Night had fallen early on New Mills. The high, winter moon silhouetted the finger-like mill chimneys and lit the way for Hermione to steal past the sleeping homes. The cobbled streets were slick with a fine sheet of ice, making purchase difficult for her worn out boots. Spinner's End was her destination, but not for the man who resided there. His Godson was there- it was Hermione's duty to get him to safety. He was too important, she was told.
A single candle lit the front window of the house on the end of the street. The wind's gusting was so severe when Hermione made it to the worn door, she was so cold that hesitation was no longer an option. Tracing a complex series of runes on the door, the fear that she should have felt long ago sunk in. With a soft click, the door opened a fraction letting the soft light spill onto Hermione's auburn curls.
A face shrouded in the shadows emerged, "What year did you hit me?"
The door opened a fraction wider; she slipped inside, her scarlet cloak catching on the frame for a moment.
When she turned and brushed the hair from her eyes, he was livid. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Bringing news," she replied, trying frantically to catch her breath. "Harry dead," she gulped. "Remus. Shacklebolt. McGonagall, too."
Draco turned away from her, lacking his characteristic smirk and looking suddenly vulnerable in his white cambric shirt. The shirt looked strange on him, and it took Hermione a moment to realize that he was wearing Snape's clothing.
A shaking hand poured a splash of amber liquid, unidentifiable, but alchoholic, into a ceramic mug. He downed it without coughing and sloshed more into the same mug, thrusting it at Hermione. She sipped, felt the burn of whiskey, then swallowed deeply.
"The Dark Lord?" he asked quietly, almost too quiet for Hermione to hear.
She grimaced. "Alive."
"And your instructions for me?"
Hermione poured another once, drank it. "I'm to tell you your options."
"From the Boy-King?" he sneered.
"Harry is dead." She slumped into one of the dark brown velvet armchairs by the smoldering fire. "You can go back to Voldemort. I can cut off your arm and we flee. Severus is waiting for us in France. I have a duty to de-activate his mark. Either way, I must go."
Draco paced up the length of the room, stopping every moment or so to consider and promptly switch directions, the floorboards protesting under his stockinged feet.
Hermione checked her watch, shook it at her ear and wound it. "Malfoy," she began.
The usual billow was again gone, but the menace in his eyes was the same: cold and dark. "Granger," he snarled.
"I need to know your answer," she prodded, the alcohol giving her liquid courage. Suddenly, the mug came flying from his hand, shattering on the floor by her feet.
"What made you think that I had to make up my mind, you silly brat?"
Hermione was out of her chair in an instant. "You want the arm, then?" she spat back.
"Of course I want the arm." He wiped his shirtsleeve viciously across his mouth, as if to clean it.
Hermione considered. "How long do you have when he calls to answer it?"
"A few hours," Draco replied. "Five at most."
She nodded, glancing around the cramped room at Spinner's End- Snape's home. Books over-flowed the shelves, leaking to the end tables and the library table in the corner. They were stacked on the fireplace and there was a shelf hanging from the back of the door into the next room. The kitchen, she presumed.
Glancing at the perspiration dancing across his forehead she asked, "And you've been called?"
"Not but twenty minutes ago."
Nodding again, she began to pace on the space adjacent to him. "We have to move quickly. Pack only what you need."
He glared, as if to say, 'do you think I don't already know that?', but he complied, pulling out his wand from a wrist sheath, he slashed it around the room in a wide arc. The books responded first, shrinking to the size of a finger-nail and neatly stacking themselves on the floor in front of the entry door. He moved quickly to the library table and pulled out a large mahogany humidor, which he thrust at Hermione.
"Don't just stand there."
She complied, scooping the books into the box with both hands- an act that if this had been any other moment she would have nearly vomited with indignation. Hearing his feet go up the seemingly narrow stairs, Hermione cast the tempus.
They'd better hurry.
Finishing her duty to the books, Hermione rummaged through the desk until she found a large rubber band, which she snapped over the box to keep it closed. Laying the humidor, obviously to keep his books at appropriate levels of humidity, on her cloak, which was on the back of the sofa, she ventured to the foot of the stairs.
"Do you need assistance?" she called up, hoping for a negative response. She received a positive one, though, and made her way up the stairs, which were very steep and had walls on both sides, almost making it impossible for the petite Hermione to walk facing forward. Surely a man like Draco, although his frame was spare, would have to nearly go down the steps sideways.
The door to Hermione's right was ajar, showing what appeared to be Snape's lab. "You can't take ingredients," she blurted.
His look asked her why-the-fuck-not?
"We've a plane to catch. I'm not comfortable with apparation or the floo network in the current circumstances."
The look continued.
"The security men look through your bags when you get on the plane. The shrunken books are strange enough."
He scowled and charmed his best platinum number two cauldron into a standard kitchen pot and shrunk it to the size of a child's toy. Hermione beamed. "Perfect. A present for your niece."
"If you're done," Draco said softly, "you had best make your way into the wardrobe and get his clothing packed. I don't have any but his right now. A case is on the bed."
She did as she was told, nearly forgetting that she was going to go into Professor Snape's bedroom. She opened the other door on the landing, this one straight across from the stairs. Snape's bed was yet unmade, but the room was tidy and spartan otherwise. Had Draco slept here or in the sitting room? A worn brown and red rug covered the hardwood floors and the bed took up nearly all of the room. The wardrobe was in the corner, opposite the only window. She opened the dark colored roller-board suitcase and was then met with the scent of him- parchment and ink, cloves, balsam and a hint of whiskey, when she flung open the doors of the wardrobe.
Without giving too much a thought to what she was actually touching, she pulled down three jackets, each similar but different, and four pairs of trousers- two black wool, grey twill and a worn pair of denims, which made Hermione smile strangely. In the drawers under the hanging space, she selected several shirts, all of them which buttoned up. She had never seen him in anything other than teaching robes or death eater garb. This was a whole new side of Snape. Remembering that these clothes were for Draco, she chose four- one each in white, burgundy, navy and hunter. Pulling out more drawers, she took three pairs each of heavy wool and thin trouser socks, all in black. Five undershirts, with a deep vee neck in a utilitarian white. Five pairs of dark-colored boxer-briefs.
Hermione Granger had touched Professor Snape's underpants. She giggled in spite of the situation.
She folded them quickly, but carefully and placed them to the left in the suitcase. Dropping her own beaded handbag on the rumpled ecru sheets, Hermione extracted her clothing and folded it next to Snape's, or Draco's- a pair of black trousers, a pair of denims, three sweaters, a black turtleneck, several sets of underwear and a pair of lace-up boots.
"Malfoy?" Hermione called.
He came to the door, a pink gift bag with yellow tissue poking out the top in his hand.
"His lab is packed and ready for gifting to my niece," he scowled.
Hermione dug into her beaded bag again, this time withdrawing two burgundy Republique Francaise passports. She handed him one, "For you, Jean-Etienne de Rambouillet."
He glanced at his picture, next to the prissy name. "And you are?"
"Simone de Rambouillet. Your wife."
"We're married?" he seethed.
Hermione glared. "You have a better idea?"
Spinning on her heel, she zipped the rollerboard shut and pulled it off the bed. It made an awful racket hitting the floor and she stormed out of the room. The case thundered down the narrow stairs as she dragged it.
Draco was left alone in his bedroom with only the paper gift-bag in his hand.
When Malfoy came down the stairs into the sitting room again, he found Hermione putting the final touches on a pair of winter coats. His warm, weather-proofed travelling cloak was now reduced to a mere muggle overcoat. He nearly snarled at Hermione, but she thrust the new coat at him so forcefully that he was stunned into subservience. He put it on. It fit perfectly, he noted, with a single row of large black buttons leading down from a collar at his throat to just above his knees. He looked up as Hermione swirled a black princess-cut wool trench around her shoulders. It flared out around her calves prettily and tied belted snugly at her waist.
"Ready?" she asked, opening the door without waiting to hear his response. He blindly followed her down the street, turning right down an alley and right again onto Woolstead Place. Hermione's hand fumbled around in her beaded bag for a moment and then came back out with a battered-looking set of car keys.
"In," she commanded once she had jabbed the key into the door lock and clicked them open. Draco thought it was possibly the ugliest car he had ever seen.
He sat down, the shoulder restraint coming across his chest when he shut the door. "What is this monstrosity?"
"Ford Scorpio. The most average, under-the-radar car I could ask for," she said, turning the key over and turning on the heaters.
Malfoy ran his finger over the HelloKitty rear-view ornament. "You own this?"
Hermione snorted, throwing the car into reverse and backing out the one-way street. "No. Stole it from a few miles away in Hammersmith."
The radio clicked a few times, sputtered and died. Hermione smashed her fist into the front plate. It began spewing BBC World Radio again. "Does that sometimes."
Draco hummed. Hermione turned sharply onto the M4, her knuckles white on the wheel. Only moments later, thanks to her hundred and fifty-five kilometers an hour driving, Hermione and Malfoy pulled up to the end of the sidewalk at Terminal Four at Heathrow airport. Glancing around, she manuevered into a loading dock behind a low wall, parked and shut off the car.
"Right, Jean-Etienne. Out," she said, jerking open the back door and pulling out their suitcase.
Hermione tossed the keys onto the boot of the car and turned around, purpousfully striding towards the doors. She looked back for a moment, stopped.
"Stay still," she commanded, brandishing her wand. He felt a strange tickling on his scalp. "Brunette suits you, Draco."
"You what?" He seethed.
"You take the tickets," she said, ignoring him and opening the wide glass door "And remember, we're French."
Draco caught a look of himself in the glass. Brunette was not bad. He shook his hair out of the que at the nape of his neck and let it rest around his shoulders, obscuring his features.
"Better," Hermione commented, twisting her hair into a bun and pulling a cap over it. She approached the security guard first. "Bon Soir," she san out.
"Madame," the gentleman answered. "Passports?"
Hermione handed them over. "You're headed back home?" the security man asked.
She gave him a confused look. He repeated in French, "Allez-vous chez vous?"
Smiling enchantingly she replied, "Oui."
"Bon voyage," he said, handing the little booklets back to Hermione. Draco looked at her blankly.
"Bags on the conveyor," she muttered forcefully, dropping hers onto the belt. "Take off your shoes."
Draco slipped his off, laying them next to her's. They stepped in turn through a portal which mercifully did not emit a sound.
"Merci," Hermione muttered to the gate worker. "This way, Draco."
She led him down the crowded, long hall. They were very nearly about to miss their flight.
"Madame!" she shouted as a flight attendant was about to shut the flight door. "Madame, Nous sommes sur ce vol!"
"Oui, Madame. Rapide, s'il vous plait."
She checked their passports and tickets only cursorally, "Bon vol, Madame, Monsieur."
"Merci," Draco said as he walked past her and down the ramp leading to the plane.
Hermione checked the numbers as they walked down the aisle. She slid the suitcase into the overhead compartment and took the window seat.
"What are we doing?" whispered Draco furiously.
Hermione glared and took out the in-flight magazine. "We're flying."
"In this?" he inquired.
"Yes. Now leave me alone, I have to make a call," she snapped.
Draco looked around the metal tube that he was supposed to be flying in as Hermione pulled out a mobile phone and punched in a number.
"Onyx?" she asked. After a moment she sighed and then replied. "I have the opals you asked for." a breath. "Oui. En route now. Flight 427, Heathrow to CDG." a single choked breath. "Yeah," she said, endeavoring to sound nonchalant. "The emeralds aren't any good to us anymore. Those and the Rubies got messed up at the lab. Topaz and the Tanzanite got left behind. The pair of Beryls are all-right and the other seven Beryls are fine too."
Looking at her looking out the window and barely able to hold tears back made Draco look away in shame.
"I'll be there soon. Too bad the Bloodstone made it so I couldn't get more out," she replied softly. "Must go. We're about to take off."
She clicked it shut and let her eyes squeeze shut.
"Granger?" Draco asked.
She opened them, luminescent tears glinting on their sufaces. "Yes?"
"All those gemstones mean people, right?"
"And I'm an opal?" he pressed.
Hermione nodded her head and turned to look out the window again.
Sighing tiredly she replied, "Why do you want to know?"
"Well, Snape is onyx, yeah, which makes sense because he's got black hair," he continued. "And Shacklebolt is Tanzanite because he's African. Why am I opal?"
"Because they're pretty and shiny and at the end completely breakable," she spat at him and closed her eyes.
The lights dimmed. They were running.