Author's Note: Game, set, match, folks.


Chapter IV:

Silver Bells

When Draco awoke the next morning, the dormitory was quiet—none of Blaise's muttering about who had offended him this time; none of Crabbe's persistent snoring at a decibel level dangerous to the eardrum. Just… quiet. Quiet enough for Draco to hear his own breathing and listen to the rustle of his sheets as he shoved them off of his legs, exposing his body to the nipping cold of the air. Quiet enough for the sound of his bare feet padding on the carpet to be audible as he moved to the window and looked out.

Snow had fallen again. Perhaps that explained the muted gentleness that had settled in the room much in the way that the snow had spread evenly over everything outside. Perhaps there was something sacred about it.

Well, unless you were Pansy Parkinson.

Draco flopped down on one of the cushy green couches in the common room, determined not to see Granger today. Yes, he was going to make a change. He was going to take control and be an active force and demonstrate other phrases gleaned from the back covers of self-help books as well. He didn't want to see Granger? No problem. He didn't have to see Granger. He would employ his best not-seeing-Granger strategy, and he would get results.

Given, his strategy was to cower in the common room like a spurned stray, but that was a different problem.

All was quiet here as well, but for the faint creaking of the couch springs as he shifted and the whisper of the pages of his textbook. Draco noticed that Pansy had acquired a few specimens of some sort of evergreen garland punctuated by red satin bows and had lined the backs of all the couches with them.

It was very festive and stylish. If by "festive and stylish," you meant "tacky and disgusting."

Before long, Draco found himself drifting, which didn't unduly surprise him given how mind-numbingly boring Charms was, always had been, and always would be. He was willing enough to drift for a while, his mind meandering down the river on a raft cobbled together from a few planks and some twine, poling at the banks when necessary, the sunlight dropping diamonds on the crests of the rippling waves…

When he started awake from the strange and slightly psychedelic dream his unconscious mind had been entertaining, his first sensations were of itchiness and anguish. Then his eyes came fully open, and he discovered that he was being strangled by a Christmas garland.

His first thought was, What a stupid way to die.

His second thought was, WHAT THE HELL…?!

Gasping, he fought his wand out.

"Flagrate! Flagrate! Fla—gra—t…"

One of the sparks finally decided to catch, and the garland made a very faint and nonetheless very unnatural squealing noise as it began to smolder and then to shrivel. A wave of unwelcome heat hit Draco in the face, and the suffocating pain in his neck, which he had not thought could become more excruciating, managed to do just that. Desperately he batted at the writhing vine, and, a few needles crumbling, the flames licking at his fingertips, it gave, sending singed fragments of pine needles and red bows tumbling to the floor. There they continued to whine distantly, and Draco collapsed on the couch, panting. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw one of the other garlands twitch.

In a flash of green, silver, and terror, he was out of the common room and halfway up the stairs that led to the rest of the castle.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It was bitterly cold outside. Bitterly. Draco found himself very much begrudging the weather, though he strongly suspected much of the bitter coldness might have resulted from his lacking a coat.

And a scarf.

And a hat.

And gloves.

And just about all warm accessories that might have ameliorated this whole bitterly-cold state of being.

See, this was what happened when Pansy sent her demon-garlands out to kill innocent individuals who were trying to study—or, rather, to sleep. But sleeping and studying were essentially the same thing anyway. Whatever the case, the observation that Parkinson was pretty much the most evil creature the world had ever seen brooked no argument. Voldemort would have fled her decorations screaming like a little girl. Which, incidentally, was pretty much what Draco Malfoy had done.

Draco wrapped his arms around himself tightly and kicked at the snow while he muttered a little about how best to maim Pansy beyond recognition. Afterwards, he felt a little better.

Or, at least, he did until he heard some rather-too-familiar voices.

"You're not hearing me, Ron. Listen."

"Okay, I'm listening."

"Are you?"

"I said I was."

"But are you?"

"What is this, some kind of reverse-psychology thing? I said I was."

At that moment, the despicable little triumvirate that was Granger, Potter, and Weasley turned the corner.

There went his not-seeing-Granger plan. Draco didn't understand why all of his best-laid plans always had to go directly to hell. He at least would have liked to take the scenic route every once in a while. Was that really too much to ask?

Weasley's and Potter's faces darkened as they saw him. Draco tried, once again, to figure out which of them he hated more and, once again, found himself at an impasse. Potter's obsession with saving everyone from everything at every opportunity was certainly enough to test a man's patience, but so was Weasley's impressively unadulterated stupidity.

Perhaps they were simply equally obnoxious.

Granger's face, painting a striking contrast with those of her fellows, brightened as she caught sight of Draco. As if that wasn't enough, she then came running up and grinned at him, splashes of a rosy pink lighting on her cheekbones, her ridiculous hair once again falling into her face.

Then she paused, and her smile faded a little.

"You don't look so good," she reported. She squinted, and then her eyes widened. "Are those—burn marks?"

"Suffice to say," Draco responded equably, "that Parkinson is living on borrowed time."

She stared at him.

"It's fine," he told her flatly.

She didn't look like she believed him, but she gathered her steam again and recommenced where she'd intended to begin. "I've got something for you," she announced, partly breathlessly excited, partly quite pleased with herself.

He raised an eyebrow. "Have you?"

Her grin returned in force. "I have." She pushed her scarf aside and delved a gloved hand into the pocket of her coat—Draco tried not to be jealous, but it didn't work—and thence retrieved a tiny object wrapped in gold paper. It was this object that she pushed at him with an insistence that verged on anxiousness. She seemed so intent upon his receiving it that he accepted it without a fight.

The paper crumpled beneath his fingers and then yielded, and he found himself cradling in the palm of his hand a little silver bell with a wooden handle. It was cold, shining, and lovely, and he wasn't sure what to say.

"Hold it by your ear," Granger urged him breathlessly.

Taken slightly aback by the strangeness of the request, he obliged. From somewhere deep within the instrument's core, he detected, ever so faintly, the beautifully haunting strains of the Carol of the Bells.

Almost a little bewilderedly, he looked at her. "Th… ank you," he managed.

She positively beamed. "I got the idea from the golden eggs in the Triwizard Tournament," she explained, revving up for a full-fledged chatter-fest. "You can only hear it when it's activated by the heat of someone's skin really close by—I had a lot of trouble with that; I didn't want it to start going crazy in the middle of summer or anything, so I had to—"

He kissed her, partly to shut her up, and partly for other reasons entirely.

And he did derive a sadistic sort of glee from the cries of anguish and revulsion that issued loudly from Harry and Ron.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

There was a knock at the door of his bedroom. Draco looked up.

"Come in," he permitted.

The door opened to admit his father, who was dressed to the hilt in stately black and green, his hair tied back, his favorite mask of impassivity firmly set.

"The guests are beginning to arrive," he announced.

Draco, sitting at his desk, smoothed his dress shirt and flicked the creases out of his slacks. He glanced at himself in the mirror; his hair looked much the same way it had when he had rolled out of bed a few spare hours before. He smiled to himself, and then he turned to his father again.

"Give me a minute?" he hazarded.

Lucius Malfoy paused and then nodded. "Come down as soon as you can," he noted.

"All right," Draco agreed.

Lucius retreated, and Draco set down a tiny silver bell and picked up his comb.

Somehow, it seemed like it would be all right, one way or another.

Maybe Christmas wasn't so bad after all. You know, provided that it only insisted on coming once a year, and all.

Author's Note: Sorry to stick a note in at the end, but if you're wallowing in sorrow at the ending of this epic masterpiece and dying for more entertainment, you can go check out my website. There are some pretty amusing graphics, back-stories for every fic, and a lot of me rambling about this, that, and the other. Go on! Look at it! Make me feel popular and vindicate the unnecessary hours I've put into it!