Despite the cost of living, have you noticed how popular it remains?

Chapter 05

Hermione Granger did not sleep well that night. Now matter what she did, she just could not stay asleep. It was, after all, the first time she had slept alone in a long time. Despite the fact that she had a king sized bed to herself, Hermione remained on the left side of the bed and unable to get comfortable.

The room was almost pitch black but Hermione lay with her eyes open, staring at the ceiling, and wondering why she was not crying.

It didn't make sense.

By all accounts she should have been a broken, weepy mess – unable to get out of bed and eating everything in the fridge. She supposed that idea was a bit stereotypical, but crying had been her reaction during third year when she was stressed. She didn't feel angry either, like during the Ron and Lavender thing. She didn't really feel anything besides restless.

Hermione finally gave up at five in the morning and hopped in the shower. She was at the office by six. The mindless process of filing didn't require much brain power, but at least it kept her hands busy.

"How long have you been here?" Draco asked when he walked into the room at eight and spotted her, quite obviously deep into the filing.

"Not long," Hermione lied, feeling that it was really none of his business. Draco didn't say anything else, something for which she was immensely grateful.

Harry came by and took her out to lunch around noon. Their conversation was stilted, but Hermione still recognized that he was making the effort to comfort her. For his sake, she choked down a salad and then went back to work.

The day went by in one huge, file-filled blur. Hermione was relieved when five o'clock finally rolled around and Draco left for the day. It wasn't that he was exactly bothering her, but his presence made her uncomfortable. Him not really saying anything that day wasn't helping things either.

However, he reappeared a couple hours later.

"You're still here?" he said, by way of greeting.

"Obviously," Hermione responded. She didn't look away from what she was doing. Great. He just had to come back when she was starting to relax.

Draco simply snorted. "This is just sad."

"Is there a reason you're here?" Hermione asked, irritation creeping into her tone.

"I left something in my desk. Why are you still here so late on a Friday night?" Draco asked bluntly.

"In case you haven't noticed, there's quite a bit of filing left to do, and if I don't stay late, it will never be over!" Hermione snapped, her patience at an end. "If you care so much, why don't you stay late and help me?"

"I don't remember saying I cared," Draco simply said and walked away. Apparently he had no intention of putting in overtime to get the work finished.

Hermione continued to work for another hour or so, but her stomach's protests finally halted her. She picked up some fast food again on her way home and returned to the depressingly empty flat.

Harry's floating head greeted her from the fireplace when she walked through the door.

"Oh good! You're home!" Harry said, obviously missing the look of disbelief that crossed Hermione's face.

"Are you checking up on me?" Hermione asked, just to be sure.

"Just to see if you got home alright," Harry said after a beat of silence.

"I see," Hermione said, wondering why it seemed that everything was annoying her that day. "Well, thanks, but I'm fine."

"I guess I will leave you alone then." Harry had obviously picked up on her tone. "I was at your apartment earlier and you got an owl. I left your mail in the kitchen."

"Thanks," Hermione said, at least half meaning it.

Hermione said goodbye to Harry before promptly disconnecting her floo network. She just wasn't up to anymore company at the moment. She briefly considered eating her dinner before looking at the mail, but decided against it. She was just too antsy to sit around, even if it was just to eat.

Hermione located her mail and noticed it was mostly junk. She was pleasantly surprised to see her issue of the Quibbler had arrived, but that was overshadowed by something much worse. She grabbed the last letter and stared at it, a horrible realization washing over her. Just to be sure, she broke the seal and quickly read the statement. It was the bill for her flat and there was no way she could pay for it on her own.

Hermione continued to stare at the number on the statement in disbelief. She was positive she could get Ron to pay for his half of this last month, but after that she would be on her own.

She was going to have to move.

Hermione sighed and tossed the mail back on the counter. Nothing sounded better at that moment than crawling in bed and going to sleep, so that was exactly what she did.

Hermione's sleep wasn't a restful one and it didn't last nearly as long as she had hoped. It was a Saturday morning, so she was kind of hoping to be able to sleep in. She didn't know why she had thought it was possible – she had never been the type to sleep in.

Feeling like she was wasting time, Hermione tossed her covers off and hopped into the shower. Freshly cleaned and into some comfortable clothes, she tried reading a book. That was something that was always able to calm her nerves.

Alas, that didn't work either. She couldn't shake the feeling that she needed to get up and do something. Unfortunately, there wasn't really much she could do. She could go shopping for some new books, but that seemed kind of pointless since she wasn't in the mood to read. She could call her friends, but also wasn't feeling very sociable.

It was inevitable that she would end up back at work.

Hermione paused in her work to stretch out the kinks in her back. She had no idea how long she had been at it, but it had been dark for a while.

The work was making her feel better. It kept her hands busy and made her feel like she had a purpose. Not to mention, she had made some serious headway in the filing and was almost certain that she would make the deadline.

It was a good feeling.

"What are you doing?"

Hermione jumped sky high at the unexpected voice right behind her. The ministry was practically empty since it was a Saturday, and no one had bothered her up until that moment.

"Malfoy!" Hermione snapped, feeling particularly hostile since he had intruded upon her makeshift sanctuary. Strange, she thought to herself, that only a few days ago this room had been her own personal hell. "You scared me!"

"What are you doing, Granger?" Draco repeated, staring around the room with an incredulous expression.

"I'm filing, of course," Hermione said, regaining her composure.

"Uh huh. And how long have you been at this?" Draco asked, arching an eyebrow.

"I'm sure that it's really none of your business." Hermione turned her nose in the air, a bit miffed at his bluntness and also a bit sheepish. She wasn't sure why she was letting him make her feel guilty.

"Right." Draco looked around the room. "You've been here all day, haven't you?" Hermione's silence was all the answer he needed.

Draco stepped into the room and sat on her desk, raising her hackles. Never mind that it made her think back to her wet dream with her on flat on her back on that very desk, but she had always hated people sitting on her desk.

"I heard about the Weasel moving out," Draco said, snapping her back to reality just like that.

"So?" Hermione asked, wondering if he had a point. She was sure that whatever it was, it wasn't going to be comforting. Besides, how had he heard about it? It made her uneasy to think that she was quite obviously the current source of gossip going around. It would have to be for someone so not involved like Draco to know about it. Draco said nothing, squinting his eyes and looking at her as if scrutinizing her.

"Have you at least eaten anything?" he finally asked, startling her.

"Of course I ha-" Hermione was cut off by her own stomach's betrayal. The growl was very audible in the tiny room.

Draco raised a pale eyebrow, his gaze fixed on her. "When was the last time you ate something?"

Hermione was surprised by the question. Not just that he had asked it but that when she thought back on it, she didn't actually remember the last time she had eaten. Strange.

Draco was still staring at her but when she didn't respond, he sighed and leaned his hand on her desk. "That's what I thought."

Hermione was feeling very uncomfortable. She didn't really understand what was going on. Something just seemed off to her. "Why are you here?" she finally asked.

Hermione noticed that Draco's usual blank mask faltered for a second and a look of confusion crossed his face. It was only there briefly before it was replaced by annoyance. He seemed to make his mind up about something and got to his feet.

"Come on," he said.

Hermione could only think of one response. "Huh?"

Draco's eyes flashed with irritation that he had to repeat himself. "Come on. Let's go."

Putting aside for a moment that there was no way she would go anywhere with him and that it was odd he would even be asking her to, Hermione was curious. "Go where?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yes," Hermione said bluntly. She certainly wasn't going to blindly follow him into a dark alley. Not that she really thought he would try to kill her or anything, but that was beside the point.

Draco stared at her for a couple more seconds. "Have it your way, but doesn't it make you curious?"

"What?" Hermione asked, trying to keep up in this unusual conversation.

"Where I would take you?"

Hermione blinked. Of course she was curious. However that little-old-saying about cats and curiosity kept popping up in her mind. Still…


Hermione snapped her attention back to the blond.

"If you don't come with me now, you will never know. Do you think your over-sized brain could handle an unsolved mystery?" Draco smirked.

Hermione licked her lips, thinking hard. She knew he was attempting to manipulate her into doing what he wanted, but she wasn't sure she cared. If he was truly up to something devious, he wouldn't have made it so obvious.

There was really only one thing she could do, right?

"A bar?"

Draco said nothing. He didn't even spare her a glance before he walked over to the bar and sat down.

Hermione stood in the entryway, unsure of what to do. Of all the scenarios that had run through her mind, this had not been one of them. Not only were they at a bar, but it was a muggle bar. She supposed that made sense, since the two of them going to the Leaky Cauldron together might be a bit conspicuous. But still.

The place had a fair amount of people, but was far from packed. She had the suspicion that was because it was only 10:30.

Hermione stood fidgeting for a couple more seconds before she gave up and went to sit next to Draco. She had just plopped down on the stool when the bartender approached them.

"What can I get for you today?" The young woman asked, smiling at them both. Hermione had always assumed bartenders would be surly old men, but what did she know? It wasn't like she had been in many bars to begin with.

"I'll have whatever you have on tap," Draco answered, and then finally turned to look at Hermione. "Do you want anything?"

"No thanks," Hermione said automatically.

Draco turned back to the bartender. "Do you have any food here?"

"Just a club sandwich."

Draco jerked his head in Hermione's direction. "She'll have one of those then."

"Hey!" Hermione said indignantly. The bartender was already moving away. "I said I didn't want anything."

Draco ignored her. When it became obvious he wasn't going to respond to that, Hermione let out a sigh of frustration through clenched teeth. This silent treatment was seriously starting to make her angry.

The bartender returned and placed the food in front of Hermione and a beer in front of Draco. Hermione was just wondering how she was going to pay since she wasn't carrying any muggle money, when Draco pulled a credit card out of his pocket. Hermione's eyes bulged out.

"It's on me," Draco said to the bartender, who left to swipe the card.

"What are you doing with a credit card?" Hermione whispered fiercely.

Draco shrugged and took a sip of his beer. He grimaced and made a face at the drink. Hermione wondered if it was the first time he had had muggle beer. "It's easier than messing with those 'pound' things."

"I mean, what are you doing with muggle money in the first place?"

Draco finally turned in his seat to look at her. He knew exactly what she was getting at, but didn't seem to want to go into such a heated discussion, so he gave the simplest answer. "I like being prepared. You can understand something like that, right?"

Hermione was spared having to respond by the bartender who returned with Draco's card. She handed it to him and then flashed Hermione a toothy grin.

"Free food, huh? The next best thing to sex!"

Hermione snorted, thinking of her most recent sexual encounters. She looked at the sandwich, which made her stomach rumble in anticipation. "Right now I'm kind of liking the free food more."

The bartender moved away from them, her tinkling laughter trailing with her.

Draco arched a pale eyebrow at her. Hermione had a good idea of what he was thinking, but didn't feel like answering any questions about her sex life. She was thankful that he didn't bother asking.

Hermione's stomach rumbled painfully, and she returned her attention to the sandwich. It really did look tasty. She examined it for a moment, and then picked it up. It was huge and she had to consider for a couple seconds how she was going to eat it. It would definitely be unladylike.

"Just eat it already," Draco said, his patience obviously coming to an end.

Hermione shot him a glare, but shrugged internally. It wasn't like she had anyone to impress. She opened her mouth as wide as it would go and took a huge bite out of the sandwich, the juice from the tomato running down her chin in the process. She couldn't help her eyes rolling back in her head or the soft moan that came from deep in her throat. Sex had nothing on this.

"That good, huh?" Draco asked, the teasing lilt making its return to his voice. Hermione didn't care. Until that moment, she hadn't realized exactly how hungry she had let herself get. Hermione had barely swallowed her first bite when she was already ripping another chunk of sandwich off with her teeth.

"Woah, Granger, slow down. You'll make yourself sick if you eat too fast on an empty stomach," Draco said and then surprised her by putting his hand on her shoulder. It was enough of a shock that she stopped chewing. Luckily, he just thought that she was listening to his advice. "Why don't you drink something?"

Hermione forced herself to swallow the bite of food in her mouth and looked from his hand on her shoulder to his face. "What are you up to?" she finally asked.

Draco looked genuinely confused. Hermione wasn't sure whether to believe it or not. This whole situation was just too bizarre. "Up to?"

"Yes." Hermione gestured to the bar, her sandwich, and then to the hand he still had on her shoulder. Draco promptly dropped it. "This whole 'being nice' to me thing. What are you up to? Because I have to be honest, it's making me nervous."

"Being nice?" Draco looked positively appalled at the accusation.

It was Hermione's turn to arch an eyebrow. "Yea. You got me out of the office and now you're feeding me. What else would you call it?"

Draco seemed to really be considering her question. He took another gulp of his beer and said, "I suppose I am being… nice." He shuddered. "I just hadn't thought of it that way."

"You still haven't answered my question. Why are you doing this?" Hermione wanted to keep her eyes on him, but her stomach was angrily reminding her that it was empty and there was still a delicious sandwich sitting in front of her. She took another bite but tried to chew it slower this time.

"I don't really know," Draco finally said. Hermione looked like she was about to say something, but he cut her off. "I guess it's because I don't hate you."

A piece of lettuce lodged itself in Hermione's throat, sending her into a coughing fit. That was definitely not an answer she had been expecting. Draco glanced at her, but obviously decided her life wasn't in any immediate danger because he kept talking over her coughing.

"Truthfully, I was a little apprehensive when I first found out that we were going to be working in the same department a year ago. I thought it would just be a continuation of our school years and you acting like the bossy cow you always were. But you surprised me. You're very professional." He smirked. "Unless I provoke you, of course. I have to admit, I get a kick out of it sometimes."

She knew it! She knew he got some sort of perverse pleasure out of torturing her! Bossy cow, huh? For some reason, being called that didn't upset her as much as it used to.

The bartender swooped over and placed a glass of water in front of Hermione. Hermione smiled weakly at her in thanks and took a big swig, trying to clear her throat.

Draco kept talking. "It was the only time that I saw you acting… I don't know. Like you had a personality?"

"Excuse me?" Hermione demanded, but her voice was a little shaky from her coughing fit. "I have a lot of personality, thank you very much."

Draco gave her an exasperated look. "I know that, Granger. I just meant that when you bitch at me you're not acting your part of the Golden Trio. You know, the whole little good girl, the brains of the operation thing that you fell into during what would have been our Seventh year of school."

Hermione gaped at him, unsure of what to say. His words were echoing thoughts she had had recently, about how she had recently lost sight of who she was. Still, the fact that she was hearing this from him was… surreal.

Draco took another swig of beer, finishing his glass. "I gotta tell you, it was sickening. You playing the sidekick who follows orders from Potter like a damn lapdog and becoming the Weasel's well-behaved girlfriend." He shuddered.

Only one thought came to Hermione's head. "Are you drunk?"

Draco laughed a genuine laugh and it was a sound that Hermione was really not familiar with. The sound of it sent shivers down her spine, and she was horrified to realize they were not shivers of disgust or fear.

"Not yet. But I plan to be after this conversation."

Hermione felt her lips want to turn up in a smile, but she was fighting it. "After this conversation, even I might have to get drunk."

She had just been joking but before she could stop him, Draco had waved the bartender over. "I'll have another beer." He turned to Hermione. "What do you want? Beer?"

"Um…" She hadn't exactly ever drank before, but she was pretty sure beer was not going to appeal to her. She wracked her brain for something to order. She had been out with Harry and Ron once and they had gotten her a rum and coke. The memory of Ron brought a lump to her throat.

"Tequila," She said, managing to sound more sure than she felt.

While the bartender went to get her drink, Draco gave her a scrutinizing look. "Are you sure about that?"

"Sure!" Hermione chirped. "Why not? The man I thought I would marry someday moved out. My friends are irritating the crap out of me. What have I got to lose?" She had said it cheerfully enough, but speaking the words out loud somehow made it seem more real. Ron had really left her. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

"How about that sandwich I just bought for you?" Draco muttered under his breath, but Hermione heard him anyway.

"Oh, please, I'm not going to get that drunk. I'm Hermione Granger, remember?"

"As if I could ever forget."

Hermione would have taken issue with the way he said that, but the bartender had brought their drinks.

Draco took another swig, keeping his eyes on her. He was watching her stare at the shot glass full of amber liquid. She wasn't quite sure how to approach it. She had watched other people take shots, but had never done it herself. Draco seemed to have guessed as much.

"Just down it as fast as you can, and try not to taste it too much," he said, amusement in his voice.

Hermione wasn't so sure about this, but she didn't want to back down in front of Draco. That would just be unacceptable.

Trying not to over think it, Hermione picked up the small glass and tossed her head back as she poured the liquid in her mouth. The alcohol burned on the way down, the taste not exactly pleasant. It was a few moments before she was sure she could talk normally. "Ew. Why would anyone drink this stuff?"

Draco laughed again, and she turned to glare at him. "What?" she demanded.

"You surprise me, Granger."

"You mean not liking the tequila?" Hermione asked, not sure what else he could be talking about.

"No. I figured that much. I mean," he paused, as if not sure he should say this. Apparently he decided he didn't care about her feelings all that much, because he finished what he was going to say anyway. "I was surprised that you said no to the Weasel's proposal. I kinda figured you would be married within the year and popping out babies one after the other."

Hermione made a face. She was beginning to feel the affects of the alcohol. It wasn't much, just a warm burn in her belly. "I think that's what Ron saw too."

"So that's why you said no?"

Hermione didn't look at him. "That was part of it."

"But not all of it?"

Hermione could hear the implied question in his voice, but still didn't turn to look at him. She didn't have any idea why he was being so nosey, but for some reason it wasn't really bothering her. Perhaps it was because he was the only person who was actually curious about her reasons, rather than trying to convince her that she had made some huge mistake. It almost seemed like he took her side on the matter. Not that that made her feel better. In fact, it was almost enough to make her reconsider Ron's proposal.

She snorted again.

"You don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to," Draco said, setting his beer down. Hearing those words come from him was a surprise. He was showing tact? This whole situation just kept throwing her for a loop. The way they were talking was almost as if they were friends. But that was just ridiculous. Still, she couldn't help but feel a sense of relief by his presence, asking her about her side of things. It was more than she had gotten from her friends lately.

"I want to talk about it," Hermione said, surprising both of them. Draco stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

Hermione opened her mouth, unsure of where to begin, and then closed her mouth with a click of teeth. Instead, she caught the bartender's eye and waved her over again. Only then did she turn to Draco and say, "I may need another shot of Tequila before I do, though."

Kitty Neko: Don't die of shock now that I updated. It's summer and I have survived another semester of college, so I should be able to update faster! I hope you liked it!