Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling and Warner Bros. All fics posted at this community were written entirely for fun, not for profit, and no copyright infringement is intended.Title: Baby Steps Author: tygermineRating:
Draco and Hermione do the Red Tape Tap Dance of Bureaucracy Warnings:
Man alive, guys. This is my first fic after a two year hiatus due to personal issues. My prompts were great and I hope I did them justice.
This is loosely based on my own misadventures with government departments. Who knew being an adult entailed so much paperwork. My only wish is that this little fic makes you smile.
“Malfoy, turn on the viewer! WWV is airing the Minister’s press conference from this morning.” Hermione rushed into the bullpen in front of her office.
Draco turned in his desk chair and waved his wand at the screen suspended from the ceiling.
The WWV, or Wizarding World Viewer, was a reinvention of the Muggle television. The brainchild of George Weasley and perfected by his newly established team of techno-wizards (they named themselves). The Viewer was fast becoming the accessory of choice amongst Muggle born wizards across the world. It’s content hadn’t reached HBO levels of entertainment yet, steering more towards newsreels that reminded Hermione of the old Muggle ones her father told her about.
The screen flickered to life and the sepia tinted image of Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared in front of them.
“...Together, we can make the Wizarding World a kinder, more accepting society. Thank you.”
Hermione watched as Shacklebolt left the podium and began to walk down the center aisle, shaking hands and trading quips with the crowd.
“Now that is a job well done. See how he commands the room?” she commented as Malfoy and the other office aides watched the screen. “He just needs to keep walking.”
A witch wearing a beret stepped forward and gave him a hug.
“No,” groaned Hermione. “Avoid witches in berets.”
The minister broke out of the hug and accepted a baby that was held out to him.
“There we go,” she continued to comment. “Kiss the baby, hand the baby--”
“Hermione!” Remus Lupin called to her from her office. “There is a deadline on these policies.”
She turned to acknowledge him as Malfoy switched off the Viewer.
“It’s a pity he wants to retire next year,” Malfoy said. “He makes my job easy.” Malfoy was the Press Secretary to the Minister’s office.
At that moment, Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared in the office doorway. He headed straight for Hermione and placed the baby in her arms.
“You weren’t supposed to keep it,” she said, jostling under the unexpected weight in her arms.
“The mother disappeared. I expect you’ll see that it is returned.”
With that, Shacklebolt disappeared into his office and shut the door.
Hermione looked at the baby and then at Malfoy.
“I spoke too soon,” he groaned.
“He kidnapped a baby.”
Remus leaned against Hermione’s desk, arms crossed, trying to stop his shoulders from shaking with laughter. Malfoy was standing next to him, his smirk showcasing his schadenfreude as they watched Hermione walked back and forth in front of them trying to keep the baby from crying. Both men cringed at the wail that filled the room.
Olivia Turnhum stuck her head into Hermione’s office, grimacing at the noise.
“Ms. Granger, maybe the baby is hungry?”
The glare that Hermione sent her way made Olivia bite her bottom lip and retreat back into the bullpen.
“I’m not an idiot,” Hermione grouched as she tried to coax the baby to a lower decibel by adding a gentle sway into her steps.
“No, but I would have thought you’d be more comfortable after being exposed to Potter’s brood for the past few years.” Malfoy stepped forward and took the baby from her arms, cradling it against his shoulder. “I’m going to the coffee shop next door. Maybe they have some milk for the poor thing.”
Remus and Hermione watched in shocked silence as Draco left the office.
“Did he just--?”
“He is certainly a man of many layers,” Remus conceded.
Hermione turned to the older man and nodded. “Indeed. While they’re away, let’s get to work tracking down the mother. She must be frantic.”
“I don’t think so.” Remus settled into a seat at Hermione’s desk as she sank into the sofa against the office wall. “She could have taken the baby back at any time, but it seems as if she purposely abandoned the poor thing.”
Hermione opened her mouth to berate the mother before realising that the worst choice is sometimes the only choice if one is desperate enough.
“Regardless of her situation, we need to find her.”
“Get Harry to look into it?” Remus suggested, folding his hands over his stomach as he leaned back in the chair.
“I would, but he and Ron are in Russia attending the World Cup. Ginny is playing.” Hermione would be jealous, but the only thing the World Cup did for her was leave her short staffed. Those who were at work were usually hungover from the night before. Neville liked to brag that every four years, just after the World Cup, he was able to go on a cruise from all the profits made.
“Longbottom?” Remus frowned.
“He has children.” Hermione was already at her desk, composing an owl asking her friend to help. After dispatching it using Flare, her office owl, she turned to Remus. “Right, so those policies?”
Remus waved a hand, “I will butter Poltanka up with some Firewhisky when I deliver them tomorrow. Just make sure you have signed each page.”
She did as he asked as he watched from his seat. Sometimes watching Hermione at work made Remus feel more aware of his mortality than the wars ever did. The young girl with bushy hair and a flexible attitude towards authority was now a woman in her early thirties, next in line to lead the Wizarding World. In quiet moments, he could see how her shoulders curved under the weight of her responsibilities, the tiny lines at her eyes appeared deeper and there were a few strands of silver mixing in with the honey hair to the right of her forehead. She had grown up when he wasn’t looking, or she’d always been an adult and only now had grown into who she always was. Only now her edges were sharper, her tone brittle, as if she’d forgotten how to be soft. It was an evolution that was necessary for her to reach where she was. She’d sharpened her wits into daggers and was now using them as a defense. Remus mourned the girl she had been and lonely woman she had become.
He stood with a soft sigh and took the papers from her before nodding his goodbye and leaving her office. He passed Malfoy in the bullpen. The baby was quiet, finally, and Malfoy seemed to have added a large bag during his absence. Malfoy simply nodded as he headed into Hermione’s office.
Hermione had been thinking wistfully of the bottle of bourbon she kept in her desk drawer. This whole baby situation had added an extra layer of pain to the headache she’d been nursing all day. As she slid her drawer open, Malfoy walked in.
“She’s been fed and changed,” he said, settling onto the sofa in her office, cradling the baby in his arms.
Hermione slid the drawer closed.
“How did you…?” Hermione began, but shook her head quickly. “Nevermind. We need to find this child’s parents before this is all over the Daily Prophet. Who would abandon their baby like that? And how did no one notice Shacklebolt leave with the baby? I swear, from now on, you need to accompany him on any public outings!”
“Seeing as how your pet Aurors are out of town, we have to report her as found and hope someone had filed a report that she is missing in the first place.”
“You’re certain it’s a she?”
Malfoy arched an eyebrow,“Who do you think changed her nappy?”
The baby lay in his arms, her tiny little hands opening and closing as if trying to grasp for something only she could see. She babbled and cooed, trying to blow spit bubbles. Hermione watched as Malfoy smiled at the baby, giving her one of his fingers to chew on.
“I would never have pegged you as the paternal type,” she observed.
Malfoy looked up at her remark, “We’re not completely the product of our upbringing, Granger.”
“That wasn’t--” Hermione cut herself off. It was exactly what she had meant.
Neville saved her from whatever she was going to say next as he ran into her office.
“Where’s the baby?” he asked, his wife right behind him.
Hermione pointed at Malfoy, who seemed to hug the baby closer to his chest.
Hannah stopped in front of Malfoy and gestured to the baby. “Alright, give it here.”
Malfoy darted his eyes to Hermione who nodded before he reluctantly handed over the child.
“It is a she,” he informed Hannah. “That’s all I know. I gave her some milk earlier and bought her some nappies.” He gestured at the bag next to him.
Hannah cooed at the baby in her arms, “Well, she looks about six months old. Old enough for normal food at least. Have you reported it yet?”
Hermione and Draco shook their heads. It was already close to seven o’clock in the evening and the entire Ministry emptied out by five.
“Could you take her home for the night? We will report her tomorrow.” Hermione rubbed at her neck.
Neville swallowed. “I’m sorry Hermione, I can’t. I would be liable for the baby. If her parents do come for her, I could be arrested. She has to go to the juvenile centre.”
Malfoy’s face went from grey to green to scarlet in a matter of moments. He took the baby back from Hannah.
“Over my dead body,” he spat. “She’ll be dumped in a cot and forgotten about. No--I will take her home. I have some old baby items in one of the rooms at the Manor.”
Hannah shared a look with Neville before shrugging. “It’s not the nicest place, for sure, but it is the only legal place for her to go.”
Hermione could see Malfoy’s shoulders hike up to his ears.
“I’ll tell you where to--”
“I’ll go with him,” Hermione interrupted. “It will be fine. Who can argue legally against the Deputy Minister. Right?”
Neville sighed. “I suppose. I am so sorry Hermione. You know I would help if I could. Look, I’ll write up a list of stuff you need and also who you need to see about her case.”
He picked up a quill on her desk and pulled a spare piece of parchment towards him. Neville and Hannah, despite owning a bar, had actually trained for the Ministry after Hogwarts. Neville in social work, Hannah as a lawyer.
Malfoy just stood at the sofa, glaring at the Longbottoms. How dare they even suggest such a cruel practice! This wasn’t the dark ages. One does not just drop off a child as if it was a forgotten hat on the train. He had quietly been campaigning for years to change the juvenile system of the Ministry, but no one seemed inclined to make any kind of changes. He was biding his time until Granger took over as Minister to get her behind him with her clout. He only had another year to wait.
Neville finished the list and handed it to Hermione, who looked it over quickly.
“Looks easy enough. We’ll get on this first thing in the morning,” she promised the Longbottoms, hugging them both before they left. She reached into a lower drawer and retrieved her handbag.
“Okay Malfoy, let’s get this little one home,” she gestured to the office door.
The baby gurgled and smacked him on the chin.
Hermione Granger was not, nor would she ever be, a fan of Malfoy Manor. It still stood as grand as it ever had on its plot in Wiltshire. To Hermione, however, it loomed ominously. She squeezed her eyes shut and fought off the memories of blood and pain. Malfoy had just walked up the stairs to the front door after side-along Apparating them to the front lawn. He was muttering darkly under his breath as he held the baby in one arm and used the other to open the door.
He took a few steps into the house before realising Granger was not following him. Malfoy went back to the door and scowled at her.
“It’s just a house. Come in before it’s offended and locks you out.”
“Your house is sentient?” Hermione gave it another uncertain look.
“Only when it loses patience with witches loitering on the doorstep.”
Malfoy stalked back inside, Hermione close on his heels. Without pausing, he swept up the stairs to the third floor and entered a door at the end of a passage. It opened into what was essentially its own private apartment. He finally laid the baby on his bed and surrounded her with pillows to stop her from rolling off.
“Mipsy!” He shouted and then glared at Granger, as if daring her to say anything about his house-elves.
The elf popped into existence in front of him. “Master?”
“We have a situation involving a baby. Set up the cot in the corner and bring everything else I’ll need. Also, dinner for two.” He didn’t break eye contact with Granger during the exchange, so he saw how she pursed her lips at his command. “Please,” he ground out as Mipsy popped out of the room.
Hermione took a tentative step towards the bed, casting a wary eye on the baby. Malfoy ignored her and sat down next to the bundle, tickling the baby’s stomach.
“There’s a room next door that you can sleep in,” he said, not bothering to look up, a soft smile on his lips as the baby giggled. “I’ll call you when Mipsy brings the food.”
Hermione took it for the dismissal it obviously was and retreated to the guest room. She lay back on the large bed and looked up at the canopy extended over the bed.
When she had woken up that morning, the last thing she expected was to find herself playing babysitter. What was equally surprising to her was how Malfoy had taken charge of the whole situation, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. She wanted to tease him about it, but they had this unspoken agreement that kept them civil and professional. They weren’t friends. They were colleagues. In fact, she was his boss, and there was no place for banter. It had worked for them, keeping everything restricted to official business.
Did she make the right choice in coming home with him? Did he think she didn’t trust him? Did she trust him? Obviously when it came to his job, she did. He was an excellent Press Secretary, able to spin any situation to their advantage. He had earned that trust over and over again over the past few years. Did she trust him with a baby, though? Honestly, she didn’t. For so many reasons. But were they valid?
She groaned and pulled one of the pillows over her head.
Hermione saw that the next few days were going to be a personal growth curve that she honestly didn’t have the energy for.
Unless Malfoy reverted to her low expectations and therefore she didn’t have to think about him and how he changed in his personal life. That would make her life a lot easier, she thought.
Mipsy popped into her room to announce that dinner had been served.
Draco’s night had not been a restful one. The baby, or rather nasty little sleep thief as he referred to her, had woken up every two hours. She had to be fed, burped and changed. Rinse repeat ad infinitum. So he was not in the best mood when his wand alarm had buzzed him awake.
He quickly got ready before meeting Granger in the entrance hall. He was armed with a bag that contained enough supplies to see them and the baby through the day. Or so he hoped. He wasn’t too sure on how many nappies babies used in a day, so he decided to err on the side of caution and pack as many as he could find. Mipsy had prepared numerous bottles for him and after a quick shrinking charm, was able to get everything packed. The baby has dressed in some of his old clothes Mipsy had found, and soon they were ready to leave.
Granger had been suspiciously quiet since the previous night, barely saying anything over dinner and it was grating his nerves. He knew she was judging every little thing he did and it made his shoulders tighten into a solid knot.
The side along Apparition to the Ministry was done in tense silence and when they landed in the Ministry, Granger had quickly stepped away from him. She had taken out the list Neville had given her the night before and read it again.
“Right, our first stop is the Auror Office. North wing, 23rd floor. This way.”
“I know where it is,” he snapped.
“Right. Of course,” Hermione muttered, flushing slightly. “Shall we?”
He readjusted the baby on his hip and nodded at her to lead the way.
There were stares. Of course people would stare. Not because they had a baby, but because it was them. Malfoy and Granger. With a baby. He could see their eyes widen in shock, then twist their foreheads into a frown as they quickly did some mental arithmetic, staring at Granger’s figure. He wanted to snap at them. Force them to keep their eyes on the ground. Instead, he grit his teeth and kept his head up, only wincing slightly as the baby used his cheek as a bongo drum while she kept mumbling “duh duh duh.” Rather that than her screaming.
The Auror office was nearly empty, with only one Auror on desk duty while the remaining four sat at their desks filling out reports.
“Good morning,” Hermione said curtly as they approached the desk. “I’m here to report a missing baby.”
The Auror looked up briefly. “Have you looked to your left?” He gestured to Draco.
“This is the baby I want to report. It was abandoned last night. I’m here to see if anyone reported it--”
“Her,” Malfoy growled.
“--missing, so we can compare and see if we can find the baby’s parents.”
The Auror nodded then gave her a sad smile. “I’m sorry, we only deal with missing people. You’ll want to go to the social office for found people. 3rd basement level.”
“I see,” Hermione said, her smile tight and her tone icy. “Thank you.”
She turned and walked out, leaving Draco to follow her, the movement jostling the baby, making her whimper.
“Now, now little one, calm down.” Draco muttered at her as he followed Granger’s long strides down the passage back to the elevator.
“I’m sorry, but we need an Auror report in order to process a found child.”
The witch at the service desk was not being very serving, in Draco’s opinion.
“No, but you see, we were just at the Auror Office and they sent us here.” Hermione was using a lot of energy to keep her tone calm.
“It was probably that lazy, good for nothing Grimsby. He just doesn’t want to do the paperwork. He knows I can’t process anything without a case file number.”
“So all you need is a case file number?”
The witch nodded.
“Which we need to get from Auror Grimsby?”
“I’d hardly call him an Auror. How he ever passed the exams is anyone’s guess.”
Draco growled at the witch, which caused the baby to squeal happily and hit his chin with her spit covered fist.
“Regardless,” Hermione persevered, “he is the one to give us the case number, correct?”
“Yes. North wing, 23rd floor.”
Hermione took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Right.” She led them back to the Aurors office.
“Angela Wattle doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
Auror Grimsby seemed to take personal offence when Hermione relayed the message from the social department.
“I can’t process a missing person if she’s right in front of me,” Grimsby continued. “If they are in front of you and you can see them, they’re hardly missing, are they?”
Draco narrowed his eyes at the level of stupidity coming out of the Auror’s mouth.
“Listen here you idiot! This baby” -- he held up the bundle in his arms -- “is missing from her parents. So why don’t you pick up a quill and a case file and issue a damned case number.”
The baby began to squirm and whimper.
“Sir, please, moderate your tone. You are in the Auror Office, and we do not tolerate abusive language here.”
“Hey! Coolridge, you utter wanker! This report is a clusterfuck of monumental proportions. Where did you learn to spell?” The shout echoed from the back of the department.
“Your mother taught me!” came the equally loud retort, accompanied by a few lewd hand gestures towards the speaker’s crotch.
Grimsby loudly cleared his throat, trying not to wither under the collective glare coming from Hermione and Draco.
“You best tell Angela that you need to--”
Draco handed the baby over to Hermione, freeing up his hands to grip the counter tightly instead of the Auror's neck, which was really the place he wanted them.
“Open. The. Case. File.”
“I...I…” Grimsby stuttered. “Only parents can open missing child cases. I don’t suppose you are the parents, are you?”
“Do we look like the parents?” Draco gestured between himself and Hermione.
Grimsby looked at Hermione then at Draco then back at Hermione. “If you’re not, I will have to open a case of kidnapping.”
Draco felt a throbbing in his head, “We did not kidnap this child!” he all but shouted at the Auror.
The baby began to wail.
“Then where are the parents?” asked Grimsby.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out, you half wit!” Draco wanted to climb over the counter and beat the ever loving Merlin out of the Auror.
He stilled when Hermione touched his elbow.
“Come on, we’ll find another way,” she said, cradling the screaming child.
Draco gave the Auror one last death glare before turning and storming out of the office.
He fumed all the way back to their bullpen where Hermione led him into her office. He slammed the door behind him.
“What kind of circus are you running here Granger?”
Hermione was about to sit on the sofa but froze halfway down before coming back to her full height.
“You heard me. You’re the Deputy Minister. What kind of bureaucratic nightmare… how did you not know the state of this place?”
Draco threw the bag down and began digging through it for a bottle to quiet the wailing baby. He’d rather be beating the Auror into various shades of black and blue, but this would have to do. He located one, recharmed it to full size and with another charm, heated it to drinking temperature. He then thrust it at Hermione.
“It shouldn’t be this complicated. I’d have them fired on the spot if I could,” he continued to fume.
“How dare you! Do you have any idea of how big the Ministry actually is? I don’t have time to audit every single department on its customer service.” She tried to get the baby to take the bottle, but she kept moving her head from side to side, her wailing reaching new decibels. “You need to calm down, you’re upsetting the baby.”
“Me? I’m the one upsetting the baby? I can’t even return her to her parents! Kidnapping! Of all the stupid things I have heard--here, give her to me.” Hermione handed over the baby without delay. “I’ll have that Grimsby working on toilet duty for the rest of his career!” With that, he fed the rubber nipple into the baby’s mouth and suddenly silence fell in the office.
Hermione rubbed her temples, trying to push away the headache that had been lingering since the previous day.
“I’ll figure something out. You stay here and look after her.”
Hermione lingered in front of the Auror Office, peeping in occasionally to see who was at the front desk. Eventually Grimsby left and another Auror took his place.
She wiped her hands on her skirt and approached the desk.
“Good afternoon, how may I help?” asked the Auror.
“I’d like to report a missing baby,” she said quietly.
The Auror immediately frowned and reached for a blank file as well as some parchments, “Are you the mother?”
Hermione hesitated. Grimsby had said that only parents could report the child missing. She licked her lips and nodded.
The Auror eyed her wearily. “Deputy Minister Granger, I see you every morning in the Atrium and unless you have charmed your robes, I can’t say I noticed you were pregnant. What’s really going on?”
She sighed and relayed the story to him. The Auror kept tightening his grip on the quill as she spoke of Grimsby until it snapped in two.
“Right, I’ll give you a case file for Angela, and then I’m going to go murder that idiot!”
Draco had fed, burped and changed the baby and was now stuck pacing around Granger’s office with the child until she came back, or he wore a hole in the floor.
“Can you believe the people in this place?” he spoke to the baby.
“Puh dah,” she replied and smacked his face.
“Exactly. Useless.” He sighed and sank onto the sofa. “Why did they leave you? You’re such a cute little thing when you’re not screaming and keeping me awake.”
The baby blew spit bubbles.
Draco would never admit it to anyone, but he actually did want a family. Not in the immediate sense, but it would be nice one day. He always imagined two little figures running around the manor, their laughter filling the air, killing the oppressive silence that invaded every corner of the house. He liked to imagine going to sports days at Hogwarts and celebrating Yule with lots of presents and hugs. To have someone who would love him completely without judgement. He’d definitely do a better job than his father. He would never let his children down, or force them into doing the bidding of ambitious psychopaths. He would love them and tell them every day that he did.
Sometimes, in his darker secret moments, when he wasn’t fully aware of his thoughts, Granger would sneak into his daydreams. A kinder, softer version of her at least. One who laughed the way she did when they were at school.
He sighed. He had two obstacles to achieving his dream family. One: Granger hated him. Well, not really hated. But it seemed like she was mostly indifferent to him. And two: she looked profoundly uncomfortable around children.
The baby had settled down into a snooze in his lap.
“Guess I’ll just have to be your daddy until we find your real one,” he said quietly.
Case number in hand, Hermione strode through the corridors of the ministry to the Social Department. She put her hand against the door to swing it open and rub the case number in Angela’s face but came up short.
The door refused to budge.
She stepped back and looked around before spotting the small brass plaque next to the door knob.
“The Ministry of Magic Social Needs Department is only open between 9am and 12pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For emergencies, please make your way to the Welfare Department in the East Wing, 8th Floor. Thank you.”
Hermione checked her wristwatch. It was 11:55am. On a Friday.
“What the bloody hell?” she shouted and banged her fist on the door. “Open up! This is your Deputy Minister! Open up at once!”
The door remained unmoving, her cries echoing down the corridor. Hermione pulled out her wand and with a sharp “Alomora,” she unlocked the door.
Well, she tried. It seemed the door was charmed against unlocking spells.
“Right, you have just made it to the top of my shitlist.”
She turned on her heel and stormed away, plans brewing in her mind.
The Welfare Department on the 8th floor of the east wing was not a pleasant place to visit. Witches and wizards in shabby, old robes sat in hard, uncomfortable stone seats. Children ran around shouting. Others were curled in the laps of various adults. It was a depressing sight to say the least.
Hermione went to the first desk where a harassed looking witch sat, her bejewelled glasses perched on her nose.
“Please take a number and we’ll call you shortly,” she said, not even looking up.
Hermione looked at the number dispenser sitting on the counter to her right. The next available number was 265. A sign above the counter declared that they had so far served 48 people.
“I’m sorry, but this is an emergency,” she said, keeping her tone even. “I’ve come from the Minister's office.”
The witch looked up and gave Hermione a dull stare.
“I don’t care if you’ve come from Timbuktu. Take a number.”
“I should introduce myself. I am Deputy Minister Granger.”
“I don’t care if you’re Morgana herself. You need to take a number.”
“Look, I really don’t have time to take a number. I need to report a missing baby.”
“Social Department handles missing children.”
“Yes, I know, but they’re closed. I need to open a case. I have a case number from the Auror Office. Just tell me what I have to do.”
“Take a number. Wait your turn. Then I can help you. There’s others waiting to be served and you are holding up my queue.”
Hermione bit her cheek and considered the many hexes she could unleash on the unhelpful woman. “Tell me,” she began carefully. “Let’s suppose I do take a number and I wait and then I do finally come back here to be served, what would you say to me when I say I need to report a missing child?”
“I’d say you have to get a report from the Social Department first.”
Hermione felt a supernova open in her chest and spread into her limbs. She bit her cheek so hard, she could taste blood. Instead, she simply nodded, turned around and picked her way through the crowded corridor. Once she reached the main exit, she broke out into a run.
“Malfoy, take the baby home. I will meet you there in an hour.”
Hermione paused in her stride as she noticed that Malfoy had, in fact, fallen asleep on her sofa. The baby was balanced on his chest, a spit puddle slowly soaking into the wizard’s shirt. Her stomach tightened for a moment before she shoved the feeling away and nudged his legs with her knee.
He jerked awake, causing the baby to let out a mewl of protest.
“Why are you kicking me?” he groused, sitting up gingerly, resettling the baby against his chest. He wrinkled his nose at the smell emanating from her.
“Take the baby to the manor. I will meet you there in an hour.” Hermione was already at her desk, throwing books and parchments into her bag.
“What happened?” he asked, standing up with a slight wince. Hermione’s sofa was not very comfortable.
“Nothing. And that’s half the problem. Now, off you go.”
With that, Hermione raced out the door.
Olivia stuck her head around the doorframe. “I think I’ve just come down with the flu. I think I won’t be in next week.”
Draco nodded. The last time he’d seen Granger that worked up, half of the Department for the Care and Protection of Magical Creatures ended up getting fired. The memory of her path of destruction made him wince. Rumour had it that Bethany Farmsworth was still in therapy after being on the receiving end of a Granger dressing down.
Yes, next week would be crazy, but it would also be a lot of fun.
Hermione arrived at the manor after stopping at home for some clothes for the weekend. She stormed in and headed straight for the library. Well, that was her objective, but she got turned around after the third sitting room she found herself in. Sometime in her journey, she walked through the ballroom, and a corridor displaying old portraits of Malfoy ancestors who turned their backs on her with disdain.
Eventually she found it and set up camp on the antique mahogany desk. She immediately began pulling out reference books and parchment scrolls to draft the new protocols.
Hermione was so entrenched in her work, she didn't even notice Malfoy stroll in an hour or so later, baby balanced on his hip. She had her fist in her mouth and was happily chewing on it.
Malfoy stood in the doorway for a moment, taking in the sight of Granger in his father’s seat. It physically dwarfed her, but her presence filled the lofty room. Her hair was still in its tight bun that she always wore and her clothes from the day before still looked spotless. She had kicked off her shoes and sat with her feet tucked under her legs.
“Have you made your hit list yet?” He took a bit of pleasure in the jolt that went through her before she answered.
“It’s a work in progress.” She didn’t bother to look up. “Put the baby down and find the book with that reference to Ignobot's thesis on abandonment in minors.”
Draco waved his wand and transfigured an nearby side table into a playpen for the baby. He placed her inside and then transfigured his tie into a teddy bear. He then set a charm over the playpen that became an interactive star chart.
“We should name her,” he said, walking towards the desk and looking through the piles of books.
“The peacock on the verandah.”
“What a waste of time, naming a peacock.”
“I was thinking of something classic, like Delilah.”
“Appropriate peacock name, that is.” Hermione stopped reading and looked up. “Stop wasting time, find that thesis.”
“Granger. We need to name the baby.” He pointed at said baby, who had rolled onto her stomach and was trying to push herself up. She seemed to be giving herself a pep talk judging by the amount of babbling.
Hermione went back to her reading. “She already has a name. We can’t give her another. It’ll be confusing.”
“I refuse to refer to her as The Baby.”
“So don’t refer to her. Rather help me get some people fired.”
It was the glee in her tone that stopped him short. It bordered on cruel. Yes, the civil servants they had to deal with were incompetent to say the least, but no one should delight in taking a job away.
“Eliza? I like the name Eliza. And I thought we were rewriting procedures, not destroying lives.”
Hermione froze. He could see her shoulders stiffen. “I am rewriting the procedures. People losing their jobs is merely collateral damage, and par for the course.”
“Granger. Look at me. Look. I know you’re on the warpath. Merlin knows I wanted to throw a few avadas around, but you’re talking about people who have families to support.”
“Since when have you become the voice of the people? Last I knew you were all for eradicating the filth from the population.”
“Since you seemed to have turned into a robot,” he turned around and scooped up Eliza from her playpen and headed for the door.
“As if you know what that is.”
“Fuck you. George made me watch those ‘Terminator’ movies!” he slammed the door behind him causing Eliza to start crying.
Hermione found the words on the page in front of her swimming around and not actually making any sense. She had been called a lot of things in her life. Being called a robot hardly made the top ten of cruel names, but it stung. She went into politics to help people. Robots don’t do that, do they? The fact that it was Malfoy, of all people, calling her a heartless hunk of metal really drove it home. Was that how everyone saw her? She thought of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. He didn’t have a heart. In fact, at that moment, she felt as hollow as he was. She tapped her fist against her chest.
“I’m not a robot,” Hermione blurted from the doorway to Draco’s room.
He had his back to her, seated on the carpet, playing a game of fetch with Eliza. She sat in his lap and when he handed her a wooden block, she would throw it and Draco would lean over to collect it and hand it back to her. With a giggle, she would throw it again.
Draco didn’t acknowledge her. Instead he quietly encouraged Eliza in her game.
Hermione hesitantly joined them on the floor picking up the block Eliza had just thrown and played with it. Eliza frowned at looked up at her before stretching out her tiny hand, babbling at Hermione. She smiled and handed the block to the baby, who, surprise, threw it again.
“Is that what people say behind my back?”
“You know I’m not one for idle gossip, Granger.”
“I’m just trying to do the right thing. That’s all I ever wanted.”
Draco shrugged. “You know that old saying about best intentions and a road to hell?” He glanced at her pained expression. “Look, I was all for your campaign against the Creatures Department, but you know what happened after that?”
She shook her head. Hermione never did return to the scene of the restructuring massacre. She had politics to see to.
“Those who survived live in constant fear of their jobs. Nervous wrecks, the lot of them. And those who were removed? Well, last I heard, Jasper and his family had to move back in with his parents. All eight of them living in a flat above a pub in Cornwall.”
“They should have been less incompetent.”
“You should have looked at the people, not the statistics. Not all of them were there through the old channels of nepotism. And all for a simple bill that you wanted passed. Which, let’s be honest, has barely had any affect on the trade of endangered magical animals.”
Hermione blew out a hard sigh. “I fucked up, didn’t I?”
Draco placed his hands over Eliza’s ears, “Oi! Innocent ears.”
Despite her mood, Hermione actually cracked a smile at him.
“Look,” he sighed. “Let’s try your restructuring thing, but let’s limit the casualties. You’re up for Minister next year and the last thing you need is sending your voters to the unemployment line. I think they call that counter-productive. I’ll put her down for a nap then join you in the library.”
With a nod, Hermione stood up and brushed off her skirt. As she reached the door, Draco’s voice gave her pause.
“You know, I’ve read stories where robots do get a heart.”
They spent the rest of the weekend ensconced in the library, putting together Hermione’s planned restructuring into a legal and binding policy that no one could refute. At first, they had tried to get Mipsy to babysit, but Eliza would not have any of it. She would scream until she was blue in the face, only settling down when Draco took her in his arms.
“So, in this line, I think it should read ‘must,’ instead of merely 'could.’ We want to avoid ambiguity.”
Hermione looked up from the parchment to where Draco was changing Eliza’s nappy on the end of the desk. He tickled her stomach before picking her up and cradling her against his chest.
She briefly wondered what it would be like to be cradled like that.
Hermione quickly squashed the thought and cleared her throat. “You know, we can’t allow for anything to be misinterpreted. That leads to abuse of power.”
It had been such a long time since Hermione had been held by someone, let alone anything more intimate.
“And abuse of power is the real thing we’re trying to prevent, after all.”
“Granger, is the room a bit too warm? You’ve gone the oddest shade of pink.” He ignored her glare. “I agree. If we can choke any avenue open to abuse, we may stand a chance of getting it to actually work. Now, I think we should reference the precedent set by Hendriks in 1672. I think it’s in that book, to the right.” He nodded his head towards the tower of volumes beside her.
Hermione woke with a start. She was on the floor of the library, lying on her side. In front of her, curled into her chest and building an impressive puddle of drool, was Eliza. Beyond her lay Draco. He was on his back, one arm pressed between Eliza and Hermione, the other flung over his head. He was snoring softly.
There was a pile of parchment by her knees. An inkpot was lying on its side by her feet, having soaked the carpet and stained her feet.
Hermione sighed and pushed herself up, wincing at the crick in her neck and the stiffness in her shoulders. She had to gingerly uncurl Eliza’s fingers where they were fisted in her t-shirt. The baby shoved her fist into her mouth and chewed on it in her sleep.
Her mind whispered traitorous thoughts about how she could have this. Them. The coziness. The comfort. The company.
She shook her head to dispel them. Spending three days in the company of a baby and a surprisingly pleasant Malfoy had messed with her emotions. The clear lines they had drawn when they began working together were now blurred into a grey area she was hesitant to explore. She decided there and then that it was merely a case of overexposure and heightened emotions, and that once the baby was back with her parents, they could return their relationship to its factory settings. Civil colleagues. At least it was something she felt comfortable with.
Peeking through the curtains, Hermione could see the sky stained with the dark purples and pinks of early dawn. Surely that meant they’d only been asleep for two or three hours. The grittiness behind her eyes told it it was closer to two.
She left Draco sleeping on the floor and went upstairs to get ready for the day.
Daily Prophet article dated one week later:Deputy Minister Granger tears down the establishment!
This past week, Muggleborn Granger has pushed through a new policy that has department heads across the ministry quaking in their boots. This new policy, Deputy Minister Granger has assured us, will not result in the mass loss of jobs, as was the case when she restructured the Department for the Care of Magical Creatures. Granger is quick to point out that the restructuring should result in a system easier to navigate for the average wizard or witch, with no reason to resort to bribery or other underhanded channels in getting the service they deserve from the ministry.
Current Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, has fully endorsed his deputy’'s policy. This reporter can only say, once the dust settles, we will be able to take a full tally of the casualties.
Daily Prophet Article from the same day:Draco Malfoy Returns Kidnapped Baby
A week ago, baby Mabel Povich went missing when her mother, Mrs. Ruth Povich, attended a presentation by Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt. Mrs. Povich told the Daily Prophet that she asked her friend, who remains unnamed, to hold Mabel while she shook a pebble from her shoe. When she looked back up, Mabel was missing and Mrs. Povich’s friend was engaged in conversation with another wizard.
When Mrs Povich tried to report Mabel missing, the Social Department was closed. The mother and baby were reunited in the hallowed halls of the Ministry, where Mrs. Povich had gone on Monday morning to report her child missing.
“I was just waiting for the corridor to the department to open, when I see this tall, blonde man walk past with my Mabel in his arms.”
The blonde man was none other than Draco Malfoy, Press Secretary to the Minister and suspected kidnapper. When the Daily Prophet approached Mr. Malfoy for a comment, we were turned away. We are awaiting confirmation from the Auror department on whether or not charges will be pressed against the Malfoy heir.
The bullpen was all but vacated by the time Draco finally looked up from the stack of work that had somehow multiplied during his time away. There was only a glimmer of light escaping from under Granger’s office door.
His spine made protesting pops as he stretched and pushed away from his desk. They had barely spoken to each other since that Monday when he’d woken up on his library floor with Eliza cooing at him. Granger had long since left and when he arrived at the Ministry, he’d been waylaid by the baby’s mother and the Auror department for most of the day. The rest of the week Hermione had been ensconced with the Wizengamot and heads of department in the conference room, pushing her policy into place.
It was now late on a Friday night and Draco felt the need for a Firewhisky. And he knew just the person to accommodate him.
He knocked softly on Granger’s office door.
“Come in,” she said. She was sitting back in her office chair, shoes kicked off and feet crossed on her desk. Her bottle of bourbon sat on her desk while she held a tumbler loosely in her hand. It held half an inch of bourbon.
“Working late?” he asked, taking a seat across from her.
“I’d say I’ve worked enough this week for at least an hour of leisure.” She flicked her wand and transfigured a paperweight into a tumbler. She poured a two finger measure of bourbon into it and handed it to Draco. “I’d like to propose a toast, actually.”
He quirked an eyebrow but raised his glass.
“To making the system work.” She clinked her glass against his and took a sip.
“That remains to be seen.”
“Don’t be so pessimistic. It was a job well done from all parties involved.”
“It was just you and me, Granger. We were the only parties involved. Well, and the baby.”
Hermione gave him an assessing look. “It’s odd to see you now, without a baby in your arms.”
His eyebrows rose in surprise.
“I just mean... Look, we’ve known eachother most of our lives. We’ve survived a lot and, well, I was reminiscing about that. Before you came in, that is. We’re in our thirties Malfoy. Do you remember when we thought we wouldn’t make it to eighteen? And yet, here we are. I just keep thinking about how the only time, in all those years that we’ve...interacted, I never saw you smile like that.”
A smile spread across Draco’s lips, “You’ve been noticing my smiles?”
“Not like that. Just, you know, in passing. Stop smiling at me like that. I’m trying to be poignant.”
“Don’t let me stop you,” Draco waved his tumbler in a lazy circle for her to continue.
“What I mean is that...well...maybe I need to remember how to smile, you know? I tried to earlier and it felt weird. Like my face had forgotten how to move that way. I don’t know. I guess there’s not many reasons to smile when you have my job.”
“Granger,” Draco said after a few minutes of introspective silence had fallen over them. “What do you call fake spaghetti?”
She blinked owlishly at him.
Hermione nearly fell off her chair laughing.
Yeah; Draco nodded to himself. This was his new goal in life. He didn’t have to convince Hermione to fall in love with him, he just had to make her laugh every day until she did. And if she didn’t, well, he loved the sound of her laugh anyway.THE END