This Is For The Lonely: Chapter Six

Disclaimer: Only the plot is mine. The characters, setting, and everything else belong to JKR.

Hermione rubbed at her eyes with one hand as she got out of the lift the next morning, her coffee cup cradled in her other hand. She took a long draught out of it and then set off towards her office. Harry hadn't gone home until well after midnight, and so she had got little sleep. On the bright side, she had managed to avoid any serious arguments with him.

She sighed softly to herself. Somehow Hermione couldn't help but feel sorry for Ginny. Harry was dithering about what to do with his love life because he didn't know exactly what he wanted yet. And that was why he wasn't about to give up on Ginny entirely, just in case it turned out that he really did want her. It didn't seem very fair to Ginny, but it was beyond Hermione's powers to make Harry see that.

Perhaps I should have tried, she chided herself. But no. I don't think he's ready yet to see sense. Witness his ridiculous idea that I would want to go anywhere with him. She shook her head in disbelief. Like she had told Harry, she didn't blame him for acting like such a git—at least not any more. She had been upset the first couple times he had abandoned her. But she didn't want to be put in that situation any more and she didn't feel bad about telling Harry no. Merlin knows that there are plenty of witches willing to accompany him anywhere, she noted. He'll have no problems at all finding a date.

She made the right turn towards her office, navigating more out of habit rather than by conscious thought. She mumbled greetings as she passed people she knew. In a matter of minutes, she was standing in front of the door to her office suite. She took one long gulp of coffee before pushing open the door.

"Good morning, Anna," she said as she walked inside.

"Good morning, Hermione," Anna replied. A pinched, nervous look covered her face, and Hermione almost groaned, wondering what was wrong now. "Um…you have a visitor for you in your office."

"Ah. Someone wanting to take advantage of office hours?" Hermione shook her head ruefully. Of course that would happen on a day when she was half-asleep. Ah well. Maybe it will wake me up, seeing how it breaks the usual monotony of my schedule.

"You could say that," Anna muttered under her breath.

Hermione looked quizzically at her assistant. "Is there something you're not telling me that I should know?"

Her assistant winced. "You're not going to like who's waiting for you," she said quietly.

That gave Hermione pause. Then the color drained from her face. There was only one person who was bastardly enough to scheme how to ruin her day first thing. Frowning she set her coffee cup on a bookshelf. It would simply be too tempting to lob it at the ferret if it was indeed him who was waiting in her office.

Which he was, of course.

"Get out," she said through gritted teeth.

"My my, Granger. Didn't your parents ever tell you not to grind your teeth like that? That's a surefire way to damage them," he tut-tutted her. "And to think you're the daughter of not one, but two dentists?"

"Are you losing your hearing, Malfoy? I told you to leave."

"Actually I was trying to give you a second chance to start this conversation appropriately. Something like 'good morning' might be nice. I suppose it would be asking too much for you to say something along the lines of how nice it is to see me," he drawled, leaning back in her chair.

That sent her eyes rolling. "I do not have time for this," she grumbled to herself. "Malfoy, get out before I call security to escort you out. If you need to see me, then you can ask my assistant for an appointment like everyone else."

"Come now, Granger. You know as well as I know that you keep the first thirty minutes of your day open. That's why I made certain to get here before you so we would have that entire time to discuss my company's issues."

"This time is strictly for intradepartmental items," Hermione retorted. "It's not for impromptu meetings because you find it impossible to keep appointments."

That prompted Malfoy to roll his eyes at her, which annoyed her even more. "Let's be reasonable, shall we? I understand that you set aside this time primarily for your people to bring any concerns they have to you. And if any of them were here, I would yield to them and be on my way. But no one's here. So could we please just talk about lifting those restrictions now instead of putting it off again?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Do you mean to say that if any of my employees came by to talk to me that you would shut up and go away?"

"Yes." He nodded his head. "I would."

"I don't believe you."

"Merlin! That is just so like you, Granger. Haven't you realized that we're not in school anymore? Hanging on to petty, house rivalries—"

"I'm not," Hermione interrupted him. "If I held on to those ideas, then I wouldn't be friends with Pansy, now would I?"

"Fine then," he huffed. "But you can't deny you're treating me as though I'm still the same spoiled brat I was in school."

"But you are. Look at the way you've behaved. You come in here and expect special treatment from me because you're a Malfoy." She sneered at him. "You've not changed one bit, and I doubt you ever will. Now get out of here before I have the Aurors take you out in chains." The icy fury in her voice left no doubt that would be his fate if he lingered any longer. Malfoy stalked out of her office, cursing under his breath.

"Finally," Hermione said after he had left. She couldn't believe Malfoy's gall to come in first thing in the morning and demand she address his problems straight away. Hopefully now he would see that she wasn't going to bend the rules for anyone and him least of all.

"Damn it!" Draco swore as he entered his study. He slammed the door shut behind. "Damn that stupid bitch!" He had decided to return home after his failed meeting with Granger rather than going to work. Draco knew himself well enough to know that he would take his temper out on his employees if he went to the office now. It was much better to retreat to his study and have a drink or two before trying to do anything else.

A shot of firewhisky sounded brilliant right now, and so he strode over to the cabinet where he kept his stash. He poured himself a glass and quickly doused it. He picked up the bottle to pour himself another drink but thought the better of it. He could already feel a headache coming on from the frustration doled out to him by Granger. It would be foolish to compound it by drinking too much.

So instead he went over to his desk. He flopped himself and then pulled out the quarterly reports. Then he got to work, crunching numbers, trying to figure out what areas he could wring more efficiency out of it so that he could keep all his companies healthy. Every thousand galleons he pinched could save another job, if worse came to worst.

Caught up in the intricacies of Arithmancy, Draco slowly worked his way out of his bad mood. His concentration was broken, however, when his stomach gave a sudden lurch, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since breakfast. He looked up at the clock. "That late already?" he said to himself. He stood up and stretched, wincing as his back cracked in several places. "Best to go out and get some lunch then. I've spent enough time in here."

He trotted out of his study and headed towards the kitchen. The lunch hour had already passed so there would be no point in heading to the dining room as it would have been cleared long ago. Draco knew that he could have always summoned an elf to fetch him something, but after sitting for so long, he wanted to walk and stretch his legs.

He had just entered the dining room on his way to the kitchen when he was interrupted. "I was wondering when you would make an appearance. I should have known that eventually hunger would drive you from your den," said his mother, appearing from behind him.

Draco froze mid-step. He turned around and pasted a smile on his face. From the tone of his mother's voice, he was in for some sort of lecture although he knew not what for. "Hello, Mother. It's nice to see you too," he said pleasantly. He stayed on high alert, ready to exploit any opportunity to charm his way out of a scolding.

"And it's nice to see that you have retained some of the manners that I attempted to drill into you as a child," she replied with a dramatic sigh.

He clasped a hand to his chest and assumed an innocent expression. "Your words injure me, Mother."

"Stop that right now, Draco," she said sharply. "You know as well as I do that your behavior as of late has been atrocious. I thought you knew better than that."

"My behavior?" He blinked, taken aback by her accusations. He couldn't think of anything that he had done to upset her so. He shook his head from side to side. "I honestly have no idea what you are referring to."

That earned him an eye roll. "You're being very slow today. Maybe you did injure your head that one time Lucius dropped you." She ignored his howl of protest and forged on. "Very well then. Since it does seem that you are truly ignorant as to why I am upset with you—I was referring to the way you've been treating Hermione Granger lately."

Draco's mouth dropped open. "Pardon?" he said. "You're upset with how I've been treating Granger?" He was aghast at her words. He simply couldn't comprehend where his dear mother was coming from. "I must have heard you wrong. Certainly what has you upset is how that silly bint has been ignoring all my pleas for a meeting with her," he stated. He scowled as he remembered his most recent failure just this morning.

But Draco was in for an even bigger shock. Suddenly his mother raised her hand and slapped him across the face. He looked at her mutely as he raised a hand to touch his sore cheek, which was still warm from the blow.

"That attitude is exactly what I'm talking about." She wagged a finger at him. "Don't think that I've not been following this little saga in the papers. I know all about how you've been trying to bully her to meet on your own terms. You're acting just like your father did all those years ago when money was all that was needed to rule the Ministry."

"I'm nothing like Father!" Draco retorted hotly.

"Yes…and no. Certainly your goals are different. He sought a measure of control over society while you're merely trying to restore our family name. So perhaps comparing you to him is a little harsh. I think what drives your behavior towards Miss Granger is your old school rivalry rather than any sense that she is inferior to you," said his mother. "But in the end, the reasons for your behavior matters little. What counts for far much more is your actions and how people perceive them."

Draco drew himself up stiffly. "I like to think," he said in a slow, deliberate tone, "that my actions since taking over for Father prove what sort of man I am."

"Yes. For anyone else that might be enough, but not for a Malfoy. Our family's reputation still hangs by a thread. Think of how it must look like for you to insist on head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation to not only give into your demands but to rearrange her schedule at the drop of a hat to meet on your terms."

"It wasn't like that!" Draco clenched his fists at his side. He was handing on to his temper by a thread. If anyone aside from his mother was making such accusations of him, he would have hexed them already.

"It wasn't?" His mother scoffed at him in disbelief.

"No, it wasn't. I simply suggested to her that we have our meeting over lunch rather than later that afternoon so that I could arrive on time to the dinner party you were having that evening. Of course, she refused because it's me. Even worse—she went ahead and canceled our scheduled meeting because she was feeling cross with me."

"From what Pansy told me, you stalked that poor girl to her lunch appointment until she fled back to work. That's hardly appropriate behavior for anyone much less you." He opened a mouth to protest, but she waved him to silence. "Now you will listen to me. You will swallow your pride and compose a polite note to Miss Granger, humbly asking for an appointment with her at her earliest convenience. I know that is a lot to ask of you, and so if you need help, I can dictate the letter for you."

She went on. "When she replies with a date and time, you will send another owl thanking her for such consideration. You will then proceed to keep that appointment. In fact, you will be early for your meeting with her, and there will be no unfounded accusations flying from you. This is too important for you to screw up the way you have been. You will calmly lay out your case and the facts on your side in order to make your appeal that inspection process is modified."

"But what if that isn't enough?" he cried. "What if she refuses to listen to me and just rejects my request out of hand?"

"We will deal with that situation if it comes to that," his mother replied. "Pansy has assured me that Miss Granger tries very hard to be fair in her decisions. Indeed the actions she has taken since taking over her department support that. Don't forget that she had agreed to meet with you initially—unlike that fool Collins before her."

"Fine," Draco grumbled. "We'll try it your way. But I reserve the right to tell you 'I told you so' when it fails." He shuffled over his desk to pull out quill and parchment.

"That's fine, my dear, so long as you don't mind me doing the same when I'm proven right," was his mother's response. "Will you need any help?" she asked.

"I can do this. Don't worry, Mother. I will be the epitome of politeness." He ignored the soft snort that came from her and instead sat down. Draco bent his head and started composing his letter, taking care to be as polite and professional as possible. He sealed it as soon as he finished. Draco walked over to where his owl perched waiting by the window and carefully tied the letter to the owl's leg before sending the bird off. "There!" he said. "It is done. Now all we have to do is wait for Granger to prove me right."

"Something tells me you're in for a surprise," his mother said, but she left him alone after that.

There was a scratch at her window. Hermione looked up to see an owl fluttering outside with a note tied upon its leg. With a small frown, she got up to let the owl in. "Letters are supposed to go through the mail room first," she told it primly. The owl didn't care and simply shook its leg, all but ordering her to take the damn letter.

"Fine," she said with a roll of her eyes. She untied the letter and then waved it off. "Go on then. I don't keep any treats here. If you wanted one, you should have gone to the mail room, like I said." The owl hooted once in disgust and then left.

Hermione carefully set the letter down on her desk. She proceeded to test it to see if any hexes or curses were attached. She found none and so she settled down to open it.

Of course it was from Malfoy. Who else would be arrogant enough to send an owl directly to her rather than through the normal channels of correspondence?

She ripped out a sheet of parchment from her desk. Hermione had half a mind to tell Malfoy off and let him know that she had no time to meet with arrogant prats like him. However before she touched ink to parchment, she remembered the conversation she had with Ginny the other evening, about Dennis and how he was concerned about losing his job. Her traitorous memory instantly provided her with all the details of that conversation, including how Ginny claimed that Dennis had trouble finding a job in the first place because he was a Muggle-born and how this was supposedly the best job he ever had.

Damn it, she was just going to have to be the bigger person. Hermione closed her eyes before returning to her task. She would offer the ferret a meeting first thing next week. If getting the restrictions on his company lifted was as important as his note implied, then he would be there.

If not, then she would know not to waste her time on him ever again.

"Well?" asked his mother, tapping her foot against the floor.

"You were right," Draco said shortly. He felt like crumpling Granger's terse note and throwing it out, but he resisted the temptation. No, he would control his temper both now and later when he met with her. He wasn't about to let this chance pass him by.

Author's note: Long time, no update. Sorry about that. In any case, I'd love to hear what you thought about this chapter. :)