She was most alarmed the night when Draco Malfoy appeared drunk, deluded and rather frenzied on her doorstep. Given their reluctantly shared childhood, one might have considered his mere presence to be just cause for said alarm. This was not, however, the case.
In fact, Hermione Granger had grown quite accustomed to Malfoy periodically popping into her office at the Ministry in order to appease his boredom by passing mildly insulting commentary on her life. It had become, if not a friendship, then certainly a habit. Not one she had ever planned, but it happened nonetheless.
She supposed it was rather like smoking or drinking too many glasses of Butterbeer at the office's Christmas party – definitely not a healthy lifestyle choice, but one that delivered a curious satisfaction.
The strange friendship had developed when he had sought her out some 18 months prior with regard to Ron's antagonistic behaviour. It seemed that her wayward boyfriend of the time had not relinquished his fixation on Malfoy and, despite the War having drawn to a close, still believed him to be up to something sinister.
Personally, Hermione had found the suggestion absurd. There were few people she could think of who had truly seen the damage the Dark Arts and ill-placed power wrought on one's life quite the way Malfoy had. There were fewer still who had felt the fall from grace quite so acutely.
In spite of this fact, Ron had taken his position of Auror as an opportunity to be proactive and keep tabs on those he deemed untrustworthy. Unfortunately that list also included that nice fellow from Magical Maintenance who always said hello to Hermione in the hallway.
Malfoy's reason for approaching her that first time had been to request, in his rather less than polite manner, that she rein in her errant other half. After baiting him for a short but rather enjoyable duration, she had done just that. Hermione had been mildly disturbed to realise that, in spite of the high quotient of barbed comments which passed between them, the exchange had held considerably more banter and considerably less threats of hexing one another than that to which she was previously accustomed.
Ah, she had thought, progress.
Although her relationship with Ron had fizzled out, and his distrust and resentment towards Malfoy went unabated, the latter had proceeded to stop by her office with increasing regularity. His visits apparently served the purpose of amusing himself and irritating her, in equal parts. She also suspected that he took great delight in the look on Ron's face whenever her ex-boyfriend saw the two of them together.
Not that she ever intended to inform him of the fact, but she did quite enjoy his oft loathsome self visiting her. He was rather charming in that noxious prat sort of way he had mastered so well. Spending time with him was so unlike the safety and comfort of chatting with any of her other friends. Perhaps it was because the whole situation was so precarious, she didn't even trust herself to call him a friend - certainly not to his face, in any case.
This instance, however, was most unusual, for he had only ever visited her small house on one other occasion. She recalled his horror at the lack of a drawing room most acutely.
It was almost one o'clock in the morning when his intrusive pounding on her front door had interrupted Hermione's reading of a most beloved book. It was, perhaps, a potentially hermit-like activity for a Friday night, but she had no intention of telling him that.
She padded out to the hallway and peered through the peep-hole to a distorted view of the tall blond. When she did finally open the door to his slightly dishevelled self, she was most irritated by his opening words.
"What in the name of Merlin are those?" The offending articles, to which he so unflatteringly referred, were her very favourite slippers. Her parents had them designed in her likeness at a novelty Muggle gift store some years prior.
She sniffed haughtily and blocked the entrance to her small entrance hall with her hip. "They're slippers… from my parents." She paused and looked up at him imperiously. "Now, what are you doing here?"
He squinted at the wild masses of brown string which erupted from what appeared to him to be a face formed on the toe of each slipper. "Is that you, Granger?"
"Ignore the slippers, Malfoy."
"Not a great likeness though…. The hair doesn't have nearly enough-"
"Malfoy!" she hissed at him, intentionally cutting off his train of thought. She didn't really need him staring at her embarrassing ensemble any longer. "Why are you here?"
Blowing out a puff of air, he pushed a few errant strands of pale hair from his forehead. She noted the slightly flushed colouring of his skin.
"I have a problem," he told her, his now serious tone denoting his concern.
Since this seemed an appropriate time to let him in, she moved aside and guided him toward her comfortably small sitting room.
"I'd show you to the parlour," she said obliquely, "but Jane Austen's borrowing it for a book signing at present, so…"
"What?" He looked almost endearingly confused at that. And he was rarely anything akin to endearing.
"Sit." She sat also, and was very conscious of her messy appearance and desperately wishing she had on something different.
Granted, even a change of clothing would unlikely improve her feelings of discomfort. It was just that Draco Malfoy in the context of her living room was something to which she was unaccustomed. It was rather a disarming sight, actually.
"Right…. well, I think there's something very wrong with me…" he muttered and the glance he slid her way was rather accusatory in nature.
"With such a winning personality, Draco, I can't imagine why you'd think so." That one was for the slippers, she thought.
He ignored her. "I came here to stop it. The problem, that is."
He was making absolutely no sense to her at all, and he was beginning to sway more than was natural for one as uninclined toward dancing as he was.
"Are you drunk?" she queried, feeling it necessary to get to the root of his inane behaviour.
"Yes," he agreed readily, but seemed unconcerned about the fact. He lapsed into staring at her for a period of time generally considered to be socially unacceptable. His expression turned contemplative before he continued. "It's very strange. I would have thought the sight of you in… well… that ought to have done it."
He was merciless! But now she was truly confused about his dilemma.
"What on earth are you talking about? And stop insulting my slippers… I'll have you know they are very comfortable… great arch support and-"
"I used to fantasise about you falling into ditches, or down those moving staircases at Hogwarts… getting spattergroit. That kind of thing." His tone was conversational and he seemed completely impervious to the narrow-eyed glare she was directing at him.
He glanced at her before continuing, "Those were the kind of daydreams you evoked, Granger. I promise I wasn't the only one… though Weasley probably would have wished he was in the ditch with you. Better sleeping quarters, no doubt."
"You are, without doubt, the most odious individual I've ever come across! Get out of-"
"I digress. Anyway, the tone of those… dreams… has changed lately." His gaze was surprisingly steady now, for one so drunk as to be almost slurring. And he was looking at her lips.
"Oh." Heat flooded her skin. How curious, she thought.
"Quite," was his response. "So you see my dilemma… it's not natural and-"
She spluttered incoherently at the audacity of him. "Not natural?" Her voice was rising in octave, and quite without her realising it she now stood over him, her finger hovering dangerously close to his face. "Being attracted to me is not natural?"
Hermione may have been a late bloomer when it came to enjoying the attention of boys, particularly boys that weren't Ron, but that didn't change the fact that she was human and susceptible to that kind of insult.
He appeared ignorant of the implication of his words. "Exactly. You're Granger."
"Please," she said, her tone icy. "Do go on."
"Well," he said. "It's your mad hair… I find it strangely appealing. And although I hate the way you ask questions and then answer them yourself – which, by the way is extremely rude and annoying – and your absurd notions of enforcing wages upon unsuspecting creatures and-"
"Malfoy!" Although she felt it was an appropriate time to interrupt with a tone of indignation, the comment about her hair and his finding it appealing made it difficult to muster up any real aggravation.
She decided he must be really, very drunk to be saying these things. And it was very likely some poor, harassed girl had turned down his advances at whatever pub he'd frequented before this visit.
She wondered if said girl was pretty.
"And of course I keep looking at your mouth… you talk incessantly about the most ridiculous things… elves and Potter and feeding hungry children."
He was rather intolerable. Or at least she told herself that was what she was supposed to be thinking. She wasn't supposed to be looking at his own lips, and revelling in the present tingling of hers. His drunken ramblings were doing strange things to her tingle-deprived body.
She supposed that was a natural reaction for any attention starved girl who was being, in a most unexpected way, propositioned by a good-looking, albeit very drunk, man. It seemed very likely to her that he wouldn't even recall the events of tonight come morning.
And maybe she was just a little bit curious.
She jumped, most startled, when his hand reached across to toy with a curled tendril of her hair. When, she wondered to herself, had he gotten quite so near to her? Her heart fluttered rebelliously as she watched the heavy-lidded gaze upon her.
It was suddenly very warm in her house, and she was almost ready to blast open a window for some clarity-inducing cold air. She was distracted, however, when an errant finger brushed along the line of her jaw and an unexpected thumb pressed against the small dip in the middle of her lower lip.
"Um, I… oh." Her voice trailed off as his face loomed closer to hers, dizzyingly so. He wasn't in his right mind and she should not pay attention to the curve of his mouth, or the smell of sweet wine on his breath.
She shouldn't lean forward and press her own lips against his. She did, though. And after feeling the gentle pressure of his mouth, and the way his tongue teasingly brushed her own, she rather forgot what her reason for that was.
Hermione had been most relieved when Monday came and went without a visit from Malfoy. She took it to mean that he had forgotten his sojourn to her place on Friday night, the tingle-inducing kiss, and the fact that she had had to help him Apparate home.
Of course, subconsciously she was peeved that in spite of his drunken stupor, the kiss hadn't been so earth-shattering as to be imprinted on his mind anyway. But that was aside from the point. Her pride was but a small thing when it came to the infinitely more horrifying prospect of him remembering she had actually kissed him. Accidentally. Twice.
In any case, she shouldn't have been worrying about it all. This was especially pertinent given the fact that she didn't even like him, in the truest sense of the word. Sure he was good-looking, in that very symmetrical, preening peacock sort of way that made a girl want to ruffle his hair and smudge some dirt upon his milky cheeks. But when had physical appearance ever been a major facet in Hermione's considerations of men?
In truth, the fact that she clearly was, in some alarming way, drawn to the man was clearly demonstrative of some innate flaw in her make-up. After all, he really didn't have that many redeeming features, certainly not enough to make up for his constant insults about her hair.
Her hair which he found appealing, an insidious little voice in her head reminded her.
Hermione jolted out of her chair and pushed away from her desk then. She needed some fresh air, she decided, quite quickly.
It was most unfortunate then, and she thought quite indicative of the fact that the fates were against her, that the subject of her inane musings almost bumped right into her as she made to leave her office.
Her cheeks betrayed her and flushed bright pink. "Oh! Malfoy... I have..." She trailed off at the frustratingly cool composure of the man before her. Well of course he was composed. She had a sudden and inexplicable urge to kick him, or cause some kind of grievous harm, but felt explaining this after the fact could be problematic.
"Going somewhere, Granger?" He raised a brow at her, and she was immediately put off by his strangely affable nature.
She instinctively took a step back, which he seemed to notice, before responding. "No - of course not. Uh... come in..." She gestured for him to join her in the office, something she really didn't want, upon reflection.
When he made no move to do so, she turned a questioning gaze upon him. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm shocked at your manners, Granger." She didn't like the familiar smirk which was lurking about his features as he spoke. "No hello kiss? And here I thought we had gotten past all that."
The smirk was now a grin, a rather sinister one. And she was fairly certain the horror which lurched in her stomach was clear across her features.
"What? But you were-" He cut her off swiftly.
"Not nearly as drunk as you seemed to think. Really, Granger, a war veteran and a little misdirection totally throws you off. I'm disappointed in you." His expression spoke of delight rather than disappointment.
She pressed hands to her now hot cheeks, and mumbled something indecipherable. She was beyond mortified, so much so that she couldn't even work up a sufficient amount of anger at his trickery. She felt confident that would come later.
"Though," he continued, clearly relishing the moment, "I must say, taking advantage of me the way you did... I never knew you had it in you."
"Clearly, I wasn't taking advantage of anyone since you orchestrated the whole bloody thing," she muttered the words under her breath. She removed her hands from her cheeks to look at him properly. He was standing rather close. "Why though? Why did you do it, to embarrass me?"
He stared at her, shaking his head in what appeared to be exasperation. "For someone who values her intelligence, you really can be incredibly oblivious to what's going on around you."
"I meant everything I said, by the way. You're just predisposed to disbelieve everything I say, so..." He crossed his arms and gave a look which seemed to dare her to argue the point with him.
"So instead of being a normal person and telling me anyway, you stumble in my door in the earlier hours of the morning and pretend to be half-pissed?" She shook her head disbelievingly.
"Why do you think Weasley hates me so much?" He grinned. "And I mean more than is normal even for him."
Hermione was almost speechless. How could everything have turned so topsy-turvy in a matter of days? She felt like she was in some sort of alternate universe. She eyed him speculatively.
"I'm not even interested in you, so I don't know why you think-" She stopped mid-sentence as he moved toward her, closing the office door behind him. "Er – what are you doing?"
He smirked. "Something I've been looking forward to."