Recap: Draco wonders how to get Hermione to come away with him when she screams from her room. She has done "poorly" on her Potions exam. Persuading her to go talk to Slughorn about it, Draco leaves with her to Hogwarts. What he doesn't realize is that Harry has found his letter to H.B.P, and knows Draco's not under Amortentia anymore ...
~ Drops of Amour ~
Chapter 19: Return to Hogwarts
"There must be some mistake ... there is no possible way I could have lost twenty points!" Hermione muttered, waving her gloved fist at the overcast sky.
They had both reached the apparition point a little outside of Hogsmeade, several minutes ago, and were slowly trekking toward the school.
For the better part of the journey, she had ranted and raved about Slughorn's biased grading.
Draco smirked, thinking that she must be the only person who could focus on such a trivial thing as poor exam scores at a time like this, when all the world around them was enveloped in a dangerous war. He hadn't forgotten, of course. He had become inextricably linked with the war ever since his sixth year.
And in a few hours, she wouldn't be thinking of her exam anymore.
He ruffled his pale hair nervously. She did not notice.
After today, there would be no more double-duty. He would no longer hide his true loyalties or hedge around his many secrets. He would forever alienate those people who had allied themselves with him so many times before.
But she ...
No! There was no more room for doubt. He had to follow through if he wanted to protect his own interests.
"Do you know, of all the things I could have been marked down for, it was in my essay on Amortentia!" she cried into his thoughts, her brown eyes wide beneath her woolen hat.
Draco's brow raised at that.
Hermione nodded fervently in confirmation of his unspoken surprise.
She turned to paw through her shoulder bag, ruffling through the various papers to fetch Slughorn's letter with all the details of her exam performance.
"This is ridiculous!" she pointed out. "Look what he wrote: 'Miss Granger, in order for Amortentia to be truly potent, a strand of hair must be added to the potion. Simple eye contact is insufficient to reach full potency. It will cause mild admiration and affection, not deep infatuation such as with the addition of hair."
They continued walking briskly through the snowy fields, closing in on Hogsmeade.
"We never added any hair in our Amortentia before the spill, and it still caused total infatuation," she stated confidently.
Draco cleared his throat but said nothing.
Not noticing his wary glances at the village looming ahead of them or his sudden discomfort, she tugged at his arm to regain his attention. Her curls were flying around her face, and with the flakes dotting her strands, she looked positively ethereal.
"Listen to this ... 'Despite its namesake, Amortentia is not in fact a love potion. Nothing in this world can replicate true love; it can only foster obsession' ... what rubbish."
The shops of Hogsmeade came into view as she continued to ramble.
"I know what Amortentia does - how could I not?" she complained, finally glancing at Draco properly, and frowned at the uncharacteristic anxiety on his face.
The shadows under his eyes seemed pronounced and his lips were tightly pursed.
She opened her mouth to question him, but something held her back. For a moment, she discreetly examined him to see if it was just an error in her sight. But no, he was worried about something. His grey eyes kept darting about every so often.
"Are you okay?"
He glanced at her sharply, then smiled reassuringly. "Yes. Why wouldn't I be?"
The smile, usually so light, was pulled taut across his lips.
It then hit her with a bludgeoning force: he was lying to her! She couldn't understand it; he had been so unflinchingly honest and loyal to her in the past few months. Yet, now, she was convinced beyond doubt that he was keeping something from her.
She placed a hand on his arm.
"Are you ill? Maybe you shouldn't have come here so soon after your accident -"
"Hermione," he interrupted with a calm smile, "I'm fine. You worry about me too much sometimes."
She returned his smile, accepting his answer. Though she wondered why he seemed almost sad and angry at the last statement. There was something, something on the tip of her tongue about him, that she couldn't place.
Why was he anxious? Was it because of her exam? Perhaps, because of the potion, he was excessively worried for her.
But his symptoms should have eased by now.
And if Slughorn was, in fact, right ...
"I love you."
"I love only you, Hermione."
... Why would he tell her that?
But she never got to voice her question. A strange, low silky voice hissed in her ear, "Stupefy!"
Right as the cold dark ground swam up to meet her, she heard Draco's unsurprised voice greet the stranger, sending a cold shiver through her frozen body in recognition.
Then all went black.
"Why did you do that?" Draco hissed, frustrated. He was pacing about in the dingy little room, kicking at an empty crate in frustration.
"The Order already suspects me," he spat, "and with you insisting on me meeting you during mealtimes, they're bound to notice something!"
Severus swirled the drink in his hand.
"No they won't," he countered coolly, black eyes warning the young boy against another outburst.
Draco muttered several choice words under his breath, making sure to let a few slip about the state of Snape's hide-away. Calling it a hovel would be a generous term. He was afraid of moving for fear of collapsing the entire structure.
Severus scowled. "I'm not doing this all for my own amusement, Draco. You told me you were ready, and barely one month in you're already whining?"
The pale boy shifted but remained silent.
"They are not going to question your absence when the entire Order is busy chattering away, and stuffing their face with food, of course, if Weasleys are involved," Snape smirked.
Draco's haughty expression mirrored his.
"It is also prudent to remove yourself from any personal interactions, or any other forms of intimacy," the ex-professor stated. "The closer you are to those people, the more difficult it will be to conceal your thoughts and your secrets."
Snape looked away, lost in thought.
"Affection, however appealing, is weakening."
Draco's jaw clenched.
"You cannot allow anyone to get too close ... I hope you know that I'm referring to Miss Granger, and her newfound interest in your well-being. That friendship cannot be encouraged on your part, Draco. Absolutely not."
That was the limit. Draco stood up suddenly.
"Of all the people in that infernal house, she's been the only one who doesn't whip out a wand at the sight of me! Granger's done nothing but support me in the face of their suspicion and help me whenever I stumbled ... even going against her precious friends to stand by me. And you think because of her blood that I should ... I thought you didn't care about that stuff, that you were the one who told me to get past the old ways ... and now you're -"
"Draco," Snape cut him off with a raised hand.
The boy breathed in harshly and looked away petulantly.
His missed the bemused expression on the older man's face. "I was telling you to distance yourself from Miss Granger because you're a double agent, not because of her blood. But it is interesting to see how much you care."
He rose and swirled away in a tide of black robes, leaving Draco to his own shocked thoughts.
Lupin passed the letter to Arthur, while the others in Grimmauld Place sat in stupefaction.
"I don't believe this ..." Ginny murmured, remembering the tender embrace she had caught Hermione and Draco in, just that morning. Was that all just an act on his part? She had been so convinced that he was still under the potion.
"That bloody bastard!" Ron growled under his breath.
Mrs. Weasley was too frightened to notice her son's language. She read the letter over her husband's shoulder, clasping her trembling mouth with one hand. The adults all looked at each other with grim expressions.
"This is definitely incriminating," Lupin began to say.
"Then what are you waiting for!" Harry yelled, getting impatient with everyone's sluggish reactions.
He was bursting with adrenaline and rage. The one person who was like a sister to him could possibly be in grave danger, fighting for her life, all because of his blindness. He knew Hermione was rather gullible when it came to Malfoy. But he had never been. He had always known there was something sneaky about him.
He had only realized it too late.
"... It just mentions he is taking Hermione to Hogsmeade ... and they have some plan ... but it doesn't say what it is. It may not be all that bad," Lupin suggested.
Harry cursed out loud. "He made a plan with Snape. The man who killed Dumbledore in case you all forgot!"
"No! That - that ferret tried to kill Dumbledore, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, especially after all of you felt sorry for him. Now look what good pitying him did. He pulled off this entire conspiracy without us noticing a bloody thing!"
Ron was nodding furiously.
The others looked disconcerted, but were far more restrained.
"We should contact Minerva and ask her to send a search party for Hermione ... meanwhile, we can try and -" Mr. Weasley trailed off as Harry pocketed his wand and put on his cloak.
"I'm not taking any chances. This is Hermione we're talking about! I'm going and you can't stop me!"
But they were too late. With a slam of the entrance door, he was gone, his cold fury still lingering in the house.
"I'm going with him," Ron cried out, but Mrs. Weasley and Ginny stopped him.
"You need one of the adults to go with you, Ronnie," Mrs. Weasley beseeched him. "If Snape's there ... and who knows who else ... we need to have proper reinforcements."
Arthur and Lupin exchanged tense glances before rushing off to contact the Headmistress.
Ginny remained, staring out the door from where Harry had only just disappeared.
She hoped, despite his anger, that he didn't do anything rash.
Dad and Lupin will get there in time, she thought. They have to.
Draco had been startled for a moment, when he looked back after hearing the sound of a soft thud, but saw Hermione nowhere in sight. There was only a familiar sallow-faced man staring straight at him.
"Hello Snape," he greeted.
Instead of answering, Severus flicked his hand and the two of them were disillusioned.
"Where is she?" he whispered urgently.
"Disillusioned," Snape answered, gesturing to a indistinguishable mass on the ground. Draco nodded, his anxiety now fully undisguised.
"Levicorpus," Draco murmured, and carefully levitated Hermione's hidden form so that it floated ahead of him.
"Muffliato," Snape added as an additional protection from eavesdroppers.
They made their way to the abandoned streets by the Shrieking Shack, crawling through the half-destroyed doors to enter the ominous house. It was dilapidated and the cold winds passed right through, unhindered.
Finally removing the charms, Draco set Hermione's body down onto the wooden floor and cast aside his bag.
"Do you think the others will come?" he asked Snape anxiously.
Peering out the window, Snape narrowed his eyes in inspection and inclined his head. "Without a doubt. Lucius would never pass up a chance to assist his son in his rise to glory."
Draco laughed dryly.
"Bella certainly wouldn't pass up a chance to play."
It made Draco rub the scar on his chest unconsciously.
"Especially after all that I've done for the Dark Lord, all the advances we've made as a result of Dumbledore's death, they wouldn't choose to ignore my command. Lucius and Bella certainly wouldn't sit aside and let me have all the glory."
There was a moment of calm silence as the two men contemplated what lay ahead for them. Snow seeped in through the cracks, and everything almost seemed simple and innocent in that fraction of time.
Severus shifted his dark eyes to the unconscious form in the corner, eyeing her pensively.
"... sometimes ... she reminds me ..."
"Of?" Draco narrowed his eyes.
But the older man simply shook his head off the thought, brushing aside his uncharacteristic lapse in focus. He turned sharply and fixed his piercing gaze onto Draco.
"We do not have much time. You must get to the castle soon and initiate your part of the plan."
"And will you -"
"Yes," Snape interrupted. "I will take care of everything here."
Draco knelt down to Hermione's side, and quietly murmured. "I will not fail you this time ... either of you."
He moved stiffly, his muscles tense with anticipation as he expected Snape to scoff at his sudden emotional declaration and to censure him for not hurrying to the castle at full speed, with single-minded ambition.
But instead Snape said, "I am proud of you."
Draco's finger froze in the middle of a caress of her cheek. That solemn statement affected him.
"I thought you would disapprove of such Gryffindorian sentiments," he replied quietly.
Snape shook his head sadly.
"If there is anything I can claim to understand about Gryffindor sentimentality, it is the need to keep the woman you love safe."
Draco said nothing but gazed down at Hermione's unconscious form, wrapping her winter robes close around her body. He almost bent close to her face, remembering the moment in her bed just an hour ago.
But then he restrained himself, and simply brushed his lips quickly against her hand and stood up.
Snape's long hands squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.
AN: Feel free to express your joy through reviews ;)