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“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Hermione screeched out, certain that she could be heard well above the surface of the Gringotts vaults – but honestly, she couldn’t care less. Not when the spindly goblin she had the displeasure of calling ‘boss’ was staring her down while she clutched at the parchment containing her newest assigned case.

“Time is money, Miss Granger,” he continued, tapping his fingers on the fine mahogany pedestal that allowed him to tower over her. “I hardly have the time to joke around, and neither do you.”

"Seriously?" She pushed her brows together and pulled her top lip in an angry frown. “How can you expect me to work in… In that place ?”

“I expect you to work there because I’m paying you,” Hurx nagged. “If you refuse, I’m sure there are plenty of wizards and witches out there thrilled with the prospect of applying to a sudden free position as curse-breaker here.”

She narrowed her eyes, knowing there wasn’t much she could argue against him without losing her job in the process.

Glancing back at the partially crinkled parchment in her hands, she reconsidered her options. The big bold letters at the end of the document mocked her with a cruel taunt that reminded her so much of the owner of the property when she read that she needed to ‘ decommission Malfoy Manor ’.

Bloody hell.

In theory, it should be simple enough – she was an experienced curse-breaker, and she had dealt with plenty of difficult and dangerous assignments in the past (many of which were definitely more complicated than whatever trinkets Malfoy could have stored in his home). 

In fact, she loved her job for this exact reason: With every posh pureblood Manor and every ancient relic that the goblins asked for her to check came with a challenge for her to overcome. Her overactive mind was never bored whenever she had a big case like this and usually, she’d be grinning in delight with the prospect.

But this was different.

This was Malfoy Manor .

A place that had been the source of her nightmares for nearly a decade now. A place she had sworn to never step foot inside while she lived!

"Can't it be done by anyone else?" She wavered – never a good thing to do in front of her boss. He adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses as he read the parchment and cleared his throat.

"No, Miss Granger. I'm afraid Lord Malfoy has asked you to be the one working on his property."

"Me?" She gasped, sounding more like a hysterical laugh than anything else. "But why?"

"He claims he trusts your work. A month earlier you decommissioned Nott Manor, didn't you?"

She did. 

She spent the good part of two weeks going through hundreds of curses on hundreds of relics. And though time-consuming, it had been easy enough to work with the recently appointed head of the Nott Family.

Theo was a pleasant man to work with. He had been kind and helpful whenever she asked for his input during her working hours, and he had been funny and entertaining when they had a bit of leisure time in between her visits. They drank plenty of tea whilst having discussions about books, science and philosophy, becoming fast friends afterwards.

She had no idea he had been serious when he claimed that he was going to recommend her services to his friends. They had laughed together when he suggested that he would convince Malfoy to invite her into his home to work on the plethora of cursed relics there.

She thought it had been a stupid joke. Theo acted as if he would never actually do that and she foolishly believed him.

And why the Hell would Malfoy even agree to it anyway?

"I doubt that Lord Malfoy has asked for me!" She insisted. "He’d never allow my impure magic to work on his precious junk!"

Hurx looked much more like a judge giving a death-sentence than a banker asking his subordinate to go to work. "He said that it was either going to be you, or no one at all."

"I can’t! Find someone else!"

"Do it, or find another job."

She grimaced, weighing her options. But there just wasn't much to consider.

Not everyone was a rich spoiled pureblood brat. Some people had to work really hard to live a comfortable life – and unfortunately, she was one of those people.

"Well then," she sighed in defeat. "When do I start?"

— — —

Hermione was brave. 

She knew it because a magical talking hat had said so back when she was just eleven years-old and was still trying to make sense of a completely new world that she had just been thrown into out of nowhere.

She had been a Gryffindor because of her honesty, bravery and hard work (though said magical Hat had secretly whispered to her that her ambition and cunning mind would’ve made her a fine Slytherin, had it not been for her blood… But that’s besides the point). 

So logically, she had no reason to keep stalling – her hands were already full of the floo powder and she was already planted under the Gringotts fireplace. All she had to do was call the name of her destination and be done with her task.

She wasn’t scared . She could do this. 

Her boss was right in front of her, with his arms crossed and the ugliest tug on his lips as he glared at her with impatience and really, she should’ve been on her way ten minutes ago. 

But then again, maybe she should re-re-re-check if she had all the tools necessary stored in her bag. And maybe she should do a quick double review of the legal papers that she’d have to sign once she arrived at the manor. And she still needed to – “

“Miss Granger! Either get to work or stop blocking the Floo connection!” Hurx snarled, stomping on the pristine marble flooring of the bank. “Some of us don’t have the luxury of waiting aroun –”

“Malfoy Manor!” She cried, drowning her boss’ complaints with the bright green fire that swallowed her.

And in a few seconds, she was standing inside a hearth adorned with gold and silver, in a spacious room decorated with fine persian rugs, mannerist paintings and rocaille style furniture. Her eyes widened at the sight of a large bookshelf that spanned the entire wall, right in front of a couple of velvet armchairs.

To her surprise, she saw Theo, of all people, sprawled over one of the armchairs, smoking a cigar and smirking like the cat that ate the canary.

“Hello there, Hermione,” he purred, taking a drag of his cigar. “It’s always a pleasure to see you.”

“Theo!” She grinned, stepping over to the armchairs while he stretched in place, rumpling his navy-blue suit (though he didn’t look all too bothered by it). 

He made a quick leap across the room, greeting her with a tight hug and spun her around in place. And she smiled at the fact that he was just as much of a tactile person as she was – just one of the many things she liked about the handsome man.

“What are you doing here? Are you going to be overseeing my work?”

“Something like that,” he chuckled, settling her back on the floor. “Draco knows we’re friends, so he asked me to be here.”

“What?” She rolled her eyes and cocked her head. “So Malfoy won’t even grace me with his presence? Can’t say that I’m surprised.”

“Excuse me,” someone cleared their throat from behind her. She blanched immediately, not quite recognizing the deep, low tone of his voice, but having a good guess of who they were – and when she turned, there was a distinct heat that took over her face. 

The first thing that struck her was that Malfoy was taller than what she remembered – a good head and a half taller than her – though she supposed she shouldn’t be all too surprised by that. The last time she had seen him had been almost eight years ago, when he was just a scared seventeen year-old going through a trial that would decide if he should be imprisoned for life or not. 

And then she noticed how well he filled out over the years – how his charcoal suit fitted perfectly in his broad shoulders and narrow waist – and how his high cheek-bones and sharp jawline softened, no longer resembling a ferret.

The man looked like a bloody Adonis!

“It’d be terribly rude of me not to greet a guest at my own home,” Malfoy continued in a stoic glare. His eyes travelled up and down Hermione’s figure, as if sizing her up. “Though I did ask Theo to come over to make you feel more comfortable here .”

The connotation was clear enough for her to notice it. And while she was sure he was still an arrogant git, she could appreciate that he had enough self-awareness in him to know what an awful task he had just bestowed upon her.

“Yes!” Theo chirped, patting on Malfoy’s back – eliciting a groan out of him. “What a wonderful host Draco is! He’s a joy to work with, you’ll see!”

“Right,” he shoved his friend away with a jab of his elbow and turned to stare at her. “To make things easier, I moved all the cursed heirlooms to a storage room in this wing. This way, we won’t have to be travelling up and down the Manor.”

That meant that she wouldn’t run the risk of accidentally stumbling into that room. Thank Merlin for small blessings.

“Then we shall start at once,” flashing her most professional smile, she reached a hand for him to shake.

Malfoy seemed to hesitate for a second, thinning his lips and fidgeting ever-so-slightly as he stared at her, until he finally gave in. He took her hand in his with a bold grip and then it something strike her like a ton of bricks: 

His hand was… Really nice to touch.

His hold was soft, but strong. His skin was smooth and warm and there wasn’t a single imperfection in his palm – no scars or calluses that would suggest undignified labour. 

Unthinkingly, her gaze dropped to his hands and she felt her breath hitch at the sight.

Only a pureblood could have such perfect hands.

They were large, easily dwarfing her petite hands (if she were to make an educated guess, she’d say that her fingertips wouldn’t even be able to reach his knuckles if they were to compare the size difference). 

But his fingers were long and elegant, with perfectly manicured cuticles and not a blemish on sight. His skin was white as porcelain, with blue veins running down the back of his vein in a pattern that reminded her of elegant vines or snakes, moving side-to-side with every little twitch of his bones and muscles working underneath. It was mesmerising.

And the rings!

Both of his hands were covered with several rings on each finger – made of silver, gold, bronze and precious stones that she couldn’t even entirely name. The most recognizable of the bunch was the silver Signet Ring with the Malfoy crest resting at his long index, but she also got to admire a few others that adorned his beautiful hands.

The cold metal brought a stark contrast to his warm touch as she shook his hand and she would eternally blame this unexpected sensation for the fact that the flush on her face deepened.

‘His hands are the perfect size to play the piano.’ Her brain decided to add in with the most unhelpful observations it could give. ‘... And for playing with her puss –”

Nope!

She was not going to go down on that road!

Hermione was a professional. She was working in a very stressful environment, she was going to face several unknown pureblooded curses that would put her life at risk. And she was going to be working closely with a man that tormented her for years.

She refused to let her mind wander to the most nefarious, wanton thoughts a woman could have just because of some bloody good-looking hands! 

Malfoy’s hands even!

She was better than this! Who cares if his hands and rings would probably make a delicious print on her arse if he were to –

“Granger?” Malfoy cleared his throat again, with a raised brow. Only then did she realise that she was still grasping his very large hands and refusing to let go. “Are you ready to start?”

Oh dear me, how embarrassing. Get a hold of yourself, damnit!

“Yes, of course,” she forced out a smile. 

“Oh my,” Theo chuckled, watching how she yanked her hand away from Malfoy’s hold as soon as she came to her senses. “I believe this is going to be very… Entertaining .”

— — —

It had been a month since Hermione started working on decommissioning Malfoy Manor and so far she could say that working so closely with Malfoy was… Interesting, to say the least.

He was a completely new person, unrecognisable as the insufferable boy she used to bicker with years ago  – Malfoy had grown quite a lot since then (and not only in the physical sense of the word).

The war had sobered him up considerably and he had worked hard for years to try and rebuild his life without the darkness that surrounded him during his childhood. So he started to donate his fortune to various charities, he assisted aurors from time to time with his expertise on Dark Magic and his past interactions with now fugitive Death Eaters and he had completely remodelled (and in some cases, destroyed) entire rooms that had been previously used by the Dark Lord during his stay at the Manor.

But more importantly, he abandoned his past views on blood purity – He refused to believe that muggles and muggleborns were lesser than him just because of their heritage and he refused to maintain contact with anyone that still shared those views (much to his father’s chagrin).

In fact, this was the exact reason why he sought out her help to do away with all the curses in his Manor in the first place.

And well, if Malfoy had the desire to seek redemption for his soul, how could she possibly deny him her help? Everyone deserves a second chance.

Especially when they look this good in a suit.

She shook her head, groaning inwardly at the way her mind kept betraying her like that. 

Her eyes travelled around the room as she stepped off the fireplace, admiring the way he was gracefully perched on his velvet armchair with a book on his lap. Malfoy had a slight smirk to his lips, just as Theo had finished off retelling something about a childhood memory they shared. But as soon as she spoke up to greet them, his lips fell to his usual semblance of aloofness that slightly bothered her.

“Hello, my doll!” Theo, as always, was the first one to greet her. Sauntering over to where she was standing to dramatically kiss her hand, followed by a bear-hug. “Draco and I were thinking about heading over to the pub tonight, after we’re done with the boring stuff. Wanna join?”

She chanced a glance to the other man, but frowned when she found him glaring furiously at his friend.  If looks could kill, Theo would be a rotting corpse by now.

Clearly he didn’t want her to be part of their little meetup.

“Actually,” she gulped, turning to shrug at the shorter man, who promptly cupped her two hands on his to emphasise his plea. “I’m busy tonight… Perhaps some other time?”

“Are you sure? I feel like we haven’t hung out together since forever!” Theo pouted and his hazel eyes were almost convincing enough for her to change her mind – If it weren’t for the withering glare of grey eyes on the other side of the room. 

She could’ve sworn Malfoy had downright snarled at them both and Hermione made the point of yanking her hands away from Theo’s just to be sure neither of them would be mauled by the surly man.

“Nope! Lots of things to do – Paperwork, catching up with my reading, feeding the cat and allsorts. Sorry Theo, you’re gonna have to make do with just Malfoy!”

“That sucks – Draco would be thrill –”

“Granger!” Malfoy cut him off by reaching out his hand to her. “Good morning. How about we stop wasting our bloody time?”

There it was – His usual practical demeanour that spoke only when absolutely necessary and left no margin for deviation from work. She would be impressed with his work-ethics if it wasn’t so disenhearting (for some reason that she refused to dwell on).

But as always, she was eager to touch his hands – To feel the rings, the bones and the warmth of his touch. To admire the flawless skin. To imagine how his touch would feel in other parts of her body.

It was a bit embarrassing to admit that this was the highlight of her mornings. A simple handshake – that lasted all of the three seconds at most.

But could anyone blame her? His touch was intoxicating in a way that she never felt before. And this handshake was the only time he’d ever accept any sort of physical contact between them, so she’d take what she could get.

“Yes,” she nodded, heading over to the Storage room with the men in tow “Let’s go! The earlier we start, the earlier you two can head over to the pubs.”

"Today I want you to take a look at my grandmother Josephine’s jewellery box," Malfoy’s baritone voice echoed along his footsteps on the polished floor and she had to fight off the urge to ask him to just keep talking. Thank God he did it anyway. "Not all pieces are cursed, but some of the more expensive ones definitely are."

"Anything I should know beforehand?" She took out her notebook and quill as she started to write down the reports of her latest visit.

"The usual. Anti-thievery hexes, a blood curse or two... Oh, watch out for her pearl necklace – It has a curse that will burn the hand off of any muggleborn that dares to touch it."

"Oh yes, that was a classic of Old Josephine!" Theo scoffed. "I remember how she liked to boast about the way a muggle would burn their skin off by trying to steal her rings and necklaces that she purposely left hanging out in public places.”

"What a charming lady. I should deal with this one first, then.”

“Yes. It’s right here –”

He opened the double-doors that led to the Storage room and she once again took in the sheer size of it all. It was easily bigger than her entire flat, and it was covered from top to bottom with thousands of old relics and heirlooms all waiting for her to remove the curses.

She had already worked on a dozen of ancient and ornate furniture, several magical oil paintings and sculptures, and a dozen Greek and Roman vases riddled with deadly spells. But even after they moved all of the curse-less objects out of the room, it still looked as full as it had been a week prior.

Theo flitted around the room like an energetic child, taking out books and parchment and making a comment or two about how it’d be nice to take some of those home when they were done (and sure, it was tempting to beg Malfoy for her to keep the first edition of An Alchemist’s Guide to Chrysopoeia, but she knew that it would be unprofessional of her to do that, so she refrained from agreeing).

Malfoy largely ignored his friend whilst he opened an oak wardrobe to reach the jewellery box – though calling it a box was an understatement – It looked more like a chest filled to the brim with gold and precious gems, which reminded her of those old pirate tales she loved to read as a child.

“This is the necklace I was talking about,” he pulled a set of gorgeous round pearls that looked much smaller when he was the one holding them.

I wonder how it would feel if he were to put this necklace on me. Would his long fingers be able to work with the delicate clasp?

“Erh –” He stared at her with his aloof eyes, though his voice sounded raspier than usual (or maybe it was just her mind playing tricks on her). “ – Given the… Nature of the curse and your… Blood… Maybe it’s safer for me to keep holding it while you work your magic.”

I wonder how it would feel to have his large hands around my throat –

“Granger?”

“Yeah! Great idea! Let me get my wand,” she laughed nervously, as her face flushed red reaching down to her neck.

"Dear me! You didn't accidentally touch the necklace, did you?" Theo chuckled with a glint in his eyes, draping an arm over her shoulder while Malfoy thinned his lips. "You look like you're about to combust, Hermione!"

"I'm perfectly fine," she lied, slapping his hand off of her and turning back to her work.

Maybe she needed to listen to Ginny for once in her life and go out on a date with someone. Surely this whole sudden thirst for Malfoy and his stupidly perfect hands was all that, right? She couldn't even remember the last time she got laid – Hurx was a slave driver at Gringotts and because of her job she barely had any free time, so her buggering brain decided to torture her with wanton thoughts like these.

"Are you sure? You've been staring at the necklace for two minutes straight," Theo teased, motioning over to the way Malfoy stretched and curled his fingers around each pearl.

Merlin! She was terrified of looking up just to see the sneer Malfoy had on his face. Instead, she whipped her wand and rapidly set off a series of spells to detect, neutralise and do away with the curse in the object.

"There!" She breathed a sigh of relief when she checked that the pearls were safe. "No more curses to melt off muggles’ hands."

"Wonderful!" Theo jumped, yanking the necklace from Malfoy and draping it over her delicate neck. "Draco! Look how beautiful Hermione is with Josephine's jewels!"

"Theo," he hissed curling his upper lip. He turned back to the chest of jewellery and with a sharp snap of his fingers, the necklace dissolved around her neck and materialised back to its original box. "Stop playing around and let's just keep working, right?"

"Ooh, possessive of your gold, aren't you? Is this why they named you after a dragon?" His friend chuckled, ignoring the death glare from the man towering both him and her.

"No," he let out a haughty scoff. "They named me after one because of my short temper and penchant for killing pests that annoy me. Now stop distracting Granger with your stupidity and let her work in peace."

And with that, they continued to look through the chest in a heavy silence as Malfoy merely grunted and motioned to which rings, earring and bracelets needed to be worked on and which ones could be left alone. 

Even Theo, who usually carried himself with a flippant and easy-going demeanour, seemed to sober up with the way the air turned austere around them – though he did decide to whisper in the blond’s ear every now and again things that made his friend shift uncomfortably around the floor.

At the end of the day, Hermione was exhausted and she didn’t even need to think twice before immediately returning home to try and forget the way that Malfoy kept looking at her as if she was a nuisance invading his home.

Gods, if he was clearly bothered by her presence at the Manor, why insist on having her there at all?

— — —

After yesterday’s uncomfortable exchange between them, Hermione had been dreading coming back to the Manor again. But she knew she didn’t really have a choice on the matter – she could either continue with her job or accept getting fired.

“Good morning, Granger,” she heard Malfoy’s deep, rough voice calling for her as soon as she stepped outside the Floo – which was strange, given how she was so used to Theo being the one to greet her first.

“I’m afraid Theo won’t be accompanying us today,” he continued with a bored drawl while she was still distracted, trying her best to shake off all the dust and soot that got stuck in her curls. 

Theo wasn’t going to show up today? Did something happen to him?

"A family emergency came up," he explained – probably realising how awkward things would be that day without his friend there to keep the mood light. "But not to worry, he'll be here tomorrow."

"Okay," she breathed, tying her hair up in a bun and slowly looking up to meet Malfoy's eyes. “So, let’s –”

Then her breath hitched and she swallowed hard. Eyes growing wide as saucers as she took in the sight before her.

There was a beautiful golden earring with emerald eyes curling all the way from the earlobe to the helix, with its tail hanging freely below, producing an alluring glint in his left ear. 

Hermione could only ever dream of owning something as exquisite as this, but there he is – looking absolutely flawless with that earring on and a fine black suit.

She remembered seeing that particular earring before, in yesterday's jewellery chest – it was cursed just like Josephine’s necklace. If the wearer happened to be muggleborn, the snake would constantly whisper in their ear until it made them mad. 

"So..." Malfoy cocked his head, reaching a hand forward for the much awaited handshake. "Shall we go?"

"Hum," she choked. And the very next moment, she blurted out without a second though. "Have you always had pierced ears?"

"What?" He raised a brow,  lifting a hand to his ear and gingerly felt the gold of the earring. "Oh – I got them pierced as soon as Father went to Azkaban and my Mother passed away. That'd be seven years ago, give or take."

Fascinating, though bemusing. Never in a million years she'd think that someone like Malfoy would be the type of man to like wearing earrings or adornments like these.

"I have a chest-full of jewellery sitting at my home, Granger," he continued with a teasing smirk (and once again she needed to get all the willpower she still had in her muddled brain not to admit how fit he looked). But given how she was shocked into silence, Malfoy felt the need to go on."And no wife, sister or mother to make use of them. It'd be a shame to let them all gather dust."

It definitely would be – Especially given how good he looked.

In a daze, she finally took his hand and shook it, feeling the sharp silver and warmth of his skin whilst still staring at the emerald eyes of the snake.

Merlin! If Theo had been present, he’d probably spend hours teasing her about this.

Taking out her wand and getting to work, her hands busied themselves with the muscle-memory of undoing curses with ease, while Malfoy chose to stand behind her, watching silently with what she could only imagine was a judgmental sneer. 

She was working on a mirror that enticed the viewer to stare at their own reflection until they starved to death – a classic among Dark, cursed mirrors – and as such it gave plenty of opportunity to let her mind wander off as she worked.

Was he always this cold, or was it just her mere existence that made him so standoffish?

She remembered her time in Nott Manor – how Theo would go out of his way to befriend her and try his best to distract her from her tasks with promises of tea, books and card games. A stark contrast between his warm and friendly demeanour to Malfoy’s cold aloofness (honestly, it was a bit baffling to know that they were best friends at all).

But then again… It looked like he was as cold with her as he was with his friend.

She lost count at how many times Theo had forced a hug out of him, eliciting a growl and a murderous look that Hermione tried her best to ignore while she worked in the background. So maybe he was just a naturally distant person (but it was hard to say, given how she never really got to know him when they were at Hogwarts. They were both too busy at each other’s throats to actually know).

It'd be a bit of a shame – If he really had so much aversion to touch like he seemed to be. God knows how many sleepless nights she had just thinking about his hands.

Thinking about how beautiful and big they are. How nice and soft they would feel when she touched them. How tempting it was to keep holding them. And how much she wished she could ask him to just… Put his hands all over her body.

Her eyes flew upwards and she caught a glimpse of Malfoy, staring at her intently – with his mouth slightly ajar as if he was impressed by her work or something like that. Well, she did get rid of three cursed heirlooms in a row without even realising exactly what she was doing, so she supposed it really was impressive, in a way.

(Not that he would know just how bloody distracting him and his hands were).

Theo, though he also had quite nice hands and though he loved to touch her all the time – playing with her curls, squeezing her bicep, taking her hand in his, holding her waist and so much more – just didn’t have the same effect as a simple, quick handshake from Malfoy’s, so maybe it had something to do with the novelty and scarcity of his touch.

Or maybe it had something to do with all the rings he wore. Every day was a different set, apart from his notorious Signet Ring and they always looked so good on his long, pale fingers.

And then there was that buggering snake earring, knocking the wind out of her lungs. Never in her life was she so tempted to reach over someone’s earlobe before – she never even believed it to be a thing until now!

What if he had any other piercings hiding underneath his suit?

Was there any chance for her to find out for herself?

Wait… Did she actually want to see Malfoy, of all people, naked?

( Yes , a small niggling part of her brain yelled. She did. She’d be a fool to deny how good-looking he was ).

In the world outside her mind, her hands moved to pick up some cutlery – cursed to poison whatever food it came in contact with – while Malfoy started pacing up and down the room like a caged animal. She paid him no mind whilst she continued to imagine his pale skin and strong muscles slowly revealing themselves as the layers of clothing dropped to the floor.

But in her imagination, she pictured his ringed fingers easily working around the cufflinks and silk tie before undoing the buttons of his fine shirt. 

She tried to picture the scars hidden under his fine suit – she knew that he had at least two of them, slashing across his chest. But even in her mind they still looked beautiful – though she’d feel wary of touching them, knowing that it had been her best friend (and his hated rival) that had put them there. 

But Malfoy (the one of her imagination, that is), would simply smirk and reach for her hand, settling her delicate fingers over the ragged surface of his naked chest and dissolving her hesitation away. 

Then he would kiss her fingertips and then move to remove the rest of his clothes. And she would watch him intensely, with her own hands suddenly tied around her back, waiting for him to be done and make his way to her – Undress her slowly with his –

“It’s getting quite late,” he suddenly croaked, snapping her out of her deep introspection. “I believe you deserve a small break, Herm – Granger .”

“Sorry?” She blinked, looking outside the window and gasping at the sight of the sun already setting on the horizon. Just how long had she spent having daydreams about Malfoy? It’s a miracle she didn’t set off any of the curses in the room!

“Oh, Godric,” she bit down her bottom lip, worrying it over. “I was so distracted with… Work! I completely lost track of the time!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he sounded a bit breathless, but he was smirking as he followed her to the fireplace. “Work. Of course.”

“Well, I did make good progress today – I’ve already covered more than half of the room.”

“Indeed, it’s quite impressive – Look how quick you can work when Theo isn’t around to interrupt you every two minutes,” he scoffed, and she was just about to respond with a hiss when she suddenly felt her whole world turning upside down.

As he guided her towards the Floo, Malfoy spanned one of his large hands over her lower back – with his rings and fingers creating a delicious pressure to her spine. It took an immeasurable amount of effort to refrain her knees from giving out.

Blimey! What the Hell was wrong with her – A small little touch like this shouldn’t possibly make her lose her mind like this!

“So, I’ll see you tomorrow?” He smiled as she fished the floo powder with trembling hands.

“Yes – Tomorrow! See you then.”

She didn’t stay to hear his reply, though she suspected that he wished her a good night and ‘sweet dreams’.

— — —

When she returned home after one more arduous day of work in Malfoy Manor, Hermione launched herself in her bed and prayed for the pillows and blankets would swallow her whole.

It had been three more weeks since the (as she now referred to it) Earring Event and Theo still hadn't come back from whatever bullshite emergency his family had back all the way to Germany, leaving her alone with Malfoy for two whole weeks.

It hadn't even been all that unpleasant, per se. But it was confusing.

Malfoy, although still haughty and distant, proved himself to also make good company every now and again. He barely talked during her stay – though she did get used to it after two days in Theo's absence – and he preferred to sit back and watch her work. 

But he did offer words of advice and insight whenever she needed help with a particular piece or curse. And if he felt particularly talkative that day, she'd even be rewarded with a small tidbit about the heirloom – an anecdote about his childhood, a tale about a family member or even a fun fact about the manufacturer or the person that found it.

Then she would go back to work and her mind would flood with terribly immoral thoughts about her contractor and she'd spend a good part of her work day thinking about his lips, silver eyes, broad shoulders and his hands .

After hours of exhausting labour, trying to reason with her stupid brain, she'd hear the elegant humming of Malfoy's voice that announced she could retire for the day and then he would follow her back to the Floo to see her home. And for two weeks straight, she felt the tantalising touch of his hand down her lower back – a contact even more electrifying than the handshake that she still craved so much.

She groaned into the pillow, remembering the small, but audible, shudder she let out earlier in the day, when she felt his hand suddenly travelling further to lightly squeeze her waist.

What the hell was his deal anyway – Why did he suddenly feel the need to touch her out of the blue? 

Was she that obvious? Could he sense how much she… Liked it?

Before she could dwell on it, however, she heard something tapping on her window. And when she looked, she was faced with a stern-looking little owl with a letter on its beak.

Hermione, my precious dear! ’ she read the note, bringing a smile to her lips as she recognized the delicate lettering on the parchment, ‘come meet me at The White Thestral tonight! I feel like I haven’t seen you since forever and I desperately need to see your brilliant smile again. – Love, Theo.’

She couldn’t agree more with sentiment, as she apparited right away to the pub to meet her friend.

As she arrived, she was welcomed by the smell of alcohol and cigars from the patrons lounging on the tables. And sitting at the corner of the room was that good-old mischievous pair of hazel eyes, inviting her over to sit with him.

“Theo!” She greeted as she settled next to him. “It’s good to see you’re finally back! Where were you?”

“Germany,” he shrugged, sipping on his firewhisky and motioning to the butterbeer he had already ordered for her in advance. “My great-aunt was having a hissy-fit over a family reunion and I simply couldn’t get away fast enough. I actually came back three days ago! ”

“Three days? Why weren’t you at the Manor, then?”

“Oh – I just figured you wouldn’t mind having a bit of… Alone time with Draco .”

Her face burned as she tried her best to hide it behind the glass of butterbeer. “What the Hell, Theo? Why would I want to be alone with him?”

“You don’t?” He blinked innocently – though they both knew it wasn’t convincing at all. "Are you sure you just don't want to admit to yourself that you do appreciate my kindness ?"

"What kindness, you bloody prick? Getting stuck for eight hours everyday in the most awkward silence of my life?"

"How about getting stuck with the most beautiful man in your life? I’d kill to have an opportunity like this," He chuckled. "It's a shame that Draco doesn't care for blokes – I mean… I'd fuck him."

"Wait, what? I didn't even know you were –"

"But alas," he sighed, ignoring her entirely. "Even if he did have some sort of interest... He's too hung up on a certain curly-haired, know-it-all witch."

"What witch? I hope you're not implying that he –"

"Still, I have quite a few sweet memories of the Quidditch Changing Rooms... Who would've guessed that hours flying around on a broom would make your arse look so bloody good. And that’s not even mentioning his gigantic cock that –"

"Theo!" She raised a brow in a frown crossing her arms as she glared at him. "He's your friend, not a piece of meat!"

"So what? I have eyes and an imagination – Besides, you're not so opposed to thirsting over him yourself, aren’t you?"

"I do not thirst over Malfoy."

"No? So picturing him naked and running your hands over his scars is supposed to be innocent? Or having him tie you up and use his hands all over you? If this isn't thirsting, I don’t know what is –“

Her mouth hung open in a silent gasp while Theo suddenly clenched his mouth shut in horror as he paled.

“How do you know that ?” She hissed back, all but flying from the table and looking around worried that somehow Malfoy would appear out of nowhere.

“Shite – I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Answer me!"

“Clearly, the firewhisky got to my head!” He blurted out instead, jumping out of his seat and running off to the door. “Forget I said anything!” 

“Absolutely not!” She ran after him out of the pub and took a hold of his arm just as he apparated to his home. It was a miracle that neither of them splinched themselves on the way.

“Draco will kill me!” Theo cried as he tried to wrangle out of her strong hold.

“Why?” She hissed, taking him by the collar. “What did he do?”

“You really won’t let this go, will you?”

“Not until you tell me. How do you know about… About that.”

“Draco –” he sounded almost pained as he avoided her eyes. There was a small moment of silence as he calculated what he needed to say, but as she knew she wasn’t going anywhere, she allowed him to choose his words. However, she did not expect what he said next. “He’s a Legilimens, alright?”

Hermione blanched in horror. A Legilimens? 

Had he been invading her mind all of this bloody time?

“He – He can’t help it!” Theo continued in a stutter. “It’s annoying – I know that very well – But he literally can’t control it! He just reads people’s minds naturally!”

“He still trampled over my private thoughts and didn’t say a sodding thing! How long has he been doing that?” She howled, growing redder by the second as her traitorous brain recalled all the terrible thoughts she had had for literal months. Thoughts about Malfoy taking her – Shagging her! And having his hands all over her! 

“And now he’s what? Gossiping about me to you?”

“Not gossiping, you daft witch!” Theo grumbled. “And it took me a great deal of insistence to get the truth out of him, mind you – All I knew is that you two were spending hours alone and then he’d be a bloody stuttering mess for the rest of the night! I’ve never seen the man blush in twenty-five years and suddenly he’s acting like a teenager around you!”

“A stuttering mess?” She scoffed, suddenly remembering something he had said moments earlier: ‘ He's too hung up on a certain curly-haired, know-it-all witch’. “ Right – As if I’m supposed to believe that!”

“But it’s true, you know? He had a crush on you since Hogwarts, for fuck’s sake!”

“You’re delusional!”

“I’m the one that shared a dorm room with him, aren’t I?” Theo insisted in an exasperated sigh – and she had never seen him so serious before. Which was ridiculous , given the subject matter of their discussion. “Obviously, he couldn’t really admit anything to you back in Hogwarts – You’d both be dead if he did.”

“So? The war ended years ago!” She stomped her foot on his floor. “If he really had a… Stupid crush or whatever – Then I’m sure he would’ve said something sooner.”

“Of course he wouldn’t! He was convinced you’d reject him! Maybe even hex him in the face and laugh about it or worse!”

“As I bloody well should!”

“Hermione, please!” He all but cried, with his hands flying to hold her shoulders and force her to look him in the eyes – To gaze at the sincerity and concern in them. Sweet Circe, Theo really wasn’t joking, as he? “It took me years trying to convince him to ask you out. I really thought I was onto something when I found out you worked as a curse-breaker!”

She narrowed her eyes at him, willing her erratic breathing to calm down as she took in the meaning behind his words. “Wait, does that mean that the only reason you asked for help in the first place was just so that you could play cupid? That’s terrible!"

“Oh please! You act as if it’s a crime to be a little cunning!”

“I thought you were my friend!”

“And we are! You think I would let you stay in my Manor if I didn’t like you? I just happen to think that you should give Draco a chance.”

“Give a chance to Malfoy,” she scrunched up her nose. “I don’t even think he likes other people! The man is built like a stone wall!”

“Draco isn’t a bad person – You’ve seen it for yourself how much he changed! He’s just a little awkward and shy, is all, and then most people choose to see it as arrogance,” he shrugged in a sheepish smile. “And well – You may lie to yourself as much as you’d like, but you know you find him attractive. So why not give it a try?”

Hermione glared at him with pursed lips one last time, but finally decided to leave it at that. She still had work to do the next morning, after all and she suspected that it’d be the most trying (and the most embarrassing) day of her life anyway.

— — —

The next day, Hermione wasn't surprised to see that Theo had failed to show up at the Manor once again. Both because he likely still wanted to make a point of giving her and Malfoy some ‘alone time’ that she absolutely refused to acknowledge and because the man in question would probably know right away that he had revealed his secret about how he had been reading her mind all of this time.  

Theo really was a Slytherin through and through, and self-preservation was one of his few priorities in life, after all.

So, as she stepped off the fireplace and entered the room, she was faced with Malfoy's tall broad frame towering over her. 

She didn’t know why she was surprised to see that he was wearing one of his best navy suits just to see her that gloomy morning, but it was only slightly less shocking than seeing him with a set of diamond studs on his ears. But of course he had an infuriating smirk on his lips to match his look – with his ringed hand already extended to greet her.

"Granger, it's a pleasure to see you."

Biting down the inside of her cheek, she took a hold of his hand and did her best to keep her mind clear – she refused to care about the softness of his hands or the way hers just fit perfectly inside his hold. (Gods, maybe she should seek out Harry for some lessons in Occlumency... Even if he's terrible at it, it’d still be better than nothing, right?).

"Likewise, Malfoy," she grunted, scurrying off to the Storage room while she heard the elegant click of dragonhide shoes easily catching up to her with his longer stride.

"Today I want you to deal with my grandfather's old taxidermy collection," he drawled, snaking a hand over to her shoulders as he guided towards a different room in the Manor, filled with dead pheasants, foxes, hippogriffs and many other creatures that stared at them with glass eyes. "I can't say if they are cursed for sure, but one of the voles licked my thumb just the other day and I can't trust them anymore – Merlin knows if he was just about getting the taste of my flesh."

Wordlessly, she took her wand in hand and perused over the panes with an assortment of colourful butterflies and moths at them, trying to concentrate in detecting any curses in them and trying even harder to ignore the stupid git standing right beside her.

It was all for naught, however. Her mind was reeling with the previous night’s revelations. 

He knew! After three months of working in his home – so many weeks, days and hours of making a fool of herself by thinking nefarious thoughts that she wished no one knew! Malfoy had completely disregarded her privacy and now he was taunting her by watching her with that stupid, enthralling smile of his!

She just couldn’t believe that spoiled idiot was a goddamn Legilimens!

"What?" Malfoy froze like a deer caught in headlights as he accidentally dropped a stuffed weasel on the floor. "What did you just say?"

"I didn't say anything!" She growled. So much for trying to keep her buggering head clear. “It’s not my fault you’re a Legilimens that can’t stop getting inside my head without even telling me!”

His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he stared at her, which sent butterflies fluttering in her stomach. 

"I'm going to fucking murder Theo," he finally breathed out after an eternity of silence, moving over to the floor in two long strides (probably on his way to the Floo conection so that he could pay his friend a little visit).

"Wait a damn minute! Before you trample Theo to death –” she raised a hand to rest at his chest and placed herself between him and the door. “Can't you just tell me why you didn't warn me? Theo told me you can’t control it, but I still deserved to know!"

"What could I possibly tell?” He murmured out a bitter laugh. “I honestly thought that I was reading Theo’s mind for a second – It wouldn’t be the first time he pestered me like this! By the time I realized that I was inside your mind, it was too fucking late! I didn't want to scare you away."

"Scare me away?" She gnawed on her bottom lip. 

Did that mean that he really did have a crush on her? After all that time?

"Bloody Hell! Theo has got to be the most unreliable piece of shite I've ever met!"

"So... You do?"

"Yes, Granger," he sounded almost pained by having to admit that out loud. But with only dead and motionless animals as their witnesses, Hermione allowed herself to take a step closer to him as he met her eyes in a bated breath. "I'm rather taken with you."

“Theo told me that you’ve felt this way since Hogwarts –” she breathed out as one of Malfoy’s hands travelled to rest at her waist, with his thumb drawing a small circular pattern over her pencil skirt.

“Yes. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it was for me to reconcile the fact that I was infatuated with a muggleborn while my family preached for blood-purity. I’ve never felt more relieved in my life when I was finally free of my Father after the war.”

His mercurial eyes looked far brighter than what she remembered, and it took a great amount of effort on her part to resist the urge to close the small gap that formed between them.

When did they even get this close in the first place? Their noses were now almost touching as she got to the tip of her toes and he bent his head down. Her eyes instinctively fixed on his lips, wondering how soft they were. 

There was a small part of her mind that tried to reason with her about how much it’d be a bad idea to do this – she was working for Malfoy for the time being, she couldn’t simply ignore her professionalism to give in to the temptation of his touch.

But then again… She had been dreaming about this for almost three months now.

Dreaming of his hands on hers. Dreaming of his lips on hers. Dreaming of him.

“Do you have any idea ,” he suddenly growled, tightening his hold around her as she gasped to the feel of his silver Signet Ring digging on her skin over her clothes, sending thrills down her spine. “Of just how much you’ve been torturing me these past few weeks?”

“I have no idea what you mean, Malfoy,” she licked her lips as she let out a raspy purr, with her breath tickling his earring when she whispered. “It’s not like I can read your mind, right?”

“Minx – “ he chuckled, leaning down to bury his nose on her curls as she smiled to the sensation of his lips moving on her scalp. "I’m sure you’re smart enough to draw conclusions even without looking inside my thoughts."

Merlin! It felt bloody good to be held by him like this. Her hands moved to grasp at his strong arms, hoping to preserve the moment for a while longer.

But as he backed away ever so slightly so that he could look at her again, his brows furrowed in hesitation. Before she could ask him what was wrong, he started. "Granger, may I kiss you?"

Silly man! Can't he read her mind? Can't he see how much she wants him?

"I can," he breathed, as his pupils dilated and his eyes darkened. "But I would rather hear it from you. Out loud."

"Kiss me, Draco. Please?"

Thank the Gods he didn't need to be asked again. In seconds he closed the gap between them in a hungry kiss, eliciting a whine out of her and a groan from him. Their lips moved against each other’s frantically, clashing their teeth and tongues together.

Her hands grabbed him by the lapels of his suit and forced him to bend further down just so that she could rest her aching feet – tired of being on the tip of her toes for so long – but this only served to make them both lose their balance and fall to the floor.

She gasped at once as her arse connected to the soft velvet carpet that covered the trophy room, but Draco merely chuckled from above her, covering her lithe body with his. And after he made sure she wasn't hurt by the fall, he attacked her neck with his lips and nipped at her pulse while she buried her hands in his hair and circled her legs around his waist.

In one strong pull, he tore away her blouse and her bra and swiped his hand over her naked breasts as he kissed the valley between them – she moaned in delight at the sensation of the cold and solid metal of one of his rings over one of her pert nipples as his thumb circled around it.

It felt so good. Not nearly as mind-blowing as she often imagined it would be.

"You like that, don't you?" She heard him ask in a growl, caging her underneath him with his arms as she kissed his jaw with a breathy sigh. His large hands travelled to her bunched up skirt, settling on the apex of her thighs. “I know you like my rings – My jewellery. You greedy minx.” 

She could feel her knickers getting soaked already just by the sound of his husky voice whispering to her ear as he leaned down for a searing, possessive kiss – like a dragon claiming a treasure. With their proximity, her hips ground down on his, feeling a rather large bulge straining against his trousers. “If you like them so much, then perhaps I should give them to you.”

“Oh Draco!” She gasped as he parted her thighs apart and pushed her knickers aside to sink his index finger – the one bearing the infamous Signet Ring – on her dripping core. The coldness of the silver contrasted almost painfully to her heated core as he applied a delicious pressure to her walls, making her cry out and convulse in bliss. 

Her mind went blank as he worked to stretch her out with slow, but deep pumps of his hand as she tightened around him because of the intrusion.

“Sweet Circe, you’re soaked,” he praised with a smug smirk, with a second ringed finger entering her. But as she peered over to him with her hooded eyes, her heart swelled with the sight of adoration coming from him – as if she was more precious than all the family heirlooms combined. 

He hummed, tapping her with his thumb and she bucked her hips to meet the rapidly growing rhythm of his fingers thrusting inside her just before he added a third one as he peppered kisses from the column to her neck, to the valley of her breasts, down her ribcage and finally her navel. 

Finally, his mouth settled just above her glistening folds – with his warm breath overwhelming her in a way that forced her eyes tightly shut as she writhed and breathed out his name over and over again. 

“You’re fucking gorgeous ,”  Draco smirked, curling his fingers inside her just as he dipped his tongue to join in her pleasure. “So gorgeous – I never thought I’d see you like this –”

The hard floor dug to her back and scraped the back of her head, but she couldn’t care less about the discomfort when she was clutching so tightly to his broad shoulders – digging her nails through his clothes. 

“Come to me, Hermione.” The sensation of his long, thick fingers, coupled with the hard metal of his rings and the warmth of his tongue made her cry out and tremble as her vision went white and shockwaves overtook her with the height of her orgasm. 

He rode through her pleasure for as long as he could before he sensed that she started to feel a slight discomfort due to all the overstimulation. She breathed a sigh of relief mixed with a poor sense of emptiness as he withdrew his fingers from inside her.

And then he made a point of licking her wetness out of each of his rings, cleaning them with his mouth. Smiling like the cat that got the cream. 

Oh, Gods that was quite a sight to behold – Enough to awaken a new sense of arousal deep within her.  

“Draco –”

“Maybe I should take you to dinner first,” he croaked, taking his wand and cleaning them both up with a spell. Perhaps she was too lost in her own little world before, but now that her breathing was slowly coming back to her, she could see how flushed he looked. “It’s the proper thing to do.”

“Dinner?” She smiled so innocently and pure, one might not even remember what they had just done moments ago. “I think I’d like that.”

Draco chuckled, lifting her up as if she weighed nothing and pressing another kiss to her temple. “Good,” he peered at a clock on the wall. It wasn’t quite that late – By no means it was her usual time to leave, either – but he still had that smirk on his lips that he usually saved for when he announced the end of the workday.

With a snap of his fingers, Josephine’s gorgeous pearl necklace sprouted out of thin air – curling around his fingers like a snake – along with several rings, bracelets and other jewellery she had worked on weeks prior.

“Draco,” she gasped when he circled around her and settled the pearls over her neck – struggling ever so slightly with the small, delicate clasp. “This is –”

“I have plenty of jewellery, didn’t I tell you? I certainly wouldn’t mind if you were to wear a couple.”

“I wouldn’t mind either,” she smiled, touching the delicate pearls around her neck and putting on the silver and gold rings on her fingers. “As long as you get to keep your own rings.”