Originally written for H&V's If the Prompt Fits Challenge. The originally prompt was, "Hermione and Draco come face-to-face with an AU version of themselves." Warnings for depression, past suicide attempt and mentions of suicide.
"Kick them out," Ginny said, glaring at the boisterous group in the corner.
Hermione glanced at the unsteady form of Theodore Nott, perched precariously on the back of two chairs. In a fair world, he'd fall flat on his face, but the world wasn't fair and Nott had an uncanny sense of balance, even after four pints, half a bottle of sambuca and two whiskeys. He was a medical marvel.
"I've cut them off," she said, serving herself and Ginny a shot of tequila. "They'll get bored and leave eventually."
It was an hour past closing time, but Nott et al refused to be dictated to by something as pedestrian as a clock. They wished to drink and be merry, and drink and be merry they would, and neither closing times, nor the otherwise empty pub, nor the righteous wrath of Ginevra Weasley would get in their way.
"I have classes tomorrow," Ginny grumbled, taking the shot anyway.
"You can go. I'll close up."
Ginny played with the glass between her fingers for a few seconds, looking doubtful.
"Or we could kick them out," she said.
"You know what Charlie would say." That if rich playboys were happy to spend ridiculous amounts of money in his pub, he was happy to let them. Even after closing time.
"Then Charlie can drag himself down here and deal with this lot," was the mutinous reply.
"I really don't mind," she said, but Ginny didn't look convinced, because heaven forbid they'd leave her without a babysitter. Hermione loved her friends, but she was about ready to strangle them. "Get going," she insisted, smiling what she hoped was a reassuring smile — the smile of someone who did not need them to keep shadowing her as if she were about to slice her wrists the minute they turned their backs. 'Cause really, right now she was more likely to kill one of them than herself. "I have nothing going on tomorrow," she added with what she hoped was casual nonchalance. "I don't mind closing up."
"Well, if you're sure," Ginny said, still looking uncertain.
She was more than sure, she was eager. All she wanted out of life was to have five minutes to herself — five minutes without having to put up a cheerful facade so as not to freak out her already freaked out friends. Coming back to school had been a relief for all of half an hour, until it had dawned on her that Harry and the Weasleys were a worse bunch of mother hens than her own mother.
She liked the pub this late at night; she liked closing up. It was quiet — despite the ruckus made by people with too much money and too little sense. She didn't have to smile or pretend or make an effort. She could just be.
She was in the process of enjoying her little interlude when Draco Malfoy stumbled his way to the bar.
"Granger." Despite the slightly uncoordinated movements as he half climbed, half dragged himself into a stool, his eyes were sharp. "How's the nervous breakdown?" Malfoy didn't do eggshells.
"How's the sex tape?" Neither did she.
He smirked, reaching over the bar for the tequila. She whisked it away before he could grab it.
"That's old news." There was a hard edge to his smile that made Hermione wonder just how old. "Your comebacks are out of date."
"I'll be sure to add the Daily Mail to my reading list."
"Add the Sun. Much trashier."
"What do you want, Malfoy?"
He leaned over the counter, looking her up and down in a way designed to be shameless. "So many things, Granger."
Hermione's smirk was a mirror of his as she drew close to him until they were almost nose to nose, letting her eyes drop to his lips for a second. When she spoke, her voice was low and sultry, almost a purr. "What do you want that you're likely to get?"
Malfoy chuckled, sitting back. "One day, Granger." He glanced at the shelves behind her. "I'll take a bottle of your most expensive whiskey."
"I already told Nott we're past licensed hours. What made you think you'd be any luckier than he was?"
"Boundless optimism. And a much higher credit limit." He opened his wallet and tossed a card on the counter. "Charge whatever you want to that; I won't contest it. You'll be the highest-tipped waitress in the country. Just keep the drinks coming."
She pushed the card back towards him. "We're past licensed hours. If you want to keep drinking, go find a club."
Draco put the card away, his smile turned cold. "You'd have thought ending up in a psych ward would have taught you to make better life choices."
Still not as bad a choice as not listening to Ginny when she had told her to kick them out.
"I guess not," she said, her voice light and sweet. "But at least my poor life choices don't make front-page news. We're closed. Get out."
His smirk at knowing he had hit a nerve irked her more than his actual words.
She watched as they sauntered out, loud and drunk and entitled. Nott, the first one out the door, turned back just long enough to blow a kiss in her direction and inform her that he still loved her even if she was a heartless bitch who refused to give him alcohol. Malfoy rolled his eyes and pushed his friend out of the way, walking out with an arm over the shoulders of a woman dressed for a very different sort of weather than was likely in December. She wasn't the only one. All the women in the group seemed to share the same disdain for the rigours of the English winter. They were young and pretty, and not about to let something as insignificant as the odd degree below freezing get in the way of a well-planned outfit.
Blaise Zabini was the last one to leave. He strolled leisurely towards the door, his hands in his pockets and a slightly bored look on his face, an expression familiar to anyone who knew him. The world and all its wonders could not hope to impress Blaise. Though he had drunk as much as his friends, he alone among them looked completely sober. Pausing close to where she was, he fished fifty quid out of his pocket and dropped it on the counter.
"For your troubles," he said generously, handsomely, magnanimously. Zabini was a big believer in noblesse oblige.
Hermione rolled her eyes but resisted the urge to tell him what he could do with his fifty pounds. Much like Malfoy, Blaise believed money held the solution to all problems in life, but unlike Malfoy he did not give her a headache, so she was happy to take his tips in the spirit in which they were intended. Even if the spirit in which they were intended was the appeasement of peasants lest they revolt.
It was quiet after that, and Hermione took her time cleaning up. It was almost 2a.m., but she was in no particular hurry. She had no classes the next day, her faculty adviser, her therapist and her parents having all agreed a normal schedule would be detrimental to her well-being (as opposed to, say, an inordinate amount of free time in which to ponder all the ways in which she had managed to mess up her life), so she could sleep in. Not that she was likely to. Sleep, like so many other things — peace of mind and an ability to cope with the world around her chief among them — seemed to have deserted her of late.
And she hated that she kept replaying Malfoy's taunt inside her head. She hated that she was the sort of person who cared about the opinion of a spoilt, over-indulged, good-for-nothing prat. Or maybe it was the fact that him knowing meant everyone else did too. Her poor life choices might not make front-page news, but it was a small town and a smaller campus, and word travelled. She wasn't oblivious to the whispers and the curious looks, to the smiles that were just a little too cheerful, to the measured, careful words when people talked to her, as if they weren't quite sure where the safe ground was.
She wasn't quite sure where the safe ground was either.
Hermione sighed, putting away the mop. One day at a time. And Malfoy could go to hell. He was a foul, loathsome, mean-spirited git, and if he thought for a moment that—
She turned towards the main room and yelped, dropping the tray of glasses she had just picked up. They shattered against the floor, sending shards flying in all directions.
"Jesus, Malfoy. What the hell?" She took a deep breath trying to steady her heartbeat. She could've sworn she had locked the front door. "Don't just sneak up on people. What do you want?"
He did not speak for a moment, did not so much as move. He just stood there, staring at her with serious grey eyes, his expression unreadable. It took Hermione a few seconds to realise he looked wrong, somehow. Different. And it wasn't just the odd robes he was wearing, either, or the fact that his hair was longer than it had been not an hour ago. The lines of his face looked sharper, more defined, and there was a hardness in his gaze that hadn't been there before.
"You look just like her," he finally said, moving towards her with slow, careful movements. "I knew you would, but I never expected…" He paused for a moment. "You look just like her."
"What do you want, Malfoy?" She instinctively took a step back, before forcing herself to stop. She wasn't afraid of him. She refused to be afraid of him. He was harmless. Mostly harmless. And if not, there was a knife on the counter to her left; she could see it out of the corner of her eye.
"I won't hurt you, Hermione," he said, still moving forward, and she did take another step back then, because in two years of knowing her, he had never once called her that.
"We're closed." And then, because if she kept moving back it would be out of reach, she made a grab for the knife, except that suddenly the knife wasn't a knife anymore, it was a small rabbit, and Hermione let it drop to the counter with a screech, because what the hell, and it hopped away towards the sink. She stared at it, horrified, her breathing both too fast and not nearly fast enough, because the knife was now a bunny and Malfoy wasn't really Malfoy, and god help her, she was losing her mind.
"Hermione." He was right there, now, his body warm against her, his hand gentle where it touched her face, but she still couldn't look away from the stupid critter hopping around by the bottle of gin. Why was there a critter by the bottle of gin? "Hermione, look at me." His thumb brushed her skin, soothingly, and she finally managed to tear her gaze away from the rabbit and look up at him.
"Who are you?" Because that was a reasonable question. Because if he wasn't a figment of her imagination — and the jury was still out on that — he had to be someone, and that someone was most definitely not Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy did not go around turning cutlery into small mammals.
He smiled at her, a sad, small smile that softened the harshness of his features. "I'll explain everything," he said. "But not here. We have to go."
And before she could so much as open her mouth to object, the ground disappeared from under her feet.