Chapter 1

Hermione Jean Granger slumps onto the bar stool, large brown bag swinging onto the counter with a thud. The bartender takes one look at her – frazzled brown curls spiraling off in every direction, slightly smudged eyeliner, blazer shrugged off and haphazardly folded on top of her bag – and pours her a glass of whiskey.

"It's on the house," he mutters as she knocks the drink back. She's a regular customer, used to come in all the time with two rowdy boys and an equally rowdy redhead girl, but he's never seen her look quite so…defeated.

For her part, Hermione hasn't been back to The Phoenix Feather since Ron broke up with her two months ago, desperately trying to avoid any place she might see him with his new girlfriend. But today was an especially rough day, what with her boss telling her to take a week of mandatory leave, so she thought she might deserve a drink or two. Or five.

Most people would be excited, but Hermione had been effectively drowning herself in her work in an attempt to not deal with Ron. Or Harry and Ginny's wedding, for that matter, and what she's going to do when Ron shows up with Lavender – who has a stupid name like Lavender anyway? – and she shows up alone. The wedding is less than two weeks away, though, and chances of finding a tolerable date at this point – McLaggen from work certainly doesn't count as tolerable – are outrageously low.

She's on her third drink when a tall, dark-haired man sits down at the bar only two seats away from her. She doesn't pay him too much attention, just enough to notice that he's wearing an expensive looking suit and the top three buttons of his crisp white shirt are unbuttoned, revealing a sliver of his flawless, marble chest. She also notices that he's devilishly handsome, like a Greek god or maybe a model. She suppresses a snort as she turns back to her drink. He's probably got a head full of air. Not her type.

Not that Ron was exactly her ideal type either.

As if summoned by her very thoughts, Ron's boisterous laughter rings through her ears as the door of the bar is pushed open, a gust of cold air sending a shiver down Hermione's spine.

"Oh Ron-Ron, you're too funny," a feminine voice says, giggling. Hermione thinks she might vomit.

The bartender is at the other end of the bar, and Hermione doesn't want to make a scene. She just wants her check so she can maybe try to get out of here before "Ron-Ron" and the girl who must be Lavender even notice she's here at all. She grabs her things and begins walking towards the bartender, praying that they don't notice her.

"'Mione?"

Fuck.

She turns slowly, lips pressed into a tight smile. Lavender is just as pretty in person as she is on Facebook, not that Hermione checked or anything. Hermione shouldn't be surprised by the slight frown on the other girl's face or the way Lavender tightens her grip on Ron's hand, but those small motions make bile rise in the back of her throat.

"Ron," Hermione says, forcing her smile to stay in place. "And you must be Lavender." She can tell that the other girl is analyzing her to see if she's still a threat. If the twitch of her rose-petal lips is anything to go by, Lavender Brown is very confident that she's in no danger of losing Ron to Hermione.

"Haven't seen you around much," Ron says.

"I've been busy. Work stuff, you know." She has never wanted a conversation to be over as much as she does right now. She just wants to pay for her drinks, go home to her bitch of a cat, Crookshanks, and pretend this meeting never happened. Ron, apparently, doesn't have any issues talking to her.

"Anything other than work going on?" he asks, and Hermione knows where this line of questioning is going. Perhaps the Universe is just taking a huge shit on her today.

"Not much. Like I said, I've been extremely busy." Lavender is almost smirking now, but Ron's expression is worse because he looks like he might actually pity her. It's officially the worst night ever, she decides.

"So you're not seeing anyone, then?" Ron asks. Hermione does her best to keep her expression neutral, but she cannot fathom – cannot even begin to understand – why Ron thinks he has any right to ask her that.

She's about to say as much – though she thinks in her current state it might come out more as "fuck you" – when a warm hand rests itself gently on her shoulder. Her head jerks to see who the hell is touching her when she notices it's the dark-haired man. She almost smacks herself because they've been having this conversation right in front of his chair. He flashes the three of them a polite smile, and good god is he stunning. His grip on her shoulder tightens by a hair.

"Darling, aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?" he asks. His voice is rich and smooth and deep. From the corner of her eye, Hermione sees Lavender blush. She knows there's blood rushing to her face as well.

"Uhm…"

He smiles at her indulgently, like this is something he's completely used to. He extends his hand to Ron.

"Tom Riddle."

"Ron Weasley," the ginger replies. Recognition lights up Tom's eyes, and Hermione is so fucking confused, because she doesn't know this man who has his arm around her shoulder.

"Ah," Tom says, something akin to humor underlying the tone of his voice. "So you're the ex." Ron frowns.

"And who are you, exactly?" Ron asks, eyeing the way Tom's arm is slung so casually around Hermione. "Hermione's boyfriend?"

Tom smirks. "Something like that," he says, winking down at Hermione. Heat rushes to her face, turning her red as a cherry, as the implication of what he's said hits her. "Well, we really must be going. It was lovely meeting you." He releases his hold on Hermione only to offer her his arm. "Shall we?"

She takes his arm hesitantly, part of her wondering what the fuck she's doing.

"Put it on my tab," Tom calls to the bartender, motioning to Hermione. He walks her out the door before releasing her arm.

"Why did you do that?" she asks before she can stop herself, her words slurring slightly. He raises a brow at her, all pretense of charm gone.

"You and your cohorts were rather loudly discussing your pathetic love life," he says. "Right behind my chair, I might add."

She scowls at him. "My love life is not pathetic."

He snorts. "Remember dear, I've just met your ex. I'd hardly call him quality material."

"Excuse you."

He shrugs. "You have poor taste in men."

Her fists are clenched and she wants to punch him. "You met one –"

"Oh, are there more than just Ron?" he asks, sneering. "It hardly matters anyway. He was the most recent boyfriend, was he not?" Hermione takes a deep breath.

"Thank you for helping me tonight. I'm sorry if I have in any way inconvenienced you," she says, though her words are even more slurred than before. "Good night." She turns, intending to walk back to her apartment – it's not all that far from here – but stumbles and almost falls into the street. She is saved only by a firm grip on her arm.

"Perhaps you ought to get a cab," Tom says.

"I'm fine."

He scoffs. "You don't sound fine. You don't look fine, either." He has yet to let go of her arm, but she's leaning against him as if she can't stand on her own, so he doesn't think it's safe to let go of her quite yet, lest she fall into the street and die. He rolls his eyes. That would be one lawsuit he certainly doesn't want to get wrapped up in.

"I'll be just…fine…swear it…I can walk," she mumbles. He rolls his eyes again and hails a cab.

"Alright, here's a cab. In you go," he says. She doesn't respond and he notices that she's already asleep, face pressed into his jacket. He hopes she doesn't vomit. "Hermione?" He shakes her a little, but she doesn't wake. She's still breathing, though. He can tell because of the faint snores she lets out with every breath.

He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose before pulling her into the cab with him.