"Just pretend to be my date."

Hermione continued her insistent poking on Draco's arm. He was annoyingly uninterested in her dilemma.

"I don't bring dates to these sort of occasions, Granger. It would completely ruin the "readily available for sex" persona I've worked so hard to build."

Hermione watched McLaggen set his sights on her. He waved in recognition and began his way over to where they stood at the bar.

She gripped Malfoy's arm.

"Please! Please, Malfoy, I'm desperate."

His body suddenly turned to face hers, and the unexpected loss of his body mass under her hands caused her to stumble into him. He caught her before she could inflict any bodily harm upon herself - or their glasses of champagne.

She looked up into his piercing grey eyes and was, for a moment, quite lost in them, until she remembered that she really needed this man to pretend to be in love with her. At least for as long as it took for Cormac McLaggen to call off his pursuit of her and find a new target.

Every Ministry party was the same. She showed up, dateless, spent the night bouncing around different groups of coworkers in her effort to avoid Cormac and ended the night alone because she had been too busy hiding out to flirt with anyone.

She realized she'd been resting in Malfoy's arms for too long. She adjusted herself upright and felt his hands leave warm imprints where they'd held her body.

"So? Will you do it?" She gave her most grotesquely pleading pout that she could muster.

"Not until you tell me what's in it for me, Granger?" He eyed her curiously, taking another swig of his drink. His eyes sparkled menacingly.

Hermione peaked over his shoulder to see she'd gained a few minutes, thanks to Luna - bless her, Hermione owed her big time - who seemed to have stopped McLaggen for a chat. She had a Quibbler in her hands. Hermione strained to read the headline: Tinder: A Muggle Solution to Dating Woes
This was a good sign. Luna could talk about the curiosity of Muggle inventions to a wall. This bought her at least a few more minutes.

Now, how could she bribe Malfoy to help her?

"I'll - I'll file your paperwork in the office for an entire month."

"I'm all caught up on my filing, unlike yourself."

She did have an embarrassingly large backlog of papers to be sorted.

"Fine - I'll... I'll quit suggesting better ways you could have completed your work assignments."

"I do hate it when you do that.."

"So we have a deal?"

His lips curved into a smirk and he closed the distance between them again, as if he had a secret to tell that only she could hear.

"When I wanted to know what would be in this for me, I wasn't exactly thinking about - Ministry related things."

This confused her. "Then when do you need help? I'm not very handy, but I can bake a mean pie - "

Malfoy maintained his closeness. "I was thinking more along the lines of...tonight."

"Oh Merlin, he's back on the move. Great, okay. I'll help you tonight."

"I'm not sure you're understanding me, Granger." She felt a sudden chill as Malfoy reached a finger under her chin, gentle but assertive. She could've easily pulled away, but she couldn't, for the life of her, remember how to move her head.

Her breathing hitched. His eyes, though still sparkling, had turned dangerous. She couldn't look away.

"Tonight. My apartment."

McLaggen was meters away.

"Okay," she said, her voice quivered, betraying her uncertainty of what she was agreeing to. She decided not to analyze the fact that spending a night with Malfoy was currently the better option than having a conversation with Cormac.

A much better choice. It wasn't even a contest.

Malfoy used his grasp on her chin to bring her face closer to his.

"Anything I ask from you - do you agree?"

"Hermione!" McLaggen called. Only a single person stood between him and Hermione's spot at the bar.

"Malfoy, please!"

Malfoy dropped his hand from her chin and snaked his arm around the silk fabric clinging to her waist. It was quite a thin barrier between her skin and the strength of his arm. The feeling was strangely intimate.

He turned them so that they faced outward, toward their approaching guest.

"Hey! Glad I found you - that Loony chick caught me up in a very weird conversation about Muggle dating practices. My date ditched me tonight, so I thought I'd come find you and buy you a drink."

McLaggen looked from Malfoy to Hermione, then down to her waist where, to any outsider, it would look as though she'd already been claimed.

"She already has a drink. But I'll take another one, if you're offering." Draco's stare was focused, as if challenging McLaggen to even attempt taking what was rightfully his. Draco tightened his grasp on her hip, causing her dress to slide up daringly.

"Ah, well. Looks like I'm too late. Perhaps another time, Hermione?"

"Actually, I think her drinks are sorted for the next - I dunno - ten of these parties. Possibly more, if she's feeling extra helpful tonight."

Malfoy pulled away from her fingers, which had just pinched him as hard as they could.

McLaggen first looked confused, then as though he wanted to say something - perhaps to ask Hermione what her thoughts were on his offer - but to her relief, he decided that this encounter was no longer worth his time, and sauntered away. He made sure to take the exit furthest away from Luna Lovegood.

Hermione expected to feel again the removal of Malfoy's arm from around her, but he only pulled her closer. Using his free hand, he passed her her glass of champagne.

"So - tonight?" she asked, inquisitive to what he had in store for her.

"You have no idea what you've signed up for, Granger."