A/N: A festive whim! This was supposed to be a oneshot, but it got too long, so I've divided it into two parts. I'm channelling some of my Christmas spirit into a story instead of driving my roommate insane by humming Christmas carols, since my attempt to channel it into baking failed completely (not my fault, the recipe and I had different definitions of SMOOTH... *shudders* crunchiest fudge I've ever tried). Not that this means I'm going to stop with the humming, it will probably only encourage it *evilgrin*.
Thanks to DragonMaster65 for betaing this!
Disclaimer: None of the characters, setting, etc. are mine. But it's so much fun to pretend, isn't it?
She ducked quickly, more on instinct than anything else, and was barely missed by the curse that would have hit her right in the face had she not moved. Icicles were shaken from the roof of the building she had been standing in front of as the curse whooshed past her and hit the wall. Whipping around and flinging a hex in the direction the curse had come from, Hermione tried to think of a way out of this mess that didn't involve her dying first. As she gasped for air, she made the split second decision to flee – there was no way she could win against all of them by herself, there had to be at least six of them.
They were gaining on her, she knew, but she was running as fast as she could. Her destination in sight, Hermione caught a second wind and managed to put on a burst of speed. The Portkey was waiting just where she had been told it would be; a crumpled old paperback was sitting at the top of the hill. She scowled as she ran, throwing another nervous look over her shoulder; what kind of tactical planning lead them to think that exposed on the top of a hill was the best place for her only escape route? She would be completely exposed to anyone looking!
She leaped towards the little book and caught hold of it just as the Death Eaters chasing her caught up to her. A curse hit her just as she disappeared from their sight.
Groaning when the impact of her arrival caused her head to bounce off the floor and enhance the pain that was searing through her shoulder, Hermione looked around the empty sitting room at Grimmauld Place. Thinking the lack of reaction to her appearance meant the no one was currently in the Order Headquarters, Hermione groaned again before scooting over to the nearest sofa and using it to shakily pull herself to her exhausted feet. She honestly meant to make her way to the loo and patch herself up, but the soft cushions were just so inviting. Unable to resist the temptation of her exhaustion, Hermione collapsed face-first into the inviting embrace of the sofa.
"Are you aware that you're bleeding all over the floor?" Someone drawled from the general direction of the doorway, interrupting her descent into comforting oblivion.
Hermione groaned; was there no one else in the house that could have found her?
"Sorry Granger, I'm the only one here."
It seemed she had mumbled that last thought out loud. How he heard it from the other side of the room with her voice muffled by the pillow, she would never know. Maybe the git had super-hearing or something; 'all the better to annoy you with' and all that.
A gentle hand on her shoulder made her tense and jump a little bit. "Calm down, I'm just going to fix your shoulder," he told her soothingly – well, as soothingly as she'd ever heard from him, anyway.
A ripping sound made her tense again as he ripped her sweater from the cuff to the collar. She shivered a little as he carefully peeled the sweater back from the wound on her shoulder and exposed her skin to the cold air.
Had she not been so exhausted and in pain, she would probably have objected to letting Malfoy do this for her. As it was, he seemed to be her only option if she didn't want to bleed to death. His hands were most likely covered in her blood from touching her sweater, which had been saturated with it, and he had yet to make a comment on her 'dirty blood' - not that she was expecting one. No one was really sure why, but when the war had started up in earnest and they were no longer able to attend school because they were needed in the fight, Malfoy had come to the Order and claimed he wanted to help their side.
At first, everyone had agreed that there had to be some sort of ulterior motive behind his sudden desire to go against everything he'd been raised to believe and seemed to practice pretty strictly since he'd been young. After many hours in an interrogation room with Veritaserum and Aurors, somehow he had been cleared as trustworthy and accepted into the Order. Harry and Ron had been mortified, but Malfoy had proven himself useful time and time again, and they were unable to argue about his commitment to the cause and his efficiency when in the field. They grudgingly accepted Malfoy's presence when he had taken a curse because he pushed Ginny out of the way.
Hermione hissed quietly when he cast the cleaning charm on her shoulder; it had to be done before he could heal it or the site could get infected. She knew it was necessary, but it felt like he'd just dumped disinfectant onto the open wound. The pain faded as he muttered healing spells over her, completely focused on what he was doing.
Tension melted away from her body as the pain faded, leaving only room for exhaustion and a dull throbbing in her head from when she Portkeyed in and whacked it on the floor. She was quickly pulled into a dream world once again, not even noticing the quiet spells to repair her sweater and remove the dirt and blood from her, or the hand that gently smoothed her hair down before pulling a blanket over her.
Hermione had no idea how long she'd been asleep, but her body felt heavy and stiff, so she assumed it had been at least several hours. She'd been laying there awake for a while, but was afraid to move; if her head was pounding this bad when she was stationary, any slight movement was going to send jolts of pain bouncing around her skull.
Knowing she was going to have to move eventually, Hermione started with her toes - they were the farthest from her pounding head and stiff shoulder. A comforting smell encouraged her to move a little faster until she had rolled herself onto her side where she could see the delicate teacup and vial of a familiar orange potion waiting for her on the table.
Preparing herself for the wave of agony that would shoot through her head, Hermione reached an arm out to the orange pain potion first. Tipping the vial to her lips, she cringed a little bit at the familiar and unpleasant taste. As it took effect, she let out a sigh of relief and eased herself into a sitting position. No longer worried about jostling her head, she was free to investigate the inviting smell coming from the teacup.
A quiet sigh of happiness escaped her when she discovered it was peppermint tea waiting for her on the table with a warming charm keeping it piping hot. She smiled as she took a sip of the steaming drink, remembering when she used to drink this with her parents around Christmas time.
She suddenly jolted as a thought occurred to her. What was the date today? She knew it had been cold for a while, but could it actually be December already? Forgetting all about her stiffness and the aches that the pain potion had removed, Hermione gulped the rest of her tea, cringing a little when she scalded her tongue before running from the room in search of a copy of the Daily Prophet, hoping she could find a recent one.
As it turned out, she was in luck. Sitting on a small table in the front foyer of the old house was a very recent paper – it had to be, the raid she had just participated in the night before was on the front page. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of the little numbers in the top corner; it couldn't possibly be that late already! It claimed the date was December 21!
Hermione had never been one of those people who was obsessed over the holiday season and pushed it on other people, but that was before. With a war looming over the heads of everyone, a little Christmas cheer to lighten spirits was just what was needed. Knowing that no one else would take it upon themselves to do the job, Hermione had decided that she would bring the holiday cheer to Grimmauld Place this season.
Before she could start with the decorating, she had something to do. She walked into the kitchen and found Malfoy sitting at the kitchen table pushing a grape around with his fingertips and looking bored out of his mind. "Thank you," she told him, not looking at him, but knowing he'd raised an eyebrow in questioning amusement. He hadn't asked her what she was thanking him for, but she felt the need to clarify. "For helping me last night, I probably would have died of blood loss or something equally melodramatic while I slept if you hadn't patched me up."
There was an awkward pause between the two of them, causing Hermione to shuffle her feet and glance around. Suddenly, a strange, probably stupid idea occurred to her.
"Malfoy, would you like to help me decorate Grimmauld Place for Christmas?" She asked hopefully, having suddenly realized he might just be bored enough to do something nice. Her job would be easier if she had some help. Plus he was tall, so she wouldn't have to get a chair or use an inaccurate levitating charm to help her reach higher things.
"Why would I do that?" He asked. He seemed genuinely curious why she thought he would help; she was surprised he hadn't put more of a sneer in his question.
"Do you have anything better to do?" She looked pointedly at the grape he'd accidently squished when he pushed it a little too hard.
His grey eyes looked up into her brown ones with an unreadable look for several drawn-out seconds, seemingly questioning her motivations for asking him to help. Apparently satisfied with whatever conclusions he'd come to, he wordlessly got up and walked over to her, looking down at her expectantly when he got close enough.
"Shouldn't we get started?" He asked, snapping her out of the daze she'd been when she realized he was actually considering helping her.
"Yes," she said determinedly, shaking off the remains of her confusion and leading the way purposefully towards the attic, where she had seen a few boxes of what looked like Christmas decorations the last time she'd been shuffling through the boxes up there in hopes of finding something new to read.
Hermione looked pointedly from the little string hanging from the ceiling to the blonde standing beside her in the dingy hallway and watching with amusement, but he didn't move to help her: he was going to make her ask. Fine, she didn't really need his help anyway!
Huffing in annoyance, she stood underneath the string and looked up at it, attempting to judge the distance before she made a fool of herself and tried to reach it. She stood on the tips of her toes and stretched both arms above her head, wincing a bit when her not-quite-healed shoulder twinged a little as she stretched it - and then Malfoy was there moving her out of the way and pulling the stairs down.
She gave him a look of confusion, but he was too focused on looking dubiously at the dust and cobwebs that had drifted down when he pulled the stairs down. Deciding it was best to forget her confusion for the moment and move on with her plans, she went first.
The stairs creaked ominously as she made her way up to them, but they held steady while she climbed. Looking around at the dusty boxes and sheet-covered furniture, Hermione frowned; she wasn't going to be able to do this without spreading dust everywhere.
"Where are the decorations?" Malfoy asked, having finished climbing the rickety and most likely dangerous stairs.
"I'm not sure..." She said, still looking around the room and trying to remember.
They chose opposite ends of the room and started opening boxes, hoping to find something that looked vaguely Christmas-y.
"Malfoy?" Hermione asked after a while of rifling in silence.
"Hmmm?" He hummed absently, holding a pair of old-fashioned dress robes against himself and looking at them in contemplation.
"Do you know where everyone is?"
"It's not my job to keep track of everyone in the Order," he told her. He seemed to realize how harsh that sounded, because he added: "I think Potter mentioned something about a raid when he was leaving, right before you got back."
She nodded her thanks, not willing to verbalize it and make him think she owed him something for the information. Looking at the box she was shuffling through in an attempt to avoid an awkward situation, she grinned hugely.
"Found them!" She announced triumphantly, holding up a sparking silver garland and a handful of round red ornaments that were tangled in it by the wires meant to keep them on the tree. The boxes nearest to the one she had just opened proved to have the same sort of holiday decorations inside, enough to do the entire main floor!
Humming happily, Hermione lifted the lightest of the boxes and turned towards the stairs, only to run into a wall – a warm wall that steadied her when she staggered a little from the impact.
"Malfoy, what are you doing?" She asked, annoyed.
"I was about to ask you the same thing," he snapped at her, causing her eyes to dart to his face. His jaw was tense and he was eyes glaring at her, what had she done now?
Obviously seeing her bewilderment at his sudden mood swings, he rolled his eyes and took the box from her, letting go of it almost immediately to float behind him with the rest of them. Oh. He was being helpful. She scowled at his back as he went down the stairs. He could have just explained what he was doing instead of getting mad at her! His mood swings were worse than a pregnant woman's.
Having lagged behind a little to make sure the attic stairs were back in the ceiling, Hermione walked slowly downstairs, wondering why Malfoy had agreed to help her so willingly. She gave up trying to figure him out when she found him in the living room, decorated like a Christmas tree. He was strung in garlands and rows of magic, bright spots of colour that were obviously the wizard equivalent of Muggle Christmas lights. He looked positively festive! And pissed off...
"Malfoy," she started, not doing a very good job of stifling her laughter. "What are you doing?"
"The ornaments are charmed to decorate the tree themselves, and apparently they thought I was the tree," he muttered angrily. She knew the anger was directed at the garlands currently binding his arms to his sides and not her, which was oddly reassuring; he wasn't going to lash out at her just because the decorations had turned on him – she'd never done this the wizard way before, and had a feeling this wouldn't be the last time one of them was attacked by the decorations. Finally giving into the laughter, Hermione laughed until she couldn't breathe and tears were running down her face.
"Are you just going to stand there laughing, or are you going to help me out of this?" Malfoy snapped. Okay, now some of that anger was directed towards her, but she'd earned it. Helplessly clutching her stomach and still laughing weakly, Hermione moved towards him to help him. She would have helped him out, honestly. It's just that as she was walking by the open boxes between them, she noticed a Santa hat that would top off his festive look nicely...
Snatching the hat and hiding it behind her back, hoping he was too distracted to notice, Hermione walked up to and reached for a spot just below his collar bones where the garlands crossed. She grabbed a handful of garlands and pulled him down to her level, he seemed too surprised to resist. Grinning hugely, Hermione stuck the bright red hat on his head and stepped back to admire her work.
"I think it completes the outfit," she said approvingly, ignoring the dangerous glare he was now sending her way.
"Granger, get this off of me!" He growled, causing her to grin wider – it's hard to be intimidating when covered in a rainbow of blinking lights and silver garland. Knowing he was helping her voluntarily and she shouldn't push him too far, she relented and waved her wand at the decorations, causing them to neatly fly off of him and land in an organized pile on the coffee table.
When he could move his arms again, he reached up to pull off the Santa hat, only to find that tugging on it had no effect. "What the hell did you do to the hat?" He demanded.
"I didn't do anyt-" She stopped midsentence, having noticed a tiny label stitched on the hat. "Umm, it may be a Weasley Wizard Wheezes product, and I may have just seen the label..." She cringed, not looking at him, as she waited for the explosion.
When the explosion didn't come, she cracked an eye open to see if he was about to Avada her, but he wasn't there anymore. She nearly whipped around and hexed him when she felt something stick onto her head. "What did you do?" She demanded frantically, reaching her hands up to her hair to find what felt like a bow.
Hearing the strangest choking sound, she turned to face the blond and stared as he desperately tried to stifle his laughter and failed miserably. She watched for a second as his shoulders shook with mirth and his eyes crinkled at the corners, unsure of a time when she'd ever seen him so carefree and happy.
Storming out of the room, she stomped angrily to the hallway where she knew there was a mirror and then stared in horror when she caught sight of her reflection. Not only was it a Slytherin green bow with silver trimming, but it seemed to have dyed her skin red and white striped, like a candy cane! To her utter dismay, the bow seemed just as stuck as the hat had. The Weasley twins were going to be in a world of pain once the holidays were over – one does not exact their revenge during the holidays, it interferes with the Christmas cheer.
"Come on Granger, I think you look delicious," Malfoy said with a smirk, standing in the doorway leading back to the sitting room.
Refusing to let a little prank ruin her festive mood, Hermione pushed past him and went back to the boxes, choosing a green and gold garland to decorate the mantle of the fireplace. Malfoy was still chuckling softly behind her, but she ignored him, focusing all her attention on placing her garland perfectly even.
"We're missing something..." She muttered once she was finished obsessively adjusting the garland. Her eyes lit up when she spotted the wireless in the corner. That was it! How could she possibly decorate without Christmas carols? With a swish of her wand, the room was filled with the uplifting and happy beat of a jingly Christmas favourite, causing her to wiggle along with the music as she grabbed another garland and set to work hanging it around a bookshelf. She didn't notice the silver eyes that followed her around the room, or the small, affectionate smile just south of those eyes.
"Malfoy, it's snowing!" Hermione announced happily the next morning when she came into the kitchen for breakfast and found him there, lounging against the counter as he ate cereal. He was only wearing his Santa hat and a pair of green pyjama bottoms, and she was briefly distracted by his well toned... everything.
"So? There's been snow on the ground for weeks," his unenthusiastic response was both annoying and welcome, since it served to snap her back to reality.
"There's just something magical about snow, it's like the air's filled with sparkles and all the accumulated dirt on everything is covered by a pure layer of shimmering white."
"Granger, it's snow. It's not anything magical; you're a witch, you should know how to recognize magical things."
She ignored his commentary and moved to the cupboards to see if she could scavenge up some form of nourishment – she really didn't like cereal for breakfast; it was too early in the day to deal with milk.
"Who gets more food when we run out here?" She wondered aloud, looking dubiously at a bagel that seemed to be polka dotted with green. It was festive, but she was pretty sure it'd make her sick.
"I think someone usually goes to the nearest Muggle grocery store in disguise," Malfoy answered absently; apparently he wasn't a morning person, and his conversation skills suffered.
"Good." She decided. "We need ingredients for a proper Christmas dinner and desserts." Without waiting for input or finding anything she wanted to eat, Hermione left the room to have a shower before she ventured out into the Muggle world. She was hoping the hot water would somehow wash the charm on the bow away and it would come off, or at the very least, her stripes would fade a little.
After dressing quickly, she practically danced down the stairs, actually excited for grocery shopping. Her stripes hadn't faded, but she wasn't going to let that dampen her spirit. All the fighting and the constant vigilance made her nostalgic for the things that used to bore her, like cooking and grocery shopping. Those little doses of normalcy were what helped her hold herself together amongst all the chaos that made up her life.
She was pleased that she'd managed a glamour charm that could temporarily cover up the stripes on her skin; it would fade in a few hours, but it would allow her to leave the house without drawing too much attention. There was nothing she could do about the gaudy bow she was stuck with though; she was going to have to just accept it.
"Where are you going?" Malfoy asked when she was heading towards the door with her coat, hat, boots and mittens.
"I'm going to get some food and ingredients for baking." She told him defiantly, waiting for him to tell her it was a stupid idea, or too dangerous or something.
Instead of what she expected, he sighed. "Let me get my coat. I'm coming with you and you need a disguise."
Her eyebrows went up. "You're not going to tell me it's too dangerous or that it's a stupid idea?"
"I can tell you those things all I want, you'll still go." He shrugged his coat on, cast a mild glamour charm on himself to change his facial features and hair and looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to lead the way. It seemed that Malfoy knew her better than she thought he did. That, or knowledge of her stubbornness had spread further than she'd thought.
She cast a similar charm to hide her identity on herself before opening the door. She forgot all about Malfoy and his strangeness; she was too excited about the snow. Spreading her arms wide, she took a second to spin around a few times, staring up at the falling flakes lit by the watery winter sun.
"You know that you look bloody mad when you do that," Malfoy said, ruining her fun.
"Says the one in the Santa hat," she told him, looking at the bright red hat he was unwillingly sporting. She was lucky: she had been able to cover her bow with a nice, normal winter hat. Laughing to herself, she turned and walked down the street, letting him follow her.
When he didn't come back with a scathing response, she glanced back at him. "Malfoy, are you... pouting?" She asked disbelievingly. He didn't come across as the type to pout, more as the type who hexed and then laughed maniacally, but then, she'd been wrong about him in the past; she never would have believed him to be someone with a character strong enough to turn against everything he was raised to believe and change sides, but there he was.
"No," he answered, but he refused to meet her eyes. She let out a carefree laugh and slowed her step so she was walking beside him.
"Is the big, scary Malfoy upset that he's wearing a Gryffindor colour and looking festive?" She teased, flicking the pompom at the end of his hat.
Instead of answering, he gave her another one of those unreadable looks he seemed so fond of recently. It stayed on his face for a second before melting into a very small smile – just a slight upturning of the corners of his mouth, really. "This from the Gryffindor in the Slytherin bow?"
Hermione frowned, irritated. "It's not a Slytherin bow, it's festive!" She snapped haughtily, speeding up to walk ahead of him and into the store.
She looked behind her to see Malfoy standing outside of the sliding doors, looking at them with confusion. "What kind of magic is this?" He asked quietly when she came back to see what was taking him so long.
"The magic of electricity," she informed him mysteriously, dragging him inside and pushing him in the direction of the carts. "Grab one of those and follow me."
Their shopping trip was relatively uneventful, except for the few occasions when Muggles got too close to Malfoy and his hand snapped up to rest of his wand. Or when the polite questions the cashier asked her got a little too personal for him to be comfortable, so he slammed some money down on the counter, grabbed her arm and the bags and hustled her out of the store.
"Malfoy!" She grumbled, frustrated. "They were just being polite!" He ignored her and continued hustling her down the sidewalk, seemingly oblivious to the stares they were getting, but probably more aware of their surroundings than he was letting on. "You're making a scene!" She snapped; taking in the vaguely worried looks she was getting front he holiday shoppers as she was manhandled down the street.
Digging in her heels, Hermione refused to go another step and Malfoy didn't seem willing to actually drag her down the street. "What now?" He groaned, frustrated.
"A Christmas tree!" She exclaimed, pointing to the tree lot beside them. She wanted to hit herself on the forehead for almost forgetting something so obvious! How could she almost forget the Christmas tree?
"There is no way we'd be able to get back to the house without drawing attention," he told her, sounding irritated.
"We have magic on our side, we'll think of something." She didn't wait for his answer, just strode determinedly into the lot to find a tree. Looking around the lot, she chose a really small tree. It was barely 60cm tall, and not very full, obviously meant for a flat where there wasn't very much spare room.
"That's one of the saddest trees I've ever seen," Malfoy scornfully told her when she had paid and met him at the entrance, where he had been waiting for her with the groceries.
"It won't be when I'm done with it."
"Granger... How did you manage to cover the entire kitchen in flour while I was putting the tree in the other room?"
She shot him a glare, but continued to collect the flour piles on the table back into the bag it had somehow escaped from. Consulting the recipe again and ignoring the blond, she carefully measured out the right amount and poured it in the mixing bowl.
She continued to ignore Malfoy as he perched on the counter to watch her cracking an egg and then muttering angrily as she fished out the bits of eggshells.
"You're not very good at this baking thing, are you?" He asked her, amused.
"I can cook all kinds of delicious healthy dinners, but my parents were never ones for letting me make sweets, dentists and all that," she told him, frowning at the recipe.
"How about this: I'll finish the baking today, and you handle the dinner tomorrow?" She turned to stare at Malfoy in disbelief.
"You'd do that?"
"Sure," he shrugged. "If you're bad at baking now, you're going to be even worse once your pain potion wears off in-" he glanced at the clock, "half an hour."
"How do you know I'm not feeling fine?" Contrary to what he obviously wanted to believe, he didn't know everything about everything.
"Because that was one nasty curse I removed from your shoulder, and it's going to take a while before you're feeling back to normal without some form of pain relief." She watched as he rifled through his pockets, seemingly looking for something. Pulling a vial from his robes, he handed it to her. "Here, drink this once-"
She took it from him and drank it in one gulp, wincing a little at the taste, but glad for the relief from the slow, burning pain that had been spreading from her shoulder gradually for the past ten minutes.
"- you're in bed because it's going to knock you right out," Malfoy finished, giving her an irritated look for not letting him finish before she drank the whole thing.
Feeling a little drowsy already, Hermione turned towards to doorway, but fell over almost immediately. She shut her eyes tightly in preparation for the impact, but it never happened. Strong arms caught her and pulled her against a warm body, and she was too tired to open her eyes again. If she hadn't been leaning against his chest, she never would have caught the quiet rumble of: "Reckless Gryffindor; going to be the death of me," before she was completely asleep.