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Two Desks Apart

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Wednesday, November 5th 2008

"Draco, your father and I have something we would like to discuss with you."

"We do?"

"Yes, Lucius. We do."

From his twenty eight years walking this earth, Draco knew that nothing good ever followed that particular conversation starter. In fact, typically what followed were the types of conversations he tried desperately to avoid. His tongue darted out to moisten his lips as he held his gaze on his dinner plate, gritting his teeth as he heard the soft tink of his mother setting down her cutlery.

Piercing his smothered pork loin with his fork, he began to drag his knife across the tender meat, taking his time cutting the entire slice into minuscule bits as a means to distract himself from giving into the impulse to run from the room. "Oh?"

"Yes." His mother sighed. He didn't have to look up to know she was likely sitting with her hands folded in her lap, looking at him the way that said 'adoring mother' to anyone outside his family, but he knew better. Narcissa Malfoy had a masterful poker face, one that even the Dark Lord has not been able to see the truth behind. She could look you straight in the eye and wish for your demise with a smile that would leave even babies cooing. "Draco, we're concerned about you."

"Oh bloody hell," Draco murmured, praying it wasn't loud enough for either of his parents to hear as he set his cutlery down on his plate, letting the silver clatter loudly against his mother's second-best china. Perhaps he could Apparate from the dining room to his wing? The wards surely couldn't hold if he was the initiator, right? Or maybe he could just turn his steak knife on his own throat and end himself before this conversation began.

"It's been over ten years since you've graduated, and four years since…"

"Since Astoria left me?" Draco finally lifted his eyes, his lips pursing to the corner of his mouth as he peered across the table at his mother with a lifted brow. "You can say it, mother. It's been four years, as you just pointed out."

"No need to be so hostile, Draco," his mother tsked, her bejeweled hand waving toward him before she reached to take a sip of her chardonnay. "We are simply concerned about your lack of forward momentum in life is all."

"Forward momentum? I accepted a promotion two years ago and I am in place to take over Janglehorn's position when he retires. I do believe this counts as forward momentum." Picking up his napkin from his lap, he dabbed the cream cloth against his lips before depositing it over his half eaten meal, suddenly no longer feeling in the mood for his dinner. "Most parents would be proud of the forward momentum I've accomplished."

Lucius, who had yet to cease eating his dinner, lifted his head from his plate, white blond hair spilling over his shoulders as he straightened his spine. "Most don't have their thirty-year-old still living at home."

"Lucius," Narcissa whispered, her head snapping towards her husband.

"If you'd like, I have no problem moving out," Draco returned quickly, his hackles raising.

"By all means, son." Lucius lifted his fork and took an aggressive bite of his pork, blue eyes narrowing infinitesimally across the table as his heir.

"That is exactly what we don't want, Draco," Narcissa's voice lifted, bordering on shrill as she looked between her husband and son. "And we are immensely proud of your accomplishments at the Ministry. I was referring to your personal life."

Draco wasn't an idiot. Of course he knew what his mother had been referring to, but he still hoped maybe they could dance around the topic long enough for her to lose interest in favor of talking about an upcoming garden party, or the latest gossip within her pureblood sewing circle. However, it appeared she was bypassing all her normal hints and going straight for the jugular this evening.

Reaching up, his fingers brushed his fringe off his forehead as he leaned back in the chair, his spine pressing sharply against the hard wood as he crossed his legs at the knee. Might as well get comfortable since this conversation was not going to end quickly. "I am not seeing how my personal life is really any of your concern."

"Draco." His father growled in warning as he gestured for the house elf to provide a refill of their dinner drinks.

While he would never consider himself a social butterfly, Draco was far from a recluse. Since ending his relationship with Astoria he had developed a strict routine he stuck to during the work week. It provided him a consistency in his life that he craved not only post-war, but post heartbreak. He wasn't able to control so much about his life during his last years at school—for obvious reasons—and in the end he was not able to control if a witch returned his affections or not. But his schedule? The timetable by which he ran his life? That was entirely in his control.

He woke up at precisely 4:45 a.m. Monday through Friday. He breakfasted on three eggs whites, a half cup of mixed berries, and two pieces of bacon in the dining hall at 5:30am, with or without his parents' company. He would read the Daily Prophet, and catch up on the latest news as he ate in comfortable silence. He would Floo to the Ministry by 6:15am and work out in their gym for roughly 45 minutes before showering, changing and walking into his office by 7:30am.

Lunch was at 11:45am and lasted no more than 30 minutes—typically shorterand by 5:15pm he was walking through the Floo home for a 5:45pm dinner. Unless, of course, it was Thursday. On Thursday he met Blaise and Theo for drinks at The Golden Finch in Appleby at 6:00pm, which meant he worked late. But regardless of drinks with the lads, or not, his day ended precisely at 9:00pm. He would crawl into bed, read for roughly an hour before turning out the lights and starting the routine over.

It wasn't terribly exciting, he knew that, but it provided an unexplainable comfort that he was not willing to part with just to appease his parents' ideals about what a proper social life looked like for a 29-year-old bachelor.

"I am just stating that as far as my personal life is concerned, I am doing fine on my own. Truth be told, I really think you both should think yourselves lucky considering how well adjusted I am. I could have ended up like Marcus Flint—pissing away the family fortune on women and spirits."

"Draco Lucius!"

"That's quite enough, son!"

His father and mother spoke in unison, each tone equally as disapproving.

Draco lifted a hand toward the ceiling, his eyes rolling as he set his jaw. Merlin, what did they expect from him? He was far from a child, and while yes, it was impolite to discuss Marcus was going through, it wasn't like he was speaking lies. The wizard was a bloody mess, and everyone knew it.

"We want to see you happy, Draco," Narcissa said after the silence grew too long.

"I am happy."

Narcissa sighed, gray eyes softening on her boy and she glanced across the room and gave the house elves that lingered along the edge of the room a nod of her head before she gestured to their dinner plates. "No, you're complacent."

"Isn't that the same thing?" Draco scooted back his chair just a hint, allowing the wrinkly little creature to lean in and grab his plate before he leaned forward to pick up his water cup and he took a large sip.

Narcissa's lips thinned and she made a slow, exaggerated motion of folding her hands over each other on the dining table in front of her, her nude painted nails tapping against the wood as she raised a single brow at him.

"Fine. I'll put in some effort to get out more," Draco relented, his fingers tapping an uneven rhythm on the arm of his chair as he looked across the table blankly at his parents, using his Occlumency to conceal his emotions. If there was one bloody good thing that came from the war, it had been learning this art from his Aunt and godfather. It had come in handy not only in dealing with his parents over the years, but also in the courtroom.

His mind had already began to swirl, thinking of ways he could occupy a couple hours out of the house on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. He was not interested in visiting Gregory or Astoria— their friendship had barely survived the betrayal of their courtship and subsequent marriage, and Draco was most definitely not interested in pursuing anything more than the formality they held now. Another night out with Blaise might be optional, pending Gabirelle's approval of course. Theo would have to be out though—Tracy was due to give birth in two months and he highly doubted she would allow him not one but two nights out a week with a newborn at home.

"We actually have another plan."

His mother's words sliced through his planning, freezing the gears of his mind and when he focused his eyes back on her, his brow knit in the center of his forehead, thick with confusion. Another plan? What the bloody hell did she mean by that?

"I've taken the liberty of setting you up on a date."

"Excuse me?" Draco shook his head, the thick muscle that lined his jaw flexing as he ground his molars together. "Absolutely not."

Narcissa didn't skip a beat, continuing as if she hadn't heard a single word of protest. "She's a nice witch. From a good family—although I would have personally liked them to be a bit more traditional, it might be beneficial for our family to be seen with more modern purebloods." She said with a thoughtful tap of her index finger on the dining table as her eyes drifted toward the ceiling. "Regardless, I think you two will get along well."

"No. Not happening."

"Draco," Narcissa sighed. "Please don't fight us on this. We just want to see you happy."

"I could care less about happiness," Lucius spoke up from behind the rim of his wine glass. "I, for one, am concerned about an heir for the Malfoy family. By your age I was already married and had you to raise."

Draco's head rose and he pinched the bridge of his nose as he inhaled heavily through his nose. By thirty, Lucius hadn't been through a war. He hadn't bloody gone to trial for crimes he was forced to commit. He hadn't had to work his way from a social pariah to a semi-normal existence in the world. He wanted to remind them how it wasn't a lack of effort in dating, but rather years of being less-than-politely shot down that made him not want to put himself out there. He wanted to point out that he had no bloody interest in dating—let alone marrying—a witch when he was still getting over the years of physical and mental abuse.

Instead, he bit the inside of his cheek, letting the slow swell of pain silence his words as he tried to control himself from lashing out.

"You're set for dinner tomorrow at Lorenzo's. I've arranged for a nice five course meal with a wine pairing. Tabitha went last week with her son and she told me the food was impeccable and their house wine was lovely," Narcissa said with a uplift in her tone that sounded like nails on a chalkboard—grating and shrill, sending the hair on the back of his neck standing at attention.

Focusing on his breath, he pulled air in through his nose and out through his mouth, lettingthe steady flow of oxygen as well as the pinch of his pressure points calm him until he could speak without snapping at his mother. "And there's nothing I can do to persuade you to cancel this charade?"

"No."

"Who is she?"

"You'll see tomorrow evening." Narcissa's gray eyes flickered away from her and down to the little house elf that appeared on her left. Her pursed lips lifted in the tiniest hint of a smile as the creature set down a small silver dish of vanilla ice cream with a berry compote drizzled over the top. "Oh look, Lucius. Avati has prepared your favourite."

"Wonderful, darling," Lucius replied before holding out his wine toward another house elf for another refill.

"No, thank you," Draco said, holding up his hand towards the house elf who was about to set his dessert in front of him and he stiffened in his chair. "So wait, you won't even tell me who she is?"

"Is that information really necessary?" Narcissa questioned as she scooped up a tiny spoonful of the dessert.

"Yes. It's completely necessary, seeing as I'm the one that is going on the bloody date," Draco said, his eyes widening in disbelief as he watched his parents tuck into the final course of their meal like the conversation occurring between them wasn't wrought with tension.

"Well, there is no need to swear, Draco," Narcissa clucked, taking another bite of her dessert. "But I'm still not going to tell you. I don't trust you won't owl the nice young witch and cancel based on preconceived judgement."

"Oh bloody hell," Draco swore as he tossed his hands in the air with an irritated sigh that only succeeded in earning the ire of his father. "This is absolutely ridiculous! I am not going on a—"

The sound of Lucius' fist slamming against the table resounded off the walls, and instantly silenced Draco's words. His jaw set as he looked at his father, who had set down his spoon and was staring at him with narrowed eyes across the table. "You going on this date is not optional, Draco."

"If you feel so strongly about it, why don't you go for me?" Draco let slip before he could censor himself.

"Because I am not the one choosing to waste my life!" Lucius snapped, his nostrils flaring. "You would do very well to remember you are living under my roof, eating food that my money purchased, and enjoying the comforts of a lavish lifestyle thanks to my hard work. This is not optional, Draco. Do you understand?"

As he ground his teeth together, Draco could swear he tasted the chalky powder of the enamel on his teeth coat his tongue. He felt his fingers flex around the arms of his chair, his nails biting into the wood as he stared at his father with a deep set brow. Merlin, he wanted to tell him to piss off. To remind him that he was this bloody way because of choices his father made years ago. How marrying young might be beneficial for his parents, but he was definitely not them. And that the idea of passing on his family name to anyone felt fucking disgusting because of the dark history that would forever plague feature generations.

Yet, against his impulse to scream and fight back, Draco ran his tongue across his teeth behind his lips before finally speaking. "Understood."

Lucius gave a curt nod before leaning back in his chair. His blue eyes stayed leveled on his son as he picked up his spoon and he took a bit of his ice cream.

"Look, Draco. I am sure this isn't easy for you to understand," his mother began with what felt like the understatement of the year. "But we are not asking you to fall in love with the witch. All I am requesting is that you take her for a nice dinner. She is a nice girl, good lineage and should something spark, then so be is. She could be a well suited match for you and the family."

The family. It always came back to the bloody family. Draco pressed his lips together, before he gave his mother a slow nod. There was little he could say that was going to get him out of going. Arguing was not going to change their mind, and clearly not doing anyone in the room any favors. "Are we done, here?" he spoke as he stood up from the table, the harsh squeak of his chair sliding across the floor causing his mother to flinch.

"Yes, I suppose we are." Narcissa was the first to reply, only after laying her hand on her husband's.

Draco gave a quick nod, and he slid his hands into his trouser pockets where he wove a loose knut between his fingers as he began towards the exit. This wasn't about his happiness. It was about theirs—and how bloody important it was to keep up images. He was the last of his friends to get married, or at least be in a committed relationship. For years now his mother had used the heartbreak excuse, but clearly it'd reached its limit on being accepted. Just as he reached the threshold that would take him into the hallway, his mother's voice pulled him back from his introspection about the overreaching his parents had done.

"We are doing this because we love you, you know?"

Thankful that his back was to his mother, Draco's eyes rolled skyward as he paused in the doorway and he took a single breath before looking over his shoulder to where they still sat hand in hand at the dining table. "I'm aware."

"Are you angry with us?" Narcissa pressed.

"I'm not overjoyed," he replied honestly.

Narcissa nodded, and even from across the room he could see the way her hand tightened its hold on his father's. "I understand… I do hope your evening in the library helps calm your nerves."

"I'm going out." Draco didn't know why he felt the need to inform them, it wasn't like it mattered anyway. As much as he enjoyed his solitude in his wing, staying for longer than needed in the Manor tonight felt like a greater task than he was willing to put up with.

"Wow," Lucius said a bit louder than necessary, his eyebrows lifting to his hairline in obvious mock surprise. "Breaking routine. It's Wednesday, are you sure you want to do that?"

"Lucius!" Narcissa hits, releasing her hold on his hand to swat at his chest with a disapproving glare.

"Goodnight." Draco replied crisply before turning around and exiting the room before he said something he regretted. Despite his routine, and his carefully laid plans for the evening, now more than ever he wanted out from under the Manor's roof—at least until 9:00pm.


Thursday, November 6th 2008

His silver wrist watch jingled as he shook it down his wrist, letting the heavy metal rest at the base of his hand as he moved down the white-tiled Ministry corridor. The analog clock that sat behind the receptionist's desk let him know he was running five minutes late.

While rationally he knew it was his own fault for spending those precious extra minutes soaking in the hot shower's spray after his workout, part of him put fault on his parent's sudden interest in his love life.

His head dipped in a single nod of hello towards the Wizengamot's aging receptionist, Gertie, and he continued past her desk and down the narrow corridor towards his office. Since starting with the Wizengamot his desk had moved three times. The first move was because the broom closet that acted as the Jr. Barristers' room had a Doxy infestation so bad they literally ate holes in the furniture. The second time had been because former his desk mate had written a formal complaint two days after he'd switched rooms. He couldn't really blame Byron, seeing as his niece was Katie Bell, but the wizard had been an astounding prick about the whole thing. Had he come talk to him, Draco would have happily requested the transfer himself.

The third move had taken place about a year ago. It came after a miniscule promotion he'd received after assisting with the O'Sullivan Mating case. At the time he was thrilled to move into an office, a real office. One with a door, and climate control, and some solitude. That was until he'd met his office mate.

Granger.

How fate's cruel hand always brought him back to the bushy haired annoyance from his childhood was almost comical now. Clearly the gods had a vendetta against him. He knew she worked for the Wizengamot, but their respective career paths had yet to cross until that fateful winter morning.

In the beginning it had been rough, as sharing an office with the girl-turned-woman who was the literal cause of the majority of your adolescent trauma would be, but over the past two years they'd managed to work beyond their past and develop what Draco might even consider a friendship. He wasn't asking her out for pints, but a shared lunch hour in the canteen was a huge step up from where they had begun.

Pushing open the office door, Draco edged his way around a large stack of boxes that sat next to Granger's desk, the toe of his loafers nudging the cardboard as he moved to his side of their tiny office. To no one's surprise, the witch was already elbow deep in work. Her wild curls were pulled back from her face and held back with a hair pin. He could see a distinct blue ink splotches across her fingers and hands, which let him know that Barrister Valcuther must had dropped off some new files for her last night.

The witch didn't even bother to lift her head at his entrance, instead he watched her finger track across the file laid out in front of her at an admirable pace. Draco set his messenger bag on his tidy desk before lowering himself into his squeaky office chair. Leaning back, he set his gym bag on the ground where two of the office walls met before he wheeled his way under his desk. "Did you sleep here Granger?"

"Good morning to you too, Malfoy." Hermione lifted her eyes briefly, flashing a small smile his direction before she turned her attention back to her file.

The corner of his lips pulled in a smirk as he shook his head at the witch. When she got into these particular moods he knew better than to keep talking, as she wasn't really paying attention anyway. He could profess his love for a mountain troll and she wouldn't even bat an eye. Flipping open his messenger bag, he began to thumb through the manila folders inside in search of his latest assignment.

Just as his fingers curled around the thick folder, a motion at the corner of his desk caught his attention. Glancing up he watched a white paper cup float from where Granger's desk connected with his and cross the threshold from her space inside his. The Goblin-branded logo on the front of the cup let him know it came from the small kiosk in the lobby—Erkrat's. He eyed the paper cup curiously, his body stilling as a result.

"English Breakfast," Hermione said as she picked up her quill and tapped the excess ink against the glass pot three times—always, three bloody times—before she began to scrawl notes in the margin of the parchment in front of her. "And before you tell me you don't drink it, I know you do. I tried to get Earl Gray, but they were out in both the Canteen and Erkrat's. I've already owl'd Ambrose about it, and he assured me that will have your blend back in stock tomorrow morning."

"Thank you…?" Draco reached out and wrapped a single hand around the paper cup. His fingertips instantly warmed as he pulled it towards him skeptically and without a word he began to pry the plastic lid of, careful not to spill any of the condensation that collected on the lid on his trousers as he peered inside the cup to see if it had been prepared at all.

"Oh Circe, Malfoy," Hermione said with a disapproving sigh as she flourished a line under the words she just wrote. "Honey, and a splash of milk—in case you were curious. I made it the way you prefer. Do you really think I don't know your preference after sharing this tiny excuse for an office with you for nearly two years?"

"How foolish of me to think otherwise." Draco snorted, finding her annoyance rather endearing all these years later. Lifting the cup he took a small sip, letting the lightly sweetened tea dance across his tongue, as if to confirm she got the ratio correct before he took a much larger sip. "I shall never doubt your capabilities again, Granger."

"Ah, so he can learn." Hermione teased with a smirk that could rival his own, which earn a small chuckle from him. Picking up her own cup, he watched her take a long pull from her morning tea as she leaned back in her chair. Blue inked fingerprints left a trail on the once pristine white of her cup, letting him know she'd likely refilled the thing more than once since starting this morning. "Now if you don't mind, hurry up and finish your first cup. I've got to pick your brain on this Indigenous Plant Bond Valcuther gave me," she said with a lazy gesture towards the messy file on her desk.

With a low groan, Draco leaned forward and planted his elbows on top of his desk, his lips pulling up in a grimace before he took another slow sip. "There is not enough tea in the world that could prepare me for that drivel, Granger." As much as he and Granger argued over the merits of Magical Creature Law, their equal disdain for Herbology Law was actually one of the first things they found they had in common.

Reaching across his desk, he picked up the first sheet from the file and began a quick once over of the synopsis, because despite not wanting to do with this type of case, he wasn't going to let Granger suffer the fate of dealing with magical plants all on her own.

"You're telling me," Hermione said with a small sigh as she leaned back in her chair, the soft squeak from the too-old hinge filling the room as she removed her hairpin and tossed it on her desk. Her thick chestnut curls tumbled from the top of her hair, spilling across her shoulders and down her back as she began to slowly stretch her neck from left to right, relieving a tension he was all too familiar with. "I've been looking at that bloody file since four in the morning."