This morning began just like any other day did.
Hermione sat quietly on her sofa, thumbing through the latest addition to her collection of books. She looked up when a small bell chimed, then lifted her hand and waved. Hannah Abbott, a schoolmate of hers from her days as a Hogwarts student, returned the gesture then proceeded to the counter to order something.
The aroma of brewing coffee filled Hermione's senses, and she inhaled deeply to savor its scent. The urge was strong, but she kept herself from getting a cup similar to what Hannah had ordered as she had two cups already - and it wasn't even afternoon yet! Getting a third one would make her jump at the smallest of noises, and that just wouldn't be appropriate, as later that day she would be meeting the true owner of the lot her small business was built on - and she planned on keeping her wits by then, thank you very much.
When Hannah called out her name, Hermione smiled at her. "Come again," she said automatically, watching as the Hufflepuff stepped out with a cup in her hand. "Have a nice day!"
It would be wonderful for someone to actually have a nice day.
Because Hermione was as sure as hell she wouldn't.
She grimaced. Of all people, she thought, cringing inwardly. Of all people I have to see, he just had to be the bane of my existence. The thorn in my side. The pain in my arse. Oh, why oh why did it have to be him!
Hermione abruptly closed the book she was reading and pushed it aside, entertaining herself with thinking of ways on how to murder someone without actually doing it.
If only that was possible indeed.
Hermione looked around her, and instantly her dampened mood lightened a bit. Great Expectations was no Flourish and Blotts, but it was fast becoming one of the regular hangouts of wizards and witches willing to spend their time browsing through Muggle and Magical books, sipping coffee, and consuming sweets. She smiled as she remembered; it was autumn when she'd gone and decided to dare and make it her own. Now it was autumn again, and so far all her efforts, time, and money proved to be worthwhile.
In the two years of its existence, Great Expectations had never experienced a moment without a customer filling up its comfortable, homey space. The building had two floors, the first of which was used for the shop, the second as an office and sometimes a sleeping quarters. In two years, not only had she treated it as a source of income, but had also grown to love it as her second home.
Unfortunately, she didn't own the lovely place. She rented it. And now her contract was almost up.
Unfortunately, she had to talk to the owner of the company owning her little space.
Unfortunately, she had about a million undesirable memories with the man to know well enough that she might as well bargain with the devil.
Of course, the devil himself might prove to be kinder than that… that bastard.
Of all people! Why oh why did it have to be Draco Malfoy, Bastard Extraordinaire?
The bell chimed again, disrupting her from her negative thoughts. Hermione looked up, then rolled her eyes as Pansy Parkinson Weasley entered, her arms full of roses that undoubtedly came from Ron.
"They're gorgeous," said Hermione as Pansy deposited them in front of her. "Ron sure does know how to make his absence felt, huh."
Pansy twitched her nose. "They're not for me as you very well should know," she emphasized, glaring at her. She plucked the note attached to the long-stemmed roses now littering Hermione's counter. "These are addressed to 'the owner of the shop'. Which happens to be you." She picked up a flower and brought it to her face, then threw it down. "I swear, if Ron doesn't send me anything like this in the next few days, when he returns I'm going to make his life a living hell."
Hermione grinned. "And here I thought Ron had made his life a living hell when he married you."
"Careful, Granger," said Pansy, a wicked gleam in her eyes. "I might think of a way to set you up with someone, just to get back at you."
Her eyes widened in size. "You wouldn't dare." She found the idea very ludicrous and disgusting, not to mention a total disruption of her life and privacy. It was monumentally vile.
It was no surprise that a Slytherin came up with it.
"I just said I might." Pansy flashed her a smile. "Who knows, maybe I know the person who's been sending you these flowers for the last couple of days." She inhaled deeply, then said, "But before I start regaling you with my diabolical scheme, I shall drown myself in caffeine first." She sauntered towards the counter. "Susan! Extra strong coffee, if you please!"
Hermione watched her as she left, then glanced at the roses. Of course she didn't believe any of Pansy's words; the woman's only egging her on, no doubt about it. That was how they worked. Since the day Ron had told her he'd be tying the knot with the Slytherin, she and Pansy had barely learned to tolerate each other. But as time went by she found Pansy's sarcasm and loudness a bit refreshing, and her company less annoying. Soon, they were spending time together, and Hermione wasn't anywhere near wanting to throttle the living daylights out of the other woman.
Nowadays, Hermione and Pansy weren't the best of friends, but they couldn't be called enemies, either.
Hermione idly picked the card, and not for the first time in two weeks was greeted with a very neat scrawling of 'To the owner of Great Expectations. They were divine. You have my sincerest gratitude.'
Truth be told she had absolutely no idea what the card was about, or even how on earth she managed to acquire this kind of gratitude from anyone. And that bit about being 'divine'… she was lost on that one, too. Hermione sighed, then carefully grabbed the roses and neatly placed them inside a vase. They might be from some stranger, but they happened to also be absolutely gorgeous. It'd be a shame to throw them away.
Besides, her customers almost always came by her to admire these flowers. Recently, they had become an added attraction to the shop.
A plate clanked against her counter, and three pieces of chocolate chip cookies were on it. Two, Hermione corrected herself, as she watched Pansy take one and eat it with flourish. "Did you pay for that?"
"No," the former Slytherin admitted shamelessly. "But you can always deduct it from my salary."
"You don't have a salary," Hermione said drolly. "You don't work here. You don't work, period."
"Then deduct it from my or Ron's share of this shop. Whichever you prefer." Pansy ate another one, then the last. "God, these are good."
Hermione eyed her and said, "Continue doing that, and when Ron returns he'll see nothing but all the weight his lovely wife had gained."
"He won't care for as long as he has a lovely wife to come home to." Pansy set the now empty coffee cup beside the empty plate and grinned. "By the way, I also spotted that absolutely divine piece of chocolate cake on display, and you should have that deducted from my share as well."
"Help yourself, so long as you disappear from my sight." Hermione cradled her head in her hands. "Go away, Pansy! I'm in the middle of an existential crisis, in case you didn't notice."
"And why is that?"
"My lease is almost up," she answered, fixing Pansy a serious look. "I have to talk to Malfoy in order to extend it."
She lifted a brow. "And which Malfoy are we talking about?"
"Let me put it this way: my Hogwarts years could've been a lot better if he wasn't staining the castle halls with his presence or even the castle's insignia with his foul name."
"Draco Malfoy it is."
"Draco Malfoy." Hermione pretended to gag. "Of all people, the bastard."
Pansy shrugged, then fixed Hermione a pointed look. "I heard he's still single."
"I heard he's still evil." She paused. "In a not-serving-Voldemort kind of way, though."
"That just proves he's his own man."
"That only proves he's innately evil. Inherently evil. Indisputably—"
"What's the problem?" Pansy inquired with a wave of her hand. "Just show him all the profit this little shop of yours is reaping, show him that you're not missing any monthly pay, and you're bound to get an extension."
Hermione looked at her as though she'd gone insane. "I doubt it. I really think he'll say no just because I'm… well, me. He'll do anything to spite me and everyone knows it. Don't you know what hell I have to go through just so I could get this rented in the first place? That time though, I didn't have to talk to him in person—"
"Paranoid…" said Pansy in a singsong voice.
"I'm not paranoid, I'm being realistic," she snapped. "There's a difference!"
"Sor-ry," said Pansy, though she looked anything but. "Look. You're overreacting. It's been, what, seven years since you last saw each other? I don't think he still bears a grudge against you." She paused. "Then again, considering you still have a grudge against him—"
"I don't have a grudge against him!" Hermione protested.
"Then there really isn't any problem, is there?"
The numbers on her small notebook stared right back at her as she glared at them. Hermione lifted her chin. What Pansy had said made perfect sense – all she had to do was show Malfoy these numbers, and if he was truly a professional businessman he'd realize that Great Expectations do make profit and it'd be a stupid move not to extend its lease.
Hermione glanced at Susan Bones, her counterperson and bookkeeper. She was very thankful to have hired the former Hufflepuff because Susan proved to be very efficient in recording everything that had happened in the store – from cups of coffees consumed, to numbers of books bought, even the amounts of sweets sold. Susan was so thorough in her work that even the names of the intended recipients of the purchased items were noted, if customers were indulgent enough to provide them.
She scanned through the numbers, then paused as something caught her attention. Fifteen boxes of chocolate chip cookies were bought at approximately the same time, on different - but succeeding - days. These cookies were bought at around six thirty in the morning – before she came in at seven. This wasn't what caught her attention, however. These boxes just happened to be gift-wrapped then delivered to a company she only knew too well: Malfoy Estates.
"Susan," she said, approaching the Hufflepuff with the notebook clutched in her hands, "do you know who bought these?" Hermione used a marker and highlighted the numbers indicating the purchase.
Susan thought for a minute, then nodded. "Pansy did."
Hermione drew a blank. "Pansy?"
Susan nodded again. "I can't be mistaken. She's been our first customer for the last couple of days, ordering the same thing, signing the boxes, then giving them to me to be gift-wrapped."
"She's signing the boxes?" Hermione asked. "What name is she using?"
Susan shook her head. "She doesn't use her name, or any name for that matter. She signs it with 'Owner of Great Expectations,' which I really find odd considering you're—"
The bell chimed.
When Hermione turned to look at who had entered, at that moment she wanted nothing more than to throttle Pansy until her lips turned blue.
Because standing right inside her homey shop was Draco Malfoy.
He looked around the shop, his eyes taking in every bit of everything. Apparently he hadn't seen her yet as he silently moved towards the bookshelves lining the side. He scanned through the titles, took several. He then started moving towards the counter – where Susan was smiling and Hermione was surreptitiously hiding.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy! How may I help you today?"
Hermione cursed the perkiness lacing her counterperson's voice. She turned around and nonchalantly walked towards the stairs, hoping against hope she wouldn't be noticed.
"Hello," she heard Malfoy say. "I'm looking for the owner of this shop. Is she around?"
"Why yes, sir. In fact, she's—"
And before Susan could point at her, Hermione had already bolted up the stairs.
"What in hell do you think you're doing?"
Pansy - who had the audacity to make herself comfortable in Hermione's makeshift office - looked up from her writing and smiled innocently. "I'm thinking of sending Ron something naughty to remember me by—"
Hermione tried to keep herself from kicking the woman in the face. "That's not what I meant and you know it!"
Pansy placed her quill down and stood. "Then I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."
"Malfoy," Hermione spat the name like it was a disease, "is downstairs as we speak."
"Oh. You asked him to come here for the lease meeting?"
Hermione crossed her arms in front of her. "I didn't. You did. By using my name. Or 'Owner of Great Expectations' to be more precise." She wrung her hands in frustration. "What in bloody hell do you think you're doing?"
A teasing smile erupted from Pansy's mouth. "You found out about it. Finally. God, you Gryffindors are so slow."
Hermione was three seconds away from hyperventilating. "You admit it, then?"
"Of course! I'm not sorry for this and you know it. Maybe if you've figured it out earlier I would've said 'it wasn't supposed to be discovered!' or something like that but since you're getting a bit stupid—"
"Pansy!" Hermione screamed. "Do you know what you just did? The bastard thinks I sent him those cookies and it's all your fault!"
"Consider it my help, then. I told you I'd set you up with someone; that someone just happened to be Draco." Pansy winked at her. "He'll probably go easy on you since you let him taste your precious cookies which, like I told you before, could bring any man to his knees." She pulled her wand. "Later, Granger. Tell me everything." And Pansy disappeared.
Leaving Hermione gaping like a fish out of water.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Footsteps echoed behind her, making her heart jump erratically at the noise.
Some part of her reprimanded her for consuming two cups of coffee that day. The larger part cursed her for having tolerated Pansy Parkinson Weasley all these time.
"Hermione—" said Susan.
"What?" she snapped, turning around abruptly.
Susan blinked. "Mr. Malfoy wants to talk to you."
"Tell him I died," Hermione barked. "Tell him you found my body here and sent it to the morgue. Tell him—tell him I got decapitated. Just make him leave!"
Susan looked at her strangely and shrugged. "If you say so." And off she went.
Hermione sat on the bed and raked her hands through her hair. What a disaster, she thought, taking in deep breaths. There was no way in hell she'd face Malfoy, not when he thought she was behind the chocolate chip cookie incident. He might be thinking she's bribing him, and now he came by just to tell her to stop it, as there was absolutely no way he was going to give her what she wanted. Knowing Malfoy, he probably came by just to laugh at her face as well!
Damn you Pansy Parkinson!
Damn you to hell!
A few minutes passed, and the unmistakable sound of a bell chiming reached her ears. Finally, Hermione thought. He left. Malfoy's leaving also signaled the end of Great Expectations, but as of this moment she didn't care that much – at least, her pride was still intact.
She slowly got up and dragged herself to the first floor. Without looking around, she headed towards her sofa and said, "Susan, what did—"
"I sent her home."
That wasn't Susan's voice.
That was Draco Malfoy's voice.
There was no mistaking the lazy, billionaire drawl coating each throaty sound.
She took a deep breath, lifted her chin defiantly, and turned to see him on a chair with a steaming cup of coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of him. "What are you still doing here?" she asked.
Malfoy shrugged. "You invited me, remember?"
Cursing Pansy in her head she said, "I did nothing of that sort."
He lifted his brow, took something from the breast pocket of his impeccably tailored suit, then said, "That's not what's written on this card."
"I didn't write that!" Hermione huffed at the obvious disbelief written on Malfoy's face. "That's Pansy's handwriting, to tell you the truth. I have no idea why she's doing this, but I didn't send you those cookies. She did."
"Is she the owner of this shop?"
"Then why would she sign it using those words?"
"I don't know!" Hermione crossed her arms. "And I'm thinking if there's anyone who could figure out how a Slytherin thinks it'll be another Slytherin, so you tell me. Besides, what authority do you think you have, sending my employee home without my consent?"
Malfoy raised his brow. "The poor girl looked exhausted; I was merely being considerate." He squinted at her. "You only have one employee and still you don't know how to manage her right. Some employer you turned out to be, Granger."
The insinuation stoked her rage until she had to take three deep breaths to calm down. "That was uncalled for," she seethed. "I'd be careful if I were you, Malfoy. I have the authority to throw you out in the streets as you are in my territory."
A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Really? Your territory? And all the while I thought this piece of land belongs to me."
Warning bells sounded in Hermione's head, but she didn't back down. She wouldn't go down without a fight! "I still have three weeks," she countered. "Look it up in the damned contract. Three full weeks. I can still throw you out, you bigoted, self-righteous, arrogant—"
Malfoy said nothing, merely took a long sip of his coffee.
But the damned twinkle in his eye was really grating on her nerves. It was like… like he was inwardly laughing at her. Like he was enjoying her act like a lunatic at him. Hermione paused, rubbed her temples tiredly, then inquired, "Why are you here?"
Malfoy shrugged, then looked around the place. "I see you've been enjoying my gift as well," he said softly, eyes at the counter.
Hermione frowned. "Your gift...?"
She followed his gaze... and winced.
"You- you sent those flowers?" she asked faintly.
Damn it. Maybe she was getting stupid.
He shrugged again. "It's the least I can do for you sending those cookies."
She winced again. "For the last time—"
"I appreciated them, to tell you the truth."
Well that was a surprise. "You… did?"
Malfoy nodded. "Of course. Where else could I taste something so horribly sweet and nauseating?" He placed a cookie in his mouth and bit it with a flourish.
Hermione folded her arms and glared. "That's it. Get your arse off—"
He looked serene as he said, "That was a joke, Granger."
"You don't joke. You insult. That's what you do best, you git."
"I haven't insulted you or called you names for the past three minutes, have I?" Malfoy gestured at the empty seat in front of him. "Sit."
"Don't boss me around," she snapped. "I still own this place, remember?"
"I do." There was that damned twinkle in his eyes again. "But would you really prefer to stand there while we're talking about your contract?"
Another surprise! "We're going to talk about my—"
Malfoy let out an exasperated breath. "I don't have time for this," he said. "Look, I'm a very busy man, Granger. I'm a very important man. Do you know how many meetings I have to cancel just to see you?"
She lifted her chin indignantly. "Don't let me keep you, oh Great One." Hermione squinted at him. "If you have so many meetings, then why did you come here in the first place?"
He took out a pocket watch then stood. "I have to go," he said, completely ignoring her question. Malfoy paused. "If you want me to extend your contract, then meet me at Theater Box this evening at promptly nine o'clock. We'll talk about everything there, over dinner."
Considering how everything was going, this proposition shouldn't have surprised her - yet it did. "Dinner?"
"Yes. Dinner. Remember, the meal eaten at the end of the day?"
"I know what dinner is, you bast—"
"Nine tonight," Malfoy spoke as if she hadn't. "I expect you to be there. And—bring some of this, will you?" He took the cookies, plate and all, then strode out.
Hermione was left staring at his empty coffee cup, her thoughts spiraling out of control at the unexpectedness of this day.
This morning started just like any normal day.
Now, she had a dinner date—no, meeting—with Draco Malfoy.
I'm going to kill you, Parkinson!
She gazed critically at the mirror. Her dress was a pale shade of cream, with a modest neckline and sleeves that fluttered down her arms. Not bad, she thought. It was perfect for a night out talking about business.
Not that there was ever such a thing.
Hermione grabbed a shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders. That night proved to be a very cold one, reminding her that winter was fast approaching. She grabbed her bag and sighed, preparing herself. Then she marched outside and began her walk towards the restaurant just around the corner.
Spotting the hostess, Hermione cleared her throat and said, "Hello, I'm here to see—"
The hostess smiled at her graciously. "Ah yes, Miss Granger. Mr. Malfoy is expecting you inside." She indicated the doors behind her.
"Thank you," Hermione said, clutching her shawl instinctively, all the while wondering just how the woman knew who she was.
As she stepped inside, however, she realized she didn't have to ponder the matter any longer.
Because Malfoy was the only person inside the restaurant.
"Evening, Granger," he drawled, raising a glass of wine at her. "So glad you can come."
She glanced around. The room was very dim, the soft, mellow playing of a violin serving as their background. Every table on sight was decorated with red, white, and pink flowers, with rich candles as their centerpieces. Hermione faintly said, "Of course I did. We had an agreement, after all."
He stood, approached the chair opposite his, and pushed it outward. "Sit."
Just for tonight, she obliged.
As he took his seat, Hermione thought that this seemed as good a time as any to bring the topic of her lease up. So she started with, "Malfoy. About my—"
At that moment however, their food arrived. "I took the liberty of ordering earlier," Malfoy told her. "You won't regret it, I assure you."
Hermione watched as a waiter placed one plate after another of the most delicious-looking food she had ever set her eyes on. "You see," she insisted, trying to disregard them, "I've brought my—"
"Now, now, Granger," said Malfoy reproachfully. "Where're your manners? Let's not discuss business while eating."
Her mouth hung open. "But I thought the very nature of this meeting was to—"
"How have you been?" he asked, stabbing a small piece of meat then placing it in his mouth.
This was not how she imagined the night would progress, to be honest! "Fine," she said curtly. As he was openly goading her to continue, she sighed and begrudgingly elaborated, "After I graduated I worked for the Ministry for a short while, then went back home to further my studying. After a while I chose to come back here to start my own business, and-"
"Great Expectations," he said.
"Great Expectations," she affirmed. "And with the lease—"
"I heard that Weasley and Pansy got married."
She blinked. "Obviously. Did Pansy never tell you about it?" She took a small sip of her wine. "It was just last year, right before he and Harry got assigned by the Ministry to do some work overseas. "
The frown on his face told her he really didn't want to talk about her friends, so of course she continued. "You see, Harry and Ron are the best Aurors out there, and they were needed to investigate something about the sudden disappearances of giants in the mountains. I know their work is a very challenging - but rewarding - one."
"I'm sure," said Malfoy drolly, wiping his mouth. "After all, Potter won't be content not doing anything heroic or chivalrous. And Weasley can't handle anything without his best friend at his side, can he?"
Hermione bristled at the tone he adopted. "Don't talk like that," she said. "You don't know them at all."
"I know them well enough."
"No," she insisted. "You don't. What you have in your head are notions you had about them when you were younger. They've changed."
He raised his brow. "So are you saying that I should change my opinions as well?"
"As far as they're concerned, yes."
Malfoy studied her long enough to make her want to squirm. "How about you, Granger?" he asked in a mild tone. "Have you changed your opinion of me?"
The question threw her off for a minute. Hermione pushed her food around before she returned with, "It depends."
The sides of his mouth quirked up. "On what?"
"On whether or not you'll extend my lease."
He laughed, the sound throaty and very contagious. "I'd never guess you were the 'user-friendly' type."
She chuckled. "Only when the situation calls for it."
"And this is one of those situations?"
"Ah." Malfoy drank from his glass, then cut his meat into smaller pieces. The light from the candles played with the shadows and mingled with the planes and angles of his face, demanding her attention. He was undoubtedly attractive, with the silver in his eyes and the gold in his hair.
Hermione cringed as she realized she just thought Malfoy 'attractive'. "S-So," she said, hoping her cheeks did not reflect the fire on them, "you haven't told me what happened to you after we graduated."
"I studied," he answered. "I watched how my father went about with our business, and in three years I was able to take over."
"Your parents must be so proud of the things you did."
"Of course they are." He sounded his usual, arrogant self, which was rather annoying.
Thank God. "So where are they now?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Taking a tour. Last I heard they were somewhere near Durmstrang, but I can't be sure."
"You're managing Malfoy Estates on your own?"
"And doing one hell of a job at it." He grinned.
She smiled back. "Anyone ever told you how egotistical you are?"
"No," he answered smugly. "Because if they do, I'll fire them."
"Some employer you turned out to be," Hermione told him. "And since we're on the subject, Malfoy – you're the most arrogant, conceited, and egotistical man I've ever met." She raised her chin triumphantly. "There! I said it. And you can't fire me because I don't work for you."
"You don't," he said. "But I can, however, refuse to grant your request for an extension on your lease." His gray eyes glittered with a challenge.
Oh, Lord. The contract! She completely forgot about the lease! "You wouldn't dare."
Malfoy swirled the wine in his glass. "It depends."
"On whether or not you'll meet me for dinner tomorrow."
Hermione's eyes widened. "Tomorrow?"
He nodded. "Tomorrow."
She watched him as he stood, then offered his hand to her. Too confused for words she numbly accepted, and he helped her up.
Why would you ask me for another dinner date? Is this just another of your schemes, Malfoy? Why can't I refuse? And why – why are we— "Where are you taking me?" she asked, finally noticing that they've stepped out of the restaurant and were now walking the path she trudged on earlier.
"I'm walking you back to your shop," he answered, then squeezed the hand he had somehow managed to tuck in the crook of his arm.
"Why?" Suspicion laced her tone.
"Because it's the chivalrous thing to do," Malfoy replied smoothly.
"No," Hermione said, tugging on her arm. It wouldn't budge. "I meant why are you asking me for another dinner-"
She pursed her lips. "It's not a date."
"I agree. We just so happen to be two unattached individuals spending time together, talking about anything but business."
"That was your fault. You kept interrupting me when I wanted to talk about—"
"Let's not talk about—"
"See!" she said triumphantly. "That's exactly what I'm saying. We're not talking about what we should've been talking about in the first place!"
"Damned straight I'm talking about—"
"And here we are." They both stopped in front of the shop.
"Oh," said Hermione, embarrassed. At that she looked inside and saw the lights were all out, just the way she left it. She looked at him. "You do know that we're bound to talk about my lease sooner or later."
"Your lease is up in three weeks," Malfoy told her. "Three full weeks. That still leaves us a lot of time."
"So what, I'm supposed to go out with you for the next twenty-one days in order to get an extension?"
Could he be any vaguer? She sighed in frustration. "On what?"
He leaned in closer to her, his presence making her dizzy and lightheaded. Malfoy's lips quirked upwards, and her eyes widened as his face neared, his mouth only inches from her own…
She shivered as he breathed in her ear, "On whether or not you'll bring cookies with you, next time we meet." He pulled away. "Tomorrow," he said, daring to drag a finger down her cheek.
Then, Malfoy left.
When Hermione went inside, her knees finally buckled and she collapsed on the bed, exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
So. She'd be seeing him everyday for the next three weeks in order to get what she wanted?
Suddenly it wasn't as bad as she thought it would be.