Written for "The New Year's Kiss Challenge on Checkmated.com."
A very special thank you to Seakays and Diana for being outstanding betas. Any remaining mistakes are my own.A Single Piece of Mistletoe
centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended with his
own hands a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe
instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most delightful struggling
and confusion; in the midst of which, Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that would
have done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old
lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all
courtesy and decorum."
Charles Dickens--The Pickwick Papers
December 26, 1997
On a normal day, Argus Filch could be described as gruff, crotchety and generally unpleasant. Today, however, he was in a bad mood.
While the rest of the staff slept in, and the children loitered about, he was left to single-handedly organize and stowaway all the decorations that had adorned the Great Hall during the holiday feast. Dumbledore requested that the traditional Christmas decorations be replaced with something more festive and colorful for a special something or other he was planning for the New Year.
'Festive and colorful,' Filch scoffed. 'Gaudy and tacky was more like it. Garish and vulgar and unabashedly…cheerful.'
The bloody house elves couldn't be trusted to handle the ornaments and other trimmings, some of which dated back to the Four Founders. It was up to him to make sure they were all properly removed and stored.
After nearly four hours of work, Filch was exhausted and his already cantankerous demeanor reached epic proportions when the sound of laughter reached his ears. He peered out the window to see loud, bothersome children playing in the newly fallen snow. Bothersome children who would soon be tracking said snow into their common rooms and all through the halls of the school, without care or worry of the extra work it would cause him.
Filch had just finished packing the last box for storage, and was giving the room one final look for anything he might have forgotten, when he noticed it. In the middle of the archway leading into the Great Hall hung a single piece of mistletoe. His back already tight, his feet already sore, and his last nerve already shot, he could not bring himself to care.
It was one little leaf, one silly, inconsequential piece of foliage. He shook his head and went about finishing his work. It was going to take more than one sprig of shrubbery to make him drag out the ladder again and re-open the sealed boxes. After all, he didn't have the luxury of a wand to do his work for him; he had to use good old-fashioned manual labor. It was not worth the aggravation, not after the hours of work already done and the hours of work that lay ahead. Besides, it was only one insignificant piece of mistletoe.
Who would ever notice?
December 27, 1997
The Great Hall was full of chattering voices and good spirits. To celebrate the demise of Voldemort, most students stayed behind for the Christmas holiday. It was the first time in years that they had felt safe enough to do so. The idea of free reign in the halls of Hogwarts for a few weeks -- free from schoolwork, or parents, or Dark Lords -- was enough to convince most of the students to stay. The main reason for the chattering voices and the good spirits was the announcement of a special ball to welcome the New Year, a new year made special by the significant lack of evil incarnate.
As if he could sense the joy in the air, Severus Snape stood apprehensively in the entryway of the Great Hall, sneering at the roomful of smiling faces and good cheer. He was nearly nauseated to the point of skipping supper entirely. 'How could one ingest anything in this atmosphere of merriment and mirth,' he thought caustically. 'It is…unnatural.' Too intent on throwing hateful glances in the general direction of the 7th year Gryffindors - scowling with particular contempt at one green-eyed, raven haired student - he failed to notice that Madame Hooch had come up beside him and was waiting rather patiently for him to move so that she could enter the Great Hall.
"Well, this is a peculiar development." Dumbledore's effervescent voice boomed across the Great Hall, silencing all those present and turning their attention to the doorway in which Snape and Hooch stood. "Professor Snape. Madame Hooch," the headmaster continued, "you appear to be standing under a sprig of mistletoe." His voice held only the slightest hint of amusement, but the twinkle in his eye was more prominent than it had been in months. At his words, every eye in the room slowly looked upward where the greenery seemed to glow against the gray marble of the archway.
For the first time in anyone's memory, Severus Snape blushed. "Headmaster," he spat, "if you think I'm going to follow some preposterous, archaic custom that revolves around a parasitic and poisonous piece of shrubbery you are sadly-"
What Professor Snape had planned to say would forever be lost to the world at large for his speech had been most effectively stopped by Madam Hooch, who grabbed him by the ears and firmly planted a kiss on his unsuspecting lips.
As the kiss grew in both length and intensity, each and every person in the Great Hall that night sat mesmerized. Bewildered eyes blinked, brows were acutely furrowed, mouths opened and closed as words were lost. There was simply nothing to say, nothing that could accurately convey the one moment in the history of the known universe when Hogwarts' perpetually sour Potions Master had been made to shut up -- and shut up so very effectively.
When the kiss finally broke, Madame Hooch gave Professor Snape a rather cheeky smirk and leaned in to whisper something in his ear. For the second time that night he blushed in -- what could only be described as -- truly Weasley-like proportions.
She walked past him and headed for the teacher's table and he looked after her -- stunned, slightly troubled, and highly confused. When he finally remembered where he was, he gave his head a small shake and stomped to his seat next to Dumbledore. He made sure to glare imposingly at every third student he passed to remind them that they would be in his classes soon enough, and to bring up this incident would be tantamount to disaster and cause for medieval-like retribution.
Ron Weasley watched the exchange, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. "What in the name of everything Gryffindor was that?"
Hermione, Harry and Ginny, who were sitting around him, looked up. "What do you mean?" Hermione asked.
"I mean, what would possess Madame Hooch to kiss Snape in the Great Hall… in front of the entire school?"
"The mistletoe," she answered in a tone normally reserved for the very young or the very dense.
"What? That twig stuck to the top of the archway?" he replied in the tone he used for the very young or the very dense.
Harry and Ginny gave each other a quick look and smiled, leaving Hermione to enlighten Ron in the way only she could.
"It's a very old tradition, Ron. Mistletoe was sacred to both the Celtic Druids and the Norseman. They considered it to be a consecrated plant and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses or serve as an antidote against poisons."
"But Snape said it was poisonous," Ron interrupted.
"Well, it is, but that's not the point –"
"He called it a parasite-"
"Are you going to let me tell this story or not?" she snapped.
Ron looked at her with his does-my-opinion–truly-matter look, signifying he was just going to let her talk because he wanted to get out of the Great Hall some time in this life. Recognizing the now familiar look after years spent convincing Ron that resistance was futile, Hermione continued:
"Norsemen had a really beautiful symbolic myth regarding mistletoe. Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. The story goes that Balder had a dream of death, which alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life on earth would end.
"In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise that no harm would come to her son. Balder now could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of the one plant that Frigga had overlooked in her quest to keep her son safe. It grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees."
"Mistletoe," Ron interjected.
Hermione paused, realizing she was somewhat amazed that Ron was actually paying attention.
"Exactly," she finally answered. "Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, and gave it to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it, striking Balder dead. For three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life, but it was Frigga who finally restored him. Legend says the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant. In her joy, Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under mistletoe, no harm should befall them…only a kiss, a token of love. "
A light blush colored Hermione's cheeks when she finished speaking. Her brown eyes sparkled and she was fighting a smile that was trying to find her lips.
Ron's expression was blank.
"It doesn't seem right," he said after a moment.
"What doesn't?" Hermione asked, confused, her shoulders dropping slightly.
"It's a nice story, but no one should be forced to kiss someone just because they stand under a twig. It just doesn't seem right, is all." He turned his attention back to his overflowing plate of food. Hermione looked down at her own plate and, with a sigh, she pushed it away.
She had just lost her appetite.
December 28, 1997
Dining in the Great Hall had become quite the spectator sport as everyone sat and waited to see who else would kiss under the mistletoe. Breakfast was accompanied by a helping of Padma Patil and Terry Boot, and Seamus Finnegan and Lavender Brown. Lunch was served with Dean Thomas and Pavarti Patil, Hannah Abbot and Justin Finch- Fletchly, and one positively surreal encounter between Nearly Headless Nick and The Grey Lady of Ravenclaw.
Everyone waited with bated breath while the pudding was being served at dinner. The sight of spoons caught in mid air as hands froze, and heads turned in curious anticipation, filled the room anytime someone passed under the archway. Everyone seemed a bit jumpy as they lingered to see who would be the next brave couple.
"It's sort of romantic, isn't it? " Hermione said, off handedly.
Ron's eyes went wide at the statement. "Romantic? Grabbing someone and forcing them to kiss you under a leaf -- that's your idea of romance?"
"It's sweet, Ron. A grand gesture. Girls like things like that."
Just then a bit of a ruckus was heard from the Slytherin table. Draco Malfoy was laughing and Pansy Parkinson looked about ready to spit fire. Without a word she grabbed Draco's ear and began to pull him across the hall to the archway where the mistletoe remained, still and imposing. She quickly silenced Draco's litany of curses and threats with one formidable and passionate kiss.
Pansy continued to kiss Draco as he slowly sank down until she was standing over him. It looked as though the only thing keeping him from falling onto the floor was her white-knuckled grip on his robe. This proved to be the case, for when she was finished she let go, and he fell like a marionette to the floor at her feet. She took a minute to adjust her robe, smooth out her hair, and huff at Draco who was staring at her with his mouth agape.
She said nothing other than a very resounding, "Oh then," and stomped off, leaving Draco on the floor looking after her swishing robe. With his brushed back hair ruffled and falling in front of his bulging eyes, his robe crooked and twisted around his body, he looked decidedly bedraggled. He quickly scrambled to his feet and followed her out of the Great Hall. His mouth was still agape.
"Oh yeah," Ron snorted, "Bloody romantic, that."
"Oh, shut up," Hermione replied and began muttering something about someone not knowing romantic if it bit him on the –
She lost the thought as a murmur of hushed voices filled the Great Hall. A house elf had just delivered a dozen perfect red roses to Madame Hooch. The bouquet was large and the roses were all bright crimson with tiny glowing fairies dancing around the soft petals. Everyone watched as she read a note attached to one of the stems. Her cheeks flushed as red as the roses in her hands, and her lips slowly curled into a smile as her eyes quickly darted to the center of the table where Professor Snape sat intently ignoring the scene playing out before him. However, if you looked really closely, you could almost see him smile.
"That is romantic, Ron," Hermione said, gathering the books she always seemed to be carrying. As she got up she gave Ron one last smirk. "Just thought I'd point it out to you so you knew what it looked like."December 29, 1997
The Great Hall had just emptied out. Several more couples were enticed by the odd little sprig of mistletoe that hung from the archway. Currently, Luna Lovegood stared at it, her buggy eyes and vacant expression honed tightly on the small piece of greenery. Neville Longbottom passed and watched her staring so intently at the leaf. He didn't even realize she knew he was there until she spoke.
"How does it work?" she asked.
"What... Are you talking to me...What?" he stammered.
"The misty foot? How does it work? Where does it get its magic?"
"Mistletoe," Neville said with a smile. "It's called mistletoe, and it's not magical."
"But how does it get people to kiss under it? You know about plants and such, you must know how it works?" She was still entranced by the leaf.
He shook his head. "I can tell you it's called Loranthaceae Viscum Album. That it has oblong, thick, leathery leaves, small white berries and flowers, arranged in threes, in close short spikes or clusters in the forks of the branches. It grows on almost any deciduous tree, preferring those with soft bark. It's commonest on old apple trees, though it is frequently found on ash, or hawthorn as well.
"What I can't tell you is why it would compel people to kiss under it. I think it's more of an excuse than anything else, a way for people to do something they always wanted to do, but were too afraid to try before, a way for them to get something they really want without looking like they really want it. Sometimes it's hard for people to admit they want something. It's hard not to be afraid…"
Luna's eyes never wavered from the leaf that hung over their heads and Neville wondered if she heard a word he said. She looked unexpectedly pretty in the soft light of dusk that filled the corridor. Her hair, silky and blonde, hung long and straight down her back. The Sugar Quills that hung from her ears and the necklace made of Bertie Botts Every Flavored Beans that hung across her collar were oddly endearing. Neville surmised she probably considered it festive apparel.
And her eyes -- her buggy eyes -- were the most wondrous shade of blue he had ever seen, like a Cornish Pixie or the feathers of a Fwooper.
No, she probably hadn't heard a word he said. Strangely, he realized it didn't matter if she had, because he heard them. His own words were ringing in his ears, echoing over and over. It was odd listening to your own feelings being said aloud. You begin wondering when you got so wise…and questioning why you can't seem to take your own advice.
He gently tapped her shoulder to get her attention and she finally lowered her head so that they were standing face to face. Neville slowly leaned in and gave Luna a soft, timid kiss. He pulled back and waited for her response, a little excited…a little afraid. She cocked her head to the side and looked at him, blinking her bright eyes rapidly, scrutinizing him as intently as she was studying the mistletoe moments ago.
She leaned in and pressed her lips to his. It wasn't a kiss as much as an experiment. Luna nearly went cross-eyed trying to look down at her mouth to see what it was doing as she puckered and pushed her lips onto Neville's. She tilted her head to the left, and to the right, and to the left again as if trying to work out where the noses go. It wasn't long before she got the hang of it. It wasn't long before they both got the hang of it.
Neville reached down and took her hand as they kissed. When they pulled apart he was still holding it. They stared at each other a long while before Luna finally spoke, sounding unusually lucid. "You're wrong, Neville," she said. "Misty foot is magical."
When they finally walked away, Harry Potter stepped out from the shadows where he stood silently watching his friends. The past few days have been… curious. There was no denying that there was something magical in the air. Not the ordinary magic they dealt with everyday, but something else entirely. A certain kind of joy and freedom that they hadn't seen in a long time, if ever. The kind of magic that would make Professor Snape give Madame Hooch flowers, or Draco Malfoy follow Pansy Parkinson like he has ingested a trough full of love potion.
Perhaps it was just the magic of Christmas and the prospect of a fresh start in the new year. Perhaps it was the emancipation from years of fear, the liberation from a lifetime held in limbo. Perhaps it was just being alive and realizing that you had your whole life ahead of you, realizing that it was okay to be young, or act young, or do foolish things. To be everything you never were before. To take chances. To try.
"Harry, is that you?" Ginny Weasley emerged from the shadows behind Harry, looking worried. "Are you all right?"
"Fine…fine," he managed to say. "What are you doing here?"
"I missed dinner and was hoping I could talk a house elf into giving me something to eat," she said sheepishly.
"What were you doing? Don't tell me you were doing schoolwork during the holidays."
"No," she said hesitantly, "I…I was writing and lost track of time."
"What were you writing?" he asked earnestly.
She rolled her eyes. "You'll think it's silly."
He gave her an honest smile. "I might, but I promise I won't laugh if you tell me."
She bent her head down and looked up at him through her long eyelashes before finally saying, "I'm writing a novel."
Harry was visibly surprised. "You're writing a book?"
"Hermione is more the type to write books," she laughed. "This is… a story."
They spent an hour talking about Ginny's novel, an adventure story about a group of children who set out to help a werewolf standing trial for a crime he didn't commit. The conversation progressed naturally to school and exams, family or lack thereof, friends who were changing, the past… and the present.
Harry liked the way Ginny played with her hair when she talked. She also laughed when she got embarrassed, and got noticeably shy when saying anything too personal -- though it didn't stop her from saying it. And as they continued to talk of the world and life in general, Harry realized Ginny was surprisingly bright. She was sarcastic and witty and perceptive. She was…something special.
It didn't escape Harry how comfortable he felt around Ginny, how much he enjoyed being around her, how funny and clever she was…how pretty.
He unexpectedly thought of Neville's words: "Sometimes it's hard for people to admit they want something. It's hard not to be afraid…"
She was something special, wasn't she?
"Ginny," he said suddenly. "This is a peculiar development. We appear to be standing under a sprig of mistletoe."
December 30, 1997
She walked towards the Great Hall with a look of steely determination on her face and a glint of something mischievous in her eyes. She had just had a very long, very detailed conversation with Ginny and it was enlightening to say the least.
Hermione had waited very patiently for a certain someone to make a move, to say something, to do anything that might show he thought of her as something other than a friend and a study aid. Hermione's patience evaporated the minute she heard how Harry and Ginny had spent the previous night. It was time to take matters into her own hands. It was time to summon that little bit of courage that made her Gryffindor.
As she neared the Great Hall the plan was forming in her mind. It was a matter of standing in the right spot and waiting for him to come to dinner. She practically sprinted through the corridors, a light blush coloring her cheeks, her brown eyes sparkling and her lips fighting a smile. She was almost giggling as she reached the doorway leading into the hall, but when she looked up, all her plans fell apart. The archway was completely bare.
The single piece of mistletoe was gone.
December 31, 1997
She watched her fellow students make their way to the Great Hall from the window of her room, high in the Gryffindor tower. The girls wore dresses instead of dress robes, the boys, ties instead of house scarves. In her closet sat her own dress, far too revealing for Hermione Granger, the bookworm, far too beautiful to remain unused, but far too special to wear on a night that was nothing like she hoped it would be.
She told Ron and Harry she wasn't feeling well and they didn't question her. They barely seemed to care. She ignored their attempts to contact her for the rest of the day and instead crawled under the covers of her bed, and tried to convince herself it was just a stupid party. That she really didn't want to go anyway.
Now, as she peered out her window at the students in their fancy dress, the sounds of laughter and joy coming from the courtyard below her window, she wasn't so sure. Perhaps she should go the party, dressed in her best, and show him what a fool he was for not noticing her.
She was about to crawl back under the covers of her bed when there was a knock at the door. "Who is it?" she called, but no one answered. She opened the door just a crack to find the corridor empty, empty save for a red rose at her feet. She picked the rose up and marveled at its velvety red petals and subtle but sweet scent.
She stepped out into the hallway and looked to see if there was a sign of anyone, if there was any hint as to who left the flower. There was none. Hermione reentered her room and looked at the dress that hung in her closet: far too revealing, far too beautiful, far too special.
If she hurried she would make it before midnight.
The Great Hall was full of the sounds that made any party a celebration: music, lively conversation, laughter. Students and staff members alike were dancing and joking, rejoicing at all the things the New Year would hold. Hermione tried to make her way across the room, passing all the new couples that seemed to have popped up over the last few days. She was stopped by a warm hand on her shoulder, beckoning her to turn around.
She turned to find Ron Weasley standing before her – at least, she thought it was Ron Weasley.
His hair was neatly parted, his pants and shirt were crisply pressed, as was his tie. He stood at his full height, towering over her. And he was smiling, very sweetly.
"You look very lovely, Hermione," he remarked, his voice thick and low.
Hermione blinked. He just complimented her. On her appearance. He actually noticed.
"I'm glad you came," he continued. "It's almost midnight and I thought it would be too late."
"Too late for what?" she asked.
"Too late to give you this."
He held out his hand and slowly uncurled his fingers to reveal a single piece of mistletoe. In his palm, the green leaf glimmered against his pale, pink skin. Hermione's eyes remained locked on the leaf, not quite understanding why he had it or why he was showing it to her. Her eyes followed the leaf as he pinched it between his thumb and forefinger and slowly raised it over her head. He moved closer until they were nose to nose, his eyes shifting back and forth between her lips and her eyes.
Hermione swallowed and licked her dry lips before speaking in a trembling voice. "I thought you said it wasn't right…to kiss under mistletoe?"
"I said it wasn't right to be forced to kiss under mistletoe. It is a different matter entirely if you want to kiss the person. Besides, I wanted a kiss at midnight and I needed a way to ensure it."
"You could have just asked," she said with a smile.
"This is much more romantic. I was made to understand you girls really liked this kind of thing. Grand gestures and all."
"You're a prat, you know that."
His eyes softened. "And you're beautiful."
They looked at each other silently as the crowd around them began to count down the remaining seconds of 1997. And as the numbers decreased and the volume increased, the two slowly inched their faces together. At the stroke of midnight, with hundreds of voices shouting their good wishes for the New Year, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley kissed for the first time.
January 1, 1998
Hermione awoke with the sunlight streaming through her window. It was the brightest, most beautiful morning she had ever had the good fortune to see. She bounced out of bed and walked over to the window to look at the courtyard, the courtyard where she and Ron continued their New Year's kiss until Professor McGonagall had sent them back to their respective dormitories.
Her lips still tingled from where Ron had spent several hours kissing her, the thought of which brought a bevy of butterflies to her stomach. She looked out over the courtyard and paused as she saw one spot of red amongst the vivid white of the snowdrift. Ron was out there, under her window, waving to her, and written in the snow in letters nearly six feet long were the words, "Ron loves Hermione."
Ron was frantically crossing his arms in wide strokes over his head when he saw her appear at the window. She lifted the windowpane and shouted, "You're insane, you know that."
"What? Did I spell it wrong?" he shouted back.
She giggled. "No, it's perfect."
"Excellent. Now, come down and let's get breakfast. I'm starving."
"I'll be right down," she answered. Then, as loudly as she could, she shouted after him. "Ron?"
"I love you, too."
And his smile was more vivid and brighter than the snow or the sky.
Hermione rushed to dress and brush her hair, trying to remember if she had ever felt this alive before, if she ever truly understood the meaning of a new beginning…of a New Year. Before she rushed out the door, she reached under her bed, where she kept a very special box. This box contained the things that meant the most to her in the world: a wrapper from the first chocolate frog Ron had ever given her, a picture taken on her first visit to the Burrow, the book on charms Ron gave for her last birthday, an empty bottle of the perfume given one special Christmas, her first Weasley sweater, and a well-worn Chudley Cannons t-shirt. The butterflies returned as she thought of all the new things she would be adding to this box, all the new memories she and Ron would be creating -- creating together.
She smiled warmly as she added one more thing to her very special box -- a single piece of mistletoe.Finis
 Mythology from Christmas.com.