Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction using characters and elements from the world of Harry Potter, created and trademarked by JK Rowling. I do not claim ownership over any Harry Potter characters or the Harry Potter world. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and is not claiming to be any part of the Harry Potter canon. Thank you to JK Rowling for letting me play with the characters and not suing me for writing them into a new situation.
For the next couple of weeks, things were as normal. Hermione didn't miss any of her appointments, and Draco continued to take all of them, despite Blaise's disapproving glares and his threats to tell Pansy what was really going on.
Thanks to some incredibly efficient organizational work from Pansy, the new facility was ready to be opened. This second facility would have a Grand Opening celebration, an open house for the community, something they were unable to do for the first facility. Considering the amount of opposition they initially had from the Wizarding world for their controversial business premise, it had been unwise to have a big public event. Now that Napster had established itself as a trustworthy company in the Wizarding community, even earning accolades and recommendations for its results in aiding those who struggled with mental health problems from the war, it seemed an appropriate time to celebrate their accomplishments.
Draco hadn't expected to see Hermione at the party. Most of their regular clients still felt shame from their reliance on Napster's services, and avoided publically associating their name with the company. Despite the business being considered reputable, knowledge that a wizard or witch constantly frequented the napping service sometimes gave rise to rumors and invasive speculation.
So it took him by surprise to see her standing by the refreshments table in the lobby chatting animatedly with Pansy and Justin. She waved her arm, indicating the room, and it was clear Pansy was soaking up the praise. He could faintly hear their laughter as he tried to focus on the conversation of the wizard in front of him.
After several more minutes of noncommittal one-word responses, he finally extricated himself from the compliments of the older wizard, and slowly made his way over to where he could see Hermione was getting herself something to drink. From across the room he noticed Blaise frowning at him, but he ignored the warning as he poured himself some water.
"Hello Malfoy," she greeted him, politely, sipping her beverage and choosing some cheese and crackers from the table in front of her. "Congratulations on your business's success!"
"Granger," he acknowledged her, trying to calm the rapid beating of his heart as he interacted with her as himself for the first time in years. "A pleasure to see you again." He turned to face her and noted how the darkness of her navy blue dress made her eyes seem warm and bright. She was lovely, and perhaps she'd used a glamour as there were no traces of strain or tears on her face.
"Your new facility is very nice," she offered, by way of making conversation. "I told Pansy that it avoids feeling clinical while still coming across as very modern. It's very cleverly decorated."
"Yes," Draco readily admitted, reaching over to choosing some of the tiny appetizers for his own plate. "The entire business is Pansy's baby and so she's worked very hard at all the aspects of it. It's very important to her that clients feel welcome and comfortable and safe at all times."
When he looked up at her, he noticed that she'd frozen, her hand halfway to her mouth, and her face completely drained of color.
"Are you all right, Granger?" he quickly asked, concerned.
She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out on the first try. He finally heard a whispered, "It's you!"
If he thought his heart was beating hard before, it sped up so rapidly he felt dizzy with it. There's no way that she could mean what it sounded like. Had she somehow deduced his identity in just those few moments? He didn't see how that was possible, considering he was careful to use a different Polyjuice form for every single one of her sessions. She might have deduced when it was a different employee assigned as her avatar, but there's no way she could have learned who he was.
"What are you talking about, Granger?" he demanded, a little harshly.
She just looked up at him, surprise and a question on her face. The plate in her hands was forgotten. "All this time, it's been you?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"I'm part owner of this facility, if that's what you're asking." His attempt to distract her didn't work.
"Don't try to pretend, Malfoy, I know it's you," she said, irritatedly.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he repeated, feeling absurdly like he'd been caught performing Dark magic.
Her glance went around the room to the other guests that were speaking nearby, and then she said, in the same swotty voice he remembered from school, "Polyjuice doesn't change your voice, Malfoy."
She put a hand to her head, shaking it, like she was trying to put the pieces all together. "I always thought I recognized your voice, but it had been so long since I'd seen you—as you—in person. I was sure you would have stayed far away from me."
"Granger," he hissed, uselessly, "I can assure you I have no idea what you're talking about." His eyes darted around the room trying to take note of anyone who might be seeing them talking together, or who might be close enough to hear. Fortunately, everyone seemed occupied with their own conversations for now.
She scowled at him. "I'm not wrong! It took me a second to place it, but I listen to your voice as I fall asleep every week, I know it's you."
He quickly downed the water in his hand, wishing it were Firewhisky, and then he scowled back at her. "Granger, even if I knew what you were talking about, which I don't, there's probably some very good legal reasons why I still wouldn't respond to your claims. We have very strict rules at Napster that govern the behavior and conduct of all of our workers, and absolute privacy and anonymity of identity is one of the fundamental tenets of our business that allows it to thrive. So whatever thing you are talking about, you need to stop. Now."
He wished he could have said more. That they could have had a few moments to talk and maybe establish a reason for him to see her outside of Napster. But after giving his warning he walked off, cursing himself for forgetting that one of the main scheduling obstacles was making sure no avatar was assigned to a client who might recognize their voice. He really didn't think she could have recognized him so quickly.
But he would have known her voice in an instant, so it was silly of him to assume she wouldn't have eventually figured it out.
He tried not to wonder if her reaction to him meant that her feelings ran deeper, like his apparently did. But no, that was silly, as even if she did have deeper feelings, it was for the avatar that she napped beside, and not for the boy she knew and hated from school.
She didn't come back. She only barely cancelled her sessions within the courtesy time period, but she'd missed two already, and Draco was a mess.
Was it because of him? Had learning his identity ruined the benefit of her Napster sessions? Was she embarrassed? Or worse, was she disgusted at realizing that she'd cried in the arms of the very same boy who used to make her life miserable at school? Did she hate him?
His mind was circling around with these questions over and over, so that he'd made several mistakes at work, mis-assigning clients, and understaffing busy time periods.
Blaise wanted him to take some time off. "Draco, it's obvious to everyone that you are not yourself. Take a few days, or a week, or two, and get yourself together."
Draco was slumped in a chair in Blaise's office, staring at the carpet. "Do you think she hates me?" he asked, rhetorically. He didn't have to specify who he was talking about as they both knew there was only one 'she' he could be referring to.
Blaise obviously didn't have any more answers than he did. There was just no explanation for why she'd stopped coming to Napster again.
"You shouldn't be thinking about this so much, Draco, she's just a client."
"You know she's not." It was the first time he'd ever admitted as much to him. He was done with pretending that he was just doing his job. "I think I love her, Blaise." Saying the words out loud almost caused a wave of nausea to wash over him. How ridiculous to think he'd fallen in love seeing someone for three hours a week while he was Polyjuiced to look like someone else.
Blaise protested, "'Don't fall in love with the client!' After that fiasco with MacMillan, that's practically the number one rule!"
Ernie MacMillan had fallen in love with one of their regulars, and against the rules he had contacted her, declared himself, and basically freaked her out.
They'd had to pay quite a settlement to her to keep the situation quiet, and Ernie had been let go. And it was why up until Draco's confiscation of every one of Hermione Granger's sessions, they were careful not to allow the same employee to serve a client too many times.
"The number one rule is 'Don't hurt anybody,'" Draco pointed out, not even denying the more salient point of the charge.
Blaise nodded. "And that includes yourself!" He let out a tired exhale, and then sat heavily in the chair next to his friend and business partner. "What were you thinking, Draco? She was never going to see past you being a Slytherin, let alone a pure-blood and a Malfoy. You should have never fallen that deep."
Draco slumped even deeper into the chair. "I know, I screwed up." He put his head in his hands, thinking about all the ways he'd been breaking the rules, pretending that it didn't mean anything and he was just giving the best service because he was the best person for the job. But he'd taken advantage of their secure appointment system. He'd fallen for the client. And worse yet, he'd all but confirmed his identity to her.
"I did warn you," Blaise added, though his tone was kind.
"You need to take a vacation, Draco. Get away from here and from this whole mess. Get your head out of your arse and get yourself figured out. When you come back, we can tell Pansy. I don't have to tell you that if Granger goes public with this information, the reputation we've been working on building will take a big hit."
Draco rubbed at his face, the action causing his hair to fall messily over his forehead. "You're right. I'll tell Pansy myself before I go home."
"You do that," was all Blaise said, as he watched Draco leave his office.
Pansy's office was in a quieter part of the building, away from the bustle of the command center. Draco was determined to come clean to her before he left so that she and Blaise would be best equipped to deal with any fallout from his colossal mistake.
What he didn't expect was for her to listen silently to his whole story, and then hand him a slip of paper that had been sitting on her desk.
He took it with confusion and looked down to see an address printed in Pansy's flouncy writing. There was no name.
"I assumed you'd be too afraid to break one last rule to access a client's information for personal gain." She indicated the paper. "Now you don't have to." She waved him off, returning to her folders.
He just stood there staring at the paper, before he hurried to the door with new purpose in his step.
"Don't even think about coming back until you get this all sorted!" she called out to him as he left.
In front of her house, a charming rowhome on the outskirts of Muggle London, the courage that had brought him so far abruptly departed, leaving him feeling empty and wobbly.
What was he thinking? What was he planning on saying to her? 'Where have you been?' 'Why haven't you come back?' The questions were spinning around in his head, and he almost turned around and left.
Instead, he knocked hard on her door, the thumping sound echoing in his chest with each bang.
When she suddenly opened it, he almost fell in, and realized he still hadn't decided what he was going to say.
"Malfoy!" she exclaimed, no doubt shocked to find him at her doorstep, not least because she lived in the Muggle world.
His mouth worked uselessly for a moment, and then he impatiently ran his hand through his hair, collecting all of his thoughts and funneling them out. "Why didn't you come back, Granger? I tried to explain to you why I couldn't talk about it. But is it because of me? Were you upset to find out that the name behind the avatar was Malfoy?"
Her mouth was open in an O-shape. She blinked, trying to decide where she should answer first.
But he didn't give her any time to say anything. "Is this about how I treated you in school? Because that's all behind me, and has been for years now. I don't think of you that way, I thought you'd have figured that out."
She shook her head and tried to speak again, but he cut her off.
"Or is this about the war?" he demanded. "I apologized for all those things, Granger. I paid all my war reparations, above and beyond everything that was asked of my family. I swear, there's no one who regrets the war more than I do. I don't know what else you can expect of me. But if it bothers you that much, if you're that upset about it and you can't bear to have me there because it's me, I can make sure you have someone else. I should never have done all those sessions for you, anyway, it was against the rules. But I didn't think you'd want someone else to see you like that. But I can pick someone else, or you can pick someone else, and you can go back to your schedule without me."
He was out of breath, rambling, thinking it was a mistake to come to her home and accost her with accusations. But as he finished speaking, she stepped into him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
The action shut him up, and the shock of it mixed with the pleasure of having her close. Her hair smelled of the shampoo that he was familiar with, and his arms automatically came up around her, holding her head to his chest.
He didn't know what it meant, and all of his arguments dissipated into the air.
He felt her start to shake with tears, and he held her, like he always did, and placed his head on top of hers while she cried in the doorway, rubbing his hands in circles on her back.
She sniffled and pulled back to look up at him, and she gave him a watery smile. "We figured it out. We found the answer. My research team has been working around the clock, because we knew we were so close with one of the experimental procedures."
She must have thought he looked confused, because she explained. "Draco, my parents looked at me today. And they knew who I was." More tears fell from her eyes and he understood now that they were tears of joy and tears of relief.
With a careful hand, he wiped the tears from her eyes. Taking a deep breath, he leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers. "That's great, Hermione. That's really great. I'm so glad for you."
"It will take some time to make sure everything has been restored, but all the preliminary tests have a good outlook. I was going to tell you on Friday." She said it like she meant to reassure them both, her words were quick and rushed. "I was coming."
He must have looked unconvinced, because she repeated quietly, "I was coming to see you."
Later, he would feel silly for having come all the way out to her house in a frantic state of mind. But right then all he could feel was grateful that he could be there with her. That it wasn't his fault she hadn't been coming to Napster. That he hadn't ruined everything by being stupid enough to let his feelings run away with his good sense.
"I'm here," he whispered, feeling his heartbeat finally beginning to slow down as the anxiety that had driven him this far faded into contentment at being able to finally hold her. No other words were coming to mind. So he repeated himself, too, "I'm right here."
"I know." And she laid her head back on his shoulder, holding him tighter.
A/N: Thanks for reading this little story! And thanks for all the support! As always, I have some of the best readers! In case you're wondering, this is not part of a larger work, and there's no plans for sequels or anything. Just an angsty/sweet little something I came up with one day.
S&R: Constructive Reviews Welcome (CRW)