are so charming and handsome and clever and have such a nice ass..." Hermione paused for a minute. That hadn't come out with the right amount of sarcasm. In fact, it had been completely lacking in any sarcasm whatsoever. Hermione shook her head to clear it before continuing on. "Anyway, I may have been a tad bit woozy for a minute there because I haven't had anything to eat all day, but I am perfectly capable of making rational decisions." Green drink or no green drink, Hermione Granger was never irrational.
More banging on the door. "Hermione, are you alright? I'm coming in."
"Get under the desk!"
"No," Malfoy said stubbornly. "You get under the desk. Perhaps you can service me better down there." He raised his eyebrows up and down suggestively.
The door handle rattled, and Hermione panicked. "Oh, I don't have time for this! Just keep quiet, and let me take care of things." She quickly sat down behind her desk, carefully arranged her robes and said, "Come in, Harry. Sorry. I was just in the middle of a difficult case. Have to keep on top of things, you know."
"Sorry to bother you. Ginny owled me that she thought you could use some of the twins' Sobriety Potion. I keep some in my desk in case of emergencies. Dawlish sometimes goes out on a bender and..." Harry trailed off and then paused for a long awkward moment. After a while, he finally said, "Hermione? Why are you sitting on Malfoy?"
Malfoy snorted and Hermione elbowed him in the ribs. "Don't be ridiculous, Harry. Why would I be sitting on Malfoy? Perhaps, you could use some of that potion yourself."
"He has four eyes. I think he can see me, Granger," replied Malfoy sarcastically from underneath her. "You should have put your hair down. Then we could have hid Crabbe and Goyle under here as well."
"Would you shut up and let me take care of this," Hermione hissed.
"Hermione, what exactly is going on here?" demanded Harry.
"Well, you see..."
"Does Malfoy have you under the Imperius Curse?"
Hermione turned and gave Malfoy and "I told you so" smirk. "Yes, and he wants to turn the house-elves into his evil minions too."
"Nice try, sweetheart," said Malfoy, returning the smirk. "But don't you think it's time we told Potter the truth. He did catch us in the act."
"What the bloody hell are you talking about, Malfoy?"
"Come on, Potter. Even you can't be that thick. It's obvious we're sleeping together."
Malfoy smirked at her and grabbed her around the middle in a tight hug. "Oh, Hermione. Aren't you tired of hiding our relationship? If Potter is really your friend, he'll accept us."
Hermione struggled to get free from Malfoy's tight embrace. "I swear, Harry. There is no us. He's just being a prat."
"So, you didn't have sex with him?" Harry asked, looking confused.
"No! I haven't had sex with anyone."
"I knew you were a virgin!" exclaimed Malfoy.
"Since Weasel! I mean Ron! I have not had sex since Ron," she corrected.
"You haven't had sex in five years?" exclaimed Harry incredulously. Malfoy snickered.
"Thanks for that, Harry," said Hermione sarcastically.
"I'm sorry. It's just five years is a bloody long time. I thought Ginny was exaggerating, but now I think she might be right. Desperate times call for desperate measures."
"I am not desperate!"
"Then why are you sitting in his lap? What other reason can there possibly be other than that you are desperate. I want to know the truth, Hermione."
Hermione held her head in shame. "He's my difficult case."
"The one she's on top of," Malfoy added unhelpfully.
"He comes in every week to annoy me with complaints about his house-elves. Our relationship is purely work related."
"That may explain why he is in your office, but it still doesn't explain why you are sitting on his lap."
"When you knocked on the door, I... I panicked," said Hermione sheepishly.
Suddenly understanding, Harry exclaimed exasperatedly, "Merlin, Hermione. You are completely horrible under pressure."
"Yes, she is," agreed Malfoy. "Wait did I just agree with Potter? The world must be coming to an end. What the fuck are you still doing here, Potter. Shouldn't you be out saving us all?"
Harry glared at Malfoy. "I think you can get off his lap now, Hermione."
"Oh, right." Hermione stood up and then quickly sat back down. "You know, I think I could use some of that potion after all," said Hermione in embarrassment.
Harry handed over the potion, and Hermione quickly drank it. The effects were almost immediate. She practically jumped out of Malfoy's lap, her cheeks a bright shade of scarlet. Her mind felt much sharper, but curiously Malfoy still looked rather attractive to her. There must still be a few bugs in the potion the twins created. She would have to owl them later.
"Are you alright now, Hermione?" asked Harry, looking concerned.
"Yes, much better. Thank you."
"Malfoy didn't slip anything in your tea, did he?"
"Sweet mother of Merlin, Potter!" Malfoy exploded. "I'm not trying to become the next Dark Lord. I'm not plotting to overthrow the Ministry. And I have no nefarious plans regarding the house-elves. You are a paranoid bastard."
"Forgive me if I find it a little hard to believe that you are suddenly good now."
"I wouldn't go as far as saying I'm good. Being bad is so much more interesting. But I'm not going to do anything that ends me up in Azkaban if that's what you're worried about."
"If you're not up to anything, then why are you here?"
"Because my house-elves..."
"Cut the crap, Malfoy. Why are you really here?"
"Maybe I like the company," said Malfoy, shrugging his shoulders.
Harry looked between Malfoy and Hermione for a minute as if considering it and then said, "Nice try, Malfoy. Just remember, I have my eye on you." Harry headed for the door, looking back several times. "Hermione, let me know if you need anything."
"I will. Thanks again for the potion. Goodbye, Harry."
Harry looked back one last time and then left, but not before popping back in the doorway to see if he would catch Malfoy doing anything nefarious. The disappointment in not having caught Malfoy at anything was plain on his face. Muttering to himself, Harry walked away again, only to return again for one last look.
"She said goodbye, Potter," said Malfoy, flicking his wand and slamming the door in Harry's face.
"That was rude," said Hermione.
"I'm sorry. Should I have let you do the honors?"
Hermione scowled in reply.
"Now that Potter's finally gone, why don't you show me what you've been hiding there under those dowdy robes, Granger?"
Hermione gave him a disdainful look. "Oh, please, like I haven't heard that line before."
Malfoy rolled his eyes and plucked the invitation list from her robes.
"Hey! Give that back. It's confidential."
"Is that where you hide all of your important papers? Or just the ones you don't want ever touched by human hands."
"So, you're admitting you're inhuman?" Hermione snapped.
"Glad to see your comebacks are no longer dulled by alcohol," said Malfoy, perusing the invitation list interestedly. Finally, he looked up and asked, "Granger, why are all of the names on this list male?"
Hermione tried to snatch it back, but Malfoy held it out of her reach. "None of your business," she huffed.
"Is this a set up? Is this the desperate measure Potter was talking about? A list to get you laid?"
"No, of course not. It's the invitation list for my birthday. Those are my friends."
"All of your friends are eligible bachelors? Not including Longbottom of course."
"There are single witches and married couples listed on the back."
"You sorted your invitation list by relationship status."
"I like to be organized."
"Well, you can put me down as a maybe. Depending who the single witches are of course."
"If I was going to put you down, I would call you a ferret or insult you hair care products."
"Do you really want to go there, my bushy-haired, beaver-toothed friend?"
"We are not friends."
"I notice you're not denying the bushy hair or beaver tooth part of that statement.
"Because the most important thing is that we are not friends."
"We're friendly enough for you to put me on your invitation list. Not to mention, friendly enough for you to sit on my lap."
"Sitting on your lap was a... mistake. A dreadful mistake. And I did not put you on that invitation list. Ginny did. And for your information, you did not make the final cut."
"Is that so?" replied Malfoy, pulling what looked like an invitation out of his pocket. "I kind of thought I did."
Hermione quickly snatched the invitation out of his hands and read it with a scowl on her face. "This isn't from me. I didn't invite you."
"And yet I am invited. Curious."
"It must have gotten mailed on accident," said Hermione. "I distinctly said to take you off the list."
Malfoy leaned in close. Too close. "Is that so?" he asked huskily. "Would you like to uninvite me then?"
Hermione was planning to tell him that she most certainly did wish to uninvite him. She really was. But all that came out was, "Hiccup!"