Never Alone, a Bend It Like Weasley Christmas Story

By Jedi Tess of Gryffindor

A/N: It's that most wonderful time of the year again and this year is particularly special for several reasons. First, May was the fifth anniversary of my completion of Bend It Like Weasley, of which work I am enormously proud. Second, this Christmas marks the tenth anniversary of my first-ever Christmas fics, I Miss You Most at Christmastime and Happy Christmas, Hermione. I've written a fic a year for every Christmas since then, and I have to say that despite the rush almost every year to finish them, it's one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Here's to ten years of fic-writing generally! Despite how it's slackened off these last few years, I still absolutely love it!

Happy holidays and thanks for reading!

J.T.

Disclaimer: All characters and situations in this Harry Potter fan fiction below to J.K. Rowling who, in the spirit of Christmas, loans them to me to play with for a short time. Happy Christmas, Ms. Rowling! The world is a brighter place all year thanks to you!

)SURPRISE(

"Ginny's up to something."

Draco Malfoy looked up from his long roll of parchment at his cousin, Ananda. "Ginny?" he said blankly. "Up to something?" He realized in hindsight that this was a bit like saying, "The sky? Blue?"

"It's true," Ananda insisted. "I can smell secrets a mile off, Draco, and Ginny's got one."

"She's up to something or she's got a secret?" Draco asked, returning to his parchment. He had made an exhaustive list of all the team's permissible fouls, complete with diagrams, but he wished Hermione Granger were there to check them. She was the one who had coined the phrase "permissible foul" – she'd made up half the fouls on his list, come to that.

But she was off at university, playing uni Quidditch on a strange team like Draco's six other recently graduated team girls. The seven remaining girls were still brilliant but they all missed the Unstoppable Seven, as Jessica Bentley called them.

"Either? Both?" Ananda answered his question with her own, planting her hands on her hips.

"And?" Draco added a note to a little diagram and description at the bottom of his parchment; the move was called Flagging, and involved driving the opposing Beater or Beaters toward the pitch and forcing them to either crash or hit each other with their own bats.

"And find out what it is!" Ananda stressed. "The last time Ginny had a secret, she ran off with Professor Snape."

Draco stiffened a little, fingers tightening around the quill in his mittened hand. He remembered, as if it were yesterday, the moment during the battle of Hogwarts last year when Ginny had taken out her communication charm and disappeared with Jools from the Marauders Map without a word to anyone. True, what she'd done had ultimately helped save them all …

"You can't be serious," he said, forcing his voice to remain calm. "Look at her, Ananda."

They both looked up as the rest of the team circled the pitch and landed, a clump of overloud girls from all four hours and almost every year. Ginny was right in the thick of them, auburn hair flashing in the weak, wintry sunlight as she threw her head back and laughed at something Patrice Patil said. Her laugh and subsequent smile sat easily on her lips, not forced or preoccupied, thoroughly involved in what she was doing and the people around her.

"All right," Ananda conceded. "Maybe it's not Death Eaters or dark lords this time, Draco, but she is up to something." She planted her hands on her hips, backing away toward the team. "Find out what it is."

Draco stared after her as she fell in with the others, all trooping passed Draco through new-fallen snow and heading for the lockers.

"How'd we do today, coach?" Adrienne Abbot called as they passed.

"You're all a disgrace," he told her, narrowing his eyes at them. "Go wash yourselves; I'm sick of the sight of you."

"We love you, too, coach," Bettina Johnson said, giggling.

"Don't get frostbite making notes out here in the snow," Jess added.

Draco took her advice and followed them into the lockers, taking a seat in the far corner so the girls could have privacy if they wanted it. He made a few additional notes further down his scroll on revised strategies he thought might take well, tried to work out a new regimen for their next practice, which was two days away on account of the weekend, and finally gave up, staring off into space as he heard the girls voices echoing around with the swish of showers and towels as they got cleaned up.

It was no good. Now Ananda had pointed it out, Draco had to know what Ginny Weasley might be up to.

)SURPRISE(

The other girls filed out of the lockers, a couple shoving playfully at his shoulder in passing. Ginny was last in the line, bringing up the rear with Ananda.

"Weasley," Draco said, catching her arm and pulling her aside. "Walk with me."

Ginny snorted but Ananda jumped in. "I'll see you tomorrow during our free period. If you don't help me get through that Defense Against the Dark Arts midterm, I'll fail out before we get anywhere near our N.E.W.T.s."

"You'll be fine, mate, go on," Ginny assured her. "See you later."

Ananda threw a wave back at Ginny, a look at Draco, and then jogged to catch up with the others.

Ginny turned back, fixed Draco with a sharp look of her own, and crossed her arms. "What is it, coach?"

He studied her for a moment and she shifted a little under his gaze. "This about Quidditch?" When he shook his head, still studying her, she quirked an eyebrow and took a step toward him. "Not about the Quidditch, then?"

Draco groaned, caught her mouth in a brief, searing kiss, and pulled back, pleased to see her cheeks flush and her eyes sparkle. "Let's have a walk."

"It's freezing out there," Ginny protested, waving an arm to encompass the snow-covered grounds and mountains beyond the locker doors.

"Did I say we were wandering about in the snow?" he retorted, catching her hand. "Come on, we'll go admire the fifth floor corridor."

The fifth floor corridor had, in the grand Hogwarts tradition, had its halls decked more thoroughly than any other part of the castle and the work was ongoing until Christmas Eve or so. The corridor itself was unremarkable: a long stone passage with windows set intermittently along it and at least ten classrooms and as many professors' personal offices along the opposite wall. Along both sides of the corridor hung garlands of blueish-green pine boughs, laced with red, silver, and gold ribbon. Wreaths of the same pine and decorated with pine cones and holly dressed each door and fairy lights flickered in the green. The entire corridor smelled of pine and baking and snow and the dripping wax of candles set in gold holders along the corridor walls. Ghosts caroled the corridor at all hours, although Peeves the Poltergeist was prone to interrupt them with his own rude reimaginings of old Christmas favorites (Draco's favorite was "Carol of the Smells," although he'd been one of a number of students leaving class last year who'd had to run from the dung bombs Peeves set off as he sang).

Draco thought back to this same time last year, when he'd walked the corridors thinking about his impossible Quidditch team and all the parents threatening to pull their girls from it, or worse. At the same time, he'd been worrying about his Aunt Bellatrix and Death Eaters and how it was that a tall redheaded Gryffindor wouldn't get out of his mind.

He glanced sideways at her and wondered again at his sheer, dumb luck that she was here with him now, fingered linked comfortably through his, eyes a little dreamy as they scanned the long corridor.

"I love it up here," she said softly. "I wonder who started this fifth floor madness."

"Who knows," Draco said, shrugging. "Probably a Hufflepuff," he added, smirking.

"Susie could break your face, you know," Ginny said, giving his arm a shake. "Don't taunt the Hufflepuffs." She paused. "You still haven't told me what you're doing for Christmas this year."

"You haven't told me what you're doing, either," Draco shot back, a bit lamely. The answer was fairly obvious.

"You know what I'm doing. Please at least think about coming home with me," Ginny pleaded. "Harry and Hermione think you're all right. Blaise will be there, at least for the part of it Mione's there for." She caught her lip between her teeth, eyebrows furrowed. "You don't have to be alone."

He sighed. "Thanks," he said, pausing at one of the windows to stare out at the snowy landscape. Flakes had begun drifting through the air again and Draco felt bad for the Slytherin team now buzzing around the Quidditch pitch. "It's too soon," he started. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I'm not ready ..." He swore under his breath.

"Hey."

He glanced down at Ginny, who had his cold hand between her warm ones and was rubbing gentle circles over it. "It's okay," she assured him. "I just wanted you to know you're always welcome."

He raised his eyebrows. "By me," she stressed. "And Mum. Dad's all for you since you saved my life several times. My older brothers don't even know you so you're probably safe from them, too." She held up a hand. "We won't talk about Ron or the twins. But they'll come round."

"When hell freezes over," Draco snorted, but he squeezed her hand. He frowned, remembering what had brought them up here. "Gin, An – I mean, someone – thinks you've got a secret." Subtlety, he'd found, didn't work at all on Ginny.

"Oh, does someone?" she said, smirking right back at him. He liked to think she'd learned the look from him.

"Someone does," he said, nodding. "Someone wouldn't be right, would they?"

"I have all kinds of secrets," Ginny said, sticking her nose in the air. "I'm a very mysterious person."

"Yeah, mysterious like newly-cleaned plate-glass window," Draco said, rolling his eyes.

Ginny tried to look offended but she was already smiling. "Don't worry," she said, pressing her hand to his cheek. "You know I tell you all of the important things."

Which wasn't really an answer, of course, but it wasn't like he could force her to tell him. He might learn more by sitting back and waiting for her to tip her hand.

"Fine," he said with a melodramatic sigh. "Have it your way. It's probably some torrid love affair with a Ravenclaw."

She grinned. "A Hufflepuff, actually," she said, leaning into him. "That Ernie MacMillan is a love machine."

Draco made a face. "I know you only say these things to hurt me," he complained. "But that's put me right off my supper."

She laughed. "You're such a drama queen," she said, kissing his nose and pulling him off down the corridor. "Come on, let's finish our walk and head to dinner. I just played two and a half hours of Quidditch. I could eat a Hippogryff!"

)SURPRISE(

Ginny had to wait until after supper, after dessert, and well into evening study hall before Draco finally left the Great Hall.

"I never get any work done with you lot crowding around," he said, pushing himself to his feet and heading for the doors. With university classes in full swing, he had more homework than any of them, in addition to his work with the girls' team and Madam Hooch. He was also up to his neck in business plans with Blaise, Ginny knew, trying to get their pro-Quidditch dream off the ground. The project would be years in the making but that didn't stop the two of them from spending every available hour on the Floo with each other, writing and rewriting proposals and pouring over color-coded spreadsheets of budgets and figures prepared for them by Hermione.

"Don't fall asleep with your face in the Floo, coach!" Jess called after him.

He smirked at her over his shoulder, threw Ginny a wink, and left the hall. The moment the door closed on him, Ginny grabbed Ananda by the arm and hauled her to her feet.

"What?" Ananda demanded as Ginny dragged her down to the opposite end of the table.

"Why did you tell Draco I was up to something?" Ginny demanded, keeping her voice down. The other team girls were staring over at them curiously.

"Come off it," Ananda retorted, shaking her off. "You do have a secret." She pinned Ginny with a sharp look and crossed her arms. "I know secrets when I see them, Ginevra."

Ginny's lip twitched and she bit her cheek against a smile. "It was meant to be a surprise, not a secret," she said grudgingly. "Come on, I was going to tell you lot soon anyway," she added, nodding toward the rest of the team. "I just wanted to wait for a few more things to fall into place first."

Ananda eyed her. "What are you up to, Weasley?"

Ginny fixed her with a look. "It won't matter what I'm up to if we don't keep quiet about it. Will you help me?"

Ananda studied her. "Of course I will," she assured Ginny at last. "You know you can count on me."

"Good," Ginny said, letting out a breath. "Let's go talk to the others."

They returned to the table. "All right, what's up?" Adrienne demanded.

"You've got that scheme-y look about you," Bettina said, dark eyes narrow.

"You're up to something, Gin," Natalie concluded.

"Shut up and let her tell it!" Patrice cut in eagerly, leaning forward.

Ginny did, keeping her voice as low as she could. The Great Hall was empty of everyone but frantically studying seventh years who weren't paying attention to anything that wasn't a textbook or a large pile of parchment.

When she'd finished telling them, the other girls sat back, frowning or nodding. "It's okay if not everyone can do it," Ginny hastened to assure them. "I know some of you really need to be home with family this year and we'll all understand. But if even a few of us can make it work … I've already spoken to the uni girls and Blaise and they're all in so don't feel like this is something you have to do."

"I'm in," Ananda said promptly. "I bloody hate France." Her family had relocated there during the war.

"I'm in, too," Patrice added. "If Parvati's going to be here then so am I."

"The rest of you can think about it," Ginny said. "This is important but so are your families. Everyone will understand, one way or another." She paused. "Just let me know soon, if you can."

)SURPRISE(

When Ananda failed to ask him about Ginny's supposed secret again, Draco knew for certain something was up. He even made a point of pulling her aside.

"I didn't find out anything about Ginny," he told her one morning as they headed up to breakfast together.

"Oh, it's probably nothing," Ananda said airily, waving a hand. "Will you help me with Charms this afternoon?"

Draco shook his head at her. He blamed the inter-house unity – Ananda used to be the queen of subtlety. Just as well – he was now positive that Ginny had a secret and if Ananda knew, it stood to reason that some of the team knew, too. Really, he figured, if he hung around the locker rooms long enough, he was sure to find out what they were up to.

He was irritated to discover that he was wrong. The girls continued their daily Quidditch practices into midterms, despite mass consternation about looming N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s. Draco had his own uni finals to worry about, as the semester came to a close, but even the finals and his full-time work at Hogwarts couldn't quite rid him of the feeling that something important was happening and he was missing it.

He asked Blaise about it, assuming that if the Ginny was up to something, Hermione or Pansy would've heard about it.

"Are you kidding?" Blaise rolled his eyes at Draco through the Floo. "Pans is way too clever to let on if she knows and Hermione's much too busy with classes to scheme."

"Granger is never too busy for scheming," Draco said darkly. "I'm sure Gin's up to something, Blaise. She has a secret, half the team probably knows, and she won't tell me."

"Don't you think if it's important she'll tell you eventually?" Blaise pointed out reasonably. "Don't be paranoid, Draco."

Draco scowled at him. "Just ask Granger if she's heard anything, will you?" Now that the idea was in his head, he couldn't shake the feeling that, whatever Ginny's secret was, it could be almost anything and it could be something dangerous.

"Sure, I'll ask," Blaise promised. "Can we talk about econ, now, please? I may fail the bleeding class and have to retake in the winter term and that might actually kill me, Draco."

"What could it be?" Draco muttered to himself, absently shifting through his parchment for the econ study guide he'd created for himself the night before while trying to think about Ginny and what her secrets might be.

"Oh, and I got us an interview with that bloke from Newbridge," Blaise added. "He wants to meet with us about the property and land use. If you like, we can talk about that instead of econ."

Newbridge was the closest he and Blaise had come so far to finding a home for their prospective pro-Quidditch team and Draco was excited enough about it that discussing the interview (set for early in the new year) took his mind off Ginny for almost an hour.

Ginny herself came and found him at roughly the end of that hour and, while she definitely distracted him, he couldn't stop thinking about what she might be hiding from him.

"You seem worried," she said, curling a little closer to him on the small sofa by the fire. One of the perks of being a teacher at Hogwarts, even just an assistant, was that Draco finally had his own rooms.

"Gin," he said slowly. "Is there anything you aren't telling me?"

He heard her suck in a breath, probably to tell him that there were a world of things she wasn't telling him. Instead of saying that, she blew the breath out slowly. "Nothing important, no," she assured him. She twisted a little to look up at him. "Is that what's bothering you?"

Draco chewed at his cheek. He was almost positive she was up to something; at the same time, he trusted her. "I'm not worried," he said at last. Whatever it was, it probably wasn't Death Eaters or dark arts-related. She seemed happy and busy, not the pensive ball of energy he remembered so well from this time last year. He wound one of her auburn braids through his fingers, watching it throw off firelight.

She turned and sat up, curling a hand around the back of his neck. "I love you," she said, and kissed him. As he pulled her into his lap, Draco decided he could probably let this go.

)SURPRISE(

As Christmas drew nearer and midterms came to a merciful end, Ginny found herself with a dilemma she hadn't realized she'd be facing: all the team girls planned to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas.

"I don't understand it," she murmured as she and Ananda stood in front of a very familiar stretch of wall on the sixth floor. "I thought everyone would want to be home."

"They do," Ananda pointed out. "Most of them," she added, probably thinking of Pansy and Millicent. "But this is as important to us as it is to you. It's Christmas and no one should be alone."

Ginny sighed, chest aching a little. That was the point of all this, really – no one should be alone at Christmas.

"I should've known," she admitted with a smile. "He is the coach."

She closed her eyes, picturing the room in her mind that she wanted to see, and paced three times in front of the empty stone wall. When she opened her eyes, a totally nondescript, broom cupboard door sat benignly in the space where the empty wall had been.

"I don't want anyone noticing the door," Ginny explained when Ananda raised her eyebrows. "Draco's already watching us all like hawks. I wouldn't put it passed him to come wandering up here."

Ananda rolled her eyes and shoved the door open. Beyond was a room that was about as far from a broom closet as it was possible to get.

Ginny had actually drawn a blueprint of the space when this crazy idea had first occurred to her, working and reworking it until it was exactly what she had wanted. She'd also practiced creating the space to make sure it looked the way she wanted and had the features she needed it to have.

Ananda stared around. "It looks like a lodge. Sort of like the one my family takes in the Alps some winter holidays."

"I went to one like this in Romania a few years ago," Ginny explained. "Right around the holidays. This is how I remember it, more or less."

The room was big and featured large windows that let in rectangles of wintry sunlight and spectacular views of the snow-covered peaks of mountains and the broad expanse of lake and forests surrounding Hogwarts. Half of the room was designed as a dining space, with a long, sturdy, scrubbed wooden table and comfortable carved wooden chairs. The other half of the room was lounge-like, with sofas, poufs, and armchairs arranged around an unlit hearth with a lovely thick rug in front. Squeezing into a corner was a tall, bushy Christmas tree covered in tinsel and fairly lights and an angel on top. The angel was actually a Quidditch player, arm outstretched and fingers just grasping a Snitch. Like the fifth floor corridor, the room was garlanded in pine boughs wrapped in red and gold twine and the whole place smelled of snow and cookies and fir tree.

"This," Ananda said, "is bloody brilliant, Gin."

Ginny grinned. "Think so? I like how it feels like home, even though we'll all be so far away."

Ananda turned on the spot, admiring the space. "What'll we do about food? And presents?"

"Food's covered," Ginny said, indicating the portrait hanging near the table.

Ananda nodded. "Ah, obviously. You sure Old Abe doesn't mind?"

"I think he's excited about it, to be honest," Ginny told her. "When I asked him last week, he was surly and wouldn't let Blaise pay for any of it." Ananda raised her eyebrows. "I know," Ginny said, shrugging. "Blaise insisted. Anyway, I figure we can invite Abe to join us. I think he doesn't really have anywhere else to be that day."

"Good." Ananda stared up at the portrait of Ariana Dumbledore, running a finger along the frame. "I expect he's lonely." She glanced at Ginny. "What about presents?"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Blaise said he's arranging it and not to talk nonsense by suggesting anything else. I'm afraid to ask and Hermione won't tell me what he's up to – if she knows. Anyway, it's sorted."

"Goody," Ananda said, rubbing her hands together. "I can't wait!" She went to the sitting room part of the room and dropped into a sofa that faced the windows. Snow had started falling again. Ginny joined her, tucking her feet under her and wishing for a fire in the grate. The stone walls packed the cold in.

"So," Ananda said after a comfortable silence. "We ready?"

Ginny grinned. "Bring it, Santa."

)SURPRISE(

Two days before Christmas, Draco found himself wandering the corridors alone just after breakfast. The entrance hall and surrounding staircases were already piled with trunks and rucksacks as most of the students prepared to go home to their families. The surrounding corridors and staircases were relatively quiet as students finished last-minute packing or sat late at breakfast with their friends.

He passed gloomily by the luggage, some of which hooted and ribbited and yowled. He didn't have anywhere he especially wanted to go this Christmas – much as he loved Ginny, he didn't have any desire to spend his holiday surrounded by her relatives and Potter. Ananda's offer to go to France was an open one, he knew, and however much Aunt Mila despised Lucius Malfoy, she couldn't quite seem to stoke the same hatred for Draco. Still, she wasn't family he wanted to be reminded of this holiday, however much he liked Ananda.

Which meant that all that was left for Draco, really, was Hogwarts. When it came right down to it, the castle was more a home to him than anywhere else at the moment. His possessions, which weren't plentiful, were all at Hogwarts. He'd met his best friends here, his team and his job were here, and he knew the corridors well enough to walk them blind-folded. His rooms, small though they were, felt like they belonged to him.

And Ginny, of course. Ginny was here.

The moment her midterms were over, she'd come straight to him with a big smile and a request to take her on an "ice skating date" on the lake. She'd stayed close after that, taking most of her meals with him in his rooms and sneaking back later at night after curfew. They'd been into the kitchens to decorate the heavenly gingerbread prepared daily by the house-elves and spent long hours bent low over a wizard's chess board in the Gryffindor common room, advised and teased by the other team girls and their friends.

Ginny seemed in especially high spirits right now, which made sense since she'd be home with her family soon and Draco knew how much she loved Christmas. Whatever her secret was, it was probably something Draco wouldn't be able to sort out until after the holiday.

He reached the base of the staircase that led down to the entrance hall from Gryffindor Tower and caught sight of Ginny's faded trunk, its large G and W set in cracked gold leaf at the top and surrounded by Quidditch imagery, probably painted by Millicent or Natalie. Her trunk was nearest the base of the stairs, which meant she'd been one of the first down this morning. His heart sank and he gave himself a mental shake. She was coming back. They all were. It was just a week and a holiday he'd never cared about before. Not much, anyway.

"All right, coach?"

Draco glanced up at Ginny as she descended the stairs, Natalie and Ananda in tow. All three were dressed in traveling cloaks and bundled up in house scarves and mittens.

"Fine," he said, shrugging. "I see you lot are ready to break down the school gates."

"I can't wait to be home, even if I bloody hate France," Ananda told him. "I wasn't up as early as Nat, though."

"What? I'm homesick," she said. "This time last year we were losing Quidditch matches to Gryffindor and trying to figure out if Ananda was a psychopath or not." Ananda slugged her arm. "Ow! This year, my only worry is that I didn't do as well on my midterms as I wanted and did I remember to pack enough pants."

Ananda rolled her eyes. "Oh, right, wouldn't want to forget to bring enough pants home. That's my first worry, too, how did you know?"

It was Natalie's turn to roll her eyes. "Shut up, Slytherin."

"You first, Gryffindor."

"Ah, team unity strikes again," Ginny said flatly. "I could weep." She grinned at Draco. "You gonna see us off on the train, coach?"

He went to Hogsmeade Station with the team girls (and, indeed, most of the Hogwarts student body). He helped them haul their luggage onto the train and stood waving at them as the train pulled away. One of the thestral-drawn carriages stood waiting to take Draco back to Hogwarts but he felt a morose desire to be outside a bit longer so he ignored the carriage and walked the short road into Hogsmeade instead. As usual, the whole village was lit with colorful fairy lights and candles in every window. Sleighs passed up and down the narrow streets and delicious smells wafted from every pub and restaurant. Draco went into his favorite sandwich shop and sat at the window working his way through a plate of sandwiches and a peppermint hot chocolate (he couldn't drink those when the girls were around because he knew he'd never hear the end of it).

When he'd had enough of happy families and couples and friends passing the window in high Christmas spirits, he trudged the five miles back to Hogwarts. It started to snow as he passed through the school gates and he cast an additional water repelling charm on his boots and cloak as he walked. He took his supper in his rooms that night, although somehow it felt lonelier even than his solitary walk back to the school. He'd received an invitation from the deputy headmistress (who would always be Professor McGonagall to him, colleague or not) for an evening with the rest of the teachers but he politely declined. He'd only graduated a few months ago, after all. It would be too strange to sit down to conversation with his teachers.

He tried reading for a bit and when he soured of that, he gave up and got ready for bed. As he was shaking out his dressing gown, a slip of parchment fluttered to the ground, apparently shaken loose from one of the pockets. Draco picked it up and unfolded it.

He smiled, his chest aching a little, as he read the note.

Don't worry, coach, we won't be gone long.

Love,

Your Girls

P.S. As I write this, Ginny is composing a sexy dance to celebrate her return. Gross. Love, Ananda.

P.P.S. It's not gross, it's sexy. Just you wait, coach. Love, Ginny

P.P.P.S. I made up a sexy dance, too, but I'm not allowed to show you because some people think I'm too young. Love, Jess

Draco swallowed, shoving the note onto his desk and crawling into bed. It was only a week until they would return but Draco didn't know how he could bear it.

)SURPRISE(

Christmas Eve found Draco sleeping until noon. He awoke groggy and grouchy and badly in need of coffee. One of the perks of being a Hogwarts professor was that you could simply ring for coffee and it would appear on your sitting room table. When he'd first been hired, Professor McGonagall had given Draco an extremely stern look and told him not to abuse this privilege. Draco had nodded, smirked to himself, and ordered a feast at midnight. Then he'd felt terrible (and ill from all the food) and, unable to think what else to do, had gone to the kitchens and lectured the elves on what a tremendous job they'd done. Some of them had wept openly so he figured he'd made it up to them.

He drank his coffee and stared out his window at the wintry landscape, wondering what to do with himself. He glanced at the pile of scrolls on his desk – all Quidditch strategies, lessons for the first-years in his capacity as Madam Hooch's assistant, and his crazy scheme with Blaise to create a professional team for his girls.

He pulled on a set of Quidditch robes, grabbed several of scrolls, and headed out to the pitch. The air snapped with cold around him and he saw a mass of ominous clouds moving slowly toward the grounds over the Forbidden Forest. Ignoring the wind, he got his own Firebolt from the lockers, where he kept it locked away with the girls' brooms, and headed onto the pitch.

He made an effort to ignore the emptiness around him for an hour before he gave up. Normally, he'd have relished the opportunity to have the entire pitch to himself. Today, though, all he could think about was how he couldn't hear his Beaters shouting to each other as they practiced maneuvers or see his Keepers practicing patrols around their goal hoops. And his magnificent Chasers weren't zipping up and down the pitch trying out-fly each other while his Seekers zipped in and out of their formations in search of the Snitch.

When a blizzard opened up over the castle, Draco growled in disgust and made a break for the castle. The Great Hall was almost deserted but had a roaring fire in one of its four fireplaces so he sat there, trying to warm his stiff hands as he ate a lunch meant for three people by himself.

If this is what one day without them all does to me, I can't bear to think about the next six, he thought darkly as he stalked back to his rooms. At this rate, he'd be rethinking his decision not to have Christmas dinner with Professor McGonagall and the others, which invitation had arrived for him the day before.

He spent the rest of the afternoon in his rooms, reading and trying to enjoy the quiet. His post-holiday lessons got written and he created a whole new training program for his team. He was just wandering back out into the corridors for another gloomy stroll (realizing as he did that he was pacing the beautifully decorated fifth floor corridor) when the whoosh of wings from behind him made him turn. A large barn owl, probably one of the school's, came sailing gracefully down the corridor. It landed in one of the windows and held out its leg to Draco. He took the scroll tied there, avoiding the peck the owl aimed at his fingers before it flew off toward the Owlry.

He opened the hastily scrawled note.

If alone on Christmas you dread to be

Seek a room, wherein a tree

Below the seventh, above the fifth

A Christmas tryst, you won't want to miss

Follow your heart and you shall find

The room that's all you ask it with your mind

Draco stared at it. He didn't recognized the handwriting but it was absolutely the worst poem he'd ever read. He scowled. If it turned out to be McGonagall trying to trick him into a staff Christmas Eve party, he might actually resign from Hogwarts.

With nothing else to occupy him and not especially hungry, he went upstairs to the sixth floor corridor, frowning down at the note. The note wasn't especially clever either – it obviously meant the Room of Requirement. If it was in use, the door might be visible. He walked the corridor, peering into every room, but couldn't see any signs of anything out of the ordinary.

All you ask with your mind.

What would he ask for? He already knew and the note said as much.

He chose a blank patch of corridor wall and paced in front of it three times. I want a place where I won't have to be alone for Christmas.

When he opened his eyes, a single, nondescript door had appeared on the wall. Draco reached for the handle and pushed it opened, wondering if he should have his wand in-hand. He stepped inside and sucked in a sharp breath, staring around the garlanded room; at the enormous Christmas tree, the two stocking sitting on the hearth, and the long, scrubbed wooden table set with two places and food for ten.

"I wasn't sure how long it would take you to find me," Ginny said from the sofa. She was smiling as she crossed to him. He still hadn't moved from the doorway and Ginny, with a sly looked, pointed up. Draco looked and grinned, too, as he saw the little sprig of mistletoe hanging over them.

"You did all this?" he asked, gesturing to the room around them.

"Well, I had help," she admitted, winding her arms around him.

"What about your family?" he said. "I thought you wanted to be home with them, more than anything."

"Well," she said, caressing his cheek, "I had something pretty important I had to do. They understood."

)SURPRISE(

Draco woke the next morning in stages. He was stretched out on the sofa by the fire where he and Ginny had fallen asleep the night before, tucked under a thick quilt with his head pillowed on his arm. He smiled a little as the memories came to him. They'd had dinner at the large table, the most delicious meal Draco had had in long time. Ginny insisted that they couldn't open the stockings until morning ("It's Christmas, Draco!") so they'd settled down by the fire to play a round of wizard's chess. They'd fallen asleep in the early morning, curled around each other on the large sofa.

Draco blinked his eyes open in the wintry morning light coming through the large windows behind the Christmas tree. He stretched, gaze coming into focus on the hearth. He blinked. Where only two stockings had been the night before, there were now sixteen lined up and stuffed to bursting.

"Gin," he said slowly as he pushed himself upright and ran a hand through his hair. "I think our stockings are reproducing." She didn't reply but a stifled giggle came from behind him. Slowly, Draco turned around –

"Surprise!"

They were all there, every one of them. In a rush, they piled onto him, laughing and talking at once as they all tried to hug him at the same time.

"Surprised, Draco?" Pansy Parkinson asked, kissing his cheek.

"Uh," he said, managing to get his arms around Susie Bones and Hannah Abbot at the same time.

"Course he is," Millicent Bulstrode said, grinning up at him from the floor, wither she had retired to avoid being trampled. "We're a bloody Christmas miracle."

"That, we are," Parvati Patil agreed. "Come on, coach, say something."

Something between a laugh and a funny choke came out of Draco's mouth.

"Draco Malfoy, speechless," Hermione Granger said as she reached out and ruffled his hair. "I've waited my whole Hogwarts life for this moment."

"Me, too," Blaise Zabini agreed. He smirked down at Draco, his arm wound around Hermione's waist.

"I think it must be a genetic aberration," Ananda added with a smirk.

"What – I mean." Draco cleared his throat, trying to glare at them as they all sat back. "What the hell are you all doing here?" he demanded at last. "You're all supposed to be with your families."

"Thing is," Jools Boot said from her seat on the ground, where she was leaning comfortably against Susie. "We had somewhere important we had to be. They understood."

Draco looked around at their beaming faces. From beside Hermione and Blaise, Ginny smiled down at him, her eyes over-bright. "I told you," she said quietly.

"All right, you lot have had your fun," Blaise cut in. "Now I get to have mine." He pulled a large red and white stocking cap from his pocket and jammed it onto his head. "It's time for presents!"

They shoved the sofa out of the way and took their stockings (each with a name embroidered into it) over by the tree. Blaise had gone to town, Draco saw, individually choosing presents for each girl, and he cackled any time one of them squealed or exclaimed over a present.

"How did you manage this?" Draco murmured to Ginny while they watched Hermione and Pansy pull a wizard cracker, which exploded in a shower of sparks and two sparkling tiaras.

"It wasn't easy," she admitted. "I've been working on it for more than a month. Pansy and Jools were in on it from the beginning and we told Hermione right away so she could help scheme. The uni girls were all planning to come from the start and when I told the girls here – well, they liked it, too."

"How did you all manage to get back from the train?" he wanted to know. "I saw you leave."

She waved toward the portrait of Ariana Dumbledore hanging by the table. "We wanted to be sure you were convinced we really left," she said. She grinned at Parvati and Adrienne across the piles of presents. "What we didn't tell you was that the uni girls stowed away on the Hogwarts Express and tandem Apparated us all back to Hogsmeade. We didn't want to risk you seeing us come back through a secret passage so we went back through Old Abe's portrait. The uni girls stayed in Hogmeade so you wouldn't chance seeing them. Old Abe made all the food we had last night, by the way, and he'll be making it all today. He insisted."

As if on cue, the portrait opened and the old man stuck his head through. "Food's ready," he said gruffly.

Pansy, Hannah, and Patrice stood and went to him, kissing his cheeks as they passed him through the portrait hole. "Merry Christmas!" they caroled.

"You lot carry on," Pansy said over her shoulder. "We'll be back."

They were back with Abe a few minutes later, trays of food floating along with them. Blaise, Jess, and Jools had set the table while Susie and Adrienne conjured more chairs and arranged them. "You don't get to do a thing," Ginny murmured when Draco moved to help them. "This is our present to you, coach."

The girls insisted Old Abe join them and, while Draco didn't think the old man had a hope of escaping them when they'd led him to a chair, sat him down, and tucked a napkin under his chin, he also didn't think Abe minded in the least.

They drank toasts of champagne cocktail, ate until they were groaning, and laughed loud enough that Draco was sure everyone could hear them. The girls helped Old Abe clear up afterwards and all insisted on Christmas kisses on the cheek for him. Abe left, flushed pink and spluttering and obviously trying not to smile.

They snuck out for a walk after the meal, heading straight for the pitch. The uni girls got out their old brooms and they played several rounds of pickup Quidditch and a few drill games they all loved. Draco wasn't sure what Professor McGonagall thought of all this, since none of the girls were technically supposed to be here, but he didn't see a sign of her or any of the remaining professors all day. He asked Hermione about it and she just smiled. "We took care of it, coach," she said, squeezing his arm.

When Bettina and Millicent began complaining of frostbit fingers, the girls came down and they all headed back to the castle. There was a mad scramble for the hearth rug and everyone settled down to enjoy their presents and the large Christmas tea Old Abe had obviously arranged while they were outside (though he himself was nowhere to be seen).

"So," Ginny said after a sip of cocoa and a bite of gingerbread, "not quite the Christmas you were expecting?"

Draco couldn't stop a smile so he took a sip of his own chocolate as he gazed around at his girls and Blaise, lounging and laughing together in front of the crackling fire. Susie, Patrice, and Ananda were playing Exploding Snap with a new pack of cards (Susie was by far the best at it, despite her missing arm). Pansy, Natalie, Bettina, and Hannah were braiding Hermione's hair into a hundred tiny plaits while she protested vainly from under Millicent, who had sat on her to keep her from running away. They were careful not to upset the tiara she still wore. Jess and Adrienne were bent over the wizard chess board while Parvati and Natalie shouted unnecessary and often unhelpful advice at them.

"Go on, mate," Blaise said from his other side, nudging him. "Best surprise ever, right?"

Draco grinned a little wider as he clinked his mug with his best friend's, then with Ginny's. "Best ever," he agreed.

Ginny leaned up and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Happy Christmas, coach."

That, it definitely was.

)SURPRISE(

The End

I'm alone this Christmas, with family and friends a very long ways away, but writing fics for my readers (who are still good enough to read them, even though I'm so infrequent about posting new stuff now!) definitely makes me feel like I'm getting a big Christmas-y, Quidditch-y hug (much like Draco's). Thanks for reading!

Merry Christmas!