It started with a kiss.
Draco didn't quite know what would happen next, was beyond caring for the consequences of his actions. Since his father died he'd taken to living life by the moment; unplotted; a series of stumbles into an ever increasing darkness. He would do things now that the old Draco would have scorned - sit in his underwear wondering what sound a falling tree in the woods made, forget to brush his hair. Every evening he drank a bottle of his father's vintage firewhiskey and rode his broom in a wonky line to nowhere. Wake up next morning tangled in tree branches, twigs poking into places he didn't even know he had. The bleary journey home was adequate time enough to vomit away his hangover and any remaining dignity, plus he needed to work on his hate for every pretty little thing that dared to breathe while his father could not. It was a tough reverence to keep up, but somebody had to do it.
So leaning over to fasten his none too clean mouth over Hermione's was not the repellent exploit he had once deemed it to be. Hey, she was a mudblood. So what? He was a man on the edge, cool, daring, fucked up. Ready to try seedy new lows. And this Seedy New Low was very good, except he would have preferred her to hold back on the squirming.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she squawked when he finally released her.
"I kissed you" he replied smugly. Jesus. Women. Never satisfied.
"And I hate you. This isn't going to improve my opinion, Malfoy"
"Call me Draco, we've left school now. From the looks of it, you havn't quite figured that out yet."
"Meaning you're still the uptight rule-buddy I knew and loved for seven years."
While she spluttered he looked her over, mentally reaffirming his point. You put Hermione in Knockturn Alley's wildest bar and place a Spellbinder cocktail in her hand and she's still carrying an arithmancer training textbook in the other, dressed for a fun night out filing papers at the Ministry.
"That your idea of a racy little number?" he teased, less harshly than before. He must be incredibly drunk, kissing Hermione and sticking around to flash her the old Malfoy charm.
"Oh shut up. I don't know where you get off criticising my looks when you're such a wreck yourself" she spat.
Her eyes swept accusingly from his unkempt hair to his whiskey-stained shirt to his old trainers caked in mud from all those hung over country walks when he couldn't mount the broom without falling off. Draco realised the horrible, unfamiliar sensation of tasting his own medicine.
"Look, Malfoy, I know it's hard to lose a parent, especially to a stampeding Hippogriff. But you've got to pull yourself together a bit. Take it from me, it's a sad sight when somebody who used to be so slick and proud has a crushed bird's egg in his hair and doesn't even realise it."
With the wail of a natural born narcissist, Draco flapped hopelessly at his tufty white blonde head for several minutes before he let Hermione come to his rescue. While the rest of the Hotspot customers drank, danced and were merry, one extremely sober girl got to work on the whimpering boy's hair with the standard girly emergency tweezers and cotton swab.
"Nurse Granger?" Draco asked, when all the remnants of shell and sticky mess had been removed. "can I buy you another Spellbinder?"
"And then what happened?" Ginny gasped, mouth hanging open.
"He bought me five more and I was happy. Can you imagine? Happy in the company of Malfoy? Ugh, I feel dirty." Hermione wiped invisible dust from her immaculate work robes. She and Ginny met every lunch break at Fortescue's. They made an odd pair, Hermione so neat in her dark tailored arithmancy uniform and Ginny muddy in her clashing orange Quiddich gear, shin and elbow guards loosened and violently swinging whenever she moved. Hermione lived in fear of catching her eye out on one of those things.
"After I took the egg out we just kept on drinking - I think I was embroiled in a game of strip poker at some point, it would explain the missing tights - and he kept on being so damn funny in that horrible way of his. At the end of the evening I sort of, well, threw myself at him." Hermione's voice had descended to an agonised whisper. She bent her head so her face was covered by a lot of bushy hair, the only untamed part of her.
Ginny did not seem to be able to compute this information. "Strip poker? Throwing yourself? Hermione, I can't imagine you throwing yourself at your own teddy bear for practise, let alone Draco bloody Malfoy!"
"Well, he was just as surprised. In fact he laughed, untangled himself and flew off on his broomstick." Hermione said shamefully. "At least he crashed into a lamp post on the way up, the stupid bastard."
Ginny was still comically incredulous. "I'm surprised you even got past 'hello' with him, let alone stick around to try and cop a feel."
"Actually, I didn't have to get past 'hello'. I was just walking past when he grabbed me, and, well-"
"You already SNOGGED Malfoy?" Ginny yelled, gesticulating so wildly an elbow guard flew off. The whole of Fortescue's ground to a halt and stared at the girls' table. Hermione swore she heard somebody mutter something about tree fanciers.
"Thanks a lot Gin" she hissed. "I don't think the people at the back quite caught that."
"Actually, we did" sang an unnecessary voice from behind.
Ginny remained unrepentant. In fact, she looked annoyingly wise, which is hard to do when you have mismatched elbows.
"You've been ensnared, Hermione. Ensnared."
"What are you on about? I hate Malfoy. He got me drunk, it's his fault I acted like a nympho."
"Oh, you really hate him, do you? Hermione, I've seen this movie a thousand times. He's the arrogant, nasty rich boy gone off the rails, you're the straight laced do-gooder from his past. By all means, you should still hate each other, but waddaya know? There's chemistry."
Hermione's head was in her hands.
"It's horribly, painfully true. I admit it, ok? Now, let's never speak of this again."
Ginny licked her spoon in self satisfaction.
"I wonder what your kids will look like?"
Hermione retrieved the missing elbow guard from the floor and threw it at her.
Draco was almost sorry to leave the tree and start the long, sobering journey back home. He was in no fit state to be flying, so he trudged, broomstick hovering at his side like a disapproving parent.
He thought of Hermione and how scary she was when she was drunk. Like a virgin with an hour left to live. Normally, he would have revelled in the opportunity to act like a screwed up little rich boy trying to fill the void his father left with lots of meaningless sex. But it was Hermione. He couldn't help thinking that if he'd taken advantage, next morning he'd have found a petition with 1000 signatures declaring his manly parts be cut off by sunset. Thus, the conundrum.
Of course, he had briefly entertained the argument that Hermione was a mudblood and not worth his spit. But not giving a fuck was rather exhilarating and Draco had decided that if he was going to go off the rails, he was Really Going To Go Off The Rails. Hell, when he got home he might kiss a house elf.
That evening, for the first time in months, Draco took care with his appearance. His shirt was specially crumpled, the bags under his eyes were helped with his mother's smudged eyeliner. He even ate a garlic. God, he looked bad, he thought, proudly regarding himself in the mirror.
Hotspot was packed. Draco squeezed between happy, drunken bodies, gleeful in his own private heartache. What did these morons know about life? What did they know about pain and suffering and waking up with a twig in your nose every morning? Draco ordered firewhiskey and a Spellbinder for Hermione. He had spotted her across the room, uncharacteristically radiant in the middle of the Chudley Canons youth team, Ginny Weasley at her side with that combination of horribly clashing hair and robes. Hermione, as ever, was dark and staid in her arithmancy work clothes, nursing a small butterbeer. Draco was delighted. She was a perfect candidate for his new Screwed Up Rich Boy life plan. A totally, unsuitably nice girlfriend who he could slowly turn bad would be a really neat accessory. With this idea in his head and a seductive smile on his face, he snaked his way over to the group of Chudley Cannons.
"Oh shit. Malfoy, 2 o' clock." Ginny muttered into Hermione's ear. "And what the hell is wrong with his face? Do you think he's had a lobotomy?"
"That's his seductive smile" said Hermione sadly.
"Well, it looks like the safest contraception around. I take back what I said earlier, you definitely aren't going to have kids"
"Hermione! Hi, baby." Draco waggled his eyebrows and tried to curl his lip. Ginny took a step back in alarm.
"Baby?" was all Hermione replied. There was a moment of awkward silence. Then-
"Draco? Are you wearing eyeliner?"
Draco shuffled uncomfortably and chose not to answer. Things were not going exactly to plan. But of course, true badasses never followed the rules.
"Is that Spellbinder for me? Because I already have a drink, you know." Hermione waved her butterbeer in his face. Suddenly nonplussed, Draco made a high, horsey sort of noise that could have been a laugh.
"This old thing?" he said heartily, looking at the Spellbinder as if he hadn't even known he'd been carrying it. "Oh, no. This is nothing!" and to prove it, he tossed the contents of the glass over his shoulder, right down the front of Brutus McGraw, the scariest Beater the Canons had ever had. So scary, in fact, people cheered him even when he missed the bludgers.
"I say, you little twerp. You've just stained the front of one's new robes" squealed a wimpy, aristocratic little voice from behind Draco. Draco felt elated. He was going to get into a fight! Hermione was going to forget he was wearing eyeliner and cheer him on! He was so going to win against this geeky prat! He got to say the immortal words -
"Ok, bitch. Prepare for me to open a can of whup on your ass."
And then he turned around.
Brutus McGraw was 6"4, 210 pounds and so ugly he stopped traffic. Hi large, tomato nose clashed with his robes nearly as badly as Ginny's hair, his piggy little eyes seemed to be buried in rolls of course, meaty flesh. His fist was as big as Draco's head.
Draco only had time to half heartedly put up his own fists, repeating the mantra "you are the shianto dragon. You are the shianto dragon." in his head, before Brutus knocked him clean through the window. The last thing he heard before everything went black was Brutus's cry of "and you jolly well deserved that, you rude popinjay!"
Cold water. Brisk hands, slapping his face. A strand of fuzzy hair hanging down and tickling his nose.
"Oh, thank God, he's bloody well alive after all. Draco, can you get up?"
Draco blinked, with difficulty. Get up? He couldn't even speak properly, let alone get up. Hermione's face loomed over him like a floating balloon, her voice carrying an eerie sort of echo. He wondered if the punch had dislodged a bit of his brain, and realised he didn't really care if it had. Goodbye, cruel world! He closed his eyes and shifted his head so the light caught his cheekbones. It just wouldn't do to die ugly.
"Honestly. Draco, I saw that. Open your eyes and get up this instant!"
Hermione was tougher than she looked. Despite his resistance, she managed to drag him into a sitting position and pinch his cheeks. He opened his eyes in fresh pain, feeling slightly relieved there weren't any toothpicks on hand. He was quite sure Hermione would have used them to prop his eyelids open.
"What the hell do you think you're doing" Hermione asked him for the second time in two nights "picking a fight with the toughest person in the bar?"
"Trying to impress you" he mumbled through the pain, realising he truly must have damaged his brain to be telling such stark honest truth.
Hermione almost dropped him. "You did seem…well…different tonight. Yesterday it was like you didn't care, today you're putting on this weird bad boy act. Since when was eyeliner bad boy, Draco?"
"I was smudging it so it looked like I had shadows under my eyes. Damn makeup."
"I see" Hermione breathed. She mumbled a few spells under her breath, including one Draco recognised his mother using to remove mascara. Instantly, he felt better. Whatever had been bleeding and aching had stopped. His brain was back in place.
The street was dark and cold and silent, a different world from the boozy happiness of the bar. Draco watched the orange boulder of McGraw move behind the repairo-d window and flinch. He wasn't going back in there tonight. He sort of hoped Hermione wasn't either.
"You feel better now?" she asked crisply. When he nodded she got up and looked at him, sitting on the cobbled ground with his baby blonde hair all messed up and his dazed grey eyes. It was hard to remember what a prat he was when he looked like that.
"Look, Draco. It's very flattering you wanted to impress me and all and I can't deny that sometimes I find you kind of sexy, but I just don't see where a relationship between us could go. I mean, we hated each other all throughout school and we even hate each other a little now. And we're so different! I chose books, you chose looks-"
"I sure did" said Draco, wobbling to his feet and giving Hermione such a genuinely sultry smile she felt like falling over.
She opened her mouth to argue again, but no words came out. Draco, with surprising dexterity for somebody who'd just been hit by a human freight train, had closed in and placed his lips over hers.
The kiss was wonderful. A 3 minute marathon of varying pressure, warm tongues and definitely no teeth-bumping. When they finally broke apart, Hermione found Draco's hand stuck in her hair.
"So where do we go from here?" She asked, matching his rapturous grin.
"Would you like to meet my tree? I've named him Clarence."