Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Harry Potter. They are owned by J.K. Rowling, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic Press, etc. No copyright infringement intended.
AN: I wrote this fic for the Last Night for Love challenge; the challenge requirements will be listed at the end of the story. This fic is written in the vein of a dramatic monologue, which means that the narrator (Hermione) is talking to someone, but we don't know who they are and we don't hear what they say to her, only hearing Hermione's responses to them. Feedback is a wonderful and much appreciated thing.
Part One: It's the End of the World as We Know It,
And I Don't Feel Fine
-entropy (noun.) 1. A measure of a system's capacity to undergo spontaneous change. 2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a system.
A piece of advice: do not drink firewhisky if your entire world is crashing down about your head in a most spectacular fashion. While the pleasurable sensation of inebriation may initially ease the pain caused by the flaming freefall of life as you know it, this feeling is fleeting at best, simply a temporary salve to soothe your burns. At worst, the drink will utterly destroy whatever was left of your good sense and cause you to behave in ways completely incongruous to your character.
How else do you explain how I ended up in the middle of the Shrieking Shack on my last night at Hogwarts kissing Draco Malfoy?
You can't. I couldn't then, and I'm still not sure I can now. As much as I hate to admit it, some things simply defy explanation. And that moment in the Shack, that entire night, is one of them. Moments like those step beyond the realms of logic and predictability and become something else, something very nearly alive, with a will and a mind of their own.
You don't believe me? It's all right. I didn't want to believe it either. Hence the firewhisky. But everything still happened, in spite of the drink and all my protestations. Everything happened exactly the way it shouldn't have. At least to me. Everyone else seemed to deal with the end of the world just fine.
As I said, it was my last night at Hogwarts. Graduation was to occur the next day and everybody would leave school afterwards to go start their lives elsewhere. But first was the Last Year, Last Night Pub Crawl, traditionally beginning at the Three Broomsticks with the Seventh Year Superlative Ceremony. During the ceremony, one of the school's professors (Professor McGonagall that year) would announce the superlatives. What are superlatives? Different things like Most Likely to Succeed or Most Likely to End Up at St. Mungo's. Only one student's chosen for most of the categories. I had my heart set on the Next Minister of Magic superlative, in addition to being named class valedictorian.
Life, it seemed, had a different plan.
The Three Broomsticks was packed, naturally, with seventh year students, their friends and dates, a few townspeople, some former Hogwarts graduates, and a couple of professors. The front door was propped open to let in the soft, warm breeze that blew up from the south. I sat in a corner booth with Ron and Harry, Neville, Ginny, Luna Lovegood, and Lavender Brown. Butterbeer bottles crowded the table as did a few shot glasses and other half-finished drinks; they competed for space with empty pretzel bowls and crumpled Honeydukes wrappers.
The euphoria originating from Voldemort's defeat five months before still prevailed. If anything, it reached an even higher pitch that night, surpassing that felt the night after You-Know-Who's death. That night was a celebration of death, of closure to the decades of torment suffered by the wizarding world under Voldemort's tyranny. But this night, the night of the Pub Crawl, was a celebration of life, of new beginnings, and a promise of the future. All things considered, I thought I'd prepared myself quite well for the knowledge that nothing would be the same after that night. But all potential changes were to be on my terms. I would be valedictorian, earn a job at the horribly disarrayed Ministry, find a nice, sensible flat to live in, and become Minister of Magic within the next ten years.
It was a nice plan. It was a sensible plan. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) it was a plan that was not meant to be.
Professor McGonagall ascended the stairs to the make-shift platform in the center of the Three Broomsticks to begin the ceremony. The chosen professor usually announces the valedictorian first, followed by the rest of the superlatives, and I believed that year to be no different. And it wasn't. Professor McGonagall did announce the valedictorian first, but instead of the name I expected to hear, my name, Hermione Granger, she said, "And this year's class valedictorian is… Pansy Parkinson."
Pansy. Pansy Parkinson. A girl who passed at least half of every class with her nose stuck in some fashion magazine. A girl who spent the night before N.E.W.T exams behind the school broom shed with Terry Boot doing things other than studying to be sure. She's the valedictorian. Not me. Not. Me. Seven years of day long study sessions all for nothing. Countless nights spent in the library surrounded by stacks of books and parchment and scrolls all for nothing. It was all for nothing.
My complete shock must have been evident on my face because Ron leaned over the table toward me and said, "Somehow Pansy's made top marks in every class, coming in second behind you. In everything except Potions, that is."
"Who's second there?"
"You are. Behind Pansy."
"What?!" Ron flinched from my shrill shriek. "But… but Pansy hates Potions. She hates it. Half the time she conned some Hufflepuff into doing her work for her. How could Snape make her his top student?"
"Well, she is a Slytherin, and Snape refuses to have anyone other than a Slytherin as his top student, especially a Gryffindor. And he did say he thought Pansy's conning of Hufflepuffs demonstrated cunning and initiative, the trademarks of a true Slytherin." Ron rolled his eyes and leaned back against the booth. He took a drink of his butterbeer and continued, "I always figured Malfoy'd be number one with Snape, but after The Incident, Pansy became his favorite."
"And thus valedictorian."
I nodded- What? The Incident? Hasn't enough already been spoken about it? Well, I know not by me, but I wasn't there. How in the world would I be able to accurately discuss something I didn't see firsthand? And besides, I don't really see how it's pertinent to this- Fine. All right. The Incident, as it was dubbed by The Daily Prophet, occurred during April of my sixth year. As everyone knows, Voldemort no longer needed to curb his actions to keep his return a secret. He started attacking Dumbledore and his followers at every opportunity. Nobody was safe, not even Muggles, but Voldemort's ultimate goal, the death of Harry Potter, eluded him no matter what he did. So, eventually, he took drastic measures to lure Harry out into the open in order to kill him.
He sent Peter Pettigrew after me.
Having people try to kill me was nothing new at that point. With everything that had happened to Harry, Ron, and myself during our tenure at Hogwarts, I was no stranger to fighting for my life. But that attack… that was personal. Harry hated Pettigrew for what he did to his parents and to Sirius Black. I think Harry hated Pettigrew even more than he hated Voldemort. Voldemort knew the way to draw Harry out was to have Pettigrew take away someone else Harry cared about, so Pettigrew did. Well, tried to, at any rate.
Obviously, since I'm here talking to you, Pettigrew failed in his attempt to kill me, but I… I was in the hospital wing quite some time from… from the injuries. Harry and Ron were furious, of course, exactly how Voldemort wanted them to feel. They wanted to kill Pettigrew right then and there, against the wishes of Dumbledore and Remus Lupin and Arthur Weasley, who wanted to devise a plan first before acting. But Harry and Ron wouldn't wait. They acted without thinking, fell right into Voldemort's trap, and nearly got themselves killed. That is, if it hadn't been for Draco Malfoy.
I'm still not sure why Malfoy helped Harry and Ron that night. That's the one thing about himself he doesn't talk about. For whatever reason though, Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle saved Ron and Harry from Voldemort and, in the end, helped them to kill Peter Pettigrew, too.
And that's The Incident in a nutshell. On that night, Draco Malfoy helped save Harry Potter and then he aligned himself with Dumbledore the next day, turning against his father and Voldemort. As to why Malfoy saving Harry would remove him from his position as Snape's favorite student… Well, Snape's feelings regarding Harry were a bit complicated, to say the least, and thus so was his reaction to Malfoy saving Harry's life.
Returning to the topic at hand, I nodded in response to Ron's comment about Pansy. Ron grabbed a pretzel from one of the plastic bowls, picked off all of the salt, and stuffed it into his mouth whole. Pansy was the valedictorian, and Ron was eating a pretzel, acting like everything was fine and dandy with the world when everything was clearly not fine and dandy. I wasn't valedictorian. I was supposed to be valedictorian, but I wasn't. "Oh, god."
Ron dropped his second pretzel as he caught sight of my face; his own paled considerably. "Breathe, Hermione. Breathe."
Black spots bounced before my eyes, and my fingertips grew numb. Ron watched me, wide-eyed and wary. "Harry? Harry? Harry!"
"What?!" Harry wrenched himself away from his marathon make-out session with Lavender Brown, his latest in a string of short-lived girlfriends spanning the months after Voldemort's defeat. And, no, I will not stop and discuss the finer details of Harry Potter's love life at this moment, so don't even ask. What? That is completely ridiculous. Harry did not embark on a self-destructive streak after Voldemort's death. Quite the opposite, actually. If virtually every moment of your life since the time you were eleven was devoted to defending yourself against a raving madman, I think you'd want to live a little too after he was gone. Moving on. Harry turned toward Ron, irritation evident on his face. "What is it, Ron?"
Ron lifted a shaky hand in my direction. Harry glanced over at me and grimaced. Strange wheezing noises started coming from my mouth. The numbness had spread to my elbows, and the black dots were now a corona-like ring around my vision. All I could think about was how could this have happened? I was born to be class valedictorian. I was a prefect for two years. I was Hogwarts' Head Girl. I helped bring about the death of Voldemort, for Godric's sake. But who was now the representative for scholastic achievement at Hogwarts? Pansy "Quidditch Groupie" Parkinson. Oh, god.
I was approximately three seconds from passing out when Luna reached across the table and gave my hand a good, hard squeeze. "Congratulations, Hermione," she said. Her soft, dreamy lilt was a direct contrast to the sharp stab of pain that raced from my smashed fingers to my brain. The pain jolted me from my near catatonic stupor, and, gasping for breath, I yanked my hand from Luna's inhuman grip. The Three Broomsticks snapped back into focus, and I found nearly every patron of the pub staring straight at me.
"You should really go to the stage now, Hermione," Neville said. He pointed to the platform where Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick stood gazing at me expectantly.
"To collect your certificate," Ginny said from beside me.
"My certificate? For what?"
Luna wound her arms around Ron's waist as she said to me, "For Hogwarts student Most Likely to Play Professional Quidditch, of course."
It was the 'of course' that did it. That let me know that all was not right in Denmark, that I had left Kansas far, far behind, and that I had officially tumbled down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. And, yes, those are Muggle references. I am Muggle born, after all. They're to be expected. Translate them later if you feel the need.
Utterly confused, I called Luna's name.
"Luna, I don't play Quidditch. I don't like Quidditch. I don't even like flying. You heard wrong."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did."
"No, I didn't."
"No, she didn't," Ginny said, patting my hand consolingly.
I looked over. Professor McGonagall had made her way across the pub to our booth, before which she stood grasping a small certificate. A certificate that clearly named me as the Hogwarts student Most Likely to Play Professional Quidditch in swirly black letters.
Professor McGonagall thrust the parchment in my direction. "Your certificate, Ms. Granger."
"There has to be some sort of mistake, Professor. I hate Quidditch. I hate flying."
"The Durnheim Well chooses the superlatives, Ms. Granger. It is never wrong."
Not much is known about the Durnheim Well, except that it's not a well at all. It's more like a cross between the Sorting Hat and a pensieve. Like most of the magical objects at Hogwarts, the Well is very old, very rare, and very powerful. If used correctly, it's supposed to be able to foresee the future. As you can imagine, in the wrong hands this sort of capability could be most disastrous, which is why the Well's kept at Hogwarts for safekeeping. The professors have been using it for years to choose these superlatives, claiming it's all done in good fun. But students came to view the Well's predictions very seriously over the years since more often than not they came true.
And that's one of the reasons why I was less than thrilled with my Quidditch-related certificate. I had no desire to play Qudditch. I had no desire to do anything related to flying on a broomstick, but both the Well and Professor McGonagall, and everyone else I ever knew, ignored both me and my protests.
Professor McGonagall dropped the certificate onto the table and, after a military-crisp turn, strode back to the platform. Professor Flitwick handed her another piece of parchment, and after a moment's glance, she declared Vincent Crabbe to be the Biggest Sorting Hart Mix-Up, accidentally sorted into Slytherin instead of his true house, Gryffindor.
Faint applause sounded through the pub as a red-faced Crabbe made his way to the stage to collect his award. He tripped on the hem of his robes as he stepped onto the platform and nearly knocked Professor Flitwick to the floor. Blushing hard, Crabbe grabbed the certificate and returned to his table, not looking at anyone or anything other than the ground before him. Back at his table, he showed his certificate to Malfoy, who, of course, rolled his eyes and cracked some sort of joke, causing Crabbe to turn an even deeper shade of red. Crabbe tried to shove the award into the inside pocket of his robes, but Goyle reached over the table and snatched it before he could succeed. Goyle brought the paper close to his face for inspection and then handed it back to Crabbe with a muttered comment and glance at my table. Crabbe and Malfoy followed Goyle's gaze, and before I could look away, I locked eyes with Draco Malfoy.
Across the pub, we stared at each other. I'm not sure for how long. It couldn't have been for more than a minute, but it felt longer. Slowly, he raised his glass toward me, pausing briefly before throwing back what was left of his drink. I felt a blush spread across my cheeks, and Malfoy smirked.
Why did I blush? I… Well… I- It was a very intense stare. And… I don't know… He- Look, at that time, Draco Malfoy was something of an unknown variable. He liked it that way, too. Having people not know what he would do or say next amused him to no end. He reveled in lording his newfound unpredictability over everyone else. Sometimes I think he said shocking things simply for the sake of saying them. Or did shocking things, like the bit with the glass, just to see what sort of reaction he'd receive.
But as I was to learn later that night there was more to Malfoy's capriciousness, and more to him, than just simple shock value. However, before I learned, I freaked. I broke the stare between us and dropped my eyes down to the table. "Oh, god. Ohgodohgodohgod." What the hell was happening? What the hell was happening? Everything about that farce of a superlative ceremony was just plain wrong; Pansy was the best student in the school, Crabbe should have been in Gryffindor, apparently I was destined for Quidditch, and Malfoy raised his glass to me.
The world had gone mad, truly, truly insane, and I seemed to be the only one who noticed.
I needed a drink. Immediately.
I downed the first drink my hands came across, which turned out to be a shot of firewhisky. The whisky lit my throat on fire and sparked a blaze in my stomach that brought tears to my eyes and sent me into a royal coughing fit. Half-blind with tears, I fumbled around for my glass of cool, soothing butterbeer. Of course, in the midst of my fumbling, I knocked the stupid thing onto Ginny, who, in a desperate attempt to flee the cold liquid, slid toward the end of the booth, shoving Neville to the floor right in front of Seamus Finnigan, who had been walking past our table loaded with a tray of drinks, and startling him so much that he lost his grip on the tray, sent it crashing down onto an oblivious and still snogging Lavender and Harry, who sprang apart cursing and sputtering and smelling of pumpkin juice and alcohol.
Deafening silence filled the pub, and once again, every Three Broomsticks patron was staring straight at me. Somehow I doubted the fact that Draco Malfoy raised his glass to me would be a sufficient explanation to the tragedy that was the previous thirty seconds.
Ron rubbed a hand across his jaw in a vain attempt to hide his grin. "Smooth, Hermione. Very smooth."
"Oh, piss off, Ron."
"No, really, and here I thought I had the role of fumbling klutz perfected, but you… you are an inspiration."
I dropped my head onto the table with a muffled thump. "I hate you. I truly do."
"It's all right, Hermione," Neville said from the floor. "Nothing a few cleaning spells won't fix."
"It's not all right," I mumbled. "Nothing is right. Everything is horribly, horribly wrong."
"You can say that again," Lavender snapped. "There's no waythe smell of alcohol will ever get out of this dress. Thank you so very much, Hermione."
"You should thank Hermione," Luna said, peering around Ron. Her nose wrinkled as she inspected Lavender's dress. "It's quite an ugly dress. Now you won't have to wear it again," she finished with a bright smile.
"What the hell do you know about fashion anyway? You wear a stupid lion on your head on a regular basis."
Ginny cleaned away the last of the butterbeer and returned to her seat. "Regardless of Luna's… different taste in clothes, she's right about your dress. Really, Lavender? Leopard-printed taffeta? What on earth possessed you to buy that let alone wear it out in public?"
Lavender sniffed. "Everyone can't be expected to understand the finer points of fashion."
"For which I am eternally grateful. I'd rather wear Hagrid's big fuzzy suit than that dress."
Lavender slammed her hands down on the table and shoved off of Harry's lap. With one last glare directed at the entire group, Harry included, she stormed away and disappeared into the girl's bathroom in a swirl of black and tan spots.
"Thanks a lot, Ginny."
"Don't glare at me, Harry Potter. It's not my fault Lavender has horrible taste in clothes."
"You didn't have to say anything nasty though. Now she won't come back."
"And this is bad because?"
"Really, mate," Ron said around a mouthful of pretzel, "Lavender's an all right girl I suppose, but the only reason you two got together in the first place was to snog and have some fun. If you're that desperate to make-out with someone, make-out with Ginny."
I raised my head from the table. Both Ginny and Harry were staring at Ron in horror. Ron shrugged off their reactions. "What's the big deal, Ginny? I thought you fancied Harry."
"Yeah, about three years ago. Not now. No offense Harry."
"And even if I wanted to snog Harry, which I don't, I couldn't. I'm already seeing somebody."
Ron frowned. "Since when are you seeing somebody?"
"Since last fall, Mr. Oblivious."
"What? Why didn't I know about this?" Ron turned to me. He eyed me suspiciously and said, "Did you know about this? How could you know about this and not tell me?"
"I didn't know. But if I did, I certainly wouldn't have told you. It's none of your business."
"Who my little sister is dating is none of my business? I think it is."
"I think it's not," Ginny said. She held Ron's infuriated gaze, exhibiting the patented Ginny 'I have six older brothers' tough streak. A couple of beats passed and then she rolled her eyes and sighed. "Look, Ron, if you had known, you just would've freaked out. Unnecessarily, I might add, but you would have."
"I would not have freaked out. What makes you think I would have freaked out?"
"Probably the fact that you're freaking out now," Harry said.
"Shut up, Harry. I am not freaking out."
"Yes, you are," Luna said. She smoothed one hand over Ron's hair, patting down the errant strands. "Your voice is becoming very shrill and you've turned that splotchy color that happens whenever you're angry or excitable."
Ron's splotchy color gave way to a fiery blush. "I am not excitable."
"Yes, you are, dear."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," I snapped. "Ginny's a big girl, Ron. She's going to be dating people for a very long time. Get used to it. And who knows? You might actually like whomever she's dating now, so you're probably freaking out over absolutely nothing."
"Ginny," Neville said, thankfully interrupting whatever Ron was about to say to me, "who are you dating?"
"She's dating me."
In retrospect, Ron had no reason to react the way he did to the revelation of Ginny's boyfriend. He knew absolutely nothing about their relationship, and for the four months or so before that night, and for a good while afterward, Ginny nearly glowed she was so happy. Ron should have trusted her enough to know she would do what was right for her. But this was Ron, who gave and still gives, new meaning to the word 'overprotective.' So, naturally, he freaked. We all did. It was sort of hard not to when confronted with the towering, six-foot-two frame of Gregory Goyle.
"The fuck she is."
Harry shoved Ron back down onto the booth and Luna grabbed his arm to keep him from launching over the table at Goyle. Reproachful glares were directed at Ron from all sides, but Ginny went so far as to lean over the table and smack her brother upside the head for his rude outburst. Ron scowled at each one of us before finally settling his annoyed and infuriated gaze onto Ginny. "You're dating Goyle?"
"You're dating Goyle."
"Yes," Ginny repeated, exasperated.
"It's not that we don't trust your judgment or anything, Ginny," Harry cut in, casting uneasy glances at both Ron and Goyle. "It's just that, well, it's just that it's Goyle. Malfoy's henchman. One-third of the bane of our existence, remember?"
"No offense or anything," Neville said swiftly. He looked like the proverbial dear in the headlights, watching Goyle as though he would snap at any moment and pummel us all.
Goyle shrugged off Neville's remark as Ron leaned forward, elbowing Harry in the stomach, and fixed him with a hard, furious stare. "Did you put my sister under some sort of spell? Because if you did-"
Ignoring Ron completely, Goyle looked at Ginny and said, "Pansy, Terry, and Vin are all going to Honeydukes. Do you want to come with us?"
Ginny's face softened as she turned from Ron to Goyle. "Sure. Just give me a couple of minutes so I can deal with my deranged brother-"
"-and I'll meet you there."
"Well, you are acting a bit ridiculous," I said to Ron as Goyle lumbered away.
"Don't tell me you're okay with this!"
"I… Well, I- I don't know exactly. I mean, if Ginny's… happy with him, then I guess I don't see-"
Ron sighed in disgust and turned to Harry. "Harry, come on, you have to see the complete wrong with this. It's unnatural. He's a Slytherin."
"Ron, seriously, grow up," Ginny snapped. "Don't you think we're a little too old to be so concerned with what house someone's in?"
"He does have a point, Ginny," Harry said. He winced as Ginny looked at him and slowly raised one eyebrow; she looked exactly like a younger version of an infuriated Molly Weasley. "Not just that Goyle's in Slytherin. But that he was one of the worst Slytherins there was."
"You're right, Harry. Greg was one of the worst Slytherins. But he's changed."
Ron snorted in disgust. "Yeah, right. Sure he has. The only thing that's changed about Goyle over the years is that he's gotten taller. Just because you're dating him doesn't mean he's suddenly become some sort of nice person."
"He's been nice to me lately," Luna said. "One time this winter the wind blew my scarf off my neck, and he brought it back to me. If he hadn't, it would have been lost in the lake forever." Luna frowned. "It probably would have been eaten by the three-jawed piranhas, too. They fancy wool, you know."
Everyone ignored Luna's piranha related comment. Ginny folded her arms across her chest and said, "Greg has changed, Ron. Do you honestly think someone could have lived through the last couple of years and not change? He saved your life, for Merlin's sake!"
"More like he saved his own life. Don't you know that rats are always the first to know when a ship is sinking? Even a complete lunkhead like Goyle could have sensed that You-Know-Who's number was up."
"Greg. Is not. A lunkhead. Just because he doesn't make top marks doesn't make him a bad person. And it's not like you're such a brilliant student either, Ron."
Harry again interrupted Ron before he could reply. Both Ginny and Ron had turned as red as their hair as their tempers rose, and their argument had begun to attract curious stares from the other pub goers. "We're concerned, Ginny, that's all. I mean, have you forgotten all of the horrible stuff he's done to us over the years? You hated him, too."
"I know. I know I did." Ginny slumped back against the booth, the fight suddenly draining from her. "But I didn't know him then. Not really. I hated him because he hated us, but none of us ever knew why we hated the other. We just did because we were in Gryffindor and they were in Slytherin and our parents hated their parents and everyone expected us to. I'm not saying Greg is a perfect person because he's not. He's far from it. But he's more than just Malfoy's henchman or one-third of the bane of our existence, and if you'd take one second to put aside all of your ideas about who you think he is and actually try and talk to him, you would know this.
"You'd think after witnessing firsthand with You-Know-Who what a horrible power prejudice is or how stupid it is to categorize someone simply based on where they were born or who their parents are, we'd-" Ginny broke off with a shake of her head. There were tears in her eyes. She leaned over and whispered something to Neville, who immediately slid out of the booth. I grabbed Ginny's arm before she could leave; she looked back at me and said, "I'm fine, Hermione. Really. I just need to leave before I kick my brother's arse for being a moron."
"Sweetie, you are acting somewhat like an idiot."
I shared a look with Ginny, making sure she really was all right. A couple seconds went by and then I nodded and let go of her arm. She smiled at me, rolled her eyes at Harry and Ron, waved goodbye to Luna, and eased out of the booth and the pub. Nobody spoke in the wake of Ginny's departure, trying to come to terms with the revelation of her relationship with Goyle and her final parting words. In our silence, I heard Professor McGonagall announce the person chosen by the Well as the student most likely to be the Next Minister of Magic.
It was Draco Malfoy.
I needed another drink.