Regulus idly ran a hand down the front of his dark blue trench coat before turning towards the appropriate street cobbled street. He was not in the best mood, a fact that all of the many passers-by would have been able to discern from his sharp expression and no-nonsense walk. He would have been a touch happier if the day had been colder, Regulus preferred wearing heavier garments. He felt smarter in cloaks rather than jackets, they made him feel more formal, more confident. A small voice had earlier questioned his reasoning, suggesting that the preference was an unwelcome hangover from his Death Eater days, which only made him more maudlin.

Regulus glanced up to check the street signs on the unfamiliar road only to see he had gone too far. Cursing under his breath he turned back, unsettling a group of pigeons who took off with a dirty flutter of wings that he wholly ignored, his mother would have called such a thing a bad omen. Regulus didn't have much patience for such things, but on this occasion, she would have been wholly right, it was highly likely that his errand would finish in tragedy, of a kind at least.

He was on his way to the Ministry, which, given his life over the last few months, was nothing unusual. However, what was decidedly out of the ordinary was that the normal entrance - the dignified telephone box - was closed. 'Shut for Essential Maintenance' or so the lopsided sign had said. Regulus had been rerooted to Whitehall by an ancient looking wizard with the broadest Irish accent he had ever heard. He'd had to lean in twice and ask the man to repeat what he said, and even now he hoped to Merlin he was bloody wrong about what was to come.

It could have been his way out he realised, it was enough of a reason to sack off the fool's errand he was sending himself on, but Regulus - for some unfathomable reason - persisted.

As Regulus turned another corner he finally found what he was looking for. Down a dirty looking side street there was a line of magical folk moving quickly into what was marked as 'Public Toilets'. Regulus swallowed down the stab of disgust that emerged when his worst fears were realised and cut through the meandering Muggles that were no doubt under the effects of a substantial line of Repealing Charms set at the entrance to the street.

He joined the back of the queue, and when the man in front of him turned and politely raised his hat, he nodded his head in acknowledgement. There, he could be civil, seemingly never when it mattered, but still.

The line crept forward slowly, but Regulus was far from impatient to either get to the front or his final destination. The reason he had hung this entire visit on was flimsy at best, and he was filled with a profound suspicion that if he couldn't convince himself of his motives he almost no chance of convincing her.

All too soon the graffiti besmirched cubicle door swung closed behind him with a squeak of rusty hinges and Regulus felt his lip curl into a sneer as he regarded the far from sanitary toilet bowl. Had the entire world gone stark raving mad since his almost death? From nowhere the image of his father being told he had to enter this way filled his mind, and Regulus had to almost swallow his hand to keep himself from laughing out loud. Orion Black would have killed on the spot at the very mention of such a thing.

Regulus peered over the edge of the seat like a child who had been presented with a plate full of greens before raising his eyes to the heavens - or in this case the poorly painted, and somehow chewing gum caked, ceiling of a public restroom - and placed his feet one by one into the water. Regulus shuddered. He was sure that someone, somewhere, would have found the very idea of this hilarious. He was disgusted.

One look at the flusher hanging from the cistern made him lament the fact he hadn't brought gloves, but he hesitated less this time, already worried about what the water was doing to his shoes. He held his breath, shut his eyes and pulled.

-/-/-/-

Regulus joined the masses heading towards the green-tinged atrium, and after several hesitant steps, he was pleased to discover that there was no hideous squelching sound when he moved, his feet were bone dry. Maybe the Ministry could do something right every now and again?

He made little eye contact as stalked towards the lifts, not many were aware of his return to the land of the living, and so far the Minister seemed to be dragging his feet over the final documents that would give him full legal status. He had been granted an audience with Kingsley Shacklebolt for a weeks time and had reluctantly conceded that it was probably for the best that he kept his head down until then.

Regulus noticed a few people that he had seen on his various visits, he gave them the smallest form of acknowledgement he could before continuing on his way. For once he did not need to sign in. Well, strictly speaking, everyone should sign in, but he had never been everyone a day in his life.

He stopped at the lifts and quickly withdrew a piece of parchment in his pocket, reconfirming to himself the floor that he needed. Regulus was sure he had it committed to memory by now, but he was feeling more unsettled than usual, and the ritual that had begun that morning of pulling out the paper square and seeing her name next to a role and floor number calmed him. For once he was not there to meet with another of the red tape wilding jobsworths that had made his life miserably dull. Everyone he had encountered had sought to make his life difficult with their unreserved exploitation of their tiny bit of power.

Today he had a very different quarry.

The lift to the right of him dinged and Regulus stepped back to allow an elderly witch to enter before him, gaining him a pat on the arm and a warm smile, before he slid in towards the back and pressed the required button.

Regulus had expressed his desire to head to the Ministry that morning over the breakfast table at the manor. Draco was once again absent and Narcissa had been fretting. He wasn't sure why he had said anything to her at all about his planned visit, maybe it was to fill the silence, maybe it was to divert her attention from her sons continuing decline. Whatever his reason it had earned him a raised eyebrow that he had done his best to ignore, even when her mouth quirked into a knowing smile.

Regulus unconsciously ran a hand through his floppy hair as the lift door opened and a cloud of brightly coloured memos flew in. He had no way of knowing for sure if Hermione would be in her Department that morning, but he had decided against sending an owl ahead. Regulus had a knowing feeling in his gut that she might have taken the option to ignore it or to reply telling him to bugger off. While he had already barged into her home during their short acquiesce, at that time she hadn't sent a letter expressly forbidding it.

The lift opened again, and everyone shifted to allow a swell of loud Ministry workers to board. Regulus pulled on the ends of sleeves and debated taking off his mac. It was cold enough inside to justify wearing it, and he had gone without a tailored coat underneath. He didn't feel comfortable meeting Hermione in his shirt sleeves, and given his appearance to her up to now, if he did so she would likely think he had left the house in some urgency, possibly to impart bad news or… No, he said to himself, shutting up his internal rambling, the mac would stay.

Regulus' head fell back as he ground his teeth to gain some composure. He needed to get himself under control lest he ended up the same way he had after their last meeting, frustrated and confused. Bumping into Hermione had been an unmitigated disaster, and he had been entirely unprepared for it. The last time Regulus had laid eyes on her, Hermione had been walking through the Hogwarts gates after he had insisted on walking her back to school. He had turned to leave as the clanging metal rang out behind her, but unbeknownst to Hermione, Regulus had turned back as she continued down the path, stepping to the right and lurking by the wall until her bouncing curls had disappeared entirely from view.

After the day in at Spinner's End he had resolved himself to spend more time with her and had thought about inviting her to the manor until he had his own accommodation. In fact, he had thought it was more appropriate that she come there, as they would have a chaperone. That was until Draco had told him what had transpired there, that and the article in the Prophet had put a damper on his plans. He was beginning to realise that - rather arrogantly - he had assumed he would have more time, what with Hermione still being at school and planning to live with another witch come the end of term. As they had stood only feet apart in Diagon Alley, Regulus had watched her face with rapt attention. Hermione had been flustered, yes, but not like she had been on seeing him before. Not even when he had emerged in her bedroom - bloody, and soaked - had she looked at him like she wished he wasn't there. But she had, in the Alley, she looked uncomfortable, unsure and desperate to flee. Regulus had realised he would rather suffer days of her prickly, passionate anger than a single moment of her indifference.

Then, before he could say anything of import or otherwise, Hermione was swept away. Regulus had been halfway through a plan to ask to escort her home and then, much more politely than his last time, to ask to come in and talk, to have a drink. Once they were settled, he could have tried to explain a few things. Black's do not explain, his mother's voice chimed in his mind and Regulus shut his eyes. The teachings of Walburga Black would be spectacularly unhelpful to him today.

Finally, the lift rang out in a decidedly too chipper tone and announced his required floor. Regulus glided through the mass of assembled bodies and stepped into the much colder air of the corridor, checking the signage above his head before continuing on his way.

He never got the chance to act out his hastily cobbled together plan. Regulus had wanted to interrupt the witch that had appeared, had wanted to insist in his most dominant tone that Hermione was exceptionally safe with him, maybe not from him, but with him certainly. But he had realised Hermione wouldn't have welcome his assumption. In any case, Regulus decided on balance that he could not be too angry with Hermione's would be saviour. It hadn't taken him long to realise that he recognised Finola, the stern looking blonde had been a couple of years above him at school. It had been a hint, a taste, enough to excite him for the hunt.

When serving the Dark Lord Regulus' primary role - apart from being the Pureblood poster boy for the forces of darkness - was as a tracker. Not in the same sense as Scabior or one of the so-called band of 'Snatchers' had been, no, his skills, even if he did say so himself, were a great deal more refined than that. To Regulus' estimation anyone could find something, or someone, given all the details of who or what the were. Regulus was called in when all they had to go on was a sea of blank space and hypothesis. He excelled at research, at thinking outside of the box and producing results.

Not every skill he had honed under the servitude of the Mark had been undividedly useless.

Regulus had eventually returned to the manor after his all too brief encounter with Hermione and directed a few subtle words of inquiry in Draco's ear. It hadn't taken long at all to uncover that she was undertaking an internship. Draco had heard it from Blaise, who had heard it from Theo, who'd had it in a letter from Pansy.

He knew that he needed to act quicker this time and not only was time of the essence, but the circumstances were also in his favour. Face to face was the only way forward, and he couldn't have guaranteed that McGonagall would grant an audience with Hermione after her return to school. He would have said that Black's didn't need luck, but he was grateful for the timing, even if he would never have admitted so out loud.

Regulus' feet slowed as he reached a dingy, bleak corner of the floor, with flat lighting and mismatched furniture that looked as if it had been on the front lines in the last war, and possibly the first before that. Bashed wooden doors were hanging off cupboards at awkward angles, and the carpet encouraged him to establish his previous pace less he ended up stuck to it.

In the veritable sea of beige mediocrity, it didn't take long to find her; she stuck out against the tedious backdrop harshly. An uncovered gem against polished glass.

There were few occupied desks in the small Department, and as if guided by the oldest magic, as Regulus moved to avoid and interloping herd of fluttering memos, Hermione stretched back from a seat two rows in front of him, reaching her slim arms above her head and rolling her neck from side to side.

Regulus approached her quietly having not planned this far ahead. Logic and strict teaching of manners told him to seek out her head of Department and request a moment of Hermione's time. Given the look Finola had given him in the Alley he decided against it.

A moment later he was at the side of her as she worked, bent over a stack of parchments. Regulus, acting on instinct, made to lean casually against the file cabinet next to her, but one look at the questionable grease stains lining its surface and he reconsidered.

Hermione didn't react to him being there at all which gave him a couple of extra moments. He thought about speaking to her more softly than he had before, asking about her, enquiring if she was well, how her work was going. As his mind whirred he glanced more carefully over her shoulder and saw what she was working on - furious notes in various inks, all related to a new addendum on The House Elf Bill.

"This is you, voice for the voiceless?" he snarked. Well, it was not exactly what he had planned, but it was done now so he would have to make the best of it.

Hermione stilled for a moment, her fingers gripping her neat quill so tightly that her knuckles whitened but when she turned around her eyes were devoid of any reaction. "Do they teach you such a scornful tone at home?" she inquired with icy politeness and Regulus tilted his head. It was an almost bow, the kind he always gave her when they conversed. Manners dictated that she be appropriately greeted, but he knew Hermione well enough to know that on a good day a formal bow would be met with sarcasm, on a bad day, like that day, it could well be met with hexes.

"Yes, actually," he replied crisply and shook off the earlier thought that had darted through his mind prompting him to look for a chair. He was rather enjoying seeing her look up at him. Her wide brown eyes were pinched in displeasure, and her sharp tongue was pressed against the side of her mouth to stop herself from taking him down a peg or three.

"To what," she began, fighting to keep her voice steady, "do I owe the pleasure?"

He smirked at her. "The pleasure is all mine, Miss Granger."

Hermione dramatically rolled her eyes and relief washed over him, he was on much better footing now. "I wanted to speak to you about something, about a few things actually," he explained vaguely.

"Yes?" Hermione pressed, feigning indifference even as she turned her chair to face him better.

"We did not get a chance to speak the other night; you seemed in a hurry." His words were semi accusing in tone but if Hermione noticed she wasn't rising to it.

She shrugged. Not an artful, coy little lift of her shoulders with an accompanying affected sigh. She lifted her shoulders - swathed in a too big robe - almost up to her ears as she smiled unaffectedly.

"If it was urgent you could have sought me out at Hogwarts," she replied. Her words were soft but there was a hint of challenge in the set of her mouth, it was enough to take Regulus off the defensive for once in his life and drop his gaze, and his voice, as he answered her charges.

"I could have done," he agreed. "I… wasn't sure where to start-"

"Where to start with what?" she interrupted, tucking her slim arms around her chest and glaring at him, "I honestly don't see what could have been…"

She carried on talking, Regulus assumed she had anyway as her lips continued to move, but he didn't hear her. As she had taken her defensive stance her crossed arms had pushed the fabric of her sleeve up, not much, but enough. He couldn't see all of it, but he didn't need to, he knew what was there. The edge of a single crudely made letter poked out at him and dried his mouth.

"Your torture," he said before he could stop himself and Hermione blanched. Her skin was even more washed out than the hideous lighting had already affected. Regulus scrambled for something to say, but for the second time that week he just wasn't quick enough.

"Everything okay?" an unfamiliar voice broke in and Regulus' head whipped up to regard the wizard who had crashed over to where they were standing and sunk into a crouch by Hermione's feet, eyeing her with concern.

"Yes, Matty," Hermione replied quietly, her voice not quite steady but her tone was warm, too warm by half.

"Everything's fine," she affirmed again, with more conviction this time and the boy, Matty, whatever kind of name that was grinned at her as if she had told some wonderful anecdote before he slapped her on the arm and stood back to full height.

Regulus was rather pleased to note that Matty was not as tall as he was, though he appeared older. That said the wizard certainly hadn't used his additional time on the earth to practice grooming. He was slovenly in the extreme, his shirt was untucked and his hair could have made Potter's look neat in comparison. Regulus regarded the man's large eyes behind his style-less glasses and prickled when he realised that the boy, well, man he supposed, hadn't even looked up to acknowledge him.

"You're sure?" Matty pressed, laying a hand on Hermione's shoulder and Regulus did all he could not to hex the American's fingers. His own fingers reached for his wand, but he managed not to use it, just.

"I'm sure," Hermione agreed as the colour began to return to her cheeks and finally the boy seemed satisfied.

"Well, give me a shout yeah? You still okay to go through that bill proposal this afternoon?"

They rattled off a few more office particulars until Regulus was left with the pleasure of glaring metaphorical daggers into the interlopers back. Though his fun was interrupted as Hermione turned back to him with a sigh.

"I don't want to talk about it… that… now," she said quietly, and Regulus eyed her with honest regret.

"I… I shouldn't have raised it, this is not the place," he apologised.

"No, it's not."

Silence fell between them until Regulus titled his head in the direction Matty had left in. "You didn't introduce me," he observed and Hermione looked to where he had indicated, at Matty, who was apparently fighting with a file cabinet.

"I didn't," she replied vaguely, meeting his gaze.

"Why?" Regulus pressed, inching closer until he all but loomed over her, forcing her head back as she continued to meet his gaze boldly.

"I had no idea what to call you," she replied dismissively.

"You have somehow forgotten my name, how wounding to know I have made such little impression on you."

The apples of Hermione's cheeks pinked but her skin did not give into a full blush. Regulus, far from being irritated by her restraint found himself strangely proud of her for it.

"You know what I meant," she breathed out, and Regulus lowered his head till hers dropped forward again.

"I do," he confessed, "just as you know exactly who and what I am to you, Miss Granger."

The tense atmosphere between them ratcheted to such a degree that Regulus was almost sure it had physically manifested. Being that close to Hermione it was as if a million tiny threads had woven around her, twisting over her limbs and middle until they stretched out to him and bound his form in turn. He was confident that this was the most emotion this dingy corner of the Ministry had ever seen and the single tiny fragment of his mind that wasn't focused solely on Hermione's deepening breathing hoped that Matty was watching.

Regulus' hands, which had been patiently waiting by his sides for further instruction shook when Hermione's eyes fell, just for a moment, down his face and stopped at his mouth. Her tongue poked out, to wet her own parched lips and his fingers spasmed in response, aching to grip hungrily into the front of her robes and pull her up against him.

There was a bang.

A short, sharp, clapping bang, as if a miniature thunderclap had occurred right next to him.

Regulus gasped as if he were coming up for air, and took a step away from Hermione, who had slumped down into her chair and twisted to face the noise.

Kreacher stood in the centre of the decaying office, looking decidedly at home holding what appeared to be a ceramic version of a takeaway cup containing tea.

"Really?" Regulus asked staring at his elf in total bafflement.

Kreacher was, as usual, wholly unaffected by his tone. "The miss," he began, unnecessarily pointing at a sheepish looking Hermione, "cannot be drinking that stuff downstairs." Kreacher made a face which concretely communicated his feelings on the beverage choices available in the canteen and walked over to Hermione - who seemed to have recovered herself from their earlier moment - hanging the cup to her as she softly thanked him for his kind attention.

"What does your bill say about borrowing an elf?" he gripped, but Hermione turned her back on him, rooting through her under desk draws.

"That it wholly depends on whether they want to be borrowed," she replied.

Kreacher looked back at him as Hermione busied herself adding the sugar she had found and the elf made a nudging motion, shooing his arms at Regulus and pointing his head in the witches direction. Not for the first time since he had been dragged into the future, Regulus wondered if drowning would have been less painful than the indignities he had allowed himself to suffer since landing in the little witch's bedroom.

"Miss Granger, could I request your company for the five minutes you will take to drink that tea?" he asked formally and Kreacher grinned brightly before disappearing.

-/-/-/-

The short journey to the canteen was made in relative silence apart from the essentials necessary to maintain politeness. Regulus directed them to a small table near the back of the shabby break out space, and Hermione took the seat opposite, purposely ignoring the chair he had pulled out for her use. Regulus recovered quickly, pulling the chair out further before sitting down as Hermione busied herself with wrapping her slender fingers around the cup she had been presented.

Regulus glumly noted that Kreacher had not been back to take his order.

He watched Hermione cautiously; she had barely said a word since the elf had disappeared and he had no idea how expressive her eyes would be as he was wholly unable to catch her gaze. Conversely, to how he had felt just that morning, Regulus was not unhappy about her aversion. Hermione's eyes were fixed on the table as she fiddled anxiously with a sugar packet, but far from indifferent her actions seemed… shy, perhaps bashful.

"Kreacher is quite taken with you," he said finally after accepting the cup he had purchased from the matronly witch that had bustled over to their table. The women stared disdainfully at Hermione's cup until his companion looked even more uncomfortable and Regulus intervened, paying the woman an exorbitant tip and praising her until she waddled away.

"Is he really?" Hermione replied, seemingly without interest.

"I believe so, he talks about you constantly."

Regulus took a sip of the coffee he had brought and couldn't help but grimace. Hermione's lips quirked as she regarded him from across the table and Regulus pushed the coffee cup away from him, reasoning that it was probably too early in the game to ask to share her tea. Even though he was sure it was perfect. Bloody Kreacher.

"I imagine that must be terribly irritating for you," Hermione said eventually and she picked up her own cup with a knowing smirk, grinning in satisfaction as she took her first sip of the cooling beverage.

"I bare it the best I can Miss Granger."

She muttered something under her breath, but whatever it was she didn't seem to be in the mood to repeat it. The serving witch wandered past again, offering them some cakes and scones. Regulus asked Hermione if she would like one, but she declined, the witch moved away again, and they were left in silence.

Regulus was reminded of sitting at a similar table when meeting with Potter and Weasley, that encounter had also been filled with uncomfortable silences and sub-par beverages, but that was where the similarities ended. Sitting across from Hermione, for better or for worse, he cared about what she thought, whether she believed that or not.

"What did you want to talk to me about?" she asked eventually and Regulus sat forward, resting his arms on the end of the table and intertwining his fingers.

"A few things, I have made some decisions over the last few weeks. I've begun the necessary process to reinstate Sirius; I thought I might as well make some use of my required repeated trips to the Ministry and get that done at the same time. One more document and he is officially back on the tapestry."

As if that really mattered to anyone, he thought to himself. The tapestry had become the living embodiment of the House of Black while he was in his own time. Sirius and Andromeda being blasted off had been all it had taken to solidify the house stance on them. In many ways, his actions now were too little too late, but with nothing else available to him it was all he could offer his fallen brother.

Hermione continued sipping without response, she was clearly listening, she wasn't rude enough to pretend to ignore him while they were sat at the same table, but she was nowhere near as attentive as he had seen her before.

"I am opening up one of the other houses from the Black estate, Domus Vert, it's a townhouse just outside of London. We used to stay there sometimes as children…"

"Why are you telling me this?" Hermione interrupted, and Regulus silently replied that it was a bloody good question and one that he didn't have a ready answer for.

"I thought you would like to know."

"I already did, this is what happens when you don't speak to someone for long periods, your news gets passed on by other people."

Regulus sighed. Hermione really was very obvious with her emotions, and too kind with her words. A girl of the type that he had grown up with would have waited him out for years before showing how irritated she was, and why.

"What about the monument?" she asked suddenly, derailing his thoughts.

"I'm sorry?"

"Weren't you going to do something to memorialise him? Sirius?" at his questioning look she clarified, "Harry mentioned it."

Regulus could just imagine Potter and Weasley running off to Hermione to complain to her as if they were no more than errant school children.

"No doubt he told you how thrilled he was," he replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Something like that," she confirmed with a slight laugh that made Regulus thaw a touch more.

"I have a favour to ask," he said as he glanced the clock above her head. He had already taken so much of her time and though his pieced together reason for seeing her had been flimsy since its inception the longer he spent with her, the more it seemed like a good idea.

"Another one?" Hermione asked with a raised brow, and Regulus' fingers twitched on the table in front of him.

"Yes," he confirmed, "I appreciate that the balance so far has been somewhat off."

"Somewhat? You don't say."

"Fine," Regulus acceded, "it has been entirely in my favour."

Hermione snorted in response, and Regulus sat forward in his seat until she met his gaze. "Do tell me, Miss Granger, whenever you have anything you want, anything that I can give you freely, and I will redress that balance."

Her eyes widened, and Regulus updated the running tally he was keeping in his mind. He had played his hand well overall - at least that day - but as Hermione delicately lifted her mug to her lips, he knew he would fail before all of the pieces had fallen. No doubt happy in his surrender.

"Would you have tea with Draco?"

Hermione sputtered the last of her tea and clutched at her chest until her coughing subsided. Regulus debated getting up to pat her on the back, but in these halls, he had no idea who could happen upon them. He doubted Kingsley Shacklebolt would think to ask questions if he saw him thumping the back of Hermione Granger, even if his intentions were innocent.

"I'm sorry?" she said eventually, her voice still a little croaky and Regulus eyed her thoughtfully.

"Tea, with my cousin," he repeated.

"Are you setting me up?" she asked astonished before looking entirely too thoughtful. "I'm not sure Malfoy would appreciate your efforts if that were the case."

Regulus' stared at Hermione so hard he wouldn't have been surprised if the close by diners suspected he was performing Legilimency. "No, Hermione," he bit out as his voice dropped to a low growl, "I am not setting you up with another wizard in any shape or form, is that clear?"

"Crystal," she answered lightly before slumping back in her chair and raising a hand to her forehead. He got the impression that had he not been there she would have dropped her head onto the table. It was probably for the best; Regulus did not trust himself not to sink his hands into her warm curls.

"Then why?"

Regulus was unsure how much to divulge; it needed to be enough to justify his request without betraying a confidence he considered sacrosanct. "I believe he would like to speak to you, it may help with some of the issues he has been having, following the war."

Hermione nodded once before looking into the middle distance for a moment, apparently weighing her options. Eventually, she straightened and fiddled with the empty cup in front of her. "I'll think about it."

Regulus blew out a breath, "Thank you."

Peace fell between them as they started to chat a bit more conversationally. It wasn't cordial - they were too careful of each other for that - and it assuredly wasn't sexually charged, but neither was it the blankness he had seen in her face in Diagon Alley or the frosty greeting in her office. Regulus wanted to ask about her torture and why she hadn't told him. He wanted to ask her why she hadn't contacted him; she could have done so if she wanted, just as much as he could have done. Most of all he wanted to ask if she had seen the article in the prophet. But he didn't ask any of those things. He kept all of his questions to himself and asked her stupid, banal, unimportant matters until her shoulders sagged and she leant more forward across the table. Until she began to relax in his company again.

"Regulus Black, as I live and breath, I am so sorry to interrupt."

Pansy Parkinson sauntered over to their table preceded by the clatter of sky-high heels, her standard glossy bob set into bold waves as she stood with her hands on her hips part way obscuring the little blonde Lovegood girl who had skipped along after her.

Regulus tilted his head to regard her harsh features made even more pronounced by her unhappy expression. "Why do I get the impression that you do not entirely mean that Miss Parkinson?"

"Because she doesn't," Lovegood, Luna, interjected, seemingly without malice. The ethereal girl skipped forward and pulled on a strand of Hermione's hair affectionately.

Hermione's entire face lit up when the girls approached, as if she had been hit with a Cheering Charm. Regulus enjoyed watching her, though not the tinge of jealousy that tampered down his pleasure.

"Anyway," Pansy said, breaking up Luna and Hermione's happy gadding, "we are taking Miss Granger for lunch." She turned away from him to look at Hermione, "We've just come from your office, and the lovely young American man up there told us you had been stolen away, we promised to return you to him after lunch."

Regulus considered that Pansy's tactic would have been more affecting if Hermione hadn't looked bemused, but who said anything about logic mattering in such situations. He was suddenly struck by the notion that if the roles had been reversed, and the picture in the Prophet had been Hermione and some simpering wizard he would have burnt down the publications office. This time when doing something so utterly reckless, governed by his emotions, he wouldn't have left a sarcastic note confessing to it.

With little choice left, Regulus trailed after the gaggle of witches as they left the canteen and walked back into the central corridor. With them walking three abreast - and Pansy sinking her claws into Hermione's arm to move her in between the other two - Regulus was forced to step behind, something that infuriated him but did give him a front row seat a moment later when Weasley came skidding to a stop in the corridor and almost collided into the rabble.

"Hermione, what are you…"

For a moment Regulus thought the youngest Weasley male had seen him, given his reddened face and narrowed eyes, but the boy had, in fact, caught sight of another Slytherin, and this one seemed to antagonise him more than Regulus could ever hope to.

"Parkinson," he gritted out coldly.

"Weasley," she replied with equal disdain.

"I'll see you later Hermione," Weasley grunted before storming off in the other direction.

Regulus swept forward, entirely too happy with himself. "Nothing like sexual tension is there Miss Parkinson?" he uttered right next to her ear before he turned to say goodbye to the others.

"Miss Granger, thank you for your time today, I look forward to hearing from you with your decision."


A/N Tea with Draco coming up! :)