Disclaimer: Do not own Harry Potter. Never have, never will.
Note: Thanks to my wonderful beta, Z! And to Eilonwy for helping with the end. This was written for the Winter Challenge at dhrdarkhorse on LJ. The idea of Hermione writing book was inspired by attica, and used with her permission. :)
The Necessities of Winter
By Hermione Granger
There are five primary activities that are required in order to say that one has successfully enjoyed the holidays. They can be done in any order, with any person or groups of people, but it is important to do them with at least one person beside yourself. The reason for this is that in order to get the full force of the holiday spirit, you must interact with others. Growing the holiday spirit in isolation is extremely difficult, but in the presence of others it can grow exponentially.
The five primary activities of winter are: (1) Building a snowman; (2) Participating in a snowball fight; (3) Caroling; (4) Baking cookies; and (5) Kissing under the mistletoe.
The activities do not have to be done in the order listed; in fact it's best if winter is enjoyed spontaneously…
Draco chuckled and returned the book to its place in a stand next to the line of people waiting to make their purchases. Then he noticed, at the bottom of the small book, the name of the author: Hermione Granger. It was one of those little books, designed to be part of a gift basket, or stuffed into a stocking. There was even a ribbon with a snowman at the end for a bookmark.
Draco was in that line at Flourish and Blotts with a stack of books on varying topics, from "1001 Home Remedies" to "Why Muggles Use Cars and Other Insights", waiting to check out. As he inched toward the front of the line, his eyes kept darting to the little book. When he was almost too far away to reach it, without even really thinking much about it, he grabbed the small gift book and tossed it among his other books.
The witch behind the counter eyed him suspiciously as she checked him out, each book apparently interesting to her in some way.
"Chicken Soup for the Wizard's Soul?" she said, holding it up.
Draco merely looked at her, a challenging look on his face. She half-smiled, quirked an eyebrow, and continued through the books. When she came to Hermione's book, she smiled.
"I really like this one. It's sweet."
Great. He was buying a sweet book. He made a mental note to take an extra cranky pill when he got home. Draco paid for the books, and then had them all sent to his home via the shop's Floo and left the crowded bookstore. He stepped out onto the cobbled street of Diagon Alley and headed toward the Potions shop. He still had a few errands to run.
It was the first week of December, and every day the sky threatened to snow, but as though it was intent on mocking him alone, it didn't. Draco very much wanted to see snow this winter; the sooner the better, and the more the better. Though, in the end, it would be a long, cold winter, regardless of the weather. Seeing snow might make things seem a little brighter, was all.
Draco made his way through the bustle of shoppers to the Apothecary to pick up a special order of ingredients. Next, he went to the robe shop, and finally home.
Over dinner, Draco read Hermione's little book. He laughed aloud at her choice of words in certain sentences, and the very business-like, no-nonsense way she instructed the reader on how to enjoy all that winter had to offer. He could almost picture her, in front of a class, giving a presentation, with diagrams and handouts and demonstrations. Her bushy hair would be all around her face, her brown eyes sparkling with the thrill of imparting knowledge on her fellow classmates. Her head would bob ever so slightly when she was particularly enthusiastic about a certain topic.
It was a small book. The five necessities of winter were listed in the front, and a short chapter was dedicated to the instruction of each one, complete with moving pictures and illustrations. At the end of the book was a short dedication.
This book is dedicated to my dear friends, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Harry, without whom we would not be free to appreciate the simple, carefree beauty of winter, and Ron, who sacrificed much for the same cause.
He sobered quickly and pushed his plate away, forced to remember the War and everything about it. It had officially ended two years ago, but there were still the occasional smatterings of skirmishes between the Dark and the Light.
Draco tried to avoid anything remotely associated with the War, because his role in it had been less than glorious. He had turned spy for the Light, though he wasn't very useful. He wasn't held in much regard among the Death Eaters for his Failure and so wasn't privy to important information. Still, he'd managed to help a little, and when the final shots went down, he'd been on the right side, watching his father fight a for a useless cause.
Lucius had been captured, tried – a rush job, as there were so many bad guys to punish – and sent to Azkaban to await the Dementor's Kiss. Draco kept expecting there to be an issue of over-crowding in the Wizarding prison due to all the Death Eaters and other less-than-savory persons, but as yet, no one had brought the conditions to light. They were Death Eaters, after all; they could rot in prison for all the world cared.
It was something Granger might do – visit the prison, write a nasty book exposing the Ministry for the terrible living conditions of the prisoners, demanding change. They'd get suites with couches and radios to sit and drool by. That was mean.
He sighed and considered the book. His childhood had not exactly been the carefree, innocent one most children enjoyed. His parents never took him outside in the winter, unless they were leaving the Manor, or some animal was dying on the grounds and Lucius wanted Draco to practice his spells. Needless to say, he never did any of the things in the book's list with his parents.
Once at school, he had far more important things to do – eat sweets, bully younger kids, and brag about his presents. When those things became trivial (except the bullying; that was always a good time), he skulked around the castle, ba-humbugging everyone who was outside enjoying themselves.
That night, as he lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep – again – he thought about the winter ahead; it was going to be a difficult one. He would be busy, with both work-related things, and personal things; the former occupying much of his time, the latter occupying much of his energy and mental resources. He came to the conclusion that he would like to try and accomplish the things on Hermione's list, for several reasons.
One, he'd never done most of them before, and two, he might not get the chance again. And besides, he would probably lose the book, and by next winter have completely forgotten its existence.
The only problem was, in the book, Granger strongly encouraged (not demanded) that the activities be done with people, and not alone. Well, he didn't have people. Sure, he was rich, and famous, and therefore popular, and knew a lot of people, but not play-in-the-snow people.
He frowned. Did he know any play-in-the-snow people?
"Well, duh," he said out loud, slapping his forehead, and he kind of jumped, because his house was silent and he hadn't expected to hear anything. He happened to know the girl who wrote the book.
But did he want to ask her? Why not, though? I mean, they were sort-of acquaintances, and they didn't hate each other anymore. That was enough right? Well, no. He frowned even harder. Now he'd have to admit something to himself.
He and Granger were almost friends. Almost, because neither of them would ever suggest such a thing, but still, that's what they were. Close-enough-to-friends-that-it-rounded-up-to-friends friends. A default, really. During his spying, he'd had to report to the Order, and she was in the Order, so they talked sometimes. Only, he hadn't really seen her much since the end of the War. He'd thrown himself into work, and so had she.
She was slow to forgive him for his role in Dumbledore's death, but she did, eventually, because she was Granger. Hermione. Granger, he decided. So, he'd ask her. And possibly bribe her. Money moved the world, right?
A few days later, Draco found himself standing outside a short, white fence, which ran around a perfect yard and a perfect house. It was a pale blue color, with black shutters and bold brick red accents. The front door was brick red. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but it wasn't this. He shook his head, opened the gate, and made his way to the red door.
After a moment or two, the door opened, revealing a very surprised Hermione Granger.
Draco was stunned. It had been years since he'd seen her, and the image he'd had of her in his mind was so completely far from the truth that he almost didn't recognize her. Her hair, still a little wild, was pulled up in a loose knot on the back of her head, and loose strands stuck out everywhere. There was something, though, that he couldn't quite put his finger on. Oh, there it was; she was beautiful. He hadn't expected that.
He pushed the thought out of his mind; he didn't have time to think about such things. He smiled. "Granger!"
Too flustered to return the expression, she only said, "Malfoy?"
"And how are you this afternoon?" he asked pleasantly. Something sparkly caught the winter sun, and Draco saw a ring on Hermione's finger. Not a big one, actually kind of small, but there was only one, which was important; it told part of a story that hadn't been finished yet.
"Uhm, I'm fine. How can I help you?" she asked, folding her arms across her chest.
Draco held up the small book. "You wrote this, right?"
"Well, I read it, and I have a proposition for you. I would like for you to help me accomplish all of these things."
Her eyes widened, and her lips parted slightly in surprise. "What?"
Draco shivered, despite the lack of breeze; a cold reminder. "Say, it's slightly chilly out here. Don't you think it would be best if we talked about this inside? Near a fire, perhaps?"
The look on her face was priceless and he wished he had some way to preserve it. He could tell that the shock of seeing him had worn off, and she was catching up to the part about the proposition. His last question caught up to her just before it registered that he was inviting himself in, and she, therefore, agreed. Had she been in full snappy Granger-esque stance, she would have laughed.
"Oh, of course," she said, and opened wide the door for him to pass.
Before Hermione really knew what had happened, Draco Malfoy was sitting in her drawing room, smiling at her, and acting as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"How about some tea, Granger? I never discuss business until I've had a cup of tea."
"Malfoy, what is this all about?" she asked, getting frustrated, now fully up to date.
"Will there be tea? Or not?"
She groaned. "Fine. I'll be right back." A few minutes later she returned, tea tray in hand. Draco was looking at the books on her bookshelf.
"Here," she said, sitting in her seat.
Draco fixed himself a cup, with one lump of sugar, one dollop of cream.
"Now. Granger, about that proposition."
"What about it? I'm still waiting to hear it, aren't I?" she said, irritably.
He smiled, ignoring her grumpiness. "As I already said, I want you to help me do all of these things in your tiny book."
She frowned. "So you were serious?"
"But – why me?"
"I am a Malfoy, and I demand the best. You wrote the book on the subject; who better to ask than you?"
"I – well – you're supposed to do those things with your friends. I put that in there, somewhere, I'm quite sure. Around page eleven, I think."
He blinked at her. He was not entirely pleased with what she had said, in effect pointing out that they were only almost-friends. And, since he'd come to her, she should have known that she was as close as he had to a real one. He could have barked at her, or made her feel bad, but he didn't have time to worry about his pride and reputation. "Granger, yes, I read that. 'Best when done in the company of people you care about.' If I'm coming to you for help, then I think it would be obvious that I don't exactly have friends. Thanks for the reminder."
She reddened. "I – uh – I didn't mean – "
"It's okay," he said. "I'm prepared to pay you. Generously."
"Pay me?" she sputtered.
Hermione put her cup down. "Malfoy, why do you want to do all these things? I need to know why; you can't just out of the blue ask me to help you and offer to pay me."
"I can, and I did. Five thousand galleons, half now, half later. A little extra Christmas money can't hurt, now can it?"
Hermione's jaw dropped. "Five thousand galleons?"
Draco frowned. "Not enough? Name your price."
She shook her head. "No, it's – too much. Malfoy, I can't take your money."
"Why not? You're doing me a service."
Hermione would not take his money if she ended up agreeing to his outlandish request. She would not take his money if she were starving and one meal away from dying. It would feel too much like he was paying her to be his friend, and she had thought they could have been friends, if either of them really tried. But for some reason, they hadn't. No, that wasn't entirely truthful; there was a reason, she knew, and it had red hair.
"Why do you want this? Answer me. There's no way I can even consider it without an answer.'
Draco took a deep breath. He knew before he ever knocked on Hermione's door he would have to answer this question, and in all the time he'd spent preparing for it, he still hadn't decided exactly how much of the truth to tell her. Then it came to him; he would tell her as much as it took to get a yes.
"Of the five things on your list, I have only ever done one of them. And I would think you'd be able to guess which one."
"You never built a snowman?" He shook his head. "Or had a snowball fight? Even with your group of friends?" He glared at her. "I'm not really surprised you've never gone caroling, or baked cookies. Have you even been inside a kitchen?"
"I need more than that, Malfoy. I'm sure thousands of people have never done all of those things, yet that's not reason enough to convince me to help them."
"How about because we fought together and risked our lives together? Surely I must be higher up on the list than those thousands of people."
"True, but I'm still not feeling very inclined, yet."
He sighed. He really didn't want to have to tell her everything. It was – personal. No one knew, and he was happy with the arrangement. He tried for the pity tactic. Imagine.
"I missed out on a lot of things as a kid, and I'm not getting any younger. I'd like to enjoy this winter, to make up for all the lousy ones."
Hermione considered him. He looked – tired, like he was stretched too thin. Her heart wrenched for him; she could only guess, knowing a little about his parents, that he hadn't had a very memorable childhood. Not in a good way, anyway. What kid never builds a snowman, or gathers a bit of snow into a ball and throws it at another kid?
There was something else about him that she couldn't pinpoint, or identify; something in his eyes that made her believe he really needed this. So despite her misgivings, and their not-quite-friends-but-they-could-be relationship, and in the spirit of the holidays, and just because she was who she was, Hermione decided she would help him.
She sighed. "Okay, Malfoy. But I refuse to accept payment."
He frowned. "And I refuse to not pay you. We aren't friends, and I don't want that to get confused. What if I give the money to a charity of your choice? Then we'll both be happy. And, since it's for charity, I'll double it."
"Well, I suppose. Give the money to St. Mungo's Children's Fund."
He nodded. "Consider it done. So. Do we have a deal?"
"Excellent. When do we start?"
At that moment, a noise sounded from somewhere in the house. Hermione jumped up and ran toward the sound. Draco followed, curious, fully aware yet unconcerned that he would be in a position to listen in on a private conversation.
He watched Hermione reach her fireplace.
"Hey, Hermione. How are you?"
"I'm good. Listen, this isn't a good time, though. I'll be by the Burrow tonight, okay? Dinner right, and Harry will be there?"
"What's going on?"
"Nothing. Someone's here, is all. I don't want to be rude."
"No one. I'll see you later, okay? I have to go."
"Hermione, who – "
"Please, Ron. I'll tell you all about it later."
"Fine. See you tonight." Draco heard the characteristic sound of the Floo connection terminating, then he heard Hermione sigh. She nearly ran into him on her way back to the front room because he hadn't bothered to try and hide.
"Malfoy! Were you listening?"
"Yes. So is that him?"
"What do you mean? Him who?"
"The him who gave you that ring."
Her hand instinctively went to tough the ring, and she spun it around her finger. "Oh, yes. Can we finish whatever we're doing today? I need to go soon."
"Sure. Let's decide when to do each item."
"Okay. The snowman and snowball fight require snow."
"Brilliant, Granger," he drawled.
She glared at him. "The Caroling is usually done closer to Christmas. Baking cookies can be done anytime, really, but – "
"It's best when you're snowed in. I read the book, you know." He was hesitant to bring up the fifth thing – mistletoe. "So we wait for snow," he said.
A moment of silence.
"What about the last one?"
"You've already done it," she said.
"True, but never in the same winter with all of these other things. And I need all five to have a complete winter experience, right? I believe that's on page twenty-seven: 'Helpful hints and tips to make this the best winter ever!'."
She shifted uncomfortably. "Well, that would be ideal. But Malfoy, I can't help you with that one. Ron would not be okay with it, and frankly, I'm not either. You're on your own."
He shrugged. "Not like I expected you to. Okay. So snow."
"Yes. Owl me when there's a good, heavy snow."
"Okay. Thank you, Granger." Draco turned and walked out of the house, then Disapparated,before Hermione had a chance to realize he'd thanked her.
Draco looked up as an aide entered the room where he was busy with a patient. He excused himself and led the aide into the hallway.
"What is it?" Draco asked, a little impatiently, "I am with a patient."
"Sir, you said to alert you as soon as the test results on your mystery patient arrived."
Draco's entire demeanor changed. He was no longer angry, but anxious. He'd been waiting for these results for weeks. "Let me have them," he said.
The older man handed Draco the papers, and waited expectantly.
Draco noticed that the man had not yet left. "These results are confidential, Simmons. Thank you for delivering this." Then he turned to go.
Once safely in his office, Draco opened the envelope and read through the report on the tests and the results.
It was bad news.
Angry, Draco wadded up the results and threw them across the room. He had to focus on the good news – only fifty percent mortality. He scoffed. Fifty percent wasn't a number he liked to tell people. It meant the chances of life or death were the same as heads or tails on a coin. There was a procedure – a Muggle procedure – that would decrease the risk to twenty-five percent.
Draco ran a hand through his hair. He didn't like thinking about death, especially of his patients. But it was a fact of life, something that affected everyone, eventually. The only difference was how a person died. And sometimes, when a patient has forewarning about death, how they live knowing it's coming.
He cancelled his remaining appointments for the day and concentrated on the options available to his mystery patient.
I have built a snowman with my father every winter since I could walk. After the first big snow, he would come in my room and wake me up, a gleam in his eye and hot chocolate in hand, and I just knew what was coming. I rushed to get dressed and followed him outside. We made snowmen, snowwomen, snow-children, and snow-animals until mum called us in for lunch.
I'll never forget the smile on my father's face the first year I made a snowman all by myself.
"Daddy! What is that? What are those children doing?" asked a four-year-old Draco as he was led by his parents through a village near their home.
"Draco!" hissed Lucius, stopping to bend down in front of his son to look him in the eye. 'Do not call me daddy, do you understand me? It's 'father'. And what those filthy Muggle brats are doing is none of your concern. It's dirty, and it's beneath you."
"But they're smiling," Draco said, certain that something that makes people smile can't be all that terrible.
"They're smiling, Draco, because they are fools, and don't know any better."
Draco watched as the children, some no older than himself, rolled small balls of snow into big ones, and stacked them on top of each other. They were smiling, and laughing, and running around in the snow. But Draco didn't get to see what happened to the big balls of snow because his parents pulled him away.
It finally snowed five days after Draco met with Hermione. He owled her first thing, and she responded promptly, telling him to go to her house after lunch, laden with things to decorate his snowman. Things like hats, scarves, gloves, and the like. He had no intention of decorating a snowman; he would build one, and bring it to life through the tasteful application of adornments. Not decoration.
At precisely one in the afternoon, Draco knocked on her door. She answered, wearing a knee-length red coat with big black buttons, a white hat, and a multicolored scarf. She was smiling bigger than he would have thought appropriate for the situation, considering.
"Hi," she said, grabbing a large bag and closing the door behind her. "I've changed my mind. There's a park nearby that I think would be better. It has a lot more snow. Oh, and while we're doing this, call me Hermione. I've been thinking about it, and I think it'll make things less awkward between us. Since our usual method of address is reminiscent of less pleasant times."
He smiled at her. "Hermione. Call me Draco."
"Draco. That's better. Let's be off, then. The park is a few blocks over, so I think we should walk. That okay?"
"Sure," he said, and followed her.
He was deep in thought for the short walk. It was strange to hear her use his given name, but it was nice too. And her name felt weird on his tongue and in his ears. But there was something thrilling about hearing his name from her mouth. Perhaps it was because it was the first time, perhaps because she made it sound better than he'd ever thought his name could sound.
When they arrived, Hermione found a wide, open field of snow and set her bag down.
"Here we are. First thing to do is make a ball out of snow. Doesn't matter how big." She bent down and picked up a handful of snow, and pressed it together firmly. Then she looked at Draco, expectantly. "Now you do it."
He cocked an eyebrow at her, then did as she had done and made a ball.
"Now, you set it on the ground and roll it through the snow. Like this." The small ball grew as she pushed it. "Once it's the size you want, stop rolling it and leave it there."
Draco copied her, but he felt odd about it. It didn't feel quite right, he thought. There was something missing that he was sure should be there.
"That is the base of the snowman. Next we make the middle. Do the same thing – "
"Gra – Hermione. I read the book, you know. You make more big balls and stack them. Then you decorate the thing. I'm just not feeling it."
Hermione frowned and walked over to him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, this is awkward. I guess you were right; this is supposed to be done with friends. And we're not. So it doesn't work."
Apparently, Hermione didn't like hearing that something she was involved in would not work. "Okay, Draco, we'll just have to change some things. I like hot chocolate better than pumpkin juice, my favorite pastime is knitting, and my favorite color is green. Your turn."
He frowned. "What?"
"Your turn. We're getting to know each other. Like friends."
"Oh. All right. Let's see. I like firewhiskey better than butterbeer, my favorite pastime is flying, and my favorite color is also green. Wait, why do you like green?"
"Why do you like green? I just do. Always did, even before I started school. When things in nature are most alive, they're green. I always get sad when things start dying in the winter, but then the snow cheers me up."
"I don't know why I like green."
"That's all right, you don't have to have a reason for liking it. Now. Can we continue with the snowmen?"
"I guess so," he said. "Only, I don't need the step by step instruction."
"Okay," she said pleasantly. "Last one done buys the other hot chocolate!" And she ran back to her snowman and started working furiously. Draco watched her for a moment, amused. Then she stopped and looked back at him. "And NO magic!"
He laughed and turned to focus on his own snowman. Not only would he finish before her, but his would be better.
Twenty minutes later, he was finished, and told Hermione so. She came to examine his work. His snowman had a silver and green scarf, a Slytherin badge on his chest, galleons for buttons, a carrot nose, charcoal eyes, and a wizard's hat. He also had a black and green cape that tied around his neck and billowed out behind him, as if there were a steady breeze, and a broom was propped against him.
"Draco, I said no magic."
"You said no magic in building the thing. I just used it for embellishment."
She smiled, and they walked to her snowman. It was dressed as a librarian, complete with rounded spectacles, an old-fashioned hat, and a stack of books under one arm.
"You used magic to hold up those books!" Draco said, pointing.
"Yes, well, like you said; it's for the embellishment."
"I like mine better."
"Of course you do, Malfoy, just like I like mine better."
"Mine is better looking. And he was in the best house at Hogwarts."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Your snowman just thinks he's so good looking, when really, he's simply not extraordinary."
Draco acted wounded. "Granger, I'm hurt! He knows he's good-looking! I mean, just look at him! He exudes confidence."
"Confidence; arrogance; the words as so easily confused, don't you think?"
He looked at her, then said, "You're not talking about the snowman, are you?"
Hermione held his gaze. "Whatever do you mean, Malfoy?"
Draco didn't speak for a moment, studying Hermione's face. Her expression was one of playfulness, not hostility, so he relaxed. "I believe I finished first, which means you're buying drinks. And my name is Draco."
"You're right, Draco. My apologies for the slip, only don't think I missed yours. Where would you like to go for those drinks?"
She smiled. "Beat you there!" and Disapparated. He smirked and followed.
They went to the Leaky Cauldron and took a small table in the back. Hermione bought him a butterbeer (she absolutely refused to buy him anything stronger); he insisted on continuing to get to know each other, and they ended up spending the rest of the afternoon together.
Four hours felt like a really long time when it was passed on hard, wooden benches with no back support whatsoever and only peanuts to eat and butterbeer to drink.
At least, when he thought about it, it should have seemed like a long time. He cringed in retrospect, but during those four hours, he didn't even notice that he should have been extremely uncomfortable.
He discovered that talking to Hermione was as easy as breathing.
"What happened to you after the War ended?" Hermione asked. "The last time I saw you was at the Ministry. What were you doing there?"
He shrugged. "I took some courses. And I stayed away from people who wanted to ask me a zillion questions about 'why did I do it?' and 'what was I thinking?' and all that."
"Tell me," he said. "How is the little-book business?"
She chuckled. "Great, thanks."
"Is there really a decent market in such tiny books? I find it difficult to believe that people would line up for the release of something like that." She opened her mouth to reply, but Draco cut her off. "So, Miss Granger. Was this your first book? What inspired you to write this? Were you thinking of anyone in particular when you wrote the mistletoe chapter? How is the book tour going? Can I get an autograph?"
"There's market enough; you bought one, of all people."
He quirked an eyebrow. "True. So do you make a living writing tiny books?"
"No, not at all."
He stared at her. "This is like talking to Crabbe or Goyle. Are you going to tell me where you work? Or do I have to guess?"
She smiled. "I work at the Ministry, in the Department of Muggle Relations."
"Do you like working there?" he asked, making a face that he hoped conveyed how very much he would not like working there.
"I love my job," she said with confidence, and he knew she completely meant it.
"So the books are a side-thing?"
She shrugged. "It just came to me, I don't know. It's the only thing I've written, but I had fun, and people seem to like it."
"It came to you. In a dream? Vision? What?"
"No. It was last winter; something Harry said, about life growing up with the Dursleys. He didn't get to do any of those things either. I wrote it with him in mind."
"It's dedicated to him and Weasley."
She shifted in her seat and didn't look at him directly. "Yes, well, Ron helped. In the developmental stages."
She looked at him then. "What do you do to occupy your time?"
"Work?" she said, incredulous.
"Yes," he said, offended slightly.
"I don't want to talk about me. Tell me more about your book. Mistletoe chapter?" he said, grinning wickedly at her and taking a big drink from his butterbeer.
"No one in particular," she said stiffly.
"Oh, come on. Aren't we friends now?"
"I'm serious. Can I try to guess where you work?"
He leaned back in his seat and put his hands behind his head. "Sure. This should be fun."
"Magical Law Enforcement."
"No, but good guess."
"No. Well, part of my job involves research, but I don't work in a lab, bent over a cauldron all day, mixing various ingredients and crossing my fingers waiting for something to happen."
"Am I close?"
"Can I get your autograph?" he asked, holding out the tiny book.
She smirked. "Of course. What should I write?"
"My biggest fan."
"You're my biggest fan?"
"No, you are mine."
She rolled her eyes. "Seriously."
"I don't care, whatever you want."
"Do you help people?"
"Let's talk about something else," he said.
"Did I get too close?"
"What is your favorite ice cream flavor?"
It went on like that for the entire four hours. One of them would ask a question, and they'd go where the conversation took them. Until she had to leave.
After she left, he ordered a firewhiskey and sat at their little table, wondering why he was feeling so completely light. He still couldn't imagine how four hours had passed unnoticed
When he thought about it later, he cringed, but at the time, his only thought had been that she'dleft too soon.
Every Christmas, my parents have a large group of people over to go caroling in our neighborhood. At first, I was shy, and tried to hide behind my parents. When I was twelve, however, I finally worked up the confidence to stand in the front and sing my heart out. Never have I had so much fun being completely silly.
"O, Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how evergreen your branches!"
"Mother?" Draco was now six, and he and his mother were doing some last-minute shopping. For her, of course.
"What are those people doing?" he asked, pointing to a group of people gathered in the square, wearing funny clothes, holding thin books, laughing, smiling, and singing.
"Making a scene, son. Let's go."
"But I want to know what they're doing!" he pouted.
Narcissa grabbed his wrist and pulled him forcefully after her. "They're trying to ruin the peace and quiet with their warbling. That's all, son. Move along."
As they walked away from the square, Draco couldn't help but think that it didn't sound at all like warbling. It sounded like magic.
"December the 24th
A group of my parents' friends are going caroling tonight, and I think this is the perfect opportunity for you to complete this item. We're leaving at four, but stop by my house around three-thirty, and we'll Apparate there together, since you don't know where they live.
Frowning, Draco put the letter in his pocket. Caroling – with Muggles? He'd always imagined that the Weasleys would be keen on this type of tradition, what with the making a lot of noise and frightening the neighbors. Oh well; it would have to do, and he certainly had not been looking forward to an evening in the cold with the red-headed clan. Maybe this would be better after all.
He'd seen her once since the snowman incident, in Diagon Alley, with Ron. They were strolling hand-in-hand down the street, probably shopping for Christmas. A surge of jealousy flooded through him, not only at seeing them together, but at the thought that on Christmas morning, they would both be with people who loved them.
While he would be alone in a cold, empty house too big for thirty people, let alone one.
Draco shook his head from those thoughts and determined to make the most of the day he had in front of him. He dressed warmly, and at three-thirty, knocked on Hermione's door.
She opened it, stepping outside, with a huge, beautiful smile on her face. "Oh, Draco, I'm so excited! I haven't done this in a very long time."
He frowned. "Really? But I thought you did it every year."
"Why would you think that?"
"Oh, that. Well, that's my ideal winter. If I could do all of those things, I would feel that my winter was complete. I've never actually done all five in one year, though I have at least done all five at some point."
"I see," he said. It struck him that she would be doing all five that winter, with him. He felt a slight swirl of pride that he would be involved in her ideal winter. Though she probably would have pictured doing it with someone else, someone she actually liked.
"You don't know where we're going, so let's Side-Along, shall we?" Hermione held out an arm to him, and he took it. "Hold on!" she said, giddily.
Moments later, they landed. In front of them was the back of a house. "Mum doesn't like me appearing in the front yard. Someone might see," said Hermione, as she started to walk toward the house. Draco followed, still stunned over the fact that she had willingly put herself right beside him. And touched him. And – oh dear, he was starting to sound like he cared about the girl. And he didn't. Just for the record.
Hermione walked around to the front of the house, waited for Draco, then knocked on the door. She hopped a little in excitement.
The door opened, and a woman who could only be Hermione's mother appeared, smiling. "Hermione!" she said, hugging her daughter.
"Hello, mum! Thanks for having us!"
They pulled back and looked at Draco. "You must be Draco. I'm Sarah, Hermione's mother."
"Yes, I am. It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Granger," he said, flashing a smile and turning on the Malfoy charm and manners.
"Well, do come in, please. Almost everyone is here, Hermione, in the drawing room. I'll introduce you to anyone you don't know."
Draco followed the two women into a room packed with people. In the next ten minutes, he learned and then forgot the names of close to thirty people, all smiles and hearty handshakes and red and gold. He momentarily lost sight of Hermione, but soon spotted her across the room. She was talking animatedly with … was that Sally? He felt himself drawn to her, inexplicably.
Why now? Why her?
His mind screamed, and he felt the room closing in on him. He suddenly couldn't breathe, and the room started to spin, then get fuzzy, then it went black altogether.
"Draco! Wake up!"
His eyes popped open, and slowly Hermione's face came into focus. His head hurt.
"Are you okay?" she asked, obviously worried. "What happened?"
He sat up, and found himself on a couch in the room that had been full of people, only now there was no one but Hermione and her parents. "I – I don't know."
"You passed out," said Sarah, bringing him a glass of water.
"Oh. Right," he said, taking a sip.
"How are you feeling now?" she asked.
"Better, thank you."
"Let's get you home," said Hermione, standing and gathering his things.
"No!" he cried. "I'm fine, really. It was just hot, and there was so much noise; I still want to do this, Hermione."
She looked at her parents, then at him. "Are you sure? I mean, really, really sure? I think you should see a Healer."
He waved a hand. "No, that's nonsense. I'm fine. Where is everyone?"
"They went on ahead," said Steve, Hermione's father.
"Well, let's go and catch them, shall we?"
He knew they were concerned, but he knew there was nothing to be concerned about. And he wasn't going to let some sissy fainting spell ruin his evening; an evening full of singing Christmas songs on the doorsteps of strangers – Muggles, at that. His parents would probably roll over in their graves, if they'd had them. Instead, his father was technically still alive, only he had no soul left. His mother had been cremated after burning down the vacation house in France with a hair-lightening potion-gone-wrong.
Her ashes were blowing around a bit in their urn, then.
"Honest," he said, trying his best to convince them through his tone, his expression, and his determination. "I'm okay."
"Has something like this ever happened before?" asked Steve.
"Oh, yeah. Plenty. I'm fine. I, for one, am going, and I hope you three will join me." With that, Draco took his coat and hat and gloves from Hermione and walked out of the house. He saw the group just down the street, perhaps four houses over, and started toward them.
Hermione caught up to him moments later. "Draco, are you sure?"
"Yes, Hermione. I'm sure, already. Let's go." She still looked worried. "What must I do to convince you I'm fine?"
"I – I don't know. I guess, nothing. Will you, uh, smile for me?"
He did, and she smiled back and hooked her arm through his. "Let's go then. So, do you know any of these songs?"
"Not a one."
"Well, this is certainly going to be interesting!"
That was an understatement. Draco and Hermione shared a book, but it didn't help at all. He knew nothing about reading music, and so he made up his own tunes. And words, too, when he felt like it.
Hermione was barely able to sing a whole line without laughing.
She had to step away altogether during 'Silent Night' because Draco was making up new verses to 'Weasley is our King' and putting them to the tune of the carol.
Draco had a great time, and was genuinely sad when they'd finished going through the Grangers' neighborhood. Everyone who went caroling was very nice to him, making sure he was still standing, and offering him warm beverages.
The group dispersed quickly, leaving Hermione and Draco alone with her parents, who asked the two to stay for dinner. Draco agreed immediately, but Hermione was worried about Ron. Finally Sarah told her that he would understand that she wanted to have dinner with her parents, and that if he didn't, then he was a fool. Draco heartily agreed, and Hermione left to write an owl to Ron with a small smile on her face.
Dinner was delicious, and Draco informed Sarah and Steve that it was his first meal in a Muggle home. Sarah was delighted that he'd chosen their home for his first Muggle meal, and Hermione rolled her eyes.
After dinner, Sarah and Hermione cleaned the kitchen, and Steve showed Draco around their house. When they reached Hermione's old room, Draco went in, looking for new things to make fun of her over. Next to the bed, there was a picture of her and Ron, and he sobered quickly.
"You know him?" asked Steve, standing in the doorway.
"Yeah, I do."
"What do you think of him?"
Draco looked at the man, wondering how much was okay to say. "Honestly? She could do better."
"How's that?" Steve asked, entering the room and shutting the door.
Draco took a deep breath. "He's just – not who I imagined she'd end up with."
"We were under the impression that you two weren't friends."
"We weren't in school, not at all. But I always held a measure of respect for Hermione, because she was – is – so smart, and because she stood up for things she believed in. I always thought Weasley wasn't good enough for her, even though I was never fond of her. Always pictured her with someone – smarter."
Steve laughed at that. "Someone like you, perhaps?"
"Me?" Draco laughed. "No, not even close. I'm smarter than Weasley, but I'm also really stupid. And, I haven't always been the best of persons. It's only been the last few years that I haven't been what the Wizarding world considers evil."
"Right, you changed sides, or something."
"Something," he muttered, looking around the room, slightly uncomfortable with where the conversation now seemed to be moving.
"Coffee!" came a voice from below, and Draco was relieved for the interruption. He followed Steve downstairs and into the parlor. Coffee and dessert awaited them.
Only now, Sarah was looking at him strangely, and Hermione completely avoided looking at him. That, combined with the strange conversation with Steve, made Draco feel quite out of place.
"What are you doing for Christmas, Draco?" asked Sarah, once they were all finished and she was clearing the plates. "Will you be spending it with family?"
Hermione nearly choked on her coffee. "Oh, Draco, I never even thought to ask what you're doing tomorrow!"
He was glad about that, honestly. It meant he didn't have to say out loud that he was spending the day alone. And probably getting plastered before noon and spending the rest of the day in oblivion.
"Oh, well, actually…" but the look on Hermione's face kept him from lying straight out. "I have no idea," he finally said, wishing he were anywhere else at that instant.
He looked down so he wouldn't have to see the looks they exchanged, but he could still feel the pity radiating from them in waves. Palpable waves.
Before they could speak, however, he said, "My, it's late. I have to go." He stood and gathered his things. "Thank you for an amazing dinner, Sarah, and for letting me tag along this afternoon. Have a Happy Christmas. Hermione, see you around."
She caught up with him in the back yard, where he'd gone to Apparate.
"Save it, Hermione. I don't want to hear it, okay?"
"Hear what? I was going to give you this."
He turned around and she practically ran into him. "What?"
"I got you something. You know, for Christmas. It is tomorrow, you know. Don't open it now," she said quickly, when he started to unwrap it. "Wait. At least til you're home. Okay?"
He nodded. "I didn't even think to get you anything, Hermione. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. Just – have a good day tomorrow, okay?"
"I mean it, Draco."
"Right, I know. Good day tomorrow."
"You too. Bye, Hermione."
One of the most memorable snowball fights I remember was in my fourth year at Hogwarts. It was Christmas day, and there was a dance that evening. We had opened all our presents, and I think it was Fred Weasley who suggested a snowball fight on the grounds.
It went on all afternoon, and I left before it was over, but I'll never forget the looks of joy on the faces of my friends that day.
"Father, I want to play too," said Draco, now seven, in an almost-whine. They were at Crabbe's house for a party. One of those boring ones where the adults sit around talking quietly and the kids got shuffled out of the house. This time, all the children were in the back yard, throwing snowballs, and laughing.
Lucius put a hang on his son's shoulder. "Only if you will win, Draco. Then you may join the others."
"Win? They're not playing a game, Father."
"Then make it one. And win. Do not disappoint me. Aim for their heads, Draco." With a firm push on their son toward the back yard, Lucius and Narcissa went into the house.
Winning was everything; it always was. One thing Draco learned from his father, one thing he would never forget, was to win at all costs.
Draco arrived at Hermione's house at the specified time. It was the second week of January, and the snow conditions were perfect for a really brilliant snowball fight. So she said. This time, however, instead of leaving immediately, she asked him inside.
"What's wrong?" he asked, knowing immediately something was off. He saw the worry in her eyes.
"Nothing's wrong, I just need to tell you something. About Ron." Draco did a quick ring check;
"In planning this snowball fight, I had to tell Ron about – well, us."
Draco blinked. "What do you mean, exactly?"
Hermione avoided looking at him. "I never really told him about what we were doing. He knew I was doing something, related to the book, but I didn't tell him what. Or, most significantly, with whom. He wasn't thrilled, to put it lightly, but he's agreed to play along. I just wanted to warn you."
"Well, Hermione. The thought of going into Weasley territory is cause for alarm all by itself. I'm not terribly worried about slightly more animosity directed towards me."
"Yes, but he's very – jealous. I mean, I've told him it's ridiculous, but there's just so much history between us all. I don't know if he really believes me."
"Aww, you're worried about me," he said with a sarcastic grin. "You shouldn't be; I can deal with Weasley."
Hermione frowned. "I'd rather you didn't have to."
She sighed. "Let's go, then."
Just before Hermione opened the door, Draco put a hand on her arm. "Hey. I won't start anything with him, or provoke him. Okay?"
The look on her face affected him all the way to the muscle fibers of his toes. It was one of sincere appreciation and relief.
"Thank you, Draco. That – that means a lot."
Now she looked positively stunning, and he had made her smile like that, and her eyes twinkle like that.
"Come on," he said, anxious to get out into the colder air; it was suddenly too warm inside.
"We have to Side-Along again," she said, and he was surprised to hear hesitation in her voice.
"Okay, sure," he said, extending his arm. He was surprised to find that he was a little nervous too.
They arrived outside the Burrow.
"Don't make any smart comments about the name. Or the house. Or anything inside. That constitutes provoking."
"Relax, Hermione. I'll be on my best behavior."
She gave him a very serious, you'd-better-be look, and knocked on the door. Mrs. Weasley answered.
"Oh, hello, Hermione dear! So good to see you again." Molly hugged her tightly, then looked at Draco, and put on a nervous smile. "Draco Malfoy. Welcome," she said bravely.
Draco smiled. "Mrs. Weasley. Thank you for having me; it's my pleasure, I'm sure."
Molly seemed to relax a tiny bit. "Well, come in you two, it's cold outside."
Hermione quickly rounded up everyone who would be involved in the snowball fight, and led them outside to a small open field on the Weasley's property surrounded by trees.
"Fred; George," said Hermione bossily. "You two are captains. Fred, you start choosing teams."
Fred Weasley surveyed the gathered players carefully, then said, "Malfoy."
Ron was slightly indignant. "You chose him over your own brother?"
"Tsk, tsk, Ron. I play to win, you know."
George went next. "Ickle Ronnie." Ron turned bright red and glared at his brother. Then it seemed to occur to him that he was not on Draco's team, and turned to glare at him instead.
"Harry," said Fred. Harry joined him, nodding to Draco. They weren't exactly friends, but they shared a mutual respect. When Draco defected, Harry was the one who defended him to the others at first, until they started to slowly accept him. Neither of them reached out any more than that, however, and it didn't seem likely they ever would. They would remain two people who fought together for all that was right and good; but never friends.
"Ginny," called George.
Percy stalked over to George's team, and Fred started laughing. "Hermione got picked before you, Perce. How's that feel?"
Ron then complained to George that he should have picked Hermione so he could be on her team. To which George replied, "Ron, it was between her and Ginny. Who do you think I'm gonna pick?"
To which Ron frowned and muttered, "Can't believe Malfoy got picked first. Lowsy git."
"Listen up," called Fred. "The rules are these. Each team has a flag. Ours is red, theirs is gold. The goal is to get the other team's flag back to this spot, and safely hoisted in its holder." He pointed to a couple of lawn chairs with short poles sticking up. "Flag goes in here, like this." George demonstrated, putting a flag into a pole.
"George and I will hide our flags in places we've already determined. Your weapons are snowballs. If you're hit with one, you have to drop to the ground for five seconds. Then you can move again. But during those five seconds, you're frozen. You can't move, can't block; nothing. Also, if someone is frozen, no pelting them while they're down. You have to give them a chance to get up after the five seconds are up. Clear?"
They all nodded.
"Right. And no magic. This here's a completely non-magical game." Everyone looked at Draco, who rolled his eyes. "If you get the other team's flag into a pole, you can shoot up red sparks; no other magic. Are we clear?"
Again, they nodded.
"Okay. Wait here while we hide the flags." They ran off in opposite directions into the woods and returned after a few minutes. "Okay. My team, follow me. Good luck."
Hermione, Draco and Harry followed Fred into the woods on the side where he took his flag.
Once safely hidden, Fred said, "Okay. Here's how it's going to work. Harry and Hermione, you'll guard the flag. Malfoy, you're with me; we're going after theirs. Savvy?"
"Yes," said Hermione.
"Good. You two spend your time making snowballs. You'll need a good stockpile, just in case." Fred led them to the flag and then he and Draco went in search of the other one.
After ten minutes of walking in trepidation, they found it.
"Good. Ron and Percy are guarding it." Fred grinned. "Ronnie will be angry, which should work to our advantage. I'll go for Ron, you go for Percy. Whoever can get the flag, gets it. Then run like Filch is after you. Clear?"
"Yeah," Draco said, excitement and anticipation building, his blood racing, his heart pumping. He remembered the thrill of being on the cusp of a battle, about to rush into a haze of spells going every direction. Dodging; counter-cursing; running; skipping; anything to avoid getting hit.
"Okay. On three, we go. One… two… three!"
They jumped out, firing. Fred hit Ron after a few shots, Draco hit Percy with one. Draco got the flag out of a tree, but as soon as he hit the ground, there was a barrage of snowballs flying from seemingly everywhere. Both Draco and Fred were hit, and had to fall down, frozen. The flag was still in Draco's hand.
He looked at Fred, who mouthed, "Roll"
When the five seconds were up, they quickly rolled away from each other, but Draco didn't get very far. Someone had stopped him. Then he was hit with a snowball to the head. He immediately got angry; that certainly didn't seem fair.
Then his attacker spoke. "You," – hit in the back – "Stay" – the arm – "Away," – the head again – "From" – head – "Her!" Then he realized it was Ron, and he was livid.
He rolled over, snarled at Ron, and wordlessly sent Ron sprawling.
"Hey! No magic!" whined Percy.
But in an instant, Draco was standing over Ron, wand pointed at his chest. "Weasley, if you want to fight, be a man about it. Don't throw snowballs at me like some pansy."
Ron took it as a challenge, and jumped up, then grabbed Draco and pushed him into the snow. Soon there were fists flying, snow spraying, and the others trying to separate the men. They weren't successful until Draco heard Hermione shouting for them to stop. He hesitated, remembering his promise to Hermione, and Ron landed a punch directly in the middle of this face, and he felt his nose break.
"Ron!" screamed Hermione.
Now Ron and Draco were standing a few feet apart, seething at each other, and bleeding from various cuts. Bruises were starting to appear. Hermione looked between them, then at Harry with an exasperated look, before going to Ron's side.
"What happened?" she asked him.
"He started it!" Ron exclaimed, pointing at Draco.
"I did not, Weasley!"
"Enough!" she yelled, glaring at both of them. "Inside. Both of you. Molly will patch you up."
Ginny had gone to Draco's side, and looked at his nose. "Broken, I think." Draco nodded. "Don't worry. Mum can fix it."
"Really?" He wasn't about to let just anyone touch his nose. He could fix it himself, but it would require a mirror, and doing things in the mirror was always a tricky thing. He didn't want to risk permanent deformity; he liked his nose. It fit his face.
"Yeah. She has six boys. A broken nose is nothing."
Neither Ron nor Draco moved at first, then Hermione pushed Ron toward the house. Once he was out of sight, Draco started following, with Ginny tagging behind them.
Hermione remained behind. "What happened?" she demanded, arms crossed.
No one spoke. She knew only Fred and Percy were witness to the fight, and she hoped one of them would talk. All of the Weasleys had accepted Draco during the War, and Fred especially seemed to get on well with him. Probably had something to do with a shared affinity for trouble-making. They, along with George, had pulled some fantastic pranks on certain members of the Order.
"Fred?" she said, turning to stare hard at him.
"Ron started it, Hermione," he said, somewhat reluctantly. "Perce and I saw it."
"What exactly did he start?"
"I don't know really. I've never seen Ron angry like that before. He was hitting Draco with snowballs, while he was frozen, then Draco used non-verbal magic and tossed him away. Then he told Ron not to fight like a pansy, so Ron got up and started punching."
"What did Draco say to Ron to encourage him to throw the snowballs?"
"Nothing," said Fred. "I was right beside them. Ron said," he looked at Ginny. "Ron said, 'You stay away from her.' Malfoy didn't say anything."
Hermione took several deep breaths to calm herself, then marched toward the house. Harry followed.
"What got into Ron?" he asked, struggling to keep up with her.
"He's – I told you. Jealous. It's so stupid."
"Hermione, it's perfectly understandable."
She stopped and turned to glare at him. "Well, he should be more understanding, Harry. I have told him there's no need to be jealous."
Harry cocked an eyebrow. "And yet you only just a few days ago told him about you two."
She rolled her eyes. "There's nothing to tell."
"Obviously, Ron doesn't agree."
She huffed, and started again for the house.
Molly was busy with Draco's nose, while Ron sat at the table with an ice pack on his eye. Hermione and Harry came in, and she yelled at Ron, who yelled back, at her and at Draco. Harry tried to calm them, but had no success. Hermione was nearly in tears by the end of it, and she stormed out of the house. Molly scolded Ron for being such an enormous beast to his girl, and kicked him out of the house, no healing until dinner.
He skulked away, glaring at Draco. Harry followed him out.
Then she turned back to Draco. "This might hurt a bit."
"Mrs. Weasley, I'm really sorry about this. I came here with the intention of avoiding anything like this." He sighed. "I just have a problem with letting things go."
She smiled kindly. "Who doesn't? Now. How's the nose?"
Draco wiggled his nose and gingerly touched it, then roughly jiggled it. "Feels great."
"It's still bruised, and a bit swollen. You won't look like yourself for a few days, but there should be no permanent damage."
He frowned, unconvinced.
Molly smiled. "George got his nose broken seven times. Can you tell?"
"No," he said, chuckling.
"Looks exactly like Fred's. So don't worry about the nose, it will look good as new." Then Molly looked him over and saw a cut on his arm. "This is still bleeding. It should have stopped by now." She looked at him, worried.
"Nah, it's okay. I'm an easy bleeder." He knew Molly was honestly concerned about him, and he smiled, remembering all the times she fixed him up during the War.
"It really should have stopped by now, though."
"It will, don't worry. Thank you. For everything. I should get going."
"But you've only just arrived," Molly protested.
"And I've already worn out my welcome," he replied, standing and putting his cloak back on. "Thank you again. Tell Hermione – tell her I'll see her around."
Molly put a hand on his arm and looked pointedly into his eyes. "She's a very special girl, Hermione."
He returned her gaze steadily. "I know that. Good day, Mrs. Weasley."
He was out the front door and fifteen steps toward the road when Hermione caught up to him.
"But we only just started playing!"
"Well, I got in my snowball fight, so we can check that one off the list."
"But – it wasn't right! You're supposed to have fun, not leave with a broken nose."
"I did have fun, for a few minutes, and the nose isn't broken anymore. It's fine, really."
Hermione folded her arms and stopped walking. Draco got about twenty paces away before he turned around. "What?" he called.
"Don't go. Stay for dinner."
"Uhm, no. I'm either going to Disapparate now, or keep walking. Depends on what you do." He waited a moment, then turned around to continue walking. She ran to catch up with him.
"Why are you with him, Hermione?"
"What kind of question is that? I love him, obviously."
"I didn't hear any love when you two were fighting in the kitchen."
"We were both very angry, is all. People fight, Draco. Happens all the time."
He shrugged. "None of my business." They walked in silence.
"What is that supposed to mean?" she asked quietly.
"You two just don't seem very happy. You shouldn't be with him just because it's what people expect, or think is best for you. He should make you deliriously happy, and he should be secure enough knowing that you chose him, that he doesn't have to worry about you cheating on him. You would never do that, and he's too thick to see it."
"It was a difficult situation, for both of us, from the start. You certainly didn't see us on a good day. And he knows I chose him, it's just hard to hear that I spend time with you, of all people."
"He should still trust you. And I have seen you on what you would call good days, though, and still the same thing. From what I've heard you say, and what I just saw, I don't think he makes you very happy."
"Well, who are you to talk?" she yelled, stopping. "You're so miserable you have to come to me to help you do things that you should be doing with people you like! You shouldn't have to hire your friends, Malfoy. You should – " She stopped yelling abruptly, clamping her hands over her mouth, a look of horror on her face.
Draco just glared at her.
"Oh, Draco, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean that at all!"
He scoffed. "Of course you did. It's what you've been thinking all along. 'Poor Draco, he doesn't have anyone who likes him.' Well news flash, Granger. I don't need people to like me. I'm perfectly fine on my own!" He was yelling now, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd really yelled at someone. It felt ridiculously good. "I certainly don't need you." He cast her one last nasty look and Disapparated.
I grew up baking cookies with my mother and grandmother every Christmas. We'd spend hours in the kitchen, making a variety of different cookies, and decorating them. Then, together, we walked through the neighborhood, giving boxes of cookies to those who lived around my grandmother.
The very best part, though, was tasting every single type of cookie, just to make sure they turned out right.
"Mother, how do people without house elves eat?" Draco asked. He was nine, and they were sitting at their dining room table. Lucius was away, so Draco got to sit beside his mother.
"They have to do all the work themselves," she replied with a faint sneer.
"Is it hard?"
"They have to work with their hands, son."
Once or twice, he'd snuck down to the kitchen to get cookies from the elves, and he watched them bake from the shadows. When he was older, he would sit in Potions and think about how similar the class was to what he'd seen the elves doing. Mixing ingredients together to create something different.
At fourteen, Draco snuck down to the kitchen one night for a cookie, and instead of just watching, he asked the main house elf if he could help cook too. The elf immediately started shoving him out, threatening to call his mother if he didn't leave.
"Baking is servant work, Master. Leave it for us. Go back to your duties," the elf pleaded. As he cast one last look at the elves, sifting and stirring and mixing, he noticed that there was the hint of a smile in each elf's eyes.
After the snowball incident, Draco expected he'd have to force his elves to let him bake cookies with them. He was still determined to complete the five things on Hermione's list, though time was running out; winter was nearly halfway gone, and there hadn't been a snow large enough to keep him stuck indoors.
Then one night, in the third week of January, there was a blizzard. Draco woke up, and when he looked out the window, the snow was piled halfway up the windows on the first floor. He jumped out of bed, threw on a house robe, and ran to the kitchen, ready to make cookies.
"Master," said his door elf. "Someone to see you, Sir, only because the door wouldn't open, she came right inside."
He frowned. "She? Who is it?"
"Don't know, Sir. Never seen her before. Miss is in the lobby."
Draco nodded impatiently. "All right. Thank you."
He was so annoyed that he forgot he was only in his house clothes. No Malfoy should ever be seen by anyone in house clothes. He remembered this rule just as he turned the corner to f ind a bushy-haired girl wearing a red coat standing in his front hall.
"Granger," he said, surprised.
"Draco," she replied, looking him straight in the eye. Then she took in his attire, and quirked an eyebrow. "Is it casual day at the Manor?"
He reddened. Merlin help him, but she looked – playful – when she said that, and he couldn't help it. "I just woke up."
"I see. Then you might not be aware that there's been a blizzard. I brought a few recipes with me. When would you like to get started?"
He blinked a few times. "Recipes?"
"Yes. They're like the instructions for brewing potions, only for food."
"I know what they are. What are they for?"
"Cookies, silly. Remember? 'Baking cookies is best done when you're snowed in, with Christmas music playing, and a cup of hot chocolate in hand.'"
"Yes, I remember. I didn't expect you, is all."
She approached him and stopped a few feet in front of him. "Draco, I am sincerely sorry for what I said. It slipped out; I didn't mean it. It was something I was worried about when you first came to me, and at the worst moment possible, I shouted it."
"What were you worried about?"
"That you were paying me to be your friend, when you needed only to have asked."
All the anger he'd felt for her over the past two weeks melted away, and that warm fuzzy feeling he got whenever he thought about her returned. And that was so incredibly not good. He did not have time for that. Forcing those thoughts away, far, far away, he looked into her eyes. Bad idea; the thoughts came back and hit him square in the head.
"I wasn't looking for a friend," he said, very quietly. "But – it's nice of you to say that."
"Well, you got a friend, didn't you?" she said, smiling broadly, and linking arms with him. "Now. Which way is the kitchen? Or would you prefer we do this at my house?"
Draco called his head kitchen elf and told him to clear everyone out of the kitchen. Then he instructed that the ingredients for everything in Hermione's recipes be left out for them. The elf offered to prepare all of the recipes, but Draco had to explain that he was going to prepare them. The elf smiled, then, and agreed to follow his instructions.
"He'd better," Draco said to Hermione as they walked. "Considering what I pay him."
The look Hermione gave him then was one he was pretty sure he could see every day for the rest of his life and never get tired of seeing. Granted, it had only been a little over a month since they'd started associating, but then again, it doesn't take a whole lot to realize what one person could potentially mean to another.
And Draco was nearly certain that he would like to know exactly what was possible where Hermione was concerned. For example, was it possible she could return his feelings; was it possible he could make her happy; was it possible she would like him even when he failed?
When they reached the end of the hall, Draco took leave of her to change clothes, calling an elf to show her to the kitchen.
He arrived in the kitchen fifteen minutes later, having spent an unprecedented amount of time choosing a black set of robes. He scolded himself for thinking that it would matter to her, and anyway, he did a ring check; still there. Right. She was taken.
"Let's get started, shall we?" Hermione said, a mad gleam in her eyes. "I've got the music ready, and hot water on the stove. Soon, everything will be perfect. Help me pick out a few of these to make."
They chose the chocolate chip cookies, the peanut butter cookies, the treacle fudge cookies, and the sugar cookies. Draco wanted icing on all the cookies, despite Hermione's assurance that not all of the cookies needed icing, but when he saw her collection of multi-colored, multi-shaped sprinkles, he insisted on using every single variety.
The entire process was nearly a disaster. Draco initially wanted to do everything himself, so Hermione was relegated to offering advice and answering questions. Then he realized it wasn't fair to make her watch, and she joined him, starting the batch of peanut butter cookies. It took nearly an hour to get all the cookies mixed and in the ovens.
Then came the icing.
Draco wasn't much help there, as he ate more than a third of the icing they made. He wanted to color it, so he did. He wanted to add things to it, so he did. He was like a kid. Once, Draco caught her looking at him in the same way he imagined he thought about her, and he smiled, and she smiled, then leaned over and wiped a bit of icing off his mouth, causing him to drop a spoon. She laughed, and the moment was broken, but he couldn't forget that there had been a moment.
When the cookies were finished baking, they iced them. Every single one of them. Blue; red; yellow; green; with sprinkles of trees, flowers, cars, stars and hearts. Even those little silver balls. The Christmas music played non-stop at Hermione's insistence, despite it being significantly post-Christmas, and she kept the hot chocolate hot.
Finally, when the last cookie was iced, Hermione put down her icing bag and sighed. "Well, we're finished."
Draco looked at the kitchen. Flour and sprinkles were everywhere, even on the walls; cookies covered every single horizontal surface, which was quite a feat, considering it was an enormous kitchen; and he was completely exhausted.
"Looks like it," he said, sitting on a stool.
"Now comes the fun part," Hermione said, a twinkle in her eye. "We get to eat them!"
"Oh, I don't think I can," he said with a grimace. "Just the thought makes me a little ill."
Hermione laughed. "Well, you did eat a lot of icing."
"And cookie dough. And sprinkles. And hot chocolate."
"Yes, you did." She looked at the cookies in front of her. "But you have to eat this one. I made it just for you." She held out the cookie, a present wrapped in red paper with a big green bow and silver balls on the candy ribbon.
"Just like the present you gave me," he said, taking a bite.
"Except for the silver on the ribbon."
"Well, yes, that. Did I ever thank you?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Thank you. I'd never been given a snow globe before. It's enchanting, almost. Sometimes I just stare at it, watching the little plastic snow fall around the snowman. Sometimes I wish I were that snowman."
"How are you coming on the last item?" she asked, quietly, suddenly.
He chuckled. "Well, I've thought about hanging some magic mistletoe in the lobby at Gringotts, and when a lovely, single witch steps into its pull, dash in to rescue her. But I haven't done that yet. It seems to me that to be the best, it has to be with someone you want to kiss, not just a random person. Someone with whom you can linger under the plant. Someone who wants you to kiss them, too. Haven't found that in the last month and a half."
She looked down at her hands. "Oh, I suppose that makes sense. That you'd want to want to kiss the person. There's still time, though."
"Right," he said, with a mixture of sarcasm, acceptance, and sadness.
Hermione looked at him intently. "You okay?"
"Yeah, fine. Just tired, is all."
"It's only two in the afternoon. You shouldn't be tired."
He shrugged. "Late night. I couldn't sleep."
"You look a little pale, now that I really look at you."
He smirked. "Uh, Hermione? I'm always pale. Remember?"
"Paler than usual, silly."
"You can tell? I was pretty sure there was no such color as paler-than-me."
She chuckled. "You've discovered it."
"I'm sure it's nothing. Lack of sunlight. Usually happens in the winter."
Hermione stood. "I guess we're done, then. Do you want all of these cookies?"
"No way! I can't eat all of this! Take some to the Weasleys. Take most of them, actually. I'm one person; I certainly don't need twelve dozen cookies."
"Not to be pedantic, but there are twelve dozen cookies just on that island."
"Whatever. Just – take them all. Leave me a few."
"A few dozen?"
"A few cookies. Donate them to charity, or something."
"Oh, that's a lovely idea! Why don't we deliver them to an orphanage!"
"Right now! Ooh, Draco, this is wonderful! Do you have any boxes?"
He called for his elves and sent them on a box hunt. They returned twenty minutes later with small red boxes with snowflakes on them. He and Hermione filled the boxes with the cookies, which took nearly an hour, there were so many. When they were finished, they tied the boxes with silver ribbon.
"You go without me, Hermione," Draco said.
"Absolutely not, Draco. It was your idea, after all."
He could see that she wasn't going to take no for an answer, so he grudgingly agreed to accompany her.
They started in London at St. Mungo's and delivered the cookies to the children's ward. Draco, who didn't work with children for a reason, found that they weren't the tiny parasites he'd always assumed they were, and that they were quite delightful. They smiled at him with innocent grins and missing teeth, and he didn't mind a bit that they put their germy hands all over him.
As they were leaving, someone stopped him.
Hermione looked at him, question and astonishment written on her face. He turned to the person who'd called him.
"The, uh, doctor replied to your letter. About the mystery patient."
"Ah, yes. Thank you. Do you have it with you?"
"No, sir, we just got it. I put it on your desk and was just on my way to owl you."
He turned to Hermione. "Do you mind a slight detour?"
"Not at all."
She started to follow him, but he told her to wait in the lobby for him. He started to walk away, but she called after him, and he turned back to her.
"You – you're a Healer?" she asked.
"Oh," she said.
He frowned. "Something wrong?"
"No, I – I wouldn't have guessed that."
"Most people don't," he said, with a slight grin.
Draco made his way to his office and found the envelope on his desk, where it was supposed to be. He hesitated before opening it, mentally wishing it would be good news.
It was. He exhaled deeply in relief, and smiled. He felt lighter than he'd felt in a long time, and when he reached Hermione he gave her a quick, friendly hug. She looked at him quizzically.
"Good news," he said, and walked out of the hospital, whistling.
The most romantic thing about winter is the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. According to mythology, a man named Baldur was poisoned by the plant and died, but his mother, the goddess of love, brought him back to life by removing the poison with her tears. After his return to life, she kissed everyone who passed underneath the mistletoe out of happiness and gratitude, starting the custom.
Now it is typically done by those in love, or even complete strangers, when caught under a sprig of mistletoe.
When Draco was sixteen, he went home for one day during the winter holiday. His parents threw a party, and Pansy was one of the guests.
In traditional Christmas style, and his mother was always at the height of style, Mistletoe was hung over the door.
After a few dances, Draco needed some air, and Pansy followed him, complaining that he didn't seem to care about her any more, or want to be around her. Somehow, they stopped in the doorway, under the mistletoe. It was magic mistletoe, meaning that if two people walked under it, they had to kiss in order to be able to walk away.
Draco clenched his jaw, resigned to kissing Pansy, while she was obviously thrilled. As he bent his head down to hers, an image flashed in his mind, of a beautiful girl in a periwinkle dress, and he kissed Pansy much more intensely than he'd intended, sending the girl into a fit of hysterics. Draco had scoffed and left her standing in the doorway, but his mind was spinning.
The next time he met a woman underneath the magical plant, he was nervous about kissing her, fearing the same thing would happen. It didn't.
It was nearing the end of February, and Draco still hadn't completed the fifth and final item of the necessities of winter. He had given up the hope that it might happen, and had come to terms with an imperfect winter. At least he'd had the mistletoe kiss in previous winters.
He'd seen Hermione a few times since they made cookies. She'd invited him to a party at her parents' house that Ron had refused to attend – he went, and it was fun and it was awkward. People kept asking if they were together, and he hated saying no, but that was the truth.
Then, in mid-February, he'd needed a date for a function at St. Mungo's, and he didn't want to ask anyone. No one else was Hermione, really, and most of the women he knew grated his already raw nerves. He was concerned as the date approached; he was required to bring someone, and he considered asking Ginny. It would be convenient, and at least he knew he wouldn't want to rip out his eardrums by the end of the night.
But even that would be uncomfortable for him. The night before the function, he met Hermione for coffee, and she noticed he was quieter than usual and glum. She managed to wriggle the reason out of him, and offered to go with him. He accepted, hesitantly, and grudgingly, after much argument and persuasion on her part.
She wore a red dress, and she was breathtaking, and when they danced, he was nearly positive he was almost in love with her.
Sometimes, he was sad, and thought that life wasn't fair. But when he held Hermione in his arms, knowing she belonged to another man, he was okay with life.
She invited him over for coffee one night, toward the end of February and the end of winter. It was sudden, and he almost said no. But she was his friend, and that's what friends do. Have coffee, and sit around and talk about things like the weather and weekend plans that don't involve each other. At least, when you're friends like they were.
He knocked on her door, and she answered, two cups in her hands. Instead of inviting him in, they sat on her front porch.
Conversation was awkward at first, but Draco made a joke about her lousy hospitality, or her lousy cleaning skills being the reason he was never invited in, and things got back to normal.
Two cups of coffee later, and well into their third, Hermione said, "So, did you ever, you know, complete the list?"
He took another sip. "Nah. Couldn't find anyone. Put an ad in the paper, too. 'Lonely guy seeks girl for long-term romance, or at least as long as it takes to linger under mistletoe.' Had a few applicants, but they were ugly. Or old. Just couldn't do it."
Hermione chuckled. "You are funnier than I imagined."
He shrugged. "Just bitter, really."
"Here is the story of my life: I have a terrible childhood, all the way up until I'm eighteen. Then I figure things out and spend the next three years fighting and running and scared to death. Then I get life figured out, and I know what I want, but life keeps getting in the way."
She frowned. "I don't understand that last part."
"I know. I meant for you not to."
"Oh." She took a sip from her mug. "Are you happy, Draco?"
"Happy? Sometimes. I think. It's hard to know when I don't have personal experience to compare to. I get this warm, tingly feeling in my head, and think that might be what happy is."
"Sounds about right. You were right, you know."
"I'm usually always right," he said airily, tilting his chin up slightly. "But indulge me; what was it this time?"
"About Ron. And me."
Ring check; –
"Oh?" he asked, his throat suddenly dry.
"Yeah. We were both just going on what we thought we wanted, what we used to want, and what we told ourselves we would always want. Only, something happened to break me out of that."
"What?" he asked, looking at her.
Then she kissed him. And it was like a million fireworks went off inside his heart, and it was pounding so loudly he couldn't hear himself think, and what was he really thinking about anyway? Oh right, that thing coming up next week, only maybe it didn't matter now, because of this? But it did, it wasn't going away, and –
All thought stopped as the intensity exploded.
He couldn't help but kiss her back with everything he had and everything he didn't have, and it was the most incredible thing he'd ever done.
The world came back in a rush when they parted for air, and she was smiling brilliantly, and it was at him, again. Then her eyes glanced toward the sky, and he followed their gaze, and – would you believe it, there was mistletoe. Right there, over their heads, hanging from a rafter on the porch overhang. She knew about it; she put it there, and knew that they'd have to kiss.
But along with the world, came everything, and Draco was suddenly scared.
She must have seen it, because she frowned. "What?"
"What was that for?" he asked.
"I – I've been wanting to do that for a really long time now, and that was the problem. I knew that having feelings for a man who wasn't your fiancé was not a good thing. I finally acknowledge those feelings, and the only course of action was to end things with him. And to see if the feelings for you still existed, and if that kiss was any indication, they do."
He looked away, out onto her lawn, where there was only a thin layer of dirty snow leftover from the last storm. All the trees were black and scraggly, and they looked dead. He knew they weren't, but he knew how they felt. Not sure when spring was coming.
"Did I do something wrong?" Hermione asked, fidgeting.
He looked at her, and he knew he looked sad, but there was nothing he could do about it. "No, of course you didn't. I suppose I could tell you; should tell you."
"Tell me what?"
He took a deep breath. "You may have noticed that I haven't been my usual self, since I first came to you. That I've been – different...reserved. Not – me."
She nodded. "I thought you'd just – changed, or something."
"I have, in a way. See – " He ran a hand through his hair. Things were slowing down all around him; people walking past; cars driving by; the sound of the wind; his pulse. "I've never told anyone this before, but – I'm sick." Things stopped, then. "I might not see summer."
Hermione gasped, and tears filled her eyes. He couldn't believe that she cared enough to almost cry for him, and it made him curse life. "Oh, Draco," was all she could say.
There was a boom in his head, and everything started moving again, regular speed.
"I have a rare condition, usually contracted by Muggles. Believe me, that irony is not lost on me. The condition carries a fifty-percent mortality all on its own. Remember that good news I mentioned a while ago?"
She nodded again.
"There is a procedure that Muggle doctors can do that will increase my chances. That good news was the doctor telling me that I'm a candidate for the procedure. I am scheduled for it next week."
"Then what?" she asked, and he was surprised that her voice was so much stronger than she looked.
"My chances improve to only a twenty-five percent mortality."
"What does the procedure entail?
"I'm not too concerned with the what. Afterwards, though, I'll be in some unit for a few days, then go to some regular floor."
"The Intensive Care Unit?" Hermione asked, barely above a whisper.
"That sounds right. I'll be in the hospital for a week or so, then they'll do a test to see if the procedure worked. They'll get the test results two months later."
"What can be done to improve your chances?"
"Nothing. Although I saw some alternative doctor who told me to keep in high spirits. Something about the mind being important in healing. It sounded like rubbish to me, but I figured it couldn't hurt."
"So that's why you wanted to complete the list."
"Yes. And I can safely say that my spirits have never been higher."
"Except when I yelled at you."
"No, that was good too. It felt good to know I could still get that angry. It had been a long time since I'd been that emotional about a person; just this illness, and all I felt then was like I was falling and I couldn't see the bottom, but I knew it was getting closer, but I wouldn't know where it was until just before I hit it. So please, don't feel bad. I slept better that night than I had in months."
"Oh," she said, and he noticed she looked really small. Then she laughed. "I just kissed you. How stupid am I? I bet I'm the furthest thing from your mind."
"Hermione. If that were true, would my pulse still be racing after that kiss?"
She blushed slightly, and he took her hand in his. "I guess we both get that ideal winter, huh?"
"I guess," she said, sniffling. "Were you ever planning on telling me?"
"Did you plan to go through everything alone?"
He looked at her. "I certainly never expected to have an option."
"You'll need someone to be there to sit in the waiting room, wringing their hands, and worrying while you're in the procedure. And you need someone to make sure the doctors are doing their jobs, and that you're eating enough to get better, and honestly, someone who is at least familiar with doctors."
"Are you saying you're going to do all of those thing?" he asked, looking at her.
She shrugged. "If you'll let me. You shouldn't have to go through this alone, Draco."
He sighed. "You – you know that nothing is going to happen between us. I mean, that would just be – wrong."
"I figured," she said, unable to keep the sadness out of her voice.
"I mean, it's not for lack of wanting," he said hurriedly. "If things were different, then …"
"Then we wouldn't even be friends. I understand, Draco. I really do. I am your friend, though. This is what friends do."
"I've never had a friend like you."
Hermione looked at him, and he could tell she really wanted to kiss him again. He, naturally, wanted to kiss her, but didn't want things to be more difficult than they had to be. He didn't want her to get attached. If things for him went badly, he'd be dead, but she'd be left behind to hurt a while. He truly wanted to spare her.
She started to turn away, but thought better of it and brought her face inches from his. She hesitated, looking into his eyes. Something in them must have betrayed him, because she kissed him after all. It was different than the first one, slow, and sweet, and full of promise.
He kissed her back, don't misunderstand.
"Hermione," he said, pulling away after a few minutes.
"I know. It's just – tonight is still tonight."
He nodded and took her hand in his and smiled. Then he absently rubbed her hand, and he was stunned to learn how much you could feel just from that simple touch. And she was his, kind of. Almost. Like they had once been almost-friends. Now they were almost-more-than-friends. He liked it.
"No promises, Hermione," he said, solidly.
"Okay," she said, a small smile playing on her lips.
Draco returned to his cup of coffee, extricating his hand from hers to wrap around the now slightly cool mug and liquid inside. He finished it, and shivered. Hermione stood, took his mug, and went back inside.
"I'm thinking of writing a new book," she said, when she emerged from her house with their fourth round of coffee.
"Oh?" he said with a smile.
"Yes. It's going to be called 'The Necessities of Summer.' I have a few ideas for the list already. We'll have to do it together."
He smiled, feeling hopeful against his better judgment. "I'd like that."
He didn't have to say the 'if' that hung on the air between them thick as molasses; she could almost taste it.
And she didn't have to tell him that he wouldn't be alone through this, that she would be there, every step of the way, until he was completely well. She refused to consider that he might not get well, because she wasn't going to let that happen.
The Necessities of Summer
By Hermione Granger
This book is dedicated to Draco Malfoy, the man who showed me the meaning of winter, and showed me what it really means to be alive and enjoy life. He gave me love. I will never forget his kindness, and his bravery. All proceeds of this book go to the St. Mungo's fund for children.
Hermione sighed in satisfaction as she looked in the mirror. The room behind her was lit with a few candles, bright little points of light flickering in the dimness. Here and there, she saw splashes of rich, muted color: the red cashmere wrap tossed casually on the bed; the robin's-egg-blue handbag she'd be carrying later that evening; the peridot-green, knee-length coat that matched a hat that was on the top shelf in her closet.
There were books scattered all over the room, two left open to the reader's place; hers a tome with musty, yellowed pages and his a slim journal with crisp white, gold-edged paper bound in leather of deepest green. She let her gaze linger on the quill and ink bottle resting next to the book and smiled, wondering what pictures had been etched by his fluid, expressive hand.
On the table just below the mirror sat another book, one of those small books designed to be part of a gift basket or stuffed into a sand bucket. There was even a ribbon with a gold sun at the end for a bookmark. Hermione reached for the book with a wistful smile, remembering what it had taken to bring it into existence.
Gently she opened it to the dedication page and let her gaze wander once again over the familiar words that still resonated so deeply for her. Her smile broadened as she remembered that through the pain had come triumphant love.
Certainly the trials of that winter had not ended when the season of spring began; they'd persisted through the summer months, but at long last, the dark season had turned. And when the leaves began to change from green to the tapestry of autumn, she felt like spring had returned to blossom once again all around her.
As she finished reading the book, a deep, familiar voice called from the hall and she hastily set the book back on the table. Slipping into the green coat, she grabbed the robin's-egg-blue handbag and rushed from the room. On the table, the little book lay open to the dedication page, where she'd put her favorite snapshot of a blond man holding the hand of a small, fair-haired girl with her mother's curls.
A/N: Thank you for reading, and I really want to know what you think! Oh, and Fred says "Savvy?" which was inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean.