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Opportunity Cost by Persephone33
Story Notes:
This was written rpg style (Mynuet as Draco, Persephone33 as Ginny) for the Summer '09 fic exchange on Livejournal, where it won a literary award for favorite line.
Opportunity Cost by Persephone33
It had probably taken a lot of guts for the girl to come here. When he'd seen the name Weasley on his agenda, Draco had thought his secretary took leave of her senses. Then he'd decided it could be fun, as he hadn't indulged in childish taunts for a while and he rather missed the exercise, so he didn't insist on the appointment being canceled.

The fact that it was the girl Weasley threw him for a moment, but he had time to recover as she made her way across the carpeted expanse of his office before coming to stand in front of his desk. He didn't stand, although he'd had to consciously plan the insult since it was an automatic reaction to show the courtesy to anyone female. And she was definitely that, with the prim little business suit she wore cut perfectly to accentuate her curves without being obvious and tacky. At least her hair was still garishly ginger, even if she had tamed it into a smooth chignon.

"And why is it that a Weasley needs to talk to a Malfoy?" he asked the instant she reached his desk, keeping her off balance by not offering her a seat or giving her a chance to speak.

"Good morning to you, too," Ginny said sarcastically before consciously biting her tongue to keep herself from continuing in the same vein. She needed this man's help. Even though he was a fascist, snobbish, prig-faced arse, she needed him, and she needed him to help her as soon as possible. Being cheeky definitely wouldn't accomplish that. She put on her best charming smile, took a deep breath, and said, "I understand that your company is in direct competition with Blaise Zabini of ZBN Limited."

Draco's expression soured. "A brief perusal of the business pages would tell you that any day of the week. Was that all?"

"No," she said, willing her tone to stay even and sweet. "As it happens, I'm having a spot of trouble with them as well. They're doing their level best to buy the land that my shop sits on." She smiled in earnest thinking about her quaint little bookstore. "Perhaps you've passed it? Knights and Faeries?"

"Corner of Diagon and Charing Cross, right across from the Cauldron?" Prime real estate - Draco had wondered before how such a niche store managed to afford it. That it was a Weasley that owned it made him doubly curious.

"That's the one," she answered, pleased that he knew its exact location. "Zabini is trying to put me out of business; he wants to put up a new shopping center that will include some awful chain bookstore." She frowned, the corner of her lips pulling down as she thought about it. "And he's not giving me the opportunity to buy in. They've used repelling spells to keep my customers away, and I think he's actually had the place cursed," she said indignantly.

Draco was intrigued. A shopping center that merged muggle and wizard goods, right at the most prominent intersection in wizard England, would be a cash cow par excellence. "Shocking. Was there a point to this informational session?"

Ginny's teeth clenched involuntarily. "Of course. I wouldn't waste your very valuable time without a point."

She paused. That sounded sincere, didn't it? she thought, trying to narrow her focus to the prize. She could do this. It was the entire reason she'd come to see the arse. "I've a proposition for you," Ginny said, placing her hands on his desk and leaning in just a touch. "One where you get to cause your greatest business rival embarrassment, and make him - them - miss out on making an absolutely amazing pile of Galleons."

"I see," he said, wondering just how far forward she would lean. Her breasts were spectacular.

He appeared to be listening, but his gaze wasn't exactly trained on her face. She snapped her fingers and pointed above her neck. "Malfoy?" she asked, trying for an amused rather than annoyed tone. "I'm up here."

"A fact of negotiation you apparently haven't picked up in your brief foray into the world of business," Draco said haughtily, running his eyes over her body in a clear appraisal, "is that you should take every advantage available to you. Really, if you had any business sense, you'd be leaning forward in the hopes of further clouding my mind."

"I could just do a striptease instead," she suggested drily.

The corner of his mouth hitched up and he said, "You could. And afterwards, I would tell you another rule of business, which is to stop while you're ahead. A discreet flash of bosom is distracting without compromising your ability to be businesslike. A lap dance, which enjoyable, would definitely make you seem as if you're in an entirely different sort of business."

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a second as she composed herself. "Listen," she began, gaining some semblance of control. "I was joking about taking my clothes off. What I suggest is that you help me keep my business. As I said, it would cause Zabini a great amount of personal distress and hit him in his Gringotts account." She crossed her arms over her chest, now profoundly aware of the fact that he was aware of her breasts. "What do you say, Malfoy?"

"I'll take the matter under consideration." And he would - especially since there was the possibility he could steal Blaise's idea and cash in on it himself. It had been sneaky of his friend and rival to get the project this far without Draco knowing about it, but thanks to Weasley he was in a position to come out completely on top. "For now, I'll just offer another small lesson on business - a suggestion, really."

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "I'm listening."

"If you're not going to use the aurors to handle the question of curses..." He trailed off to look at her inquisitively. "Were you planning to?"

She gave a slight cough. "I came to you first. Rather than get tangled up in all the Ministry's red tape," she said sheepishly.

"Well, then," he said, satisfied that at least she showed some sense. "What makes you think Blaise would want to get entangled in that same red tape if similar magic was used against ZBN?"

"You think I should curse him?" she asked. "His company, that is?"

Standing, he walked across to his glass-fronted bookcase and used the spell to unlock and show the books on the shady-but-not-illegal shelves, one set of seven that were stored there. After a quick scan of the titles, he asked, "Do you know what curse he used on you?"

"If I knew that, I'd have already taken care of it myself, wouldn't I?" she asked. That wasn't strictly true, though she didn't think he knew that.

"Look through this," he said, handing her the book. "He wouldn't be trying anything much worse yet; it'd be too indiscreet. Figure out what he's using and then return it to him."

Ginny reached out and took the book, and looked at Draco again. Standing, he was more impressive: tall, with broad shoulders. And when he wasn't busy being condescending, he was sort of handsome. Almost. "Thank you, Malfoy. I'll return it as soon as I figure out what he used."

With a shrug, he said, "If I need it, I know where to find you."

"Um, yeah," she said, a little uncomfortable with the thought of him finding her at all. "You do, I suppose." She turned to go, looking over her shoulder at him. "I look forward to hearing from you. About my proposition."

"I look forward to responding to being propositioned by you," he said with a smirk. "Good day, Miss Weasley."

"Bye, Malfoy," she replied, wondering why exactly she felt as if she'd bitten off more than she could chew.

***


"And so the fair maiden, not needing to be saved by a handsome prince, or anyone else for that matter, climbed down the tower, crept past the sleeping dragon and returned to the land of Far Away, living happily ever after."

The little girls surrounding Ginny in the brightly-colored story time nook clapped their little hands together in glee, laughing and cheering at the end of the story. "And you want to know a secret?" Ginny asked, leaning forward and whispering conspiratorially.

The gaggle of little girls in their tiaras, glitter and faerie wings leaned into Ginny, falling silent.

Ginny smiled "The best way to find your prince charming? Never go looking for him," she advised. "Let him find you."

The little girls giggled and clapped again, dispersing to find their mothers and drag them off to all four corners of the store. Ginny stood, straightening the chairs and smiling to herself. She loved this job, the store and everything that went with it. It was a labour of love.

"You realize you just set those children up for a lifetime of romantic disappointment, don't you?" Draco was leaning against a bookshelf at just right spot to be able to watch the storytelling without being seen. "How well did it work out for you to pine away in hopes that Prince Charming would notice you someday?"

"My life's not over," she said airily. "It isn't as though I'm a spinster. And I don't think you're qualified to critique my romantic advice to six year-old girls, do you?" She shelved the book she'd been reading and looked up at him. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence, anyway? Have you thought about my idea?"

"I'm always thinking," he said with a slight smile. "I had some time on my hands, and I thought I'd come down to see what you think is worth fighting for."

"Oh," she said, returning his smile. "Would you like a tour of the place? I have a few minutes before the next story time."

Pleasantly, he said, "Lead on, Weasley." And, if she had to bend over again while doing so, he wouldn't object.

She took him into the stacks, a brightly lit, colorful array of bookshelves with nooks and crannies built in so that children could curl up and read. "We have fiction, of course, divided into mystery, fantasy and fairy tales, and then non-fiction and biographies," she said, leading him through the rooms. "And this is the Imaginarium." This room was long and wide, and painted every color of the rainbow, with a door at either end. "Depending upon the clientele, whether magical or muggle, it changes to turn into the setting of the child's favorite book. It can be rented for parties, so it's one of the sources of revenue for me."

"How do you keep muggles from encountering magic?" The place was charming, although Draco wasn't about to say so. "If Blaise can cause trouble using the Statute of Secrecy, he will."

"We have Muggle days. For them, there's a sign on the door that says we're only open on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, and when they're here there's a magic dampening field that cuts down on accidents." She looked at him and said, "I'm fully licensed by the Ministry, if that's what you're getting at; I got a special grant from the Department of Magical and Muggle integration."

Nodding, he said, "Very wise." And could be applied to multiple stores. The idea of stealing Blaise's thunder and building a shopping center himself was becoming more and more appealing.

"Yes, well. I hope I've grown up a bit from the girl that you went to school with," she said. "Would you like to see the office?"

"If you like," he said casually. "Do you want me to look at your books, see if I spot something that can help fend off Blaise?"

"Yes, that would be lovely," she replied, leading him up the rainbow colored spiral staircase that led to her office door. "I haven't had much luck with that book you loaned me. Every time I open it, I get distracted. It's very odd."

As soon as the door closed behind them, he took hold of her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes directly. Tilting her face from side to side, he asked, "Have you been trying to read it just in this office, at home, elsewhere in the store, in a coffee shop?"

"Have you gone mad?" she asked breathlessly. When he didn't release her she thought quickly and answered, "At home once. And in my office. Nowhere else."

"Where were you when you made the decision to come see me?" He was still examining her eyes closely, watching for the slight sheen that would betray magical interference. "Was there a point at which you almost changed your mind?"

"I was in bed," she answered, looking up at him and realizing just how close he was. His eyes were such an unusual color and his lips were very, very close. "And I changed my mind half a dozen times before I actually made the appointment to come see you. You're you, after all," she said, shaking off his hands from her face. "What is wrong with you? You have gone mad!"

He picked up the curse book and flipped through the pages until he found the page he was looking for. "Come look at this."

"What?" she asked, frowning at the page. "It looks the way it always looks. Muddled and smudged." She looked up as if she'd just thought of an idea. "Do you want some tea? Coffee?"

"Sure, let's get some coffee," he said, closing the book and tucking it under his arm. "Let's go to the coffee shop around the corner, my treat."

"Okay," she replied easily. "You know, you might not be so bad," she thought aloud as she led him back down the rainbow stairs, tucking her hand in the crook of his arm.

He barely managed to stifle a snort. "It's thinking like that that'll get you bankrupt in no time. Everyone is bad - it's just a matter of whether they're bad in the same way you are."

She looked at him, still a bit confused until they stepped out into the cool, early spring air. Ginny blinked several times and jerked her arm away from his. "Sorry," she said, not sure if she was apologizing for touching him or for offending him by not wanting to touch him. "Where are we going?"

"Coffee shop," he said, ushering her forward. "And we're being discreet, so either keep moving or meet me later at my office."

She composed herself and lowered her voice. "For whose benefit are we being discreet, Malfoy? I don't have a disease, you know. 'Poor' is not catching," she said, even though she wasn't - in fact, she was fairly comfortable these days.

"Do you know who might or might not be watching your shop?" He arched an eyebrow as her mouth snapped shut and she continued walking down the sidewalk. "I thought not."

"Do you mean to say that someone is watching me? My employees? My customers? The children?" Her mouth opened and closed several times and she asked, "What kind of awful bastard would do that?"

Laughing, he said, "You really don't have any idea what kind of waters you're swimming in, do you?"

Ginny pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. "Am I supposed to be some sort of metaphorical fish in this scenario? Would you please get to the point?" she asked as he held the coffee shop door open open for her.

"I'll get us a table," he said, giving her a handful of galleons. "I want a black coffee and a pastry - something with cheese or chocolate."

"Yes, your excellency," she muttered, but went to the barista and placed the orders, anyway. She balanced the two hot beverages and two plates with pastries and found Draco sitting at a table poring over his book. "No, don't worry; I've got it," she said, placing his order in front of him.

This barely got a murmur, although he did reach out to take a sip of his coffee. "I'm pretty sure this is what he used, but the side effects if you break the curse incorrectly are very nasty. If you go to Mungo's, though, the jig is up."

"Blaise Zabini cursed me?" she asked quietly through clenched teeth. "Oh, no, he did not." She took a moment to process what Draco had said and asked, "Do you know how to break the curse, then?"

He looked up at her with a devilish grin. "Well, first you take off all your clothes..."

"Seriously, Malfoy," she hissed, drawing her cardigan more tightly around her bosom. "Don't tease. Besides that, I don't want to 'compromise my ability to be businesslike,' no matter how great of a cursebreaker you are."

Pushing the book across the table, he pointed to where it specified that the cursed person had to be ritually cleansed, the first step of which was to wear nothing more than a garment of raw linen. "I'm not a good enough cursebreaker to deviate from the instructions. I usually just hire someone."

"Oh," she said in relief. "Bill. Bill can do it."

"I think the curse is centered on your office, but you should have your boyfriend check you personally, the building, your house..." He took a bite of the cheese pastry she'd brought him and added, "It can't hurt to cover your hoops."

"What?" she asked, frowning at the mention of a boyfriend. "Oh," she said in realization. "I'm not dating anyone. Bill's my brother. He's a cursebreaker for Gringotts. I don't know why I didn't think of him first."

Shrugging, and vaguely why she didn't have a boyfriend, he said, "I suppose it could've been the curse."

Ginny poked viciously at the bun on the plate in front of her. "How dare he?" she hissed. "For money? How. Dare. He?"

"Capitalism is the worst system in the world," Draco said with a shrug. "Except, of course, for every single other alternative."

"Yes, well, that's no excuse." Ginny fumed a bit more. "Once I get Bill to break this curse, I'm going to get even with Blaise Zabini. You mark my words."

Taking another sip of his coffee, Draco said, "Just be careful. If he can get you into legal trouble, you'll lose the store anyway."

Ginny raised an eyebrow and the corner of her lips lifted in a smirk. "I learned a fair bit about being sneaky being the youngest of seven. You don't corner the market on that, you know."

"I'm sure you're very devious," he said condescendingly, blotting his mouth with a napkin. "Since my work here is done for now, I'll take my leave."

"Alright," Ginny said, looking up at him as he stood. "I'll get the book back to you after I see Bill. Thanks for the coffee."

He nodded graciously and departed, not sure where the nearest apparation point was outside of her store, but not letting that ruin a good exit.

Ginny looked after him, a bit befuddled. Was her company so terrible that he didn't even want to finish his pastry? She shook her head and chalked it up to Zabini's curse. There was no way on Earth that she was sitting in a coffee shop pining for Draco Malfoy. Ridiculous. She picked up the danish that he'd left and took a bite, picking up the book as she left. She had to get to Bill as soon as humanly possible.

***

When more than a week went by and Draco hadn't heard from Weasley, he started to wonder if the curse had been strong enough to make her forget to have it broken. The data he'd quietly gathered on property values in the area looked extremely promising, and the market research Blaise had done (and Draco got to look at thanks to some judicious bribes) was very, very tempting. Shopping in the wizard world hadn't changed much in decades, and the younger generations were going to muggle stores to compensate. It was part of why Weasley herself was doing so well - convenience led to sales, and being able to shop without having to fuss with muggle money or dress was very convenient.

If Weasley wasn't under a curse to affect her business judgment, she might even be a suitable manager for a store in the shopping center he was more and more certain he would build where her store stood. Of course, to know whether he should consider her as a candidate, he really should observe her in action.

That being decided, he told his secretary he'd be out for a while and apparated to the bookshop, wandering through and listening to what customers were saying and how the staff responded. Ginny found him behind a display of cuddly toys, sneering while a saleswoman described 'Goodnight Moon' as a classic in children's literature.

"You don't approve of 'Goodnight Moon?'" Ginny asked, laughing at the expression on his face. "Is there something more appropriate to read to young children at bedtime?"

"Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Aesop's Fables..." Draco shrugged. "You know, things with actual literary value."

"Yes, those are wonderful works," Ginny agreed, "but a bit beyond the attention span of the average nursery school-age child, don't you think?"

Pursing his lips, he said, "The Pooh stories. The Just-So Stories. A Child's Garden of Verses."

Ginny stood, gazing at him for a moment then broke into a fit of giggles. He stood, staring back at her with an irritated look on his face until she sobered. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "I was just trying to get past the fact that the evil, wicked, mean and nasty Draco Malfoy likes Pooh Bear." With this, she broke into giggles all over again.

"Actually, my favorite was Tigger," he said haughtily.

"Stop," she gasped, trying to catch her breath through the laughter. "I can't breathe."

Huffily, he crossed his arms and said, "Well, what did your mother read to you?"

After her giggles subsided, she offered, "'Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump,' 'The Fountain of Fair Fortune,' 'The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," Ginny named on her fingers. "To name a few."

"Philistine," Draco muttered.

Ginny started laughing again. "No one ever told me that you were funny." She ran a hand through her hair and tied to compose herself. "Apologies again. Now what can I do for you?" she asked before remembering. "Oh! Your book. Follow me; it's in my office."

Nodding, he followed her, although truth be told he'd forgotten about it. "How did you ever get to afford this place, anyway?"

"Well," she began, looking at him over her shoulder with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "You know how the shop is on the Muggle side of the street?"

Arching an eyebrow, he said, "Yes, I had somehow managed to notice that."

Ignoring his sarcasm, she continued, "Naturally, Muggles were repelled by the property; it was continually vacant, even rumored to be haunted."

Still waiting for the punchline, he said, "Right, that's standard with the hidden places. So?"

"So, I was able to get it for a steal, even though I practically had to sell a kidney to get it," she explained. "Fred and George helped with the spells to make it attractive to Muggles again, and I put in a lot of work myself. Long hours," she said, remembering. "A lot of painting charms."

"You did the work yourself?" That sounded a bit too much like he was impressed, which he was, but he didn't particularly want her to know that. "And you're sure it's all up to code?"

"Would I allow children and families in here if I wasn't?" she asked, turning to him with her hands on her hips.

Holding up his hands as if in surrender, he said, "No need to get fierce, Weasley, I believe you."

Nodding in satisfaction, she turned back and opened her office door. "So have you given any more thought to my proposal?" she asked, bending over to pull a book from one of the lowest shelves. "We're all curse free around here thanks to your book and my big brother."

"You proposed?" Enjoying the view, he said with mock breathlessness, "But this is so... So sudden!"

"See?" she asked. "Funny. You should really see if you could get a job in comedy rather than being a captain of industry," she returned drily, handing him his book.

Without waiting to be asked, he settled in one of her comfortable chairs and leaned back. "What's your current plan?"

"Well," she said, leaning against her desk, "Actually, my plan was going to be to listen to what you tell me to do," she said honestly. "This is sort of your forte, isn't it?"

It was a good thing that she was so trusting - it'd make it a lot easier to take advantage of her and get his shopping center built. The fact that it was too easy made him uncomfortable somehow. "It's not a good idea to go putting your faith in people. You'll be disappointed."

"Listen," she said firmly. "I'm reasonably sure that you're the only person that can best Zabini. All you have to do is say yes."

"What happens if I beat you along with Zabini?" He was tipping his hand, but she was a babe in the woods. It'd be like winning a footrace against a man with no legs.

"You want to win," she said, leaning toward him. "And to win properly, you'll want to emasculate him completely, won't you?"

Wincing, he said, "I'm not sure I'd use that particular word, but what've you got in mind?"

Ginny tilted her head. "Just that you taking what he obviously wants is the greatest revenge, don't you think? Plus all that money."

"What is it you think I'm taking?" he asked cautiously.

"What he wants," she answered, frowning. "The property. What else would it be?"

Maybe she wasn't quite as innocent as he'd thought. "So... You're okay with that?"

"He's trying to screw me, Malfoy," Ginny said. "I brought you in to screw him."

Leaning back, he grinned from the relief and said, "You'll enjoy working under me, Weasley. And that can have a double meaning any time you like."

"There's that comedian in you coming out again," she said sourly. "You should know that the teasing isn't as funny now that we're adults."

"Well, once you come on board as the manager for the bookstore in the new shopping center, I won't be able to try to talk you into sleeping with me." Draco flashed her his best roguish smile. "Sexual harassment is a serious issue, so I have to make my play well before it's a factor."

All of the playfulness went out of Ginny's tone as her eyes widened at what he'd just said. "Manager?" she asked, dumbfounded. "New bookstore? What on Earth are you talking about, Malfoy?"

Draco felt something sinking through his stomach and down to his toes. "As you said, I'm taking what he wants most."

"But not my bookstore," she clarified. "You're leaving my bookstore, right?" She looked at him, nearly panic stricken. "Because if you don't leave that alone, you'll be doing exactly what he was."

"Well, in essence, yes," he said. "I'd give you a fair price rather than curse you out of business, and then put you in charge of an expanded and modernized version of the store, with textbooks and sections for adults as well."

"I don't want to change my store, Malfoy," Ginny argued. "That was the whole reason I brought you in."

Genuinely confused, he asked, "What was supposed to be in it for me?"

"Putting one over on Blaise?" she asked weakly. But it all made sense to her now. Draco Malfoy wouldn't be doing her any favors, not unless they involved a whole vault full of Galleons. "You're going to put me out of business, too," she said in realization, sinking into her chair. "I've screwed myself."

"I thought..." His lips twisted in a grimace as he realized she really had been that naive, and he'd just killed any chance of cooperation. Not to mention of sleeping with her, and that was a bit more of a lurch than it strictly should have been. "Obviously I thought wrong."

"Obviously," Ginny stated flatly. She started gathering up stacks of parchment and envelopes on her desk, readying them for filing. When she spoke, she didn't look at him. "I think I'd like for you to leave my bookshop, now. While it's still mine."

He should have just left, but he wanted to explain. "Look, this doesn't have to be a bad thing. You'd still be almost completely autonomous, you just wouldn't have to worry so much about the bottom line, and there'd be money for capital improvements."

"You look," she said, slapping the parchment on the desk with more force than necessary. "I've worked my fingers to the bone for this place. It's mine, born out of blood, sweat and tears, and I've done it all myself. It's mine. I don't want to sell. Not to Zabini, and not to you." She stood abruptly, her chair skittering out from behind her.

"Money isn't important to me," she said, pointing a finger to the door. "Those children are. The ones that listen to me read 'Goodnight Moon' and the 'Tales of Winnie the Pooh.' They love this place, and keep coming, bringing their younger siblings to hear stories, too." She gazed at him, her eyes tired, her hair coming loose from the neat chignon it had been pinned into. "I don't expect you to understand, but if you rebuild, the magic will be gone, Malfoy."

Standing up, he bowed slightly. "I suppose not. Good day, Miss Weasley."

She nodded and watched him go from the corner of her eye, a disappointed feeling welling up in her. She was going to lose the shop, that much was certain, but it almost felt like she was losing something else as well, and it bothered her that she couldn't quite figure out what.


***


There was nothing to stop him now and so Draco went forward with plans for the shopping center, buying the properties on both sides of the bookstore and hiring muggle solicitors to tangle with environmental regulations, building regulations, historical societies, and all sorts of obstacles that required money to sort out. He'd started to go see Ginny a number of times, to ask how she'd dealt with all the mad starts muggles got up to, but then he remembered she wasn't speaking to him, and wouldn't help him even if she was.

It was while he was looking at the architect's drawing of what he was informed was an American-style "mall," that Pansy breezed into his office, clutching the hand of her offspring. Said offspring was in a frilly white dress and wearing an expression that made Draco very glad she couldn't hex anyone yet. "Darling, you're going to watch Elladora for a while. Cormac's taking me for a surprise romantic interlude, but I don't like the babysitter he picked out."

"Of course," he said with a withering look. "It's not as if I might have anything else to do, or a choice in the matter."

The sarcasm was completely ignored as Pansy said cheerfully, "So glad you see things my way. Cheers, darling!"

Once she was gone, Draco stared at the child and the child stared back. Looking exactly as her mother had, back when she and Draco had had their first fight and sealed their friendship, Elladora said firmly, "My name is Ellie. And if I get bored, sometimes things break."

He arched an eyebrow. "Excellent menace there, but you might want to work on your subtlety."

Planting a hand on her hip, she said, "I'm a kid."

"So you are. It explains why you're so short." Looking down at the plans, he looked back up at her. "Come here, I want your opinion."

"Sure," she replied with all the worldliness that a five-year old could muster. "What are these? Can I draw on them?"

Draco spread out the plans, with the ones for the new bookstore on top. "These are very expensive drawings of a store I'm thinking of building. You can draw on them, but then you have to pay for a new set, and it'd take your allowance for at least a few months."

Ellie's brows furrowed, and she glared at him, but the thought of losing galleons for that long was enough for her to keep her magical crayons to herself. "They look boring. What kind of store is it?" she asked sullenly.

"A bookstore," Draco said. "See, it's got a big children's section, so you'd have somewhere to go while your mum shops for herself."

"Mummy doesn't buy books. Mummy buys skirts, and dresses, and scarves, and perfume, and bellinis," Ellie said pointedly. "What kind of stuff would it have? The kid's bookstore?"

Shrugging, Draco said, "Books. Toys. Things like that."

Ellie sniffed. "I like the one that Mummy takes me to. All the rooms are rainbow colored and there's a blood traitor lady that's in charge. She reads books good, though."

"You don't think this one's just as good?" Draco looked from her to the drawings, surprised that Pansy of all people would've set foot in Ginny's store.

"I like it. There's little nooks and stuff to look at books. And that red haired lady never tells us to hurry up. And I had my birthday party in the 'Maginarum. It was fun. I made it be 'Little Princess' stuff. Everybody got a crown, but mine was the biggest," she said happily.

Tapping his finger on the plans, Draco thought hard and then shrugged. "Come on. We'll go there and you can tell me what you like about it in person."

"Good," she replied, sighing heavily. "I thought you were just going to talk the whole time."

Stung, or at least pretending to be, Draco said, "You know, some people like talking to me. I'm an excellent conversationalist."

"What does that mean?" Ellie asked, a frown on her pretty face. "Conversonlist?"

"It means I talk good," Draco sighed, lifting the little girl into his arms. "Hold on tight, okay? And keep all fluids internal. We want no repeat of the Great Floo Barf."

"You hold on tight," she reprimanded in her little soprano. "I only got sick 'cause you let me go too fast."

He scoffed, but gripped her closer. It'd taken a lot of fast talking and quite a bit of cash to soothe ruffled feelings and clean the carpets in the fifteen homes which had been liberally sprayed. Once they'd apparated, he peered at her closely. "All right there? Need a loo or anything?"

"Mummy said I should just go in your pocket, if I need to," she said, giggling and squirming to get down. "I'm okay. Let me go!"

Placing her on her feet, he adjusted her dress so every ruffle hung correctly, then smoothed her hair back. "There. Perfection itself."

She smiled and patted his cheek with her chubby hand. "That's what Mummy says, too," and skipped off, presumably to take a toy away from a lesser child.

"She came without Parkinson, today, I see," Ginny said from behind Draco. "I suppose I should thank you for the respite."

"Thank McLaggen," he said with a shrug. "Apparently he's too incompetent to procure adequate supervision for the child while whisking his wife away for a shag."

Ginny held up a hand. "Please, don't ever share that much information with me again," Ginny asked, her face paling. Her lips twisted into a sort of smile and she said, "What did I ever do to you for that kind of verbal abuse, anyway?"

He just smirked, turning to watch as Ellie examined another little girl, who was holding a plastic doll in a sparkly dress. "I don't see how you can stand being around the little horrors all day every day."

"To tell the truth, I don't have to spend all day with just one group," Ginny confessed. "But I enjoy it all the same." She looked out over the heads of the children and smiled. "It's cliche, but they really are the future, you know."

In one swift move, Ellie had hit the girl on the back of the head, taken the doll, and shoved a teddy bear into her arms before absconding to a location ten feet away and around a corner. "We're all doomed," he murmured.

"We might be, at that," Ginny murmured. Sighing, she asked, "Did you come for storytime? Because we've just finished. The next one's not for an hour, yet."

"Actually," he said, strolling towards where Ellie was doing her best impersonation of total innocence, "we're here because Ellie was telling me that my plans for a bookstore were crap and she likes yours better. She's going to try to convince me of that."

"Excellent," Ginny said, grinning. "I've always admired that child's spunk."

Reaching a hand towards Ellie, she obediently took it but didn't let go of the doll. He looked down at her and hoped to God it was for sale and not something she'd actually stolen from the other child. "All right, ladies. Convince me."

Ginny looked from Draco to the girl, and asked, "What do you want to do, sweetheart?"

Ellie looked at her seriously and answered, "I want you to not call me sweetheart."

Raising an eyebrow, Ginny swallowed and took a deep breath. "Alright, Ellie. Tell me what you'd like to do."

Ellie took them both by the hand and went over to the puppet theatre, where she gave them both two hand puppets. "I want to see a story with a princess, and a prince, and a great wizard and a dragon, but the dragon's the good guy," she said imperiously.

Looking at the puppets he held, Draco turned the prince and the dragon to face each other. Moving them up and down, he used a high voice for the prince and a deeper one for the dragon. "'You're evil, dragon! Just like all dragons are!' 'Oh yeah? Well you're a stupid git with a scar on your head.'"

"Art imitates life," Ginny muttered before being given a deathly glare by Ellie. "Oh," she said, chastened. "Erm, right." Positioning her puppets, she gave the princess a high voice. "Oh, dragon, please breathe your fire and save me from the prince, who has locked me in a tower!"

"But I'm a dragon - I eat princesses!" Draco used the puppet to tickle Ellie's neck while making smacking noises. "See? Scrumptious!"

Ginny gave the wizard a rich tenor. "I'll save you, fair princess! Wingardium Leviosa!" she said and flicked her wand so that the prince puppet on Draco's hand floated a bit.

Ellie giggled and clapped and took the prince puppet off Draco's hand and stomped on it with a satisfied growl. "Now the dragon and the princess live happily ever after!"

"So the princess likes it when the dragon eats her all up?" Draco looked positively angelic as he used the dragon to trace down Ginny's arm before holding the dragon next to the princess. "Maybe knowing he finds her so very delicious helps her forgive him for acting according to his nature."

Ginny shivered involuntarily as she looked from Draco to the puppet and then remembered that she was supposed to be giving some sort of nice ending for the child watching. "Oh, dragon! You can't destroy me, even if it is what you're meant to do, for then we won't be able to have our ever after!"

Ellie gazed at the two adults. "You're really, really bad at puppets, Uncle Draco. I'm going to go look at books." She shook her head in disappointment and flounced off to find a cubby to read in.

Ginny took the puppets off her hands and cleared her throat. "You weren't all that bad," she offered to Draco. "I think if the whole evil real estate tycoon thing doesn't work out for you, you have a real future in being a puppeteer."

"Thanks," he said with a wry smile. "So, did she steal that doll, or is it for sale? And how much is the puppet she stepped on?"

"It's all right, it's fixable," Ginny said, "and the doll is for sale, although she seems to have lost interest." She smiled at him, though it was tight. "It's a very child friendly place."

Frowning slightly, he said, "Doesn't that affect your bottom line? If they can play with and destroy the toys, why would parents pay for them to take the toys home?"

"But they really can't destroy the toys, see?" she said, turning her back on the room and pointing her wand at the puppet, whose mashed face instantly became like new again. "Easy enough, right?" She put all the puppets back into the theatre and closed its doors. "And the parents buy books that the children like; we always sell out of the ones I read at story time, and of course, the classics," she said, shooting him a look. "Like 'Goodnight Moon.'"

It seemed like Ginny's personal charm had a lot to do with why she'd been successful here - even Ellie had specifically mentioned her. "What happens if you're not here?"

"I'm always here," Ginny answered. "That's part of running a business. But I do have a great support staff, all of whom have or like children - preferably both."

"What about security?" Looking around, Draco reassured himself that Ellie was in sight and not bringing harm to herself or others.

"There are the usual wards," Ginny said, shrugging "and there's also--" She pointed to the corner of the room. "You see that big teddy bear sitting in the corner? That's Hugo, our sort of chief of security. He sits in that suit and watches, particularly the muggles and wizards interacting, and makes certain that everything is as it should be." She crossed her arms in front of her and looked up at him with challenge in her eye. "Are there any more tests that I need to pass?"

Looking at her, he spoke before he thought. "You could probably seduce me into leaving your store alone. Why haven't you tried?"

"Would that actually work?" she asked, cocking her head to the side. "I mean, I'm all for seduction if it gets me what I want, but then you'd fall in love with me," she said dramatically, punctuating the word with a heavy sigh. "And then you'd be underfoot all the time and I'd never be rid of you."

"It's a risk," he said seriously, but reminding himself that of course it actually wasn't. "But, then, it's much more likely that you'd start pining away for me, and I'm perfectly willing to put up with the potential consequences."

"That I'd fall for you?" she asked. "Unlikely, Malfoy. I like my men to have a heart. Not some hollow place where one should be," she said knocking on his chest and putting her ear closer to it.

Before she could pull away, he brushed her hair away from her accessible ear and leaned down to whisper, "If it's not there, how can you make it beat faster?"

She gave him a calculating look, despite the fact that their noses were almost touching. "You know, you're good. You're very good. If you weren't so...you, I'd have you in an instant."

"If I weren't so me," he said smugly, "you wouldn't be interested."

It was positively karmic justice that, at that exact moment, a heavy book fell on his head.

Ginny looked up, at the same time steadying Draco, who staggered a bit and was blinking heavily. From the reading cubby a foot above Draco's head sat Ellie, with both little hands covering her mouth to stifle her giggles and a mischievous sparkle in her eye. Ginny frowned and shook her head at the little monster and directed Draco to the nearest chair. "Malfoy? Draco? Look at me. Are you alright?" she asked, placing both hands on either side of his face. "Draco?"

"Come closer," he said hoarsely, trying to focus his eyes. "All I see is red."

"Is that supposed to be funny?" she asked, pushing her hair behind a shoulder, but complying with his request. "I'm right here."

Now provided with an excellent view down her blouse, Draco stifled a grin and wondered whether a small moan would be overplaying it. "I think I'm all right. I should be."

"Oh, thank Merlin," she said, thinking that she certainly didn't need a lawsuit on top of everything else. "You had me scared for a minute, Malfoy."

Ellie's eyes watered and she threw herself at Draco, who groaned as the air left his body. "I didn't mean to kill you!"

"You didn't, darling," Ginny assured her, patting her back. "Besides, you wouldn't have been the first to try, anyway," she muttered under her breath.

Holding Ellie close, he said, "That was very naughty, darling. I could've been seriously hurt, and someone without as hard a head as mine really would have been."

"That's what mummy says!" Ellie said happily. "You know what, Uncle Draco?"

Smoothing her hair back, he said gently, "What, sweetheart?"

"You shouldn't look down ladies' shirts," she said with a disapproving expression. "It's not nice."

Ginny's arms crossed and she leveled a glare in Draco's direction.

About to defend himself, Draco looked down at Ellie and closed his mouth. "You're right, Ellie. And if a boy ever does that to you, you tell me and I'll make him apologize."

Ellie frowned and Ginny said, "Nice save, Malfoy. If you wanted a peek, though, all you have to do is leave my bookshop alone. I'll let you look as much as you like."

"Tempting," he said, giving her a once-over as he got to his feet despite Ellie's 'help.' "If I act against my own self-interest, though, they'll drum me out of Slytherin retroactively."

"Well, we can't have that, now can we?" Ginny said lightly. Bending down to Ellie's level," she asked, "Is there anything else your royal highness would like to do?"

Ellie beamed. "That's much better than sweetheart," she said happily.

"Yeah, I'll bet," Ginny said with a smile. "Want to read this book?" she asked, picking up the offending title and reading, "Tales of Beedle the Bard." Glancing at Draco, she murmured, "Imagine that."

"No, I don't want to read," Ellie replied grumpily. "I'm hungry, Uncle Draco."

Hoisting her into his arms, he said, "Lunch seems called for, then. Coming, Weasley?"

Ginny paused, unable to determine if he was trying to flirt, or just being the same arse that he always was. Giving him and his little ward a calculated look, she nodded and motioned to the girl behind the register that she'd be taking lunch. The biggest obstacle in Ginny's mind wasn't that he might take away her business and livelihood, but that even if he did, she thought she might just fancy him anyway.

***


"So." Blaise settled into the seat next to Draco's, bundled up against the high winds which had threatened to cancel today's Falcons game. "How'd you find out?"

"When you actually own a box, they send you notifications of when games are going to be held," Draco said, passing him a hot dog from the tray on his other side.

"I'm not eating that," Blaise said, waving the food away. "Merlin knows how those things are made, or what the hell's in them." He smiled lazily as one of the chasers slowed her flight to blow him a kiss and then turned his attention back to Draco. "I meant, how'd you find out I was going to make a million galleon deal on that property adjacent to Diagon?"

Smirking, Draco said, "Miss Weasley came to tell me. It seems she prefers me to you, possibly because I'm a thousand times better looking."

"The blood traitor came calling, did she?" Blaise asked, chuckling to himself. "I must say, I didn't think she had it in her." He glanced sideways at Draco and shook his head almost imperceptibly. "And we both know who's better looking Draco. We don't need to revisit that argument."

His outward appearance remained smooth, but Draco found he was bristling at having Blaise refer to her that way. "She's actually pretty clever - if either of us had ever thought of putting a business there, you wouldn't have had to resort to cursing her into making bad business decisions to try to steal her store."

"The best part was that she didn't even realize it," Blaise said, chuckling a bit more. "I'm sure you helped her work that out, did you?"

"Her brother's one of the best cursebreakers at Gringott's." All right, so technically she wouldn't have thought to ask him for help without Draco's involvement. Blaise didn't need to know that.

"Ah." Blaise steepled his fingers and sat in silence as he watched the Quaffle in play. "And now that she's reversed my curses and her business is back, you're going to do the same thing to her, I expect? Or try," he scoffed. "Does she actually trust you?"

With a sneer, Draco said, "I don't need to resort to hobbling the opposition in order to win."

"Oh, ho!" Blaise cried, a grin breaking out across his face. "Do I smell a challenge coming from the great Draco Malfoy? You know, it's actually about time you won one of our little bets. It's getting dead boring besting you every single time."

Raising an eyebrow, Draco took a bite of his hot dog. "I don't know who cursed you into believing in delusions, but I'm sure Weasley can get her brother to help you if you'd like."

"If anyone is delusional, my friend, it's you," Blaise returned. "So what's it to be? What are the stakes?" He sat forward and rubbed his hands together. "No holds barred?"

"I'm not betting on Ginny." Draco's face was like stone as he stared forward, not seeing the players.

"Ginny?" Blaise asked, cackling into the cold afternoon air. "Ginny? We're calling the little redheaded blood traitor by her given name?" Blaise laughed again, throwing his head back in unabashed delight. "Oh, this is going to be too easy."

His head whipped around and Draco looked directly into Blaise's eyes, deadly intent clearly evident. "Let me make myself perfectly clear," Draco said icily. "If you do anything, anything, that brings harm to Ginny Weasley in any way, I will destroy you. There will be nothing left to you, not money, not friends, and possibly not your life."

Blaise arched one black eyebrow and held Draco's gaze for a matter of moments before turning his attention back to the game. "So it's like that, is it? You've finally found a girl that you deem worthy, and you're going to take everything she's worked for away from her?" He smiled at his Chaser again and continued, "That might not be the best way to go about declaring your love, Draco."

"I don't love her," Draco said, shocked at the thought. "I don't even know her that well yet. We've barely started getting to know each other - we've been to lunch once, and that was with Ellie along."

"With Parkinson's spawn?" Blaise shook his head. "You do know how to show a girl a good time." Blaise leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, lost in thought for a moment. "So, you don't love her, you don't know her, yet you don't want me to get her out of the way so that we can make more Galleons than either of our respective companies has seen in a year? Tell me what's wrong with this picture."

Slowly, Draco said, "I... respect her. Damned if I know how it happened."

Lips pursed in disgust, Blaise sat back and exhaled heavily. "Well, now you've taken all the fun out of it for me," he confessed. "I was going to screw her - financially, of course -" he said with a dismissive wave of the hand to Draco's intended outburst, "and screw you, and make this quarter's earnings a record for ZBN Limited." He picked up a bottle of butterbeer and took a swig. "You really are a killjoy, Malfoy."

"Maybe next time," Draco said, tension flowing out of him now that Blaise had made it clear he was stepping away from anything dealing with Ginny or the shopping center. "Can you believe how badly Wood's playing today? It's like he wants Puddlemere to be humiliated."

"Yes, but I've got a hundred Galleons on Falmouth, so if he continues to muck up everything he touches, it's fine by me," Blaise countered. He looked sideways at Draco. "I'm going to be watching you, you know."

Shrugging, Draco said, "You always are."

***


Ginny cursed loudly as she tripped over a stray piece of the scaffolding surrounding her bookshop. This had been going on for weeks; the demolition, the contruction crews, the plumbers mucking up the loos and the painters slopping their stuff all over everything on the block. She spent every day dreading when they would come to hers, and she almost wanted to vacate, just so that she didn't have to live with that knot of fear in her stomach constantly.

Sitting down on the curb where she'd tripped, she inspected the run in her stocking, inhaling a furious breath through her nose. "I swear, if that blond-haired grey eyed demon rears his pointy nose around here today, I will have him for lunch."

"I was going to ask you to a restaurant," he said from behind her. "But, if you insist I be on the menu, I suppose I could oblige you."

"You," she said through clenched teeth. "You, you, you-" A ragged scream came from within Ginny and she pointed at her leg. "You tore my stocking!"

He looked at where she pointed, then back at her face. "Is this my cue to apologize and buy you a dozen new pairs? Only I'm a bit hungry, so could we eat first?"

"Don't do that!" she shouted, looking around her, pointing at all the detritus of construction. "Look at this! Look at all of this! This is you wrecking my life! You can't come in here and be all blithe and charming and expect me to be nice to you!"

He gazed back at her with a blank expression, and she couldn't tell whether he was amused or annoyed, and Merlin help her, she wanted it to be a little of both. "And yes," she said, pointing back down at her leg, "new stockings would be very much in order." She folded her arms over her chest and pouted just the tiniest bit, watching him from the corner of her eye.

With a small smile, he helped her to stand and then pulled her off balance so that she fell against him. Her mouth opened to yell again, but he sealed his lips over hers and put everything he had into kissing her, intent on making her see the potential he'd come to realize lay between them.

She thought about fighting him off for two, maybe three seconds, but then dismissed it entirely out of hand; his lips were every bit as delicious as they looked, and he was insistent, strong, and at the same time gentle. Wouldn't you know he'd be a fantastic kisser, too? Ginny mused, as she felt him pull away slightly.

Straightening and looking up at him, she removed her arms from where they'd ended up around his neck and coughed slightly. "That won't work, either," she said quietly. "You can't just kiss me and make me forget that you're taking away what I've worked so hard for."

"No, but kissing you might give me the strength to explain to you I'm doing no such thing," he said with exasperation. "Tell me, do you remember at any point selling your store to anyone?"

"Well, no, not as such," she replied. "But you said that you were going to build a new bookstore, And that I'd be manager," she said, wrinkling her nose.

He shrugged. "I still think that would've worked out well for everyone, but as you're unlikely to sell willingly - you're not, are you?"

"No," she assured him, her voice steady. Her eyes, however, flitted down to his lips. "No, I'm not."

Putting his arm around her, he rested a hand on the small of her back and guided her around a pair of men carrying a large plate glass window. "I could probably force the issue - you're nowhere near as underhanded as I am, and I know all sorts of dirty tricks. But then something occurred to me."

"What?" she asked, not bothering to argue the point that she could be plenty underhanded, if given the chance. "Tell me."

"Have you ever heard of the term 'opportunity cost?' It's an economics thing, to take what you're giving up into account when calculating the potential profit of whatever you're proposing." Deftly, he moved her out of the path of an oncoming load of paint buckets.

"You know, I've had a hell of a day already, so if you'd dumb that down so that the masses could understand it, it'd be a great help," she said, irritated that the kissing seemed to be most definitely over.

Casually, he said, "Well, I realized that I could win your store, but then I'd give up all chance of asking you out, sleeping with you, seeing where things lead when you respect the mind of the girl you're hot for... All that sort of thing."

"Wait. Wait a minute. You respect me?" Ginny asked, a slow smile spreading over her lips. "You're 'hot' for me?" She giggled, putting a hand over her mouth, but unable to stop herself. "You'll forgive me if I take a moment to revel in this newfound information."

"Quite all right," he said, brushing a quick kiss over her lips. "I'd still like to eat soon, and then maybe discuss this more in between several intense kisses. Although, if you feel the need to skip to the shagging, we could do that, too."

"Well, if you don't call it 'shagging,' it would be a step in the right direction," she said, smiling slyly. "And I can definitely be talked into the kissing. And lunch would be perfect. But there's still the matter of my ruined stockings."

Draco laughed, pulling his arm tighter around her waist. "You're going to be difficult, aren't you?"

She laughed right along with him, letting her arms encircle his neck. "With me, that's part of the package."

"I think I like it," he said, smiling down at her and feeling more genuinely happy than he could remember feeling for a long time.


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