Title: In the Liquor Cabinet
Author: Amethyst Jackson
Author E-mail: AmethystJacksonhotmail.com
Summary: Crookshanks is missing, and Harry and Hermione, as you might have guessed, are in a liquor cabinet. Written for the hphgficathon community on Livejournal.
Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: All things Harry Potter belong to JK Rowling, her publishers, Warner Bros., yadayadayada.  I'm not making any money off this; don't sue me, please.
Notes: Thanks to Grace and Airiviel for being wonderful betas as usual.

Harry was starving. He wondered what was for dinner and if Hermione would show up tonight. She'd missed dinner several times that month, studying for NEWTs. Perhaps he should save something for her...

"Harry!"

It was the object of his thoughts, coming up from the dungeons. Her hair was frizzier than he'd seen it in awhile, and upon closer evaluation, Harry realized that she had been crying.

"What's the matter?"

"Crookshanks! Crabbe and Goyle stole him." She paused to scowl. "Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall are both in London, on Order business, so Snape, of all people, is in charge, and I just went to tell him about it, and he told me I was being silly and that Crookshanks was just lost and would turn up eventually, and he insulted me a few times, and now I don't know what to do!" Hermione seemed to pause for dramatic effect before adding, "Bloody bastards."

Harry blinked. He'd never, in the six years that he'd known her, heard Hermione swear, nor had he heard her form such a long sentence. She must have been extremely upset. He would have liked to kill Crabbe, Goyle, and Snape simultaneously, but since that wasn't much of an option, he would have to settle for rescuing Crookshanks.

"Come on," he said, grabbing her by the wrist and heading for the dungeons.

"What - Harry - where are we go-?"

"We're going to get your cat back," he announced, cutting her sentence short.

"Wait, Harry - we can't go into the Slytherin dormitories!" she cried, stopping abruptly, which left Harry with no choice but to halt as well.

"Yes, we can. We have the password."

Hermione scowled at him. "Harry, that's abusing our power, and you know it! The Head Boy and Girl are given the house passwords for emergencies only!"

Harry started walking again, dragging her along. "This is an emergency. Your cat is in danger."

"Harry, we can't! Do you know how much trouble we could get into? We'll lose our positions!"

"They've got Crookshanks, Hermione," Harry said quietly, "And considering what their fathers do to humans, I would hate to see what they do to a cat."

Harry could tell she was caving as she fidgeted, frowning at him. "I suppose you're right…and if the teachers aren't going to help, it's up to us…but shouldn't we at least get the Invisibility Cloak?"

"Why bother? Everyone's at dinner - we'll just go get Crookshanks and leave."

Harry could feel slight resistance on Hermione's part as he led her to the statue that marked the entrance to the Slytherin common room. Somewhere deep within his brain, he knew that he was being slightly irrational and that it would have been a very good idea to get the Invisibility Cloak or at least take the Marauder's Map, but he felt strangely impulsive – or at least more so than usual. He couldn't help wondering if his behavior had more to do with Hermione than her cat.

They reached the statue, putting a stop to his ruminations, and Harry gave the password (bobotuber pus). Harry entered first, and Hermione followed much more reluctantly. Luckily, the room was totally deserted.

"I've never been in here before," Hermione whispered, looking around with wide eyes at the chains hanging from the ceilings.

"Consider yourself lucky," Harry replied dryly.

"I never thought it would be so dreary. You would think they might at least try to make it look halfway normal. It looks like a typical storybook villain's lair in here...." Her eyes stopped on something. "There are the stairs to the dormitories. Which do you think is the boys'?"

Harry glanced at the stairs. "Well, I could run up one, and if it doesn't throw me off, I imagine that would be it."

Hermione shook her head. "No, we don't want to do that. The stairs are so noisy when they turn into a slide like that - anyone that might be upstairs would hear it. I suppose I'll just have to go up one and find out."

Hermione didn't appear very happy with the idea - in fact, she looked quite terrified.

"I can't let you go up alone," Harry said, fixing a wary eye on the staircases. "You wouldn't think they would try to do us real harm, since we're at Hogwarts, but you never know - you shouldn't go up without someone to watch your back, just in case someone is up there that decided to skip dinner."

Hermione was about to reply, but she snapped her mouth shut suddenly, eyebrows flying up into her bangs. "Do you hear that?! They're coming back from dinner!"

"Damn," Harry said, which he thought summed things up quite nicely.

"Quick, in here!" she whispered, a frantic hiss, and she tugged him into a cabinet, the door falling closed behind them. The cabinet was slightly taller than they were, but seemed to be half shelving and half wardrobe within, leaving them less space than expected. It was extremely cramped, and Harry thought it smelled like brandy.

Slytherins were pouring in, talking. Over Hermione's heavy breathing, Harry immediately heard the voice of Draco Malfoy, snobbish as ever above the rest.

"Great job with the cat," he was saying. "When are we going to kill it?"

Harry heard Hermione give a small whimper, and he put an arm around her. He was going to slaughter Malfoy when they got out.

"Well...we would," said Crabbe. "But, um, we...lost it."

The silence following this revelation was so pronounced that Harry could hear the furious expression forming on Malfoy's face as Hermione slumped against him with relief.

"And just how did this happen?" he asked quietly.

"We - we were trying to bring it here," said Crabbe nervously, "b-but its claws were really sharp, and...."

"You let it GO?" Malfoy said, voice rising in a crescendo. "You idiots! Why didn't you tell me before dinner?"

"We... wanted to eat," Goyle said. His tone was more than a little sheepish.

"And you wouldn't have let us…you'd have made us find the cat first," Crabbe elaborated somewhat pathetically.

"Thank goodness he's part kneazle," Hermione murmured into his shoulder. Harry wasn't quite sure what she meant by that, but thought it best to ask about it later.

Draco continued to berate Crabbe and Goyle, and Hermione relaxed into him, seeming to have realized at the same time he had that they would be trapped in the cabinet for awhile. He wanted to be annoyed that she was using him as a human cushion, but for some odd reason, he was rather enjoying it.

Well, it wasn't that odd, all things considered. He'd been actively ignoring many things about his best friend in the past few years, knowing exactly what the consequences of acknowledging those things might be. Alas, Hermione had become a woman, and a very attractive one. He knew this, but dwelling on that fact was dangerous, and he never allowed himself to. Their friendship was too important to risk on a few teenage fantasies. Even if his feelings for her became deeper than that, it wouldn't be worth it to put her in danger because of it. She was already in harm's way as his friend; as anything more, the risk would double.

At the moment, however, he was having a very hard time escaping those long-repressed thoughts. In the darkness, with her pressed closely against him, how could he ignore them? He was seventeen, for Merlin's sake, and she was a warm, soft, beautiful girl.

Cut it out, Potter, he told himself, she's off-limits.

But why? another part of his brain whined.

Harry found that he couldn't answer that question. At the first hint of feelings of more than friendship toward Hermione, he'd automatically told himself that she was forbidden, but was she really?

Naturally, there was the chance that Hermione did not and would not ever return his feelings, and there was also the chance that, if she found out about his, she would be too uncomfortable to speak to him again.... Then again, she might be calm and understanding as usual and do her best to treat him as she always had.

And what if she did return his feelings? Would that outweigh every risk? Ever since his real life had begun at Hogwarts, she had been his everything - his friend, his sister, his mother, his protector – his salvation. Who, then, could possibly replace her? Who was he better suited to spend the rest of his life with?

He looked down at her. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness just enough to make out her thick curls against the dark paneling of the cabinet. She seemed to sense his gaze and looked up at him, smiling. At that moment, the logic didn't matter. He'd gone and fallen in love with her, and no amount of denial would change that, no matter how risky it was.

Good one, Potter. Might as well dig your grave now.

Almost incapable of stopping himself, he leaned in and kissed her. She gasped, but the sound was muffled between them, and then, miraculously, she kissed him back. That confirmed it; everything he'd been feeling was right.

…Unfortunately, they'd both managed to forget where they were and neglected to listen to what was going on outside the cabinet.

"Screw Transfiguration; I need a drink," said Draco Malfoy, and he went to pay a visit to the secret stash of liquor hidden in the old, smelly cabinet across the room.

Harry felt rather than heard the cabinet doors open, and as he jerked away from Hermione, a startled, "What the...?" met his ears. He turned, face burning, to see a very puzzled Draco Malfoy.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Practicing CPR," Hermione snapped, stepping out of the cabinet. She ignored the confused expression on Malfoy's face and continued, "We came for my cat, but evidently, he was smarter than your goons over there."

Draco glared. "You're not allowed in here unless there's an emergency, Granger."

"And you're not allowed to have alcohol on school grounds, Malfoy," Harry countered, having seen the bottles on his way out of the cabinet. In hindsight, the smell ought to have been his first clue. "So I suggest you keep quiet about this, or Dumbledore will be hearing about the liquor and your plot to kill Hermione's cat."

"Bloody Gryffindors," Draco grumbled. "Get your Mudblood out of here, will you, Potter? The place is starting to smell."

Harry whipped out his wand and stepped in front of Hermione, shielding her. "If you so much as look at Hermione like that again, Malfoy, I swear, I won't hesitate to put you in the hospital wing for a week."

"You'd never have the nerve, Potter."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Want to find out?"

Draco didn't respond, and they left the common room amidst dead silence, Harry casting dark glances over his shoulder as they went.

Once outside, Hermione promptly smacked him across the back of the head.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"You could have gotten us into real trouble, Harry!" she cried. "I told you we should have gotten the Cloak, but did you listen? No! You never do!"

"Well, it's not like you refused to come with me!"

"And what was I suppose to do? Send you off into danger alone again? I've done that too many times as it is, thanks! And, you know, Harry, out of all the times you could have chosen to finally kiss me, you just had to pick that one, didn't you? Like it couldn't wait -"

"You weren't exactly stopping me! And what do you mean, finally? Have you -" Any anger he might have felt suddenly dissipated, replaced with thorough confusion. "Have you been waiting for me to?"

Hermione blushed. "Well, I wasn't exactly waiting for it, but I wanted you to."

Harry blinked. "You did?"

"You're so daft when it comes to girls, Harry. I can't believe you never picked up on it," Hermione said, starting down the hallway.

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" Harry questioned, following her.

"What was I supposed to say? 'Gee, Harry, I like you as more than a friend, want to go make out?' Besides, you had so much to deal with, and I didn't think you were quite ready to handle something like that. I didn't want to lose you."

Harry had to admit to himself that she was right, as usual. He hadn't been ready. He offered her an unsure smile. "That's different now, though."

She smiled back. "Yes, I suppose it is."

Harry took her hand. "Come on. Let's find your cat."

- Fin