Hermione flung her arms around Draco's neck and squeezed. The winter holidays had arrived with snow and ice and a wind that cut through every layer and left you shivering. The cold was unrelenting even at the train station in London, thought it had been worse in London. "You're going to choke me," he squeaked out at her tight hug, and she let go at once. The adults all chuckled and the pair of them squirmed with embarrassment.

"For fuck's sake, Hermione," Harry said. "Could you lighten up? You act like you won't see him for ages."

Narcissa, waiting to take her son home to a manor decorated from cellar to attic with greenery and fairy lights, looked over at Sirius with disapproval in her eyes. He became very interested in the tops of his shoes. He'd claim he had no idea where Harry got his mouth from, but that was too obvious a lie and she'd just pounce on it and use it as a way to suggest Harry should spent more time with them.

"Come, Draco," Narcissa said when it became clear Sirius had no intention of admitting anything about his godson's language issues or giving her any sort of opening. "You'll see your friends at Harry's party in just a few days but your father and I would like a little of your time first."

"Yes, Mum," he said, but he shoved a clumsily wrapped box into Hermione's hand before his mother pulled him away. "See you at the party."

Hermione waved at him, her hand as frantic as it was when she tried to get a professor's attention, and then darted off with her parents.

"Could you watch your language in front of adults?" Sirius asked Harry. He tried to put a look of firm authority on his face, but it kept shifting into amused exasperation instead and he gave up and just ruffled the already messy hair. "Let's go," he said. "Remus was making some kind of chocolate biscuit with melted chocolate on the inside, and when I left he and Kreacher were arguing about butter versus something called Flora White."

"Flora what?" Harry asked.

"Some kind of healthier fat thing," Sirius said with a shrug. Arthur Weasley had brought some home, part of his endless obsession with all things Muggle, and Molly had promptly dumped it on them swearing she'd never use anything but proper butter. Apparently she couldn't abide the waste of just throwing the stuff away, and in her mind only a pair of bachelors would be indifferent enough cooks to use it, and so there it was, on their counter. "If we're lucky, they'll have come to some kind of compromise and we'll get home to fresh biscuits and not an angry elf."

"Or an angry Remus," Harry said.

"Or that," Sirius agreed. "Merlin forbid."

. . . . . . . . . .

The Christmas tree in the townhouse bent at the top, too tall for even the high ceilings. Sirius never went for demure when it came to trees and this year was no exception. A motley collage of ornaments hung from the branches. Glass balls, purchased in Diagon Alley one year when Sirius had decided to try to make a proper tree like Lily would have done, hung next to pieces of paper with glitter glued on in patterns that, if you squinted, looked somewhat like a tree or wreath. They'd saved every Christmas art project Harry had ever made and hung them every year. Kreacher had hauled antique Black decorations from the attic and Remus had coaxed fairy lights into arranging themselves. The final result was a hodgepodge that Harry loved. Narcissa Malfoy's floral designer would have cried at the lack of tonal unity or any sort of theme but he didn't care. It was their tree. It was wonderful. "Christmas is just the best," he said as he shoved one of Remus' chocolate biscuits into his mouth.

It was, too. While it was possible an objective person would say the mounds of presents might have been a bit much, and that Harry was indulged more than any one child should be, no one could deny that the holiday in that townhouse brimmed with love and laughter and that he seemed to escape the worst sins of spoiling by dint of a generally pleasant, if mischievous, soul. The only hint of a frown appeared when Harry found out Sirius had invited Blaise Zabini to the holiday party.

"Last year Hermione punched him," Harry said in warning. "We don't like him."

"Maybe this year she can keep her hands to herself," Sirius said blandly. "And you and Draco as well."

"Neville's not coming?" Remus asked. They'd sent his grandmother an owl inviting the boy and pleading with her to let him come despite Draco's presence. She'd seemed to relent and said he'd become a bit reclusive and maybe it would be good for him to see school friends over the holiday.

Sirius shook his head. "She sent another owl," he said. "Said he wants to stay home."

"Neville's getting weird," Harry said, but he didn't care much about Neville's anti-social tendencies when the far more pressing issue of Zabini was in front of him. The very idea of Blaise at his party again grated. It wasn't as if Sirius was seeing his mother anymore so didn't see why he had to make nice. "Is he staying the night?"

He clearly wanted the answer to be no. If he were there with Hermione and Pansy, that was one thing. If he stayed after the girls left, spoiling his sleepover with Draco, that was another.

"He is," Sirius said. "And you and Draco will be nice."

Harry kicked at the edge of the rug but the tone of Sirius's voice warned him not to push it any further.

. . . . . . . . . .

"You invited Zabini?" Pansy's shrill question reverberated through the party, making even Harry cringe. It was one thing to not want the boy over but did she have to just screech out how unwelcome he was? Some part of Narcissa Malfoy's attempts to drill manners into his head must have taken, because he thrust a hand out at the boy and mumbled a greeting. It wouldn't have won any awards for graciousness, but it did get a warm smile from Sirius.

"Nice to see you too, Parkinson," Blaise said. He ignored Harry's hand and sat down on one chair, from where he eyed the spread of holiday treats Kreacher had laid out on a table. "Where's the overage boyfriend?"

"Overage!" she said and slammed the door to the parlor, shutting away the sight of Elora Zabini flashing her neatly framed cleavage in Sirius' uninterested face. "I'm not the one who was snogging some first year at the Ball!"

"What first year?" Draco asked, suddenly interested. He'd been nuzzling Hermione's neck on a window seat and ignoring the byplay, but the notion the only date Blaise had been able to snag was an eleven-year-old piqued his malicious interest. "I thought he went with Daphne's pain in the arse sister. Even she said no?"

"He did," Pansy said. She pointed a nail with smudged polish at him. "I told you to be careful and what did you do?"

"She's thirteen," Harry said. He was all for twitting Zabini, but he'd spent enough time being insulted by Astoria at Narcissa Malfoy's various parties to know how old the girl was and that she was more than a match for Blaise. If Pansy should be worried about anyone in that couple, it was Blaise. She'd probably eat him alive. "She's awful. Did you know the elves started refusing to babysit her when she was four? They'd cross their little arms and say they'd take clothes before they'd watch her for one more hour."

"She looked good, though," Draco said. "That dress was something else."

"And at least I didn't go with an adult," Blaise said. "Krum's eighteen, Pansy. Don't you think it's a little creepy he wants to date a fourteen year old?"

"Kind of ewww," Hermione said. "If you ask me."

"No one did," Pansy said. "And he was a perfect gentleman, unlike Zabini here, who was busy exploring his child-bride's tonsils."

"She's only one bloody year younger than me," Blaise said with irritation. Pansy crossed her arms and glared and a smirk crossed his perfect face as he added, "and she's a lot cuter than you."

"And she's a pureblood," Hermione said with false sweetness. "We all know how that matters to you."

Blaise shifted where he sat and didn't say anything. Theo was willing to take a public stand as Granger's friend but all he'd been able to bring himself to do was tell Crabbe and Goyle to shut it, she wasn't worth their time. He knew that made him a coward, and her accusation itched at his skin because he'd never even considered whether Astoria was a pureblood. She'd gone from being annoying to someone he wanted in that one moment, but he hadn't weighed her family into the assessment. She was just pretty, and funny, and bratty, and kissing her at the Yule Ball had been wonderful, if a bit wet and clumsy. He didn't want to agree that her blood status mattered when it didn't, but if hers didn't, Granger's didn't, and he knew it did. At least at school it did.

It all made him uncomfortable and unsure what he should do or say.

It was Pansy who broke the silence with a snort. "No one really gives a shite about that, Granger," she said. "Morons like Crabbe and Goyle maybe, but that's it." She nudged Blaise with her foot. "Right, Zabini?"

He looked down at his feet and mumbled something no one could quite hear and when Pansy kicked him harder, he said, "Stop it, Parkinson, or I'll turn that ugly butterfly in your hair to a slug."

It wasn't an auspicious start to the evening.

Things did get better, and by the time Hermione and Pansy had to go home the five had managed to play several games of Exploding Snap, exchange somewhat tense gossip about whether Greg Goyle really was part troll (general conclusion: trolls were smarter), and devour most of the table of sweets. "Thank Merlin we do this at your place, Harry," Pansy said. She jabbed Blaise with her elbow. "You should see the shite Hermione's parents put out."

"Apples are good for you," Hermione said. Her prim tone was spoiled by the handful of chocolate biscuits she was smuggling into her bag and Pansy eyed them with smug disdain. "Well, they are," Hermione muttered. Then she kissed Draco one last time to a round of groans and flooed away.

"Are they like this all the time," Blaise demanded. The pair had been on each other's laps, holding hands, and making gooey kissey faces at one another all night.

Harry made a face. "Yes," he said. "It's true love, or something."

"At least she's not eleven," Pansy said before she stepped into the floo and was gone.

"Thirteen!" Blaise yelled after her. "She's thirteen. And Krum is old."

"You know she can't hear you, right?" Draco said. He began to pocket some of the left over sweets. The official rule was no food in Harry's bedroom, and that meant they had to sneak it up if they wanted to stay up late and snack. By the time Sirius and Remus shooed the three of them upstairs their pockets all bulged and the two adults pretended not to notice.

"Why's he still here, anyway?" Draco asked once the door had been closed and the tell-tale steps had receded down the hall. "Since when is Zabini anyone's best friend?"

"Fuck you," Blaise said. He'd flung himself down into an old chair, sweeping his hand to push Harry's laundry to the floor, and he hunched over a little as he spoke. "It's not like I was begging for an invitation, you know. I don't need either of you. I have lots of friends."

"Like Goyle," Harry said contemptuously.

"Yeah," Blaise said. He slouched lower and pulled a crumbling biscuit out. It was half in his mouth when he added, "My mum made me come."

"Still thinks she has a chance at the Black vaults," Harry said. Draco rolled his eyes but he asked a question about Parvati, and managed to slide away from just how weird it was to be tucked up into Harry's room with Blaise-sodding-Zabini and instead talk about girls, classes, Quidditch, and how they all liked two of those and not the third.

"Snape's such a prick," Blaise said over an hour into the conversation. They'd turned off all the lights and tucked themselves into blankets, Harry on his bed and the other two on the floor, and they were all getting tired enough they had to fight to keep their eyes open. "He took two points off my essay just because he didn't like my handwriting."

Harry laughed. "If he only took two points off mine, I'd think he'd gone senile. He just hates me, no matter what I do. I could save the whole world and he'd still hate me. He hates Remus. Hates Sirius. Hated my dad."

"How can anyone hate Sirius?" Blaise asked.

"We should put a niffler in his office," Draco said.

"Nifflers only like shiny stuff," Harry said. "Not old potions ingredients."

"His hair's greasy enough its shine might attract one," Blaise said.

Harry snickered. "We can't do that to a poor niffler," he said. "Can you imagine the thing, sitting on Snape's head, disappointed? Expecting something valuable and just getting Snivellus?"

"It would be cruel," Draco agreed. He reached over and hit Blaise lightly on the arm. "You should be ashamed."

Blaise began to huff up in hurt pride before he realized it had been a joke, that he'd been included, and he mumbled something incoherent. A few more muttered comments about Quidditch slid around the room, and then all three boys were asleep.