A/N & Legal Disclaimer That Really Means Nothing, But Seems Obligatory for All Fanfic:

The characters of Frank & Joe Hardy, their dad Fenton and Aunt Gertrude, & friends all belong to Simon & Schuster. Those characters as portrayed here are based on the 1970s TV show "The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries", starring Parker Stevenson & Shaun Cassidy, created by Glen A. Larson, with some shades of the '50s Disney serial. Please note: This is a prequel to all my other tales, set roughly nine years before the events in "Voodoo Doll" — Frank & Joe are 12 and 11 here, respectively. I'll use blue-spine canon with the show when I can, but the TV show trumps all, for my stories.

This tale popped in as I was writing The SF Vampire; see my profile for story order. Quick tour, for those not familiar with the show: Bayport's in MA, the Hardys' mother is dead, Aunt G lives with them to help raise the boys, and paranormal phenomena & supernatural beings are very, very real (and I take that particular ball and run very, very far with it.)

A BIG thanks to Jilsen, who pushed at me to do a full original tale set in the back-history, and to JD of the Hardy Detective Agency, the avowed "young Hardy"-story-hater who got enthusiastic about my young Hardys in the "House" tale. Enjoy!

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December 1970, Bayport MA.

Snow was scary.

Kris Mountainhawk had never seen it, never felt it, never experienced it; it had never snowed in San Francisco. She clambered up onto the back of the couch and perched there, staring open-mouthed out the window. It was so…so…white. And deep — the stuff had piled over halfway up the door, and school had been cancelled because of it. More was coming down, huge fluffy flakes swirling in the wind and clinking against the window with soft chinks, like when she'd dropped a box of sequins during art period. It covered the whole world: trees, roads, bushes, yards, houses, cars — she couldn't even see the mailbox. It had completely disappeared under the never-ending, relentless white.

"Is this why mountains are white?" Kris demanded, wide-eyed. "This stuff?"

Mar Mountainhawk laughed; she was an older weathered Navajo with a dried-apple face and grey-streaked black hair — Kris's adoptive mother. She'd stayed home from Boston Center today, after the radio announced the school closure. Mar laughed a lot. Kris liked that; her original parents had almost never laughed. It still felt weird, having someone who claimed to be her family, who didn't scream or beat the crap out of her.

"Yes," Mar said, grinning. "It is. You should go out and play, little squirrel."

Play? In that stuff? Kris could feel the deep cold through the windows. She shook her head fast, shivering at the thought.

Something smacked the window, exploded in a splatter of white. Kris squeaked, scrambled back, fell off the couch.

Mar was laughing again. Kris stared up at the window, trying to catch her breath and wondering what had just happened — did big chunks of that stuff fall from the sky, too?

"I think," Mar said, still grinning, "that means Frank and Joe want you to come outside."

Outside? What did that white explosion have to do with Frank and Joe? Kris picked herself off the floor, peeked over the couch again. To her shock, Frank and Joe were both out in that deep endless white, pushing their way through the snow to the Mountainhawk front door — well, Frank was pushing his way; Joe was jumping through it, or trying, alternating jumps with stretching his legs in funny-looking step-hops. Both were bundled in thick puffy nylon coats (Frank his usual blue and a matching wooly hat, Joe a brand-new red emblazoned with the Red Sox logo) and knitted red-and-white striped scarves and gloves; both were flushed and grinning as they pounded on the door.

Frank and Joe Hardy lived next door; Kris and Mar had just moved to Bayport from San Francisco that spring, and in that time, despite a rocky, scary start, the boys had become friends. "Stomp off," Mar warned them, as she let the boys in.

"Come on outside," Joe demanded at Kris as he stomped his feet. Chunks of that white stuff fell off his boots and scattered all over the entryway; he shook his gold-brown hair like a wet sheepdog, scattering even more white everywhere. "Chet's dad's getting the sleigh out — he's gonna come and pick us all up." Then Joe stopped, staring at the cut evergreen tree in the corner, laden with threaded popcorn-and-cranberry garland and salt-dough ornaments. "Indians celebrate Christmas?"

"Joe!" Frank elbowed his brother.

Kris only stood there, not understanding a single word Joe said. "Sleigh?"

"Of course we celebrate Christmas, dear," Mar said. "Ya'át'ééh Késhmish. That's 'Merry Christmas' in Navajo." She said it again with careful enunciation, Joe repeating it after her until he had it. "We never had snow on the reservation, though. Not in Arizona."

"You don't know what a sleigh is?" Frank said curiously, to Kris.

Kris shook her head. The clumps of white stuff were melting and leaving huge puddles on the tile. "That stuff's water?"

That shut both boys up, but only for a moment. "You don't know what snow is?" Joe said.

Feeling stupid, Kris shook her head again, dropping her gaze to the floor.

"It doesn't snow in San Francisco, boys," Mar said.

"You know what it is," Frank said.

Mar laughed again. "My brother lives in Oregon. This little bit is nothing compared to what Seneca gets."

"San Francisco sounds boring," Joe said to Kris. "No snow? So how do you get snow days?"

"Um…" Panicking, Kris looked at Mar. No help there. The whole going-to-school thing was still confusing; despite Mar's tutoring, Kris was behind everyone else her age. She didn't mind the little kids, but the older ones made her life miserable. If it hadn't been for Frank and Joe helping her stand up against the bullies, she would've run away again.

Scaredy-cat, crybaby, dummy, weirdo…

"Come on outside," Frank said to her. "I need someone to gang up on Joe with."

"No way," Joe said. "She's on my team." He looked pleadingly at Kris. "You are, right?"

Okay. Definite confusion now. "Um…"

Mar was already pulling Kris's coat and boots from the hall closet. "Go," Mar ordered her. "Don't come back until you've hit them with a couple dozen snowballs."

"Hey!" Joe protested.

"Each," Mar added. "And yes, she can go to Morton's farm with you. Scoot!"

The world was drowning in cold white, and Mar had decided to go crazy. Great. Frank and Joe waited with obvious impatience while Kris pulled on boots, bright pink puffy-nylon coat, thick mittens, red wooly bobble hat, hand-crocheted green scarf — then Mar pushed her out the door and into the deep white.

Blinking, Kris stood on the porch. It was too bright, blinding, and the snow was falling so heavily that she kept blinking her eyes to keep them clear. For her, the snow was almost mid-chest. She was a runty, mousy-blonde child, only a couple months younger than Joe (at least, that'd been the doctor's best guess — her original parents had never celebrated birthdays, so Kris had no clue how old she really was); despite her age, she barely came up to Frank's shoulder. Then a clump of flakes landed on her face, and she sneezed. "It's soft!"

Joe's snowball nailed her dead-center in the chest.

Shocked, she stood frozen, not understanding. What had she done? Then the second one hit her, same spot — they were laughing at her! — and she fell back against the door, fumbled with the knob until she got it open and scrambled back in the house, collapsing to a shaking huddle just inside, arms wrapped around her head. What had she done? They'd never thrown things at her before, never, ever!

Her original parents had thrown things, too. Things that broke. Things that shattered. Things that bruised and cut. They'd laughed when she'd cried, then they'd screamed at her to stop crying, to stop being such a baby, to grow up…

"Squirrel?" Mar said gently, crouching down.

On the other side of the door, Kris could hear Frank and Joe knocking, Frank calling her name. Tears streaking her face, she looked up at Mar. "They threw stuff. They were laughing!"

Mar sighed, hauled Kris to her feet. "That's the point. Get back out there. Throw snow back. It's a game."

"But…"

"Don't tell me you're going to let them get away with it," Mar said sternly — her Implacable Indian Warrior face.

Wiping at her face, Kris gulped, shook her head.

"Get out there and defend the honor of the tribe, squirrel." Still stern, but the corner of Mar's mouth twitched. "Just don't put any ice or rocks in those snowballs, understood?"

With that, she pushed Kris back out the door. Trembling, Kris stood there in the snow, backed against the door, shoulders hunched, head bowed. Waiting for the next blow.

"Hey, don't you know how to make snowballs?" Frank didn't wait for an answer. "Like this." He scooped up some snow, packed it into a lopsided ball-shape, then placed the result in her hands. "Go on. Hit Joe."

"Hey!"

"You got her twice," Frank said sternly; he was only twelve, but he had Mar's tone down cold. "It's her turn. Not in the face, though." That to Kris. "Back of the head's legal. Knock his hat off."

She really wasn't understanding this. Frank wasn't angry, wasn't upset, and Joe just stood there, grinning, waiting.

"Some big brother you are." Joe crossed his arms, stuck his tongue out. "You're supposed to protect me. I'm the baby —"

Frank's snowball hit him square in the chest.

"Like that," Frank said to Kris, then ducked as Joe threw one back, missing Frank completely and splattering against the window. "I can hold him down in the snow if you want."

"I'm gonna make a snow fort," Joe said. "I need something to protect me from my evil brother." He looked pleadingly at Kris. "You're gonna help me, ri — hey!"

Her snowball nailed his butt.

They were laughing again. She had thrown something back, and they laughed. It wasn't a trick. They wanted her to throw this stuff back. Her second snowball fell apart and missed Joe completely, and at that point, the battle was joined. It got even better when Callie Shaw showed up and the whole thing turned into boys-vs-girls — Kris's aim was non-existent, but Callie's more than made up for it. A pretty blonde tomboy, Callie was wickedly accurate, and Kris was so little, she simply stomped a hole in the deep snow and ducked down into it for impromptu protection from Frank and Joe's barrage.

"No fair!" Joe said. "You're girls. You're not supposed to be good at this!"

Another snowball nailed him from the front porch. Grinning, Mar stood there, holding another snowball.

"Mar's a girl, too," Callie informed him. "I'd take that back, if I were you."

"Yeah, but she's old — hey!" Three simultaneous snowballs, Callie, Mar, and Kris, all hit Joe at once.

"Mar's an Indian," Frank said to Joe. "You'd better surrender or she'll scalp you."

"Mr. Morton called," Mar said, before Joe could huff up in indignation. "He got delayed, but he's on his way. Take this with you, squirrel." She set a plastic bag down on the porch; it clinked.

"What's that?" Joe said.

"Adult stuff," Mar said. "And my homemade candy oils. Mrs. Morton said something about peppermint fudge."

Jangly bells — they sounded like the shaker-bells that Kris usually got assigned in music periodmade them all look around. Kris froze, staring. She recognized the Mortons' farm-horses, two huge black geldings named Clyde and Dale, but she'd never seen them trotting up Elm Street and breathing out huge clouds of steam, with harness were covered in bells and pulling something weird: a red wooden contraption with holly-and-ivy decorations and balanced on metal strips. Chet Morton and his sister Iola stood in the thing, waving and yelling at them: Chet was a roly-poly boy with curly hair and glasses, Iola slender and pixie-ish, her black hair sprinkled with snow.

"It's a sleigh," Frank said to Kris: his usual matter-of-fact know-it-all. "Like Jingle Bells. Mr. Morton does this every Christmas."

That was Mr. Morton? The man perched on the front seat of the contraption didn't look like him: dressed all in red and green, a thick hooded cloak trimmed in white fur, a wreath of holly and ivy around his head, big black boots, a long, foamy white beard. Edging closer, Kris finally recognized Mr. Morton's face grinning at her behind the disguise.

Frank nudged her. "Don't forget the bag."

Kris darted back to the porch and carefully lifted up the bag — small glass bottles and one thick glass jug filled with amber liquid. Oh. That was the 'adult stuff'. Mar had experimented with a beehive in the backyard over the summer, and she'd reserved half the resulting honey for home-brewing; Mar had spent last night pouring off the results into jugs.

Mr. Morton accepted the bag with a loud belly-laugh, and waved his thanks at Mar. "Definitely making Santa jolly," he said, and patted Kris on the head before she could flinch away. "You boys scoot over and give this little one a window seat."

Santa? That's who he was supposed to be? He didn't look anything like the jolly Coca-Cola-colored man she'd seen on TV. Mr. Morton's get-up seemed older, somehow. More real. Solemn. Scary.

"You won't fall out," Joe said to Kris as he made room on the seat. "It's fun."

Iola patted the empty spot next to her. "Come sit by me, Joe."

Callie and Chet snickered. Joe looked from Kris to Frank; he was wedged between them. "I'm fine."

Frank grinned at Kris behind Joe's head. Ever since seeing Snow White last month at the Bayport Cinema, Iola had decided that Joe was Prince Charming, much to Joe's disgust. Kris didn't understand why Joe hated it — Iola looked like a fairy-tale princess, dark-haired and dark-eyed, imperious and regal, even though she was only Kris's age.

Kris loved fairy tales. Before she'd run away, her most treasured possession (filched from a garage sale and hidden deep in her closet under a mound of old pillows and discarded clothes) had been a gold-leafed book of fairy stories with jewel-bright colors and old-fashioned print. Her original parents had told her stories enough, angry stories about God punishing sinners for every little thing, but the fairy tales were different. Clever boys and girls who outwitted evil parents and who were rewarded by the fairies for being clever and generous, children who lived deep in magical woods with dwarves, deer, elves…

Mr. Morton clucked at Clyde and Dale, and the contraption jolted forward. Kris squeaked, grabbed at the wooden seat, then settled into the motion. For something pulled by horses and made of wood, it was fast. The bite of wind in her face had her covering her face with mittened hands and pulling her scarf tighter; the cold made her face ache and snow stung her cheeks.

The sleigh made the rounds of snow-covered Bayport's town center and residential areas. Mr. Morton stopped to pick up the rest of the Hardy's friends and collected more clinking bags and rattling boxes from their parents — luckily, Chet and Callie had claimed the spots directly across from Kris, so she didn't have to deal with Phil. Tony Prito, though, grinned at her as he helped his baby sister Anna up into the sleigh; the three-year-old promptly wedged herself between Kris and Joe and started on a long-winded, tangled story about her visit to Santa's "candy-land" at the Boston Mall.

Buried under ice and white, Bayport's town center still bustled with shoppers. Stores were open and lit with Christmas lights that glowed under the snow-cover, even in the gray overcast daylight. Kris couldn't stop looking around, twisting in her seat to take in everything. The air smelled dry, scented with resiny wood-smoke and baking bread; evergreen wreaths, boughs, garland, and multi-colored lights covered everything.

Her original parents had never celebrated Christmas either, at least, not like this. It was sinful, according to them. Kris's last Christmas had been at Bay Area Center, just a couple weeks after she'd run away, and while Mar and others there had done their best to calm the little abused girl, Kris had still hidden in her room, too scared of all the adults, all the faces, all the noise to come out. She'd spent that day staring out her window at the Bay, watching the boats and water, only sneaking out of her room to snitch sandwiches and cookies from the kitchen.

But this…this was different. This was fun.

They hit the edge of town and out into the countryside. The snow was actually deeper here, the land muffled in cold and white, the gray daylight turning darker as more storm clouds rolled in. The others chattered away, but Kris kept turning around, looking, smelling, feeling. It was still the same Massachusetts farmlands, still the same tree-lined road, but…it wasn't. Everything had changed overnight, all trapped under snow, blanketed in quiet and solitude, shining white against the gray dark. A glowing, glistening fairy land…

She caught Joe doing the same thing — silent, looking around with wide, wondering eyes.

"Not bad, huh?" Joe said. Then he looked down. "Mom loved snow."

"She'd make ice cream out of it," Frank said. "Chocolate ice cream."

"With strawberry jam." Joe looked like he was about to cry. "It was the best."

The Hardys' mother had died a few months before Kris and Mar had moved in. The thought of a mom that did good things for you…Kris couldn't understand it. "Maybe Mar knows how to make that stuff," Kris said shyly.

"It won't be Mom's," Joe said stubbornly.

"Mar's'd be weird," Frank said. "Cactus flavor. With dandelions on top."

"Buffalo," Kris offered, and Joe broke into a sad, lopsided grin.

The Morton's farm was another shock. Buried in snow and framed in multi-colored lights, the little farmhouse had candles in all the windows and pine trees in the front yard strung with popcorn and Fruit Loops. The barren-trees lining the country lane were coated in thick ice that glittered and the lane was marked by white paper sacks glowing with candlelight. Awed, Kris stared in delight — a fairy path, it was a fairy path straight from all the storybooks…

"We lit 'em early," Chet said. "Me and Iola didn't want to waste the first snow."

"Mar said your mom was doing fudge," Joe said hopefully. "Peppermint fudge."

Chet glanced at his sister, then gave Joe a sly grin. "You have to be nice to my sister if you want any."

"Ewwww." Joe shoved past Kris and jumped out of the sleigh as Mr. Morton reined the horses to a stop right in front of the farmhouse; everyone piled out. "Get real. She's a girl."

Callie looked at Kris, then at Iola…then Callie and Iola simultaneously nailed Joe with snowballs. Kris didn't bother — she was close enough to go for a quick grab-and-dump-snow down the back of Joe's coat and was rewarded with Joe's piercing yelp.

That started all-out war, this time over a lot more territory and with trees for cover. Tony's baby sister was exempted from target-dom (enforced by a scowling Tony, who had even better aim than Callie); little Anna was given free rein to walk up and nail anyone on either side point-blank with snowballs. But Frank and Chet defected to the girls' side almost immediately —

"You're my brother!" Joe yelled. "Traitor!"

"They got fudge!" Frank scored Joe's hat with a well-timed snowball before Joe could duck behind a tree. "Your point?"

"My mom's fudge," Chet added. "You guys are toast!"

Even better, at Frank's urging, Kris made it up one of the barren trees; she was a good climber, and the ice- and snow-covered branches were a fun challenge. The tree branches held a ton of snow, gave her cover — the others couldn't aim through the branches very well — and it put gravity on her side. With aerial support, the girls' side soon had the others pinned down, and a well-worded bribe of possible fudge and hot chocolate got Tony's little sister solidly on their side.

Movement caught Kris's eye — and Kris stopped, staring towards the woods.

Something moved at the edge of the tree-line. Something on two feet. Something smaller than she was. A lot smaller.

A little, wizened, brown-skinned man wearing a pointed cap.