Chapter 1 : Meeting Hermione
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Another beautiful morning. Another beautiful day.
Since the defeat of the Dark Lord, I’ve become quite used to the peace that’s fallen across the world. Its like a blanket of silk, full of vibrancy and energy, crammed with potential and freedom. The mark that was now grime against my wrist caused me to simply writhe in disgust, but it is faded now, the etch of a stain that echoes my past.
A hot shower is a blissful rinse against my skin, and sighing in deep solace, I allow the troubles of yesterday to wash away, shimmering as silver-like threads of memory that are fragmented with dirt, grinning as the drain sucks them all away. A new day, a fresh start.
As I dry myself, I hum softly, dragging a t-shirt over my head, nodding in approval at the reflection that stares back at me. Blaise Zabini - god of all things beautiful. Or so they tell me. With a smirk, I dismiss that satisfactory face, the chiselled pale features far from my mind as a voice calls to me from along the hallway.
“Are you ever going to get a job?”
Draco Malfoy peers around the door and I rise a pair of dark eyebrows at him, the classic Zabini smirk gracing its way in a narrow cut across my flawless features. Draco Malfoy - blonde, muscular, slightly taller than me and hell, if I wasn’t into girls, I’d shag him. But that’s hardly the point. A small smile was playing on my friend’s face as he watches me sizing him up, but before I can open my mouth to retort, Pansy Parkinson wraps lengthy arms around my friend’s body, her curvy frame fitting perfectly against his body as he turns to embrace her in return and catch her mouth inside his lips. I watch them with risen eyebrows until they have the courtesy to realise that I’m still there, and pulling away from Draco, Pansy sends me a scowl.
“Are you still unemployed?”
“Funny, if you two weren’t apart for so much of the time, anyone would think you shared one brain-cell. That’s twice I’ve been asked that question this morning.”
Pansy is around quite a lot actually, but not as often as she pleases. I know she’s been hassling Draco for a key to the flat for longer than necessary now, but for some reason or other he continues to put her off. That’s why she doesn’t like me much. Where I help fund the cost of the flat, she could just as easily take my place. Still, the bint’s got to be grateful - at least Draco lets her sleep in his bed rather than casting her out whenever he feels like it. She’s intolerable. Kind of pisses me off.
“Funny,” she growls, her voice clipped and sharp, eyes bitter as they run over me. “You neglected to answer the question.”
A sigh escapes my lips and I have to restrain myself from rolling my oh-so heavenly dark blue eyes. Yeah, truly they are. When people look into them they just want to drown themselves, ‘cause they know they can never have me. Yeah, same old story, over and over. No one can deny me, but I can easily swat them aside. In truth, I still haven’t found the “right” one, if there is such a thing.
“Actually, I do have a job.” I pick up a suit jacket that I’ve slung over the radiator and shrug my body into it, feeling the perfect fit as the sleeves rub against my wrists. Running a hand through my soft raven hair, I feel it fall into place and lean against the doorframe, considering Pansy with as much disdain as I can muster.
“You do?” Draco’s mouth drops open in incredulity, regarding me with such belief that I know I should be annoyed with him. However, the situation is far too amusing and so I simply nod, taking on the composure of one who is absolutely serious.
“Yep. I’m on my way there now. See, suit, polished shoes, wand . . .” I tap my thigh and feel the wood against my leg; magic is something that I haven’t used in a while now. I’ve been enjoying the Muggle life, slumming it out, practically living on the sofa and watching what people like to call a “television”. I’m not looking forward to my job of course, but it can’t be too bad, can it? I mean, how hard can it be to be trained as an Auror? Piece of cake.
“What is it Blaise?” Draco calls after me as I make my way towards the door, lighting up a cigarette and shoving it between my lips, grinning through it as I call over my shoulder, “Auror.”
Whether Draco suddenly felt a random spurt of anger to stamp his foot, or the toilet decided to wrench itself free of the tiles and begin to walk about, I don’t know, but more likely to the point - I’d say Pansy Parkinson just fainted.
- - - -
Two coffees and five smokes later, I finally arrive at what the Wizarding world like to call the Ministry of Magic. There was the telephone box thing, bright red and standing out in the midst of the London crowd way too much if you ask me, but I apperate there without anyone noticing me, dial a few numbers and descend to the great grand hallways of the Ministry.
Its crammed full, people packed into the sandwich of walls like a moving blob of colourful butter. In fact, if you ask me, I’d venture to say that there is mould in that butter. I can almost smell the stench that rises from a number of armpits and man, I’m telling you, its worse than both onions and garlic put together. Talk about keeping away the vampires . . . These people have the odour to keep away a thousand Muggles if they continue like this, or anyone with any sense - aka - moi.
Weaving my way through them all, I find a lift and step inside. I swear, I hold the world-record for not breathing in particular duration of time. Next time I’m bringing Gillyweed and sticking my head in a fish tank. Seriously, these people are running the Wizarding world and they haven’t even been taught the valuable lessons in personal hygiene. Anyway, I soon find my way to the department of law, and crossing the corridor in an arrogant swagger, I allow myself a glimpse around for anything that looks appetising.
All that I found was a wrinkled old prune with a face like a crumpled rich-tea biscuit and three less-than iridescent middle-aged women, bickering to one another from their desks. My eyebrows rise an inch higher and they fall silent when I enter. I can’t help it, seriously. I give them a wink. Its a small, heartless gesture, out of the kindness of my heart really, but its enough to make them swoon.
Hell, they love me already.
Its just a shame that there’s someone who doesn’t. In fact, I’m inclined to think that what this particular person feels towards me is the exact opposite of love, if you count casting me a filthy look of disapproval and a savage nudge in the ribs on her way out a fierceness of hate. ‘Cause I certainly do. Shame really, she’s actually quite pretty . . .
Sorry, I’m skipping ahead here. Let me rewind back to the start.
Knocking on the office door, I find none other than Granger sitting at her desk, hands spread across the smooth flat wood, as if soaking in its emptiness as she stared down at a stack of files. Her bushy brown hair is piled neatly on her head, her lashes creating warm shadows against her creamy hued skin. A steaming mug of coffee immediately catches my attention, but I quickly dismiss that and instead focus on this woman who Draco created a life of living hell for. Draco likes to do that sometimes. A special home-brewed recipe of insults and hexes. Ah, the good life.
“Zabini,” she greets me, glancing up, her hazel-eyes flashing a shade darker with cold as she sweeps me in with one glance. I can tell she’s straining for professionalism inside her voice, but she can’t help but to lace it with disdain, something that causes me to feign innocence. “When I saw your name in the file, I was hoping that there might be another that went by that name.” She picks up her coffee and sips, sniffing disgustedly in my direction. “Unfortunately, those hopes have been shattered.”
“Not very nice,” I inform her, trying to appear hurt. Taking a seat opposite the woman, I lean back casually in my chair and yawn. “Alright if I smoke in here, beaver?”
“Most certainly not,” the frost in her voice is clearly audible now and I smirk visibly. “And whilst we’re working together, you’ll address me as either “Granger”, “Auror Granger” or nothing at all. Understood?”
“Auror Granger? Sounds hot. Hang on . . . did you say we were working together? As in Blaise and Hermione? As in - you and me?”
“You heard correctly.” She begins to gather her files together, stacking them into her bag and slipping it over her shoulder. Its an ordinary sort of bag, but somehow typically Hermione. She’s made it belong to her with its very tartan colour - old style. It looks heavy, as if she’s crammed a million and one things in there she can think of, including the kitchen sink. “Now hurry up, or we’ll be late.”
“But I’ve only just got here,” I protest vehemently, shaking my head after her in complete incredulity. “Granger, what the hell . . . Aren’t you meant to explain the procedures? Teach me how this is all supposed to work?”
“If I sat here telling you the strategy of this job, then we’d be sat here all day whilst people are getting away with murder. Now come on, you’ll learn your own strategies on the way. There are no rules, Zabini. Those are the ones you develop for yourself.”
Staring after her in confusion, I finally shrug and hurry along to catch up.
- - - -
The creamy wash of sky stretches like ice-cream, blended in with the pulsing strawberry sun. My eyes follow it as we walk along, Granger’s pace fast and leaving me breathless. We’ve apperated, but can go no further in that department. We’re going to a Muggle village, after-all, and that means we’ve got to be anything but conspicuous.
Ah, whatever. Check me out, trying to be all knowledgeable. I dunno what the hell is going on.
“Granger, slow down, will you?” I call after her angrily, my voice half wrung with imperative, half divided into something interrogatory.
“There’s no time to slow down, Zabini - by the time we get there a thousand pieces of evidence could have gone.”
That’s Granger, forever the worrier.
When we get there, it turns out we should be worrying. There’s a dead body lying across the stairway, a mass of golden curls framing a delicate almost china-like face, blue chipped eyes staring wide at the ceiling, as if the woman is simply a doll, a broken toy with a narrow stream of blood leaking from her skull.
“Lavender Brown,” Granger’s voice rips through the silence, shattering it in half as my jaw gapes open. When I said I’d become an Auror, it was because it sounded exciting, not to mention that it was to push aside the constant pressure from others to do my share of work. I had no idea I’d be looking at . . . well, dead bodies. Shaking my head helplessly, Hermione turns to regard me sternly, nodding down to the body pointedly. “Well, don’t just stand there . . .”
“Well what do I do?”
“Use your initiative. Take a look around, gather up some evidence. Merlin, haven’t you the faintest idea about being an Auror? What about all your training?”
I stare at her, gormless. “Er, what training?”
Her eyes widen a fraction and I quickly decide its time to do some work. Did I mention I’m brilliant at forging signatures? Bewitched a few people with my charms when I told them I was capable for the job, got a few old doddery fools to sign off some papers. As for the males, well - that’s where the Imperius curse comes in. Yeah, bad I know - that accompanied by my own hand writing down names on parchment that were needed, well . . . I suppose that’s how I got my job. Good money it pays, too.
My eyes begin to search for anything obvious. A small spell tells me that there is something else in the house, and stepping over the body, I force my legs to move and carry me up the stairs. Everything is darkened and silent, such a heaviness that cloaks the rooms into shrouds of darkness. The curtains are still fast-closed, meaning that she must have died last night. Sliding through one of the doorways, I find to my relief that the only other presence in the house is that of a cat. Tickling it with extended fingers I begin to pace the room, filing any details I can into my head that are out of the ordinary.
“So, what have you found?”
I turn to face Hermione with a half-shrug, to which she rolls her eyes and scowls. “Come on, I’ll show you what to look for . . .”
I follow her back out onto the hallway, where she crouches at the edge of the stairs. “There are some things that don’t need to be done with magic. It simply requires our minds.” I watch as her hands spread across the carpet, yet I’m distracted as a stray strand of hair kisses the woman’s vulnerable pallor of neck. Unable to control the smile that spreads warmly across my lips, I falter when Granger’s voice continues, bringing me back to the empty hallway we are in. A thread of dread sinks its way into my skin and floods across my mind, but I continue to remain still as Granger’s voice throbs into my ears. “You see here? There’s no blemish in the carpet.”
She sighs with impatience. “So,” a pause as she allows that annoyance to echo in ripples throughout the air, spurring into my essence that I really must pay attention, “that means she didn’t simply fall. Or if she did, then she didn’t just trip over the carpet, did she? She either tripped over her own feet, or she was pushed.”
My eyes narrow as she turns to look at me, awaiting my appraisal. “You really believe she was murdered?”
“Use your brain Zabini - Lavender Brown was not clumsy. She wasn’t intelligent, but she wasn’t stupid either.”
“So? It was dark, she could have just lost her footing.” The curtains are closed, after all . . .
“You really believe that?”
“Maybe. Shouldn’t I?”
She doesn’t answer that. To decide upon the actual time of her death, I begin to make my way back downstairs, taking care to ignore the body where a thin trickle of blood cascades in a twisting river along the carpeted floor. The kitchen shows signs of two people - there’s liptick on one of the mugs, something Hermione snaps that we can use Muggle sources for to measure who’s DNA it is. If its Lavender’s, then we can probably presume the other cup was used by a male, or a visitor who does not feel inclined to use make-up. A couple of plates lay discarded in the sink, and quickly I glance at Hermione, all hostility forgotten as I become involved in the mystery.
“Was there any signs of another inside the bed?”
Hermione frowns. “I don’t know - I haven’t been in there, have I? That was your job.”
Nodding, I return, but finding the bed crumpled on but one side, I quickly decide that only Lavender slept there last night. A frown etches my smooth features and I begin to chew at my mind with questions of fervent exaggeration. The questions however are too large, and finding Hermione back downstairs, I find her stood leaning against the door, a quill moving across a sheet of parchment that’s pinned to a clipboard.
“So?” she lifts her eyes to watch me, and with a shrug, I turn away. My eyes fall on the girl once again. I can’t say I ever knew her very well, but still . . . I can’t deny that the sight of her body is kind of depressing.
“Brilliant,” sarcasm oozes from her voice, so that I turn sharply and face her with both a glower and a scowl. She meets my frosty gaze with one of ice, and I can’t help but feel that if this was any other she was working with, she would show a kindness towards them, telling them that it was ok, it was their first day, that they had done well . . . But no, this is I, Blaise Zabini. Stupid bint’s probably just jealous of my hair.
“So what now?”
“Well, we send an owl to the Muggle authorities, or rather, a er, phonecall . . . We get in contact with the Ministry and get them to issue someone to take the body away. We’ll order a full check-over of the house . . . They’ll inform us if they find any fresh evidence.”
“And that’s it?” I raise my eyebrows with surprise, urging her to do more than simply stand around waiting. She returns my question with a shrug, allowing silence to wash over the hallways before venturing to reply. Several quill-scratches later, I might add.
“There’s not much else we can do right now. We’re Aurors. We’ll chase down evidence when we’ve got a better lead. Right now I’ve got a meeting with the Head of Law Enforcement, and I’ll have to explain the situation to a couple of Muggle detectives.”
“And what about me?”
She glares. “Do as you like, Zabini. You know your job.”
With a loud crack, she disappears. I feel slightly stranded, like I’m floating on empty water with nothing to eat or drink, but what can I do? She’s the boss, after all . . .
With one last look at the body of Lavender Brown, I take in her night-gown, the coils of curls that tangle at her neck, the blood that stains their golden purity, and then with a snap, I apperate out. Apperating spoils evidence, which is why we did not use such a method of transport in the first place, but now we’ve gathered what we can, its up to others to finish the mess that we’re not inclined to clear up.
- - - -
I finish off the day with a lunch break, accompanied by research. Lavender’s friends consisted of Parvati Patil - that much I know, but who she’s kept up with in the past is a little more difficult to track down. Just after noon, I received an owl that contained a letter on Muggle research, forwarded by a Ministry official. The information consists of a pile of letters belonging to Brown, accompanied by a piece of black hair. Cat hair, that was all. They didn’t run any tests on it because I told them not to. After all - I saw that cat. She was completely raven in colour.
Lavender Brown - slut of the school . . . I suppose I oughtn’t include that in my notes. I went out with her once, but that was years ago. Besides, its not like anyone would even remember. It was back when we were sixteen or something, just after she’d gotten rid of that mutt Weasley.
“So, what have you come up with?” Granger asks, and I glance up to find that its later than I thought. The artificial light from the feigned windows informs me that the day is hardly long overdue. Granger shoves some coffee towards me in exchange for the notes I hand in her direction, and I sip contently, feeling the fatigue clutch at me as I finally realise what time it is.
Eight thirty. I should have finished work well over two hours ago.
“Not bad,” she replies unenthusiastically. I can see that she also is tired, simply from the strained look on her face and the hair that she has let loose over her shoulders. A sigh escapes her lips and she reaches for her coat, waving her wand with an “Accio”, and pulling the warmth of its material around her. “Don’t work too hard,” she adds regrettably. “Its your first day, after all.”
“Not bad, eh?”
“No, not for someone who’s got less sense than brains.”
I frown, trying to deicide if that’s a compliment or not . . . Is she calling me brainy, or just plain senseless, or -
Suddenly I realise I haven’t used my sharp-tongued wit since this morning. I’ve been so busy my mind hasn’t even cornered that realisation until now.
“Shame your brain stole the quality of your looks, Granger,” I retort waspishly, “if you swapped the two around, you might actually be pretty.”
“Like you, you mean?” she snarls, grabbing her handbag and slinging it over her shoulder, all possible acceptance between one another shrunk away as we return to our bickering. “Forget it, Zabini. I wouldn’t expect you to think outside the walls of your own being. You might realise one day that vanity isn’t everything. Until that time, don’t talk to me.”
Huh. Pretty impossible, seeing as we’ve been slammed together as business partners. I open my mouth to snarl some pretty insult in return, but the sound of her shoes are already distant echoes upon the floor as she strides away, leaving me in the empty darkness, feeling incredibly . . . old. Like one of those men who spends all his time at work because he’s got nothing to go home to. And what have I got to go home to?
An empty bed.
Author's Note: I like to eat my reviews with coffee . . . Or rather, I relish my reviews as I grin at them with coffee - in other words, please do review if you read. :)