… where parting is such a long, sweet sorrow
Graduation marked a big step towards liberation and freedom. It meant the end of an era and the beginning of a new world: a day when past and present exploded with laughter, tears, promises, and farewells. It was considered a momentous event in all wizards and witches' lives, as it affirmed the maturity not only of their bodies but also of their minds.
No wonder they were buzzing with excitement all over the school, each one filled with a curious mixture of anticipation and anxiety. There were those who spent the entire morning writing little mementos to their friends and brandishing little gifts that would be remembered for a lifetime. There were those who spent the entire morning making rounds, greeting and hugging people for the last time. There were those who spent the entire morning perfecting themselves, wanting to look their very best as the final moment neared.
Then there were those who were still in bed, doing a spectacular job of trying to forget the existence of certain cold-blooded Slytherin bastards from hell. Which wasn't an easy thing to do, despite its sound.
Hermione was certain she could do it. She was positive she could do it. She was optimistic she could do it.
If only she had some carving knives that could do one hell of halving a certain bastard's head, and-
-a peaceful and quiet place where people who knew her name need not shout it at the top of their lungs.
She glared at the door. Obviously, the three thick pillows on top of her head weren't enough to filter these noises out.
Why in Merlin's name couldn't she have a moment to herself? She didn't really need this. Last night's hounding by her two self-proclaimed bodyguards were more than enough, and now-
"Open the door, quick! We don't have much time-"
"Stop scratching me with your wickedly sharp yet elegantly painted nails! My mistress is still asleep, and-"
"Asleep? Asleep? That's impossible! Doesn't she know what time it is already?" A pause. "But thank you for the compliment. If you must know, I used an oil-based type coat on-"
"Hermione Granger! Open this door now or I swear I'll-"
"Don't pound on me too much, ladies! I have a fragile frame, and-"
"I'll show you pounding if you don't open this thing in-"
Then Hermione opened the door.
And the two girls were rendered speechless at how extremely, audaciously, so very awfully bad her hair looked.
Lavender almost suffered a stroke as she clutched at her chest in horror. "Her-mi-o-ne-!"
"I'm not interested," she said stiffly.
Parvati opened her mouth, closed it, then articulately said, "What?"
"You do realize what today is, don't you?" Lavender demanded, having recovered from her shock. "You just wait, here's my magic brush-"
"I'm not interested."
"You can't go out like that!" cried Parvati in desperation. "You're the valedictorian! You'll be seen by other people! You'll be in the cover of the Daily Prophet! You'll-"
"What about Malfoy? He'll-"
Then Hermione unceremoniously slammed the door on their faces.
The act was enough to shock them into silence for approximately three seconds.
"Ha!" spat Parvati, shooting daggers at the door. "And Happy Graduation to you too!"
The damsel sent sympathetic looks on them. "You have to forgive my mistress," she said. "She's… well, not quite herself this morning."
"As usual," snarled Parvati.
Lavender shook her head. "She was on her way," she whispered. "Didn't you see? She was almost a woman. Then she turned around and now - she's a savage again. Woe, Hermione! Woe, woe! Woe for the feminine side of you begging for attention! Woe for the unused makeup that should've graced your pretty face! Woe!"
When a few minutes elapsed and still no response came from the other side of the room, Lavender shrugged and said, "Yeah, well, didn't think that'd work." At Parvati's astonished look she muttered, "What? It was worth a shot!"
Parvati sighed, resigned. "She's just so stubborn. Why in Merlin's name is she so stubborn?"
"Ah, well, she is Hermione, and I believe Hermione is the Latin root word of stubborn. Also, a word synonymous to needs a makeover right now." Lavender flipped her hair nonchalantly. "Let's go."
"Ginny's going to kill us if she sees Hermione like that on the ceremony," Parvati reminded her. "She did leave us a responsibility, remember?"
"I don't care." Lavender paused. "Wait. I do care, but as far as I'm concerned our job here is done. Now do you want me to curl your hair or not? Because I still have loads to do with my own hair, you know. And we only have, like, thirty minutes to do it."
"Fine." Parvati visibly brightened. "I like my hair to have strawberry blond highlights. It matches this pink I have on my eyes, and-"
"Oh!" cried the damsel in delight. "I quite agree. That's the shade that would bring out that olive skin."
Lavender beamed. "Exactly! Now come on, let's go to our room so we could get started."
"But what about Hermione?"
"She can take care of herself… in her own way. Now move it!"
The sound of their footsteps fading away was fine music to Hermione's ears. Now she got her wish; she was truly, wonderfully alone. There was no one to bother her now, no one to ask her if she was fine or what happened yesterday or if she had any plans of looking like a woman today - which fitted her mood perfectly.
She slept late and dreamed of nothing, a testament to how short a span she spent in bed. Like a puppet she crept out of the covers, showered, and dressed hastily, knowing that she had to look decent but not doing a thing to ensure it. Her hair was its usual jungle of tangles on her head, and her graduation robe was loosely draped on her in a haphazard fashion. But did she care? Of course not.
Hermione frowned at the mirror, noting for a moment how pale and tired she looked. But, considering everything that had happened last night, she wasn't surprised at all.
She sighed. Knowing she only had a few minutes more before she'd have to go down, she grabbed the brush on her desk and dragged it through her hair. Meeting a lot of resistance, she gave up and continued with what she was doing before she was rudely interrupted: brooding.
Which, of course, was also the activity a certain cold-blooded bastard from hell was doing in his own room. Although what mainly differentiated him from her was the fact that he was already impeccably dressed and groomed to perfection.
Draco stared at himself in the mirror. Despite the gloom that his bedroom exuded, he refused to step out. He already tried that this morning, and to his utter dismay he was mobbed by squealing students all eager to have their last taste of Malfoy - which was disturbing, especially when Crabbe made that pathetic attempt to drag his stubby finger down Draco's cheek.
Disgusting. Revolting. Gross!
"Oh Draco, what a lovely thing you are," his mirror sighed. "A pity you're hiding your magnificent self in this room."
"I'm not hiding," he said stiffly.
"Really?" the mirror said shrewdly. "Then why don't you let a certain Gryffindor see how-"
Abruptly, Draco threw a can of gel on the mirror.
Abruptly, it got the message.
He knew he was only postponing the inevitable by doing this. He knew that no matter what he did, he would still see a certain thickheaded, idiotically stubborn Gryffindor, who had nothing imprinted on her mind but the fact that he was such a cold-blooded Slytherin bastard from his own place in hell.
Which was certainly true, but that wasn't the point.
The point was that this was probably the last time they'd see each other, and if she chose to act like a complete idiot and blame him for a stupid misunderstanding then so be it.
If this was how they were going to part, then so be it.
So be it.
He'd endured her stubbornness for so long, he'd already forgotten what not-so-stubborn people were like. And, being quite stubborn himself, he refused to be the one to apologize for something he didn't do.
You don't believe me? Fine. Deprive yourself of your last taste of me, you thickheaded, idiotically stubborn Gryffindor!
He glared at himself in the mirror, imagining it was she he was looking at, then shook his head to clear his thoughts. Already frown lines were beginning to mar his skin, but for once his concern was not centered on his looks, but on a certain thickheaded, idiotically stubborn-
"Being quite repetitive, aren't you?"
He clamped his mouth shut. "How the hell did you get in?" he demanded.
Pansy and Blaise looked at each other. Obviously he was still in an extremely foul mood after last night, so they knew they had to walk on eggshells that morning, because one wisecrack and Draco would push them over the ledge. One comment about him and Granger and that thing that happened and they might just be the next on his extremely long list of people he had to maim and hurt.
"Talked to Granger yet about what happened between you two last night?" Blaise asked pointedly.
Pansy gasped. "Eggshells! Eggshells, you stupid-"
But Draco waved them off with his hand. "I'll pretend you didn't say that," he said casually, turning to them. They saw that on his face was a serene expression he sometimes wore when he had blood and gore on his mind - which was almost always. "Pansy, what an extremely unfortunate robe you have on. Let me guess: a gift from your beloved Weasel?"
She lifted her chin indignantly. "What will you do if I say: yes, it is?"
He smirked. "Then I'll point at you and laugh to death, but that's too juvenile. Which brings me to my original question: what the hell are you doing here?"
"Ha!" cried Blaise. "That's not your original question! This thing with Granger's affecting your thought processes! Admit it!"
"Fine, fine." Blaise folded her arms in front of her chest. "We got in through a magical thing called a door and the reason we're here is to let you know that some of the parents have arrived… and two of them are looking for you as we speak. Satisfied?"
Draco's serene expression vanished in an instant. "They're here? Already?"
Pansy nodded. "A whole lot of them are here, actually. I saw her parents-" She pointed at Blaise, "-talking to Millicent's. Some Muggles are also here - I didn't even know Potter's ugly family can get in Hogwarts! Imagine that. Anyway, aside from my parents I think I saw-" At this, she reddened perceptively.
"Her future parents," Blaise clarified, meeting his eyes.
"Without a doubt," Draco muttered, disgusted.
Pansy cleared her throat. "Dumbledore sent all the parents to the Great Hall already. They aren't allowed to go anywhere else." She sent Draco a clear look. "You can still think of something to explain the romantic escapades that happened between you and… girl-with-extremely-bushy-hair-whose-name-I-will-not-mention-in-fear-of-my-life."
"What for? I don't need to explain anything," Draco said smoothly, wiping invisible lint from his clothes. "There's no need for it since nothing happened. Nothing has, and nothing will."
"Ooh. Harsh," Blaise commented blithely. "Also, a lie."
He glared at her. "Care to expound on that?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Defensive, aren't we Draco dear?" Blaise chuckled. "But don't be too complacent yet. The students should be assembling soon. Guess that means you can't postpone the inevitable any longer."
"I'll go down at the time of my own choosing," Draco pushed through clenched teeth
"Whatever. Come on, Pansy. Let's leave lover boy here to wallow in misery and pain. Happy Graduation!" And with that, she pulled Pansy along with her towards the door of the room.
"Are you sure we should leave him like that?" Pansy asked, tugging her hand free from Blaise's vise-like grip as they stepped outside. "After all, he is wallowing in misery and pain. Which makes me deliriously happy as a Slytherin, but at the same time I wish he'd just swallow up his damn pride and go chase that thickheaded, idiotically stubborn Gryffindor of his."
"Growing a heart in that empty chest of yours, Parkinson?" she asked, grinning wickedly.
Pansy rolled her eyes. "You know as much as I do that this is the effect of being with a Gryffindor!"
"Ah yes." Blaise sighed appreciatively, thinking of Harry. "Ah yes."
"So?" Pansy asked again. "What are we going to do?"
Blaise was quiet for a few moments. "Question. Will our graduation be in the news of the Daily Prophet?"
"My mother said it will be."
"And of course, reporters will be here."
"Of course." Pansy frowned. "Why?"
A full-blown grin erupted on her face. "I have a plan."
The other Slytherin stopped short. "Really? Another plan?" Pansy looked dubious. "That was quick. Too quick, if you ask me."
"I didn't." Blaise waved that off impatiently. "Come on! We still have to call on Harry and Weasley for help, since-"
"What? Why do we need-"
"I'll explain later - right now I have to return to our room, prepare a trap… if you see a house elf, order it to make some tea and bring it to the room."
"Tea? Why? What-"
Blaise rounded on her. "Do you want our story to end happily or not?"
Pansy huffed. "Of course I do. Even unfeeling, emotionally crippled Slytherins want that, you know!"
Blaise shoved her. Hard. "Then do as I say!"
And off these two girls went to start on their nefariously wicked scheme.
Unknowing that he'd soon be part of a grand conspiracy, Harry watched in grim satisfaction as his Aunt Petunia turned white with fright when Molly and Arthur Weasley went to them for a congratulatory hug. Mrs. Weasley was very proud and happy in Ron's graduating Hogwarts that she was hugging everyone, and dear Aunt Petunia was just too scared of what the witch would do to her once she tried to get out of the other woman's deathly tight grip. Mr. Weasley, in turn, was slapping Uncle Vernon's back.
"Stop it, stop it! Get off me, you-" Vernon said, catching Arthur's hand and throwing it off him. "HARRY! HARRY! HARRY!"
"See, now we know where the boy got his capslocky tendencies," Arthur said, grinning from ear to ear.
"HARRY!" Petunia screamed with all her might.
And before he was seen, Harry slipped out of sight - and ran smack into Hermione.
"Oh! Sorry, I-" Then he noticed her pallor and the dark circle under her eyes. "Hey," he said softly, worry on his face. "You okay?"
She glanced at him. "I'm fine," she said tightly.
It was a stupid question, since he could see that Hermione was far from being fine. And it was a stupid answer, since she knew Harry wouldn't believe it. Not in a million, trillion, zillion years.
After he and Ron walked out of the Slytherin Common Room last night, they went straight to Hermione's room. They pounded and howled and threatened to tear the door open, just so she would let them in. And after a few minutes, she did. She had already removed her dress and was clad in her nightgown, with her face scrubbed clean and her hair down. Just by looking at her, Ron and Harry knew something was profoundly wrong. She was just so silent, so withdrawn. When they asked what happened in between hers and Malfoy's disappearance and the moment Ron found her crying, she pursed her lips and said, "It's nothing." When they asked her how she felt, she answered, "I'm fine." When they asked her if she wanted them to kill Malfoy for her, she shook her head and said, "Whatever. Really, I'm fine. It's nothing."
The pained expression on her face belied her words then.
And now, they failed her still.
"Look," Harry said loudly, "if this is about Malfoy-"
She winced. Then said, "I have to go." And she pushed against him and left in a hurry.
He stared at her as she departed, wondering how on earth he would approach the problem. Blaise, he thought. Or Ginny.Right now they really needed a female someone to ask the fragile questions and get the vulnerable answers, and with him and Ron being manly men they weren't exactly the ones fit for the job.
Harry jumped at the voice, then turned to see Ron standing beside him. "What?"
"Did she say anything? Did you get her to tell you something?" Ron's expression betrayed his impatience.
"How long have you been standing there?"
Ron frowned. "About ten minutes."
Harry pursed his lips. "And you didn't come and help me ask her why?"
"Because I thought she'd be more open with only one of us hounding her. Not that we are. Unless you call us asking her if she's fine every five minutes 'hounding'." Ron paused. "Do you think we're hounding her?"
"Not at all," defended Harry quickly.
"Thought so. Wait. Hey Hermione!" he shouted. "Are you okay?"
Hermione shook her head in exasperation and disappeared in the line of students already forming in the middle of the Great Hall.
Ron glared at the space Hermione occupied moments ago. "Bloody-she's just so stubborn! Why is she so stubborn?"
"Because she's Hermione?" Harry said dejectedly.
"Right, right." Ron combed his fingers through his hair. "Bloody hell. This whole 'talking' thing is getting us nowhere. It's just so… girly. You know-" He faced Harry squarely, "-we should've just beaten Malfoy down to a bloody pulp yesterday. It would serve him right, the bastard." He puffed out his chest. "Plus, manly thing to do."
Harry nodded vigorously. "We should've. In fact, we still have few minutes to spare… why don't we do it now?"
Ron looked mightily pleased. "He'll be seen by everybody. Covered with bruises, what a lovely sight." Scanning through the grounds, he spotted the blasted albino hair walking to the hall and said, "There's that disgusting git. Let's-"
They saw Pansy and Blaise bounding towards them, their faces pink with exhaustion. "What is it?" asked Harry, instantly curious.
"What's wrong?" asked Ron, instantly concerned.
Blaise took deep gulps of air, struggling to catch her breath. "We… Draco… ten minutes ago… we… had…on my bed…"
Harry immediately saw red. "WHAT?"
Pansy tugged on Ron's robe. "We have something to show you."
Ron screwed his face. "Ew! I don't want to see any of Zabini and Malfoy's nasty-"
"Shut up, Weasel!" Blaise turned to Harry. "It's not what you think. Just come with us and you'll see."
"What? Now?" Harry looked bewildered.
"Yes," Blaise said, taking his hand. "Right now."
"But… the march will start in a few minutes!"
"And my parents! And Harry's aunt and uncle! They-"
Blaise shook her head impatiently. "Don't worry. The parents have to do the whole bonding thing with the other parents so they'll be fine, but we have to go. Right now."
"We can sneak in later, it won't take too long," assured Pansy, taking Ron's hand.
"But-" said Harry.
"But-" said Ron.
"Did I mention that we have to move right now? I can't seem to help myself and overemphasize that we have to move right now. Right now!" snapped Blaise.
"Actually, we might be able to get back even before the march started if you both just move already!" Pansy shrieked, shoving Harry.
He glared at her and then looked at Ron, who shrugged in return. Knowing they were already defeated, he mumbled, "This better be important."
"Of course it is," Pansy snapped, already dragging Ron behind him. "Now move it!"
"Yeah, yeah, right now!" mimicked Ron, rolling his eyes at Blaise.
They sneakily moved away from the Great Hall, where already the students were lining up for the march.
Hermione barely even heard the gasps from the female population of the graduating seventh years at the sight of her disheveled self. She had just seen her parents ushered in, and they looked happy and proud albeit out of place. She had just seen Professor McGonagall congratulate them, before showing them their seats, which were near the front of the stage. Which were also near the place where Malfoy's parents sat.
Luckily, several other parents were occupying the chairs in between the two sets. But Hermione was still agitated; who knew what on earth Lucius and Narcissa would do to her defenseless parents? She had learned long ago that absolutely no one in the Malfoy clan could ever be trusted. Even if there were a sea of professors that could prevent a fiasco if it was to occur, there might still be a-
Then someone bumped her shoulder, and she turned to the left… just in time to see a familiar figure coming towards her. The next thing she knew, he was standing right beside her.
"Granger," he said, stiffly nodding.
"Malfoy," she returned, equally stiff.
It was a mockery of all the insulting, scathing remarks they had exchanged throughout the years. Today, their names were uttered not with loathing and hate, but with resignation and acquiescence.
"We're the valedictorians, so we both should lead."
"I know. I wasn't asking."
"Good. Just so you won't think I wanted to be here."
Her palms were growing cold, and she physically restrained herself from fidgeting. She wouldn't give the bastard the pleasure of seeing how his presence managed to crumble her tired, drained attitude. She wouldn't give him the pleasure of seeing how affected she was by him.
He kept his gaze on the stage, and dug his fingers on his palms. He wouldn't allow her to see anything but this too-polite, too-courteous façade of his. He wouldn't allow her to see how affected he was by her.
Moments ticked by, with this uncomfortable ambiance surrounding them. They didn't talk, look, even breathe in the other's direction. Professor McGonagall's voice, when it came, was a welcomed source of distraction and relief.
"Miss Granger, Mr. Malfoy." The professor extended her hand to them, and on her lips was a rare, warm smile. "Congratulations. You do all of us proud."
"Thank you, Professor," Hermione said softly, while Draco nodded.
"Now, I'm to inform you of what to do when the ceremony starts. You-"
"-lead these idiots to their seats and such? Yes, we know already," said Draco impatiently.
"Always so polite," said Snape, slinking towards them. He eyed Draco with approval.
Professor McGonagall pursed her lips. "After everyone has been seated," she said, as if no one spoke, "we shall immediately begin. After the giving of certificates I will call on you to give your speech, and then-"
Just like that, the world tilted for both Draco and Hermione.
"Our-" began Draco.
"-speech?" ended Hermione.
"Yes. Your speech." Professor McGonagall frowned. "Is there something wrong with it?"
Snape stared at them, an oily expression coating his face.
"Nothing!" said Hermione quickly. "We just-we-"
"We weren't informed of the time we are to give the speech," Draco said smoothly, covering his panic. "We thought it would be delivered at the end, not at the middle."
"You are to deliver it towards the end. Severus," she said, turning to the silent teacher, "weren't they informed?"
Snape continued to peruse them carefully. "Even if they weren't, I doubt that that will be a problem, seeing as they are both well-prepared." He smiled. "I'm sure they know the humiliation that will come to them once they aren't."
Hermione swallowed noisily, while Draco stared at him stonily.
"Very well. We will start in fifteen minutes. Remember what you have to do." Then Professor McGonagall tapped Hermione's shoulder and was gone.
A frighteningly placid look overcame Snape's features. "Everybody is certainly looking forward to your speech," he said, looking at Draco then at Hermione. "It is such an important part of the ceremony, that making a mess out of it will just completely… I really don't have to say it, do I?" Then he parted, his ominously oily grin leaving imprints on Draco and Hermione's minds.
Hermione swallowed again. She allowed herself to be consumed by panic for two seconds longer, and then… it was gone. She was calm, cool, collected.
She was also quite dead.
She glanced at him, irritated that he didn't seem to be overwhelmed. "Aren't you?"
He sent her a confident look. "Of course not."
"Why not?" she demanded. "You should be. After all, even if you do have a speech prepared, with me not knowing my parts then it'll be useless. We'll still be humiliated."
Draco lifted his chin. "Speak for yourself. I happen to have-what are you doing here?"
The abrupt change in his tone made Hermione pause. Then she followed his gaze, and she found out that there behind her stood Theodore Nott.
For a moment, she became suspicious. "Nott?" she asked carefully. "What are you doing here?"
The animosity radiating from them caused Nott to frown. "I was asked to give you this," he answered Hermione, before he shoved a piece of paper into her palm. After that, he left.
It took extreme measures of self-restraint to keep Draco from grabbing and reading that note. "Who's it from? Not that I care."
Hermione bit her lip to keep from replying, before she read the note. She looked at her parents' place, and sure enough her mother was not there. She sighed, then moved towards the door.
Only Draco's hand on her arm kept her from taking another step.
"Where are you going?" he asked, his tone very low.
She stared at his hand.
He got the message.
"Fine," he bit out, releasing her from his grip. "Go."
She walked away quickly, and only until she reached the door did she let out the breath she was holding.
Hermione looked at the paper again. There, in her mother's writing, was a message that told her to wait outside the hall. She wasn't sure what brought about this request, but she was just too happy to oblige her mother. After all, this would give her what she really needed - time and space to compose herself.
She hated to admit it, but his presence all but broke her down. He evoked too many memories, too many emotions that were better walled up inside her. And if this was how they'd part, with all the issues unresolved between them, then so be it.
So be it.
Her life was complicated enough, even without a relationship with a certain Draco Malfoy.
She didn't need all the difficulties he would surely bring to her.
Hermione peeked at the door, and at the commotion beyond it. Good, she thought. It's not yet starting. But where was her mother? What could she possibly-
She whirled around. And blinked. "Zabini? Parkinson? What-"
"We have something to show you," said Pansy.
Irritation flooded her immediately. "Can't it wait? I'm about to talk to my mother, and-"
"Oh, that." Blaise smiled largely at her. "Let's just say your mother forgot, so we're here to talk to you instead."
Hermione paused. "What?"
"It's about Draco," said Blaise.
"See here, Granger, to put it simply: you're wrong. Draco's-"
"I don't have time for this!" Hermione snapped. She waved the note angrily. "I don't know how you involved my mother, what tricks you did-"
"No tricks," interrupted Blaise. "I like your mother, Granger. She was willing to help us do something for you."
"You talked to my-"
"What the hell's taking them so long?" asked Pansy, looking around her in dismay. "Really, how difficult is it to-"
Her palms seriously itched to throttle them both. Hermione breathed slowly, before saying, "Will one of you just explain to me how-"
"Well finally!" Pansy said, pointing at something behind Hermione. "What the hell took you so long?"
Hermione turned around and saw Harry and Ron carrying - no, dragging - a woman between them, which happened to be the wench she would've happily given anything in the world to murder. "What's going on?" she asked loudly, looking at her two friends.
"Ask her," said Harry, out of breath.
Ron ground out, "Just be still you-"
"Get off me, buffoons!" Georgiana kicked and screamed with all her might, but the hold on her was too firm. "Just you wait, Harry Potter! I wrote many great things about you in the Daily Prophet! And this is the thanks I get? After this, I'll make sure that you're ruined! Ruined! That goes for you, and you, and you-"
"Shut up!" Ron roared.
"You can say anything you want about me," declared Harry. "If - and only if - you tell Hermione what you told us before."
But the reporter wouldn't hear any of it. "Veritaserum in tea! Veritaserum in tea! Abominable! If I get out of this, I'll make damn sure that you're all-"
"Georgiana, darling," cooed Pansy, smiling daggers at the other woman, "as much as we'd love to hear you scream bloody murder, you have to shut up or else we'll do it for you."
"Through joyously painful means, I might add," said Blaise.
Georgiana abruptly closed her mouth.
"Very good. Now darling, you really have two options here. One, you tell Granger the truth and we'll let you go unscathed, or two, you don't tell Granger the truth and you can kiss your measly job goodbye."
The reporter scrunched up her face. "You-you can't possibly-"
Pansy just laughed. "You forget that my mother has powerful connections in the Daily Prophet. One word from her and you're fired just like-" She snapped her fingers, "-that."
Hermione closed her eyes. "Can't we all just let this go?" she said loudly. "This is pointless anyway. I don't know why you're doing this, but-"
"Shut up, Granger," snapped Blaise. "Just shut up and listen."
Hermione glared at her. "Listen to what, exactly? It's obvious that this wench-"
"-won't be saying anything at all!"
Harry and Ron looked at each other before nudging Georgiana at the same time.
"Ow! No! I won't say anything; I don't care even if you have a boiling pot of oil and you'll plunge my-"
Then Blaise leaned and whispered something in her ear.
A flush of pleasure erupted over her features. "Really?"
"Yes. Really." Blaise motioned to Hermione. "Now talk."
"Fine, fine. I'll talk."
Harry and Ron released her at once.
Georgiana straightened herself, before airily declaring, "I wasn't Draco's date to the Ball."
Whatever Hermione was expecting, this was most certainly not it. "What?"
"Technically, he didn't ask me to be his date. His mother did."
Her voice was barely above a whisper when she asked, "Why?"
"Why did I go, or why did his mother ask me to go?" Georgiana asked shrewdly.
Hermione bit her lip. She didn't have to ask why Narcissa Malfoy told somebody else to accompany her son to the dance, since the woman's voice was still clear in her mind: You're choosing a person of lower status than a Parkinson? Such nonsense, my son! "The-former," she answered.
Georgiana shrugged. "I was tasked to write an article about that Ball, so I thought, why the hell not? I'd get first-hand scoop on things. Plus, that gorgeous pink gown was really a motivator. A really fine bonus, I might add." She gave Blaise a meaningful look as she said this.
The world tilted for Hermione yet again. "You're-you're lying." That was the only logical explanation for all this, because if this wench was not lying, then that meant… that meant…
That meant Draco was telling the truth.
And that was just… that was too-
"How dare you accuse me of lying! Me, an upholder of truth and justice, one who swore an oath to-"
"But you are! You have to be!" shrieked Hermione, pointing a shaking hand at the reporter. "I can't be wrong in this, I just can't!"
"But you are," mimicked Blaise.
Hermione glared at her. "Shut up!" she hissed. "You have no-"
"Hermione." The solemn voice belonged to Harry. "She's telling the truth."
Traitor! She turned to him, her thoughts clearly reflected on her face. "How would you know?" she spat.
"Because we slipped some Veritaserum in her tea, and she said the same thing." The one who answered her this time was Ron.
"Really, Granger, how much more proof do you want?" asked Pansy.
Hermione took two steps back, trying in her damnedest to digest everything she heard… this can't be right, I have to-this is-no!
"So you'll have them delivered to my office?" asked Georgiana gleefully. "You know my address, right?"
Blaise nodded. "Every last piece. Now leave us, you're done here."
Georgiana greedily rubbed her hands together. "Let's all do this again. Only let's not." She sent one last withering glare at Ron, Harry, Pansy, and Hermione before walking away from them indignantly.
"Say, Blaise, I'm curious. What did you tell her?" Pansy asked.
Blaise grinned. "That I'd be sending her twenty pieces of pink, ruffle-y gowns. Sure did help that that woman had no taste whatsoever." She stuck her tongue out in disgust. "Eww! Can you imagine, twenty pink gowns in one room? I'd surely-"
"Hermione." Harry placed a tender hand on her shoulder. "Are you-"
"Why are you doing this?" Hermione looked up at him and Ron, tears visible in her eyes. "Why?"
"Because we're your friends," said Ron simply, taking one of her hands and squeezing it. "We don't want to see you hurting like this."
She swallowed the tears that was choking her. "Do you… do you realize what this means?"
The two exchanged meaningful looks. "Well-" began Ron.
"We do," finished Harry.
"And despite your severely masochistic taste in men-"
"Hey!" Ron snapped at Blaise. "We're having a conversation here, if you don't mind!"
Blaise huffed angrily at him before pulling a surprised Pansy along with her to the Great Hall.
"Sorry about that. Merlin, Harry. What do you see in that woman?"
Harry's face was placid when he said, "What do you see in Parkinson, Ron?"
Ron gulped. "What was I saying? Oh, yes. Look." He turned to Hermione again. "We hate Malfoy; don't get us wrong. We hate Malfoy to the point of us wanting to pound his ferret face every time we see him, grab his entrails through his mouth and then wrap them around the branch of-"
Hermione stifled a laugh at the mental image he was painting for her.
"-a tree to suspend him there, but my point is-" Ron looked blank. "Wait. I forgot my point."
"Enjoyed visualizing Malfoy's death, didn't you?" Hermione asked wryly.
Ron grinned sheepishly. "Yeah."
Harry continued, "Ron's point is that despite the fact that we hate Malfoy - and I think Ron made that part especially clear - we're prepared to endure him because it's obvious that you care for him."
"Just says a lot about your taste in men," Ron intoned before he could stop himself.
Harry and Hermione gaped at him.
"Bloody hell. Did I just say that?"
Harry shook his head. "Effects of staying around a Slytherin for too long."
Ron's ears purpled.
Hermione shook her head. "You don't have to," she said low. "I don't think he'd want to talk to me. I'm not sure if I want to talk to him." She bit her lip, and blinked back tears. "After everything I said, I'm not sure if I can face him again."
"Well, you have to," said Ron.
Hermione glanced at him in surprise. "What?"
"Because it's time we graduate once and for all." Harry took her by the hand and led her to the Great Hall, Ron following closely behind them.
She wanted to stop. She wanted to plant her feet firmly on the ground and never move again. She wanted to hide. She wanted to run away and disappear forever.
But clearly, neither Ron nor Harry had any intention of letting her do anything of that sort.
"Well look who's back," said Draco disdainfully. He glared at Harry and Ron. "Where'd you take her?"
"Wouldn't you want to know," Ron shot back.
"See you later, Hermione," said Harry, before the two of them moved away.
Draco looked at Hermione, who suspiciously tried to avoid his eyes. He frowned. A lot of questions were racing through his mind, itching to be voiced out… but that would permanently break his cool, icy façade. He wouldn't want her to think he actually cared. "Flitwick was looking for you," he said. "Where'd you go?"
Hermione glanced at him, and shame brought all her thoughts to a halt. He was telling the truth. He was telling the truth and I... "I just… I-"
He glared at her. Obviously, she didn't want to tell him anything. "Fine," he snarled. "Don't tell me. I don't care." He saw Dumbledore approach the stage. "Just be damned sure you have something in mind for the speech."
"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, proud parents and dear students." Dumbledore smiled genially at them. "Another year has ended for all of us, but for some this means not only the end of a school year - this end means the end of school itself. Hogwarts has witnessed yet again a talented set of young wizards and witches ready to face the world with pride and dignity. In this momentous occasion, let us be one in celebrating the glory of today. Proud parents, families, loving guests, let us be one in welcoming - the graduating students!"
Warm applause greeted the seventh years as they made their march. Draco kept his eyes on the stage, not daring to look at anyone - especially his parents. Hermione smiled and waved at her parents, trying not to look beyond their seats.
"And now to welcome you all in this joyous moment, allow me to call on dear Professor McGonagall, Head of-"
The rest was a blur to Draco. He kept on glancing at Hermione, despite his valiant efforts not to. Her head was bowed low, her hands clasped tightly on her lap… what in hell could she be thinking of?
"Thank you, Minerva. Now, to say a few words about the graduating students, I will call on Professor Snape, Head of-"
Hermione closed her eyes. She had too much on her mind right now, and her priorities were becoming jumbled into one huge mess. What in hell was she to say in her speech? What in hell was she to say to Draco, in way of apologizing? Should she apologize? Would she dare speak to him, after all that had happened?
"Thank you, Severus, for the wonderful words. Now, I present to you Professors Sprout and Flitwick, Heads of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, respectively, to help me in distributing-"
Harry kept looking at the side, trying to meet Blaise's eyes. They had not yet discussed what they would do after this ceremony, in lieu of celebration. Would she go with him to Ron's house for the dinner Mrs. Weasley had prepared for them? But what about his uncle and aunt? A sly grin appeared on his face. Of course he could always leave them behind… say, in the Forbidden Forest, but then again…
"Abbott, Hannah! Aberfie, Shirley! Alfie, Marge!"
Blaise looked down on her hands. Only now was she hit with the intensity of what this graduation meant to all of them. It was literally the end. Would she and Harry even see each other, after this? If Harry was to stay in the wizarding world, then Blaise would make damn sure that they would. If he wasn't staying, then she would find a way to visit him every now and then. Her resolve made, she looked at the side, and caught Harry's eyes. Smiling, she waved at him, and watched in glee as he waved back.
"Lennard, Mae! Lendolyn, Christie! McAllister, Naomi!"
Ron turned around and waved at his parents. They pointed at the side, and when he followed their fingers he saw, to his delight, that all his siblings were also watching. He smiled largely at them. Then someone tapped him on the shoulder, a Ravenclaw whose name he couldn't recall. "Parkinson's calling you," he said. Ron looked beyond him and saw that Pansy was indeed looking at his direction. When he smiled at her, she took from her robes a small, red box, then smiled back at him. "For you," she mouthed, lifting the box up. Then her name was called, and she hid the box in her robes again before standing up.
"Patil, Padma! Patil, Parvati! Rogers, Claire!"
After receiving her certificate, Pansy returned to her seat. She saw that her parents were smiling and clapping for her when she got on the stage. But later on, when she would break the news to them regarding her and Ron… an even wider smile appeared on her face. Wouldn't they be shocked indeed? But then again, they wouldn't find anything to fault her for choosing him as her boyfriend. After all, Ron was a Pureblood. If all went according to plan then her parents would have lots and lots of Pureblooded grandchildren, and then some. She grinned, then sent Ron a flying kiss.
"Crabbe, Vincent! Finnigan, Seamus! Garrison, Michael! Goyle, Gregory!"
Professor McGonagall approached Draco and Hermione. "After this," she said in a hurried whisper, "is your speech. Prepare yourselves."
They nodded in response, and the professor left again.
"Longbottom, Neville! Nott, Theodore! Potter, Harry! Thomas, Dean! Weasley, Ronald!"
Hermione swallowed nervously, bunching up her robes in between her numbed fingers. So this is what it feels like to have the world collapse around you, she thought, her eyes on the crowd. On the very expectant, excited crowd. She wanted to think for a moment, but the noise in the crowded hall was preventing her from doing any thinking of any kind. She wanted to ask Dumbledore if it was possible to give her a little more time to prepare, but with the Headmaster busy she knew she couldn't interrupt. Oh God. She was out of options. She just had to prepare herself for humiliation today.
Then again, what else was new?
Draco watched her eye the crowd, and in an instant knew her worries. He couldn't help himself; he laid a hand over hers. When she snapped her head around to look at him he mouthed, "Improvise."
"Improvise." He squeezed her hand. "Just follow my lead."
Damned if he knew why he was helping her, even after all she said to him yesterday.
She nodded, squeezing his hand in gratitude.
"And now, I am very pleased and honored to present to you - a first in all of Hogwarts years - our valedictorians: Miss Hermione Granger and Mr. Draco Malfoy!"
Draco stood and offered his hand to her in a gentlemanly manner. Hermione accepted, and he guided her towards one side of the stage before proceeding to the other. Amidst the thunderous applause they faced the crowd together, smiles pasted on their mouths.
"Beloved parents, honored guests, fellow graduating students, a pleasant morning to all of you." Draco began in a confident voice. "As our beloved Headmaster has mentioned, this day marks another end of a milestone in all our lives, as we step off this school and enter a whole new world that awaits us." He looked at Hermione.
She met his challenging stare, took a deep breath, and plunged. "This world will provide us not only with a new set of challenges and obstacles, but also with opportunities and chances to practice what knowledge we have earned during our stay in Hogwarts."
"Our seven years in Hogwarts honed us in many ways, trained us to become many things - dependent and independent at the same time, for example." A burst of laughter came from the audience. Draco just smiled as if they were all idiots for not understanding his point. "A paradox, yes, but allow me to elaborate. We've learned to be independent - because we have learned to stand on our feet, to rely more on ourselves, on our abilities, than on another's. At the same time, we've learned to be dependent - because we now realize that sometimes we have to rely on others, most especially our trusted friends, in order to survive."
Hermione scanned the crowd, and smiled genuinely as her eyes found Harry and Ron. "Our friends made our stay worthwhile, and dare I say, entertaining and educational. They have given us cause to smile when all else forces us to cry, and offered themselves shamelessly to us if ever we need someone to lean on. Trust, friendship, love - these are intangible things that no book or lesson could teach us, yet within the walls of Hogwarts we have learned to give and take all three."
Draco's brows furrowed as he glared at Harry and Ron. "Of course," he intoned, "there will always be those whose sole purpose in this life is to make my - I mean others' - lives a living hell." He purposely stared at Hermione.
She jutted her chin. "You would know about that, Draco Malfoy."
Chuckles once again filled the Great Hall.
Draco cleared his throat, realizing that everyone was waiting for him to continue. "But then, there are those who taught us to look beyond what our eyes can see, to consider others worthy not because of their house and blood-"
Hermione looked shocked, her eyes wide as she stared at him.
"-but because of who they are. Their heritage pales in comparison as their character becomes that which is important."
He was babbling, he knew. He was spouting nonsense that would probably land both his idealistic parents in St. Mungo's because of heart attack. But he couldn't stop. "Some of us may have stepped in this school thinking that blood and wealth are the most essential aspects in a wizard's life. But thanks to seven years of heartfelt education, we now understand that bigotry and prejudices are not - should not - be the prevailing notions in our heads. We are all equal, because in the end our worth is not judged by our blood. In the end our worth is judged by what we can do."
In this, Draco risked a glance at Hermione.
She looked about ready to cry.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have talked long enough. Thank you all for your time." Amidst the thunderous applause, he grabbed Hermione's hand and daringly dashed to the door. Only when they were alone did he let her go.
Draco stared at her, his own face impassive. He silently goaded her to continue.
She did. "Did you mean what you said? About…"
He knew what she was talking about. Draco smirked. "No."
Hermione blinked, then her mouth opened to say a silent "…oh."
"Why?" he asked, crossing his arms. "Thought differently, did you?" Draco chuckled scornfully. "I'm a SlytherinApparently, we don't have it in ourselves to say the truth. You said it yourself, remember? We are all such liars, so why should today be different? Why should I be different?"
She winced. Just as he wanted her to. "I-I didn't mean to-"
"Yes, you did." There was a hint of accusation in his voice. "You meant every word you said last night."
Hermione looked away, rubbed her arm with her hand. "I… I talked with Sinclair," she started quietly. "She said… she said…" She hung her head low. "I'm sorry."
There. Those two words, those two most difficult words, uttered out loud. It was the admission of defeat, the downfall of pride - and saying them to an enemy was the ultimate act of surrender, a humiliation proud people would never endure.
But she did.
And Draco knew that he should feel triumphant, gleeful even, at having her admit that she was wrong and he was right.
But now… all he felt was regret.
"I reckon you believe me now?" There was irony in his tone.
She nodded. "I'm sorry," Hermione repeated softly.
He was, too. But he didn't say it like she did.
Silence reigned over them, until she broke it. "What happens next?"
Draco honestly did not know. What happens next? He looked at her, and thought of everything that had happened between them… the schemes, the traps, the angry words… then the dance, the way she took care of him, the Graduation Ball…
What happens next?
He opened his mouth and this spilled out: "What are your plans for the next few weeks?"
Hermione stared at him, undoubtedly surprised at this question. Then, "I'm going back to London for a couple of months, then-"
"When will you be back here?" he asked.
"Well… that depends. I was planning on-"
She furrowed her brow. "What?"
"Next week," Draco elaborated. "Come back next week."
Hermione actually snorted. "Are you mad? That's impossible! My parents wanted me to go with them on vacation as a gift for-"
"I don't care about your vacation. Come back in a week."
"You're being unreasonable! Surely your parents also planned a-"
"You have to look for a job some time. Correct?"
"Well, yes, but-"
"And you have to work here."
"Of course I'll look for a job here. I mean if I were asked where I graduated I-"
"One week," Draco interrupted her.
She stared at him. Hard. "Three."
He dismissed that with a wave of his hand. "Three weeks is too long."
"One week is too short," she retorted.
"One week's long already."
Hermione cocked her head to one side. "Continue with that, and I might think that you're just saying that because you'll miss me too much if I'm gone three weeks."
"No. I'm trying to say…" He saw her smile. "Shut up."
"What? I'm not saying anything."
Draco uncrossed his arms. "All right, fine. Two weeks."
She rolled her eyes. "Malf-"
"I'll meet you at the station."
"9 AM. I'll be there at 9 AM."
"We'll go to my favorite restaurant and have lunch there."
"Lunch? At 9 AM? Preposterous! Can't you-"
"Then we'll stroll down Diagon Alley and-"
He started. "What?"
Hermione placed her hands on her waist. "You're just so… so…" She paused. "All right, fine. Seemed as though you've thought of everything, anyway."
"I'm making things up as I talk, but of course we'll do as I say." He smiled. "So be back in one week."
"You said three."
"No, I said two weeks." He smirked. "Who's the liar now?"
She shook her head. "You're just so… impossible. And arrogant. And conceited. And-"
"You just apologized to me three minutes ago, and now you're insulting me again?"
A contrite expression instantly crossed her face. "I'm-"
But before she could say anything else, he took her hand in his. "Just so you know, I'm not going to let you forget that you said I'm right and you're wrong."
Now there was an irritated look on her face. "I didn't actually say that I'm-"
"But-" he interrupted, "let's just say that I will forget. Only for today, mind you, since it is a special day."
"Fine." She squeezed his hand. "And just so you know, I won't ever let you forget that you asked me for a date."
Now there was an irritated look on his face. "I didn't actually ask that we-"
Then she kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you," Hermione said softly. "But later on, I'll have to kill you."
Draco frowned. "And why is that?"
"Because… you just let us walk out on our own Graduation, you idiot!"
Author's Notes: Well. And there's the end of the story. I'm so glad and sad at the same time… which makes me insane, but my point is that I'm glad that the story is over, because it's another completed fic of mine that I'm very, very, very proud of. Sad, because I'm going to miss thinking of twists that'll make you spin out of control… waah! I'm surely gonna miss doing this story… -cries softly-
Anyways, I'm very, very, very glad for every single review that you have bestowed upon this little fic. I'm so touched that, despite the fact that some of you are totally weirded out with the side pairings in this fic, you're still there, reading. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's means a lot that you stuck with me this whole year. It also means a lot to the promotion of r/p, and h/g!b, hehe -hugs all readers-
Well, that's just about it for Divine Humiliation. For those who'd be requesting a sequel… I can't give a guarantee. But... here's an idea... is there anyone here who's interested to find out how D/Hr's first 'date' will turn out?
"The sun has gone to bed and so must I… so long, farewell, goodbye!"