Possible Spoilers/Warnings: None
Author's Notes: Probably not what you had in mind when you gave your prompt, but I hope you enjoy anyway. There are a few consulting lingo: RFP = Request for proposal, deck = PowerPoint presentation. Finally, thanks a million to my lovely beta, Nowamlost.
Summary: All things change, eventually.
It all started with an email that arrived at eight on Sunday. I was, as usual, sitting in the living room watching a football game at the burrow with my ever-growing family, after another one of the infamous Weasley family dinners. Mum was coming around to hand each of us a nice cup of tea and butter cookies, when my phone buzzed. My hand instantly went for the phone: there was a presentation at B&Y the day after, and I had asked Marcus to send me the deck for review end of day.
My mother, with her hawk eye, caught me before I could even touch the phone.
“Ginny, I really wish you would stop working on the weekend,” she said, her voice a mix of disappointment and disapproval. I shrugged as I usually did whenever my work habit is brought up, which was very often. Mother, who had only worked briefly as a secretary, and stopped working within two weeks after she found out she was pregnant with Charles, never really understood why I wanted a career.
“If only you had listened to me back then and stopped working so much, you and Harry would still be together now,” she lamented wistfully.
There she goes again, I thought, and barely resisted a heavy sigh – which would have definitely earned me more nagging. Harry, my ex, eleven months and counting. Mum, hell, everyone, thought we would be together forever. Mum still holds on to the perverse hope that someday we will get back together. She believes it so wholeheartedly; she still invites Harry to our family dinner. Most weeks, Harry has the sense to decline; his work as an investigator at the Serious Fraud Office makes it easy, but as he is best friends with Ron and Hermione, avoiding him forever is impossible. Not that I would be happy if I never saw him again: Harry is dear to my heart, ex or not, but the end of a seven year relationship inevitably comes with baggage that doesn’t mix well with family dinners.
Then, before Mum could say more, George, my blessed, favorite, brother came to my rescue. “Mum, Ginny is happy doing what she does. I, for one, am proud of her. Not many brothers have the youngest senior manager in Dumbledore & McGonagall as a little sister.”
“Well, I never said I am not proud of her,” Mum protested lamely, before turning her attention to Hugo who had just accidentally spilled his tea, “Don’t worry about it, Hermione dear,” she said, and went away to grab the mop.
“Thanks,” I said to George once Mum walked away.
He put a comforting hand on my shoulder, “Mum will get use to this, eventually.”
“I hope so,” I said with a slight smile.
“She will,” he assured me with that brother-always-knows-best smile, before heading back to his wife.
I turned my attention back to my phone and, sure enough, found an email from work – but not from Marcus. The email was from McGonagall, and it was marked urgent.
From: McGonagall, Minerva (UK - London)
Sent: Sunday, April 14, 2013 8:05 PM
To: Weasley, Ginevra (UK - London)
Subject: [URGENT] Gringotts National Bank RFP
As you already know, Gringotts acquired the Zabini Trust for 10 billion last week. As part of the deal, Gringotts had released a 50 mil public RFP for an all-inclusive merger and acquisition project.
I went through the RFP this morning with Pomona and we believe we have the expertise and capability to fulfil the RFP. We have decided to pursue, and we have marked this project as a must win. We want you to join the sales pursuit team for your core banking conversion experience.
Don’t worry about the presentation at B&Y. I have contacted Neville, and he will take care of everything on that front. We are meeting at my office at 8am tomorrow morning. Please review the attached RFP ahead of the meeting.
<< File: GNB_M&A_2010 RFP.pdf >>
Dumbledore & McGonagall Consulting Ltd.
My heart was pounding. I could hardly breathe. 50 million M&A project, and very likely more. Minerva personal invitation onto the sales pursuit team.
Oh. My. God.
I was at the office at 7:45am sharp the next day. Needing something to occupy my hands and calm my nerves before the meeting, I decided to make myself a cup of Earl Grey at the kitchenette. I was in the middle of adding cream and sugar (yes, cream -- it tastes better. Take that traditionalists!) when Neville walked in behind me.
“Oh hi, Ginny,” he greeted before looking at his watch, “Wow, you are early.” he added – which was true – I am really not a morning person, so I never usually step into the office before nine.
“Special meeting with the bosses,” I explained between sips of my tea. “Thanks so much for taking over my meeting today. Marcus’ deck is okay, right?”
“His deck is fine, you trained him well,” he said, “Just treat me to lunch if you win the deal, Gringotts, right?”
“I can do better than that, if I win this deal, I will treat you and your wife to dinner at the Fat Duck,” I said with wink.
“You better win it then. Hannah has always wanted to try that mock turtle soup with the dissolving golden watch after she saw it on the telly.”
“I will do my best,” I promised, before heading off.
7:00am. My future is waiting. I am ready to go. I was outside of Minerva’s office, notes and draft of a proposal outline in hand, as nervous excitement hummed through my body. I took one last sip of my tea and raised my hand to knock.
The door swung open before my hand touched the door.
“Oh, sorry,” said the man who opened the door.
I stared. Platinum blond hair, cool grey eyes, aristocratic cheek bones-- he looked older than I remember, but I recognized him right away. How could I not? He looked so much like his father, and I can never forget the horrible, hateful man who had a hand in Fred’s death. What was he doing here?
“Good timing, Miss Weasley,” said Minerva behind him. “Meet your partner for Gringotts Proposal.”
“Draco Malfoy,” the name escaped my lips before I could stop myself. My insides turned cold, the excitement I felt a moment ago evaporated.
He looked surprised and a little abashed to hear his name. Did he recognize me? I saw him in the peripherals at his father’s trial sometimes. Did he have the decency to remember at least one of the families his father broke while serving one of the most evil, immoral men in recent history?
“I am sorry,” he extended his hand to me, though he did not look one bit apologetic, “Miss Weasley, I know we met before, but I cannot remember your name.”
The tension in the air was thick as we exited the war-room. We had all but strangled each other before Malfoy called for a word outside. The ducklings were staring at us, I could feel their eyes on my back; I would have felt sorry for them, had I not felt so sorry for myself.
“Ginevra, the Gringotts personally sent the RFP to Mr. Malfoy. They practically asked for his participation,” Minerva told me, when I asked for a different partner. Then she added, leaving the underlying implication quite clear, “I would never force you into anything you are not comfortable with, but I hope you can give this project a chance.”
The partners in their all-encompassing wisdom knew how much my career meant to me. They knew I could not let a 50 million dollars project slide, but they were wrong about one thing: career on the line or not, I could never work with this man, and this day had just proved it.
“What do you want, Malfoy?” I asked, still seething from his know-it-all tone earlier, when he shot down my last instruction to the ducklings.
“What do I want?” Malfoy asked, having the tenacity to look exasperated, “Weasley, what is the matter with you? You know very well that price is not one of our selling points. Why are you getting the team to write up so much on pricing?”
He had a point. Of course he did, but I couldn’t admit it, not when I was dealing with him. I countered: “Because we need to make sure we at least have a chance. If our price is the double of our competitors, why would they choose us?”
“They will choose us because I am on the project and --”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Could anymore be more arrogant, egotistic, and delusional about their family's tainted connections? I stopped him before he could make my ears bleed, “Because your grandfather used to be chairman there?” I asked pointedly, “Do you forget how far your family has fallen from grace?”
“I worked with them a few years back, in their successful American merger.”
“Wait, you worked on the Lemen & Sons project?” I asked as I counted the years between the horrible trial and the legendary project that got Dumbledore & McGonagall Consulting off the ground. “How did you ever convince anyone to let you near a bank just three years after what happened?”
He looked at me like he realized we had both being speaking in tongues. “You are Fred Weasley’s sister,” he whispered under his breath, his eyes wide in remembrance, silently making the connections, “You think – I never –” he swallowed hard, jaw clenching, and in the end he settled for, “No one found any connection between me and the Riddle Scandal.”
It was the most incoherent denial of guilt I had ever heard. “Just because you never got caught doesn’t mean you are innocent,” I said sharply, “And don’t try to act like you are a victim, because you are not. You are just some rich kid living off of daddy’s stolen money and a sordid lot of shady family connections. You are nothing but a shadow of your father.”
He flinched like he had been slapped, and he looked away, visibly hurt. He stood still for some horrible seconds, dark and silent.
“Think what you like, Weasley,” he said finally, “I am going back to check on the team.”
The rest of the week flew by. Malfoy and I both mellowed just enough after our one-on-one to not throw the proposal under the bus. There was still tension, but it was diluted with something unidentifiable that kept the two of us subdued. We avoided talking to each other more than necessary, and when we did, we kept the conversation professional. Once or twice, I couldn’t help myself, and let a few insults slip out of my lips, but Malfoy simply ignored them. He didn’t even complain when I suggested that we work on Saturday to finish the pricing model at the office. It was surprising how productive one could be when there were absolutely no chitchats, jokes, or friendly banter – we finished the model in just two hours.
Sunday came and caught me quite unprepared. The past week had been so exhausting that I woke up past two. It was Hugo’s ten birthday celebration, and I had not even had a chance to think about his gift. I rushed to the mall in search of a hasty present, found it (the biggest Lego set I could find), and made it to the Burrow just in the nick of time for dinner.
I knew something was wrong the moment Mum shot me a Cheshire Cat smile and personally ushered me to my seat at the table. My intuition was unfortunately proven right five minutes later, when the bell rang. Mum nearly ran to the door, and my stomach churned in an unpleasant way when I heard the familiar voice at the door. Harry. Harry was here and the only empty chair was the one next to me – my scheming mother had planned all of it. Dear God, that woman is positively evil.
Harry entered into the room with a rather large wrapped box for Hugo, giving hellos and kisses like he was family, looking as handsome as always, and dressed in all my favorite clothes (I practically shopped for his whole closet in the seven years I dated him). My heart ached, as it often did when I saw him. I am really not as bonkers as Mum thinks – I do know how great he is: great with kids, loves my family, handsome, rich, savior of the world. I really wished everything had worked out, because, I knew, chances were, I would never find someone better than him.
Breaking up with him was the hardest thing I have ever done.
The second hardest thing is sitting next to him again after our break-up.
It’s so awkward now, like everything between us is covered in red tape. We don’t look past each other anymore, as we did for the first three months, but we still can’t really behave normally around one another. After our initial quiet hellos, Harry and I kept our contact to a minimum and attempted the near-impossible task of talking to everyone at the table except to each other.
With dinner was finished, the cake cut, the gifts opened, and the kids had run off to play on the PS3 Harry bought Hugo (Harry, no doubt, had instantly became Hugo’s favorite uncle with that gift), Mum asked Hermione and Fleur to help her with tea, and my brothers to help with the clean-up. Noticing what Mum was trying to do, I stood up and offered to help as well.
“No, Ginny you stay and catch up with Harry,” mum said in a voice that left no room for argument. She must have noticed what Harry and I were doing.
I sat back down, and for some time, the silence stretched between us like molasses. It was extremely awkward, so I decided to break it with the usual, “How are you?”
“Good, busy. Working lots,” Harry replied curtly, though not unkindly.
“In the middle of another one of your hush-hush cases?” I asked.
He smiled sheepishly and nodded, though I already knew the answer. Harry-- the man who gathered enough evidence against Voldemort Financial as an intern, and the man who turned Serious Fraud Office around single-handedly, from an organization known for its ineffectiveness, to one of the top fraud countering governmental organizations in the world-- was often pulled into the worst of cases. For him, there was never enough time. When we were living together, sometimes I would not see him for weeks.
“What have you been up to?”
“Oh, you know, the same old,” I said, purposefully vague. “I started another proposal – it’s a big one this time.” I made sure to keep Malfoy’s name out of the conversation. I had no intention of letting my over-protective brothers’ rise to “protect” their little sister from evil, and, in the chivalric process, very possibly ruining my chance of making partner in a few years.
“Good luck,” Harry said, before silence swallowed to two of us in waves.
Words don’t come between the two of us easily. They haven’t for years. In the time leading up to the breakup, we talked about other people, but never about our lives, our feelings, or anything else that was important. Maybe it was Harry’s long absence, maybe it was because Harry could never talk about work, which was also his life, maybe it was the complacency after dating for so many years…. Or maybe it was because long ago, I gave up and buried myself in my work to save myself from having time to think about “what if”.
Whatever it was, it led us here, and all the love in the world, and even the most passionate beginning to a relationship could not kept us together.
Malfoy and I submitted our response for shortlisting on Thursday night. All that was left to do was to wait and see if we were shortlisted to present on August 20th. It meant I could take my scheduled time off in relative peace, and that I would not need to see Malfoy’s face for nearly a month.
The break came at a good time because May was approaching, and May was the month when Fred died.
I knew from the beginning that this May would be a particularly bad one: for the first time, I would spend May without big plans. George and I usually took a long trip together and travelled to different places honouring Fred’s memory, but Angelina fell pregnant eight months prior, and George did not want to leave her alone so close to her due date. I was prepared for that; my therapist and I drew up a schedule to keep me occupied on the days leading up to Fred’s death date. What I was not prepared for were the nights.
There’s this reoccurring nightmare that I have sometimes. Despite having this nightmare for years, I could never remember the details when I woke up with tears flowing out my eyes. Still, I knew it was the same dream, and it was about Fred and how I failed to stop him that day. I haven’t had this dream for over a year, but somehow, in the absence of George and the healing trip, the nightmare returned with a vengeance, and this time, there was no Harry to comfort me when I woke up.
Instead, I found myself alone, sobbing uncontrollably. Solitary, in the dark, my mind relived, again and again, that day, ten years ago, when I drove like a mad woman, zipping between cars in heavy traffic, while George talked to Fred on his cell phone, begging and begging for him not to jump off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. They were in the middle of building the barriers then, but Fred somehow managed to get past the construction without anyone noticing…
We never got there in time, but we saw him jump.
And I could hear the bone crushing splash that followed, as clearly in my head as if it was just yesterday.
It almost made me desperate enough to run to Harry’s place and beg him to take me back, to hug me and whisper sweet nothings in my ears, until I could fall asleep again-- but I didn’t do that, couldn’t do that, so I waited for my tears to dry, and I lay awake, wide-eyed, at the shadows projected onto the wall by the streetlights until dawn.
May dragged on painfully. Half way through the second week, I gave up sleeping all together and, in my exhausted state, decided it was a good idea to visit Fred’s grave in the middle of the night.
I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else at the graveyard, least of all Malfoy, but there he was, walking out of the grave yard, just as I was about to walk in. We both stopped in our track like deer caught in headlights. I had the distinct feeling that God hated me. Why did it have to be him? Why did it have to be now?
“Why are you here?”
“It’s a public space, Weasley,” he said coolly, “You are not the only one who lost someone.”
“But the person I lost was innocent. Whoever you lost probably deserved to die,” I said and instantly regretted my words. Malfoy took in a sharp, angry breath, and I knew without looking at him I went too far. Even if he had no rights to compare himself to me, his loss to my loss, he had still lost. His mother’s murder was all over the news eight years ago. He did not deserve that, no one deserved that. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that.”
“But you did,” he suggested darkly. “I suppose, to you, my mother’s death was probably just bad karma.”
The memory of a distant Sunday after-dinner discussion, when the news first broke on the unnatural death of Narcissa Malfoy, kept me from protesting. It was justified retribution, I said then, bitter and self-righteous: it was a fitting end to a woman whose husband directly brought so much grief to my family.
Malfoy gave a harsh, sardonic laugh. “What? No insincere words of denial?”
“I don’t believe that now,” I replied.
“Meaning you did at some other time?” he asked rhetorically. “You righteous lot always have a funny way of apologizing.”
“At least, I apologized and felt sorry,” I told him, riled by his words. What more could he expect? Wasn’t I already feeling more sympathetic than anyone in my situation should? Even if I had at some point thought Narcissa Malfoy deserved to die, even if I had said something insensitive… What of it? “You probably never felt sorry for anything other than yourself.”
“That’s not true, I am sorry,” Malfoy replied with teeth gritting conviction. “I am sorry for many things! I am sorry about your brother. I am sorry I couldn’t stop my father from working for Tom Riddle. I am sorry I didn’t protect my mother like I should.”
The air around us stilled. I swallowed hard, unable to glance away from him as he combed his hair with his fingers in anguish. “Sometimes…” he mused, not quite looking at me, his pale face flushed, “I think you people should have just taken those of us like me-- I mean, the not-guilty-enough-to-be-imprisoned, but-guilty-enough-to-never-be-trusted-ag
Poppy Pomphery, my therapist, had insisted I schedule a session after Fred’s death anniversary.
I didn’t argue, I needed someone to talk to after the annual visit to Fred’s grave and the long family dinner of remembrance at the Burrow that followed. The gathering always upsets me, but I go anyway because I am stupid and silly. I liked talking to Poppy; she was a great listener, not judgemental, never hurtful, and she often seemed to ask the just right question to sort out my own feelings. Talking with her was safe.
I told her about how I sighed in relief, even as I experienced the most stomach wrenching loss, when I realized Harry would not be attending the gathering this year. I told Poppy about the lump at the back of my throat when I saw the bored expression on the children’s faces, none of them could feel the sadness for losing an uncle that they never knew. I told her about the abhorrent loneliness and jealousy I felt when I saw George unconsciously rubbing his wife’s round stomach.
When there was nothing else to be said about the gathering, I told her about the nightmares, my sleeplessness, my mid-night grave visit, and finally, Malfoy, and how every time I talked to him, horrible, cruel things sprouted out my mouth.
“Do you think he is guilty, Poppy?” I asked her eventually.
“It’s not my place to say, Ginevra. The question really is: do you?”
I considered her question carefully. “I used to be so certain he was guilty. My mind painted him as dark as night,” I admitted slowly, “But now, having worked with him, having talked to him, I don’t know anymore…”
“I think…” Poppy encouraged me to elaborate silently. I closed my eyes as I finally managed to distill a conclusion, “I think I want to give him a chance.”