My toes are cold, ankles are sweaty
And up my legs, knees are heavy
My hips were shaking, my back was breaking
Hermione was not at all surprised to find the witch sitting in her office lobby early Friday morning. She had just gotten to the office herself and had hoped the witch had gotten her letter on time last night to make it here before her day kicked into high gear. They had much to discuss. Pansy had been an unofficial—and unpaid—liaison between the venue and Hermione's office for nearly twenty-four hours. She'd been taking care of the small details, problem solving, and making sure everything ran smoothly when Hermione was too busy.
And it was working on phenomenally well.
"She's been waiting patiently," Louisa said.
It was true. Pansy had been standing outside the locked office doors when Louisa and Price walked in together. They'd let her in. While Price worked to ensure that Hermione's day ran as smoothly as possible and Louisa set up the office for the day, Pansy had leafed through several Muggle magazines.
"Granger, you wanted to see me?" Pansy asked.
"Yes." Hermione led her into the office. "Have a seat. Would you like something to drink?"
"No, thank you," she said primly.
Hermione placed her belongings next to her chair and sat down. "Do you know why I asked you to come today?"
"It can only be two things: business or personal."
Scowling, Pansy pursed her lips before replying. "I'd like to get the business aspect of this conversation over with first, if you don't mind."
"Very well." Hermione clasped her hands together and leaned forward on her elbows. "How are things going at the venue?"
"Smoothly. I went there before I came here and the volunteers have decorated everything. The tables and chairs are set, the stage has been constructed, and the menu has been finalized. We're just waiting for place settings, but of course, it's too early to tell. If you show up to the hotel, and we aren't down two participants or the entire structure has imploded, we'll be doing good."
"Great work." Hermione smiled genuinely. "Thank you so much for doing this."
"It wasn't a problem." Pansy was actually more grateful for the project than she'd let on or anticipated. She didn't have nearly enough work at her job to keep her mind off of a certain wizard. "I enjoyed the challenge."
"That's actually very good to know."
"Because I'm thinking about offering you a position—"
Pansy nearly leapt from her chair. "Excuse me?!"
"A position," she replied, struggling to maintain her composure. "First as a paid intern, just until you finish taking classes—"
"Classes?" Pansy's eyes were large with surprised, but somehow wary.
"Classes. You know a bit about the business of image consulting, but you're still very much a novice. And I'm almost certain you have very limited experience working with Muggles. Am I correct?"
"Yes." Pansy frowned and sunk back into her seat. "So why are you thinking of offering me a position?"
"Because I hate to see potential wasted." Hermione crossed her legs at the knee. "This is also why I need to ask you something else."
"Is this the end of the business talk?"
She sighed. It was almost impossible to stay ahead of Granger, Pansy had learned that quickly. It was starting to become very annoying. "I know you want to know why I didn't take Ron back after his apology."
"The question crossed my mind a time or two." Two hundred times, but who was counting? "But my question is: do you have some sort of grudge against yourself?"
Pansy recoiled. "Excuse me?"
"I've been giving this some thought for the last few days, and after learning a bit about your past relationships, I just wondered. It's probably none of my business—actually, I know it's not—but the fact that you're working very hard to ruin your relationship with Ron beyond repair convinces me that you must not like being happy. And my 'influence' on Ron has very little—if anything—to do with that."
If Granger had done this about anything else, she would have been furious. But with the fatigue and guilt weighing heavily on her, Pansy just couldn't muster the energy to react nastily. "That's very presumptuous of you. It's funny. You didn't really care for us being together anyway. Why are you so vested in this?"
"Like I said, I hate to see potential wasted, and you never answered my question."
She did not like where this was going, but the best course of action was to play dumb. "How exactly can I?"
"I suppose you can't. But you should know that Ron won't use you or leave you when he's bored. He's loyal to a fault, and when he falls in love, he falls hard. You," Hermione leaned forward, keeping her voice as comforting as possible. "You don't have worry about being hurt anymore."
Pansy started coughing. Hermione blinked once at the witch before calling Louisa. "Will you bring Miss Parkinson a glass of water?" Louisa entered with a glass of cold water, and the Prophet for Hermione to peruse. And while Pansy sipped with a thoughtful look on her face, she decided to catch up on current events. There was nothing really interesting. A new Ministry decree, Quidditch scores, silly gossip that didn't involve her, an article about the charity event tonight, and the announcement of Astoria Greengrass' engagement in the Society section.
Granger folded the paper to look at her. "Anytime you're ready to talk, I'm ready to listen."
She allowed the silence to fall because it was disturbing how Hermione Granger, of all people, had hit the nail on the proverbial head of her issues.
After getting her heart broken for the second time in four months, her mother—a four-time divorcee—had told her: 'You feel too much, Pansy. Romance is for the weak. You are not supposed to marry for love, only status and comfort. Love will break you, so keep your distance and never get too involved'. That would be the key to protecting herself from pain. Simple enough, right? Too bad she hadn't remembered her mother's words when she spotted a fit-looking Ron Weasley at Cho and Theo's engagement party last year. It would have been much simpler if she had. Pansy would have easily managed the tough skin she was legendary for, and she and Ron could have had harmless fun for a few nights.
Instead, after the first one, emotions got in the way of everything. Fucking emotions. They'd turned her into a bloody sap that spent all her free time inserting herself and Ron into every romantic scenario imaginable. Wedding, house, kids, pets. Pansy had imagined it all. And it was more than that. She would bite her lip with impatience when they were apart and couldn't get enough of him when they were reunited. Pansy would reach for his hand in public, smile perfect smiles and kiss perfect kisses for the entire world to see.
They were happy—almost frighteningly so.
As the weeks multiplied and emotions deepened, so did her terror. And so did the fights.
Then he had to give her that ring.
"It's not much," Ron had told her as he slipped the gold band on her finger with shaky hands. "I just...wanted you to know that I love you and one day I intend to do this right."
Pansy bristled at the thought.
"What are you thinking about?" Hermione broke the silence.
"None of your business, Granger," she snapped. "If you think I'm going to break down and have some emotional revelation in front of you—"
"Merlin forbid that," Hermione scoffed. "I don't like you enough to let you sob in my office. I just want answers. Truthful answers. From you." She stared at her with clenched jaws. "I want to know why my best friend is convinced that you're done with him and why he's not participating in this auction to make you jealous, but because he wants to forget about you. I want to know why you're torturing him and yourself—and don't pretend that you're fine, because I know you're not. Your feelings about all this are written on your face and hidden in your actions."
"And if I leave here without answering?"
"I'll just badger you about it until you do, simple as that." She leaned back in her chair, giving her a challenging look. "But I wouldn't test me, if I were you. I'm determined, irritating, and extremely stubborn, and don't you forget it."
Pansy held her gaze for several moments before she frowned. The last thing she needed was a persistent Granger on her back. "I really hate you. Granger." She sighed, waving an invisible white flag. "This is what happened." She took a breath. "Ron gave me a ring and made a lot of promises that scared the shite out of me."
"And you started the fight...because you were scared?"
Hermione sipped her coffee. "Scared of what?"
"Does that even matter?"
"Yes, of course it does." She set her cup down. "And now it matters more because you've tried to evade the question."
Pansy frowned. "It was because—" She froze and looked at her skirt, memorising the patterns as she smoothed it down.
A thoughtful Hermione looked at the witch sitting across from her until the answer was obvious. "Because you wanted his promises." Her silence was the only answer she needed. "Oh, honestly."
"Look, I don't care if you don't understand my reasons and methods." Pansy stood up, annoyed by the condescending tone of Granger's voice. "But I've been a sprinter for five years, not a long-distance runner. I don't have the ankles or the stamina for it."
Hermione stood with her. "Most people don't wake up one day, lace up their trainers, and decide to run a marathon without the proper tools or training. They take it slow, they pace themselves, and they don't simply give up when they're tired, sore, or even scared. Not when they really want it. Not when they love it." When Pansy didn't argue, Hermione asked. "For one second, think about the good times and forget the fights, the insecurities, and the grudges. Forget about your fear and your bad ankles. Then, answer this: are you ready to lose him?"
Granger had been artfully avoiding him the moment he walked into the Flamingo room.
Artful Avoidance was the best and worst type of avoidance. Best because she had to put forth some sort of effort, which meant she cared enough to circumvent every single one of his crafty attempts at approaching her. However, it was worst because it meant confessing that she was a professional…and he was a predictable novice. And admitting such a thing—even in his mind—would be wholly unacceptable. So when Granger made her fourth U-turn upon seeing him and dragged her hapless assistant along with her, Draco walked after her. He didn't rush, nor did he attempt to catch up to her. He just walked and he didn't blink twice when she first dipped out of sight. He stopped and talked to the hotel managers, asked a volunteer a few questions, and even granted one of the auction participants an autograph.
Every now and then, his eyes would scan the room and he didn't get frustrated when she completely disappeared off his radar.
When the witch walked away with her autograph, Draco moved on.
The room was in organised chaos. Volunteers, dressed in navy robes, were rushing around. Some were setting up chairs and place-settings at the tables, others were helping the participants find their way to the back, but the majority of them were staring at cover band, who were in the middle of a sound-check. Potter was talking to a few fans, while Weasley stood next to him, looking forlorn. Draco frowned and continued on. Hotel employees were helping make last minute changes, and the caterers were setting up the table. There were several well-dressed witches and wizards, probably managers, being given instructions by a clipboard-wielding Pansy. Draco's eyebrow rose in curiosity as he walked further into the banquet hall. When had that happened? He considered walking towards his best friend and asking that very question, but he was distracted by a group of early guests who were huddled together near the centre of the room, listening intensely to something. Or someone.
Granger had to be there.
And he was right.
By the time he reached the group, they had largely dispersed. Only Granger and two other men, one he recognised from his research as David Plath, founder of the W.W.O.R., remained. Potter, who had managed to escape his fans, joined the three of them with a polite smile and handshakes. Potter said something that made her smile comfortably, and Draco was a bit surprised. Not just at how her two worlds overlapped, but at how she managed to balance them without any visible effort. He didn't have that ability. There were family and friends, and there was work. Outside of basic pleasantries and reserved politeness, he'd kept things separate as much as possible. He—
"Malfoy," Harry waved the spaced-out wizard over to their small group. "Over here!"
Hermione attempted to smite him with her death glare, but he wouldn't look in her direction. "Wise move, Harry."
"What was that?" David Plath asked.
She hadn't realised she'd said that aloud, but recovered quickly. "Oh, I was just saying that it was a wise idea for Harry to wave Mr Malfoy over to the group. I'd hoped you two would meet before the auction began." Malfoy greeted her with a handshake that lasted two nanoseconds too long. Much to her dismay, the fact that she hadn't seen him in nearly forty-eight hours and avoided him like a Nundu for the last two hours hadn't made that twinge vanish. Not even a little bit. Hermione went through the motions of introducing him to David Plath and his life partner, Stephen, but her mind was entirely someplace else.
It was only right at that moment that Hermione could admit to herself that Draco Malfoy was an issue for her. She was attracted to him, and as much as she didn't want to allow that attraction, it was there. Now she had to simply deal with it. And that was exactly what she was going to do. Hermione had it planned out in a matter of seconds. She would take those feelings and put them elsewhere. Maybe take up meditation or yoga to channel her mental energy away from him. Having feelings for Malfoy, in her mind, was wrong. He was her client and that made it simple.
Draco—wait, Malfoy—equalled 'no'.
Hermione repeated all that to herself as she tuned in and out of the conversation Malfoy was having with David about his charity organization. Her lips actually moved when she went over her own logical words, but she wasn't aware of it. Harry was, however, and interrupted her pep-talk. "Are you talking to yourself?"
"Just running over a few last minute things in my head."
Hermione was obviously lying, Harry concluded when she didn't meet his eyes. Thanks to Ron, he'd learned to read lips during Potions and she was muttering something about 'Malfoy' and 'no'. Interesting.
"Everything looks amazing, Miss Granger. Just relax and enjoy the night." Stephen smiled.
"Actually, I need to discuss something with you." Draco said. "A business matter."
That sent up an immediate, albeit inexplicable, red flag. "I'm sure that it can wait. Stephen's right. Everything looks good. Too good to discuss business."
He was grasping for straws. "It's an important matter."
"What is it? I'm sure you can say it here."
Draco shook his head. "It's important and private."
"Well, there's a room connected to the participants' waiting area that'll give you some privacy." Harry grinned. "I found Ron there about an hour ago."
"Et tu, Brute?" Hermione glared.
"Always," was Harry's reply.
She sighed and relented. "Fine, lead the way."
I'll thank Potter later, Draco thought as he took her by the elbow, noticing just how much she stiffened at his touch. She was uncomfortable around him, which made him inwardly grin. He'd felt the same around her long before this week, and this was a sort of ironic payback that he basked in. Draco gave her elbow an affectionate stroke with his thumb, and her wide-eyed response was too priceless for words.
"We'll be back." The last thing he saw before he turned to leave were David and Stephen's exchanged looks of befuddlement, and Harry Potter's two thumbs up.
Sometimes, Draco really hated him.
They didn't make it more than four metres away before Hermione said, "I know you don't want to discuss business."
He deliberately shortened his strides to make it easier for Granger to keep up, but found that her shorter legs carried her towards the stage with surprising efficiency."And I know that you've been avoiding me since I walked in."
"I haven't been avoiding you."
"And I'm the Minister of Magic," he rolled his eyes, scoffing. "Something happened that night on your patio."
Hermione frowned. He was a little too close for comfort. "You were there, Malfoy. Nothing happened."
"Only because you ran back inside and locked your bedroom door."
"I didn't run," she argued primly, nose in the air. "I scu—walked. Very fast. And I didn't lock my door, thank you very much."
With the band still running their sound-check on stage, the waiting area for the participants was nearly empty. There was only one witch in there, and she was too busy looking at herself in the mirror and bobbing her head to the music to notice. Draco found the door to the adjoining room and opened it. It was dark. Granger walked in first and he followed, letting the door close behind him with a small click.
The lights came on and…
"Malfoy, why are we in an empty broom closet?" Hermione looked around
"Potter obviously has an interesting sense of humour."
"And a strong desire to be hexed." She folded her arms impatiently. "What else did you want to discuss? I have a lot to do before the auction starts and mmmph—"
It wasn't the most graceful kiss he'd ever initiated, that was for sure, but it was the most impulsive. The soft kiss he'd intended to give her became hard and intimate on impact. But it didn't matter. He'd ended up right where he wanted to be, with his arms around her and his body crushed between hers and the door. And for a several long moments, Granger kissed him back. He'd felt it, the movement of her own lips, the way her body leaned into his instead of being rigid and tense.
Hermione was fairly certain that she was losing her bloody mind. Everything had happened so quickly that she hadn't had time to think or respond rationally. Instead, she'd let herself go before she even realised it. And even if Hermione tried, she couldn't gather her wits. Every sensation mingled together, from the sound of Malfoy's back bumping against the door, to the scent of the cologne he always wore, to the beating of his heart under her hands that were pressed between him.
When he pulled her even closer, his hands bunching the soft fabric of her robes as he held her, all thoughts of how wrong this was completely disappeared. Hermione freed her hand and began to kiss him back in earnest, touching him here and there. On his shoulder. On the back of his neck. His arm. Hermione slipped her hand inside his jacket and allowed her hand to travel down the tense curve of his back….
It was like nothing he'd ever felt, with the sound of the bass thumping, shaking the walls around them, and covering the small sounds they couldn't help making. Unconsciously, his lips moved from hers to her neck, then journeyed down to her shoulder and up to her ear where he nibbled gently. Each touch of his lips was accompanied by a barely audible sigh from Granger. It was the sighs that got to him more than her wandering hands, more than the actual kissing, more than—
A knock on the door pulled them both from their stupor.
Draco immediately, albeit breathlessly, vocalised his frustration. "You've got to be—go away!"
She silenced his rant with a soft, lingering kiss before pulling him off the door so she could open it. "Something you need, Harry?"
"Actually, yes. The sound-check is nearly over and a woman from—"
"The Volunteer Teacher Organization! Oh goodness! I almost forgot they were coming to the event." In a flash, Hermione was rushing to get herself back into order. She fixed her hair and fixed her twisted and bunched robes, completely flustered. "Draco, the next charity that your company is going to sponsor an event for is—well, you just heard me. Anyway, V.T.O. sends volunteer teachers to third world countries to teach in small magical schools. They have volunteers teaching in thirteen countries, and they're constantly expanding." Hermione smoothed down her hair and dusted at a few invisible wrinkles. "I've started plans for your company to sponsor an event for them in the next few months, but today I'd like it if you offered to send four hundred pounds of parchment and two hundred quills to their school in Haiti. It's their oldest, they could really use the supplies, and it could be a very nice first gesture."
When Hermione slipped past her grinning best friend to leave, the only clue that was left of their time in the broom closet was the blush on her face.
Harry's grin brightened at the sight of the mussed Malfoy. "Nice hair."
The scowl on his face would have had more of an impact if he didn't look like he'd been attacked and nibbled on. His jacket was hanging off one arm and his shirt wasn't tucked. Three buttons were undone. Still, he didn't let up. "One day, Potter, I'm going to tap dance on your grave."
"But not today." Harry straightened his glasses.
Draco only grunted in response and buttoned his shirt.
"You're welcome, by the way," he snickered. "That went better than expected."
"I really can't stand you."
Harry ignored him. "Did she call you 'Draco'?"
He hadn't noticed.
The tension that had settled into Pansy's shoulders during the cover band's performance turned into nausea by the time the auction started. Ron was fourth, and she'd spent hours trying to forget that small fact, but couldn't. There were a lot of things she'd been unable to forget—Granger's words, mainly. Pansy spent the hours following their conversation terrorizing everyone she could and brooding under a growing thundercloud of depression. By the time the auction started, it was so big and black that everyone—participants, hotel employees, and volunteers included—had steered clear of her.
Pansy sulked temporarily at the thought. Every attempt at sending her running away like everyone else had been met with extremely bored eyes and, on one occasion, an indifferent yawn. Pansy looked over at her as the bids for the third person—Cormac McLaggan, who was coming attached to a dinner at the nicest wizarding restaurant in London, probably to offset his pretentious personality— passed the thirty Galleon mark. Everything had run as smoothly as an event could look after only a few days of expanding and refiguring, but Granger looked more relaxed than she'd ever seen her…and mentally unavailable. Pansy nudged her in the shoulder.
Hermione resurfaced from the sea of her thoughts where she'd desperately tried to dig up the shame and guilt over the latest Malfoy Incident, but she hadn't found it. "Something you need?"
"No, I was wondering where you had gone off to."
"I'm still here, just listening to the bid." Cormac's bid had risen another ten Galleons. It was bizarre to her because no one could pay her any amount of money to share a dinner with him or his leering eyes. Hermione cracked a small smile.
"Are you okay?" A smiling Granger made her nervous, no matter how bad she felt.
Hermione thought about it. "Yes," She was better than fine, but didn't tell Pansy that. "Yes, I am. Quite fine."
Pansy glanced over her shoulder where David Plath and Draco were discussing something quietly. She didn't know David well enough to gauge his mood, but Draco was trying hard to look the part of a businessman. Cool facial expressions, squared shoulders, and a polite smile. But the closer she looked, the more he began to look like the cat that had been at the cream. The tension that had been on his face the last week was gone and—Pansy looked at Granger suspiciously, wondering if she was the cream. "What do you suppose they're discussing?"
Hermione looked over her shoulder just in time to catch Malfoy's gaze. The look on his face was a mix of heat, appraisal, and amusement. She had to look away before she smiled and ruined everything. "Business affairs," she cleared her throat. "More than likely. David just bought out Florish and Blotts. It would be a good idea if they became friends. I can't even imagine how much parchment they go through in a single month."
Granger was definitely the cream. That much she knew. "Uh-huh."
A smug Cormac ended up going for forty-seven Galleons to an older witch, who looked more than pleased with her win. And Hermione couldn't help but want to be a fly on the wall during their dinner conversation. She looked over to convey her thought to Pansy, but found her standing completely rigid, gripping her clipboard within an inch of its life. Ron was walking on the stage, hesitantly, as the announcer read off some things about him.
"Ronald Weasley loves the flying and Quidditch more than anything. He's deathly afraid of spiders and doesn't have a favourite food because he loves them all."
"That's not true," Pansy mumbled to herself. A bubble of indignation rose in her chest, scalding her throat. "None of that is true."
"Pansy?" Hermione rested her hand on her shoulder. She was trembling. "Are you all right?"
"They're making him sound like a Quidditch jock."
"What are you talking about?" Pansy's voice had taken on a slightly hysterical edge that made Hermione hand her clipboard off to someone standing nearby, she didn't see who. She took a deep breath and hoped Pansy would follow suit. She didn't.
"Bidding will start at five Galleons."
Two bids for twenty and twenty-five Galleons rang out almost immediately.
"H-he doesn't like flying or Quidditch more than anything. He likes being outside the moment it stops raining. He likes train rides to Hogsmeade and Christmas. He—"
"No, you don't understand, Granger. That card is wrong. You—you have to make them change it! You have to make them say that he hates Indian food because it makes him sick, mushrooms because he has an aversion to eating fungus, and mint candy because it reminds him of toothpaste."
Pansy looked as if she was a walking heartbeat, and Hermione shook her slightly. "Listen to me. You can end this right now. Remember what I asked you earlier?"
"Ye—no!" She exhaled. "Wait, yes, I remember."
"Are you ready to give him up? Because I don't think you are, and I know he's not ready to give up on you. Look at him. He's miserable."
When she followed Granger's eyes to a pale Ron, who was gripping his trousers to tightly his knuckles were white, Pansy felt as sick as she'd felt the morning he'd showed up at Daphne's flat…only worse. This was supposed to be for the best, right? This was supposed to ensure her protection, right? But it felt…so wrong. Tragically wrong. And what was worse was that Granger was right. She had to have some sort of grudge against herself if she was willing to give up the best thing that had ever happened to her for self-preservation. This was a punishment, and she hadn't done anything wrong, except—
The bids were getting higher and higher, and Pansy felt herself start to panic. She didn't know if she could do this. And when the bidding tipped over fifty Galleons, she knew she couldn't just stand off to the side and watch someone else 'win' him. Not when she—not when she was the one who—who loved him. She loved him.
"Think about it. Which do you want to hold on to more: Ron or this insane grudge you have against yourself?"
Everything after that was a blur of decisions, actions, and feelings that didn't stop until she stumbled on the stage.
"Sixty-five Galleons!" she shouted, "And if anyone else makes another bid, I'll hex them right out the room!"
Ron looked at her with wide eyes.
"I—" Pansy nearly tripped on her heels as she took a step forward. "Bloody shoes," she grumbled as she kicked them off. Pansy looked back at Granger who was urging her with wild hand gestures to keep going. Draco was standing with her, face unreadable. Turning back to a frozen Ron, Pansy took another step forward and said the first thing that came to mind. "I've got sixty-five Galleons, no stamina, and bad ankles. I'm terrified, but if you're still willing, I'm willing."
"You know I am." He didn't get to say another word before she launched herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck and nearly squeezing the life out of him. Dumbly, his shaking hands went around her, fisting the back of her robes because she couldn't be real. But she was. She was there. And warm. Thousands of words wanted to spew from the depths of his heart, but they didn't have to. Her mumbled apologies and first-time declaration of affection and love said more than he ever could.
The next morning, Hermione sipped a large cup of black coffee as she skimmed through the files provided by their newest client: Magnum, a non-profit company that rescued animals from poachers and abusers. The founder was about to be smacked with accusations of animal cruelty and using donated finances to fill his own pockets.
Unfortunately for them, he had loose lips and was eager to go on the record to prove his innocence.
Two Words: No comment, she thought as she scribbled detailed notes in preparation for the emergency team meeting in two hours where she would hand the Magnum case to a group of her junior consultants. There was no doubt about in Hermione's mind that they would have their hands full trying to save this company. People loved their animals. With a shake of her head and another sip, she shuffled all the files into one great pile and moved them to the left side of her desk.
Picking up her calendar, Hermione leaned back in her big chair, swivelling it around to face her window. She was packed. Lunch and dinner meetings with several of the clients she'd kept on, conferences with lawyers and journalists, staff meetings at the office. Crookshanks had an appointment to get his shots on Wednesday, an important charity event for long-time client of hers on Thursday, Seamus' party on Friday, and Paris next Saturday for the next week. Well, at least Paris was something to look forward to, she figured. Then shook her head. She'd been there countless times in the last couple of years, and she hadn't seen much of the city. This trip was just going to extend the streak. It was a shame.
With a great sigh, she closed her appointment book.
"I hear you're turning over Dunder-Malfoy to one of your junior consultants."
After stifling the smirk that threatened to swell into a smile, Hermione spun around in her chair at the sound of the familiar voice. Draco Malfoy leaned against her open door, arms folded and eyebrow lifted. She set down her book and picked up her coffee. "Caroline is one of the best." After gesturing to the chair in front of her desk with her eyes, she took a generous sip and sat it back down.
Draco crossed the room confidently, but didn't sit. "Why not keep me yourself?"
"It's not like you need my services, Malfoy." Hermione spelled the door to close with a small click and lock. There weren't many people in yet, but she didn't need any surprise visitors. "Your company is better off than half the companies I work with. You only have minor issues, and now that you've started addressing them, Caroline is perfect to help keep Dunder-Malfoy going in the right direction. She's got excellent ideas."
"Ever considered that maybe I only want to work with you?"
Hermione sipped her coffee. "I did. Very briefly, but then I figured that you wouldn't want your father meddling and complaining about my 'influence' over you."
"He's going to complain anyway after lunch this afternoon." Fortunately, Granger was too preoccupied to catch on to what he'd said. "Besides," he moved on swiftly. "You have excellent ideas, as well."
"Thank you," she sighed. "Tell that to Padma, who is a bit miffed at me for reprimanding Zara so close to the opening."
He looked impressed. "When did you do that?"
"She called me at three in the morning, ranting about something unimportant, and I'd had enough. I told her she had forty-eight hours to get her act together and stop being a pain in my side, or else she was fired. I let her know that I had her replacement on speed-dial, which I don't, but the threat of being replaced scared her straight, I think."
After hearing about this Zara witch for the entire week, he was more than surprised that she'd finally done something about her. "Nicely done, Granger."
She shrugged. "It was the only way I could stop her reign of terror. I wanted her to understand that I don't need her or the drama she comes with." Hermione suddenly realised that she'd gotten off topic, again. That happened a little too easily around him. Folding her arms, she sat her cup down and leaned back in her seat. "So, Malfoy, what exactly are you doing here?"
"Like I said already, I want you to work for me."
"Thanks for the offer, but no. I have a rule I need to enforce with you. I never work for people I like." As soon as the last syllable was out, Hermione looked down and tried to pretend that she was starting to work on something. She should not have said that, especially to him. Malfoy's ego was incredible, even on a bad day.
Draco didn't bother to hide his smirk. The fact that she was avoiding eye-contact spoke loud and clear. "So you like me, huh, Granger? The feeling is mutual."
She looked up at him, eyebrow raised.
"Go on," he egged her on. "You can admit it. It won't kill you."
"It might, actually." Rolling her eyes, Hermione rose from her chair and rounded the desk Malfoy had reclined against. She brushed an invisible piece of lint off his shoulder and didn't pull away when he took the opportunity to snake an arm around her waist and draw her closer. "You never know about these things." Damn him. And damn herself, too, while she was at it. Where the hell had her resistance gone? Malfoy was supposed to equal 'no'. Right?
"So you do like me." Draco stated, matter-of-factly.
Hermione exhaled and finally confessed, "I do."
It was the first time she'd admitted her feelings aloud…and it wasn't half as bad as she thought. Hermione rested her hand on his chest to elude the unavoidable eye-contact for a few extra moments while she processed that startling new development. When her eyes finally met his, there was only a hint of humour in them and it made the corners of her lips twitch a bit. She waited for guilt and shame to arrive, hand-in-hand, but they never did. Her brain didn't even lecture her about how her feelings for him were a bad idea. There was no negativity. At all. In fact, Hermione couldn't help but feel…really good about where she was right then.
Good and comfortable.
Maybe even happy.
"That's very beneficial for me to know." Draco bent to kiss her with gentle fierceness. "I was beginning to wonder with the way you left without saying goodbye after the auction."
With a hazy shrug, she replied, "I was exhausted. I knew I'd be here today, though I thought I'd be doing some light work." Hermione rolled her eyes and frowned deeply. "Unfortunately, I was wrong."
"New client?" One hand trailed up and down her back, while the other covered her hand that was still on his chest.
"Yes," she murmured, twining their fingers together. It really was strange how comfortable she felt around him and how easy their conversations came. Strange yet lovely. But how long would this last? "And he's a real winner, too."
"Has to be if you're here on a Saturday."
Hermione said nothing in response, but asked a question that was starting to weigh heavily on her mind. "What exactly are we going to do about this, Malfoy?"
"You and me," she replied. Her voice was softer than she'd realised. "For the first time, I don't have a direct plan of action—" Someone knocked on her office door. Hermione groaned and called back, "Give me a minute, please." Draco let his hand fall to his side, expecting her to pull away. But when she didn't move, his hand came back. "I'm sure this week will be a nightmare. Maybe you can accompany me to Seamus' party. I doubt you'll want to come because there will be more than a few people there who'll just stare at you…at us."
"I'll come." Draco didn't tell her that Potter had already goaded him into coming. That prat.
"Okay," Hermione tried not to look too happy, but she was. Seamus' party was starting to look like something she could look forward to.
"And then?" he asked.
"There's Paris. I leave the next morning and will be gone for a week, so no chance to really figure this out then. Maybe we can figure all this out when I return." It wasn't the best of plans, but it was sensible.
"Why wait? We can go on a date, of sorts, tonight."
"Tonight I'm having dinner with Ron and Pansy. They want to 'celebrate their love' and her new job at P-TIC."
"Me, too. Potter's coming, too."
Hermione snorted. "I love my friends, but that's not my idea of a date."
"Which is why I propose we skip out early, kick your cat out, watch one of those Muggle movies you like, and cap the evening with a lot of snogging on your sofa." When Granger smiled, he leaned forward just a bit. "Then Seamus' party." Her smile never wavered so he decided to drop the final part on her. "And then, we'll have the next two weeks in Paris." Her smile disappeared, but he didn't stop or react. "Evenings and your free-time for the first week, of course, but the second week will be—"
"Unfortunately, you're mistaken," she cut him off. "I'm only spending one week in Paris."
Draco shook his head. "No, two."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Not only do I not have that kind of time, but—"
"Actually, there's plenty of it," Draco smiled slyly. "Especially when everyone gets the memo that you will be on vacation for a week after the opening."
"You didn't!" she gasped.
"Actually, Padma did. She seemed a little too ecstatic about the prospects of you taking a vacation. So much that she said she would take over all your clients until you returned."
Hermione glared at him, not in anger, but suspicion. The final pieces of the puzzle were fitting together. "She was in on this all along, wasn't she? She knew about your plan to get me to help out Ron and Pansy. That's why she was so adamant about me taking a meeting with you."
"Perhaps." The smile on his face was wry. "Angry?"
"Surprisingly, no." She stared at their still entwined fingers. "I really should be. I hate it when she meddles, but everything worked out in the end…including a few unexpected things."
Like this, Hermione thought to herself.
"Exactly," he nudged her gently. "So, a week in Paris with me? Yes or no?"
She chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully before she answered his question. "I-I guess." A smile started to stretch across her face as a flutter of nervous excitement twitched deep down in her stomach. "Yes." She was going to Paris with him, and no matter what happened, she promised herself she wouldn't regret this decision. "Definitely."
"It's a date, then." Draco murmured as he lowered his mouth to hers.
Hermione smiled against his lips.
And so it was.
Disclaimer: In its use of intellectual property and characters belonging to JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Bloomsbury Publishing, et cetera, this work of fiction is intended to be transformative commentary on the original. No profit is being made from this work.
Author's Note: And that's it. Where do I start? I'm sure I felt everything between intense frustration and extreme elation while working on this. I wrote a very large part of this in two weeks, but alas, I persevered. *flops* I had to pull a Tim Gunn on the prompts, "a library, a promise ring, and 'Which to bury, us or the hatchet' by Relient K" and make it work. This chapter got the second biggest makeover of them all because I wasn't pleased with some parts of it. But I think I am now. Anywho, again, the lyrics are from the title song "Ready Ankles" by Ace Enders & A Million Different People. And my beta, somandalicious, rulez. And so you you, readers. :D
Next up for me is:
1. Chapter 3 of Falling is like this... I will finish that story. I WILL.
2. Measure of a Man - Draco thinks that being a man is equivalent to being a father. The reappearance of his son proves otherwise.