The first time Draco Malfoy asked her to go on a date with him, Hermione Granger had to laugh.
It wasn't quite as funny the second time.
Both working in the Ministry of Magic in the Department of Charities, the two saw each other in passing regularly, but didn't actually work together. Hermione had her small office, which was shared with a colleague, and Draco had his Office, which was expansive and plush, suited to his tastes. It didn't matter that Hermione actually had seniority, since Draco and his father were the main benefactors to more than half the charities Hermione worked on.
After the war, people were desperate to rearrange their lives. Most started on the inside, working on prejudices or bigotry. Most tried to be the change they sought in the world. The Malfoys, unsurprisingly, went at it from a different angle; they were changing the world without even considering that they themselves could use a change.
So, they donated millions of Galleons over the five years since the end of the war, subsequently saving Lucius Malfoy from Azkaban, and buying Draco his pretty little office and job.
Needless to say, it drove Hermione absolutely mad. She had worked very hard for her job, bypassing all sorts of social events and neglecting her personal life in favour of her charities. It was, for the most part, a very satisfying existence. She spent most of the day writing letters for owls to take out, guilting people into donating to whatever cause she could reel them into, and she was very, very good at guilting people. She had the highest quota of anyone in her department, even higher than the silver-tongued Malfoy get.
Of course, whenever Draco fell a little behind, an anonymous donation would come through him, and they would be balanced again. He claimed to be ignorant of the source of the donation, but the timing was always a little suspicious, and Hermione believed that he didn't even care if she knew he was donating to his own causes. There were no rules against it, after all; and it gave Hermione the incentive to work even harder, both to beat him at his own game, and to increase the amount he would have to donate to match her.
A very satisfying existence, indeed.
Draco had changed from their school days; they all had. He was, of course, still arrogant, snotty, self-satisfied, snide and condescending. But he could also be funny, and his intelligence was beyond reproach. He was entirely too civil to Hermione, if you asked her. He even brought her coffee on the few days he arrived at work after her, bringing it to her office and entering without even knocking. She could only grit her teeth against his invasion of her privacy and accept the olive branch. For that's what it seemed to be: Draco was trying to make up for all his years of verbal abuse with offerings of coffee and breakfast.
But Hermione never gave him an inch. The wounds were too fresh in her mind, especially the light sentencing of the elder Malfoy, whose home had been the scene of her torture. He could claim the Imperius all he wanted, but Hermione knew better. Or at least, she thought she did.
So when Draco came into her office offering more than coffee, she'd laughed. He'd been sweet, for him, and asked if he could treat her to dinner that night. She'd told him she was busy—a lie— and he'd asked about the next night. She'd told him through half-stifled incredulity that she was busy for the rest of the month. He'd nodded as if this was a perfectly natural happenstance, and gracefully exited. She knew her laughter must have followed him back to his office.
She hadn't meant to be so rude; she usually prided herself on her decorum when it came to him, even when she wanted to hex his pretty face off. But he'd caught her so off guard, it was just so absurd!
Hermione wasn't naïve enough to believe she would be anything more than another charity case to him, another effort to improve the Malfoy name that had suffered near-irreparable harm thanks to their loyalties. So she'd laughed; not like she could hurt his feelings anyway, since she doubted he had any that weren't contrived.
When the first day of the next month rolled around, he stepped into her office with his usual nonchalant invasion of personal space, placing her coffee on her desk next to her hand, and standing in front of her desk.
"Thank you for the coffee, Draco." Her standard response did not deviate one bit.
"You're more than welcome, Granger." His did not alter either.
And still he stood there.
Hermione finally looked up from her work, peering at him questioningly. "Is there something I can help you with?" Her tone, as usual, brooked no cordiality, and was just on this side of rude.
"Well, since you're not busy tonight, I thought I'd take you out," Draco said calmly, his voice as sure as ever.
"What makes you think I'm not busy?"
Draco glanced casually at her desk calendar, and all too late she realized her words when she'd turned him down the last time. He shrugged lazily, and continued to watch her carefully. She didn't like being under his speculative gaze, so she looked back down at her work.
"Well, actually, I was going to—"
"Don't even bother, Granger. I want to take you to dinner, and I will get what I want. If you say no today, I will be in this office three times a day, every day. I will call your work line and tie you up; I will come to your home to bring you take-out. I will owl you, Floo you, I will sleep outside your door. I will have your colleague fired and my desk moved in here."
Hermione's mouth was agape; what on earth was she supposed to do?
He continued, "Or, you go out with me tonight, one dinner, and if you still want to maintain this childish animosity, I will never ask you out again, and your lonely life can continue unhindered."
Her mind was racing. She could not have him working in this office next to her! He would drive her insane in a matter of minutes. If he actually slept outside her apartment, she would be evicted for sure. He was as good as promising to stalk her, and though Hermione was sure the law was on her side, she also knew the Malfoys were Teflon. She wouldn't stand a chance.
Her dramatic sigh could be heard throughout the floor as she nodded her head in acceptance.
His bright smile shocked her; she couldn't remember ever seeing him do anything other than smirk or sneer. It almost reached his eyes, and made him look like a boy again.
"I knew you would see reason. I'll pick you up tonight at seven. Dress…" he looked at her appraisingly, "like you are out with a Malfoy," he finished, and she scowled. Some things never changed.
But the date was actually pleasant, and no one was more shocked than Hermione. Draco's charm was going at full blast, and he even had her smiling.
He'd picked her up exactly at seven, and complimented her simple black dress. He took her arm and led her out of her middle-end high rise apartment, into his carriage.
Of course the Malfoys travel in carriages, why Apparate when that can't showcase your wealth at all! She thought bitterly, but she said not a word.
They'd arrived at a French restaurant Hermione had never heard of, but which obviously catered to only the richest and most influential. Draco had ordered for Hermione, which had her seeing red, especially since she couldn't speak French and didn't know what he'd ordered.
She was pleasantly surprised to see it was salmon, her favourite, but she said nothing.
"I'm really glad you said yes today, Granger. I wasn't looking forward to sleeping in the hallway of your building. Couldn't you have a house like normal people?"
"Draco, normal people have to save for years for a down payment for a house. Not all of us have our lives bequeathed to us, you know." She couldn't help the snarky tone in her voice; his entitled attitude always rubbed her the wrong way, as if he honestly didn't know some people didn't have all that he had.
"Ah, of course," he said slowly, as if actually considering what she'd said.
She only shook her head, and asked him about a large account they had both been going after for the Werewolf Emancipation Project, which was poorly funded and highly controversial. Werewolves were under a lot of scrutiny after their part in the war, and it would be tortuous getting the restrictions on their freedoms repealed.
He told her about some headway he'd made, and she was surprised. He took a lot of initiative, and had more balls than she'd given him credit for, which was saying a lot.
After that, conversation was easier. Every now and then, they threw a barb at one another; Hermione mentioned how the Ministry was still as corrupt as ever, accepting bribes instead of following the law, at which Draco looked away; Draco asked what Hermione thought about the young wizard who had tied her NEWTs scores the previous year, and she cringed.
Some things never changed.
After dinner they'd had dessert, though Hermione was full and couldn't finish hers. He offered to have it wrapped for her, but Hermione didn't want to walk out of the most posh restaurant she'd ever been in with a doggy bag, so she regretfully left it behind.
He'd had the carriage drop them off a few blocks from her apartment, after asking if she could walk in her shoes. She'd said, "Of course," to which he smirked, as if to say, "I should have known the sensible Hermione Granger would never wear shoes she could not walk in."
They walked the rest of the way slowly, Draco putting her hand on his arm and resting his other hand atop hers. His chivalry was infallible, unforced, and Hermione had to wonder if he actually wanted to touch her, or if it was just too ingrained for him not to.
When they reached her apartment door, she put the key in and opened it. She turned around and asked the question that had been burning her all night.
"Draco, why did you ask me on a date?"
"Didn't you have fun?" he countered, standing closer to her than she remembered.
"I did, as a matter of fact. But…your prejudices are infamous. I'm wondering why you would deign to lower yourself to being seen with me."
"Well, you do make a good argument," her scowl reappeared along with his smirk at her reaction, "but the truth is, I've grown up. Things changed for me in ways you wouldn't understand. I've made so many mistakes," a flash of true regret graced his features, and Hermione wondered exactly what kinds of mistakes he was referring to. "But I am trying to make up for them the only way I know how."
"You can't buy me like you bought your job, like you bought the public. My memory is not as selective, Draco."
"First of all, I earned my job." He graciously ignored her snort of derision, "and secondly, I'm not trying to buy you, not at all. I genuinely enjoy your company. Maybe I'm a masochist, who knows." When he said this, his smile did reach his eyes.
And for some reason, faster than she could ever have expected, the block of ice that surrounded Draco Malfoy in her mind melted ever so slightly.