Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I in any way associated with, Harry Potter. JKR owns all, I'm just taking her characters out for a spin.
AN: I promise, writing this in no way took away from me working on "Fearless in the Dark." I finished all work on that days before I even got the idea for this.
A Different Kind of Loyalty
The Daily Prophet dropped beside Hermione's plate was expected. The small skirmish between the Prophet owl and another, smaller owl, was not.
Hermione quickly picked up the thin, white envelope. There was nothing on it aside from her name, a sure sign that it had come from within the castle. She pulled it open and read the short note, her brow furrowing as she did.
Your familiar has taken up residence in the Hogwarts infirmary. Please remove him immediately or he will be sanitized and confined to the owlery.
"I have to go!" Hermione said and rushed from the table before Harry or Ron could ask what was up. Last month a Ravenclaw girl's pet rat had been sanitized. The poor thing was shaved and soaked in some horrid smelling potion that kept all bacteria and parasites away, along with any other living thing with nostrils. If Hermione let that happen to Crookshanks he would never forgive her.
Hermione ran all the way to the infirmary and only just managed not to throw the doors open, figuring Madam Pomfrey was already unhappy with her. The woman was nowhere to be seen, thankfully, and Hermione began walking up the row of beds, calling for her cat.
"Crookshanks," she whispered gently. "Crooks! Come on, boy! We'll go down to the kitchens and get you some fish, how does that sound?"
Only one bed was occupied, the drapes drawn around it. Hermione knew very well who was in it. Harry had told them all about the incident in the bathroom with Malfoy. The boy was lucky to be alive.
Hermione felt a twinge of guilt. She hadn't been the one to hurt Malfoy, hadn't even given Harry the spell that did the damage, but Harry was one of her closest friends. There was a special kind of guilt that came from being so tightly linked to the guilty party. Had it been anyone, anyone at all but Malfoy, she would have gone over there and apologized. But it was Malfoy and she just couldn't bring herself to. Instead, she resumed her search for Crookshanks, checking windowsills, the floors beneath the beds, and even under the fluffier pillows.
Hermione stilled at the sound of Malfoy's voice. That he was still in pain after over a day in Pomfrey's care was a sign of just how seriously he'd been injured. The guilt welled up again and Hermione stubbornly stamped it down.
"Come to visit, eh, boy?" Malfoy muttered. His voice was slightly slurred and Hermione couldn't tell if it was from sleepiness or some pain-reducing potion. "Oh, ow!" he hissed out a long breath. "Stay off the chest, kitty."
Hermione felt the blood rush from her face. She didn't know how she made it across the infirmary to Malfoy's bed, she was too horrified by the reality that was forming around her. Carefully she reached out for the privacy curtain and pulled it open just far enough to see that yes, Crookshanks was in Draco Malfoy's bed.
She must have made a noise because two sets of eyes swung up to her.
"Granger," Malfoy said, going tense. "Come to finish me off on Potter's behalf?" His sneer was a clear sign he was mocking her, but the sweat that had appeared on his brow showed just how would up he was.
"No," she said quickly, taking pity on him. "Pomfrey asked me to come get Crookshanks."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow and some of the tension left him. "What's that? Some sort of inoculation against muggle germs?"
Hermione pointed at the ball of orange fur tucked comfortably between Malfoy's right arm and his chest. Malfoy's eyes widened and he looked between girl and cat almost comically.
"No," he breathed.
"Oh, don't get all high and mighty about petting a mudblood's cat. It happened once. I'm sure the damage isn't permanent." Hermione pushed through the curtain and walked around the bed so that she could more easily gather her pet.
"Once would have been that time in third year when he almost killed Weasley's rat and I fed him a piece of meat from my sandwich. Whatever happened to the rodent? Did Killer here get 'im?"
"His name is Crookshanks," Hermione snapped. "And no. Scabbers was - well, he left of his own accord, let's just say."
Malfoy narrowed his eyes at her but seemed to let the matter go. Crookshanks adjusted his position and Malfoy followed suit. Between Crookshanks' weight and Malfoy's moving the blanket slid down and Hermione got a good view of the damage Harry had done. She couldn't keep back the gasp that escaped her. It was red and swollen against the pale skin of his chest. Hermione wondered that it wasn't bandaged, then saw the slight sheen of a magical salve covering the laceration. If it was still this bad a day later…
"It'll never heal," Malfoy said.
Hermione's eyes shot up to meet his and she nearly stepped back at what she found there.
"That's what you were wondering, wasn't it? It'll scar, but it will always hurt. So go congratulate Potter, he doesn't have to worry about getting Draco Malfoy back ever again."
He didn't sound angry, didn't sound anything at all, to be honest. He turned his head away, staring at the blank white of the curtains.
"Take your cat and go," he said, pushing his arm under Crookshanks to lever him up.
The cat glared over his shoulder at the boy, then turned his attentions on his mistress once she picked him up.
"Malfoy," Hermione began. She didn't know what she was going to say. "I'm sorry" was wholly inadequate and he would probably just remind her that it was Harry who had done this, not her. She couldn't say she understood because she honestly didn't. Anything else she might have come up with would be entirely pitying and he'd probably hate that more than anything. So she was very much saved when Madam Pomfrey pulled the curtain aside.
"Oh, good, you're here." She nodded curtly at Hermione and began looking Malfoy over. Hermione, to her eternal Gryffindor shame, fled.
Though she went to her classes, they didn't do her much good. Hermione spent the entire day thinking back on Draco Malfoy. The boy had been friendly with Crookshanks and the cat even seemed to like him, why else would he seek him out? And, if her theory was correct, he'd been seeking the boy out for quite a while. For months now Hermione had been wondering where Crookshanks was picking up a strange scent. It was faint, but it was definitely manufactured, with a sharp, warm quality to it. It was rich too, though she hadn't realized it before, the kind of thing she'd expect to find on someone like Draco Malfoy.
So Crookshanks liked Malfoy enough to sneak off to see him for months on end. Hermione only knew of one other person he'd done that for.
It was with a heavy mind that Hermione returned to her dorm that afternoon. A thin trail of grey dust surrounded her bed. Or, she thought it was her bed. It had been ripped open, the blankets shredded, the feathers from the pillows strewn everywhere. The small otter figurine on her bedside table was smashed and three out of the four bedposts were scratched raw. Crookshanks sat on her trunk, tail swishing innocently from side to side.
"I figured you'd want to handle it," Parvati said from behind Witch Weekly.
Hermione nodded and went over to kick the dust, breaking the spell that sealed Crookshanks in. He didn't move. He was above such things. He would leave when he was ready, presumably shortly after Hermione finished cleaning up.
"This is your own fault," Hermione said, waving her wand at the mess. "You know you're not allowed in the infirmary."
The two otter halves merged back together and everything was back in order except the bedposts, nothing could be done for them, and the small bit of sewing she would have to do. Crookshanks was smart enough to realize that a split seam took more magical skill to repair than a ripped fabric. Seeing all his fun undone, he hopped off the bed and sauntered from the room.
"Aren't you going to stop him?" Parvati asked.
Hermione shook her head. She only had so much of the dust and it wasn't actually for something as simple (or as complex, depending on how you looked at it) as a cat. Plus, if she kept it up, he'd just find a way around it sooner or later.
"I'll deal with him," she said quietly and set to work on the seams. There were a few hours yet before she could do anymore about Crookshanks.
Walking through the dark corridors was much less frightening when she was with Ron and Harry. Hermione walked quickly, willing her steps to become lighter. It had taken some doing to get the Cloak from Harry, especially without allowing him to come or Ron to overhear the request. He'd given in eventually, his trust in her outweighing his concern. She really hoped she didn't betray that trust tonight.
The door to the infirmary was shut tight and she decided it was best to go in quickly, that way any noise she made would be loud and fast and more easily attributed to a wandering Peeves than something quiet and drawn out. She rushed in and leaned against the closed door, waiting for Madam Pomfrey to rush from her office at the far end of the room. The woman's room was on the other side of the office and Hermione wondered how many steps it was between the bed and the door, counted out her best guess, and added on the steps across the office. When there was no sign of Pomfrey she added another few seconds to pull on a robe and then a few more for shoes.
Finally satisfied that she hadn't been heard, Hermione stepped into the room. The curtains were once more drawn around Malfoy's bed and she made straight for them. She was unsurprised when she slipped in, to find Crookshanks curled up on the pillow next to Malfoy's head. The cat lifted his head and looked straight at Hermione as if to say, "What kept you?"
Hermione rolled her eyes and slipped off the Cloak before sitting on the edge of the bed.
Malfoy moaned, the shift in weight bringing his attention back to his injury. Crookshanks licked his temple and the boy brought up a hand to scratch behind the cat's ears.
"Pomfrey doesn't want you in here," he sighed, rolling just a little. "Your mistress probably doesn't either."
"I trust his judgment," Hermione said.
Malfoy's eyes flew open only to settle into a smirk a moment later. "You do?"
She nodded. "He has good taste in people."
Malfoy scoffed. "Oh, very good."
Hermione didn't let his sarcasm phase her. "I don't know what he sees in you, but I do trust him. Last time I didn't things could easily have gone much worse than they did - and they didn't exactly go well. So this time I'm going to do this right." She rested her hand on his. To his credit, he flinched but did not allow himself to pull away. "If you need anything - help or advice or support or even just a friend - just ask."
Malfoy stared at her in shock for several long seconds before smirking viciously. "Getting bored with the Gryffindor boys then? Branching out into the other houses?"
She would have hit him but Crookshanks hissed in his ear and the threat of being scratched on his face was punishment enough as far as Hermione was concerned. She stood and gathered Crookshanks in her arms.
"I'm serious, Malfoy. Something's up with you this year, I know that much. No matter what it is, I promise you it'll be easier with help."
She left before he could answer, knowing anything he had to say right now would be an insult. He could sleep on it and decide what to do in his own time.
For days after Malfoy was released from the infirmary, Hermione felt him watching her. She tried to smile at him, encourage him, but he was always looking away again when she turned.
Crookshanks didn't seem to be holding Malfoy's lewd comment against him and continued to disappear, only to return to Hermione, still smelling oddly. On the fourth day after Malfoy's release, Hermione's fingers struck on something while she scratched Crookshanks. She sat up in bed, Arithmancy book forgotten, and pulled Crookshanks into her lap. She dug through his thick fur until she found it. A thin string had been tied around his collar and tucked underneath where no one would see was a folded bit of parchment.
Hermione unfolded it eagerly. The handwriting was slanted and exact, precisely what she'd expect from Malfoy.
You haven't told Potter and Weasel.
It wasn't phrased as a question, but she was pretty sure it was one. Just that afternoon Ron had an altercation with Malfoy on the third floor. Harry hadn't done more than stand there, silently giving his support to Ron.
Ripping a bit of parchment from her own notes Hermione quickly scrawled a reply, stopping herself from correcting him about Ron's name.
No, I don't want to get their hopes up.
She folded it up tightly and secured it beneath Crookshanks' collar. He immediately hopped off the bed and Hermione wondered if Malfoy had talked to him about his new occupation as a delivery cat.
The reply came just before bed.
"Hopes"? I didn't know I was so sought after among the Gryffindors.
You're not, she wrote hastily while Lavender complained that she needed her beauty sleep, but if you were on our side they'd look forward to the day you meet a certain hippogryff again.
Have you thought about my offer?
Hermione bit the end of her quill, debating whether or not to add the next bit. In the end, she turned the paper over.
PS: If we're talking solely about Slytherins, Zabini is the one most "sought after" here in the tower.
That was sure to bring his ego down a bit. Hermione had to stifle a giggle while she imagined his face. She folded the paper, slipped it beneath Crookshanks' collar, and threw a glare in Lavender's direction before turning out the light beside her bed. She was a bit disappointed when, in the darkness that set in, Crookshanks curled up beside her. She'd hoped he would hurry back down to the Slytherin dorms. He'd gone up and down three times today already, though, and she really shouldn't be expecting so much of him.
She scratched him affectionately, careful not to dislodge the parchment, and fell asleep wondering how he so easily got in and out of the common rooms.
Your "offer" - if you can call it that - isn't exactly enticing. Friendship? That's the best incentive you can think of?
Look at you, Gryffindors! Harboring a convicted felon. I'm almost proud.
And Zabini is currently in a very committed relationship with some secret girlfriend who he will not name even to me. I'm fairly certain she's not a Gryffindor though, so you girls should probably set your delusional sights elsewhere.
Friendship may not be valuable in the dungeons but it is in the rest of the castle. If you can't see why, then clearly you're in more need of it than I thought.
Really? Zabini and a mystery girl? Not a Hufflepuff, do you think?
Friendship is a very valuable commodity in the dungeons! But you forget that others can offer me so much more than an amicable end to a six year old rivalry and the chance to actually receive smiles from Gryffindors.
Merlin, no! Never a Hufflepuff! Of course, a few months ago I would have said the same of Blaise dating outside of House.
Friendship is a "commodity"? What do they teach you Slytherins? Friends are people who stand by you no matter what, who will go into certain danger just to watch out for you even though you told them a million times not to come. They're not something to be used and stolen and given away.
So a Ravenclaw then? Any ideas as to who?
I can see you get your definition of a friend from Potter and Weasel. Has it occurred to you that us mere mortals might want something a bit simpler, a bit more practical? Someone to help us forget that certain danger of which you spoke for a short while? Someone who will actually listen when told not to needlessly endanger themselves? You claim to care for one another but you allow your friends to risk their hides for your sake and call it love. If that's what you're offering, no thank you.
And how should I know? I don't exactly spend any time with those birdbrains and you're the one more likely to know which girl would be mad enough to date Zabini.
It took Hermione two days to find a reply to that.
Do you really believe that?
And I have an idea as to who it might be. I'm investigating.
Yes, I really believe that. I'd rather those I care about survive than die out of some misplaced sense of loyalty.
Investigating, hm? Any chance you'll be wearing one of those muggle detective getups?
"Misplaced"? Do you really think loyalty to you would be misplaced?
Of course not! Dressing like a detective only tells everyone you're detecting. I think I know who it is now, though I can't say I'm happy. Or surprised, for that matter.
Any loyalty that would inspire someone to sacrifice their life is most certainly misplaced.
Who? You must tell me!
Even loyalty to a leader? A cause? And what if those friends of yours were in danger and you knew saving them would most likely mean your death? You care about them enough that you don't want their lives lost for yours, would you sacrifice yours for theirs?
Give me until tomorrow. I want to be sure.
Yes. Yes. (I can see where you're going there and do not think you're winning.) And if I am at all worthy of my House, I would find a way to save us all. Sneakiness is what we do here, after all.
Damn certainty! This is driving me mad!
On the back of that note was written, PS: Assuming you aren't all of them, be certain to burn this one.
Hermione read it three times before throwing it in the common room fire - and then quickly backed away in case there was some curse or poisonous dust activated by heat on it. The only thing worthy of burning in that note were the first two words, the admission that he would not die for Voldemort or his ideals. But without her note, which she was sure Malfoy had burned, there was no way of knowing what those affirmations referred to. She could think of only one reason why he would be so concerned with destroying all signs of disloyalty.
She turned, thinking this over as she regarded Crookshanks sitting in one of the common room chairs. Most everyone had gone to sleep by now and only a few stragglers remained. Harry was, unfortunately, not among them.
"Don't you dare leave," she ordered. Crookshanks responded by curling tighter in on himself and Hermione ran up to the boys' dorm. There was the usual outcry at a girl's presence in the room - honestly, the boys' dorm was more girly than the girls' sometimes - and Harry gave up the Cloak readily, if only to make it stop so that he could get some sleep before tomorrow's match.
Hermione rushed down the stairs to where Crookshanks was patiently waiting.
"Take me to him," she said.
No matter how many times Hermione thought over the trip to the dungeons she would never figure out how Crookshanks had gotten into the Slytherin common room. If he'd tripped some secret lever to open the entrance she didn't see it, but open up it did and they were soon inside. Crookshanks padded silently around a table where two seventh years were playing chess before heading down a winding stairway. Crookshanks stopped at the third door and pushed it easily open.
The beds looked just like those in Gryffindor Tower, except that the color scheme was a deep green and silver instead of the bright red and gold she knew. The drapes were drawn around all the beds and one, the one Crookshanks headed for, glowed with wandlight.
"There you are," Malfoy said, sounding happy to see the cat. Hermione hurried over and slipped through the drapes just as he unhappily said, "No message? Is she trying to-"
He looked up at the movement of the drapes and Hermione settled on the bed while pulling the Cloak off.
"What are you doing here?" he hissed and cast a quick silencing spell around them so no one would hear. His eyes dropped to the Cloak, but he seemed more concerned with being angry than where she'd gotten something so valuable. He pushed himself up, adjusting his blankets and the long-sleeved green shirt he wore. The book he had been writing in went under his pillow.
"You said it was driving you mad," she pointed out.
He scowled and she shifted uncomfortably. They both knew Zabini's mystery girl was no reason to make the trip all the way down here, especially when Crookshanks had been doing it for her for days.
"Well," he asked finally, "are you going to tell me who you think it is or not?"
She couldn't help but smile. He would say he was just getting her talking already, but she knew he was being nice. Who would've thought?
"Luna Lovegood," she said and was pleased when Malfoy's face slowly transformed into a picture of shock. Once it set in she saw him calculating, putting together all of Zabini's behavior over the past months with what he knew of the Ravenclaw girl. And then came - well, she thought it would be horror and disgust, but he just chuckled. It was light and pure and suddenly she realized just how bad whatever Malfoy was involved in was. For one moment all the pressure was lifted and it was like she was staring at a completely different person. She really wished she didn't have to do what she'd come here to.
"She'll be good for him. Zabini's too stodgy." Malfoy leaned back, his eyes half-closed as he no doubt imagined Zabini's reactions to Luna's odder moments. He eventually remembered Hermione though and the weight returned to him, wrinkling his brow, darkening his eyes, and stiffening his spine. "But that's not why you really came here," he said coolly.
Hermione looked at her hands, at Crookshanks curled up at Malfoy's side. He was petting the cat idly and Hermione reached out to grab his hand. She flipped it over and pushed up the sleeve before he could stop her. Instantly they both stilled. The Dark Mark looked even uglier against his pale skin.
She let go of his hand and he let it fall, hitting Crookshanks. The cat sniffed at the Mark and hissed lightly before giving Malfoy's palm a lick and nuzzling his fingers, clearly waiting to be petted.
"What does he want you to do?" Hermione asked.
Malfoy shook his head, looking away.
"Don't," she said, her voice dangerously low. "Don't you dare act like this doesn't matter. You're the one who talked about not wanting his friends to be hurt. Well, I'm worried about my friends! What does he want you to do?"
He still refused to answer or even look at her.
"Fine. Does he want you to help him get Harry? Lure him away from the castle? No? Are you recruiting new Death Eaters for him? Taking children from your House and branding them?"
"Do you honestly think half of Slytherin House isn't already expected to join him?" he snapped. "Our parents are Death Eaters. They'll follow or they'll be punished. I'm only one now because -" His voice cracked and he turned away again.
"Because your father's gone," Hermione filled in. She waited a moment, allowed him to move through the pain of his father's crimes, then asked, "So what does that leave? It's got to be something in the castle. You said Slytherins are all about sneakiness, are you setting us up? Planting seeds so that when Voldemort attacks …"
Malfoy flinched slightly. It was probably just a reaction to the name but Hermione saw the haunted look in his eyes.
"He'll hurt people," she said gently. "Maybe some of the people you call friends will be hurt. Have you thought of that?"
"If I don't," he said, just as quietly, "he'll kill the people I care about."
She watched him for several long minutes, analyzed the emotions moving over his face. He was angry and sad and worried, but most of all he was scared. When he could take it no longer he looked up at her and reached for her with his right hand. She pulled back and he froze before reaching forward again. She didn't realize she'd been crying until he wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"What about you?" she asked and his hand stilled. "What if you die doing whatever this is?"
He was going to. She knew from the way his expression went suddenly blank almost before she could notice the slight widening of his eyes. He began pulling back and she reached up, holding his hand to her cheek.
"There has to be another way," she said, not sure if she was terrified for herself or him or just plain terrified.
"He'll kill them," Malfoy repeated and tugged his hand away.
Hermione's mind raced, trying to find some way out of this. It was difficult, not knowing all the pieces of the puzzle, and she found herself focusing on incidental things, like where Crookshanks was. He had at some point gotten fed up with not being paid attention to and she found him curled up at the end of the bed. All these months he'd been going to visit Malfoy, that had to mean something. She really did trust Crookshanks, but even if Malfoy could be a good person, what if he wouldn't?
Malfoy's left hand rested palm up on the blankets, the Mark still visible. He clenched his hand and Hermione saw tendons stretch, veins stand out under the Mark, making it look like some living thing. She put her hand over it and Malfoy nearly jumped. It felt odd beneath her skin, not quite like normal skin and she could sense the magic in it. She imagined the snake was writhing, the skull was gnashing its teeth in anger at being touched by an inferior creature. It was an evil, hateful symbol of everything she had ever despised in the world. But underneath it was the terrified pulse of a sixteen year old boy who'd walked into war to protect those he loved.
"What if you did die?" she asked, meeting his eyes. They narrowed, questioning the conviction behind her words.
It was not the best attended quidditch match. Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff was generally an easy win for Hermione's House and not even the Weasley twins' ongoing pool would take bets on it. There was a pause in play while Madam Hooch argued with the team captains over some rule Ginny was supposed to have broken. The players hovered idly on their brooms, most lounging as they watched the debate below, some waving to friends in the stands.
Hermione did a quick scan of the Ravenclaw bleachers and saw no sign of Luna. She wasn't in Gryffindor or Hufflepuff either and so Hermione wasn't surprised, when she looked towards Slytherin, to find Zabini missing as well.
Malfoy was there. He was tense, but not because of whatever Voldemort had ordered him to do. This was taking too long.
He didn't look at her and she was thankful for that. She didn't think she could have killed him if he had.
Her wand up her sleeve, Hermione grasped it and uttered a spell under her breath. It wasn't a big spell, or even a dangerous one, just something to undo the most recent charm she'd cast. Immediately one of the bludgers changed direction. No one was paying attention and since it wasn't flying towards the players no one noticed it until the second before it slammed into the Slytherin stands.
The game was called, postponed until no one knew when. Aside from the one fatality, at least a dozen students were sent to the infirmary and there were more than a few tears at the Slytherin table that night during dinner.
Dumbledore gave a speech while Harry sat in silence, not seeing anything around him. He was reliving a million moments, Hermione knew. The bathroom incident less than a month earlier was probably chief among them. He'd have dreams about the game for weeks, imagining a different outcome. If only he'd let the penalty go, none of this would have happened. Which wasn't true at all, but she couldn't tell him that.
Hermione excused herself early, saying she wanted to find Crookshanks. No one questioned her. If she wanted to hug her cuddly pet, that was completely expected. She wasted a few minutes in the castle before heading out onto the grounds. Hagrid had been at dinner, bawling, so she didn't worry about being seen as she passed his hut. A hundred yards into the forest a voice stopped her.
"I can't believe you made me meet you out here," Malfoy said. She found him sitting against a tree with Crookshanks in his lap. "I could have been killed," he added, smirking.
She smiled back, taking him in. His clothes were a bit baggy, stolen from Dean Thomas, and all decidedly muggle. His hair was a light brown thanks to some hair dye, courtesy of a Muggle Studies project.
Hermione hoped no one would notice that that supply closet, Snape's office, the greenhouses, and the quidditch shed had all been broken into on the same night. Harry's Cloak had certainly earned its keep in the hours after Hermione asked Malfoy to die.
It had taken surprisingly little time to convince him to fake his own death. They then discussed options, deciding an immediate death would be best, so that no one had time to notice changes in either of their behaviors. They settled a complicated plan involving a speedily grown mandrake-clone of Malfoy, a simple cricket ball transfigured into a bludger and hexed to go after Malfoy, and a bit of Snape's Capula potion.
The potion ensured that anyone examining Malfoy after he next lost consciousness would declare him dead, it also allowed him to heal from the injuries sustained when the bludger hit him. Once awake, Draco replaced his body in the infirmary bed with the mandrake and performed a spell to injure it the same way Pomfrey's notes reported he had been. It looked exactly like him, they'd even slashed it across the chest and transfigured the skin of its arm to show a Dark Mark. He'd then used the borrowed Invisibility Cloak to sneak out of the castle and down here.
"If you had stayed in the castle," Hermione said, "you could have been caught the same way Lupin found out Peter Pettigrew was alive." She tossed a small bag at him, which he caught it in midair before standing and shouldering a pack she hadn't noticed on the ground behind him. "Muggle money," she said. "There's a muggle map in there as well as one showing you how to get through the forest to the nearest muggle town. Be sure to burn that one. And keep your hair dyed. And remember what I said about getting contact lenses to hide your eye color."
"Remember our deal," he said, handing her the Invisibility Cloak.
"I'll make sure the Order knows to watch out for your family." He'd told her about the cabinet and the plan to kill Dumbledore. Getting the Order to trade that for the Malfoys would be tricky since she wouldn't be able to explain her interest in the family, but it would have to be done.
He nodded, his gaze slipping past her. They were too deep in the forest to see the castle. He nodded again, his mind made up.
"Malfoy," she said before he'd half turned.
He raised a questioning eyebrow.
"When we win - and we will - I'll find you. I promise."
He stared for a moment and she couldn't read his thoughts in his expression. "Good luck," he said sincerely.
She wasn't sure how to do this, how to say goodbye, perhaps forever, to someone she hadn't even liked until very recently. Impulsively, his words echoing in her ears, she stepped forward to kiss him. It was quick and chaste and should not have sent a spark of emotion all the way to her toes, but it did.
He pulled back, his wide eyes shining in surprise. She wondered if he'd felt the same thing she did. It left her warm in the cold night, something he'd certainly need.
"For luck," she said quietly. "For both of us."
He nodded, swallowed heavily. He looked like he wanted to say something, do something, but instead he turned and disappeared into the forest.
Crookshanks seemed quite proud of himself for the rest of the night and it took all of Hermione's self-control not to smile, thinking of her always-right cat, the kiss, and the boy who died.