"Running away? Granger, Granger. Granger." Draco strode toward the witch bent and shaking at the far end of the terrace. "How disappointing. These things are always more lively after someone has gone and made a scene. You are denying me my spectacle, woman." When she failed to rise to his bait and entertain him with the expected telling-off, Draco became concerned. It wasn't like the bushy-haired harpy to fold in on herself or give up without a fight. "Hermione?"
Uncovering her face, Hermione sat up and let the laughter bubble free. "Sorry to disappoint, Malfoy." She snickered when he started. Hermione realized he'd thought she'd been crying. Patting the bench beside her in invitation, she waited for him to join her. "It's ironic really. I've been trying for weeks to get Ron to realize that we worked better as friends so that he'd break things off." Draco snorted and Hermione shrugged. "Ron's sensitive—" He snorted again. This time Hermione huffed at him but snorted herself when she realized her word choice was rather ridiculous giving the lack of sensitivity Ron had displayed inside a few moments ago. "I meant that he easily takes offense. I didn't want him to feel slighted. I thought if the breakup was his decision, his feelings wouldn't be hurt, and we could manage to stay friends."
She tossed up her hands. "It was laugh or cry, and frankly, Ronald Weasley has been the cause of far too many tears over the years for me to cry over being humiliatingly dumped now." Hermione straightened up, squared her shoulders, and took a deep breath. "It's a relief. Honestly." Although it was a bit of a blow to have it over so publicly, her relief at being free of Ron's selfish affections was too profound for regrets.
Draco held up the bottle of wine and the two glasses he'd carried out with him. "I thought you might want to drown your sorrows. However, a Margaux is much better suited for a celebration."
Hermione nudged him gently with her shoulder. "Only you, Malfoy," she laughed. "Only you would bring Châteaux Margaux to a pity party."
"Hush, or I'll keep this lovely hundred-year-old Bordeaux I've had breathing for myself," he drawled. Draco passed one of the glasses to Hermione. "Make yourself useful and hold that, witch. Don't drop it. Mother will have my head if any more of her favorite crystal is ruined." The Dark Lord and their other 'guests' during the war had been hard on the delicate crystal. He poured a glass and traded her for the empty in her hand.
"Malfoy!" Hermione's eyes went wide with realization. She had no earthly idea how much a bottle of Châteaux Margaux 1899 cost but she knew enough to guess that it was well more than she could afford to replace. "We can't—"
"I said, hush. Humor me. Or if you can't, think of it as keeping me out of the trouble I'd get myself into drinking this entire bottle by myself. I assure you there is no one else at this wretched event I'd even consider sharing this with." He swept his hand toward the French doors leading back to the ballroom. These galas to raise funds for high-profile causes were his parents' idea for restoring Malfoy glory. Draco found the majority of these things unbearably boring. At least he had until this evening when Potter arrived with his merry band of heroes, short the brown-haired brains of the operation, and over by one fawning blond on the Weasel's arm.
"Miss Granger has already arrived, sir. We do not have a Miss Brown listed."
"Won-Won! You told me that Hermione wasn't coming."
"Ron? You said Hermione didn't want to come and suggested you bring Lavender instead."
"She wasn't supposed to show up on her own, Harry!"
"Hinklebury, Miss Brown and her escort are blocking the door. I will cover the cost of her ticket since Weasley is obviously too poor to do so himself."
"Shut it, Malfoy."
"Your choice, Weaselbee. You can accept my generous offer, or pay for another ticket, or give Miss Brown your ticket and leave yourself, or she goes. Decide."
"You do tend to find trouble when left unsupervised," Hermione said in a prim voice.
Draco suppressed a groan. That prissy attitude of hers went straight to his groin and had for months. Working with her nearly every day on the reconstruction of Hogwarts was an exercise in pleasure and pain. "Consider it your duty to see that I'm closely monitored."
"Well-managed," she corrected. Hermione knew how much he had hated being monitored.
Nodding, Draco echoed agreement, "Well-managed." He watched as she lifted her glass with her fingers low on the stem and took in the aroma. Draco allowed himself a small smirk. He'd been right to share this with her.
Hermione made a small noise of pleasure. She gently swirled the Bordeaux to release the less volatile aromas. "Heavens," she said breathily taking in the complex scents.
Draco was enthralled. He'd expected to have to guide her through appreciating the wine. As always, the witch managed to exceed expectations.
"Malfoy, this is marvelous."
"Naturally," he said with a hint of smugness. "Would I serve a lady anything less?"
"Would you serve yourself anything less, you mean?" Hermione challenged. "Don't think I missed that you said you'd had this breathing before you came charging out here to mock my misery, Malfoy."
"Nice alliteration, Granger," he observed dryly. "As usual, correct in essentials, yet somewhat lacking in nuance."
"Enlighten me then." Hermione waved him on. He was being quite decent after all. She thought she could allow him to have a spot of fun at her expense in return for this stunning wine. He did call her a lady after all. Hermione doubted he'd be too cruel, certainly not any crueler than Ron had been to stand her up and bring Lavender in her stead.
"Ronald? I thought you weren't coming."
"What the bloody hell are you doing here, Hermione?"
"Excuse me? I'm not the one who cancelled out on you, Ron. You said you weren't able to make it tonight."
"I said we weren't going tonight. I brought Lavender. You're the one that wasn't supposed to be here. I didn't think you'd come alone."
"Why wouldn't I? I bought a ticket, didn't I? In fact, I bought two. Mine and yours."
"Well, well. That's low even for you, Weasel. Not only letting your girlfriend pay your way, but dumping her to bring another in her place on the tickets she paid for?"
"Shut your gob, Malfoy. This is between me and 'Mione."
"Ron? What are you doing talking to her? You promised the frigid cow wouldn't come near Malfoy Manor without you to protect her."
"Frigid cow? Protect me? As if I'd need protection, or if I did, that I couldn't sort things myself."
"I saved you! I saved you and you won't even sleep with me!"
"Honestly! Ron, Harry and Dobby had as much to do with that as you did and you don't see Harry pressuring me to give it up to him, do you?"
"I'll admit that I assumed I'd find you out here in tears. I'll also admit that I may have briefly considered mocking your misery. I also confess to having had a house-elf open this bottle to let it breathe. That was right after you arrived, by the way, without the Weasel in tow." He'd hoped when she had shown up alone that it would give him an opportunity to show her one of the many finer things a Malfoy could offer.
"The nuances, Malfoy?" she prompted him.
"It is bad form for a gentleman to make sport of a lady's virtue. Therefore, while I may have briefly considered mocking your misery, by the time I had the bottle and glasses in hand, I was plotting to brighten your mood instead," he confessed.
She eyed him skeptically. "By baiting me?"
"I led with my strength," Draco said with a small gesture of his wine glass. "I act like a prat. You act like a priss. You tell me off. I act contrite. You feel accomplished. I feel accepted," he explained. "Nuance, Granger. You like lecturing me. I like your lectures. We're both amused. We both win."
Hermione blinked. No one liked her lectures. They irritated the hell out of Ron. Not even Harry appreciated that she only lectured because she cared. "You like my lectures?"
"Of course, I do. Why would I annoy you so often if I didn't?" Hadn't she realized he'd been flirting with her for months hoping that she'd notice how much better suited he was for her than Weasley?
"You'll be as dried up as old McGonagall before long. Then see if—"
"Don't insult the headmistress, Ronald. She—"
"Don't lecture me, Hermione. You're not my mum."
"Come on, Won-Won. She's not important. Let's dance."
"Right. I'm seeing Lav now. I pity the next bloke who ends up stuck with you."
"I—I didn't know. I just thought—" Hermione cocked her head and looked at him. Draco Malfoy was puzzling. She often thought they were becoming friends then he'd say or do something that he had to know would go straight up her nose. More often than not, he'd pick a time when she was overly stressed or feeling vulnerable so that she couldn't help launching into him.
Draco frowned. "You just thought I was kicking you when you were down," he said sadly. "Stellar." Here, he'd been thinking that she got him. That she understood. That she might, just might, see how great she and he could be together once she finally got it through that bushy head of hers that Weasley wasn't right for her.
"Well, yes. In a way," Hermione said softly. She bit her lip before continuing, "However, while correct in essentials, that's somewhat lacking in nuance."
Lifting an eyebrow, he regarded her. Perhaps all wasn't lost if she was parroting him. "Enlighten me," he purred and watched as color bloomed becomingly on her cheeks.
"You're annoying, beyond a doubt, Malfoy. But I always feel—"
"Hermione! Ginny, I found her," Harry interrupted from the doorway. "She's out here."
"Ah, shite—" Draco muttered under his breath. Her friends had come to carry her away.
"Language," Hermione chided softly. "Hi, Harry. Hi, Ginny. Hi, Neville. Are you enjoying yourselves?"
"We've been looking all over for you." Harry frowned, looking between Hermione and Draco.
"I've been right here. Draco and I were enjoying some wine and discussing the nuances." Which was true after all, even if it wasn't correct in essentials.
Draco was impressed that she'd managed to calmly deliver the impression that they'd only been discussing wine.
"Did you know that Bordeaux is the largest wine growing area in France, Harry?" Hermione asked innocently. "I'm sorry. Did you need me for something?"
"I—er—guess not. We—er—were—um—" Harry stuttered.
"We were worried about you, Hermione," Ginny rolled her eyes at Harry. "My brother, the arse, had us thinking that you'd suggested he bring Lavender because you weren't comfortable coming tonight."
"I'm quite comfortable. Thanks for your concern but Draco's taking great care of me," Hermione smiled at him and Draco felt the tightness in his chest ease a fraction. "I'll be all right."
"Are you sure? We could—"
"I'm fine, Harry," Hermione interrupted. "Honestly, Ron's desertion is hardly anything new. I think after years and years of it, it's become expected." She was much better off without someone who ran when things didn't go his way.
"Hermione, you know Ron always comes back," Harry said with a frown.
"If I really mattered, he wouldn't leave in the first place," she said firmly. "Honestly, Harry, I no longer care. Lavender is welcome to him. I'm willing to be friends if he is, but my days of crying because of Ron are over."
"Harry, if Hermione's not upset that Ron's here with Lavender, that's good, right?" Neville tried to reason with him.
"No buts, Harry. Go dance with Ginny. Draco and I will be in later." Hermione shooed them away.
"Ah, alone at last," Draco said once they'd finally taken themselves off. He was practically vibrating the way he did when he spotted the Snitch during a Quidditch match. She'd claimed to be over Weasley. She'd sent Potter away. She'd stayed with him. Draco didn't want to read too much into it but he couldn't help but hope. Praying his voice wouldn't crack, he turned to her and asked, "You were saying about nuances?"
"Yes. You may be an annoying prat but you always seem to know just when to annoy me most to break the tension. I always feel lighter after one of our rows. It's like you provoke me on purpose." She knew perfectly well he did it on purpose. Hermione was only surprised that she hadn't previously considered that he might it enjoy it for reasons other than her discomfort.
"You need an outlet for your frustrations. It helps you find your center," he said with an elegant shrug. "You're brilliant when you're centered." When Hermione Granger was comfortable, all these ideas and random facts came spilling out. It was fascinating to watch her mind work when she wasn't stressed over one thing or another. "Complex. Like this wine," he raised his glass. "Never boring. You just need someone capable of appreciating fine things."
Hermione met his eyes. There was something in them that she'd only seen glimpses of before. It stirred something inside her. It was a heady thing to feel understood. "Malfoy, I—"
"Draco. You called me Draco when speaking to your friends. Is it so hard to call me Draco when speaking to me?" he asked.
"You always call me Granger," she pointed out.
"Seems a time for change, Hermione. I'm not the Draco Malfoy you knew at school. We've both matured, like this wine. Not everyone can appreciate the nuances of an exceptional vintage," he said with a smirk, "but you can. I know I can."
"All right, Draco." Hermione had a feeling that getting to know each other better could, indeed, prove exceptional. "I'll see your Châteaux Malfoy 1980 and raise you one Châteaux Granger 1979," she toasted him with the final sip of Bordeaux in her glass.
"A worthy little vintage, Hermione." He took her free hand in his and brought it to her lips. "One that's sure to delight for years to come."