A/N: Love to all reviewers
This story was requested by Eliza Spootkitten, who asked for a Christmas story with Harry and Hermione. See what I mean about Bella taking over every story she's in.
This story is set roughly six months after the Battle of Hogwarts.
The title and headers are references to my favorite Christmas hymn, 'Night of Silence' by Daniel Kantor.
Parseltongue is indicated by bolded italics.
May you all have happy, healthy holidays and a joyous New Year.
Dedicated with gratitude to Elize Spootkitten
Cold are the People:
It never failed to irk Draco that Potter was, effectively, the only man in Britain to outrank him. What the Dark Lord's second wanted, he got, so when he asked for a private audience with Hermione, Draco could hardly say no.
Lemmy was chaperoning, of course. He himself was forced to be content with the knowledge that his wife was deeply in love with that red haired moron, and would doubtless refuse an adultery based on faithfulness to his gormless memory.
And really, Draco would have trusted her even without. As he aged, he increasingly saw what a good wife he had in her. When they parted, he gently kissed her brow. "If you should need anything, Minky has been ordered to keep a proverbial ear out."
Hermione nodded and slid into the room, which had been shut up to prevent eavesdropping. For the first time in over twenty years, Harry and Hermione were alone.
Harry smiled, and Hermione could see the boy he had been. The years had not been kind to Harry; his eyes were red and his hands shook ever so slightly. Even from this distance, she could smell firewhisky.
Harry was studying her back. Hermione looked good. Her face was still smooth, her hair carefully drawn back into a bun. She was never beautiful, but she looked quietly resigned in a way that someone who didn't know her well might have mistaken for contentment.
"Doesn't seem right, does it?"
"No. To celebrate like this. With them."
Hermione nodded. "I always thought—Ron and I—at the Burrow.' She sighed. 'I miss him so." Harry averted his eyes. His longing for Ginny still burned under his skin. At some level, he envied Hermione the fact that her love was dead and beyond hurt. His Ginny was alive, but the agony of seeing her with another, seeing her happy with another, was unbearable at times like these. Harry swallowed hard, knowing he would go home and get quietly, catastrophically drunk.
"It gets a bit easier every year." Hermione's voice had a forced, brittle cheer Harry found frightening. He made himself nod and pretend not to notice the tears in his friend's eyes.
"That first one was the worst."
"Yes. I was in Wales, with the Lestranges."
"The Dark Lord and I had just moved to his property. God, I hated it."
Hermione said nothing. A small wire of shame had penetrated her chest. She couldn't exactly say the same. By Christmas of that year, the year their lives had ended, a curious alchemy had begun to assert itself in Hermione's mind and heart. Her hatred, once so sharp and bright, was withering slowly, inexorably, into something that seemed disturbingly like affection.
The chipper Minky Apparated in with a determined 'crack!' and set down a tray of sherry, tea and collations. Harry picked up a tea cup, fidgeted, longed for alcohol.
He would not ask, however; they would speak of dead times, dead feelings, dead people, and in their memory—in the sure and certain knowledge of his love for them, his guilt and grief—would abstain this one long afternoon. Like Percy Weasley's lonely shade, Harry had determined that there are penances and penances, and acted on that upon this day of days.
Hermione had no such qualms, but she did not imbibe. She wanted to be sober. They might never get this chance again. She sipped her tea and silently offered a blackberry mint scone. Harry took it but did not eat.
"You hated me."
"I saw it in your eyes at her funeral. You hated me."
"For a while. But we all grow up, Hermione. Even me." He gave that mischievous boy's grin again and Hermione couldn't help but grin back. "Do you?"
"Do I hate you?"
"Yes. You've every right, after what happened."
Hermione shook her head. "Oh, Harry, never."
"It's never that simple, is it?"
"Sometimes it is."
"You really think so?"
Harry nodded. "Sometimes we have to take things on faith, I guess."
Winter of Life:
The problem with immortality, Voldemort reflected to himself, was that one had nothing to do while one's followers slept or patrolled. He could have kept them up but after a few hours they tended to get tiresome. So he watched his ward sleep. He wasn't gloating,-- exactly—but neither was it precisely an expression of care and concern. An asute observer would have known it for what it was—the possessive affection of a dragon guarding a trove of gold.
The boy stirred. He moaned softly in his sleep and rolled onto his back. Moaned again. Nagini left her master's side and slithered silently across the worn silk carpet and up onto the bed. She stretched across Harry's supine form, tightened slightly with his exhalations. He grew quiet again and relaxed,murmuring.
His face, Voldemort noted clinically, was still swollen with tears. His breathing had sounded soupy until a few minutes earlier. It was safe to say Harry had had a bad night, and many more bad nights before him. It was, in fact, safe to say that Harry was in for a few bad weeks, and possibly much more.
It was a delicate balance to strike, between breaking the boy's spirit and crushing his pride. One was undesirable; the other was strictly necessary. Voldemort reached out a bloodless hand and lightly raked the boy's hair back from his brow.
It would have been easy to kill him. He was defenseless, vulnerable, lost and alone. He had planned on killing him, had savored the idea on long silent nights when the air of the house was heavy only with breath. Then, faced with the moment, something had stayed his hand.
Deep in his chest, a laugh began to rise. He tried to shut it out but it bubbled up and he gave vent to as series of cold chuckles. Nagini put up her head and watched him with gimlet eyes. "Stay with Harry, Nagini; I will take a walk."
"Nagini is not wanting the Cause to lose Master." The snake's little seed like eyes gazed at him with complete sincerity. Voldemort chuckled again.
"I shall be careful."
Voldemort sometimes felt that Nagini was the only creature he could really trust. He was pleased she seemed to like Harry. She nuzzled into the boy's chest and hissed soothingly, flicking her tongue against his cheeks and brow. Harry's hand reached out and found her warm, smooth back. He pressed the serpent to himself like a child with his teddy bear.
"Young Master will feel better tomorrow?"
"I should doubt it. He will likely need you a good deal in the coming days, Nagini. Be gentle with him."
She made a gesture that might have been a nod. It was not lost on Voldemort that Nagini derived apparent enjoyment from nurturing Harry; that even his snake felt something for the boy, while he himself was constitutionally unable. He shrugged it off—enough to be the ruler of wizarding Britain; one mustn't be greedy, after all.
The Dark Lord moved to his study and sat thoughtfully at his desk. He could see the dim shapes of Death Eaters in full kit, patrolling the grounds. He could have amused himself with one of them, of course, but even that grew boring after a time. Voldemort dropped his head to his arms and, sighing, drew inside himself. He could not sleep, but he could meditate, and so he did.
Nagini was engaged in a struggle of her own. Her boy, having slept a bit, was now standing at the window, looking for someone or something that was not there. Nagini had slithered to the edge of the bed and, if she'd had feet (stupid human contraptions they are, anyway) she would have been tapping one in annoyance.
"Young Master will come back to bed now."
"It's Christmas, Nagini. I always do this."
"Do what? Young Master does not look at stars any other time."
"I'm looking for the Christmas star."
"Young Master is not wearing….things. To keep the floor from chilling Young Master's appendages."
"Socks, Nagini. Don't need any. I feel fine."
"Young Master…" Nagini's grasp of human events and beliefs might have been mediocre at best, but the language of vague parental threat is the same in all tongues, and she employed it now to bully Harry back into his bed. Harry smiled winningly and held out his arms.
"Come see, Nagini." Sighing loudly, the snake complied, making it clear the Master would be told about this flagrant socklessness and the general disrespect of youth today. Harry picked her up and held her. The snake coiled herself about the boy, snuggling into his warm neck. He was shaking, and not, Nagini could tell, from the cold.
"There it is, Nagini. Do you see it? The Dog star."
Nagini said nothing, only held her boy more tightly in her coils. Above them, the highest star in the sky shone, looking down on them with nature's perfect indifference to human affaires.
"Happy Christmas, Sirius.."
Harry climbed back into bed and pulled the quilt up. He thought about the Christmases at the Hogwarts, at the Burrow, at Grimmauld Place. He wondered whether any of those people could see him now, feel his love for them. A shiver worked its way down his spine.
"Happy Christmas to you, too, kiddo."
Frozen in the Snow:
Hermione nodded. "I can imagine it must have been difficult for you."
Harry smiled crookedly. "Nagini helped. And you? What did you do?"
Hermione sighed."I suppose not much. It was really more Bellatrix and Rudolphus. I was still being heavily sedated, and it's all sort of dim. Like looking at a ghost."
That triggered a memory and Hermione inhaled softly and let it take her, like the ghost of Christmas Past.
Lies Roses, Sleeping:
When the knock came, the three were enjoying a Christmas breakfast. Rudolphus was slightly irked the women were not displaying more obvious pleasure at the holiday. Rather, Bellatrix was sullen and Hermione wan. The girl picked at a plate of toast, barely eating. Rudolphus turned to demand she at least drink some milk or something when a terrified looking house elf Apparated into the room.
"Please, Master, there is being a man at the door."
"A man? Who is he?"
"He is not saying to Leesy, sir. He is only saying to Master or Madam."
The Lestranges rose, dressed, followed the quaking elf down the stairs and into the parlour. A hulking, moon faced youth stood in the corridor, looking scared out of his few wits.
"May I help you, young man?"
The youth stripped his sleeve with shaking fingers, displaying his Dark Mark. Rudolphus and Bellatrix both relaxed, moving their hands away from their discreetly concealed wands.
" I am Polycarp Mallow, son of Polybus, honoured to be the guest of Rudolphus Lestrange and his wife, the daughter of Cygnus Black. May I enter with your blessings?"
Rudolphus started. Why in hell was this cretin using the formal wording?
"Enter and have joy of my home, Polycarp son of Polybus."
The boy sucked nervously at his lip and entered, bowing low to Bellatrix, who was glowering at him with undisguised hostility. "Lucius Malfoy, head of the Malfoy family, bids me come and act as go-between. Will you accept me as such?"
Rudolphus nodded, very confused. Why would Lucius need a go-between? He could always just fire-call. Mallow reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of parchment marked with the Malfoy seal. He handed it to Rudolphus, who slit it with a nail.
" It is with greatest joy I request the honor of the joining of our family lines in marriage between our children, Draco Lucius Malfoy and your ward, the lady Hermione Granger.( Lucius left a space, not knowing the girl's middle name). Accept this small token as a gesture of my serious intent, and please permit me to call on you as soon as possible to negotiate the terms.
Underneath the Dark Lord had penned his own sign, the Dark Mark. Rudolphus understood. He let Bellatrix read the letter and then gestured to Mallow. "Polycarp, son of Polybus, have you a token given in good faith by the aforesaid Lucius Malfoy?"
"I do. Please accept it with greatest good wishes, and also a gift for your lady ward, and also a letter. Will you permit it?"
Rudolphus nodded. The anxious looking boy handed over a small black velvet pouch. Hermione blinked and slowly teased open the drawstring, carefully pulled the contents out. It was a miniature, exquisitely done, of Draco as a toddler of two or three. He giggled, tipping his head winsomely, and stretched chubby arms to someone out of the painting. The frame was set with small emeralds and the chair was fine and clearly very old.
Mallow was backing from the room. His part over, he was expected to withdraw to give Rudolphus time to consider. The answer was well known to all parties, but tradition is tradition. Rudolphus would reply by house elf, and then they would meet to drink wine and set a date. This merely set things in stone.
They were alone again. Hermione still said nothing, just held the necklace blank faced. The letter was untouched beside her plate. "Put it on, love."
Hermione's hand went to her throat. Anyone else would have thought it was a gesture of pleasure at being gifted with such a precious thing, an obvious heirloom.
Bellatrix knew differently. The girl was touching that charm of her mother's, torn between fear of disobedience and wanting to keep that last tiny piece of her muggle self. With an irritated grunt, she leapt up and stood behind Hermione's chair, roughly snatching the miniature and draping it over Hermione's head, making sure to quickly tuck the chain with its little rose pendant deep under the neck of Hermione's robe.
Hermione wasn't expecting Bellatrix to touch her, nor leave her hand resting on the back of the younger witch's neck. Bellatrix wasn't expecting Hermione to sigh with relief and gently relax, just a little bit, against her guardian for a second. Foolish girl, why was her hair always a mess? Bellatrix straightened it with her fingers, smoothing a bit off the girl's forehead. Just so she'd look half presentable, of course.
The men concluded negotiations in record time; the Dark Lord's wishes were clear, and so it was really a formality, and an excuse to drink rather more Goblin brandy than was perhaps advisable.
Rudolphus was in fine spirits, no pun intended. Lucius had given them an extremely generous settlement, not to mention the deed of the house they were currently living in. As soon as he got home, Hermione was sent upstairs to be bathed and dressed for bed.
The second she was gone, Rudolphus showed his wife the contract. Bellatrix was, for once, silent. They had a house now, they could begin the task of making a new live for themselves. Their war was well and truly over.
Deep down she felt a small ping of relief. Hermione would stay near her. She would be a comfort in Bellatrix and Rudolphus' old age. Their home would be hers, her place of refuge, her children would visit in summer and come for Christmas. She felt a small tear in her eye and brutally pushed it away.
Lately the Dark Lord had been hinting that he might choose to send Hermione away, to Spain or Poland to further his designs. That wouldn't happen now. He'd chosen, and in his mercy, her Lord had made sure that now Hermione would never leave the Lestranges.
Why did she feel oddly bereft, then? Stupid. Even if the girl wouldn't live with them every day, it wasn't like they'd never see her. And even if the Dark Lord had chosen to send her away, what would it matter? It wasn't as though … as though Hermione was …their child. Another tear trickled down Bellatrix's sallow cheek.
Rudolphus waited until he was sure the girl was decent and went to check on her. She was sitting pensively at her vanity, fingering the chair about her neck. The miniature sat on the vanity, propped against the mirror.
"I wish I though you were a bit happier, pet."
"I'm fine, Rudolphus." She didn't look fine. She looked like someone had announced her execution and not her marriage to Britain's most eligible wizard. She wasn't sulking, which would have been easier to take; she was just…quiet.
"Is something wrong?"
"It's been a very—a very long year."
"Yes." Rudolphus sat down on the little padded bench at the foot of the bed. "Come here, pet." Wincing, Hermione did. Her behavior had been exemplary the whole day, but she felt too tired, too wholly spent to try and talk her way out of whatever was to happen.
Rudolphus hugged her. She jumped slightly and then sat very still in his arms. "Shhh, my lamb. It's all right to miss them. It's all right to feel sad because they aren't here. Relax, there's the girl. Let it out."
When Bellatrix found them, Hermione was winding down. Bellatrix crowded onto the bench with them, finally putting an arm on the girl's shoulder in an awkward half embrace. Hermione sniffled and dried her eyes on the handkerchief that Rudolphus offered her.
"Hush. You're exhausted."
Bellatrix motioned for Rudolphus to step into Hermione's little dressing room. "What did you do to her, then?"
"Nothing, Bellatrix. The poor child is simple grieving that the muggles aren't here to celebrate her betrothal, is all. Not to mention Christmas."
"Oh. Them again."
Rudolphus shook his head. Bellatrix was a world apart, a sort of internal island he could not explore. She caught his arm. "You'll retire?"
"I was planning to stay with her. She misses her parents."
"I'll stay." Rudolphus' eyebrows met his hairline. His wife looked strangely determined. She usually professed to have no interest in the emotional aspect of anything. He tipped his head, acknowledging her wishes, and quickly bid Hermione good night.
The girl had settled and was drowsing by the time Bellatrix had screwed up her courage to come out. Bellatrix's face twisted into a sardonic grin. What wouldn't Malfoy or Snape give to know that Bellatrix Lestrange, Bellatrix Black that was, could fight aurors and bully werewolves but felt afraid to approach a sleeping chit of a girl without even a wand?
Hermione rolled on her side and murmured. "Mum?"
Bellatrix felt herself on the edge of a knife. This child, this woman, was not hers. She had no claim on her aside from the simple fact that her side had won the war. And she was a filthy mudblood, exactly the same sort of creature Bella had spent her adult life fighting against so long and so hard.
Bellatrix found herself doing a disgusting, impious, unthinkable thing. "You, whoever you are—don't know your name, or care to know —if you're there, come to her. You're her mother."
The air stirred. Hermione whimpered, thrashing against some nightmare. Or was it? Did she feel it, too? This presence, summoned from the abyss by her need and Bellatrix's brutal unselfishness? This muggle mother that Bellatrix could never be?
Hermione had gone stil,l her breath had started to hitch, and a tear worked itself slowly down her face. She was still sleeping, or at least feigning sleep. The ghost, or shade or memory lingered a moment longer, the air gone cool and faintly sweet smelling.
The candles flicked for only a second. The cold passed through Bellatrix, and an internal voice, soft and urgent, seemed to hum within her, saying nothing, imperative in itself.
She could do nothing. She could calm the girl. It was a mudblood. It was the child she'd never have. She was not the girl's mother. She was the closest thing Hermione would ever have again.
Hermione emerged enough from the murk of sleep to have sensed her mother's presence. She rolled on her stomach and tried again, thinking vaguely that they were home in Darlington, sure as children are sure that Mum would come and would make it better. What else is a mother, then, but the one whose touch can heal all ills?
Bellatrix chose. "Yes, shhh. Yes, I'm right here." She felt deeply relieved when Hermione seemed to relax. A moment later she was sleeping and Bellatrix, sinuses burning, skin on fire with a million little pin pricks half jumped up and moved as quickly as possible from the room. Something caused her pause.
"I—thank you." Bellatrix would have bitten out her own tongue before she'd ever admitted to thanking a muggle, but it seemed the thing to do. "Happy Christmas, then."
She turned and closed the door behind her with a determined click.
Echo the Sunrise:
Back in the present, Hermione shook her head ruefully. It all seems so long ago, like a dream."
Harry nodded. "It does, that."
Minky popped in with some fresh plum pudding and they each took some, eating softly.
"Now it's really Christmas. Happy Christmas, Hermione."
"Happy Christmas, Harry."
They looked at one another, and for the first time in twenty years, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger Malfoy laughed as one.