A/N: A Dramione creation of my own for once. Enjoy. Reviews appreciated.
"Wine and Dine Her"
He's nervous. Straightens his tie one last time and checks his hair in the reflection of his expensive (but not too expensive) watch. He's ten minutes early for the purpose of preparing himself mentally to dine the witch of tonight's company.
He spent a full month deciding on what to wear. It took longer than that for her to agree to join him. Granger, he knew, dressed a bit common compared to the fashionably extravagant code of dress for purebloods and he didn't want to send her off thinking he was still the same old rich, swarmy bastard.
Not that he wasn't deliciously happy with being a rich, swarmy bastard, but he knew playing that card was not the key to Granger's bleeding heart.
So he dressed a bit… down for the occasion. All fine brand names, but not the finest. He carefully chose a nice pair of hand-made organic boots, as his usual Dragon hide might give an unwanted impression that he held little value for the lives of magical creatures. He didn't really care about the welfare of magical creatures, but that was beside the point.
He cleared his throat a couple times and sipped on his water delicately. It wouldn't do good to let a parched tongue get the better of him during conversation.
Conversation… the thought made his heart jump back into his throat and he touched his forehead with his napkin to dab at a sweat bead that had appeared in the wake of the pounding blood in his ears.
Up to this point, the only conversation they'd had was when he would nod and acknowledge her in the lift at the Ministry. Or when he had stood in her office every Tuesday for the past 3 months with his hands behind his back, his words carefully selected:
"Afternoon, Granger (here she would respond in kind with a slight incline of her head, 'And you, Malfoy'). If you would be interested, it would be my honor to dine you on an evening of your choosing."
She had looked puzzled the first time and asked him for what purpose, to which he responded "recreational." He had cringed as he left her office, firmly reprimanded because she had misunderstood him, thinking he was mocking her and calling her a trollop at the same time.
'Recreational' hadn't been the best word choice, he could admit, but a ball had lodged itself in his trachea when he had tried to sound out the word 'date.' Still, he summoned a bit of courage and was there again the next Tuesday and when she asked him his purpose, annoyance radiating off of her in waves, the word rolled off his tongue with practiced confidence and ease.
Honestly, after last week's horrible end, he had practiced the sentence more than a dozen times a night in his mirror at home.
A date, Granger, I would like to ask you on a date.
Adonis—his mirror—laughed hysterically at Draco's serious expression while his tie unwound itself from around his neck elegantly.
Good Merlin! Are you going to propose too? He was then jovially silent after Draco threatened to shatter him.
Fully expecting another berating, her eyebrow had merely quirked upward in confusion and curiosity as she declined politely, dismissingly him with a pleasant thank you for the offer.
With a whistle, Draco made the trek back to his own office happily, because her second response had given him hope and it was all the encouragement he needed. And thus, he was there in Granger's office doorway each Tuesday afterward and was declined with the same manner of grace again and again. But because courage was harder to come by for a Slytherin, he relied on other strengths to impress and woo her.
Using cunning intellect, he observed her from all angles. Taking careful note of what angered her to the point where her hair frizzed and her cheeks burned a deep crimson; of what made her particularly giddy and what made her forlorn and withdrawn.
It almost went without saying that injustice, inequality, and abuse or mistreatment of any kind fueled her frightful anger. Organizing her files made her feel accomplished; lunch with her friends resulted in a bubbly demeanor for the rest of the day; great triumphs in the direst of cases made her whirl through the halls as if she were unstoppable (she was); and new books, a wizard's acknowledgement of the wonders of the muggle world, hand-made gifts, and muggle candies called "Sherbet Lemons" turned her lips upward in a small contented smile—the kind of smile that made one believe all was right with the world.
So he bought muggle literature and, to his surprise, he actually read it. The authors used a few words he didn't understand but he assumed they were referring to muggle technology. It wasn't all that bad.
Crime and Punishment, a novel by some Russian author that he had quite enjoyed, he placed conveniently on the corner of his desk and then filled a small candy container with Sherbet Lemons and another one with his favorite assortment of chocolate wands. It wouldn't do to appear too obvious, after all.
When she hurried into his office one day to transfer some files over, he saw her peering around curiously, as if she were in a foreign world. As her eyes skimmed his desk, they stopped suddenly and widened. Noticing her interest in the novel, Draco smiled to himself and located the folder. As he handed it to her, her dark eyes searching his, he waved another hand toward the small dish on his desk.
Sherbet Lemon, Granger?
But, as he sat in the restaurant, he realized that no amount of observation or practice could have possibly prepared him for this night.
At first, Draco had thought that he could try staying on particular topics, such as the misguided treatment of house elves, but doing so would only be underestimating Granger's intelligence. She would be able to see right through him, as he was confident she was aware that he was mostly indifferent about the welfare of others.
Maybe he could—
He jumped at the sudden voice of said witch and rose out of his seat in greeting. An awkward attempt to mask his surprise.
"Have I kept you waiting long?" She asked, taking the seat across from him while daintily crossing her ankles, "I thought I left a bit early, honestly."
"No, I had just arrived," he assured her.
"Of course, very good then." She smiled.
Draco struggled but managed to bring the corner of his mouth up by a small fraction. Smiling did not come naturally to him. And to be honest, despite his nerves, Granger had dressed quite nicely.
A short dress of deep, midnight blue clung to her small frame and a scoop neckline emphasized her delicate collarbone. It was modest, showing no amount of cleavage, but classy and, dare he think it, sexy. A nude lipstick added definition to her full lips and the curls framing her face seemed softer and less frazzled than usual.
Merlin, while it didn't take much, she had tried. Granger had put forth the effort to dress up for their date. Their date! A date between the swotty bookworm and her most vile childhood enemy, Draco Malfoy!
The seconds ticked by as he considered this and he realized that they had been staring at each other rather awkwardly for a few minutes now.
"Er… shall we have some wine?" He asked and gestured across the room for a waiter.
"That sounds lovely, especially after the afternoon I've had at the Ministry today. Some sort of Moscato, if you will. " With a sigh, she gracefully let her chin fall into her upturned palm, her elbow resting on the table, and peered up at him.
"Are you nervous?"
He cleared his throat. Was he blundering this already?
"No. Should I be?" He tried, turning his glass in circles absentmindedly.
"I suppose not. I mean, maybe, if Harry or Ron ever get you alone." Hermione smirked and her eyes glittered with a knowing expression.
"Oh," Draco stumbled, "you've told them then. I… hadn't really… thought about it."
By the mercy of all things magic, she saved him, sat upright in her chair while letting out a faintly amused laugh.
"Godrics, no, I haven't told them yet. Rest easy. It's not you that should be worried. It's me!"
Draco turned and gave their drink order to the waiter and glanced back at her, his brow furrowed.
Sensing his confusion, she elaborated.
"I can just imagine the interrogation I would get. 'Hermione, have you gone bonkers?' 'Are you feeling ill?' 'Malfoy, you said? Are you sure you didn't mean Macmillian?'" She mocked, gesturing lazily in the air with her hand.
Lowering his eyes to the flickering of the candles, he wondered why she had bothered to say yes if it would be such a hassle.
"I'm sure it would be quite an experience," he murmured.
The change in him was sudden. His nerves dissipated into a strange forlornness and his anxiety shifted into an unpleasant embarrassment. The tension in his shoulders deflated, but they drooped now as he unconsciously slouched lower in his seat and spread his long legs a bit further out under the table.
"Oh, stop it!" Hermione snapped lightly and reached out to place one of her hands atop his, forcing Draco to turn his head up and look at her. "I'm here because I want to be."
"Forgive me," he asked, "it was wrong of me to assume—", her hand lingered a moment before she retracted it. The odd warmth that had spread into his fingers was chilled by the slight draft the movement created.
"Yes, well, all that aside, you were quite persistent. I admit it was a bit flattering."
Draco smirked and straightened his shoulders. This was familiar territory.
"A Malfoy never relents in his pursuit."
"Is that so," with a demure smile, Hermione assessed him. "I advise you choose your words wisely. I am not a prize to be won or a hippogriff to be chased, Draco Malfoy."
"A simple analogy," he replied smoothly. "Though sometimes, it is more relevant than you would think."
"Sir, Mademoiselle," the server cut in and poured wine into two sparkling glasses, "please enjoy while you make your selections for this evening's meal. Perhaps you will try the special."
Draco handed her a glass as the waiter retreated, and continued.
"Have you never had a desire for the chase then, Granger? To sit back and enjoy watching the wizards' duel for your hand?"
She laughed and took a long drink.
"Draco, I've been on the run far too much for one lifetime. While it is nice, I grant you, to be wooed and attended to, I find—at this point in my life—that I'd much prefer the attentions of one wizard and one wizard only. It's time, don't you think, for the games to end."
"Who said anything about playing games, Granger?"
The delicate lift of a blonde eyebrow and the twitching corner of his mouth signaled the return of the estimable Draco Malfoy. The night, he decided, was turning in his favor. For the life of him, he couldn't remember exactly what it was that had made him so nervous in the first place.
A carefully timed brush of his leg against hers and his fingers settling down lightly on her hand gave birth to the barest traces of pink in her cheeks.
There was, in the end, something to be said for the hiss of a snake calming the lion's roar.