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A Journalist's Pursuit by mrdarcy

Format: Novella
Chapters: 4
Word Count: 10,398
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Romance
Characters: Ron, Hermione, Draco
Pairings: Draco/Hermione, Ron/Hermione, Draco/OC

First Published: 05/16/2008
Last Chapter: 08/26/2008
Last Updated: 08/26/2008

Summary:
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Hotshot journalist Draco Malfoy decides that Hermione Granger, attorney extraordinaire and fiancee to Ron Weasley, will be the next victim of his scandalous, tell-all column. But as he follows her everyday life, something happens that he did not predict, and writing about her becomes increasingly difficult. Now he has to choose between losing her and losing his job...
Amazing banner by Violet.


Chapter 1: Choosing A Subject
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Brilliant chapter image by hpphoenix at TDA




The Daily Prophet had always been one of the most prestigious newspapers to work for. It was therefore quite easy for Draco Malfoy to feel confident about himself as he made his way to the editor-in-chief’s office, his blonde hair hanging loosely over his forehead, his black shoes shiny and polished. Even after having been here for almost two years, the walk to the office seemed very long.

‘Sit down, Malfoy, and wipe that smarmy grin off your face.’

Draco smirked as he closed the door behind him and surveyed his surroundings. The panels on the walls were of mahogany and there was an amazing view of the London Eye behind the strict-looking woman waiting for him with an angry glare on her face.

‘Now, now, Drisella, dear, what have I done?’

Draco collapsed into the seat facing the desk and eyed Drisella Derkins, amused rather than alarmed at the upcoming row. Drisella, a thin, smartly dressed woman nearing her forties, was holding a copy of the Daily Prophet in her hand, looking most dissatisfied.

‘Malfoy, I’ve never wanted you on my staff. When Olsen retired, I was all for snagging that journalist from Witch Weekly. I knew that you were uncontrollable, that I couldn’t rely on you. But this,’ she shook the newspaper, ‘is unacceptable.’

Draco yawned pointedly and scratched his wrist in a most relaxed manner.

‘Why? Because I attacked the Junior Minister for cheating on his wife? It’s called revelation of the truth, Drisella.’

‘Stop the sappy crap, Malfoy,’ Drisella snapped, standing up and placing her hands on the desk. It was a gesture of command; a way of showing him who was in charge. ‘Everyone here knows that you couldn’t care less about truth. And unless you’ve got actual evidence, this isn’t truth, it’s gossip, and expensive gossip at that - I’ve already had three phonecalls from Percy Weasley about the so-called Henry Betteler who wrote this garbage.’

‘Well, when I chose Henry Betteler as a psuedonym, I thought it was a credible name,’ Draco answered in mock reflection. He sat up properly as Drisella’s face turned into a scorn. ‘I have evidence, Drisella - maybe not the kind that you would -‘

‘Oh, I see,’ Drisella exclaimed, her face relaxing into sarcastic realization. ‘You’ve - ah, how do I put this - entertained Weasley’s mistress or his mistress’ friend or his mistress’ friend’s friend-?’

Draco flashed a grin.

‘Well, I had to give her something in return for the favour she paid me,’ he said. Drisella looked as if she were about to vomit.

‘You disgust me, Malfoy. Going out with all these women to get a story.’

‘Ah, maybe so, but my stories sell, Drisella. Henderson told me that all copies were sold out. It’s juicy, it’s fresh - people love the Henry Betteler articles!’

‘Then why don’t you put your name on them?’ Drisella exclaimed. Draco rolled his eyes.

‘My dear Drisella, even you must understand why I can’t do that. How could I appear as a trustworthy, reliable, sympathetic person if I’m a scumbag who digs up juicy affairs that should be kept secret and who writes about them for every member of the wizarding community to read? I mean, no woman would divulge secrets if they knew who I was.’

‘I suspect you have a point,’ Drisella sighed. She sat down again, placing a pair of smart, brown rectangle glasses on her strict face. Rifling through her papers, she addressed Draco again. ‘And what exactly do you have planned for next week’s ‘Shocking Citizens’ column?’

‘Well, now I’m done with Percy Weasley,’ Draco said grimly, ‘I thought I should transfer my attention on to that ghastly Potter and -‘

‘No,’ Drisella interrupted him abruptly. Draco let out a sigh of frustration.

‘Come on, Drisella,’ he exclaimed angrily, ‘this is the third time I’ve tried to get you to let me write a piece about Potter -‘

‘He saved the Wizarding World,’ Drisella said grimly. She looked back up at him and removed her glasses in an interested manner. ‘Why are you so keen to drag Potter in the dirt?’ When he didn’t answer, she went back to her papers. ‘Nobody wants to read bad news about Harry Potter, he’s a hero.’

‘It’s been five years since the Final Battle, surely -‘

‘I said no, Malfoy!’

‘Fine,’ Draco agreed angrily, ‘I’ll find someone else.’

He slammed the door behind him and wandered off to his desk. The floor was alive with activity and stress; everyone kept looking up at the enourmous clock in the centre of the large room, worrying about deadlines and prints. Draco collapsed into his leather chair. His desk was in a shadowy corner on the outskirts of all the others; there was nothing intimate or personal about it. Dozens of files and papers were overflowing the desk, little post-its pasted on the small surrounding walls of the table. He picked up a pen and spinned it on his desk, wondering who on earth to write about now; Percy Weasley had been his main focus for the past three weeks.

His column was a weekly one, and Henry Betteler got many letters telling him just how many fans he had out there. People loved to read bad things about other people, especially about people in high-commanding positions. That was partly why Draco wanted so much to write about Potter - the adored, powerful, loved Potter. But - as much as he disliked admitting it - Drisella was probably right; nobody wanted to hear bad things about a hero.

He laid his pen back down on his desk and stretched. Penelope Clearwater, journalist in the weddings and divorces section, was walking past him, up to her elbows in stacks of files. He whistled and she turned around.

‘Hey Penny.’

‘Hello, Draco. Nice piece this week.’

‘Last touch on a chocolate soufflé,’ Draco grinned cockily. ‘Thought you might enjoy it. Now I’ve just got to start on a new recipe.’

‘Any idea who your next victim will be?’

‘None,’ Draco admitted whole-heartedly. ‘What are you working on?’

‘Oh, just a few announcements... Engagements, divorces.’

Draco reached out for one of the files and opened it.

‘Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass?’

‘Divorce, of course,’ Penelope grinned, leaning against his desk as he reached for another file.

‘Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbott... No, don’t tell me - marriage!’ Draco cried out in mock surprise. He reached for one of the bottom files. ‘Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.’ He looked up and wrinkled his nose in disgust. ‘We hardly need to wonder about that one, do we?’

‘No,’ Penelope laughed, ‘I doubt it.’

She took the files from him and walked away into the distance, leaving Draco in a pensieve silence. Hermione Granger... There was one he had not thought about. Working at a newspaper had somehow made him give up the habit of reading the newspaper, but he knew that she was a girl many journalists chose to write about. Well, of course, Draco thought bitterly, being one of the three great heros who had destroyed the Horcruxes and all that. He remembered reading something about her eradicating all pro-Pureblood laws, both to much praise and controversy. He scowled. Leave it up to someone like her to decide which laws should stay and which should go.

His mind was made up before he even knew it; it was the perfect opportunity to strike, now that her engagement to Weasley had been announced. Satisfied that he had done a day’s work, he put his feet up on the desk and started doing the paper’s crossword.

*

‘Mrs Weasley. Mrs Weasley.’

‘Not yet.’

‘You have to, it’s half past seven, darling.’

‘No, I mean you can’t call me Mrs Weasley yet.’

Hermione laughed and opened her eyes to Ron’s great surprise, who had thought she was half-asleep. She pulled him down to the soft, warm bed and rolled on top of him, covering his face with her lips.

‘I take it you’re glad we got engaged,’ Ron chuckled, hardly minding that she was creasing his newly-pressed shirt. She shook her head and smiled in what was obviously complete bliss, finally meeting his lips with hers.

‘I’m just glad it actually happened, seeing how it took you five years to work up the courage,’ she teased him. He prodded her waist where he knew she was most ticklish.

‘It did not.’

‘And another four years before you plucked up the courage to kiss me,’ she continued, her voice rising.

‘Well, let’s make up for lost time, shall we,’ he suggested serenely, putting his hand around her head and pulling her down to claim another kiss. Lost in one another, they pulled apart as the alarm clock noisily rang, then laughed. Hermione jumped off him and got dressed as Ron straightened his shirt and tie.

‘D’you want to eat lunch with me today?’ Hermione asked, zipping up a smart black pencil skirt and reaching for her blouse.

‘I can’t,’ Ron sighed in disappointment, ‘I promised Harry I’d join him. The Head of the Auror Department invited us to a bistrot or something.’

‘Ooh, how elegant,’ Hermione teased him, sidling up to his side and straightening his tie. He smiled lazily, enjoying the attention. ‘Try and talk him into a promotion, then maybe we can get a bigger appartment.’

Ron looked around. It was true that they did not have an enourmous place, but being in the centre of London, it was all that they could afford. Not that they did not make a nice salary, for they did, and both were steadily building up impressive careers.

They left the appartment together and headed for the Ministry. The past five years had been nothing short of bliss for them; of course, the first few months after the Final Battle had been awful, but they had got through them and come out even stronger. They had moved in together three years later, once they had got proper jobs and finished all the required trainee work. From then on, the ride had been easy and relatively simple. He had proposed a week ago in a highly, almost exaggerated romantic manner: at the Burrow, on his knee, in front of the whole family while celebrating Molly’s birthday (of course she admitted that it was the best birthday present she had ever had). Ginny and Harry’s wedding was approaching, set a few weeks from now, and Hermione wanted to wait a little longer, so both Ron and her decided to save up money for four months to have a really grand wedding.

She kissed Ron on the mouth, a short, affectionate kiss, as they reached the Ministry entrance - she did not like to do it in the Ministry, private as she was. They ceased holding hands and walked down the underground stairs to the entrance, their body language now completely neglecting any sign of love and transforming it into a professional manner.

From behind a nearby lamppost, Draco Malfoy grinned. He took another bite of his brioche and wondered just how many secrets Hermione Granger could be keeping.

*
A/N: So here I am again, posting yet another Dramione story. Those of you who have read 'A New Life' know that that story is about an old marriage coming apart. This story takes place only 5 years after the Final Battle where Hermione and Ron are newly engaged, so it's very refreshing for me to write them while they're still in love. I hope you enjoy the story and thanks for reading! 
Oh, and to avoid all confusion, Draco is known within the Daily Prophet as the author behind the Henry Betteler stories, but apart from that, nobody else knows that Draco is the true journalist of these scandalous articles.

Chapter 2: Thinking Up A Breadline
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Many thanks to hpphoenix for the chapter image!


Hermione was surprised at the fact that she had been called into the Head’s office later that day. Meetings with Miss Lillian Gherkin were not something junior attorneys were accustomed to at the Department for Magical Law Enforcement.

She spent about half an hour in the bathroom combing her hair and re-touching her make-up, going over every inch of her outfit - which, compared to the other women’s, was not exactly first class. She could not help worrying, and the more time passed, the more she was certain she she would be given notice and her plans for a large wedding with Ron would go down the drain.

So it was with a tragic face, an awkward body language and her heart in her throat that she knocked twice on Miss Gherkin’s door. Her curt, ‘Come in’ seemed to Hermione icy cold, and she turned the doorknob with shaking hands.

‘Ah, Miss Granger, there you are. Sit down. I take it you know Mr Malfoy?’

All that she had dreaded could not have prepared her for this. Draco Malfoy, in a crisp, very smart blue shirt and a relaxed pair of beige trousers, his hair combed back and a nauseating smirk placed appropriately on his face, nodded in a way that brought Hermione back to her days at Hogwarts. For a moment, she forgot where she was; then she stepped inside the office, closed the door a little more forcefully than she had meant to, and collapsed into the chair opposite Miss Gherkin.

‘What is he doing here,’ she managed to gasp. Miss Gherkin raised her eyebrows.

‘Mr Malfoy was just telling me all about his latest achievement,’ Miss Gherkin answered, her voice nauseatingly sweet, ‘a charity programme, donations to the Ministry.’ She smiled at him. ‘Awfully generous, really.’

Malfoy smiled back, superiority on every inch of his face. He turned back and looked at Hermione, who had been eyeing him, and she quickly looked away.

‘What does that have to do with me?’ she asked, trying to maintain a healthy balance between the respect she held for Miss Gherkin and the icy tone meant for Malfoy.

‘Well, Mr Malfoy has yet to decide which department should have the full advantage of his programme, and he suggested that a member of my staff - you in particular, Miss Granger, actually - should take a week to truly prove that we are the most deserving.’ It was apparent in her tone of voice that she thought Hermione was lucky. ‘Isn’t that right, Mr Malfoy?’

‘Completely, Lillian,’ Malfoy agreed, and he sat down in the chair next to Hermione. She inched away from him. ‘I’m sure Granger here can give me an excellent tour of the Ministry to start. What do you say, Granger?’

Hermione was about to stand up and tell Malfoy to go to a very disagreeable place, when Miss Gherkin stood up and nodded affirmatively, her expression telling Hermione that she was not to argue under any circumstances.

‘I’m sure Hermione will find that most appropriate. Off you go, Miss Granger.’ It was a command, Hermione knew it.

Her fists balled, she strode out of the office, taking enourmous steps as if wishing that Malfoy would lose his way. He followed her to the elevators and looked at her inquiringly, but she did not speak; she wanted to wait until they were out of earshot. When the empty elevator finally opened, they stepped into it, and only when the doors closed did she start talking.

‘First off, Malfoy,’ she said in calm fury, ‘get the hell away from me and stand in your corner of the elevator.’ Malfoy scowled and took three steps back. ‘Now, what do you think you are doing? I’ve got better things to do than babysit little unemployed rich bachelors like you!’

‘Temper, temper, Granger,’ Malfoy scorned and Hermione rolled her eyes in impatience. ‘I didn’t suggest you, even if Lillian said so; I’d much rather have some long-legged, gorgeous, cheerful secretary showing me around, if you must know, but it seems that they were all out of them, so I get stuck with you.’

Hermione reeled around, both angry and hurt; they had barely been together for two minutes and he had already insulted her. She gritted her teeth and bore her nails into her palms, determined to keep her cool.

‘Listen, you crappy excuse for a human being,’ she muttered. She turned around to face him, her eyes alight with fury. ‘This is my job, and I will do anything to keep it. But if you screw it up, so help you -‘

‘Anything, Granger? How very unlike you,’ Malfoy taunted. Hermione glared at him coolly.

‘Keep the sexual innuendo out of our conversations, Malfoy,’ she shot back at him, ‘if you can, of course. It’s not my problem if you haven’t had a girlfriend since Pansy Parkinson.’

The elevator opened and Hermione strode out of it before he could say another word. He was about to argue, but she started speaking in a loud voice to drown out his speech; her commentary was boring and she wondered whether he was keeping up. On the one hand, she did not care if he did, but on the other, Miss Gherkin would most probably fire her if they didn’t get those amounts of gold Malfoy had promised.

‘I read about your engagement in the paper, Granger,’ Malfoy suddenly said, as they wandered through the Atrium. Hermione avoided answering. ‘Bit soon to get engaged for you and Weasley, no? I mean, you’ve only known each other for ten years. You sure you’re not knocked up?’

‘Bugger off, Malfoy,’ Hermione answered spitefully.

‘But then, I suppose, being able to spend more than even ten minutes with you without exploding is an accomplishment; ten years must be a sign of true love, so - why are we walking through here?’

He had noticed where he was, that she was leading him to the fireplaces, and her words were sharp and ice cold as she shoved the green, glittery powder in his hand.

‘Because you’re leaving.’

‘Aw, is the tour finished already?’

She leaned closely towards him and he did not retreat, though he looked taken aback. He caught a whiff of her perfume and wondered whether it was Weasley's favorite. Her voice was the coldest he had ever heard before.

'I'm not screwing with you, Malfoy. We're not at Hogwarts anymore. I need this job and if you do anything - anything - to take it away from me, I'll - I'll -'

'What?' Draco inquired, amused. 'Run out of threats? If you hadn't noticed, I am also well aware that we are no longer in Hogwarts, and your slapping days are over. We're going to be spending time together, so stop making threats and get used to the idea.'

To prove his point, he let his hand drop and the Floo Powder fell to the floor in a haze of glitter. She opened her mouth, appalled, and whipped out her wand; Draco was about to reach for his, but all she did was siphon the dust away. He watched her as she stuffed her wand into the side pocket of her black skirt. He managed a half-smile.

'All right then? Agreement, or should we negotiate some more?'

She did not have time to answer, for a sudden cry interrupted her thoughts; Draco turned around and narrowed his eyes immediately as a furious-looking Ron made his way toward the pair. When he reached them, he put a protective hand on Hermione's waist, a gesture which did not pass unnoticed to Draco.

'Weasel King, how lovely of you to join us,' Draco drawled sarcastically. Hermione's eyes flashed furiously and Ron scowled.

'What the hell is he doing here, Hermione?' he asked.

'I'll explain it to you later,' Hermione muttered. It was clearly taking her enourmous effort to calm down and keep a restraint over her future husband. Ron eyed her concernedly.

'I want to know what he's doing here,' he muttered, 'and how I can get him evicted from your sight. He's not safe to be with!'

'Oh, come on, Weasley,' Draco answered, rolling his eyes, 'have you still not put the War behind you?'

Ron stepped in front of Hermione, his hands shaking in rage.

'I know it was nothing but a little recreation for you, Malfoy,' he muttered in a very low, angry voice. Hermione could tell that he was livid. 'It actually meant something to others.'

'Yes, that's right, I do recall you making that emotional little speech a while ago, Weasley,' Draco scoffed, his cheeks reddening as he, in turn, grew unsettled. 'One of your favorite things, isn't it, living off others' pity? But one brother's death can only get you so far, I suppose -'

The next few moments were a blur of confusion. First, it seemed to Hermione that both Ron and Draco had disappeared; then she realized that Ron had thrown himself on top of Draco, bringing both of them to the ground, and that they were now wrestling and punching and yelling in pain. She immediately tried to separate them, but then Ron's elbow appeared out of nowhere and grazed her cheekbone and lip; she jumped backwards and blinked in pain, but managed to see him lay a heavy punch on Draco, who gave a hoarse roar -

Then there were more voices; the dull, angry mutterings of two security guards, and the shrill upstarts of the last woman Hermione wanted to see - Lillian.

'Get off him, you beast, you imbecile -!'

'Step apart, now, gents, step apart.'

The security guards managed to pull Ron and Draco away from each other, Lillian looking daggers at Ron as she stood next to Draco. Hermione simply stayed where she was, lost in confusion about what next to do or say. Ron wrenched himself away from the security guard, and Draco, too, pulled free; he straightened his shirt and wiped blood from his chin. Ron was bleeding from the nose.

'Miss Granger,' Lillian said in a shrieking sort of voice, 'do you mind telling me what on earth has been going on? Do you know this man?' And, without waiting for an answer, she waved at the security guards. 'Get him out of here at once!'

'No - no, Miss Gherkin, he's - he works here - he's Ron Weasley -'

But Lillian was attending entirely to Draco. The security guards grasped Ron's upper arms, but he wrenched free and, without looking at Hermione, stormed off in the direction of the men's bathroom. The two guards looked at eachother for a slight moment, then went after him. Hermione, on the verge of tears, felt a throbbing pain on her cheek and lip and wondered if she had a bruise. She turned back around and saw that Lillian had suddenly gone; only Draco was left. This made her want to explode.

'You idiot!' she yelled, and Draco sighed bitterly.

'Don't start, Granger,' he said, his voice irregular with his heavy breathing. He rolled up one of his sleeves and took out a handkerchief. 'Lillian's gone to get some first aid.' He pressed it to his bleeding chin, then suddenly saw her wounds.

She immediately felt uncomfortable, as if somebody was invading her intimacy; the thought of blood leaking from her lip incontrollably was somehow very private, and she did not like Malfoy witnessing it.

'Does your lip hurt?'

She raised a finger and wiped the blood away, shaking her head.

'No.'

'Are you sure?'

'Bugger off, Malfoy.'

He looked annoyed. She felt for a Kleenex in her pocket and wiped her fingers on it, then gingerly touched her cheek. The moment she laid a finger on it, it hurt. Irritated that she had to talk to him again, she cleared her throat.

'Do I have a bruise on my cheek?' she asked in a matter-of-fact voice. Draco took a few steps towards her and looked.

'Not yet,' he answered, 'but you will.'

Satisfied, she stepped away from him, bent down and retrieved her purse. The argument he had had with Ron suddenly came back to her.

'You're an arse, you know,' she muttered angrily. 'But then you've never lost a brother. You've never been a brother. How could you possibly feel that sort of connection? You're such an isolated human being.'

'That's a good thing, I've always thought,' Draco answered back spitefully, surprised at how sharply her words had hit him.

She eyed him for a moment, and he could not make out if there was pity in her eyes or merely disgust.

'I used to think that too,' she finally said, and then she turned around and walked away.

*

'I don't care, Hermione, I'm not letting you near that man!'

'I don't like it either, but what am I supposed to do? Lillian's given me an order, I can't possibly disobey it without getting fired, and being unemployed is the very last thing we need right now!'

Ron sighed bitterly, running his hands through his ginger hair. He and Hermione were sitting in their tiny kitchen, cramped at the little square wooden table. Hermione had a bag of ice in her hands and she was pressing it against Ron's right cheekbone, which was scarlet and black. He winced and enclosed his fingers around her small wrist in a gesture of tenderness and gratitude. It had been an afternoon since the incident, and neither had really calmed down yet. Hermione had gone back to her office and tried to work, but her mind was full of what had happened and her face and body had felt stiff and tired. Lillian had spent most of the afternoon on the phone with Draco's maid, trying to get a hold of him in vain.

Hermione rotated the wet bag in her hand and readjusted it on Ron's cheek.

'We can't do anything about this, Ron, I'm just going to have to grit my teeth and do it. It's only for a week.'

Ron gave another mighty sigh and removed his hand from her wrist. Instead, he placed them on her waist and pulled her onto his knee. She smiled, laid the bag of ice down on the table and put her arms around his neck.

'I'm just so scared of seeing you get hurt,' Ron mumbled. 'I still can't get over the fact that you're mine, and you being with him is just so...'

Hermione put both of her hands gently on his cheeks, forcing him to look into her eyes.

'If you're afraid of infidelity, then don't be. You should know better than anyone that Malfoy is the last person on earth I would ever be with, you insecure idiot.' Then she smiled affectionately. 'And if it's violence on his part that you're afraid of, don't worry - I keep my wand well polished and I've beaten him before.' She kissed him lightly on the lips. 'I can do it again.'

She was about to pull away, but Ron grinned, finally relaxed, and drew closer. Their lips met again and this time did not part for a while.

*


Chapter 3: Sharpening A Pencil
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Draco sat in front of one of the worst things a writer can sit in front of: a blank page. His quill had been dipped in ink, the lighting was just right and he was sitting extremely comfortably in a leather chair. But of course, the most essential was lacking: inspiration.

He dropped the quill on the parchment and leaned backwards in his chair, rage running through him for the fifteenth time that day. It was not just his chin that hurt (and, what was more, deteriorated his otherwise rather appealing appearance), it was his head that throbbed, his heart that pounded. Worst of all, it was Granger's stupid voice that ran through his head. It was a quality about her he had always hated: that pretention, the haughtiness, the illusion of knowing more than he did. In his younger days, it was what had made him want to yell Mudblood at her - there was one condition she could not deny, one fact that she could not talk her way out of. But of course, the War had ended all of that.

He wondered what he could call her now. Stupid? Hardly. Alone? Obviously not, Draco heard his thoughts say, to his great surprise. In vain, he searched, but nothing came to his mind. It was maddening. How could Granger take away what he had always been best at? How could his anger toward her completely disarm him of his power of words? Nobody, let alone a woman he hated, had ever had that effect on him. It was unnerving.

For Granger was a woman now, he had noticed that. He had not seen it right away, it had been a gradual discovery as she chatted away about the boring features of her stupid department. She had a figure, she wore heels, she was good at her job. Know-it-all Hermione had vanished and this transformed, oddly fierce Miss Granger had taken her place. Not that he could ever find her attractive, for he knew all her faults and they by far outshadowed her few good qualities - but he could see why men would be drawn to her.

He got up early the next morning, drained a cup of coffee and headed for The Daily Prophet. Drisella was in, and though her secretary begged him to wait, he stormed inside, put on a happy grin and closed the door.

'Malfoy? What the hell are you doing here at this time of the day? I thought you didn't get up till noon at least.'

Drisella eyed him with shock behind her square spectacles, her hands shuffling papers, but her manner not entirely dismissive. 'Who gave you a bruised chin?'

'My next subject, Drisella, dear,' Draco said. 'Or rather, her future husband. Now hear me out.'

'I sense that I am not going to like what you have to say,' Drisella muttered, throwing the papers in a messy pile and folding her hands. Draco flashed her the kind of smile most women fell for. He collapsed into a chair, put his feet on the desk and withdrew last week's newspaper. He threw it on her desk so it landed with a picture of Hermione Granger face-up.

'Hermione Granger,' Draco smiled. 'Not quite Harry Potter. War heroine, but from a Muggle background. Recently engaged to fellow war hero Ron Weasley. Flashy job at the Law Enforcement Department of the Ministry of Magic. Everyone must be hating her right now!'

Slowly, Drisella picked up the newspaper and eyed the picture. Hermione was linking arms with Ron, under the cheesy heading of "Engaged: War Heros And Love Stories, by Penelope Clearwater". Her face wore a frown and she appeared to be thinking. Draco eyed her, biting his lip, crossing his fingers.

'You really think there's dirt on Granger?' Drisella said doubtfully.

Draco laughed.

'Drisella, I've been with her for only one morning so far, and her husband's already given me a scar for life! There's plenty.'

'You'll have to be bloody careful on blood lineage. I don't want people to think that the Daily Prophet is pro-pureblood.'

'Of course. Come on, Drisella. Give me this story. I'll promise you it'll be good.'

Drisella sighed, stood up, whipped her glasses off her nose and wiped them concernedly. Finally, she nodded, and Draco resisted the urge to kiss her.

'All right. You can write about Granger. Hand it in by next Monday.'

'No problem. Thank you, Drisella, thank you.'

*

'Morning, Granger.'

Hermione restrained a groan as she heard Malfoy's voice and rage settled itself in the pit of her stomach. She tried to obtain a moment's distraction by organizing her files, but she knew that Malfoy was staring at her, so she looked up.

'Well, what do you want?' she snapped angrily. Malfoy raised his eyebrows.

'Did you not hear Lillian yesterday, Granger? You're supposed to convince me that this department is worth several thousand galleons. You're not doing a very good job, you know.'

Hermione bit her lip. Her desire to do a good job was so enormous that she almost sprang to her feet to show Malfoy the rest of the cubicles, but her hatred for him restrained her. This was one of the things she despised most about him; he made her feel torn, indecisive. And if there was one thing that was worse than making the wrong decision, it was not making a decision at all.

Making up her mind, she got to her feet, threw the last piece of paper in its attributed pile and stood in front of Malfoy. He eyed her warily. She stretched out her hands.

'Coat, Malfoy,' she simply said.

Surprised, he did nothing for a moment; then he shrugged his thin black jacket off him and handed it to Hermione. She smiled and dropped it to the floor. He scowled.

'Well at least I tried to be polite,' she answered, her voice dripping with sarcasm. 'Follow me.'

To Hermione's surprise, but pleasure, Malfoy remained silent while she pointed out the different cubicles and introduced him to some of her colleagues. Most of them were intimidated by him, others were impressed, and a few select, female secretaries abandoned all shame and flirted in front of Hermione, who cringed with embarrassment. He took it with ease, as if he was accustomed to this behavior, and it only sickened Hermione even more. When she had to address him, she did it with an icy tone; when he talked to her, it was through gritted teeth. There could hardly be two people who despised each other more.

'You know, this really would be a lot easier if you would just cooperate,' Malfoy muttered, as they returned to her cubicle and she pulled up a chair for him. She barked out a laugh.

'And why on earth would I want to do that? Especially after yesterday.'

'Oh, come on, Granger, you can't possibly defend Weasley. He punches like a girl.'

'Shut up, Malfoy,' Hermione exclaimed angrily, and several of her colleagues looked up. Regretfully, she bit her lip. Malfoy seemed to be enjoying it. He leaned back in his chair comfortably.

'You're a very expressive person, aren't you, Granger?'

'What does that have to do with anything?' she asked irritably, rifling through papers so she would not have to look at him.

'Have you always been this outspoken?'

'I don't conceal my thoughts, no.'

She looked up at him suspiciously. It was not like Malfoy to be this subtle; he generally bragged about everything and anything, but asking questions like this was most unusual, even for him. It made her feel awkward and uncomfortable, as most private questions would; but the fact that it was Malfoy who was asking them was even worse. She picked up a pen and spinned it between her fingers. Malfoy eyed her curiously, a little surprised at the fact that they shared the same gesture of frustration - spinning a pen.

He had never before seen a woman look so fidgety. She could not sit still. Her hands were always moving, her eyes were on the look-out and she jumped every time someone touched her. It intrigued him, and suddenly he wondered what she would do if he ever grazed a hand against her arm. He shuddered, shaking himself out of what was surely some spurt of madness, returning to the present and his ideas about an article.

'I guess that must have led you to some sticky spots, Granger. Remember my third year? You slapped me.'

'You deserved it,' snarled Hermione.

'I can't even remember why,' Draco continued. 'Something to do with a Hippogriff, wasn't it?'

Outraged that he could not remember having been the cause of an almost-execution of Buckbeak, Hermione remained momentarily speechless.

'How typical of you not to remember ever being the source of unhappiness, Malfoy,' she breathed, laying the pen down. 'I don't think you fully realize just how many lives you could have cost during Voldemort's reign.'

Draco flinched, but ignored the pang of guilt in his stomach. He had to focus on his article; at least this was getting him somewhere.

'We can't all be heros,' he muttered. 'Even though it was probably enormous fun for you and Weasel King.'

'Of course it wasn't,' muttered Hermione, 'not always... Not the times where I didn't know where he was... whether he'd come back...'

'Back?'

Hermione shook herself awake from what she was saying as sudden realization dawned on her. Her eyes flashed angrily.

'It's none of your business anyway, Malfoy,' she said forcefully. 'Let's get back to work.'

'No, what were you going to say?' Draco persisted. 'Tell me.'

'I'm not going to tell you anything.'

'Please?' Draco breathed. 'I'd like to know.'

There was an astonishing amount of sincerity in his eyes as he said this, and Hermione, surprisingly, felt tempted to tell him. He seemed so eager to know the truth that it seemed possible that he might feel some form of regret over the past. But more importantly, it tempting to relieve some of the anxiety she had once felt. She bit her lip, leaned forward and eyed her surroundings to make sure that nobody was listening.

'It's just...' she began uncertainly. 'There was a time when... when I didn't know... when Ron doubted. And then he went away. And I - I didn't know where he was.'

She finished awkwardly, leaning backwards and suddenly feeling confused at her need to tell him this. Malfoy put on a sympathetic face, but inside, his heart was pounding. Obviously, there were cracks in the beautiful facade of their engagement. He wanted her to say more, but did not dare make further inquiries in case he would scare her off; instead, he gave a crooked smile and asked questions about the department. But inside, while he was listening to Hermione's boring commentary, he was thinking up the first paragraph to what he was persuaded would be his greatest article.

*

Draco had planned the following day meticulously. Pleased that Granger had shown an ounce of trust and confided in him - however small the secret - he was convinced that if he continued to hide behind that kind, caring mask, his article would be the juiciest, most scandalous piece of work ever published. He saw the awards already, heard the acclaim and felt Drisella's warm hand as she patted him on the back, congratulating him and promoting him to a better position. He could cease to write such pathetic articles and embark upon real journalism; he could give up the name of Henry Betteler and become Draco Malfoy, famous reporter for the Daily Prophet. He was determined to see his dream fulfilled, and Hermione Granger would be the tool to fix it.

Hermione got to work early that day, eager to have a few Malfoy-free hours to herself. It was not as if he had got to her, but she had not liked how easy it had been to tell him things. He should not have heard whatever problems might have existed between herself and Ron, and she scolded herself for taking such liberties.

She twirled her engagement ring around her finger, staring at it admiringly. The smile turned to a scowl at the thought of what Malfoy might say. 'What a small rock, Granger, no wonder, Weasley can't afford anything, can he?'

Why did he have to pick her. Why not some other person, some suitable, leggy secretary who would flash smiles at him and drown him in compliments? Who knew what that might have led on to. She could picture it in her head; he would thank her charmingly for the tour, then ask her if she would like to join him for drinks. After a glass of wine, well, it would not do any harm to go to his house and pay back the favour and give her a tour of his place.

Disgusted with herself, Hermione fervently shook her head. The doors to the elevator opened and she strode into the almost-empty department. There were a few workaholics like herself there, drearily greeting her over a cup of coffee, but apart from that, to her pleasure, it seemed no one was in. She quickly sat down in her cubicle and checked her in-tray; to her utter bemusement, it was empty. Her in-tray was never empty. Lillian always managed to find her something to do.

Suddenly suspicious, she eyed the office Lillian occupied. Her belief was confirmed; the lights were on and she managed to see Lillian's silhouette, her hand beckoning her forward. Giving an angry sigh of frustration, because Hermione had come early precisely to avoid this, she stood up, smoothed her skirt and made her way to the door. It was half-open and she did not even bother knocking.

'Yes, Miss Gherkin?'

'Granger, quite a good thing you're in this early. Perhaps Draco told you of his plans for today.'

Hermione blinked.

'Plans?'

'Yes, he wants to take you to Gringotts, talk investments and charities, and then he's managed to convince me to keep you to lunch. After that he'd like to see some of your own previous work, the eradication of pro-pureblood laws and your views on animal rights.' Lillian looked up, lowering her glasses and fixing her with an approving eye. 'You've seemed to engaged him quite well, Granger, so far I've heard nothing of praise about the department. Unless things go very wrong, we're probably looking at a very generous contribution.' Lillian looked away again, occupied with her files. 'Just keep it up and you'll be looking at a bonus.'

Hermione's stomach seemed to jump excitedly. A bonus. If she could have a bonus at the end of the month, it would mean that she could move her wedding up several weeks. She and Ron would not have to keep saving, they would be able to be man and wife by next month already. The prospect of these happy circumstances allowed her to momentarily overlook the mystery of Malfoy being pleased with the department.

'Thank you, Miss Gherkin,' Hermione murmured, smiling uncontrollably. 'Oh, before I forget - it's my boyfriend's sister's wedding this Saturday, and I know I usually work Saturday mornings, but I was wondering if -?'

'Yes, yes, of course,' barked Miss Gherkin, 'take the day off. It'll be your turn soon, anyway, I believe.'

Hermione smiled wider, bemused; it was the first kind word she had heard from Lillian before. She took off before the moment was ruined, closing the door behind her.

She was still grinning as she reached her cubicle and found, to her pleasure, that Ron was standing by it. She leaned forwards and kissed him after checking that none of her colleagues were watching.

'Hey,' Ron murmured against her lips, equally smiling, 'I thought you said none of that at the office.'

'I've changed my mind,' Hermione answered, grinning, and she deepened the kiss. After a few luxurious moments, they pulled apart and Ron held out her lunchpack.

'You forgot this at home.'

'Oh, thanks,' Hermione said, placing it on the desk, 'but I won't be needing it.' She sighed, looking at Ron's expectant face. 'Now please don't lose control, darling, but Malfoy is taking me out to lunch.'

'What -!' Ron started, but Hermione placed her hand in front of his mouth, curling the other around his neck.

'Listen, just listen!' she exclaimed. 'Lillian just called me in. She said if I keep this up, then I could be looking at a bonus. A bonus, Ron! We wouldn't have to wait, we could get married next month.'

She removed her hand from his mouth and leaned up against his chest. He folded his arms around her, his heart still pounding from anger.

'I know it's difficult, and I like it even less than you do, but it's just a few more days. If we could get married next month, wouldn't it be worth it?'

'I hate knowing that you're with that slime,' Ron muttered.

'A few days,' Hermione repeated. She untangled herself from him and placed another kiss on his cheek. 'You better go or you'll be late.'

'I love you.'

'Love you.'

She watched his figure disappear into the elevator and gave a reassuring wave. He had gone none too soon, for moments after the doors closed, the second elevator opened, and out strode Draco Malfoy. He looked surprised at Hermione's wave, and she rolled her eyes and turned towards her desk, waiting for him and his lewd remarks.

'Well, well, you must be warming up to me, Granger,' Malfoy said, as he approached her. 'A wave, now that's the first sign of kindness I've had since I came here.'

'Sod it, Malfoy, I was waving at my future husband. He took the other elevator. Lillian told me what you had planned for today.'

'Did she, now? She is a dear. Are you ready, then?'

Hermione moved around to the other side of her desk, throwing a notebook, a quill and a packet of Kleenex in her purse. Draco, amused, held up her lunchpack and eyed it carefully. It contained a banana, a ham sandwich and bundle of cookies wrapped in aluminium. He took out the banana and gazed at the skin. Words had been carved on it: Love you, Ron. Draco was torn between rolling his eyes and re-reading it. It seemed such an incredible thing to do, carve love words on a banana. That Weasley should do it was truly a proof of his love for Hermione. It was nauseating, but it was amazing all the same. Romance seemingly did exist in this world, no matter how often Draco had claimed that it did not; romance could be found on the skin of a banana.

'Are you coming, Malfoy?'

Hermione's voice was full of exasperation and wonder, but he must look like a fool, staring at the banana. He gave her his trademark smirk and quickly peeled the skin off, wolfing the banana down. Hermione watched him irritably, but not suspiciously, and he managed to toss the skin in her dustbin without her asking questions. He did not know why he did it; but some part of him would be annoyed watching her smile at Ron's romantic ability.

'Let's go,' he muttered a little crossly, his mouth full, and a bemused Hermione followed him to the elevators.

*



Chapter 4: The First Paragraph
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The First Paragraph


Gringotts was ever shining when they reached the doors, the ascent of the stairs leaving them a little breathless as they crossed the threshold and entered the imposing building. Malfoy was walking in a very proud manner, his shoulders thrown back, and his figure appeared to its best advantage; Hermione noticed a little crudely how slender he was. They reached what appeared to be the reception and Malfoy drummed his fingers inquiringly on the desk. The goblin snapped his head up.

'Yes?'

'I'm here to visit my vault,' Malfoy said. He reached for the inside pocket of his jacket and withdrew a small golden key. The goblin picked it up and examined it closely; Hermione stood, bored, watching the process.

'Follow Thorkin, please,' the goblin said, summoning one of his colleagues; this one, slightly shorter, shook his head towards another door. Hermione sped up to Malfoy's side.

'I thought we were going to talk investments and charities?' she hissed in his ear. Draco raised an eyebrow at her.

'Actually, I just said that to Lillian so she would let you go. I need to make a withdrawal.'

Enraged, Hermione stopped in her tracks.

'You cannot be serious!' she snapped furiously. 'You're wasting my whole morning!'

Draco frowned and stopped too, looking slightly impatient.

'Your afternoon as well, Granger, so get used to it. Come on, the goblin's waiting.'

Hermione eyed him for a moment, clearly tempted to bolt out of Gringotts, but to Draco's great surprise, she took a step toward him, and they made their way to the goblin, who was waiting in front of a curvy door. Opening it, Hermione revisited the Gringotts she knew for the first time since they had retrieved the golden cup from the Lestranges' vault; it was strange, to stand here, watching the place. It had not changed a bit, although it must have - she, Harry and Ron had blown it to smithereens back then.

Draco eyed Hermione curiously. It looked as if she were summoning courage to her, drawing deep breaths as the goblin led them to the nearest cart; it was very strange. Something clicked in his brain as faint recollections of the ruins of Gringotts associated themselves with Granger... Had she not been part of it with Weasley and Potter? Making a mental note to investigate it further, he crawled into the cart and waited for Hermione.

'Well?' he pressed, watching her as she stood riveted to the spot, something like fear in her eyes as she saw the goblin mount the driver's seat. 'For Merlin's sake, hurry up, Granger.'

Being pushed about was one thing Granger was not having, and Draco knew it; to his satisfaction, she climbed awkwardly into the cart, clutching the hem of her skirt as she seated herself into the only other space, cramped next to Draco. He tried not to look at her very appealing slender legs, nor to focus on the fact that her whole left arm was squeezed against his right side; the atmosphere suddenly seemed to thicken with something strange.

'Vault 221,' he told the goblin in a thick voice, and the goblin nodded, giving them both a crooked smile.

Before they were aware of it, the cart was hurtling forward in breaking speed; Hermione let out a scream of terror and he saw her clench the side of the cart, her knuckles turning white. Brow furrowed, he turned his head to see her face; it was pale and bloodless, and a strange yearning to comfort her suddenly overcame him. Before he could speak any words, however, the goblin took a left, and Hermione fell sideways on top of him, her arms flinging themselves around him in horror; but he did not push her back. Instead, he entwined his arm around hers and held on to her upper arm. Strangely, he found that he was relieved when she did not struggle, merely closed her eyes and hardened her grip on his shoulders.

They suddenly stoppped. The goblin turned around, grinning.

'Vault 221,' he smirked. Draco threw him a dirty look and turned towards Hermione. She had still not loosened her grip and his shoulders were aching. He slowly let go of her arm until she opened her eyes.

'It's over,' he said uncomfortably, 'we're here, Granger.'

Hermione's breathing slowed noticeably. It seemed as if she became aware of where she was, and, more importantly, who she was with; she let go of him immediately. He cleared his throat and stood up.

'Your key, please,' the goblin interrupted his thoughts, and he hurriedly fished for it inside his pocket and handed it to the creature. Draco had still not stepped out of the cart.

'Do you need help?' he murmured awkwardly to Hermione, who had put a hand on her forehead and was now very obviously trying to calm herself down. She looked at him, and he was shocked to see anger in her eyes; he had not expected her to be so fiery.

'No,' she snapped, and, as if to prove this, stood up. He watched her warily. She came gingerly to her feet, swayed and fell down almost immediately. Draco reached out instinctively and caught her upper elbow before she reached the bench; the force of it pulled her slightly closer to him.

'Most people can manage the ride quite easily, you know,' he said quietly to her, tilting his head to a side. Her face flushed, but it looked better than it being pale.

'I don't exactly have great memories of this place,' she answered defensively, and his stomach clenched in excitement.

'Care to elaborate?' he whispered tentatively. Hermione gulped.

'Your key, Mr Malfoy.'

Draco could have cursed the goblin as it interrupted his attempt to find out what had happened. He whirled around and took the key from the goblin, seeing that the vault door had been opened in the process; he looked back at Hermione, but she had taken a step away from him.

'Your gold's waiting,' she said to him, before sitting back down on the bench and concealing her head in her hands. He sighed.

The vault was enormous, the ancient Malfoy vault designed to contain the millions of galleons passed from father to son. Draco was used to the sight and it did not impress him; he scooped the nearest pile of galleons into his money bag, handed it to the goblin and made his way back to the cart, where Hermione was sitting quite steadily now. He climbed back inside, but made no attempt to ask further questions, knowing it was fruitless so long as the terror of the return journey was present.

He heard her draw a breath of courage as the goblin climbed back inside, and subconsciously - or perhaps not - let the back of his hand graze hers in what could almost be suspected as a gesture of comfort.

*


The blinding sunshine greeted them joyously as they left the bank, and Hermione let out a gasp of relief. Draco started walking down the marble steps when he noticed that Hermione was not with him; turning around, he saw her leaning against a column, taking deep breaths.

'Just give me a minute, Malfoy,' she sighed, passing the palm of her hand over her forehead. Draco considered her reflectively.

'Come on,' he finally said, taking her upper arm once more. 'You need a pint.'

Ten minutes later, he and Hermione were sitting comfortably in one of the darker corners of the Leaky Cauldron, Firewhiskey on the table. Hermione watched uncomfortably as Draco unscrewed the bottle and poured three shots into the tiny glasses they had been given.

'Come on, Granger,' he grumbled, passing her one of the glasses, 'you look like you need it.'

Hermione stared resolutely at the drink, seemed to shrug, and then downed it in one. She gasped as the back of her throat burned. Draco let out a genuine chuckle.

'So are you going to tell me what the story is? Why Gringotts terrifies you?' Draco asked as he passed her a napkin. She dabbed it at her watering eyes, then pulled an angry grimace. To Draco's continuing surprise, he saw her swill another shot of Firewhiskey - he had not thought she was this defiant.

'It surprises me that you don't know,' she said, playing with her napkin and avoiding his eyes. He frowned. 'It was during the War. It was a long time ago.'

'Obviously, that doesn't matter since it still affects you.'

To his surprise, he saw her shiver, though the pub was overheated. She took another sip of the Firewhiskey. Draco's curiosity was overwhelming; this intrigue was so great. But he knew he mustn't push it.

'We had to steal something from the Lestranges' vault back then,' she continued. 'It was a hell of a journey and we only narrowly escaped. I didn't think...' She suddenly grew silent and then shrugged. Her eyes darted up at his for a few moments, doubtful, hesitant, before she leaned against the bench. 'I don't know why I'm telling you this. Must be the Firewhiskey.'

Draco shook his head. Here was one thing he was accustomed to.

'It's not the Firewhiskey. It's because you need to get it out. Trust me, I know.'

It was strange to talk like this to her, Draco reflected, as he gulped his drink. The words he were speaking had some truth in them; she was not the only one traumatized by the War. But then, he was not writing an article about himself.

'Trust you? Have you changed at all since the War?'

He looked up to meet her gaze and was surprised at the sincerity in Hermione's tone of voice. In the dim light of the pub, she looked very pretty, her brown locks framing her pale face, her forehead creased with a frown of confusion and her pink lips a little pouty, wet from the Firewhiskey. He was completely drawn in, but that was not unusual; the little self-control he had was usually lost around women.

'That's an odd question,' he said quietly, and Hermione almost blushed.

'It's just,' she attempted to explain, 'you were such an arse. Dumbledore... the Room of Requirement...'

He noticed that she did not mention the worst of all experiences; the event that he had witnessed alone with her, the one which had tortured him through nights, the reason why he had sold Malfoy Manor as soon as possible. He wondered whether the scars Bellatrix had inflicted on her victim were still there.

'I don't know what to say to that,' he admitted. She shook her head.

'You don't know whether Muggleborns are Mudbloods and Purebloods aristocracy?'

'No,' he answered immediately, and so sharply that Hermione started, 'that I don't believe in anymore. That never got us anywhere.'

He looked down at her hands which were twirling the glass round and round. They were such beautiful hands; soft, delicate, with a tiny wrist. Such vulnerability should never have been exposed during the War. How could anyone believe that the veins in those hands contained dirty blood? He looked at her eyes, but they were downcast; she was still frowning, avoiding his eyes.

'How did you get out of the Manor alive, Granger?' he breathed, for the fact that she had escaped his old home with her life suddenly seemed miraculous as it had never done before; he had never fully appreciated how lucky she must have been.

Her eyes shot up, something like terror in them as events seem to flash on fast-forward; he bit his lip guiltily - she had obviously not wanted to relive the experience.

'I can't talk about that night,' she whispered, and shivered again.

'You can to me,' Draco breathed.

'No, I can't, I can't,' she whispered, obviously terrified.

He reached his hand out in concern and laid it on her wrist; she drew back immediately as if she had been burned.

'I'm sorry,' he gulped. 'Not just for mentioning it, for - for back then, I -'

'Shut up, shut up, Malfoy!' she said in a loud voice, so the neighbouring clients looked up curiously. Draco gazed at her intensely. 'Don't, please.'

'I won't,' he whispered immediately, 'I'm sorry. I - what are you doing?'

She had stood up and thrown a galleon on the table; she swung her bag over her shoulder and walked out the pub. Draco sat there in extreme doubt, not knowing whether to follow her or not. When he finally did pluck up the courage to go after her, she had gone.

*


Draco had learned one thing from visiting Gringotts with Hermione: there were things she was terrified of reliving. And that clearly meant that she had experienced things worth writing about.

He tossed his keys on the nearest table in his apartment, trying to ignore the gnawing feeling of hunger. His inspiration was so great that he could not satisfy his desire for food right now; he must write.

He had not counted on Asteria though.

If one were to give a description of beauty, Asteria Greengrass would sure embody every word. Her long curly blonde hair, her icy blue eyes, the sexy lips, the high cheekbones - had she not been Draco's lover, Asteria might have been mistaken for a Malfoy. They had been seeing each other for convenience's sake since the War had ended; Draco had had a brief relationship with her sister, Daphne, whom he had left when he met Asteria. Daphne was charming, but not nearly as enigmatic or alluring as Asteria, with her husky voice and cold manner. Draco was crazy about her, but neither wanted a commitment - that was why they were so well suited.

'Evening,' he smiled at her. She was wearing a slinky black cocktrail dress and her hair was tied back. She smiled.

'Hello,' she answered, and she leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. His smile widened as he lazily breathed in her intoxicating perfume.

'How long have you been here?'

'Just thirty minutes,' she answered promptly, taking his briefcase from him and leading him into the living room. He watched her as she reached for a pair of gold earrings and put them on. 'You'd better get changed, I've got reservations for 8 o' clock.'

Draco frowned. It was so typical of Asteria to believe that he would follow her anywhere, at any time.

'I can't,' he muttered, walking over to his desk, situated conveniently at the other side of the room. 'I have to write.'

'You can do that tomorrow, can't you?' he heard her say, impatience in her voice.

'No, I can't,' he answered shortly, but truthfully; he was aching to write about Granger, aching to explore her further. His impatience with Asteria had never been this great - he just wanted to be alone.

He suddenly felt her soft hands on his chest and she leaned forwards from behind, her lips resting on his neck. Normally, this would be enough to persuade him to do anything; to his enormous shock, however, he still could not get Granger out of his mind. He laid his hands on hers.

'I can't, Asteria,' he said firmly. She drew back angrily.

'Fine,' she snapped huffily, and he turned around in time to see her grab her wrap and purse and head towards the door. 'I'll get Blaise to go with me. Let me know when your love affair with your work is over.'

She slammed the door, but Draco couldn't care less. He had never pretended that Asteria meant more to him than his work, and nor had she; it was her problem if she had misunderstood.

Satisfied, he picked up a quill and dipped it in ink, looking forward to writing the introduction to the article of his life.

*




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