There are things a person must do regardless of how much it displeases them.
Such were the words of his father, as written by his legibly elegant hand.
What bloody rot, Draco thought as he tore the parchment in half and tossed it aside. He frowned into his fist, wondering how to get himself out of this new predicament.
A timid knock broke Draco out of his reverie. The door to his office opened and his assistant’s head popped in with a fearful expression.
“They are waiting for you, Mr Malfoy.”
He cursed under his breath. This was not the first time she had relayed such a message in the past hour. Since they had kept him waiting for two months they could bloody well wait for five minutes until he was ready.
“Tell them I’ll be there.”
She nodded, unconvinced with what he had said. As she made a move to close the door after her, Draco called out her name.
“If they ask for any refreshments,” he said coolly. “Refuse them.”
Her lips parted in surprise, but she nodded nonetheless. “Yes, Mr Malfoy.”
Draco waited another half an hour before he sighed to himself and decided to deliver the final blow that he had planned. He left his office with an easy pace, taking time to study the infrastructure of the building that once belonged solely to his family. His great, great, great grandfather founded the company that was designed only for Malfoys. Even though they had no physical assets that belonged to the company itself, Voluntas had dealings with all major profit making businesses all over magical England.
But that had been at the pinnacle of the Malfoy family’s success. Since the fall of the Dark Lord, the incarceration of his father and the public knowing about his own Dark Mark, their company had fallen onto hard times. His father believed that the only solution was to sell parts of the company by bringing in investors with deep pockets and an old name.
Unfortunately, the only person who was even remotely interested in purchasing the company was a jolly, old man who insisted on making the company more like a family and less like an instrument driven by profit. Once his changes started hurting the company and several people had to be laid off, Mr Tillian Dred changed his tune. Draco found it exceedingly difficult not to sneer, “I told you so,” every chance he could. In order to fix this debacle, Dred has hired an expert who will be overhauling the company so it could become just as its former glory. Needless to say, Draco didn’t believe that it would work. It also didn’t help that he found himself greatly annoyed by Tillian Dred’s friendly manner.
By the time he finally reached the conference room, Draco had readied his argument to let all activities be dealt by him. Once he opened the doors and his eyes fell on all those who had seated themselves around the long table, all those arguments flew from his mind. He stepped back, shut the door and left immediately.
There were things Draco Malfoy was very much proud of when it came down to his abilities. He was proud of the fact that he was quick with his mind. Problems were usually solved faster when everyone stops talking and lets him think. He was proud of the fact that he could be charming when he wanted. Witches, especially, could never deny him anything when he asked for it the right way. And he was proud of his ability to let things roll of his back. Years of living in the wizarding world had made him immune to the whispers behind his back. He did what he liked when he liked, and he didn’t let anything faze him. Why then was he breathing hard, his chest collapsing within itself and his throat tightening inexplicably?
Five years, he thought. Five years.
At the sound of her voice, and the sound of her footsteps behind him, Draco’s pace quickened.
As fast as he walked, she ran faster, catching up to him quickly before holding onto him with a tug of his sleeve. He finally faced her with a withering stare. His employees who had gathered around with curiosity dispersed when they saw his glare aimed at them.
Hermione stepped back from him, dropping his arm as if she had been burned.
They didn’t say a word as they looked at each other. Draco didn’t want to be the first person to speak.
It was Tillian Dred, heaving and wheezing with the effort of breathing, jogging lightly through the hall, who finally spoke. “Ah… Ms… Granger… I see… you finally met… your new employer.” He ended the statement with a flat hand to his back, his spine cracking under the weight of his belly.
She didn’t say a word, her eyes still studying his pleadingly. Draco simply looked at Dred with serious eyes before saying, “No,” sternly, leaving the old man with an incredulous expression on his features.
This time as Draco left, neither of them followed him.
* * *
Apparently, when Draco Malfoy fires someone, it does not stick. He found this out not by the usual way, but by the most unusual way possible: while he was taking care of business in the men’s loo.
“Can we talk?”
Draco nearly stumbled, his hand pausing on the zipper he was just about to pull down. “Merlin!” He hastily straightened his robes before he turned to face the voice that had haunted his dreams and his nightmares for years. “What are you doing here?”
Hermione placed her hands on her hips and looked at him sternly as if he was an unruly student. “Trying to talk to you.”
“If you wanted to talk to me,” Draco sneered, his need to go to the bathroom only partially in his mind. “You could have made an appointment.”
“I tried!” Hermione said with a tone of frustration as she threw up her hands in disbelief. “But your secretary told me that you were always busy—“
“I am always busy.”
“That you were travelling—“
“I travel all the time.”
She looked at him pointedly. “That you were dead?”
“I died just last week,” Draco said smoothly. “Oh, wait. I think that’s an excuse she uses for people who do not work here.”
She rolled her eyes. “Please, Draco, you know I was hired.”
“Not with my consent.”
“Your consent is not needed on this project.”
His jaw twitched. “We’ll see about that.”
She shifted from one foot to the other nervously, a low breath escaping her. “I just wanted to say—“
“I don’t have time for this, Granger,” Draco said smoothly as he started walking past her. He didn’t think he could handle what she had to say. He had a feeling it would only be the same words she had spoken to him the last time they had seen each other. “I have an annoying bint to fire,” he decided to add smoothly.
She grabbed his sleeve easily, her eyes begging him to listen. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly, as if the very words didn’t punch his gut the moment he heard them. “I made a mistake and I don’t expect you to forgive me. But, let me help you. Let me help your company.” She dropped her hand from his arm, the loss of her touch still affecting him greatly after all these years. “I owe you that much.”
Draco didn’t say a word. He walked past her quickly, slamming the door after him and making his way to the rooftop of his building. Once there, he conjured several vases and then proceeded to blast them into oblivion, feeling much better during the process. Meaningless destruction always managed to make him feel better, even causing a small idea to materialise in his mind.
It was a little while later when he remembered that he still needed to go to the loo.
* * *
Draco wasn’t sure exactly why he decided to do something so childish, but once he had Hermione’s stolen files in his hands, he instantly regretted it. He had promised himself that once he left Hogwarts that he would act his age. But, apparently, all it takes is someone from his past to return to his life for the old Draco—the one who used to tease and bully and let out snarky insults—to make an appearance. Still, it was an internal battle as to whether he should place her files back where he found them or take them with him so that he could watch her stutter through a presentation that she had been preparing for.
It was his indecision that finally did him in.
“What are you doing?”
Draco swerved around, dropping the files quickly so he could turn to face her fully. “Can’t I visit you in your office?” he asked quickly, hoping that she didn’t notice what he had been up to. “It’s my building, after all.”
Hermione’s gaze narrowed as she crossed her arms over her chest. “You were stealing my files, weren’t you?”
“I would do no such thing.”
“No, of course not,” she said sarcastically. “Like you wouldn’t send me one hundred memos to answer within a day, which is virtually impossible.”
Draco mentally cursed himself. He had hoped she wouldn’t know that he had been behind that small stunt.
“And I’m sure that you wouldn’t be the reason behind my supposed free consultation for all the wizarding businesses under Votuntas either?”
“If you don’t like it,” Draco said calmly, “you could always quit.”
She looked at him carefully. “If you really want me to leave, Draco, all you have to do is ask.”
He wanted to say that he was demanding it, instead, he said, “I’m asking.”
“Yes,” she said softly, her eyes studying him. “But you don’t mean it.”
He let out a low laugh. “Shows how much you know, if you think I don’t mean it.”
“We were together once,” she said, not without sadness. “I learnt everything about you then.”
A scowl twisted his lips. “And then you went back to Weasley.”
She nodded, her arms going slack and falling to her side. “And then I went back to Ron.”
Draco forced a smile onto his face, one that was no doubt mixed with a sneer. “How is the ol’ Weasel doing?”
Hermione looked away from him, her brows scrunching up thoughtfully. “I don’t know. Haven’t spoken to him in a while, really. Not since we parted ways.”
This was news to him. Draco cursed his body for betraying him so easily when he felt hope rise in his chest and the quick thudding of his heart.
“He left you.” It was more of a statement than a question. His voice didn’t betray any emotions.
“Actually,” she said softly, her lips twisting into a humourless smile, “I left him.”
The flutter inside his chest returned. Draco immediately stood up straight and gave her a quick dismissal, determined to leave this interaction with as much pride as he could. Last time, he had not been himself. Last time, he had begged her not to leave him.
“Granger,” he said softly, watching her face fall when he didn’t use the name he used to whisper against her skin. “You can do whatever you want, for all I care. If you’re going to work here, you should know that I’m not planning to make it easy. No one gets it easy from me.”
She nodded, before saying softly. “I know. I just need you to know that no matter what happens I’ll be staying. You can’t get rid of me.”
“No,” Draco said cautiously, his tone darkening somewhat with the memory. “Not unless I ask you to stay, apparently.”
He didn’t wait to hear her response, but he did see the way her eyes dropped to the floor as he passed her. He felt guilt the moment he has said the words. Yet, had been spoken the truth.
* * *
As Hermione sat down, Dred turned to the board with a large smile on his features. “Well? What do you think?”
The presentation had gone without a hitch. Hermione had been with the company all of four days, and within those four days she had managed to figure out the main spending problems that Voluntas had, as well as possible measures that could be used to fix these issues. This was simply a primary evaluation. For her project to work she still needed at least another four team members and records to all of their work, as well as a period of six months to see the potential success of failure of such a project.
With a little bribery, Draco had secured the deciding vote from his father. He wasn’t proud of it, but when he had mentioned at that Dred had hired a Muggle-born and this was the only way to get rid of her, Lucius Malfoy had given Draco is own vote. Together, they had controlling interests in the company and therefore, the controlling decision. Just as when Dred and Draco’s father had teamed up to hire an outside consulting party to look over the finances of their business, so that Draco had no say in the matter.
The board, which consisted of five other members, started chattering immediately, asking Hermione questions that she answered easily. Once they had all approved to give her more time, they all looked at Draco. Dred kept trying to bribe his approval with a cost-cutting measure Draco had suggested a few weeks back.
Hermione, just as everyone else, looked at him carefully, and he frowned.
“Fine,” he said with a low breath, choosing to ignore the large smile she sported. Dred was beside himself with a decision well made. He clapped Draco on his shoulder so hard that he was sure a bruise would form.
He left quickly, not wanting to stay as long as he needed to.
* * *
Draco was in the middle of signing the last document that needed his signature when the door to his office opened.
“You can leave,” he said curtly, knowing that it was the cursory, ‘Can I leave, Mr Malfoy?’ his secretary usually asked him at the end of the day.
“I know that,” another voice answered him, “but I also know that you asked me to stay.”
“I didn’t ask you to stay,” Draco said smoothly. He looked up in time to see her closing the door behind her. “You are providing something valuable for the moment, that is all. The moment you’re done, you’ll be leaving.”
Her grin, which hadn’t wavered since the end of the meeting, didn’t change with his slight. “I just wanted to thank you for giving me the chance. I know it wasn’t easy.”
He narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. “You can leave now.”
“Just one more thing.” Hermione walked purposefully towards him, going around the desk at which he was sitting behind, before placing a warm hand against his cheek. Draco looked up at her in confusion, his eyes widening when she bent over and brought her face close to his.
It was a slight brushing of lips that left his cheeks feeling inflamed by her touch. His traitorous body gave into the feeling he had missed, his own lips pulling against hers as his hand rose so that he could tangle his fingers in her unruly curls. Years later, and she could still make him forget himself. Years later, and she still made his skin tingle with want.
Hermione pulled back, her breathing laboured, but her eyes bright and happy. “I promise never to leave you again, Draco. You’re the one I have always wanted,” she said shyly, a small shrug shaking her shoulders. “I’m going to prove it to you.” With a final peck on his lips, she turned to leave, imparting a small wave before she closed the door behind her.
Draco cursed himself and his own stupidity.
Damnit! Why did he love her? Why did he want her? And most of all, why was there hope blossoming in his chest?