A/N: This is a transformative work that has been written for fun rather than for profit. All recognizable characters belong to J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise, although certain traits, situations, and The Arrangement have been borrowed from Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Some lines from Good Omens are quoted directly; if you read something that strikes you as especially clever or witty, credit probably is due to Mssrs. Pratchett and Gaiman.
This is an expanded version of the story that was originally published on AO3 as part of the 2015 Dramione Remix. Many thanks to Amethyst18 for her hard work in moderating the fest, as well as to mysweetrose for volunteering to beta the entire story. Any remaining mistakes are wholly my own.
May 3, 1998 - Morning
It was a nice day.
The sun had come up, indifferent to the battle that had raged inside and around the castle the night before. But clouds massing to the east of the Quidditch pitch suggested that a thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.
A girl with a smoke-stained face and too-thin body shook her curly hair out of a practical plait and attempted to use the mass to shield herself from the first raindrops.
"I'm sorry," she said politely. "What is it you were saying?"
"I said, I never meant for this to happen. I never wanted anyone to die," said the serpent, gazing bleakly at the tall and now structurally unsound Astronomy Tower.
He wasn't really a serpent, or even a ferret, but the girl had gotten into the habit of thinking of him in those ways. Dehumanizing those on the other side made certain things easier.
Really, he was just a boy, perhaps a man after being forced to grow up over the last year, though he did have a silver snake with emerald eyes as his tie pin. Like the girl, he was too thin, with cheekbones that could cut, and soot showed prominently in his white-blond hair. His name was Malfoy, but he was thinking about changing it, due to the notoriety.
"Oh. Yes," said the girl, whose name was Hermione. For at least three years now, Malfoy had thought of her as an angel, albeit a dirty one, even though she really was a witch.
"You're not a killer," she continued, after an awkward silence broken only by the sound of rain. "You're a Slytherin, a Dark wizard, and a Malfoy. Given all that, I'm not sure if it's actually possible for you to do good. But you're not evil."
"You know everything, do you?" the boy scowled.
The girl shrugged. "There's Right and there's Wrong. I know that much, at least." Hanging in the air, but left unsaid, was the implication that he was incapable of telling the two apart.
"I don't want things to go Wrong like this again," he said, surprisingly adamant for someone who was derided by both sides as a cowardly mama's boy.
"Me, either," the girl agreed, bleakly, looking at the ruined castle. The rain was just beginning to make some headway against the bloodstains. "But too many on your side got away to keep that from happening. They'll find a new Dark Lord to rally around, just like they did with Grindelwald, then Voldemort, then Voldemort again," she predicted. "It might even be you."
The boy was too much of a cynic, even at the tender age of seventeen years, ten months, and twenty-eight days, to dispute that. "Next time, I'll try to do the Right thing," he vowed.
"Shake on it?" she asked, extending her hand.
He contemplated it for longer than was polite. Her hand was dirty - filthy, actually, with dirt and dried blood and Merlin knew what else ground into the skin and caked under her fingernails. The girl had fought in a pitched battle, after all, and hadn't yet washed up, and he was a fastidious person. But then the boy remembered how he had extended a hand to her four-eyed, scar-faced flaming git of a best friend at age eleven, and thought about how things might have been different if Potter had not rejected his offer of friendship (or at least alliance, since Malfoys had minions and allies, rather than friends). So he took her hand and shook it, gingerly, surreptitiously wiping it on his trousers afterwards.
She caught him at it, of course, but merely rolled her eyes. "You are such a prejudiced arse, Malfoy," the girl huffed, with no real rancor behind her words.
And that was the beginning of The Arrangement.
(x) (x) (x)
They sat in embarrassed silence after their handshake, watching another boy and girl in the distance making their way towards the Forbidden Forest. They made an odd couple: the boy was tall and large, but with rounded shoulders and baby fat that had not quite turned into defined muscle. The sword strapped across his back was at odds with a shy awkwardness that manifested itself even in his gait.
The girl was blonde and ethereal, with oddly vacant, protuberant eyes. She clutched a half-eaten green apple in one hand with a grip that suggested it was something precious. As she walked, she pirouetted on occasion and every so often stopped to smell an imaginary flower or pet an animal that was not there. Each time, the large, stoop-shouldered boy gently guided her back onto the path.
Eventually Malfoy said, "Isn't that Gryffindor's sword, strapped across Longbottom's back?"
"Er," said Hermione. A guilty expression flitted across her face, replaced by one of self-righteous obstinacy that Malfoy knew all too well. "What of it? It's certainly doesn't belong to your mad aunt!"
He was more impressed than he would ever admit that she had lied to his aunt, under torture, about the sword's authenticity. Still, his own role in that episode as a passive bystander was better brushed under the rug.
A look of faintly malicious superiority, one very familiar to Hermione, took up residence on Malfoy's pointy-featured face. "I never said that it did, but that doesn't mean it's Longbottom's for the taking. It's school property," he added, certain that would be a clincher for the rule-abiding girl.
Hermione looked wretched. "If you must know," she said, a trifle testily, "I told Neville to take it."
Malfoy looked at her, one eyebrow raised.
"Well, I had to," said Hermione, rubbing the scar of a slur carved into her arm distractedly. "Luna insisted on leaving straightaway. I begged her to stay, but the best I could do was to get her to agree to take Neville with her. The Floo network's not operational and she can't Apparate in her condition," she paused to give him a poisonous glare before continuing with a rush, "so they're going into the Forest to find thestrals. There are Death Eaters hiding out in there, as well as other vicious animals, so I told Neville to take the sword because he knows how to use it and it might come in handy against a giant or an acromantula or anything else that is magic-resistant. You saw what he did to that snake."
Malfoy swallowed hard and nodded vigorously. Seeing a boy he had viciously bullied for seven years behead the Dark Lord's pet had wrought quite a change in his perception of Longbottom. "You know I didn't have anything to do with Loony's, er, condition, right?"
Hermione gave him an impatient nod. "As I said before, you're not evil. Luna said that the only thing you ever did when you came to the dungeons was to bring her food. Apples, mostly."
"I gave her the one she's holding now. It's from an old apple tree in the Manor's kitchen garden," Malfoy volunteered, wanting Hermione to know about his good deed. "Does she know who . . . . ?" he trailed off delicately.
Hermione shook her head, but Malfoy had the impression she knew more than she was willing to say. "Do you know who?" she asked, turning his question back on him.
"Could be just about any Death Eater. Lovegood had a lot of visitors while she was in the dungeons that wanted see if she lived up to her name," Malfoy said, with an unpracticed sort of sympathy. "Including You-Know-Who."
"Poor Luna," Hermione said. She really was much better at this sympathizing thing than he was. She turned big, brown eyes onto him. "D'ya think I did the right thing, letting her leave? And giving Neville the sword?"
"I'm not sure it's actually possible for you to be wrong," Malfoy said sarcastically to the Gryffindor know-it-all, the supposed brightest witch of their age.
She was too busy chewing her lower lip to notice his tone. "I hope so. I really do hope so. It's been worrying me all day."
For a while, they watched the rain and the receding figures of Neville and Luna.
"Funny thing is," said Malfoy, "I keep wondering whether the apple thing was the right thing to do, as well." Something nagged at him about those apples, some Herbology lore about Muggles and Malfoys, apples and temptation. "A Death Eater can get into real trouble, doing the right thing."
He nudged the dirty witch. "Funny if we both got it wrong, eh? If we both did a bad thing while trying to do good?"
"Not really," said Hermione.
Malfoy looked at the wreckage of the castle.
"No," he said, sobering up. "I suppose not."
Slate-black curtains tumbled over Hogwarts. Thunder growled among the Scottish hills. Creatures, magical and mundane, cowered from the storm.
Far away, in the dripping Forest, something bright and fiery flickered among the trees.
It was going to be a dark and stormy night.