Hermione was not happy. Actually, Hermione was as far from happy as she could possibly get. Drumming her fingernails on the hard arm of the chair she currently sat in – did nothing to alleviate the ball of discontent in her stomach. So she took the only course of action open to her. She drummed louder.
"Granger, stop that infernal noise. Are you always so annoying first thing in the morning?"
Hermione's lip involuntary curled. The reason for her extremely bad mood sat less than thirty inches away from her. Draco sodden Malfoy. Nothing in the world could be worse than seeing his smug superior face at nine thirty in the morning. She raised an eyebrow and continued to stare straight ahead; ignoring him to perfection. She drummed the rhythm of Yankie Doodle.
"Very mature." He drawled.
She stopped for a nano-second to give him a look which usually made people cower. Draco had the audacity to sit motionless and stare back at her - with no visible reaction. What a freaking prat.
After a moment, his mouth slowly tilted in a smirk. Damn it; she'd forgotten – and stopped her drumming. Hermione narrowed her deep brown eyes, then began to tap ice-ice baby. The smirk fell. Why the hell had Neil scheduled them for a meeting together? He knew they loathed each other - with a passion.
Actually, if she thought about things reasonably – something she always did – Hermione realised she was quite fortunate. This was the longest amount of time they had spent in the same room as each other for more than three months. Yet, for reasons unknown; it was proving to be too much too soon. The last fifteen minutes had literally been torture. Draco had the impertinence to move four times, which made the chair squeak in two different ways. He'd sighed loudly six times, been actually breathing in the same vicinity as her, and addressed her twice thus far – it was bloody infuriating.
Malfoy stretched his legs out in-front of him, pointing his toes slightly like he had a cramp. Hermione certainly did not think they looked taut and muscular as the suit pants tightened - everywhere. Hermione gulped; then chastised herself. Every field agent had nice legs, even she did. Malfoy coughed and she looked up startled into his smirking grey eyes. Mortified beyond words to be caught staring, she glared and pretended to remove lint from her lint-free black trousers. Ignoring the small chuckle beside her, Hermione imagined ten different ways to kill him whilst making it look accidental. It managed to calm her down - until Malfoy moved again. The squeak of the chair over-rode any desire to try and remain civil. She slammed her hand over his forearm which rested on the chair's edge adjacent to hers.
"That's enough." Hermione hissed through her teeth. "So help me – if you move one more time…"
"You'll what?" He interrupted. "Use your talons to tap 'she'll be coming round the mountain' on my head." His eyebrow was raised in insolence.
Hermione felt her face flame red as she spluttered incoherent sentences at him.
"Oh, I see - you'll confuse me to death with your inability to form words instead."
Her fingers tightened on his arm in fury, until she realised she was still actually touching the toad. Giving one last firm squeeze, which she hoped conveyed her anger – she let go and wiped her hand on her leg. Like that would get rid of his germs, I'll need to bathe it for a week in bleach. Spinning towards him, she was ready to let loose a tirade, when Catherine – Neil's secretary, interrupted the blood bath which was about to start.
"Neil will see you both now." Catherine eyed them warily. Hermione scoffed, what did she think they were going to do? Blow each other up using paperclips and blu-tac from the desk. Hermione knew she was a damn good agent – but she was no MacGyver.
Draco stood up with a muttered 'about time' and started for the office. Hermione jumped up – there was no way he was going into Neil's office first. She was the senior operative – even if she'd only been with the company three months longer than him.
Hermione kept a derisive huff under her breath, and tried not to physically push Malfoy out of the way. Though, she couldn't resist a quick dig with her elbow into his side; under the guise of searching for some mints in her bag. His small grunt made her mouth quirk up – which disappeared the moment she looked up into steel, ice grey eyes. He blinked slowly, and menacingly – only Malfoy could make blinking seem like a prelude to murder.
Hermione felt a shiver run down the length of her spine, and pegged it for revulsion – nothing more. Although - those eyes; so magnetic; like looking into a silver snowscape….she stopped the ridiculous thought before it branched off.
"Ah good, you're both here, come, come, sit down." Neil motioned to the two chairs sitting in-front of his desk. Hermione was dismayed to see these were placed almost as close together as the two in Catherine's office. It would look petty if she moved hers.
The loud squeak of rubber on the floor broke up her thoughts; Malfoy had no qualms about looking petty it seemed – so Hermione moved hers too; even further away. They now had enough space between them to park a Mini Cooper. Neil did nothing but look between the two of them for a moment.
Their dislike of each other was almost legendary within the Ministry's Force Ten team. Obviously, Neil for the most part ignored the gossip – else there would be no way he'd set up a double meeting. Hermione's ball of discontent was rapidly turning into nerves. Neil couldn't have good news if they were here together; maybe they'd lost one of the ten. Hermione hoped not, she actually liked her workmates. Malfoy's cough made her snap a glare in his general direction – well almost all her workmates.
Force Ten was an aptly named elite ten manned organisation which snuck in and out of the country to fight, find and bring back Intel, war criminals, artefacts and anything the Auror department thought too delicate for them to operate. Aurors were closely scrutinized by the Wizarding World and the press; therefore, Force Ten was formed to do the so called 'dirty work'. The best part of working under the radar was the freedom to be able to do what was necessary - not what would look good politically, or in the papers. The Ministry made an offer too good to refuse, and Hermione had been with them a better part of six years. Unfortunately, they extended the same deal to Malfoy - which he accepted. Pillock.
"I have a new, very sensitive operation which I need sorted out as soon as possible. Not sensitive in nature, yet sensitive in regards to whom it's about, and how to deal with it." Neil began to look through the papers on his desk searching for something. Hermione wondered why Malfoy was in on her brief – she smiled slightly. Maybe he was in trouble and had to watch how an honourable employee worked a meeting. Or most likely, time constraints meant they would be briefed for two missions at the same time – Neil was a busy man after all. That had to be it.
"No problem Neil – I'll have it sorted quick smart." Hermione almost bounced in her chair at the possibility of making Draco look foolish. He scowled and mouthed 'arse kisser', to which she replied by flipping him the bird.
Neil coughed. Hermione flushed bright red, realising her boss had just witnessed the most childish thing she'd done in her twenty nine years on the planet – well almost the most childish. Hexing Draco's hairbrush to make his hair turn purple and sing 'I'm a purple people eater' was also a highlight in her juvenile career.
Instead of reprimanding her, Neil grabbed a pile of papers; handing a bundle first to Malfoy and a second sheath to her. Hermione frowned as she looked mutely at the file. Malfoy was already flipping through it when he coughed again, it sounded almost like a choke.
Looking over at her nemesis, she noticed his usual pale colour had a very red angry tinge to it. Smiling in glee, Hermione knew Draco's mission was not to his liking at all.
"Oh poor, Malfoy. Did you get another stint in the desert? All the sun was no good for your pasty complexion last time, was it? It truly looked like you wore sunnies for a month when you came back – sunburn is so unforgiving." Clapping a hand over her mouth in mock embarrassment, she continued with a laugh in her voice, "Oh sorry – I forgot; we weren't to mention that again."
If laser beams flashing from eyes was a super power, and Malfoy had it – Hermione would be a pile of burning flesh on the floor. She reeled a little under the intensity of his glare and was suddenly thankful wands were not allowed in Neil's office.
"Play nice, Hermione." Neil's voice interrupted Malfoy visually killing her with a look. "After all, you're my two top operatives - and it will make the next week easier for all concerned."
It appeared Hermione's frown was not yet to be alleviated. What was Neil on about? Seeing her puzzled look, Draco turned on her.
"Gods, Granger – you really are a thick bint." The words were clipped and precise, he was on edge.
Her lip curled unconsciously. "Don't you call me…"
Once again he interrupted her tirade with a hiss. "Read the damn mission brief."
Hermione huffed and sat back heavily on her chair, who the hell did Malfoy think he was? Ordering her around like she was a common secretary – no offense Catherine, she quickly thought. Flicking the papers so they sat straight up, she relaxed and began to quickly skim the brief. This was only because she wanted to; definitely for no other reason.
Operation: Code – Black Cross
Targets: Lawrence Mathis and Miranda Huntington, a married couple from New York's elite high class magical community.
Objective: – To infiltrate Lawrence and Miranda's mansion, break into their underground vault and obtain the Chest Of Revelation. It was stolen from the Gringotts Ministry Vault late last month. It has been traced to New York, and Lawrence. If opened this would immediately disarm every magical charm and spell in the world. In effect it would reveal Magic to the Muggle population – no glamour would conceal us or our world.
This can not happen. As you would be fully aware – this would be catastrophic, not only for the Magical Community, but also for the Muggles. This case is to be treated with delicacy, tact and a level of finesse so as not to alert any other member of this exclusive New York Magical Community. The ministry does not need, or want any bad press from this, and an incident of any kind will result in termination of employment immediately.
Clause 1.A – Ministry involvement will be denied in the case of capture and your personnel files will be wiped immediately.
1.B – All weapons, wands and spells will be authorised and approved before they are taken out of the country.
1.C – Any harm to person/s in the line of duty will be taken care of by the Ministry's clean up crew. Damage to property will not be.
Hermione skim read the rest of the page, which was unlike her in every way - but Malfoy's glower was putting her off and concentration was not forthcoming. She almost threw her papers at him to see if he would flinch. She was still livid at his display earlier, how dare he call her names. She would never be so pathetic – the stupid idiot prat.
The brief seemed straightforward enough – infiltrate their vault, steal back the Chest and save the Muggle world from learning about magic. Since she was a vault specialist she was the obvious choice for the mission. Piece of cake – no biggy. Even the threat of losing her job didn't faze her; it was a clause in all operations. It bred the idea - no fear, no motivation. She looked at Malfoy's livid features and shrugged nonchalantly.
"Your problem being?"
"The problem?" His voice was incredulous; he then frowned at her like she was the biggest dolt in England. "Read the bottom of the page, Granger. For Merlin's sake, Neil – I can't work with her – she's bloody clueless."
Malfoy stood up so quickly, Hermione lost her train of thought. He angrily paced around the room until he stood in-front of the huge window overlooking the Thames. Hermione took a second to begrudgingly admire the cut of Malfoy's suit and the way he wore it with confidence. If only the wizards she dated looked as good.
Hermione's world halted by two thoughts; the first being, when did her addled brain ever consider Malfoy as attractive? The second – work together?
Hermione snatched up the papers again, and with growing dread she read the last clause.
7.A – Evening dress will be prevalent, as the first point of contact will be a couples only High Society cocktail evening, in which Ms Hermione Granger and Mr Draco Malfoy will be attending - together.
Hermione looked up, knowing her face was white as a sheet. It was a joint mission – her partner, Malfoy – their cover, a high society couple.
Swallowing the sick feeling welling up inside of her, she knew one thing for certain. The gods officially hated her; there was no doubt in her mind.
It had been two days since Neil had assigned Hermione and Draco to work together. Two days of ranting, raving and an odd sort of resignation; all of which Hermione did alone in her apartment. Her neighbours now officially thought she was a crazy lady who yelled to herself at night. She couldn't help but think Draco and her would barely escape with their lives intact, because it was obvious they would kill each other. The one thing she was certain of; every other case in her lifetime she was assigned would be infinitely easier than this one. Maybe she was being too harsh on him. Laughing bitterly, Hermione knew she wasn't – he would never give her an inch.
She was currently standing in her office waiting for Draco to arrive so they could Apparate to New York. He was late, a trait which had Hermione curling her fingers into fists; could Draco do anything right? Probably not, was the curt answer.
Staring out from her window she watched the people below, and wondered if this would be the last quiet moment to herself. Her last reprieve before the disaster which was Draco stomped all over her ordered and uncomplicated life. As she thought of the wolf in wolf's expensive clothing, he suddenly appeared in the crowd below.
Sneering, a gesture she'd picked up somewhere; Hermione watched as Malfoy walked along. "Look at him, head held high, like he owns the world, Git. What on earth is he wearing?"
Continuing to peer down, Hermione raised an eyebrow. He wore what looked like jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt. No way. Malfoy did not 'do' casual. She even pictured him training in the gym with his suit pants and shirt on – he also wouldn't sweat, it would be 'unseemly'. Watching him, she realised she'd never seen him look so – at ease. It made her nervous.
Then Draco did something she was sure had to be a trick of the light; he reached down and gave money to a homeless busker. What in hell…She moved closer to the window so rapidly; she smacked her head with a resounding thump. Draco looked up at the noise and she jumped back, rubbing her forehead. Did he see me? Merlin, please don't let my forehead go red.
Rubbing her head absently, Hermione fell into her chair, continuing to feel pure unadulterated astonishment. Draco – giving money to the poor? Never. It wasn't right, it wasn't the box she had him pigeonholed into, labelled 'utter cock' for reference. He didn't do nice; she knew this for a fact. A little irritating voice piped up and told her - she'd never really given him the opportunity to be nice, she had always rebuffed any form of advance he had issued her.
Unfortunately, this opened up a memory of the first ever Christmas party they had for the Force Ten team and the office employees. Draco had been with the team for only a month, and Hermione hadn't seen him yet as she'd been in Geneva for an assignment. He'd waltzed up to her whilst she was pouring punch, initiating a conversation about how pleased he was to be working for the Ministry's new faction, and glad of the opportunity to start over with her. She hadn't heard a word. Ashamedly she thought now - she never wanted to hear his words. Instead, the punch ended up in his face and Hermione wound up in a bar; drunk as a skunk with Harry and Ginny; lamenting the day he walked into her life – again.
In hindsight, their issues with each other – may have been kick-started by her. Hermione shook her head in denial, no – they were both to blame. She quickly pushed down the voice which was trying desperately to get her to see reason.
She knew why Neil had paired them together. If she were honest with herself, she'd actually known it all along. Admitting it was harder than she'd expected though. Draco was the best male operative in Force Ten by far, and she - the top female. It was logical, strategic and smart for them to do the operation together. Truthfully, she wondered how it had never happened before. Joint missions came up occasionally, though she was usually paired up with Marcus or Padma.
So if she could admit Draco was an excellent operative, and they would probably finish the mission in half the time anyone else would; why could he ruffle her feathers so much? This was the mystery question she needed answered before she could let go and move on.
How could one grey eyed, tall, lithe, blonde, muscular….Hermione stopped her thoughts dead. That was why. After everything she'd been through, after all their past problems and probably future ones – Hermione found him utterly gorgeous, and this horrified her sensibilities. How could she – find Malfoy, the bane of her existence, handsome? Not that she would ever contemplate doing anything about this odd attraction. Heavens help her; she'd have to be on the edge of insanity and starving for human companionship.
"Right, Granger, tonight's gala starts at nine…"
Hermione almost jumped out of her skin, her face turning bright red. Don't be silly, she chided herself – there was no way Malfoy could have heard her inner monologue. She still felt mortified he'd been in the vicinity as she thought Judas-like thoughts. A mantra started in her head – not cute, not cute, not cute. All she could hear in the end was cute.
"Did your mother never teach you to knock?" Her voice was high, and she snapped without meaning to.
Malfoy looked up at her, confused at the interruption. "Excuse me?"
"Knock – surely it's not a concept you are unfamiliar with."
Malfoy looked puzzled for a second, then scowled. "Really, you're going to be that trivial?"
Damn straight she was, but she wasn't going to admit it. 'I could have been doing anything – taking a personal call, yoga, changing my outfit."
Malfoy looked her up and down slowly, taking in her appearance. So what if her jeans were well worn and her converse shoes were ratty – they were only Apparating. Not liking his scrutiny, she pulled her unruly brown curls up into a messy bun. Admittedly this was not her finest hour looks wise. Mentally slapping herself, she realised she shouldn't care.
"There is absolutely nothing in this room which I'd be interested in – nothing, Granger." His eyes narrowed as he looked at her critically. "Actually, there may be one thing…"
Her heart sped up at the power of his silver gaze, how could he affect her blood pressure from the other side of the room with just one look? She decided it was a genetic anomaly – yes, definitely a heart murmur. He walked slowly into the room, standing about a foot away from her. Hermione looked up, she was tall at 5'10, but Malfoy was around 6'4 and commanded a room with just his sheer presence. Her traitorous stomach began to flip-flop, and her breath came in shorter - until he spoke.
"Yep, the window, I think it's bigger than mine – I'm very interested in this office for myself."
Trying not to wonder why his words stung, Hermione just snarled, "Bastard."
"Hang on, what's this? Your anger makes it sound as if you wanted my interest to be in you, not the office. Is that your game?" Draco raised an eyebrow wonderingly at her. She wanted to flick it completely off his face and stomp on it.
"No, of course not." She spluttered back. Damn him to the nine levels of hell and back, she was bloody flustered again – not because what he said was true – not at all. It appeared lying to herself was a new trick she'd picked up.
"Well, what do you mean, Granger? I guess we could have a clause in our personal contract – what happens in New York stays in New York? Of course I want nothing to do with you here in England – but on the wrong side of the Channel, you may be able to persuade me."
Hermione's cheeks were so red, she knew a blood vessel was about to explode. Just before she could tell him in no uncertain terms where his offer could be shoved; she saw his face. He was enjoying this, he was truly gaining some form of sick satisfaction from making her uncomfortably angry and discomfited.
"Out. Now." Hermione pointed back at the door. "I will not dignify this with any more responses. Yes, I read the brief where we would be obtaining a private meeting with Lawrence and Miranda; only after contributing more money than we would ever see in our lifetimes to their charity. Where the Ministry gets the money – I don't want to know."
"Make that, more money than in your lifetime, Granger. I have quite comfortably seen and used more." His arrogant smile reminded her of all the reasons she loathed him. She had nothing on her to throw, except the shoes on her feet. It galled her; she would always carry a small hunting axe from now on.
"I forgot one thing, Malfoy, though I figured this out on my own. You're an arrogant prick, and I really don't want anything to do with you until we Apparate – now leave."
Malfoy continued to stand in her office, a small smirk raising his lips in a half smile – Hermione looked away quickly. How could such an infuriatingly obtuse Neanderthal be so strikingly handsome when they smiled? It was ludicrous. If she tried a smile like that, people would think she had wind.
"Language, Granger – you're not one of the lower class now. I'll see you in an hour then; and, Granger?" Hermione looked up at him in surprise at the pleasant tone his voice turned. "Tonight, for the gala - try and make yourself look like somebody I'd be dating."
Her shoe hit the side of the door a second too late to hit him in the head. She could hear his chuckle from the hallway. Merlin, what had she gotten herself into? Trouble with the very devil himself it seemed.
A/N: Hi Guys - here's my new small offering, it will be around six chapters long. Really hope you enjoy reading it, feel free to let me know...be gentle! :)