For reasons unknown, Narcissa Malfoy stopped visiting her son in Azkaban. Hermione Granger can't let him spend Christmas Eve alone.
Prompt: cookie cutter. I have it, from a Brit, that cookies are called biscuits in the U.K. but that cookie cutters are called cookie cutters.
I feel so honored to have been nominated to participate in the DHr Advent 2012 fest. Thank you!
The abridged version of this story submitted for the fest is archiveofourown dot org, search Captainraychill. It's 3000 words less and doesn't include the final scene.
Thank you so much, UnseenLibrarian and Dormiensa, my wonderful betas and friends!
THE BRIGHT WINTER STARS
Christmas Eve, 1997
The white marble gravestone glowed in the darkness, as luminous as the snow on the ground. Hermione's pulse quickened as she read the names. Lily had been older than James. She hadn't known that. She hesitated, gathering her strength around her. It felt thin, like an old scarf.
"Harry," she called out. "They're here… right here."
When he cried, she took his gloved hand in her gloved hand. When she couldn't find the words to comfort him, she lifted her wand and drew a circle in the air. A wreath of white Christmas roses appeared beyond the cold smoke of their breath.
As Harry reached for the flowers, Hermione slid her hand back into her coat pocket and grabbed the object hidden there. It was a cookie cutter. A metal star. She couldn't explain why she'd packed it along with practical items like the tent and rare potion ingredients. It reminded her of a crackling fire and clove-spiced cider. Of adding a tablespoon of fragrant vanilla into a red mixing bowl. Of Mum and Dad, who didn't know they had a daughter.
Harry turned to leave once he'd placed the wreath against the white marble. Hermione followed him, as she always did. He put his arm around her shoulders, and she put hers around his waist. Walking through the winter hush, past old gravestones, she couldn't help but think about lost things.
Lost parents and lost mentors. Lost friends. Lost souls.
She thought of Draco Malfoy, as she often did, and hoped he was safe this Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve, 1999
Narcissa Malfoy was taking a terrible risk.
She sat by the fire, before a tall, fir tree shimmering with chains of pure silver and priceless crystal ornaments.
Her visitors' pass allowed her to see Draco in Azkaban for an hour every Sunday, with additional visits on Easter, his birthday, and either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve.
She hadn't been in twenty-six days. She wondered if he'd even noticed.
Malfoy gold had purchased larger cells with softer beds and a few comforts like blankets and pillows. That only meant a Malfoy slipped away and died in greater luxury than a common Snatcher. Faced with a life sentence, Lucius had only endured a year. Draco was fifteen months into a three-year sentence, but he wouldn't make it through the winter unless she took drastic measures.
"Mistress," a meek voice said near her feet. Her house-elf, Genevieve, held a gold basket trimmed with a red, velvet bow. It contained iced Christmas biscuits, fudge and marzipan – all the treats Draco had craved as a boy.
"Throw it in the fire," Narcissa ordered.
Genevieve obeyed without hesitation, watching the festive basket burst into colorful flames. She would bake again tomorrow.
Hermione Granger's Cottage
Hermione heard strife in her parlor, and that wouldn't do. Not during Biscuitpalooza, the biscuit baking and decorating tradition she hosted in her cottage every Christmas Eve.
"Aunt 'Mione, look," a purple-haired Teddy said proudly. She praised the green sprinkles on his Christmas tree-shaped biscuit before wiping her hands with a towel and walking out of the kitchen.
Andromeda Tonks sat in a wingback chair, her brown hair bundled under a blue hat and soot on her cheek. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. A crowd of family and friends surrounded her. Biscuitpalooza was always well-attended. Luna called Hermione's biscuits "better than a grumpett in the nest."
"I don't know what to do," Andromeda said to Molly. "Narcissa refuses to see me. It's been twenty-six days. You could have set your pocket watch by her visits. I don't understand her. It's Christmas Eve! I need a drink and giant plate of sweets, right now."
"Accio, Angelina's biscuits," Hermione said. A red-and-white striped tin flew into the room. She caught it and handed it to Andromeda.
"Hermione!" George protested. "Those are my seduction biscuits."
"I'll make you more."
"What on earth are seduction biscuits?" Andromeda asked, eyeing the tin suspiciously.
"George thinks the way to Angelina Johnson's heart is through her stomach," Harry explained.
"Ah," Andromeda said. "Well, I'm claiming these for mental health purposes. Give Angelina my apologies." She pried open the tin's lid, lifted a circle of wax paper and bit into a biscuit with a satisfied moan.
"Better than a grumpett in the nest," Luna said, the strands of her tinsel hat shimmering.
"Grandma Tonks!" Teddy shouted. He raced into the room, his hair turning lime green, his happiest color.
After that, the cottage descended into a warm chaos, and Andromeda wasn't able to answer Hermione's question for almost fifteen minutes.
"It's Draco," she finally said. "Narcissa's stopped visiting him. Whatever her reasons, she is absolutely not going. No one is more stubborn than her. No one." She took a sip of her whisky-laced coffee. "I'd go if I could, but I've never been able to get a pass. He's going to be alone tonight and tomorrow and for God knows how long."
"That's not right," Hermione said, her voice distracted. Something in her tone hinted at an incomplete thought, piquing Andromeda's interest.
If she hadn't begged the Sorting Hat to place her in Slytherin House forty years ago, Andromeda Black would have been in Ravenclaw. She loved riddles and games. A green felt-covered table in her study was dedicated to the construction of complex wizards' puzzles. Very tricky, with the way their pictures moved and their architecture shifted like a Hogwarts' staircase. She'd completed five in her lifetime, and that was a commendable feat. She'd always admired Hermione's intellect.
But as she watched her now, Andromeda realized she was witnessing something other than a clever plan being formed. Hermione might look soft curled up on the couch - her cheeks pink, brown hair curling over the shoulders, wearing a fuzzy, cream-colored jumper. But when her dark eyes snapped into focus, they held a hard resolve. The hair on Andromeda's arms stood up when that falcon gaze turned to her.
"What?" she asked.
"I have a visitor's pass to Azkaban," Hermione said. "Unrestricted. And I'm going to need those biscuits back."
Hermione stood on a barren rock in the middle of the cold North Sea. Sleet slashed through her charms and across her cheeks. The outer wall of Azkaban Prison rose so far above her that it disappeared into the storm, its iron doors as tall as Gryffindor Tower. She pulled a white card out of her beaded purse and placed it against the ice-glazed metal.
"Hermione Granger to see Prisoner Malfoy," she said before stepping back several meters.
The massive doors split apart with a screech like a Hungarian Horntail's cry. Hermione cast a Protego as glassy sheets of ice fell to the ground with an explosive crash. The doors opened inward, and a long ray of golden torchlight shone upon her and across the wild sea.
She entered the prison, relieved to be out of the elements. Over a year ago, the only other time she'd been here, she'd felt like she was choking. The Dementors had already been removed, but the despair they'd caused had soaked into the walls. The air felt better now, chilly and dismal but not terrifying.
In the darkness beyond the torchlight, Hermione saw a glint of silver. She strode forward until she saw the form of the Chatelaine shimmer into view.
"Hermione Granger," the woman said in a resonant voice.
"Madam," Hermione answered respectfully.
The Chatelaine was a tall, regal woman who reminded Hermione of a vampire. She was pale and angular with long, black hair. Her eyes were ice blue beneath severe brows. She wore a metal gown, its bodice and wide shoulders crafted like silver armor. Its full sleeves and long, bell-like skirt resembled chainmail but were actually formed by thousands of silver keys.
Hermione relinquished her wand, though they both knew she didn't need it to work spells. When she opened her purse for inspection, the woman ignored it. It was understood Hermione would follow the rules despite her contraband.
"His mother stopped visiting weeks ago," she told Hermione.
"I know. Her sister told me. Do you know why?"
"I think so," the Chatelaine said without elaborating. She plucked a silver key off her left sleeve and placed it in the air between them, where it floated. "The code word to return is holly."
"Holly," Hermione repeated. "Thank you, and Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, Miss Granger."
The second Hermione scooped the key – or more accurately, the Portkey – into her gloved hand, she was transported directly into Draco Malfoy's cell.
She didn't know if the room was high in the tower or deep below the sea. Upon her entry, its gray half-light brightened to reveal a large, stone chamber with a high ceiling and no windows. The air held an autumn chill. Draco slept on a narrow bed in the corner, hidden under a ragged quilt.
Hermione slid the Portkey into her coat pocket, and her glove snagged on another object there. Her cookie cutter. The metal star. She didn't remember taking it as she'd prepared to leave home, over the protests of everyone but Andromeda and Luna.
She walked toward Draco's bed, her boot heels echoing through the cavernous room with each step. She was cautious but not fearful. His wrists had been bound by iron chains the moment she'd taken the Chatelaine's key. She was surprised their appearance hadn't roused him.
"Malfoy," she said. He didn't move.
"Draco," she said. He still didn't move.
She looked down at the sharp angles of his body under the quilt. He faced the wall. She couldn't see his face, only a few strands of pale hair on his thin pillow, and one bony foot, it sole dark with dirt. She placed her purse on the bed, took a deep breath and reached out to touch his shoulder.
When he didn't react, Hermione rolled his body toward her and nearly screamed.
He looked like he'd been Kissed.
His gray eyes were open, but they looked dead. She ripped off her gloves and placed her fingers over his mouth. The breath against her palm was so weak she wondered if she'd imagined it. Frantic, she cupped her palms against the sides of his neck. His skin was cold, but she felt a frail pulse. She stroked her thumbs over the pale beard shading his jawline. There were deep shadows under his eyes and a harsher slice to his angular cheekbones. He'd lost at least a stone. His hair was long and dull.
And he smelled, like dirt and sour breath. Hermione knew sanitation in Azkaban had improved since the reforms and that every prisoner was treated with basic cleaning spells daily. Obviously, in Mrs. Malfoy's absence, the spells weren't enough.
Hermione remembered the only other time she'd visited Draco here. It had been a Monday, a month after his incarceration. Somehow, he'd made bare feet and gray-and-white prison garb seem elegant as he'd lounged against the wall, in chains, still blond and sleek. The effect had been ruined, however, by his flushing cheeks. He'd been ashamed.
"To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure, Granger? I'd offer you tea, but the warden doesn't allow porcelain. Afraid we'll slit our wrists."
She'd pretended her visit had been to thank him for not confirming Harry's identity at Malfoy Manor, but he'd already known her thoughts on that. He'd never looked at her during his trial, but he'd heard her impassioned testimony. In truth, she'd visited because she'd just wanted to see him. She hadn't been able to stop thinking about him. She still thought about him constantly.
"I don't want your pity, you fucking Mudblood. Get out of here and never come back."
What had happened to him? How long had he been like this? Could he be brought back?
Hermione considered slapping him awake, but that seemed cruel. Instead, she stood, pulled off his quilt, and began to do what she could to better his situation.
She started with his feet, placing her hands on them and murmuring wandless spells until they were clean and warm. Then she moved her hands up to his shins and repeated the incantations, with deeper concentration to clean his clothing as well. She slowly stroked her hands over his body – touching his knees, thighs, hips, stomach, chest, neck, and arms. She lingered over his pale hands, removing all the grit beneath his fingernails and trimming them with a pair of small scissors from her purse. She summoned her discarded gloves, cut them up, and slid them onto his wrists, to soften the weight of his manacles.
Not liking his beard, she sharpened the side of her index finger with the Razor's Edge Spell and shaved the hair off his jaw and throat. She cleaned his face, caressing his brow and the bridge of his nose as tenderly as a lover. She gently ran her fingers through his long hair as she whispered spells until it was soft and gleaming.
Finally, she retrieved a green tin from her purse and took out a Weasley Illusion-Mint. Unsure if Draco could swallow, she popped the peppermint into her mouth. When her tongue began to tingle, she leaned over and used her fingertips to open his lips. It was strange, staring into his expressionless eyes, when her heart was thundering. She closed her eyes and imagined Fawkes. When she pursed her lips and exhaled, a tiny, translucent-white phoenix flew from her mouth into Draco's. After a second's hesitation, she pressed a chaste kiss against his lips.
He didn't react, and she pulled away, blushing. She cleaned the quilt before placing it over his body. Then she sat down near his hip and finished her mint, blowing a white snitch into the air as the treat melted on her tongue.
"It's Christmas Eve," she said, though she knew Draco probably couldn't hear her. "Most Christmas Eves of my life, I've baked biscuits and decorated them. My parents started the tradition when I was a little girl."
She took the metal star out of her pocket and held it above Malfoy's sightless eyes.
"They gave me a new cookie cutter every year. This one is my favorite. I got it when I was six. Before I knew I was a witch, I was fascinated by astronomy. I wanted to study space and unlock the secrets of the universe. But after my Hogwarts letter arrived, I discovered a new universe. I forgot all about nebulae and quasars and immersed myself in magic instead."
She dropped her hand to her lap and looked down at the cookie cutter, tracing its shape with one fingertip.
"During the war, I altered my parents' memories and sent them to Australia. For their safety. When I found them and restored what I'd taken, they were so angry they sent me away. They told me never to come back. I write them, though. Dad's written back twice, but Mum never has."
She stared at Draco's blank face and wondered if he even knew that his father was dead. Had his mother told him? If she had, did he remember?
"I'm sure your family has its traditions, too. Roasting Mudbloods or singing pure-blood hymns. I heard your mother isn't visiting anymore. Perhaps because she thinks you're lost now, and it breaks her heart. It was always very obvious how much she loved you. I know she loves you still."
Hermione fell silent, remembering how his eagle owl had delivered bags of sweets all through their first and second years. Ron had been so jealous. She'd wished, along with him and Harry, that the Slytherin git would choke on a Butterscotch Bomb and die. She'd loathed him, as a good Gryffindor should, until fifth year.
"I still make biscuits every Christmas Eve. I host a party at my house." Hermione slipped the cookie cutter back into her pocket and then reached deep into her purse to pull out the red-and-white striped tin. "I brought you some. Actually, I stole these from George. He calls them seduction biscuits. Thinks he can win a girl's heart with my baking."
It took her a moment to pry off the tin's lid. She lifted the circle of wax paper covering the biscuits and crumpled it. "Do you remember?" she asked softly. "Fifth year, just before holiday break?"
"Well, what have we got here? Prefect Granger wandering the halls all alone. That's unusual. What's that in your hands? Crabbe, Goyle, fetch."
"I was going to the last D.A. meeting of the term with a plate of Christmas biscuits. I'd really made them for Ron but didn't have to courage to give them only to him. On the way, you and your Inquisitorial minions stopped me. I stunned Crabbe and Goyle but that gave you time to pin me against the wall. The biscuits fell to the floor and were ruined."
"Biscuits, Granger? For your boyfriends? How domestic."
"You wouldn't let me go. Trying to frighten me, I'm sure." She stopped, too embarrassed to say the rest out loud.
"God, you smell good. Like sugar. And vanilla."
She'd felt his lips speak the words, hot against the side of her neck. It hadn't been a kiss. But it had felt like it. She'd made a sound – a soft, longing gasp – that stopped them both and held them still in a moment of absolute awareness. She'd noticed his height and his heat as he'd leaned over her, his silky hair brushing her temple. Their bodies had shifted, and the moment their eyes had met, she'd felt his erection pressing hard against her stomach. He'd stared at her with shock and desire. Her heartbeat had quickened. When she'd moved her hands up his chest, to grab his robes, her fingertips had touched the cold metal of his Inquisitorial Squad badge. A second later, Draco had cursed and pushed away from her.
No, she couldn't say that out loud, even though he was sleeping.
"When I didn't cower for you," she said instead, "you called my biscuits ugly and left me there with Crabbe and Goyle still at my feet."
Her biscuits probably were ugly by Malfoy standards. Most likely, the Manor had a pastry chef or a house-elf imported from France who created exquisite works of art with magical silk icing and sugar glitter. Hermione looked down at her biscuits. She made them the Muggle way, to honor her memories. The cinnamon candy buttons on the snowmen were crooked. One of the reindeer only had three legs. Sprinkles had been applied with child-like joy, often by a child. To her, they were perfect.
"That's when it happened," she whispered. "Right there in the seventh floor corridor. After that, I didn't think about Ron anymore. I thought about you. Constantly. Even though I knew I shouldn't. I still think about you constantly."
Realizing she'd spoken her secret aloud, Hermione glanced nervously at Draco. His eyes hadn't changed. He wasn't waking up. But at least he wasn't alone on Christmas Eve.
Hermione picked up a snowman biscuit and bit off its head, closing her eyes at the delicious taste. She knew her biscuits were fantastic. Even Molly said so. She took them out of the tin and stacked them in neat piles at the foot of Draco's bed. If he woke up, he'd know someone had been there. Remembering his sick joke about killing himself, she put the tin and its lid back in her purse. She'd tell the Chatelaine she'd left food, to be removed later, in case there were rats. She'd owl Narcissa Malfoy when she got home, no matter the hour.
She'd lingered long enough.
Hermione reached into her pocket and took out the silver key. She looked down at Draco one more time and felt an ache in her chest. He looked otherworldly, pale and handsome, like a white marble sculpture in the dark.
"Happy Christmas, Draco."
Before she could speak the word to activate her Portkey, she heard a single, hoarsely whispered word.
Draco's fingers brushed against her wrist.
"Don't leave me," he implored, staring up at her with frightened, gray eyes.
Draco would never remember how his senses had left him, but he would always remember how they'd returned.
He'd felt a soothing warmth move slowly up his body, from his feet to the top of his head. He'd tasted peppermint and then, strangely, in the void of his mind, he'd seen the image of a white phoenix. The smoky image faded quickly into blackness. Something pressed against his lips, but the touch was fleeting, gone as soon as he noticed it.
A moment later, he smelled something wonderful. Sugar, his mind supplied. And vanilla. Those things meant something. What did they mean?
As he searched his memory, he heard a woman speaking softly. He couldn't understand her, but he was fascinated by the sound of her voice. It was like listening to a song sung in a foreign language. When the song ended, he wanted it back. He tried to open his eyes. He tried to speak. But he couldn't. The harder he concentrated, the more he hurt, deep inside.
Happy Christmas, Draco.
He understood her, but her tone held a sad finality. She was leaving him. No! He pushed through pain, needing her more than he needed the dark comfort. He opened his eyes to a blinding light like needles.
"Don't," he whispered, his throat on fire.
As the agonizing blaze of light faded, he saw the woman's hand and the silver key she held. He knew when she spoke the word, she'd disappear. With all his strength and all his will, Draco reached out to stop her. His fingers touched the soft skin of her wrist.
"Don't leave me."
He looked up. Hermione Granger's dark eyes stared down at him in shock. She fell to her knees at his bedside and took his hand in hers. Her hair smelled like sugar and vanilla. He tasted peppermint on her breath. Her touch was so warm. And he knew beyond doubt that she was the reason his senses had returned.
"I won't leave you," Hermione said, stroking her thumb over his knuckles. The simple touch awakened a surge of emotion in Draco, a longing so powerful he felt shattered inside. His body trembled. His throat felt full and hot. Overwhelmed, he began to cry.
Hermione knew Draco had come back to himself when he grew quiet and still. She lifted her head from where it rested upon their joined hands and looked at his sharp profile. He stared up at the ceiling, his cheeks scarlet. She didn't let go of his hands, and although he wouldn't meet her gaze, he didn't pull away.
After a long silence, he asked, "Is it day or night?"
"It's night. It's Christmas Eve."
"I never know."
Hermione gazed up at the stone ceiling. The cell was luxurious by Azkaban's standards, but the lack of a window, a connection to the world, had obviously affected Draco deeply.
"Do you know who you are?" she asked.
"Do you know who I am?"
He turned to look at her, his gaze intent, his gray eyes moving over every part of her before he finally whispered her name.
Hermione felt a jolt of hot arousal sweep through her. She looked down at their hands, afraid he would see his effect on her. Even as broken as he was, he could still seduce her with a look and a touch. A whisper. Just as he had in fifth year.
That's why she thought about him every day. That's why, when she remembered her dreams, they were of him. She'd tried to forget him, tried to like other men, but no one but Draco Malfoy made her feel this way. She couldn't let him know.
Hermione slipped her hands away from his and asked briskly, "What's the last thing you remember before now?"
Draco thought before answering. "My mother's voice. I'd lost my other senses but could still hear her telling me about the leaves turning color."
"Three months ago."
"Three months? Where is she?"
"She's already been to see you," Hermione lied. "She asked me to visit as well, since I had a pass."
As soon as she said this, Hermione realized it was true. Narcissa Malfoy would know that she was the only other person with authorization to visit Draco. When Mrs. Malfoy hadn't been able to wake him, she'd asked Hermione to try – in her own proud way.
But why did he wake up for me?
"I brought you something," she said. "For Christmas."
She picked up a biscuit, the three-legged reindeer, and held it out to Draco. A feeble ghost of his former smirk appeared.
"Your biscuits are ugly, Granger."
"What happened to it?" he asked.
"Unfortunate sledding accident."
"And yet he soldiers on."
Draco rose up on his elbows, wincing. He took the biscuit, stared at it skeptically and then bit off the reindeer's head. His eyes widened briefly in amazement before drifting closed.
"This is…" Instead of finishing his sentence, he bit off the reindeer's other legs and consumed the body in two bites.
"That was wonderful," he said, staring at her. "You made these?"
"Yes," she answered with quiet pride.
She handed him a Christmas tree biscuit next, then a candy cane, then the bell decorated by his cousin. She told him about Teddy and Biscuitpalooza. She told him about Harry and Ginny and Ron and Lavender. She had no news of his Slytherin friends, nothing that his mother wouldn't have reported in autumn. So, she talked about the world instead. New politicians and policies, her job at the Ministry, George's latest inventions and the most sensational headlines from the Prophet and The Quibbler.
Draco listened and ate biscuits until there was only one left. It was shaped like a star.
"Go ahead," Hermione said, holding it out to him. "I have plenty at home."
"Really, I -"
"I don't want to be finished," Draco said, flushing again. He rested his head on his pillow and stared at the ceiling. He didn't want her to leave.
Hermione thought of the warmth and happiness of Christmas morning at The Burrow. She thought of Teddy's new toy broomstick. Harry and Ron had helped her pick out the very best. She'd wrapped it in red paper and hidden it in her closet in early September, along with her other presents.
"Draco, I can't stay. It's Christmas. But I'll come back soon."
He turned his head away from her. She saw the muscles in his neck tense as he clutched onto his control. He didn't believe her, hope crushed by the stone walls around him. She waited for him to speak. When the icing on the star-shaped biscuit melted in her hand, she set the biscuit on the bed and silently Scourgified the color from her palm.
"I never know if it's night or day," Draco finally murmured. "Time is meaningless and endless here. It drives me mad. All I want to do is forget everything, to sleep. But what if I never wake up again? What if I die like my father?"
Hermione wanted to fall to her knees and take Draco's hand again. She wanted to stroke his hair and soothe him. She wanted to kiss him until she couldn't breathe, as she'd dreamed of doing for so long. But she knew if she gave into her desires that it would be even crueler to leave him alone in his cold, dark cell. And she did have to leave him, if only for a day, even though he believed she would never return.
She took the star-shaped cookie cutter out of her pocket, closed her eyes, and imagined the winter sky on a clear night.
"Coelo," she said, concentrating fiercely without the conduit of her wand. The metal star flew to the high ceiling, skittering around its surface with a shower of blue sparks. She directed its path with precise hand motions until the spell was complete. When the cookie cutter fell back down, she caught it, letting the hot metal cool before dropping it into her pocket.
Hermione watched Draco's face as the brilliant outlines of a hundred stars appeared on the dark ceiling, casting a cool, silvery glow on his pale skin and white-blond hair. His eyes moved from star to etched star and then to Hermione.
"Draco," she said. "Time may seem meaningless and endless in here. But outside, days and nights are passing, and one day, you'll leave this place forever. Don't give into despair. Remember who you are, and you'll make it through."
"You won't come back," he said.
"I will. Trust me."
Draco's voice was bleak. He turned his entire body away from her, facing the stone wall, his bare feet uncovered by his thin quilt. Hermione was near tears with the need to stay. But there was Teddy's broomstick to consider. And Draco's mother would want to see him. And he needed to believe again. She could begin to give him that if she left and returned, something she planned to do over and over again. When she tucked the quilt around his feet, he silently turned his face into his pillow.
His sadness broke Hermione's heart, and she couldn't stop herself. She fell to her knees again and grabbed Draco's shoulder, leaning forward until her lips rested against his sleek hair and the pale nape of his neck. He gasped, his body shuddering as if hit by a spell.
"I'll come back," she vowed. "I swear it on my magic."
Draco turned around, his hand stretched out and his eyes pleading, but Hermione was already beyond his reach. Before her resolve crumbled, she gripped the Chatelaine's silver key and whispered, "Holly."
He was alone again. No one could see his weakness, but Draco was still ashamed of his tears. He wiped them away with a violent swipe of his hand and shouted his frustration. It echoed back at him.
"I'll come back. I swear it on my magic."
He'd felt Hermione speak this vow, her lips hot against the back of his neck. It hadn't been a kiss, but it had felt like one. Her touch had filled him with a sweeping pleasure, more powerful than any he'd ever felt before. It had filled him with hope and desire.
And then, she'd left him.
Breathing hard, Draco lay back down. He stared at the stars Hermione had made until they faded away.
She wouldn't come back.
The air grew colder, and he huddled under his quilt, afraid to close his eyes. His manacles and chains had vanished the instant she'd disappeared, and he noticed a pair of white, knitted bands around his wrists, the remnants of her winter gloves. He held the last biscuit, the one shaped like a star. Despite his determination to remain conscious, he fell asleep breathing in the scents of sugar and vanilla.
He hadn't understood at first.
Not when he woke up, unsure if it was night or day. Not when the chains returned and his heart thudded with wild hope. Not when he spent an hour on Christmas Day with his weeping mother, eating beautifully decorated sweets that didn't taste half as good as Hermione's funny-looking biscuits. Not when he was alone again, staring at the dark ceiling of his cell.
He'd only understood when Hermione's stars returned.
At first, they glowed so faintly that he thought they were figments of his imagination, a mad wish. But soon, the brilliant outlines of a hundred silvery-white stars shone above him, and he knew that it was night. That high above his cell, through rock and ice and storm, was the clear winter sky and the bright winter stars.
Hermione had given him a way to count the days.
When he recognized his namesake constellation, he realized she'd also given him a way to remember himself.
He gazed at the dragon and remembered her promise - a whisper on his skin, like a kiss. He was filled with hope and desire again. He smiled and ate the star-shaped biscuit. And when he finally closed his eyes to sleep, he closed them without fear.
Hermione would return.
Christmas Eve, 2001
Because Lavender was very pregnant and couldn't travel by Floo or Apparition, Biscuitpalooza was held at the Burrow on Christmas Eve. Hermione drank clove-spiced cider and laughed with her friends before a crackling fire. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, rolled biscuit dough flat between sheets of wax paper and helped Teddy and James cut it into shapes. But, all along, she knew something deeply important was missing.
Draco had been released from Azkaban on September 24th, after serving his sentence, and Hermione hadn't seen or heard from him since. Under the strict terms of his six-month probation, he lived in the Manor, under house arrest, and was allowed no owls and no visitors other than family. Both Narcissa and Andromeda had volunteered to pass letters between them, but Hermione had refused, wanting absolutely nothing to endanger his freedom, even though six months was too long to have no contact with one of your best friends.
That's what Draco had become after her frequent visits to Azkaban. She looked at Ron, who was kissing Lavender under the mistletoe, and at Harry, who played Exploding Snap with George and Angelina. Draco was now as much her best friend as they were, but he was also something more. He always had been something more, ever since fifth year.
March 24th, she thought. Only three more months.
But what if things were awkward between her and Draco in the spring? What if he changed? What if he just wanted to stay friends? What if he loved someone else?
Hermione sighed and bit the head off a gingerbread man.
"Stars!" Teddy said, his hair turning an icy shade of blue. James giggled. Both boys' faces glowed with reflected light. Hermione looked up. A hundred stars, each shaped like her cookie cutter, had appeared on the ceiling. The chatter bubbling through the Burrow went still and silent.
"Draco," Hermione whispered.
At the sound of her voice, the stars whirled together, forming the silvery chain of the constellation Draco. The brightest star in the long, serpentine dragon's head, where Rastaban would shine, transformed into a silver key and hovered before her.
"Hermione," Harry said, a warning in his voice. She knew, without looking, that Aurors Potter and Weasley had drawn their wands.
"Tell him you love him," Luna said.
I do love him.
Without a second thought, without even putting on so much as a scarf, Hermione snatched the Portkey from the air and was transported out of the Burrow.
She'd expected to appear before the gates of Malfoy Manor. Instead, she stood in a snow-covered field under a dark sky filled with bright, winter stars. In the distance, she saw the crooked, golden light of the Burrow's windows. Snow no longer fell, and the air was clear and cold, nipping at her fingertips and nose. She'd traveled by Floo tonight, from cozy house to cozy house, in jeans and a red jumper. The ballerina flats she wore were buried in snow and soaked through.
She turned and saw Draco, five steps away from her.
If she'd doubted that she loved him before, the way that her heart rose at the sight of him, filling with joy and a trembling beat, would have convinced her. He looked so good so much healthier than the last time she'd seen him, the day before his release. He'd put on weight and lost the gaunt shadows and razor sharpness of a prisoner. He was a handsome, young aristocrat again, dressed in a tailored coat, a deep green scarf and leather gloves. His hair was almost as white as the snow and stylishly trimmed, his fringe falling over his eyes. His face blushed with cold, his ears and the tip of his nose bright pink. His breath came quickly. She knew this because it was visible, as was hers – fleeting, white phantoms appearing with each exhalation.
Draco stared at Hermione, his pale gaze was inscrutable until she wrapped her arms around herself and he scowled. The spell of wintery silence between them was broken.
The Chatelaine would know he'd left home.
"Are you mental?" she cried out. "You're on probation. Why are you here?"
Draco spoke at the same time she did, muttering something about her catching her death of cold. He whipped his coat off as he walked toward her.
"You have to go home," she said. "Right now."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do, you fool!"
"Don't call me a fool, you shrew," he said, his voice strangely gentle.
Her sharp retort melted away when she realized how close Draco stood. He swept his coat over her shoulders, wrapping her in delicious heat. When he flipped up the coat's fur-lined collar, she closed her eyes and breathed in, smelling his cologne or aftershave or whatever that gorgeous scent was. He buttoned the jacket at her throat, his leather gloves caressing her skin. She made a sound – a soft, longing gasp. His silky hair brushed against her temple. His breath smelled like sugar, with a hint of vanilla-sweet rum. She slipped her arms into the jacket's sleeves and shoved her hands into its pockets, resisting the urge to grab the knitted cables of Draco's gray jumper.
"I've been released early," he murmured.
"What?" Hermione stared up at him, with a dazed kind of shock. She noticed, as she had so many times, how his eyelashes were slightly darker than his hair, a caramel gold. Knowing her own eyes revealed too much, she moved her gaze down to his lips as he spoke.
"Ten minutes ago, the Chatelaine sent an owl, releasing me from my last three months of probation. For good behavior."
"Yes." He slipped his scarf off his neck and wrapped it around hers, once more surrounding her with his heat and scent.
"That's – that's wonderful," she said, her gaze moving to the snowy ground. She touched the scarf and realized it was cashmere.
"Yes," he said again.
Hermione didn't know how to respond. Ten minutes after he'd been freed, Draco Malfoy had come to her. Did she dare to hope? She was so afraid to look into his eyes and see only friendship or gratitude. She took the coward's path.
"So how's your mother?" she asked, stepping back. "Are you having a good Christmas?"
Draco paused before answering. "She's fine. We're enjoying our holiday traditions. Roasting Muggle-borns, singing pure-blood hymns."
A jolt of fear passed through Hermione. She felt a pulse of adrenaline in her cold fingertips. She'd said too much that night two years ago, about her feelings for him. How much did he remember?
"You recall what I said?" she asked. "When you were sleeping?"
"Yes, it's been coming back slowly, over the last three months, everything I'd lost since Mother told me about the leaves changing color."'
Oh God. Hermione remembered her confession, word for word. I thought about you. Constantly. Even though I knew I shouldn't. I still think about you constantly. She felt her cheeks flush pink, mortification burning away the icy chill. She took another step back.
"I said Mudblood," she corrected. "Not Muggle-born."
"That's terrible language, Granger. Shame on you," Draco scolded lightly. When she tried to turn away, he stopped her by hooking his gloved finger into the left hip pocket of his jacket. Defensive, angry and confident her eyes didn't reveal what she wanted to hide, she yanked the jacket out of his grip and glared up at him.
"What?" she snapped.
"I brought you a gift. It's in that pocket," he said, pointing.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. Her hand had been in that pocket for several minutes, and she'd felt nothing. She spread her fingers and reached deeper and deeper until she finally touched something soft and satiny.
"Undetectable Extension Charm," he said.
"Clever of you," Hermione scoffed as her touch moved to a hard thing with an embossed surface. Gripping it, she pulled out a beautiful, cloisonné box enameled with holly leaves and red berries. The box, which was slightly larger than a textbook, was wrapped in a green silk ribbon. Was it a book?
"Open it," Draco said. All teasing was gone from his voice. He sounded almost nervous.
Hermione untied the ribbon and lifted the lid of the box to reveal the most exquisite Christmas biscuits ever created. She picked up one fashioned like an ornament. It was a perfect circle, topped with a gleaming, silk-icing bow. Behind the intricate filigree of its parchment-thin top layer, she glimpsed an animated snow scene crafted from blue and white sugar glitter.
In comparison, Hermione's Christmas biscuits looked like they'd been decorated by blind, drunken doxies.
"They're lovely," she said. "Who made them?"
"Genevieve, our pastry elf."
"A French pastry elf, of course."
"Yours are better," he said. "But I hope you like them."
"I do. Thank you." Hermione took a delicate bite out of the ornament, thinking it a shame to ruin it. The taste was adequate but not nearly as good as her ugly biscuits, not by far. She smiled.
"They're good," she said, feeling magnanimous.
"They're seduction biscuits."
Hermione dropped the box of gorgeous biscuits in the snow. She couldn't have heard Draco correctly. She looked up at him, in shock, to find him looking down at her with an expression of stark fear. His cheeks and ears were an almost painful shade of pink. His gaze moved to her mouth and then to the snowy ground. His gloved hands were shaking. Not from the cold, Hermione realized.
"What did you say?" she asked.
"Nothing. Happy Christmas," Draco blurted out before turning and striding away from her.
"Wait!" She chased after him, stumbling in the snow. She couldn't even feel her feet anymore but suspected she'd lost a shoe. "Stop!"
Draco drew his wand, a second away from Disapparating or Obliviating her or working some magic to make his confession go away. Hermione tossed back one side of his jacket, smoothly slipped her wand out of its holster and cast her spell on pure instinct.
Draco's wand flew out of his hand, falling silently into the snow. He turned and glared at her, his gray eyes furious.
"What?" he snapped.
Hermione smiled, thinking how alike they were. She wordlessly summoned his wand into her hand.
"You forgot your jacket," she said. "You'll catch your death of cold."
"Keep it. I have dozens."
"At least let me return your scarf, Draco. Green isn't my color."
Hermione was happier than she'd ever been in her life, and she wasn't hiding it. She knew adoration was shining in her eyes. She knew Draco's name sounded like a caress when she said it. It was enough to make him pause as she walked toward him. She felt invincible now because she knew that he wanted her, too.
If he didn't love her yet, she would make him. Draco Malfoy hadn't had enough love in his life. She vowed to give him so much love and passion and heart-stopping tenderness that he would be helpless to resist her. Absolutely helpless! She actually laughed at the thought.
When she was three steps away from him, she tossed back his wand. He caught it one-handed. When she was one step away, she stopped and pulled his scarf from around her neck, relishing its friction against her skin as she looked up at him. He was so handsome, his hair glowing almost silver in the winter night, his pale eyes mystified and then wary and then terribly vulnerable. She reached up to put the scarf around his shoulders. Draco shivered as she adjusted the cashmere, her fingers brushing against the nape of his neck.
"They're working, by the way," she said.
"What's working?" he asked softly.
"Your seduction biscuits."
Hermione twisted her hands up in both ends of his scarf and tugged gently. She knew it was a schoolgirl move, but she didn't care. She'd never used it when she was a schoolgirl, and it was quite effective. Draco obeyed her command, leaning down slowly until their misty breath mingled and their lips touched.
The kiss was chaste for a long moment. They held perfectly still, in the lilac-white light of winter, simply breathing in each other's taste and scent. Hermione didn't realize Draco had taken off his gloves until she felt the heat of his fingers circling on of her wrists. His lips moved against hers then, soft and warm. When she felt his other hand slide into her thick hair, gripping so hard that his knuckles popped, she surrendered to delirious sensation. She pressed against Draco and kissed him back, desperate to make him feel what she felt. Every place they touched blazed with heat. With a deep moan, he held her tight and deepened the kiss until it was wild and frantic. They didn't stop until they couldn't breathe.
"Oh, God," Draco cried out as he turned away from the kiss. Hermione gasped and let her head fall forward against his shoulder. She realized, through a haze of lust, that his hands had slipped under her jumper and unhooked her bra. They spanned the skin of her bare back, large and hot. Her hands were trapped beneath their bodies, still gripping his scarf.
"Thank you," Draco said against her hair.
"For letting you undress me in the snow? You're welcome."
"What? Oh. Sorry. Sort of," he said with a boyish smile. He re-fastened her bra, his fingers lingering on the clasp for a moment before moving to her waist. He drew back and looked into her eyes. Hermione wasn't prepared for the solemnity of his next words.
"I want to thank you for bringing me back. For the biscuits and the stars. For keeping your promise to return three hundred and sixty-seven times. I'm free now. For the first time in my life. Free of my father's expectations and of Voldemort and of my debt to society. After all these years, I'm finally free to tell you how I feel."
After all these years.
Hermione waited in silence, afraid that a single word, that the slightest flutter of her eyelashes, would break the hushed enchantment of this moment.
"Hermione," Draco whispered. "I love you."
Before she could follow Luna's wise advice and tell Draco that she loved him, too - that she had loved him for years, that she would love him forever - he was kissing her again. She kissed him back, twining her arms around his neck and stroking his hair as he pulled her close.
There would be time for the words later. Every day and every night. When they met on the stairs or in the library. When she passed the salt or he fastened her bracelet. And every Christmas Eve, before a crackling fire, in a kitchen fragrant with sugar and vanilla.
And under the bright winter stars.
In the opening section, I used direct quotes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter Sixteen, "Godric's Hollow". Thank you, J.K. Rowling.
According to Google Translate, coelo is a Latin word that translates into "heaven, sky, air, vault of heaven, atmosphere weather". It also translates into "engrave, carve, emboss". This makes it the perfect incantation, in my Internet-educated opinion, for Hermione's spell to carve stars into the ceiling of Draco's cell in Azkaban. Lumos sidera roughly translates into "light the stars".
Biscuitpalooza was directly inspired by Cookiepalooza - a cookie cutting, decorating and baking event that I host at my house every Christmas Eve for my nephews.
Thanks for reading - reviews are welcomed! Love, Captainraychill