The next few days slipped past without event. The Christmas holidays were only a week away and I was finding it harder to ignore the pressing thoughts of where my vacation would be spent. Draco had been oddly quiet lately. I wasn't sure what to make of it. He had done all of the things expected of a boyfriend, but he didn't have his usual air of superiority. We ate together and talked and he held my hand while walking down the corridors. He didn't harass people like normal and he was even sort of polite to me. It was strange to say the least.
That weekend was the last Hogsmeade trip of the year. We were all planning on going to do some Christmas shopping. When we got to the village my friends and I went to get gifts for our parents. I had already ordered their presents through the mail. Owl post was relatively slow lately and I had ordered them a month ago. They had finally arrived last night. I had bought Kat the cloak that she had been admiring in a catalog, and I got a set of books that Sara had been drooling over for ages.
I had been considering what I would get my parents for Christmas, but I couldn't deny that I truly didn't want to get them anything. They had sold me for self preservation and not even been brave enough to tell me themselves. Since Draco had given me the bad news I had only received a single letter from them, andI couldn't even think about the contents of that particular piece of correspondence. Draco had not mentioned our fate since our conversation in the Great Hall. Even more confusing was whether or not I should get him anything. Usually I made sure to remember to get my boyfriends presents for birthdays and holidays and the like, but this wasn't a typical relationship. Maybe I should just buy something small.
I pondered this as we purchased our gifts for our parents. I had gotten my father a set of robes and my mother a new quill with a personalized stationary set. She was always writing to her friends and our relatives. I couldn't, not love them even if I didn't like them right now. I was still resolved to remain silent in their presence though. I didn't think that it would be wise to tell them what I was thinking. They wouldn't like it very much. Although they can't act like they didn't bring it on themselves.
As we left and made for another shop I spotted Draco going into the Three Broomsticks. He was tucking something into his cloak and looking around to see that no one was looking. I told the others that I was thirsty. They agreed that it would be nice to get out of the cold and get a drink, so we followed Malfoy. I wondered just what it was that he was hiding, and I couldn't extinguish the cynical though that it must be something dealing with You-Know-Who. We found a table in the corner and made ourselves comfortable.
After a few minutes I spotted Malfoy in the corner alone. He was looking at something but I couldn't see what it was from such a distance. Surely he wouldn't have some dangerous dark object in plain view for someone to walk past and see him with it. What on earth was he being so secretive about then?
"…if you were going to come by on Christmas Eve this year?" Kat asked. I realized too late that she had been talking to me while I was lost in thought.
"I'm sorry, I was just…thinking. Anyway, I would like to but I don't know if I will be able to this year. My parents sent me a letter saying that we wouldn't be spending the holidays at home." I had come so close to telling them the whole truth, but that was just too much to deal with right now.
"Really? They didn't say where you were going?" asked Sara, as she studied me with a curious look.
"Actually they didn't. They just said that they wanted to surprise me. I guess I'll have to tell you all about it when we get back. In the meantime, you guys still have some shopping to do, and there's only one more place I have to go before I head back to the castle. I'll see the two of you when you get back, ok?" They looked at me a little suspiciously, but merely agreed and made their way back out into the snowy street. I walked over to Draco's table. As I stopped in front of him he hastily slipped whatever was in his hand back into his cloak pocket. He obviously didn't want me knowing about whatever it was he was involved in. He looked over at me as I took the chair next to him and said, "You're finished shopping? I would have thought you would need the whole day."
"Well, if I hadn't already bought several gifts though the mail it would have taken longer. So yes, I am finished. I have almost everything I need. I just have one more place to stop before I go back to the castle. I take it you're finished, too?"
"Yes, I've gotten everything I need from here. I was just about to go back myself. I suppose I will go with you, though. When we get back we can discuss the arrangements for the holidays. There are a few things that I have to tell you before we get to the manor," he replied.
There was nothing that I could really say. I had been dreading the very thought of my holidays, but there was no avoiding it. It was merely a few of days until I would be there.
We left the Three Broomsticks without further conversation. We made my final stop in the village and while he was looking at the items for sale I purchased his present. I had selected a handsome set of silver cufflinks with emeralds set in them. I had the shopkeeper wrap them, and once she was finished I tucked the parcel safely out of sight.
As we were leaving the shop I noticed that the streets of Hogsmeade had become eerily quiet. Things where already more subdued than normal considering the way things were in the wizarding world at present, but it now seemed as if there was no life at all in the little village.
We both stopped and looked at each other in puzzlement. When we entered the shop there were many Hogwarts students wandering around, but now there wasn't a single person to be seen. Quickly, we found out why. As cold as it was outside, we were starting to feel a much deeper chill that felt as though it were coming from within. A feeling of dread, worse than any I had experienced in the last few days, was settling over us. Dementors. There was no other explanation. We turned to go back to the shop so we would have some small amount of protection from them, but we found that we weren't the only ones that had realized what was coming. All of the shutters were closed over the windows down the street and no one was answering the knocks at the door. They were afraid to open them. We had been the only ones that hadn't seen the shadowy figures of terror descending toward the village.
"We have to get out of here. If they catch us we're finished. There has to be somewhere around here that we can get into. There's nothing to stop them from coming after us, but let's not present them with an easy target. Come on!" I said urgently.
Draco grabbed my arm and pulled me down an alley. We were running past houses when I felt the cold dread of their presence bear down upon us. What was the point in running? They were going to catch us and the only thing that would be left was a soulless body. The ministry no longer controlled them and there was nothing to stop the dementors from performing the Kiss.
I wasn't the only one that noticed their pursuit. I glanced back over my shoulder, but as I did I neglected to see the half concealed hole that was in front of me. Partially covered in snow, but fairly deep, I didn't notice it in time. My foot got caught and I fell. Draco slid to a halt and tried to help pull me back up, but it seemed that I had injured my leg pretty badly.
"Come on! You have to get up! There isn't any time to waste. We have to get to that cottage!" He said between gasps of air.
I somehow managed to get to the cottage and inside. I collapsed on an old dust covered couch. He locked the door and started a fire in the grate that lit the room before turning to look at me. I sat up and tried to summon a happy memory.
"Expecto patronum!" I said. A large silvery panther erupted from my wand tip, and knowing what I wanted, walked through the door. It could be faintly seen through the window as it paced back and forth in front of the cottage.
"Now why the bloody hell didn't you do that before you hurt yourself trying to escape them?" he asked angrily.
"Well I wasn't able to think of anything happy so that I could. Besides, it's better that we have some shelter. There's no knowing how long they will stay. Everyone was in such high spirits over the coming holidays it's no wonder they were attracted. I suppose no one was aware that there were any in the area or we definitely wouldn't have been allowed in the village today," I replied.
He sat down beside me on the couch and began examining my ankle. Apparently I had sprained it severely when I fell. "Well I'm no good at healing spells, what about you?" he asked.
"They've never been my strong suit, and I'm not willing to start testing out my skills on myself," I replied. Stopping to think for a moment before doing so, I grabbed my wand and whispered, "Ferula," conjuring a splint for my ankle and then propping it up on a couple of pillows. "I need some ice. That should help slow the swelling."
Draco nodded and went to the kitchen. When he returned he had a dishcloth in which he conjured some ice. He placed it carefully on my ankle before sitting down beside me."How long do you think we should wait here? They will be looking for us back at the castle."
I looked at him briefly before answering. "I don't really know how long the dementors will stay around for, but it doesn't really matter. It's already night and there's no way that I can make it back to the school like this in the dark. I would be more likely to fall again and who knows what would happen this time. I think that we should at least stay here for the night and then we can leave in the morning. I can conjure a crutch to help me walk back."
We sat in silence for a while. We had pulled the curtains closed and locked all of the doors, not that it would do us much good if we were going to be attacked. Draco also put a few protective charms around the place, both of us hoping that we wouldn't need them. The night was getting colder, but thankfully there was already a fair amount of firewood inside. Summoning blankets and pillows from somewhere in the cottage I made myself as comfortable as I could on the dusty old couch.