They had taken it remarkably well. Even Ron seemed to be fine with the idea, once Hermione managed to pull him out of his dead faint. Admittedly, Ron still couldn't look him in the eye, but Hermione at least was supportive if yelling, "I knew it!" could be considered a compassionate response. ("What do you mean, you knew it?" Harry had asked her. "Well, five years practically living together, and you've never asked me out on a date," Hermione replied, smugly. "Of course you had to be gay.")
Once Ron was suffiently steady on his feet, the three of them had snuck out to the library's restricted section under the cover of the invisibility cloak, and now Hermione was searching the Dark Arts archives for a suitable book to begin her research with. She was sweating, Harry noticed, feeling a budding concern for the girl. It seemed that Draco hated her far more than he'd hated anyone else, and Hermione was battling hard to concentrate on the task.
Harry supposed that he'd feel much the same way if Voldemort had asked him for assistance. It was only Hermione's friendship with Harry which kept her there risking a detention and the loss of numerous house points for a boy she despised to the very depths of her being.
"It might not be in the Dark Arts section," Harry whispered.
"It has to be. Messing with people's emotions is Dark Arts, plain and simple. I just can't see anything here that would be a help. It's mainly about cursing people and killing them nothing about snitches."
"Well, it doesn't have to be a snitch that's cursed. Whoever did it could have cursed anything. I guess they chose the snitch because they were sure"
Harry picked up on her stream of thoughts, and gulped. "Because they were sure I'd catch it," he said.
"I'm afraid so, Harry. Lucky for you, that air-headed, weak chested excuse for a wizard beat you to it." Hermione coughed, realising what she'd said. "Sorry, Harry," she muttered, turning back to the books.
"I understand," said Harry.
Three hours later they were no closer to a solution. Hermione had discovered plenty of tomes which talked about changing peoples emotions by this stage, but nothing which caused the precise symptoms of Draco's dilhemma.
"I don't know what to do, Harry," she confessed. "Maybe this is a brand new spell, one which hasn't been written about yet. All I can suggest is that you get " she forced herself to forgo the namecalling " Malfoy to bring the snitch to one of the professors."
"And I bet they'll all be really pleased to help Malfoy," said Ron.
"If Draco's feelings change, do you think there would be a change to the way people feel about him?" Harry asked. "I mean if he started liking someone, they'd start to like him too, wouldn't they?"
"I suppose so," said Hermione, sounding less that confident. "It would make sense." She smirked. "And I bet it would take a spell to make anyone like that cruel, self serving little bastard."
"Quiet, Hermione," said Ron, nervously. "If he ever finds out what we say behind his back, he might rise up and destroy my family."
"Draco wouldn't do that," said Harry, crossly. "He's far too dreamy I only wish I got all the easy breaks he did."
Playing their words back in the seconds which followed, all three groaned simultaneously, and then quickly muffled the sound in their hands.
"We sound like idiots," Hermione complained. "We'll have to owl the lousy little fiend and tell him what's happened. And quickly. Every time I even dare to think of him, I want to be sick. Do you really think he feels that way about me?"
"Maybe deep down, he might," said Harry. "I think we're experiencing his emotions at twice the strength he does and the longer he's under the enchantment, the worse it gets. I certainly don't see him quaking every time he runs into Ron."
"And I don't see Draco holding a book over his robe every time Harry's name is mentioned," said Ron, nastily then looked fearfully behind him. "Gosh, I hope he didn't hear that."
"Ron" Hermione began, but thought better of it. She closed the book she held with a snap, and turned away. Harry was blushing again, holding an aptly named copy of Come when I conjure thee strategically across his lap. Making a face, Ron pushed away from the table, and wandered off an aisle parallel to Hermione's.
Harry took a deep breath once Ron was out of sight, and whispered: "Hermione?"
"Harry?" Hermione whispered back.
"I think I'm going to go see Draco. To get the snitch from him." Harry's features contorted slightly. "Can you plot a course to the Malfoy's house for me? I don't know how to get there."
"Are you sure that's wise?" Hermione asked. "Apart from probably getting expelled as well, do you want to risk seeing that.. that boy in your state? Maybe you should take Ron along with you"
"No. I want to go by myself." Harry was horrified by the petulant tone in his voice he sounded seven years younger. He pulled himself together. "I've the beginnings of a plan, actually and no, don't do that with your nose, Hermione, it's not what you're thinking. He hates me now, anyway, after the idiot I made of myself in the Slytherin room."
"If he hated you, wouldn't you hate him?" Hermione asked, with a grin. "Don't think I'm not already two steps ahead of you, Harry." She returned to the table to gather up another load of books. "Look what you want to do with Maletoy is your business. But there's someone out there practising Dark Arts, and I'm worried you might accidentally on purpose forget why you flew out there in the first place and Harry?"
For Harry was now struggling not to burst into shreiks of laughter his entire body shook as he stuffed a portion of the invisibility cloak into his mouth, muting the sound. Hermione frowned, waiting patiently for him to regain control. Wiping tears from the corners of his eyes, Harry spluttered: "You called him Maletoy."
"Freudian slip," said Hermione, promptly.
"I'm sure it was," said Harry.
They grinned at each other over the table. It was such a shame he swung that way, Hermione thought. She'd never considered him as possible boyfriend material Hermione had always prefered the more burly wizarding types, men like Krumm who'd think nothing of throwing her over their shoulders and carrying her away to the boudoir. The attraction of opposites dark, brooding Fabios who posed a perfect counterpoint to her studious, intellectual demeanor.
But the idea that Harry had spent his nights crooning over Draco's image offended her in some way she'd always imagined he fancied her, but was too stubborn to admit it. Why should I feel upset that he doesn't like me, if I don't adore him in return? Hermione asked herself. It was better for Harry that he found someone who might reciprocate his affection even if it was that pointy faced upstart..
"I think it's a bad idea, Harry," she said, shrugging. "But I can't stop you though every bone in my body demands I at least try. I don't know how long I can cover for you, though people will notice you're gone."
"Let them notice. I think this is a little more important than skipping a few classes, Hermione."
Hermione sighed. "Okay, okay. Just be safe, Harry."
She leant over and kissed his cheek, lightly and was surprised when she withdrew to discover that he was blushing even harder than he had been before. Unsettled, he took off his glasses and rubbed the perspiration from them with the sleeve of his robe.
"Thanks, Hermione. I guess I'm lucky to have friends like you and Ron, right?"
She smiled at him, faintly embarrassed, not knowing how to respond. Thankfully, Ron jogged up at that point, his wide-eyed concern diffusing the difficult situation.
"There's someone coming!" he hissed. "We'd better go back to bed."
Quickly they donned the invisibility cloak, and pressed tightly together, the trio shuffled their way back to the Gryffindor chambers without incident. As Ron slipped through the portrait-hole, Harry grabbed Hermione's arm so hard she jumped.
"I'm going to leave, now, I think if I wait any longer I don't think I'll be able to concentrate at all," he whispered. "Can you point me in the right direction?"
Hermione racked her brain, remembering with difficulty the maps of wizard geography she could recall. As quickly as she could, she related the approximate directions to the Malfoy residence sketchy instructions at best, but Harry nodded his head, committing it all to memory. She supposed he could always ask a local for help if he got lost the Malfoy's manor, given the size of its grounds, would be something of a landmark.
"That shouldn't be too hard," he said, softly. "I'll try and be back by morning, so no one will notice."
"It'll take you longer than that," Hermione warned.
"You give Draco too much credit," said Harry, with a wink.
Pulling the invisibility cloak about him, he vanished before Hermione could reply leaving only the fading memory of his wicked grin behind, like a bespectacled Cheshire cat.
At the edge of the Forbidden forest, Harry climbed onto his broomstick, shivering a little from the biting cold. Winter had come early he wouldn't be surprised if it was snowing by the time he reached Draco. The tremors of his fingers, however, couldn't be solely blamed on the freezing weather. Harry felt more afraid now than he had before, more so even than the time he'd met Voldemort at the terrible finale of the Tri-wizard competition.
The idea that he might be expelled along with Draco was secondary to his most pressing concern Draco himself. Does Draco always feel so scared when he runs into me in the corridors, Harry wondered then remembered that the emotions he felt were intensified far beyond anything Draco knew. Self-analysing as he soared skywards, Harry realised the sensation wasn't exactly fear of Draco rather, a fear of what an interaction with Draco would reveal about himself. In my body language, Harry thought, in my speech will I give myself away?
He forced himself to shrug off the pressure of Draco's implanted insecurities. I've already propositioned him once, Harry grinned. I don't think I could possibly give any more away if tried.
He zig-zagged away into the cloudy sky, en route to Malfoy manor, and the pale and pretty source of his illkept desire.
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