Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Probably should not be posting this, seeing as I haven't finished any of my multi-chapter stories, but I'm feeling reckless! Hope you like it.
It had not been a good month for Hermione Granger, which was odd considering how wonderful the previous twenty-four had been. Harry had defeated Voldemort. Hermione had easily found her parents in Australia during the summer, and they hadn't even been that upset about the whole memory swipe thing. She entered her final year at Hogwarts, and naturally she was first in her class. Within hours of graduation she'd been offered an exciting job at the Ministry, which she happily accepted. And shortly after that, Ron had asked her to be his girlfriend. They'd just celebrated their first anniversary in July.
Yes, the past two years had been marvelous. It had all the makings of being the best years of her life. But now her life was just…well, crap.
It had all started on the first of August.
Due to construction projects in the Ministry, she had been forced to share her office with another employee in her department, one Draco Malfoy. Because of the year off she'd taken to go Horcrux hunting with Harry and Ron, Malfoy had one year's experience over her. And though he had no actual authority over her, he reminded her of his seniority every chance he got. The war may have rid him of his prejudice, but had done very little in changing his personality. He was still a complete and utter wanker.
And while she still got along with her parents, she'd recently moved out of the house into her new apartment. What was supposed to be an exciting adventure quickly lost its luster, and she was embarrassed to admit she was homesick.
It wouldn't have been so bad if she didn't feel so lonely, but Harry and Ginny had stopped spending as much time with her. Between them dating each other and the intense training they were undergoing in preparation for him being an Auror and her being the Holyhead Harpies' seeker, they didn't have much time for her.
But that was alright. After all, she had Ron, which was the most important thing. So when he dumped her without any explanation other than, "It's not you, it's me," it stung a little. Actually, it was closer to devastating heartbreak, but she didn't want to be melodramatic. Ron had assured her, "We'll still be friends," but as the days past, she saw that by 'friends,' Ron meant 'people who neither talked nor spent time with each other.' Pretty hard to accomplish when they both worked for the Ministry. But she supposed that, even though the Ministry was no longer big enough for her and Malfoy to have separate offices, it was the perfectly sized for Ron to hide from her.
Hermione thought she had hit rock bottom, but she'd just learned this morning that her rock happened to be situated atop a bed of quicksand. Who knew how much farther she had to sink today? Well, apart from the five floors to get to the Department of International Magical Cooperation, where she worked.
From the Atrium on Level Eight, the lift shot up to the First Floor and began its descent. What in reality took no more than a few minutes seemed like the longest elevator ride of her life. The instant she'd stepped into the lift, all eyes were on her. She was tempted to shield her face from their inquisitive stares with her copy of the Daily Prophet, but said paper was the source of their boorish curiosity. The instant the doors closed, she locked her eyes on the floor indicator lights, charting her progress as the elevator descended into the bowels of the Ministry.
First stop: Level One -Minister for Magic and Support Staff.
The doors opened, and an exchange of violet paper-aeroplanes occurred above her head, but no person left or entered the lift, and a few seconds later, the doors closed.
That wasn't so bad. Bring on…
Stop number two: Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry's Floor.
And wouldn't you know, Harry was entering the lift! She was happy, no, ecstatic to see him. If they weren't in so public a place, she would have collapsed into his arms. But this was neither the time nor place. Unfortunately, by the look on Harry's face, she wasn't sure he'd received that particular purple plane.
"How are you?" he said, his voice very quiet. Good thing the crowd of nosy strangers surrounding them had stopped talking so they could listen to their conversation. She (and they) could hear every blasted word. Well, they weren't going to get an emotional reaction from her. Smiling so widely her cheeks ached, she chirpily answered. "Great!"
"Really?! Have you, er, read today's paper?"
"Of course. Every morning during breakfast."
"I'm so sorry, Hermione. I cannot believe R—"
"I've been meaning to ask, when does the Quidditch season begin?"
Harry blinked. Hermione wasn't exactly the biggest Quidditch fan. "Why?"
Quick! Think of something Quidditch…y related.
"I just wanted to know, so I could see Ginny before she got too busy." Good answer!
"Oh. Starts Saturday after next, but don't worry. Ginny plans on seeing you tonight. After what R—"
"Do you think she could get me tickets to her first match?"
Hermione thought Harry had looked confused before, but that was nothing compared to his face now. It was as if he'd just cast a Patronus Charm to relay an urgent message, and instead of his usual stag, all that appeared was a flobberworm, rolling around in its own mucus. Harry's stupor lasted long enough for four people to disembark on Level Three, two people to enter, and a flurry of lavender memos to further pollute the elevator space.
Sweet Circe, only two more floors till she could escaped from this box of hell!
"Uh…sure. Tickets. Got it," Harry said, finally losing interest in what Hermione assumed was his imaginary flobberworm's sluggish progress.
Before he could bring the subject back to what was better left unsaid, Hermione decided to take control of the conversation. "So where are you headed?"
The Department of Magical Games and Sports. Ron's floor.
There was a small gasp in the compartment and Harry looked around, suddenly aware that they weren't the only two on the lift. So much for "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Mad-Eye Moody must have been having a coronary in his grave.
Harry shifted, telegraphing he was aware he'd stepped in it. Hermione knew better than to ask for the reason behind his visit to Level Seven (she could guess easily enough), but Harry "Ever-so-helpful" Potter was not one to leave his friends in the dark. Strangers, though, could suffer in their ignorance, which would explain why he adopted a secret code to relay his next message.
"Thought I'd pay You-Know-Who a visit for doing You-Know-What and hex him in the You-Know-Where," he said, through the side of his mouth, though no quieter than before.
Too bad Harry's secret code appeared to have been created by a mountain troll. She couldn't even see Gregory Goyle, that paragon of intellectual ineptitude, having any difficulty deciphering the message's hidden meaning.
Hermione pulled out another cheek-aching grin. "I'd rather not talk about it, if it's all the same to you."
"Right. Sorry. Will shut up now."
One problem eliminated and only one more floor to go. Deep, cleansing, breath. She could do this. Not that she had any choice in the matter. In the future, she would be taking the stairs.
The elevator doors began to open to Level Four: Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
"Sally, did you hear about Ron Weasley?"
"Yes! Poor Hermi—"
By now the doors had fully open and Level Four Sally and slack-mawed What's-her-face were staring at Hermione, and rather stupidly at that.
"Uh, hello," What's-her-face said, as they stepped onto the lift. Hermione knew that this was the stop for at least one person currently in the elevator, but no one moved. She jabbed the "close" button, and the doors promptly shut.
Not one second had passed when there was a tap on her shoulder. Hermione turned around, dreading what she'd see. It was What's-her-face.
"Yes?" Hermione said, as politely as she could.
"We don't know each other, but I've, I mean, we've" What's-her-face pointed back and forth between her and Level Four Sally, "read every article about you since you went to the Yule Ball with Victor Krum. I feel like I've known you for years, and I just have to say that Ron Weasley is the greatest bastard in the world."
"And so you know," Level Four Sally leaned in, whispering conspiratorially, "I have the perfect potion for this kind of thing. Two tiny drops in his butterbeer, and POOF," Level Four Sally paused to flash jazz hands around her eyes, "his manly bits will vanish into thin air."
All at once, every last male in the lift subtly repositioned their attachés to their fronts. Those that lacked such 'briefcases' settled for using their hands as protective baggage.
"They're still there, of course, they just can't see them. And it's only temporary, so you won't get in trouble for it either." Level Four Sally giggled. "Not that he's likely to report that kind of thing to the healers."
For a second, all Hermione could do was stare back in astonishment. Who was crazy enough to make something like that, let alone buy it?
"Thank you, but really, it's not necessary," Hermione somehow managed to reply.
"If you change your mind, just say the word, and I'll give you a whole gallon of Invisiballs. I picked up five when they went on sale at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, so it's no trouble at all."
"That's very…generous of you."
"Don't mention it. We girls really need to stick together."
Hermione looked around the enclosed space. All the females, and Harry, were nodding their heads vigorously. Thankfully, Hermione didn't need to respond to this demonstration of girl power. The doors opened to her floor, and she bolted with a quick, "Bye."
Now all she had to do was navigate through another hallway of coworkers. Fortunately, the coast looked clear, and Hermione bustled towards her office.
"Can you believe it? Talk about awkward," said a voice from an office she was approaching.
"I know. They already want to kill each other. I can't imagine this making things any better."
"Poor Granger. Though it serves him right. He's the biggest prat I've ever had the misfortune of knowing."
"Who are you talking about? Weasley or Malfoy?"
"Take your pick."
"Shhh! I hear someone coming, and it might be You-Know-Who."
Hermione sighed. She wasn't cut out to be so miserable, or the object of everyone's pity and gossip. At least Malfoy wouldn't feel sorry for her, though she hardly expected comfort from that quarter. Uhhh, she didn't even want to think about how he'd treat her now.
Good thing he wouldn't be in their office. When Ron had dumped her, she'd taken a couple days off from work, and they hadn't even been engaged like Malfoy and Pansy. Under normal circumstances, she might have felt a twinge of satisfaction that Parkinson had dumped Malfoy, but having been completely shattered after Ron had broken her heart, she couldn't find it in herself to be so petty. Malfoy had enough to deal with without her adding to his problems. Hopefully, when he returned, he'd grant her the same courtesy.
Eager to escape the gauntlet of gossip, Hermione leaned heavily into her door, but found it was stuck. No wonder, seeing as she was the first to arrive. Hermione shook her head. My, she was out of it today. Casting a simple spell, Hermione burst through the door into the safety and solitude of her office.
A shock of white blond quickly snapped up from the desk, and Hermione had to bite back a groan. So much for peace and quiet.
Draco's eyes immediately narrowed and he spat out, "The door was locked for a reason. I'm not to be disturbed."
Hermione shut the door quietly behind her, abandoning all her good intentions in the hallway. "How is it that, even after a month of being trapped together, it's somehow escaped your notice that we share this office?"
Not expecting an answer, she moved to her chair and continued. "I have work to do. I promise not to speak with you unless I absolutely have to, so feel free to carry on with your brooding."
With that, Hermione sat down at her desk, which happened to face Malfoy's. He was still glaring at her as she placed the Daily Prophet down. His gaze immediately darted towards it, but he said nothing.
A minute later, Hermione was already regretting her unkindness. It was all her parents' fault. Why they thought it necessary to saddle her with a stout moral upbringing, she'd never know. "Look, Malfoy, I apologize. I realize this must be upsetting for you. Have you considered taking the day off?" she said, offering him a small smile.
Rolling his eyes, he snarled, "I don't need time off. I'm perfectly fine."
"It's understandable to be hurt. You thought you were going to marry her, and now she's with someone else. Someone you can't stand. What you are feeling is perfectly natural." As Hermione spoke, the words seemed to be less about Malfoy and more about herself. Her throat began to tighten, choking on the words.
"I'm not hurt," he said.
"I don't believe you."
"Believe what you like, Granger. I could not care less what you think," Malfoy paused, leaning across the desk. "And even if I were 'hurt,' you are the absolute last person I would come to for advice. You've done nothing but mope and drag your miserable carcass around ever since Weasley dumped you. It's as if I've been sharing an office with Moaning Myrtle."
"In that case, you should have no trouble crying your eyes out to me."
Malfoy's eyes widened slightly, but she Would. Not. Care. He had taken the olive branch she'd extended and promptly lit it on fire. If he wanted to be a jerk, she would gladly return the favor. She had her own problems and pain to deal with, and wouldn't waste one more second placating this obnoxious man-child.
Ignoring the whispers of her stout moral upbringing, Hermione picked up the Prophet and held it up, blocking him from sight. That probably wasn't the best idea, since the words of the headline inflicted much more pain than anything Draco Malfoy could say.
Pureblood Affair: Pansy Parkinson trades fiancé Draco Malfoy for Ron Weasley
"No matter how many times you read it, it's not going to change," he said.
Hermione lowered the paper and glared at Malfoy. "Just because your ego's been bruised doesn't mean you get to use me as your punching bag. If you have issues, take them up with Pansy. Or Ron. Leave me out of this."
"And why should I do that? If it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't be in this mess."
Hermione completely dropped the paper, shocked that he could even reach such a conclusion. Gripping the edge of her desk, so she wouldn't topple out of her chair, Hermione leaned forward. "What?!"
"If you had been able to keep your man, none of this would have happened."
Hermione was out of her seat like a shot. "How dare you!"
Draco looked up lazily, as if he was dealing with nothing more than a billywig buzzing about the office. "Touchy, aren't we? Though I'd be upset too if I got tossed aside like a piece of rubbish."
"He did not leave me for her. He broke…" Hermione pursed her lips together, "...our relationship ended a month ago."
"Do you really believe they'd get engaged after just one month? Wake up, Granger! This has probably been in the works for a while now."
No, it wasn't possible. Ron would never cheat on her. Right? It was too painful to even think about, so she focused on the hateful little brat in front of her.
"You're one to talk. Pansy left you too."
Draco shrugged his shoulders. "She decided that public popularity was more important than money, and while I disagree with her assessment, I'm hardly surprised. Or hurt. Pansy is nothing but a conniving social climber. It was nothing personal. Just business. Weasley, on the other hand, isn't quite so cold. He would never have left you for anything so material as wealth or reputation, which leaves me to conclude that he just didn't want you anymore."
Hermione staggered back, as if he'd aimed a hex at her stomach. But the next second she was racing around their desks. Who was Draco Malfoy to tell her she was worthless? He was nothing more than a horrible man who was so miserable he couldn't handle anyone else being happy, so he went about finding ways to make others as wretched as himself. Pathetic! However, she could not verbally articulate this; she was too busy choking on her rage. Thankfully, the message was of a type that could be relayed without words or Harry's secret code.
Hermione drew back her arm and slapped Malfoy across the face so hard his head snapped back. The stinging in her palm brought her back to her senses, and all she could do was stare as Malfoy reached for his cheek and jumped out of his chair. By the look on his face, he was as shocked as was and not nearly as happy.
Remembering the last time they'd been in this situation, she expected him to turn tail and run, but he actually took a step towards her. He was much more menacing standing up than seated in his chair with two desks between them. Odd, but inconsequential. He may have had six inches on her, but she had right on her side.
"So help me, if you ever do that again…" he growled.
He took another step, and out of sheer perversity, she lifted her chin higher. It made it much more noticeable that the stupid git was becoming blurry, which meant she was about to cry. Now don't for one second think it was from sadness. Oh no, she wanted nothing more than to tear Malfoy limb from limb, and she wouldn't need a wand to do it. But being the undiscerning primate that he was, Malfoy could not discriminate between sad Hermione tears and angry Hermione tears. To him, there wasn't a difference; he'd crow about any kind of moisture leaving her eyes if he thought he was the cause. This may have been the worst day of her life, but she refused to contribute to her degradation by crying in front of Malfoy. It was time to leave, and fast.
But Malfoy's unrelenting grip at her elbow and the Ministry's anti-apparition wards put a stop to Hermione's disappearing act.
"Where do you think you're going?" he said, spinning her around.
"Get your hands off me, you toad!"
Either Malfoy was hard of hearing or took creative liberties in interpreting her demand. He, in fact, did not let go and continued sneering at her like she was a pile of Hippogriff dung in which he'd just stepped.
"Unbelievable. I'm the one who gets slapped, and yet you have the audacity to cry."
"Shut up, Malfoy!" she hissed, yanking her arm free from his grip. "I'm not crying." And she wouldn't, just to spite him. Even if a thousand Ron Weasleys left her for a thousand Pansy Parkinsons and had a thousand red-headed children, not a drop from her eye would fall while this snake was anywhere near her. If anything, he would be the one crying in front of her. Correction, make that bawling on his knees, face down to the ground. Maybe she'd contact Level Four Sally about that potion after all. Yes, that's exactly what she'd do.
Her voice lowered as she issued a threat of her own. "And if you ever say anything like that to me again, I promise on your life that you will never see your—"
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Hermione spun around on her heel, dread instantly crawling through her. There in the doorway was their boss, Xavier Hobbes. She nearly panicked, wondering if he'd seen what had just happened, but it was clear she had been spared. Hobbes hadn't even glanced up from the folder he was holding in his hands. Typical.
Hobbes was an older man, in his early sixties, with a full head of silver hair. He was tall and for the most part thin, but for the belly he'd accumulated in recent years. At one time, he'd been a very enterprising and industrious worker, earning his way into upper management. But once he'd turned sixty, he'd decided to take an early retirement without actually retiring. His hours were spent devising the holidays he'd take once he left the Ministry and started collecting his pension. Meanwhile, he passed on his neglected work to the younger members of his staff. His laziness was so well known, she'd heard the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures's pet Streeler was named after him. An apt name, considering a Streeler was nothing more than a magical snail. Though to be fair to Hobbes the Streeler, he probably moved faster than Hobbes the Sloth.
"Of course not, Mr. Hobbes," Hermione said, pasting a smile on her face and praying that Malfoy would play along. "How may I help you?"
"Actually, I've come to speak with you both. Please have a seat," he said.
Back in her chair, Hermione had the perfect view of Malfoy's face, and the glaring handprint she'd impressed upon it. Trying to ignore the disdainful looks of the red-faced Malfoy and the finger-wagging of the stout moral upbringing that would not die, Hermione shifted in her seat. She almost felt guilty. Almost. The satisfaction she'd felt from hitting him ran bone-deep, and now that she knew Hobbes was uninterested and therefore oblivious to any physical harm that befell his employees, she was free to savor it properly.
"As you both know, what with Brooker taking that position in the Department of Mysteries, he has left behind many unfinished projects with quickly approaching deadlines."
It didn't take a psychic to see where this was going. She'd wager even Professor Trelawney could interpret these signs.
"First the bad news. Apart from myself, no one has worked here longer than Brooker. But since Brooker never liked working with others, there isn't anyone else in the department up to speed on his cases."
Except you, Hermione's brain pointed out.
"Now the good news. I've decided to entrust you two with his projects. This will give you the opportunity to prove your worth to the Ministry. You're my brightest employees, and between your shared brilliance, I know you'll acquit yourselves handsomely."
Hobbes set down a box on the seam where their two desks were joined. It looked manageable enough, but when he began using his wand to unload Brooker's files, he didn't stop until both their desks were covered in stacks of files three feet deep. The box must have had an expansion charm that allowed it to hold thirty thirty times its original size.
"And when are these projects due?" Hermione asked.
"They have various deadlines," Hobbes paused, scratching his scalp, "If I recall correctly, the earliest one is next week, and the last one is three months from now. Give or take a week or two."
"There is no way we'll be able to finish all this in that little time," Malfoy said. Well, that was probably the only thing on which they'd both ever agree. Hobbes was certifiable. Not even four wizards working together in perfect harmony could finish all this in three months. Brilliant or, in Malfoy's case, not, they would lose half their time in arguing, and that was assuming they didn't kill each other the first week.
Hobbes shrugged. "Then only work on Brooker's projects. Simple as."
"And our projects?" Malfoy asked.
"Just send the lot to my office when you've compiled them. I'll see they're taken care of," Hobbes said.
Of course this meant their work would be passed onto other people in their department, but she and Malfoy needed all the time they could get. Even with this reprieve, it would still come down to the wire.
"Well, I'll leave you to it. Thanks for all your," Hobbes finally looked up from his file. "Oi. What happened to your face, Malfoy?"
"This?" he said, waving nonchalantly to Hermione's lingering handprint. "Granger hit me… Occupational hazard when working in such close quarters."
Hermione held her breath, waiting to see how Hobbes would choose to interpret Malfoy's answer.
"I see," their boss said. For a second, Hermione saw a flicker of intention flash in Hobbes's eyes, as if he should step in and do something, but just like that, it was extinguished. Intervening would be too much of a hassle, and it was easier to accept Malfoy's half-lie. "Right, sorry about that. Reports are that construction will be finished in six months, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Bureaucracy and all. More likely a year. On the bright side, it makes it easier for you to work together."
That was one way of looking at it.
"If you have any questions, I'll…we'll I'll see if I can get you in contact with Brooker, though I'm not making any promises. Since he's gone Unspeakable, I've had a devil of a time getting in contact with him. Which reminds me, I need to find a fourth for our Saturday tee-off..."
And with that, Xavier Hobbes closed the door behind him.
Malfoy took the folder nearest him and began sorting through its papers. "You owe me," he said, not looking up.
"I could have told him what really happened in here."
"That's exactly what you did!"
"No. You brutally assaulted me, and I let Hobbes believe it was nothing more than an office accident. You owe me, Granger."
"First, I could have AK'ed you, and Hobbes wouldn't have lifted a finger to do anything. And second, we don't have time to play your stupid mind games. Let's just get these files in order by their deadlines, so we can get started."
Malfoy didn't argue back, but she knew he wouldn't let it drop. That wasn't the Malfoy way. He'd bring the slap up at some later date, when he could use it to his maximum advantage and her utmost exasperation and/or detriment. Little did he know that she still had Level Four Sally's potion as a last resort.
In spite Blackmail and Invisiballs looming in the air, they managed to get to work. Without speaking, they'd somehow come to the understanding they were each responsible for the files on their own desk. When they finished with that task, Hermione assumed they would collate them together. It was thoroughly engrossing and tiring work, and there were many times when she wanted to stop. But then she'd look up and notice that Malfoy was still going at it strongly. If he didn't need a break, neither did she.
When Malfoy finally set his files down, Hermione glanced over at the clock. Her stomach was currently in the process of digesting itself for sustenance.
"I suppose we could stop for a quick dinner," she said, trying not to sound too desperate for food, though at this point she'd scarf down a handful of brussel sprouts' flavored Bertie Bott's Beans. Merlin, she'd even settle for sardines. She wasn't too particular, just starving.
From the look on his face, she would have thought Malfoy had just swallowed down a toe nail flavored one. "Are you joking? It's five. I'm leaving."
"Malfoy, you know there is no way we'll finish this without pulling extra hours."
"Be that as it may, my last night of freedom is not going to be wasted with you. We'll start with the crazy schedule making tomorrow. Until then, Granger," he bowed, doffing his imaginary hat to her, "piss off."
With a flick of his wand, the room went pitch black and he slammed the door behind him.
Well, that was fun.
To Be Continued