A Beginning

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Story Notes:
The worksite is hot and humid. Hermione still hasn’t adjusted to the tropical temperatures of eastern Peru despite it being two weeks since her arrival. The excavation of the ancient magical site is in a remote area, the nearest population over a day’s hike away, and there are only three of them in the research group, so it’s also been very quiet so far. Dr. Heathcoat is in charge of the excavation, and he’s acting as mentor for Hermione’s apprenticeship in curse breaking and examination of magical artifacts. He’s also acting as mentor for one other wizard, which is the reason it’s been so quiet. Draco Malfoy is not someone that Hermione ever expected to show up in Peru with camping supplies and an apprenticeship that’s nearly identical to hers.

They are on speaking terms and behave in a civil manner that is appropriate for the professional situation they have found themselves in, but they aren’t friends, and there’s no casual conversation between them. They speak about the programs they’ve been studying, and they don’t stray from academics to personal information no matter how bored they’ve been since setting up camp. They did play a game of exploding snap last night, though, so she has hopes that they’ll become more social as time passes because it helps make the long nights not seem so long.

“Heathcoat chose a good time to make a supply run,” Draco mutters. “This is the hottest day it’s been yet.”

“It was good timing,” she agrees, glancing over at him. He’s removed his robe already, and he’s wearing a pair of loose khaki trousers and a white shirt that’s already looking damp from sweat. “I actually wish we’d get one of those rain showers we had when we first arrived, even if it prevents us from working on the excavation until the land is dry.”

“I don’t see how you’re still wearing that robe. It’s bloody hot out here,” he says, shaking his head. A strand of blond hair falls over his eyes as he leans forward to aim his wand at the spot he’s excavating.

“I hadn’t even considered removing it.” She’s being honest. While Dr. Heathcoat doesn’t even wear a robe, she’s tried to be professional and maintain some resemblance of normality in a situation that reminds her a little of camping while on the run during the war. She’s wearing a pair of Muggle short pants and a sleeveless top under the robe, and she knows it would be much cooler if she just took it off, but she isn’t sure if Malfoy would make some snide remark about her clothing or not.

“Well, you should consider removing it. Heathcoat isn’t back for two days, and I don’t fancy having to deal with you if you get heatstroke out here. Why he has to choose a spot that prohibits Apparation, I don’t quite understand.” Draco glances at her and arches a brow. “I know you’re wearing something underneath your robes because you aren’t the type to go about natural, so just take the bloody thing off.”

“No, I’m not.” She grimaces. “I did try it once at Luna’s urging, but I didn’t feel free and unrestricted as she claimed. I felt itchy and nervous that a gust of wind would blow the robe up.” He snorts but turns it into a cough when she looks at him. He focuses his attention on the digging site in front of him, so she returns to her own. After a bit, she is getting too hot to ignore it any longer. She stops her work for a moment and slides the robe off her shoulders, folding it up and laying it on the ground nearby.

It’s amazing how much better she feels almost immediately. She’s still sweaty, but what little air movement there is feels nice. With renewed energy, she focuses on her current excavation site, carefully using her wand to move dirt and debris while looking for magical artifacts. She isn’t sure how long it is before she finds what looks like shards of pottery. This area has been inhabited by magical folks since before records were kept, so she’s excited to think that this could be part of a bowl used in ancient magical acts.

“Did you find---bloody hell, Granger. What are you wearing?” Malfoy is staring at the sky when she looks at him, his pale cheeks flushed pink.

“I’m wearing short pants and a sleeveless top,” she says, not quite understanding his reaction. She expected to possibly be insulted for wearing Muggle clothing, but he’s behaving as if he’s caught her frolicking around naked.

“Do Muggles often go about displaying so much skin outside the privacy of their bedrooms?” Draco’s voice is somewhat strangled, and she is starting to get a little amused by the situation. “No wonder there are so bloody many of them.”

“It’s not indecent, Malfoy. All the important bits are covered.” She looks down at the short pants, which end a couple of inches above her knees, and the top doesn’t even have spaghetti straps. “This is actually more modest than some Muggles wear. It’s not even as revealing as a bathing suit. Have you never been to a beach?”

“Mother isn’t fond of swimming. We took holidays to the mountains, not the ocean. However, even I know that swimming costumes cover more than that,” he says, motioning towards her. “At least, wizarding ones do.”

“Perhaps they do in your social circles, but I know that the Weasleys certainly didn’t wear old-fashioned suits for swimming.” She shakes her head. “It’s just legs and arms, Malfoy. I think your sensibilities can handle it. I’m hot, and this is cooler. You’re a grown man, so act like one.”

“My swimming costume is not old-fashioned!” Malfoy sneers. “The Weasleys probably couldn’t afford enough material to have a proper swimming costume made. If you want me to act like a man, I can certainly oblige, Granger, but I would think I was the last person you wanted admiring your long legs and lush curves.”

“Don’t be a prat just because I’m not putting my robe back on.” She glares at him before turning her back to him, signaling that the conversation is finished. When she leans down to go back to work, she freezes midway because she feels warm fingers on her shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“I see ink. You have a tattoo?” He touches her shirt, tracing the inked outline before he suddenly pulls his hand away. “I apologize for touching you. It was just unexpected, and I had to see if it was real or a trick of light.”

“It’s fine. I forget about it,” she says honestly. Glancing over her shoulder, she sees a curious expression on his face and knows he’s going to pester her until she lets him see it. She sighs and tugs her shirt up. “Don’t get scared at the sight of more bare flesh. If you want to see it, I have to do this.”

“I’m not going to faint at the sight of your bare skin, Granger.” He sounds grumpy and annoyed, which makes her lips twitch in amusement. “I’ve seen naked women before, so this isn’t that impressive. I cannot believe you got a tattoo, though. Miss Perfect Know-It-All with something forever etched in her skin. Will wonders ever cease?”

“If you keep nattering on, I won’t show you.” She hesitates a moment when the hem of her shirt is even with her bra strap, but it’s not as if she didn’t spend months living with two boys, which helped her lose a lot of her natural reserve when it came to being a female. Once she has pulled the shirt up, she hears him make an odd noise, then his fingers are on the tattoo.

“Why do you have a snitch? What’s that inside it? It’s moving, but the snitch isn’t. It’s a magical tattoo then?” Malfoy’s fingers are warm but gentle as he touches the design.

“The inside is a knight from a wizard’s chest set reading a book,” she says quietly. “The snitch is Harry, the chess piece is Ron, and I’m the book. We all got the same design on the first anniversary of the Battle at Hogwarts. Ron had them use magic on the snitch, too, so it flies around his back, but Harry and I just got the knight and book charmed with movement.”

“The golden trio. I think I’m going to vomit. Though, I suppose if one had to get a permanent design on their body, that would make the most sense for you and the dunderheads.” Malfoy rubs his knuckle over the tattoo, and she shudders slightly because it’s been far too long since someone touched her in what she would call an intimate way. “It’s a lot better than the mark I’m stuck with. At least you had the choice.”

“It’s a reminder of something significant in my life. Your mark might not be something you wanted, but it’s the same. A visual reminder that you survived.” She starts to pull her shirt back down, but his hand stops her.

“I’m still looking.” Malfoy continues tracing the design with his fingertips. “Why are you here, Granger? Last I knew, you were storming the Ministry dismantling laws that were centuries old. I never expected to see you out here roughing it on a rather boring apprenticeship.”

“I did help Kingsley---Minister Shacklebolt---dismantle a variety of unfair Pureblood laws and rewrite more balanced laws to govern our world. It took three years, but I never wanted to go into law, and he couldn’t entice me to continue in that field once we concluded our project. I enjoy curse breaking and using magic, so he offered me a position in the Department of Mysteries when I finish my apprenticeships. He just doesn’t want Gringotts to get hold of me, and I do like some of the possibilities that working for the Department of Mysteries would include. As for this specific excavation, Dr. Heathcoat is an expert, even if he’s eccentric, and I want to learn from the best. What about you?” She shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “Why pursue this field of study?”

“I enjoy charms and runes, so I’m studying both.” Malfoy clears his throat. “Shacklebolt told me he’s willing to give me a chance at the Ministry if I prove myself, has said that Dumbledore spoke of his hopes for me, and, well. My parents are being overbearing and insisting I should marry and breed soon, as I’m not getting any younger, so I thought this opportunity would provide me space and time to figure out what to do when I get back.”

“I was surprised when you joined us at the start of the hike here,” she admits. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d enjoy camping in the middle of nowhere and being unable to have conveniences readily available. While it has inadvertently brought back some unpleasant memories, I’m adjusting to it now. I’m enjoying the chance to just stop, you know? It feels like the world has been spinning like crazy for years, since sixth year, really, without stopping at all. I needed this break, even if it is somewhat tedious and dull.”

“Yes, well, I’m surprised Potty and Weasel allowed you out of their sight for the three months this apprenticeship requires. I’ve seen in the Prophet that they’re preoccupied with She-Weasel and an endless stream of airheads, respectively, but you’re the brains of the group, so I’d imagine they wouldn’t want you gone for too long.” Malfoy is moving the pad of his thumb over the tattoo now. “Especially not with you wearing such skin revealing clothing and spending time with a charming, handsome wizard for so many months.”

Hermione nibbles on her bottom lip. “I think they know that Dr. Heathcoat is too old for me,” she says, listening to him scoff. “Anyway, they didn’t know you’d be here anymore than I did. Otherwise, I probably would have been the victim of Harry’s puppy eyes and Ron’s brash threats against your manhood if I dared accept the apprenticeship. You do seem rather captivated by my clothing, Malfoy. And my tattoo.”

“You always have been a fascinating witch,” he murmurs, hand just resting against her skin for a moment before he takes a step away from her. “I think Weasel’s hypothetical threats against my manhood might be warranted if my recent reaction is considered. Perhaps now is a good time for a break? I’m feeling overheated, and your skin is at risk of burning if you don’t take your potion.”

Hermione licks her lips and tugs her shirt back down, making sure she’s properly covered before she turns to face him. “Yes, a break sounds lovely. I’ll make some sandwiches. Are you hungry, M-Draco?”

He looks at her, eyes widening in surprise. “I, uh, yes. A sandwich would be nice.” He arches a brow and slowly smiles. “Hermione.”

“Well, it doesn’t appear as if the world has ended, so I suggest we act our age and use our given names.” She returns his smile. “We have another two and a half months to get through, after all, and I think we can use this opportunity to get to know each other better. What do you say?”

“I watched a Muggle film with my aunt Andromeda a couple of years ago that sums up what I think brilliantly.” He waits for a moment until she rolls her eyes and nods at him as if to congratulate him for watching Muggle cinema. At her acknowledgement, he smirks. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”