Chapter 20

Too soon for a significant amount of the male population of Hogwarts, February arrived. That meant Valentine's Day. Most of the boys were thankful that it fell on a Monday, and that the closest Hogsmeade weekend was three weeks away. Harry and Draco, however, were not among them, because they each had a plan, which they had done the work for in advance. When Valentine's Day morning came, the third year Slytherin dormitory was awoken by the ecstatic shriek of Daphne Greengrass finding a dozen roses and a smart jewellery case containing a bracelet on her bedside table.

Draco's plan was somewhat different, relying on the element of surprise in a different way…

It was common knowledge among the gossip network of the school that Draco Hardacre and Hermione Granger often sat next to each other at mealtimes, but it was not discussed beyond idle wondering and speculation. They were in the same year, the same house, and were friends, so it wasn't remarked upon that they did this, as everyone sat with their friends. It was expected, after all. What wasn't expected by the gossips was that this morning, Draco was nowhere to be seen. Nor was it expected that the post would deliver a soft pink envelope to Hermione, which drew Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil to her like moths to a flame.

"Dearest Hermione,

You've probably never received something like this before, unless it was from someone playing a mean joke on you. You probably didn't expect to receive this or something like it ever, because I know you still dwell on those insults deep inside – about your hair, your teeth, your intelligence. It doesn't matter if you don't believe me. I just want you to know that there is someone who cares about you, enough to tell you that those things are what make you yourself. They are the things that make you beautiful.

If you want to know who I am, turn around."

Hermione did so, and a soft gasp of surprise left her mouth. Draco was standing there, blushing almost as red as the single rose he was holding. As Parvati and Lavender started giggling to themselves, Hermione took the rose and kissed Draco on the cheek.

- Later that day -

"And then she kissed me! What do I do now? What if I mess it up? Help me!" Harry was in the Workshop, a block of wood with a set of carving tools in front of him. He was practicing carving the runes he was going to inscribe on Aletheia's blade. However, he was finding it hard to concentrate, because Draco was worrying about how he was supposed to proceed following Hermione's response to his Valentine at breakfast. "Calm down, first of all. And stop nudging my arm – I'd prefer it if I didn't chisel my finger. Besides, at the moment, there's nothing I can tell you beyond 'ask her if she would like to go to Hogsmeade with you'. As in, on a date. What you do after that is dependent on her answer. If she says yes, you plan to do something together. If she says no, ask why, and then if it's not something like 'I suddenly don't like you and never want to speak to you again', suggest an alternative. And as for messing it up, Hermione would tell you if you were doing that."

Draco nodded in understanding, then glanced at his watch and swore. "You'll have to practice your finger-cutting later, we've got Potions next." Harry hurriedly put the tools back where they belonged and dumped his block in his locker before following Draco out of the Workshop. They got to the dungeons just as Professor Heyerdahl opened the classroom door, giving them a stern look, but he didn't say anything. When everyone was at their desks, he began. "Today, we will begin looking at variational potions. Can anyone explain what a variational potion is?" Harry looked around the classroom. Hermione's hand had risen, of course, but so had Terry Boot's, Susan Bones', and surprisingly, Dean Thomas'. "Mister Thomas?", Professor Heyerdahl pointed at him. "Er.. oh! A potion from a set of similar ones that start the same way, but end up different depending on what you do."

"Quite right, Mister Thomas. Today, we will be making the Attribute Enhancement Potion. It is a sextuple form variational potion – that is, there are six variations of it. Its base effect is to increase a specific attribute of the drinker for one hour, with the attribute affected dependent on the form. The degree to which the attribute is improved is determined by the quality of the potion. The six forms are the potions of Bull's Strength, Cat's Grace, Bear's Endurance, Fox's Cunning, Owl's Wisdom, and Eagle's Splendour. Do NOT attempt to combine the forms – choose one, and brew that. Since the instructions are not in Magical Draughts and Potions, they are on the board. Be careful when adding the Bubotuber pus, you'll need your dragonhide gloves on, as it will eat through your skin if you get it on your hands."

Harry dug his gloves out of his bag and pulled them on, then looked at the board. Given his need to practice carving, he decided to make the Cat's Grace form of the potion, which Professor Heyerdahl had noted as "for dexterity". The starting instructions were clear as always:

Fill the cauldron with water, bring to boil, then add two measures of Standard Ingredient.

Juice three large lemons, and add the juice to the cauldron.

Stir five times clockwise.

Add four ounces of undiluted Bubotuber pus and stir clockwise until the potion turns yellow.

Remove from heat, and allow the cauldron to cool to a simmer.

Add two ounces of powdered unicorn horn, and stir counterclockwise until the potion turns blue.

Return to the heat and bring back to the boil.

From there, Professor Heyerdahl had divided the board into six sections, with each having the continued instructions for one form of the potion. Scanning down the specific ingredients he needed, Harry returned his cauldron to the fire and then collected catswort, coffee beans, cat's claws, some dried spider legs and Billywig stings from the shelves. He was halfway through shredding the catswort leaves when there was a sudden bang, a splashing sound, and a shriek from the Slytherin area. Pansy Parkinson was almost unrecognisable. Her hair had turned into feathers, and her nose and mouth had fused together into a large yellow beak. Now aware that everyone was looking at her, she gave another shriek and ran from the classroom. "Alright, back to brewing, everyone." Professor Heyerdahl said. "I don't want any more incidents." Harry turned back to his catswort and continued shredding it.

When it was done, he added it to his cauldron, then ground the beans, claws, spider legs, and stings to powder and sprinkled the mixture in a pinch at a time, stirring three times clockwise and once anticlockwise between each addition. When Professor Heyerdahl called time, his potion was the exact shade of orange the instructions said it should be. "Well done, Mister Potter, a perfect Cat's Grace Potion. However, you must know that it falls under the banned substance rules for Quidditch."

As the third years left the classroom a few minutes later with their now cooled potions, Harry caught up with Daphne. He was pleased to see she was wearing the bracelet he had got for her. "How did you get into my dormitory?" she asked him, in a tone halfway between being stern and teasing him. "Dobby made the delivery, not me. What happened to Parkinson?" Daphne's eyes rolled. "She didn't pay proper attention to what she was doing. She decided to do the Eagle's Splendour form, then added the boom berries before the eagle feathers had dissolved properly, so it blew up in her face and partially turned her into an eagle."