Blood, Tears and Drowning Fears, Chapter 1: First Step, by Rhysenn

A/N: Quite a few of you have asked me to try my hand at a het fic (instead of my usual slash fare *g*), and I thought I'd give it a shot.
This is a three-part Draco/Hermione romance story. Enjoy!

Blood, Tears and Drowning Fears
Chapter One: First Step

Draco lashed out blindly, and his clenched fist connected solidly with what felt like Ron's jaw; an anguished yell of pain confirmed that. Even as they wrestled on the floor, Draco managed a small grin of victory, although it quickly changed into a grimace as Ron landed a punch in his abdomen and knocked the wind out of him. Something sharp — presumably Ron's foot — was jabbing painfully into Draco's ribs, and he struggled to gain better leverage, all the while hitting Ron with all his might. He tasted the copper tang of blood on his lip, and it drew out his primal rage as he lunged forward again.

All Draco could hear, other than his own and Ron's grunts, was a girl's voice screaming above the commotion, shouting, "Ron! Ron, get off! Ron!" Draco sucked in a deep breath, mustering all his strength to deliver another blow, when suddenly he was forcibly dragged away by a pair of hands. He struggled forward, drunk on the violent satisfaction of slugging Ron Weasley, but the arms firmly pulled him back.

Gasping, still winded, Draco staggered to his feet, panting for breath. Looking up, Draco was mildly startled to find himself looking into the very grim face of Professor Snape. He let out a soft exclamation that sounded like a slurred, 'oh god'.

A distance away, Ron glanced up, his heart sinking as he saw the intimidating presence of Snape striding forward, looking very angry, to say the least. Snape had Draco by the arm, and tugged him forward as he advanced upon Ron, who was supported by Harry and Hermione.

Snape's black eyes glittered maliciously. "What is going on here?" he demanded, automatically looking to Draco for an explanation.

"Weasley hit me, sir," Draco lied glibly, relishing the outraged expression on Ron's face. "He insulted me and called me a dumb git who's only good at Potions."

"The most accurate statement you've ever made about yourself, Malfoy," Ron snarled, lurching forward in rage, although he was restrained by Harry and Hermione. "That's a lie and you know it!"

Snape didn't need to know it. "Detention, Weasley," he barked, looking furious that Ron had the audacity to speak against his beloved subject. "Hospital wing, both of you."

* * * * * * *

Draco sat on the bed, nursing his sprained wrist — Weasley really did have a thick skull, he mused to himself.

He was alone in the hospital wing — Ron had stormed off about ten minutes ago — and he chuckled softly to himself as he recalled Ron's extremely amusing reaction to having been slapped with detention while Draco got away scot-free. On top of that, they had the task of making their way to the hospital wing without first tearing each other to shreds en route, which they somehow managed even until they entered the hospital room, when Draco made a snide remark about Ron's rather unflattering limp and Ron retaliated by flinging a roll of bandages (the nearest thing he could get his hands on) at Draco. Misfortune had it that Madam Pomfrey chose that exact moment to appear, and Ron got an additional telling off for playing with medical supplies.

Draco touched his finger gingerly to a healing bruise on his cheekbone and winced. That bastard packed a pretty good punch. He sighed, stretched a little and was about to get to his feet when the door cautiously opened, and Hermione Granger poked her head in.

Hermione's expression immediately darkened when she saw Draco; she didn't enter the room, although she glanced quickly around and found it empty, since she didn't really take Malfoy into account as a person.

Very coolly, she asked, "Has Ron left?"

Draco regarded her coldly. "No, I ate him up then vomited him into the toilet, so you can find him there."

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "You think you're very funny, don't you Malfoy?"

"Well, I think you're very weird, so I guess that's the two of us. And I'm using the term 'weird' extremely loosely."

"And I'm using the term 'big stupid git' euphemistically."

Draco let out a short laugh. "You'll regret saying that someday."

Hermione made a derisive noise. "That doesn't sound very menacing at all. It sounds rather pathetic, actually."

"Only about as pathetic as your bandage-toting, boxing-kangaroo friend." Draco sniggered. "Weasley's sparring skills are about as poor as his family is. I've seen pandas fight better than he does."

"Yes, and seeing you've got a black eye, you must be related to the pandas too," Hermione said scathingly.

Draco felt his face flush, and his hand instinctively flew up to his bruised cheek. "This is not a black eye."

"The mirror will tell a different story," Hermione replied, giving Draco's face a closer look — the purplish bruise stemmed from his left cheekbone, she noted, but it still could pass off as a black eye.

Draco hopped to his feet and shuffled over to the mirror. He eyed his reflection critically, tilting his head to get a better look at the side of his face. He grimaced. "Looks worse than it is, that's all."

"No, Malfoy, the worst part of you can't be seen in a mirror," Hermione snapped, and gave him a sharp look before she turned and closed the door behind her, missing the stricken expression that flitted briefly across Draco's face.

Draco's pale grey eyes narrowed, although not in anger. He stared hard at the closed door, hearing Hermione's footsteps slowly fade away, although her stinging words still echoed in his ears. He felt an unfamiliar pang within him — the slightest twinge, much like the stirring of conscience yet tinged with an uncertain sort of feeling. Why did Granger's mere words seem to have a deeper impact on him than Weasley's blows?

Draco sighed, and shook his head, then went over to the mirror to inspect his bruise again.

* * * * * * *

Draco stirred the fizzing mixture in his cauldron idly, watching the viscous liquid simmer as it turned a pale shade of lilac. He was making an Indelible Dye Potion, which permanently coloured anything it touched once the mixture was ready. It was a simple enough potion to concoct, and (checking his watch) it was time to decide what colour he wanted to dye it.

Draco grinned and wondered if he should borrow Pansy's pink-coloured scrunchie and add it to his potion, then dump the entire cauldronful on Ron Weasley's head so that he'd at least have to spend half the day looking like a marshmellow until Madam Pomfrey found a way to fix him. But Draco figured even Snape would give him detention for that, so he shelved the thought (temporarily) and scoured the classroom for a colour he liked.

His first impulse was to choose black, but he decided that it was too boring — there weren't many different shades, tones or textures of black. Black was black, the same colour as the darkness, or the dizziness that overwhelmed you just before you passed out. Draco wanted a different colour, for a change.

He glanced around the classroom restlessly until his eyes fell on a colour that he actually liked. Getting to his feet, he walked over to the back of the classroom, where a few students were collecting the ingredients for their potion.

"Granger, give me strand of your hair."

Hermione spun around, a spatula full of silvery powder in her hand, unable to hide her astonishment at finding Draco Malfoy standing behind her. "What?"

"I said, give me a strand of your hair." Draco's voice was even.

Hermione blinked; was Malfoy actually talking civilly to her, managing an entire sentence without saying 'Mudblood'... asking for a strand of her hair? She goggled at him for a moment.

Draco sighed impatiently. "Am I speaking Parseltongue or don't you understand English?"

"Why do you want a strand of my hair?" Hermione demanded suspiciously. She wondered if he was going to try voodoo on her; then she realised she was a witch, so voodoo was like water off a duck's back, anyway.

"Because I want to use it for my potion. Hurry up now, my cauldron's about to boil over."

"No." said Hermione flatly.

"No?" Draco gave her a narrowed look, and anger flared in his grey eyes. "No? I could have just walked right by and nicked a strand off you and you wouldn't even know it. Instead I have the decency to come up and ask you for it, and you say, 'no'?"

Hermione couldn't find anything to retort to that, and just looked hard at Draco, trying to decipher his hidden intentions.

Draco was decidedly annoyed by Hermione's refusal. "You know what, I think I'll just yank off a handful of your hair."

"Do that, and I'll rip out a handful of your brain." Hermione snapped right back, put off by Malfoy's antagonism. "Honestly, Malfoy, did you actually think I'd agree to give you a strand of my hair just because you asked?"

Draco smiled humourlessly. "I don't usually get turned down by girls, much less those of your calibre."

"Then you'd better start getting used to it," spat Hermione, her cheeks flushing with anger. "You're an arrogant, spoilt brat, and I'd slap you right now if not for the fact that my hands are full of powdered asphodel and you'll be blinded if any of it gets into your eyes. Not that it would be too bad an idea, though."

With that, Hermione turned and stalked off, leaving Draco staring after her, seething.

How dare she? Draco fumed, storming back to his own table, where his cauldron bubbled dangerously, matching his mood at that moment. How dare she turn me down when I even bothered to ask her?

Draco threw his glance around the room, casting about for something else to use, another colour that appealed to him. But he couldn't find anything that quite matched what he was looking for, anything like the unique honeyed tone of that girl's hair, that girl who was now leaning over and whispering something in Harry Potter's ear.

Finally Draco gave up and settled for black, which suited his state of mind at present. Draco picked up a scissors and was about to sneak up to Crabbe, who was sitting two seats away, to cut off the edge of his black robes when he suddenly saw Hermione walk in his direction. He paused, and watched surreptitiously from where he stood, a few feet away.

Hermione strolled right past Draco's table without even looking at him, but as she passed his cauldron, she dusted something off her left hand in a quick, furtive movement. Then she walked right on, and went back to her table to tend to her own potion.

Draco curiously went over and looked into his cauldron — it was starting to froth, indicating that the potion was brewing properly and that his Indelible Dye was almost ready. Draco watched the mixture carefully, waiting for the smoke to clear, and when it did, he saw that the potion had turned a beautiful shade of caramel brown — the exact colour he had wanted.

As he looked up, Hermione turned and their eyes met for a second. Draco saw a rare, fleeting smile in her eyes, although her lips didn't curve upward; then the moment was gone, and she looked away.

Draco let his gaze linger on her for an instant longer before turning back to his own potion, which was ready for submission. It looked perfect, the closest thing to the intangible colour of his imagination, like a whisper of a forgotten memory, and he felt satisfied, like an artist who finally found the palette of his inspiration.

Draco couldn't suppress a smile. He shook his head wryly, and tried to put it out of mind, but couldn't.

Things were complex enough as they were, and from the looks of it, were set to become even more complicated.