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Before I Knew
None - Words: 35,373 - Rated: T - English - Humor & Romance - Chapters: 11 - Reviews: 127 - Updated: 13-08-2017 - Published: 13-01-2017 - by 0bscurum (FFN)

Hermione yawned.

It was much too early to be thinking of sleep, she told herself, what with the workday still having over an hour left. And if she had any intentions on sticking with her plan to stay even later then she couldn't afford to start yawning now.

Sitting up straight, she rolled her head from side to side, relaxing a little with each satisfying crack of her joints. She twisted in her chair, popping her back, and then commenced to pop her knuckles as well. It was a sick habit, she knew as much, and her mother never let up on her about it, but it was a habit she had no intention of breaking any time soon. It just felt good. Pushing her chair out, she stood to stretch her legs, then shook out her arms to help circulate her blood. She moved to the sideboard near her desk and poured out a glass of water. Feeling refreshed, she returned to her work.

Less an hour later there came a knock at the door, and before she could answer, it opened.

"Offer still stands," came the gruff, familiar voice.

"Answer still stands," she replied flatly, not looking up from her writing. She heard him sigh and her quill stopped. She knew he was worried about her. He nearly always was. "Tomorrow," she conceded, finally looking up at him.

He raised a doubting eyebrow.

"Harry, I promise," Hermione assured, but he didn't seemed convinced.

She put down her quill and rounded the desk, trying to keep the aggravated sigh from rising in her throat. Knowing that Harry meant well didn't make his constant hovering any less annoying. She took him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. "Tomorrow, dinner, I promise. You can even invite whomever you'd like, make a thing of it if you want. That way I can't cancel on you."

Harry thought on her words for a moment before a smile spread across his face. She knew that smile, she did not like that smile.

"Alright then, it'll be a proper party. Ah ah—" he held a finger up at the sight of her face, knowing she was about to protest, "you just promised."

"Okay, okay," she mumbled, pushing him towards the threshold. "Tomorrow, after work." Harry smiled.

"Hermione," he said as she began to close the door. She stopped, waiting for him to continue. "Do me a favor, don't stay here too late. Go home, get some sleep, yeah?"

She rolled her eyes, but smiled at her friend. "Goodnight, Harry."

As his footsteps retreated down the hall, she returned to her desk only to stare at the many parchments that cluttered it. Proper party? Why did she have to open her big mouth?

Sighing, she rubbed her eyes then glanced up at the clock on her wall. Her Ministry work day was officially over, and she could start on her other projects. She scoffed at herself as she rolled up the parchments and cleared off her desk. Projects? As if they were some after school book report she was working on. She really should start giving herself a little more credit. In the three years she'd been out of school, and the two she'd been at the Ministry, she'd come a long way in her advocacy efforts. Sure she was nowhere near where she wanted to be, but she'd made some large strides nonetheless.

For example, she was especially proud of her work at Hogwarts. While retaking her final year, she worked closely with McGonagall in beginning to improve inter-house relations by mixing all four houses into classrooms as opposed to just two per period, creating multiple 'common rooms' throughout the castle in which students of any house may spend time, launching a myriad of extracurricular clubs, and putting together multiple events throughout the year such as dances and festivals. They had even made plans for a student exchange program.

Yes, she was extremely proud of her work at the school and was quick to pick up different causes as soon as she could after graduation. She started, of course, with the House Elves, and when that hit a big, red, bureaucratic wall she moved on to Lycanthropy rights. When that too was brought to a grinding halt she started working towards raising funds for an orphanage. (St. Mungos was on the brink of overrunning before the war and the strain due to its lack of resources only grew afterwards.) It was slow at the start, being just her and whichever of her friends she could coax into helping, but over time she began to amass volunteers and even a few employees. Things were gaining momentum, and if they happened to be doing so faster than she could keep up well, then she'd just have to adjust.

She looked down at the new parchments spread out in front of her and groaned. She'd have to adjust quickly.

"Alright," she whispered, mentally preparing herself as she straightened up the bit of House Elf legislation in front of her. It had been sent back for revisements again, but, of course, only after having been held from her for months. She was starting to get dizzy with all of the back and forth they were putting her through. Was it really that hard to admit that living, sentient beings deserved a little respect and decency?

"Of course they think fifteen Galleons a week is too much," she mumbled, reading over the new marks on the page. "If you're the type that has House Elves to begin with, then I'm sure that's just pocket change!" She huffed and dipped her quill into the ink pot, scratching out the amendment and adding, '20!' beneath it.

Some time later, another knock sounded. She let out a sharp exhale and looked at her clock, it was only seven. Harry would have to get it through his thick skull that seven wasn't late for her. It was average.

"I swear I will hex you into next week if you—" she started as she swung the door open, but her words wedged in her throat as she saw that this person was most definitely not Harry. She swallowed them back in exchange for a different one. "Malfoy?"

He arched a perfectly blond eyebrow but his face remained, otherwise, unaffected. Though it was just as sharp, and pale, and cold as she remembered. His eyes were dark and unflinching, staring down at her with an intensity that chilled her bones.

Her left foot stepped back, slowly moving her away from him. She saw his eyes flicker behind her, to her wand resting on her desk, and she was instantly aware of how vulnerable she was. She'd never been particularly afraid of him, never even a little threatened, but caught off guard, alone and wandless in her dimly lit office, she could admit to herself that she was at least a little concerned.

He blinked and in an instant seemed to take in her fear and pulled his arms behind him, averting his gaze as he took a small step back. It did little in the way of putting more space between them, but it was a gesture that Hermione understood. He was surrendering any higher ground he may have held, relenting the upper hand to her. Still, she reached for her wand before addressing him again.

"What are—I thought you were…" Or, try to address him again, anyway.

His chin lifted and his tone was short, and pained. "I was. I served my time, I'm out, and now I'd like to help."

Hermione's confusion overrode any fear and she stepped closer to him. "Help—help with what, exactly?"

His lip twitched, as if he were fighting back a snarl, but he otherwise looked bored. "You know," he drawled, waving a hand vaguely in the air around her. Her eyes widened.

"You want a job at the Ministry?" she asked, drawing her words out,looking about the office as she tried to make some sense out of his words. He had to know the Ministry would never hire him, didn't he?

He made a small noise that she only barely recognized as a chuckle. "Are you daft? No. No, of course not." He gestured again, this time more at her than the room. "At your little… group… thing." He hadn't even tried to hide his distaste.

The indignation rose in her chest as she moved even closer. "Little group thing?" she huffed, enunciating each word. "You show up uninvited to my office, call me daft and insult my work in the same breath, and then expect me to just give you a job? Crawl back into your hole, Malfoy."

Hand on the door, she fully intended to slam it in right into his smug little face but with little more than a flash of a grimace he pushed his foot out, stopping the door in its tracks. Hermione's eyes grew wide and she opened her mouth to protest, but he spoke too quickly.

"The Creevey Foundation," he acquiesced, his jaw flexing as his eyes fixed on a spot on the door, deliberately avoiding eye contact.

Hermione's heart dropped a little.

When she'd named her advocacy group after one of the war's most innocent of victims she thought it'd be a great memorial, and a good reminder of why she was doing what she was doing. But she, and quite a few others, found it hard to call the foundation by it's given name. It dredged up too many horrible memories, and most everyone took to just calling it, 'The Foundation' in general conversation. Hearing that name come out of his mouth was just… wrong.

"You know the name of my foundation, congratulations. Now if you don't mind—" She finished her sentence by slamming the door onto his foot, hoping she scuffed those over-priced leather shoes of his.

This time he put his hand on the door, and pushed against it. He locked eyes with her. "You are over nineteen hundred Galleons short on your werewolf rights fundraiser; you are nowhere near getting that Muggle building for your proposed orphanage; and you will need actual offices if you continue to grow at the rate you are now." He took a beat then, almost as an afterthought, added, "Merlin Granger, do you even have any idea as to what really goes on in getting a bill passed? Because if you are not willing to do whatever it takes, then you can bid your precious House Elf reformation goodbye."

Her nails dug into the door until her knuckles turned white. She'd half zoned out three seconds into his rant, staring at the floor behind him as her anger bubbled inside of her chest. All she heard was the voice of an old school bully listing off each and everyone of her failures. The words left his lips as objective observations on the current state of her affairs only to contort in the air and hit her ear as every self-doubt and self-criticism she'd ever had about herself.

"You're over nineteen hundred Galleons short and don't think I've forgotten how ridiculously overgrown your teeth used to be."

"You're nowhere near getting that Muggle building just like you're nowhere near where you should be at this point in your life."

"You'll need actual offices if you continue to grow and you need to learn how to make room for people in your life or else you'll end up alone forever."

"...then you can bid your precious House Elf reformation goodbye."

His voice echoed, threw her from her thoughts as the realization hit her. He'd done his research. He hadn't just shown up at her door expecting a job, he'd come prepared. She was almost impressed.

No, she told herself. So he'd done his research, so what? Did she really expect any less of him? It was probably how he knew she'd be here, alone in her office, long after most had gone home. The new knowledge, that he'd in all likelihood planned to corner her like this, made her even angrier. She was being manipulated and she would not stand for it.

She steeled herself and finally looked back, ready to unleash a fury on him. She was taken aback, though, when she saw his face. His features had softened, and his eyes were searching hers, the vehement hatred replaced with trepidation and a hint of… desperation? Suddenly he was less the smug, snotty bastard he'd been in their youth and more of the broken boy she'd seen running from the final battle.

"Face it, Granger," he said, his tone lower, "you need me."

Any sympathy she'd just gained for him vanished. "If you think for one—"

"And—" he jumped, and she saw his Adam's apple bob. "And I… need this."

Her hands went to her temples. She was much too tired, too overworked, to be dealing with him and his need for instant gratification.

"Please," he added, and she knew he was working her. But she couldn't deny that having Malfoy's knowledge and, more importantly, his money, would help tremendously. But was it worth it? Wouldn't it be like selling her soul? What she really needed was time to think.

"Fine," she conceded through her teeth. She could see his body sag every so slightly, like he was finally breathing. "My office, seven am sharp. If you are even one—"

"Granger, I am nothing if not punctual."

"One second late," she stressed and over-enunciated each word to drive her point home, "then you will find somewhere else to absolve your conscience." She punctuated the end of her sentence with a stomp to his foot, and when he drew it back in pain she slammed the door shut.

Well that's chapter one! Thank you all so much for reading and all your support! Please leave a review if you liked it, or come talk with me on tumblr if that's your thing : ) My url is ' nxrcissamxlfoy ' so come say hi!

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