Chapter One: Mudbloods, Sweat and Tears
Summary: Good fences make good neighbors.
He hadn’t meant to lean in so close. He’d smelled her, actually smelled her, and now knew things. The no-nonsense regiment of shampoo followed by the even more straight forward conditioning. He discerned the low, vague scent of lanolin with a touch of aloe. A faint dusting of talc. The Muggle product he understood to be applied generously to the armpits. But there was something else above it all. Something slightly musky, yet sweet. It was almost…citrus.
“It’s another Rune, Hermione.”
With those words, the most despicable creature to ever exist glided effortlessly back into Draco’s life.
He whirled around sharply at the sound her name. She was just at the door, carefully dusting her feet on a mat at the threshold.
Where only moments ago he’d wiped his feet.
Her face was flushed as she had rushed in from the cold, two vivid red spots staining her cheeks. She hesitated, her eyes sweeping over the two men huddled at the desk, her head tilting. The movement was imperceptible and anyone else would have missed it. But he was keen to her repugnant Mudblood habits. Like staring.
His hand automatically curled into a fist as she started towards them in a quick, slightly bouncing stride. She smoothly skirted Draco, as if she’d come within the boundaries of an invisible fence, and quietly murmured a greeting to the younger seated wizard. A succession of rapid, whispery words quickly fell between them, punctuated with the soft clacking of wooden tiles and a few quiet nods.
He stood just outside their little powwow, his eyes fastened on the abomination she called hair. There was a lot less of it now, shorn carefully around her earlobes. She’d somehow managed to sleek it into something of a bob, the thick sable waves pinned back with a simple barrette. It was no longer quite as wild or frizzy as he as remembered, now tamed by time or very strong styling potion. He briefly pictured her zipping across the courtyards of Hogwarts, her long tangled mane whizzing behind her.
Perhaps she’d bewitched it.
He let out a low irritable growl, scolding himself.
Hermione and the apprentice wizard both looked over at him and she quickly concluded their talk, sending him off for something. She considered Draco briefly before turning her eyes intently onto the ancient symbols, the long nimble fingers of one hand working absently at the buttons of her navy dress robe. The other hand skipped with familiarity over the desk drawers and stopped to tug at one of the handles, all without her ever looking up. A crisp white blouse, plain and efficient, gleamed from the opening of her cloak.
At this, he snapped himself away and stamped heavily to a desk that was directly across the aisle and at what felt like a safe distance. The long narrow office of Magical Decryption was divided into two sides, each work space corralled by a clutter of boxes and file cabinets and enchanted potted plants. He should have known immediately that he’d been standing at Granger’s desk. Only hers held some semblance of rigorous straightening. There were no floating plaques or personal memorabilia. Her space spoke only of the most strict and tidy touches of professionalism. The very hallmark of a certain obsessive-compulsive Mudblood.
He stopped just short of sitting, however, as he warily eyed all manners of…rubbish heaped upon the other desk. Explosions of lemon yellow smiley faces grinned idiotically at him from nearly every surface. Miniature stuffed animals with sickeningly sweet expressions loomed over him in a threatening manner from a hutch. To his immediate right, a bookcase was overrun by a tribe of plastic nude creatures with slightly protuberant eyes and shocking tufts of colorful hair.
Ridiculous Muggle crap.
He felt her eyes on him, laughing. Perhaps even smirking. He whirled around, all too ready to snap, but the slight, tense body of the younger wizard intercepted them. The boy was slowly unfurling some long scroll of browned paper across her desk, tentatively placing a book at the corner of the curled edges. She had moved the tiny lacquered Rune chest to the front of her desk, the pieces themselves now suspended in air, frozen in the exact position they’d been cast. She gazed minutely at the scripture before muttering something. The young wizard quickly exited the room.
Her robe was gone, revealing along with the rest of the meticulously starched shirt a dark skirt of surprisingly short length. The hem clearly missed the mark of coming anywhere near what would in school have been considered regulation. The delicate, teasing sliver of a slit strained at her slightly muscular thigh. Begrudgingly, his eyes followed the long tone lines of her lightly toasted almond skin, pondering over the origins a fading tan. Her knees were dark, slightly scuffed; obvious signs of rooting around in the muck as a child. A thin gold chain clasped her left ankle. Her shoes were a lace-up kind, flat and sensible.
She braced herself with both hands on the desk as she leaned carefully over the crackled parchment, her tiny pink tongue darting slowly over the grooves of her dry lips. Draco stared intently at her pouty mouth, now glistening with a thin coat of spit.
His face twisted into a snarl. Disgusting wretch.
He snapped his head away and across the room over to something more pleasant. On the far wall, an animated poster beckoned:
CURSE BREAKING: Come unlock the secrets of Egypt!
Below these blazing words, an eager adventurer and his trusty torch plunged deeper in the bowels of a murky crypt and into the fiendish arms of the mummy that awaited him just around the bend.
“ —- Draco?”
If not for the fact that he’d actually heard for himself the utterance of his name -- his first name -- he would've dismissed the claim as a vicious rumor.
He stiffened, falling in line with every instinct that had been drilled into him since he . Or at least, appeared to.
He heard Lucius cool, guiding tones at his ear. A Mudblood’s worth is one-seventh that of a Pureblood.
He shifted, just slightly, to the right. The dead weight of his arm propelled him forward. His lips tangled briefly against the soft shell her ear. He shot up and backwards, as if his face had caught on fire.
He hadn’t meant to lean in so close. He’d smelled her, actually smelled her. And now knew things. The no-nonsense regiment of shampoo in her hair. The even more straight forward conditioning. He discerned the low, vague scent of lanolin with a touch of aloe. A faint dusting of talc. The Muggle product he understood to be applied generously to the armpits. But there was something else above it all. Something slightly musky, yet sweet. It was almost…citrus.
And then a thought. An afterthought, really. It was bizarre and instantly annoyed him.
She eats well.
Why the fuck did he care how she ate, if she ate?
He wondered deliriously if he could be treated for having inhaled her vile Mudblood scent.
And she was watching him the whole time, her jaw resting slightly on her shoulder, her neck nearly completely the three-quarters turn he knew only possible of owls and, well, her. Her eyes were fairly blank, refusing him the satisfaction of having even aroused a hint of curiosity. But her mouth had slipped open.
Her offending mouth.
He caught a glimpse of her teeth; white and small and perfect. She probably carefully inspected her incisors after every meal. Studiously flossed between her molars and bicuspids at least once -- no, twice -- a day. Lovingly swished that stinging antiseptic her tooth-loving parents pushed on Muggles.
He was going mad. He was going mad and doing it right there before her eyes, under that carefully sterile, yet hawk-like gaze.
It was not so much a retreat as him snapping away and returning briskly to the ridiculous showcase of luminescent shit-eatting grins. But it was his fortress nonetheless. He needed a buffer and was grateful for it. He felt safer now having a barricade of sorts between himself and whatever noxious fumes she was slowly wheedling upon him.
She eventually turned away, without much speed, but not dragging her eyes away either. Like she’d briefly noted something interesting, however fleeting. And now she was back to the task at hand, looking completely unruffled. But Draco knew accurately her mind to be a steel trap. She was slowly turning it over; thinking. She could be in bed, in the passionate throes of sex, and that insatiable brain of hers would find something to stew over.
The sudden, heavy scraping of chair legs across the floor caused Hermione to look over sharply. Draco had moved himself a whole foot away from the aisle, closer to the idiotic grinning seeming harmless Muggle version of trolls.
He felt it; light and shadowy, but creeping stealthily over him nonetheless. His left hand instantly snapped up, crushing the wrist that hovered cautiously at his chest. He slowly peeled open his steely grey eyes, all the tension in his entire body wired into this one hand. Her mouth was open again, but this time frozen in pain and probably a good dose of shock. He hoped it was shock. She had no right touching him. He hoped he’d scared the shit out of her.
“Your -- your cloak. It slipped,” she managed after he snapped her away.
He quickly flicked his eyes downward. Sure enough, the elegant suede material was just at the crest of his shoulder, most of it spilling onto the dusty floor in a thick cascade.
So she was being helpful. For once.
He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he must have. The watch on the bruised wrist she was nursing read 12:35 AM. Shit. Almost two hours later.
He quickly checked himself to see if anything was odd or funny. He narrowed his eyes at her. Maybe she’d slipped him a spell, made him lapse into unconsciousness, had him performing a number of demeaning and humiliating parlor tricks. But her eyes stayed fastened on his right hand, curled uselessly in his lap.
“See something you like, Granger?” he snarled, quickly reaching with his left to snap the cape back over his arm.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was quiet.
The sympathetic tones of it disgusted him to no end, but he was mostly by surprise, like a punch to the gut. He nearly blinked at the insanity of it. She was sorry. She was sorry?
He grunted, thinking of nothing else but possibly rolling his eyes, which was childish. What the fuck did she have to be sorry for? It was his goddamned arm.
But then, she was always curious. It was thick in those molasses eyes; the need to know, to entrench herself in someone else’s shit, to be knee-deep in other people’s business because her own business was just too fucking boring to be believed.
He would humor her. And amuse himself.
“What do you want to know, Granger?” It came out pleasant enough and the smile he conjured didn’t quite feel menacing.
She paused only for a moment. “Does it hurt you sometimes?”
He’d never been asked that before. If it hurt. If he hurt.
’Sometimes.’ It was a weird fucking question. His shoulders lifted in a half-shrug. Leave it to Granger.
“If I ever regain any feeling in it, I’ll let you know.”
Her face slipped a tick. “I heard you’d been hit with the Cruciatus Curse a number of times. I thought of the Longbottoms.” She sounded slightly flat, as if cross-referencing a dictionary.
Draco snorted. “Guess I’m just blessed with a stronger constitution. Or cursed. Whichever makes you feel better.”
Her mouth tightened. “I don’t want to “feel better” at your expense, Draco. You’re already suffering enough.”
Suffering? -- and as if she were allowing him some charity! The indignation of it all made him want to jump out the chair and strangle her. But he needed two hands to do this and his good one was shot. But he was becoming fairly quick with his left. He’d more than happily resign himself to just punching her in her pert little mouth instead.
And in that superior way of hers, she turned abruptly, as if ending the conversation.
“You can save your pity, Muddy.”
And there it was. Her spine stiffened perfectly. He could see the muscles in her back knotting, slowly rebuilding her wall. He’d been clever. He’d hopped the fence between them only to trample all over her lovely flowers while she was trying to be neighborly.
And she did turn around, just as he expected. He searched hungrily for the tears and the crumpled humiliation. For the eyes that flashed dangerously, white hot, their heat palpable.
Yes, he hated to admit. Even to himself while alone in the impenetrable gloom of his home. He thought incessantly on the days when nothing gave him more pleasure than to snarl those three deliciously evil words: “Dirty little Mudblood.”
He also remembered that he’d liked the way his pulse jumped in anticipation of their special encounters. How often had he rushed the weeks of endless summer monotony just to catch a glimpse of her on the train. And sometimes, a glimpse is all he got. The school term did not officially begin until she fouled his sight and he felt his lips curl in a way that was as natural as breathing.
He had them fooled, all of them. They always thought it was Potter --The Boy Who Lived But Should Have Prayed For Death -- that was his rival. He scoffed silently at this, laughed at those idiots.
No, it had always been Granger.
Potter’s arrogant refusal to shake his hand only exacerbated what was destined to come between them. Weasley’s unfortunate presence in the fray was purely incidental and fodder for his dark moods. But from the moment she and her bushy hair interrupted his perfect world, he couldn’t keep his twisted thoughts off her. Wondering when they’d get another chance to duel again with their sharpened tongues, to match wits and have laced conversations with strategically placed insults.
She, his most cherished enemy.
All was right in the world again.
Except this time, her eyes were quiet. There was no vicious thunderclap of anger, no potentially earth-shattering retort. Just her eyes. And her voice.
“Grow up, Draco.”
And with that, she placed another fresh brick to her wall.
[...to be cont...]