Inheritance

Chapter 2

II

A couple of weeks later saw Draco slumped down on his desk, staring morosely at his computer screen as he jealously flicked through his friends' photos on Facebook. They didn't seem to understand when he told them he'd much rather be scrimping a few quid together to make it down the union, rather than up on the thirty-sixth floor. All they could see was money and power, they didn't seem to want to hear he still had very little clue what he was supposed to be working on, and with nothing much to do, was bored out of his mind.

His only respite had come in the form of the adorable, passionate, if not slightly clueless Harry Potter, who Pansy had managed to get Draco on not one but two lunch meetings with. All Draco had to do was ask what books he had been reading, and he could watch the whirlwind that Harry became for at least a couple of hours as he rattled through his new favourite characters and writing styles, and almost-spoilers that he reigned back in at the last second because "Oh no Draco, you'll have to read it first!" Draco was sure he was supposed to be doing something productive with that time, like establishing annual departmental profit margins or assessing the overheads compared to outgoing costs, but honest to god if he didn't more or less study Harry's lips the entire time.

Movement beyond the glass of his office had Draco snapping back up to attention, just in time for Pansy to stride in and drop a bound file on his keyboard. "The board are having a meeting," she said coolly.

"When?"

Parkinson pressed her well manicured hands together and checked her watch. "In about ten minutes."

Draco's stomach dropped. "Was I invited?"

"No," said Parkinson.

"What's this then?" he asked, picking up the couple dozen sheets of ring-bound paper.

She gave him the smallest of smiles. "Everything you need to know about the meeting, in handy colour-coded bullet points."

Draco could have kissed her. "Did I ever tell you you should be running this company?" he informed her, ginning like an idiot as he hurriedly cracked open the first page and yanked several highlighters and post-it notes from his drawer.

"I think that was the first time today," she said with a wink. "But it's only 11:20."

Draco spent the next five minutes in a blur, absorbing every fact his study-starved brain could manage, cross-referencing with a few quick Google searches and several shouted questions to Pansy at her desk outside. He hadn't had anything challenging to do in ages, this was wonderful, he felt positively electrified as he grabbed his iPad and marched down to the main conference room, strolling inside just as the last of the eight department heads were getting seated.

"Good morning," he said chirpily, snagging the chair nearest to him before he could fret about established seating arrangements, and smiling pleasantly at the men and women before him. A number of them raised their eyebrows in surprise, but one or two glowered in outright hostility. Gabriel Fox, the Financial Director and oldest member in the room, was the most unimpressed of the lot, crossing his arms over his broad chest and lowering his gaze, creating so many additional chins his bowtie was in danger of being swallowed up entirely.

Draco was obviously the youngest in the room, but he wasn't going to let that derail him; he had every right to be there, and thanks to Pansy he had a solid heads up on what was on the agenda. The only other person close to his age was Harry, and while a couple other people had tablets like Draco laid out in front of them, Harry had a notebook, several lose sheets of paper, a couple of novels open at certain pages with their spines bent back, and pens in blue, black, green and red, one of them clamped between his teeth, another hastily scribbling notes. He blinked, noticing the atmosphere had shifted at Draco's entrance, before looking up to spot Draco himself. He snatched the pen from his mouth and gave him a tight smile and a nod, which Draco returned enthusiastically.

"We didn't think you'd be joining us, Mr Malfoy," Fox grunted in a way that clearly suggested he deliberately hadn't been invited, but that just spurred Draco on.

"Ah yes," he said, firing up the page of notes he'd made on his iPad. "Little mix up with the calendar I guess, luckily my PA caught it, she's outstanding, I'd really be lost without her."

Fox and the woman in her fifties beside him both arched an eyebrow to suggest exactly what they thought of Draco's competence, but he ignored them. He'd already negotiated Parkinson's pay rise, so they could scorn her and him as much as they liked.

"I guess we should get started then," announced the head of marketing, and Draco's quip was forgotten.

In fact, that wasn't the only thing of Draco's that was ignored as the older managers ploughed down their list of reports and targets. They tried their best to shut him out entirely, which on the whole he found quite amusing. He didn't have all that much to add as the minutes trickled on, so he let them drone on about new regulation guidelines and several clients they'd recently acquired in the education sector. Everything they put forward more or less tallied up with the information Pansy had provided for Draco, so he just nodded and gave a few affirmations every few sentences. This earned him some sceptical glances but he didn't care if they thought he was bluffing or not, because he wasn't.

"The quarterly budget has been established," Fox announced in blasé terms. "Despite a few queries I think we're comfortable to leave the proposal as it stands."

Harry went to open his mouth, but Draco very calmly beat him to it. "I assume that includes the new figures I sent you over some time last week?" he asked.

"Last week?" Fox repeated, feigning ignorance, which riled Draco but he didn't let it show. Instead he gave him a reassuring smile.

"Yes," he said. "On Wednesday I think?" It had been Wednesday at 14:36, in fact. Draco hadn't had any other work to do, so he had carefully put the new young adult proposal together with extra attention to detail, and he'd got a confirmation email to let him know his message had not only been received, but opened. That was a little trick he'd learned back in sixth form that he doubted this old dinosaur was aware of.

"Ah," said Fox with a shit-eating grin. "Well, I do apologise, I don't seem to have had that passed over to me, so I don't think at this stage-"

"No matter," Draco interrupted, tapping merrily on his tablet. "I've resent it to you all, you can check your inboxes if you like, or alternatively…"

The TV screen mounted on the wall at the end of the room sprung to life as Draco hooked up remotely with his own device, and brought up the document in question, illustrating a brightly covered pie chart on the first page.

"My concern was that the cuts to this budget seem in direct conflict with the growth we've seen in the market over the past five years." He wiggled his cursor around to highlight the data that backed up his statement, then clicked onto the next slide. "In all genres, fiction novels targeting ages fourteen to eighteen have experienced a 150% jump in the past six years, and recent studies have shown that the actual readership is far outside that target audience."

Fox was apparently recovering from having his meeting room hijacked and was turning a lovely shade of puce. "This data is not new to us, Mr Malfoy," he growled. "However this is a serious publishing house, it always has been." He shot Harry a dirty look, then continued to bare down on Draco. "The hiring of Mr Potter has led to a certain…dalliance…but the rest of the board feel it is time to redistribute and reinvest profits in the key areas where we have always flourished."

"So YA does all the work," Harry jumped in hotly. "And everyone else reaps the benefits?"

Fox reluctantly turned back to Harry, and Draco felt his blood heat up in anger purely from the look on his face. "Your pulp fiction about schools of magic and romances in toxic wastelands may have earned the company a small margin of increased profit, it's true," he sneered. "We saw no harm in following your lead to a certain extent after your initial success. But without any real quality to back up these investments, the board cannot responsibly continue to steer publishing in the direction of cringe-worthy ramblings of authors with no training, style or panache, just aspirations of hoping on the latest Hollywood trend of 'Boy Meets Girl in La La Land'."

Draco was taken aback by this level of hostility, but ploughed on never the less. "The numbers speak for themselves," he began, but the woman by Fox's side barrelled in.

"This is not purely about profit, My Malfoy," she said witheringly. "These books may have sold well in the best sellers lists and been traded to screenwriters for a profit, but this kind of work is simply not what our company wants to be known for."

"Series like these," Harry cried, brandishing one of the books he had propped in front of him. "Change people's lives. This is exactly why Morwenna brought me in to head this department, because none of you have the imagination to see that teen audiences need heroes, they crave them! They rely on worlds like this to get them through the day, to help them aspire to be better, to do better in their lives!"

He looked almost tearful, and Fox sneered. "Well," he said patronisingly, and Harry visibly swallowed across the table from Draco. "I'm afraid Morwenna is no longer with us, and those of us that remain are forced to live in the real world, where successful people do not need hobbits to coax them out of bed in the morning, they simply have the backbone to accomplish genuine success as men and women of good sense and learning."

"Excellent," said Draco happily, ignoring the hurt look Harry threw his as he skipped a couple of slides ahead to the most important graph Pansy had sourced for him. "I guess if we're all to live in boring old reality, and scrap the hugely lucrative YA program, we can scale down the managers' bonuses this upcoming April, as well as the company Royal Ascot days and six figure charity gala next month."

The collective faces of the room dropped in a most delightful manner.

"Excuse me?" asked the head of marketing, pulling at the necklace around her throat.

"Oh yes," Draco beamed at her. "If we want to continue this rate of year-on-year profit, as well as expand the genres the company has traditionally published – medical journals, travel guides, historical biographies and the such, cut backs will need to be made." He blinked and gave Fox a look a faux concern. "I assume in your dismissal of teen fiction you've taken into account the disposable income of audiences without families or mortgages that contribute to the unprecedented YA success, as well as the power of online fandom that leads into media tie-ins and demand for sequels on par with even the most successful authors in the genres such as thriller and crime?"

Fox glanced about the room. "I'm not sure where you're getting your sources from," he stuttered, but Draco just waved a hand back towards the screen above their heads.

"I can break it down further for you," he offered pleasantly. "But it basically comes down to this Mr Fox. If you want to carry on having your second home in the New Forest, your 911 Porche, your kids in private schools and holidays abroad with your mistress, I think you're going to have to put up with publishing a few books you don't like just because they're not to your personal taste. Is that clear enough for you?"

In his whole life Draco had never felt so satisfied as he did looking at the stunned faces before him. He couldn't honestly believe he'd managed to get all those words out without tripping over a single one, or that his research last week had really paid off. He'd not expected the board to be so resistant in the light of such clear evidence, and he silently said a prayer to his old school debate master for helping him not crumble under the pressure of having to argue his case against all these adults.

He still sort of felt like being sick though, but he smiled his way through it.

"Well," said Fox, the puce shade to his skin having drained away to a more minty-green colour. "We will have to review your proposal again Mr Malfoy," he said gruffly, straightening his bowtie and standing from his chair. "This company has certain, er, responsibilities to its employees, and if striping back the program would have such consequences as you've outlined, I guess, yes, we could take a second look?" He nodded to the other managers as they stood and made their way out, some of which looked equally pasty, but some Draco couldn't help but think were throwing him impressed glances. The head of erotic fiction gave him a barely concealed thumbs up as she skirted out the room, and Draco grinned back at her with a sense of victory in his chest.

"I'll have my PA get in touch about a revised budget review, shall I?" Draco asked Gabriel Fox as he waved a hand and stormed out of the conference room. He chuckled and spent a moment or two disconnecting the remote link between his iPad and the computer screen, by which time he realised everyone else had left the room.

Everyone, that was, except Harry, who had scooped up all his paraphernalia and was now sat back in his chair, hugging it to his chest. "That was incredible," he said hoarsely.

Draco felt more nervous than when he'd been attacking Fox and his ludicrous proposal. "Well, you know," he said, trying to pass the waver in his voice off as a laugh. "If they'd just read the report in the first place, all of that could have been avoided."

"Yeah, but that wouldn't have been half as fun to watch," Harry replied, pushing his glasses back up his nose from where they'd slipped down, and grinned.

Draco laughed, and got to his feet to move towards the door as Harry did likewise. He reshuffled his papers and pens until he had a hand free, and held it out for Draco to shake. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "I owe you so much."

Draco shook his hand and relished in the warm skin to skin contact. "It's nothing," he said, but that sounded dismissive, so he quickly elaborated. "I mean, you're welcome, it was my pleasure."

Harry pulled his hand back and hugged his paper again, worrying at his lip. "I'd like to make it up to you though," he said. "I guess it's not appropriate – I never seem to know what's appropriate around here – but, well, I've very much like to make you dinner next week?"

Draco swore the floor dropped out from underneath him. It must have shown on his face, as Harry quickly backtracked.

"No, I mean, that wouldn't really be proper would it, I guess-"

"I'd love to," said Draco firmly. "I haven't made any friends in London yet, and this seems a perfect opportunity to fix that."

Harry looked bashful. "I think you already have," he said, sweetly. "How does Wednesday suit you?"

Draco beamed at him. "Wednesday suits me just fine," he said.

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