Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, and am not making any money whatsoever from this amateur writing effort.

##

Opposition was nothing new to Hermione Granger. She'd faced antagonism her whole life, about things both large and small, and it had seldom bothered her. It always seemed as if there was something about her with which people disapproved. At Hogwarts, there were people who wanted her to study less, shut up in her classes, make her essays less voluminous. There were the girls who wanted her to devote more time to pedicures and less to discussing how to make the Wizarding world a better place. The list went on and on.

And then, of course, there were the Malfoys.

The pureblooded Malfoys, both father and son, had been a thorn in her side since Hermione was eleven years old. After she had graduated from Hogwarts and joined the Ministry, Draco's role as Hermione's primary opponent had been taken over by his father. To Hermione's dismay, Lucius Malfoy proved to be infinitely more competent, and intelligent, than Draco had ever been.

Still, to Hermione, it was business as usual. She shrugged it off—what else could she do? She ignored Malfoy's interference in her affairs and worked harder. After all, obliviousness to disapproval was one of the many things that made her an excellent activist. Never mind that, somehow, it seemed like he had made a small hobby of thwarting her. Never mind that she seemed to be getting nowhere. She had worked past the younger Malfoy; she would surpass the elder as well. It would, she told herself firmly, just take some time.

After all, even Draco had eventually realized she would always beat him. How different could Malfoy senior be, really?

The first clue Hermione had that the answer could be, very different indeed, came with the first gift. It coincided with the defeat of her first bill before the Wizengamot. She'd composed legislation before, several times, but this was the first bill she had presented herself, and, as such, she had left nothing to chance. The speech she'd written alone had taken Hermione days to prepare. And that wasn't even to mention how long the rest of it had taken. The hours of editing. The meetings. The utter dismay when, after all that hard work, it had been defeated.

The most frustrating thing about it was that Hermione knew precisely who was to blame.

The bill had been a simple one that guaranteed adequate food and lodging for house-elves, something that everyone who wasn't a monster did anyway, as a matter of course. Despite that, somehow it had been defeated—by two votes. Two!

Hermione came back to her office both confused and irate. She wanted to yell. She wanted to hit something. She settled for slamming her door and clenching her fists. Then, abruptly, she frowned. On top of her desk sat a flat velvet case.

Thirty minutes and fifteen borderline Dark revealing charms later, she opened it. A small, carefully crafted silver rose lay on a bed of dark blue velvet. Hermione caught her breath, momentarily stunned by its beauty. The color of the fabric, she noticed, precisely matched the sapphire that had been set deep into the center of the flower.

Later that evening, her lover, a former member of Slytherin house, examined it. The burnished silver stood in stark contrast to his long, dark fingers. "It's exquisite. Who gave it to you?"

Hermione silently handed over the card. He read it aloud. "Beautiful even in defeat – L.M." His eyebrows raised. "No."

"Yes," Hermione said grimly. "The same day he killed my house-elf bill."

Blaise burst out laughing. When he finally finished, he still looked amused. "And you say this was in your office?"

"Yes. And you know what kind of wards I use." She frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe I should look into making them stronger. I really thought they would knock an intruder unconscious."

"He was a Death Eater." Zabini said. "He had to have learned a few things."

Hermione held the rose and gazed at it. "He's gone to a lot of trouble just to mock me." She sighed. "I suppose he has people to pick out these things."

Blaise stared at her, his mouth open. "You don't get it at all, do you?"

"Get what?"

"Sometimes I forget you were in Gryffindor." Zabini tried again. "You know he's divorced now."

"How could I forget?" Hermione said. Her voice was dry. "He's been Most Eligible Wizard three years running. So?"

"Oh dear." Zabini shook his head. "This is going to be fun to watch."

##

Two weeks later, to Hermione's utter bafflement, it happened again. This time, it was her werewolf bill, one which would have given those afflicted with lycanthropy guaranteed time off during the days immediately surrounding the full moon. It hadn't even addressed non-discrimination in hiring and firing, like she had really wanted. No, Hermione reflected, she had decided to be realistic. She'd deliberately kept the bill small and reasonable. Non-threatening. It only applied to those (few) werewolves that were, somehow, already gainfully employed. As she approached her office, she sighed and wished for a drink.

Only to find her wards once again broken.

##

Later, once again in bed with Blaise (they met once a week without commitment), Hermione wore only the necklace. Her lover ran a fingertip over the large, inset moonstone that lay between her breasts.

"Well, you can't say he doesn't have a sense of humor," he said. "Was there a card?"

Silently, Hermione passed it over. He read aloud, "A worthy opponent is rare and precious indeed. Better luck next time. – Lucius."

"As if luck has anything to do with it," she said. "Sabotage, more like."

Blaise eyed her. "You do realize that this is the Slytherin equivalent of pulling your braids on the playground."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Destroying my life's work is the same as tugging my pigtails? Try another one."

Zabini shrugged and gave up. Hermione ran a polished nail over the surrounding emeralds, and sighed. "I really thought using new wards would have kept him out this time. I found them in a book of ancient Aramaic, did I tell you?"

"Lucius has a section of Aramaic in his library."

The woman beside him flushed and began to blink rapidly. "Does he really."

"Mmhm. And a section on hieroglyphics."

She swallowed. "Well, that's hardly the point, is it?"

Blaise shrugged and suppressed his smile. "If you say so, Hermione."

##

One week later, as was becoming usual, her Centaur bill was narrowly defeated. The looks she got from the Wizengamot members, though, as they left the chamber, confused her the most. Somehow, watching the more senior members leave, she got the sense there was a joke being told that included everyone but her. She hated the feeling.

And, of course, there was another box. The bracelet inside it was the most beautiful piece yet—a narrow, woven band of silver and rose gold, and inset with diamonds. It was both strong and delicate, and Hermione adored it immediately. Her hands shook as she held the card. There was no getting around it, she realized. Enough was enough. She would have to go see Malfoy.

##

"Miss Granger. To what do I owe this pleasure?" Lucius Malfoy straightened behind his desk. Hermione stopped short. To her discomfiture, the elder Malfoy wore only trousers, a waistcoat, and shirtsleeves folded to the elbows. His forearms were dense with blonde hair, and appeared stronger than she would have ever expected. Glasses were perched on the end of his nose, and she watched as he removed them. Lucius Malfoy looked the very picture of a dedicated Ministry employee, a fact which sounded alarm bells in Hermione's brain.

"Oh please," she said, finally responding to his question. Her face was bright red. She strode up to his desk and held up the bracelet. "As if you don't know."

Lucius smiled slightly. "Ah. Did you like it?" His head tilted in an interested manner. "For that matter, did you enjoy the others? You never informed me."

"I most certainly did! Inform you that is. And I know you received my thank-you cards, which I might add told you to desist, because the jewelry I attached to them just ended back up in my office the next day. Every time!" Her voice rose slightly. "Delivered by a house elf, I might add!"

The man opposite her kept his face blank. He murmured, "Were they. How very inappropriate."

Hermione took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. Her thumb unconsciously stroked the bracelet as she did so. Malfoy's eyes tracked the movement. "I didn't realize you kept an office here in the Ministry," she said finally.

"And yet you charged into it quite successfully," Lucius said. His tone was dry.

"A working office, I meant."

"Ah. You imagined I did all my paperwork from the Manor?" Malfoy stood slowly, and Hermione couldn't help but watch. Underneath those robes, he had a strong body, and even from across the desk, he seemed to tower over her petite frame.

"I assumed you had a private floo connection you used. I only thought to catch you before you left."

Lucius smiled. "That explains why you're out of breath, then." He walked around the desk and stood disconcertingly close. Hermione took a deep, steadying breath. The elder Malfoy smelled of lemon and sandalwood. His voice lowered very slightly, and she shivered. "And it also explains why your cheeks are flushed." Malfoy regarded her. "All of it for me. How flattering."

Hermione opened her mouth, and then closed it again, looking up at him. Of course, he'd meant the innuendo to keep her off-balance. She forced herself to ignore it, but it was difficult. He was so solid, and his presence was somehow overwhelming. It was easy to imagine slipping her arms around his torso, standing on her toes, and pulling herself closer… Too easy.

She stepped away firmly. "I came about the centaur bill." Hermione looked down at the bracelet. In the space of a few minutes, she had grown surprisingly attached to it. "And this."

"Of course you did." Lucius gestured to a chair in front of his (she couldn't help but notice) huge desk. Not for a Malfoy, she supposed, the Spartan office, tiny desk, and metal filing cabinet. No, it just stood to reason that her adversary had a desk the size of a small ship.

To match his ego, she thought. Hermione sank into the chair he offered and crossed her legs.

"Drink?" Of course, she thought resentfully, Malfoy had a small cabinet for those things. His office really was much larger than hers. It was definitely time she asked for a change of scenery.

"No, thank you."

Lucius poured himself a finger of something from a crystal decanter. "Are you certain? I have wine, if you prefer."

Hermione smiled. A younger version of herself would have pointed out the hundreds of subtle-acting potions that could be used by an enemy, many of which were perfectly legal. The older version of her knew that simple refusal would do better, and just shook her head.

If he was displeased, Malfoy didn't show it. He sat in the chair beside her, instead of opposite. As he sipped his drink, his eyes lingered on her legs. Hermione flushed a deeper red.

"What concerns you about the legislation, Miss Granger?" He smiled. "Or perhaps I should say, former legislation."

Hermione narrowed her eyes. It had taken months to get it put up for a vote, and now it was dead. "I want to know why you opposed it."

"I didn't."

"Don't insult me, Mr. Malfoy. You may not have voted, but abstaining doesn't mean anything in this case. My bill is dead because of you."

He smiled at her pleasantly. "The houses at Hogwarts do sort true, don't they, Miss Granger? Although in your case, I suspect it's rather a lack of training than one of innate temperament. You don't lack caution, per se, although you do have a rather charming amount of passion for your causes."

Hermione could feel her face turn hot, and knew she was flushing again. Damn him.

"You manufactured opposition to a bill that would have allowed centaurs to cross from one territory to another through the Forbidden Forest." She took a deep breath. "A simple right-of-way issue. It was hardly worth the effort to oppose me on such a minor proposal, especially one with such a positive impact in terms of goodwill." She took a deep breath. "Again.. Mr. Malfoy, why?"

"A direct question. " Lucius mused. "Not very strategic of you, Miss Granger."

"I wasn't a Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy, as you well know. Since you brought up houses."

"No," He agreed, "I suppose your background would have precluded that. Sometimes I do wonder, Miss Granger, if that was the only thing that did."

Hermione snorted. "There's nothing of the snake-house in me."

"If you say so, Miss Granger."

"You didn't answer my question."

Lucius shrugged. "Very well. You're here, aren't you? And so deliciously wound up, in full righteous fury. So…tense." He smirked and took a swig of his drink. "If I would have bribed that vote, I would say that it was well worth the price. Theoretically speaking, of course." He leaned forward, and his voice lowered. "Tell me, Miss Granger, since we're having this little chat… Tell me… What do you do to release all of that tension, if you don't drink?"

Hermione frowned at him, confused. "Of course I'm upset. You just killed my bill."

Malfoy continued as if she hadn't spoken, his voice musing. "Yes… so overwrought, so serious about your cause, and yet…" Another tiny smirk played on his lips. "I've heard there is more to you, Miss Granger. That you do, in fact, let go, from time to time, in the right company."

Hermione stared at him, aware her face was burning. Blaise wouldn't have… No. She was being paranoid. He couldn't have. They had a binding agreement. One with certain… consequences.

The blond man opposite her watched her closely, as if reading the thoughts. "You have a very expressive face, Miss Granger." His grey eyes captured hers. They were strangely warm. The tone of his voice became even more intimate. "If you wanted secrecy, Hermione, you shouldn't have chosen the heir of a family so in need of funds. The Zabinis are ambitious, but poor." Lucius reached forward, and Hermione watched, frozen, as the pad of one long finger ran lightly down her cheek and along her jaw line. He murmured, "Blaise is recovering from the boils with his mother's Healer, although some of the ones in more delicate areas will likely prove to be a bit more… stubborn."

Hermione's eyes widened, and her mind raced. What did Malfoy know? Should she care? Thinking back, she remembered some of the things she and Blaise had done. Ever since they had established their unlikely, and very secret, 'arrangement' at Hogwarts, they had both liked to experiment. Bondage, toys… Much of it was unorthodox, especially for the very conservative Wizarding world. Nothing Hermione would want the newspapers to know, but her reputation was good enough that she could claim he was lying. But then… wait. There was that one role-playing game where she charmed Blaise's skin pale and hair blonde…Oh. Hermione closed her eyes and realized, abruptly, that she wanted to die.

Lucius, watching her, began to smile.

Hermione swallowed and thought furiously. Malfoy's fingers had left her, but, somehow, she could still feel them, a ghost against her skin. The best way forward, she decided, was just to pretend she didn't care. Even if it felt like her insides were melting from embarrassment… No. She would not let him intimidate her. It was, after all, she thought, possible that Zabini hadn't gone into any detail about their activities. No, the boils were simply triggered by speaking of their liaison at all. It was only if…

As if sensing her thoughts, Lucius coughed. "The, erm... verbage that appeared on his face… That was a bit of a surprise to him." He tapped his chin thoughtfully with a finger. "I assume that will wear off eventually?"

Oh, no. Blaise had told him everything.

Hermione straightened her spine, and raised her chin. So, she told herself, Lucius Malfoy knew she wanted him. Had fantasized about him. So what? He was an attractive man. Many women thought so. It didn't mean anything at all. Whatsoever. She pursed her lips and glared at the man opposite her.

While observing her, an expression of what almost looked like admiration crossed Lucius Malfoy's face. Just as quickly, it disappeared.

"So," she demanded, "let me see if I understand this correctly. You denied my bills in order to get me here, now? And you bribed my… Blaise's family to get information about me?" She shook her head. "Who does that?"

"Well," Malfoy said, "I do. Obviously."

Hermione shook her head. "That makes no sense whatsoever. Why on earth would you bother?"

"Ah," he said, "I see. So you would have accepted my invitation to dinner without all the trouble of calling in favors and paying off the Zabinis?"

"Invitation? To dinner?" Hermione blinked, flustered. "Well, no, but—"

"Yet you will, no doubt, in order to discuss your upcoming proposals and their chances in the next session." Malfoy's voice was matter-of-fact. "And to avoid making known the, shall we say, more interesting parts of the bookworm, do-gooder heroine's sex life."

Hermione stared at him. "You're completely morally bankrupt."

"So I've been told. Is that a yes to dinner, then?"

"I… Clearly I have no choice."

Lucius smiled brightly. "There you have it. Shall I expect you at seven tomorrow evening?"

Hermione blinked rapidly, staring at him as the older man got to his feet. "Fine, but—that is to say—I…"

"I find I need to run to another appointment, my dear." He gave her a rather wicked glance. "Please feel free to stay and gather your wits for as long as you need." With a twitch of his cane, he was once again clothed in his robes.

Hermione snapped her mouth shut and glared at his back as he exited the office.

Worthy opponent, indeed, she thought, dazed.

##

One year later:

Blaise found Hermione at the Ministry party, where she was mingling among several former Ravenclaws from their year at Hogwarts. She looked over at him and did a double-take.

"Congratulations on your bills passing, Hermione," he said, holding up two glasses of champagne. "Peace offering?"

Hermione took one of them and held it to her lips without drinking. "Your face seems to have recovered," she observed.

"Along with the rest of my bits, although it took a year with the Healers." Blaise grimaced. "My mother really owes me for that one." He half-smiled at her. "Shall I apologize to clear the air?"

Hermione waved it off. A large diamond ring glinted and caught the light as her hand moved. "No need. I believe it worked out…" She smiled. "…satisfactorily for all parties concerned."

Zabini smiled. "Sometimes these matters require careful mediation," he said finally.

Hermione smirked. "Yes. Surprisingly, I'm beginning to enjoy the… details."

There was a cough behind them. Lucius eyed Blaise as the darker man turned, widened his eyes, and excused himself.

"Miss me?"

"Like a house-elf misses their freedom," Hermione said lightly.

Lucius frowned. "I'm confused, darling. Is that to say, not at all?"

Hermione tsked. "And to think, after all the times we're been over this." She raked her eyes over his form. "It's almost as if you don't want to learn."

Malfoy gazed down at her. "I might need a reminder. Or three."

Hermione pretended to think. "Well… I suppose we could have a remedial class. Also, I do have a new bill coming up soon."

"I can sense I already vehemently oppose it, and everything it stands for."

Hermione ran her fingernails along the inside of Lucius's wrist. She said into his ear, "It sounds like we should get started on negotiations, then." She smirked and met his eyes. "They promise to be lengthy."

"Definitely." Lucius set down his glass, and placed his palm on her lower back. "Shall we?"

His companion gave a fingertip wave across the room to Blaise, who looked both amused and vaguely ill. "Ready when you are," she said.

Lucius smiled. "After you, Mrs. Malfoy."

***End***