More of the main storyline written with Ivy (cuethe-pulse on LJ)! This one's a fair bit longer than the first part, so settle in. Also, mild warning for underage drinking.


Baby It's Cold Outside (Let's Fight Inside Instead)

It was the first day of Christmas holidays and Zoro was up far too early, sitting in the Great Hall in a Weird Sisters t-shirt and the tropical fruit-print pajama pants Luffy had given him this time last year. Sluggishly picking at a plate of scrambled eggs, he tolerated the Portgas brothers' one-armed hugs (as they each needed a free hand to grab food off the table and stuff it into their pockets and bags).

"Sure you'd rather stay here?" Ace asked. "There's still time if you want us to sneak you out."

Zoro shook his head with a dismissive yawn. "Get going. Don't forget to write."

"I won't!" Luffy vowed through a mouth full of sausages.

"He's kidding, Luffy."

"Zoro doesn't kid about friendship!"

Their chatter continued on, but Zoro tuned it out, and when they'd gone he promptly pushed his plate aside to rest his head on the table. If left alone, he'd be snoozing again in no time.

But there was a loud thump to the left of him as Sanji sat down, right on the tail end of the brothers' departure. Not that Sanji wanted to be sitting next to Zoro; it was only a side-effect of how few people were staying over break this year, so few that they'd pushed all but a single house table to the side of the Hall. It was probable that neither of them were going to be able to function in such close proximity for the next two weeks, especially not with how grumpy Sanji already was this morning, both from having to say goodbye to Robin earlier, and from the fact that the only open seat at the table was next to Zoro.

"Stop sleeping and pass me the toast," he said after a moment of heaping scrambled eggs and sausages onto his plate, kicking Zoro in the ankle to punctuate his demand.

Zoro's eyes snapped open at the kick, much more startling than painful, immediately seeking out the source. After taking a second to debate over whether Sanji was actually there or if this was a nightmare, he ultimately decided that, either way, it wasn't worth lifting his head.

"Get it yourself," he said as his mind blearily drifted toward winters past. He'd caved and spent the previous Christmas with Luffy and Ace, and, admittedly, in the years before that he hadn't left Gryffindor Tower much. But if he remembered correctly, Sanji always stayed behind during the holidays. "Don't you ever go home?" And it wasn't curiosity asking, just irritation.

"'Course I do," Sanji said, as he leaned over Zoro to snatch a couple pieces of toast from one of the platters.

Truthfully, he was bending Zoro's meaning a little. He had gone home for Christmas once, in his first year, but that was it. Any other time he went home, it was for summer holidays. And it wasn't like he had such a bad home life; his uncle Zeff was overwhelmingly good to him, but they had the same stubbornness in them, which meant Zeff wouldn't ask him to come home for the holidays, and Sanji wouldn't offer to. Most years, that was fine with him, since Robin stayed too, but he had to admit this one was looking a little lonely without her. Still, there was nothing for it.

"What about you? Fight with the family this year?" he asked.

"No," was Zoro's only response. He himself was grateful to his Muggle foster parents, but he'd only been living with them for a year and a half before his Hogwarts letter had arrived. He'd never opened up to them as completely as he perhaps could've, and by now the distance between them was comfortable and understood on both ends. He felt no pull to spend the holidays with them and besides, going home meant seeing Koshiro. And seeing Koshiro meant remembering.

Sanji hummed softly as he began to eat. "Well, I'm sure you'll still have a great time sleeping through Christmas then," he said after swallowing his mouthful of eggs.

"I intend to," Zoro mumbled into the table. His groggy mind slowly began to make the connection between Christmas and the gifts he still needed to buy; and Sanji's presence, while annoying, was suddenly potentially useful. "I need to go to Hogsmeade later," he said. Everything else was left purposefully unspoken, as he knew very well that Sanji was aware of his tendency to get lost on occasion.

"You're asking me to drop everything I might need to do today so I can be your guide dog, essentially," Sanji said, wiping a few crumbs from his mouth. To be fair, he didn't really have anything to do today, having already bought his own gifts for everyone, but still, it wasn't like he was going to give Zoro an easy time of it. "What do I get out of it?"

Zoro bit back a remark about just where this guide dog could kindly go and guide himself; he needed to play civil, at least until he got Sanji to agree. The last time he'd gone into Hogsmeade alone, Professor Mihawk had found him having a staring contest with a dead end in an alley, and he hadn't been able to look the man in the eye for a few days.

He sat up, thinking the question over. Really, there wasn't anything the Slytherin could get out of it. And as much as Zoro didn't want to be indebted to him for any reason, he had nothing else to offer. "I'll owe you."

"What makes you think you'll ever have anything I want?" Sanji asked dismissively, and he was fully prepared to leave it at that, but... Zoro was company, even if it was bad company, and Sanji truly was beginning to feel the absence of his few friends. "I suppose I'll just have to take you around out of the goodness of my heart."

If that was all they had to go on... "It'll be a very short trip," he muttered under his breath. For the next question, he raised his voice. "After lunch?" Though it wasn't really much of a question, as he stood to leave rather than waiting for an answer. He had important sleeping that needed his immediate attention.

"How about you plan your trip around me since I'm the one helping you out?" Sanji called after him. But it was useless, as Zoro was already gone. He shook his head, annoyed, and drained the last of his orange juice, no longer hungry.

Still, he sat there for a little while longer so as to make sure he wouldn't have to encounter Zoro in the entrance hall on his way out, and got up only when ten minutes had passed and he could no longer tolerate the group of annoyingly loud Hufflepuffs who remained at the table with him. Somehow he didn't expect to have a very pleasant remainder of the morning.


Zoro waited outside the Great Hall doors, fiddling with his wand in a way he refused to admit was anxious and was instead simply idle. He'd skipped eating lunch, too unsettled.

When he'd gotten back to his dorm, he'd fallen into slumber easily, snores still loud even while muffled by his pillow. But upon waking with a clearer, rested head, he'd instantly regretted what he'd done. Couldn't he have found anyone else? He hadn't even looked, had just gone with the easiest option without realizing that it meant having to spend an afternoon actively trying not to piss Sanji off because he... needed him.

"Ugh." With a quiet, disgusted groan, he took out his frustrations by aiming a tickling charm at a small, pink-haired first year who'd had the misfortune to be passing by (and who, subsequently, was too busy doubling over in laughter and searching for the glasses that had fallen off his face to spot his attacker).

"How childish," said a voice from behind Zoro. Sanji had stepped out of the Great Hall and now stood beside him, though he was careful to leave at least two feet of space between them. "Torturing first years? Not very Gryffindor of you. Fairly amusing for me though."

For a few moments, he watched the first year continue to flail around, laughing and searching for his glasses, but he tired of it just as quickly, and levitated the kid's glasses out of the way just before he nearly stepped on them. At the same time, he reached over to snatch Zoro's wand away from him.

But Zoro jerked it out of Sanji's reach just in time, and he called off the charm with a flick, annoyed to find himself in agreement. "Too many classes with Slytherins," he said. "Bad influences."

"Hm. Perhaps you've been hanging around the wrong kind of Slytherins, then." Sanji watched as the first year's eyes alighted upon them, but instead of getting angry, he simply turned away meekly, and Sanji had to work quickly to levitate the glasses back onto the kid's face before he got away.

"There's a right kind?" Zoro asked. Doubtful.

Sanji crossed his arms over his chest, posture suddenly even more defensive. "There's a right kind in every house. Ready to go?"

Zoro hesitated as he slipped his wand inside his winter coat. This was such a terrible idea. He told himself to say that he'd changed his mind or that he'd asked someone else instead, told himself to say anything but- "Yeah."

He wasn't going to back down from his poor decision. He just hoped his friends realized how much he liked them.

As they made their way out of the castle, Sanji's barely-contained annoyance finally seemed to boil over. "Anyhow, you might know how varied we are if you ever tried to take a closer look. But no, of course we're all the same. I don't expect a Gryffindor to realize that good doesn't only exist in their house."

He knew he was being almost unreasonably angry and defensive, but he was sick of this overarching attitude where everyone seemed to look down on his house when they were just as good, just as deserving of a good reputation.

If Sanji had been in a proper frame of mind, he'd have realized that he'd already started their trip in a bad way, but instead he found himself wishing that he hadn't consented to this so easily. The ridiculous pity he felt toward Zoro since that day by the side of the lake wasn't doing anything but making him confused and sympathetic toward someone he hated (and with good reason, he knew), and that wasn't right. He didn't have time for it.

"Fair enough," Zoro said after a moment or so, and it wasn't too difficult a concession. Play civil, said the voice in the back of his head, though it sounded strained at the idea. Play civil. Play civil. "Not all Slytherins are you."

That probably didn't count as civil, did it?

Sanji opened his mouth to continue yelling at Zoro, but then he had an idea. They'd finally moved on from summoning and banishing charms in class, and had started working on silencing charms just before break. He supposed he could get a little practice in on that, so he jabbed his wand at Zoro and muttered, "Silencio."

A protest, too late and already useless, was cut off before it even went past Zoro's lips, which were soon scowling. The only thing more irritating than the fact that the charm worked was that he hadn't thought of it first.

He settled for flipping Sanji off. And when this was all over, he'd be sure to shove him into the snow.

Sanji, who was quite pleased with himself, surged ahead down the path toward Hogsmeade. This trip had suddenly become much more tolerable, and while he was a little dubious about the morals of taking away Zoro's voice, he had to admit it was much better for his own temper.

As they went around a bend, Hogsmeade came suddenly into view. It sat beneath a thick blanket of perfectly white snow, looking like one of those tiny, charming villages from the Christmas cards. Candles and wreaths, the chime of enchanted handbells playing carols outside Maestro's Music Shop, the wafting smells of gingerbread and spiced pumpkin, the chatter of other people doing last-minute shopping - it all eased most of Zoro's tension. As they passed the gates into the village, he reached over to tug purposefully at Sanji's cloak, trying to convey that he needed to visit Gladrags.

Sanji startled at the touch, and that alone was enough to force him into rather reluctantly (the silence was just so nice, after all) giving Zoro's voice back to him. "Let this be a lesson that you should be more careful what your tongue gets up to for the rest of the day," he said as he tucked his wand back into his cloak.

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind, Professor Dartboard," Zoro muttered. And while he appreciated having his voice returned, it was much harder to ask for the help he needed aloud. Frowning faintly, he stepped onto a patch of bare cobblestone and chose a direction at random. "Wizardwear's this way, right?"

"Yes, mosshead. You're fine for now, but don't make any turns," said Sanji. He twitched his cloak a little closer around himself, shivering so hard his shoulders practically touched his ears.

It didn't go unnoticed. Had Sanji been almost anyone else, Zoro would've taken off his scarf and thrown it at him. But Sanji wasn't his friend, and Sanji's coldness wasn't his problem. Not unless he started turning blue, anyway.

Besides, they walked into Gladrags just a moment later, and the shop was as warm and toasty as the self-heating coats they were currently advertising. They trailed along the rows, Zoro passing off his wandering as simply browsing. Socks were his destination though, and he knew he was on the right path when they passed a display of Hogwarts house slippers. Smirking, he watched Gryffindor lion slippers baring their teeth at hissing Slytherin serpent slippers. "The accuracy's uncanny."

Sanji spared the briefest of glances at what Zoro was doing, pausing to paw through a bin of fuzzy socks the exact color of Zoro's hair. He smiled as he pulled a pair out, amused to find that they had a similar texture to the moss balls that inhabited the Black Lake, and pointedly not giving it any thought, he reached up and rubbed his fingertips through Zoro's hair. "They're the same," he said, offering out the pair of socks to Zoro.

"Tch." Zoro jerked away from the touch, more unnerved by the brush of Sanji's fingers than bothered by the actual comparison. Despite Luffy and Ace's lack of understanding regarding personal boundaries, he wasn't accustomed to being touched so casually. Certainly not by Sanji.

He turned his back to locate the discount bin, which he began to rummage through a moment later. His original objective had simply been to pick something for his and Usopp's annual tradition of exchanging outlandish socks (last year, for instance, Usopp had given him a pair that played Marco Polo whenever one was lost), but now he was distracted.

His search for something spirally and prissy was unsuccessful, though he did manage to find a rather disgusting moth-eaten pair, actual moth larvae included, which he tossed at the Slytherin's face.

The compound of Sanji's pre-existing annoyance with Zoro and having a bug-ridden pair of socks thrown at him was definitely the reason he let out a pitchy sound of what he told himself was pure rage. It certainly wasn't a scream of horror resulting from the socks, which landed right in his face and suddenly dropped several of the larvae down on his cloak before falling to the floor. He barely managed to keep his footing as he stumbled back, frantically brushing at the horrible things with one hand while raising his wand with the other and spitting out a tickling charm at Zoro.

But Zoro hardly needed to be tickled to find an unreasonable amount of amusement in the moment. With a growing grin, he ducked behind the bin to dodge Sanji's attack, and the charm hit a pale pink nightgown, which quivered on the rack with hysterical mirth, startling nearby customers.

He'd obviously forgotten his promise of civility, but he was too pleased with himself to care. Grabbing a pair of socks for Usopp at random (which would turn out to sing opera arias in obnoxious, warbling voices whenever they got wet), he slipped away to the accessories section.

Once Sanji had checked himself over to ensure that he was completely free of larvae, he followed. He had reached such a height of anger that magic was no longer the answer. Magic could miss, or backfire; his legs wouldn't do either of those things.

And when he rounded a rack of cufflinks singing Christmas carols, eyes locked onto Zoro's back as his pace quickened, he proved that point beyond a shadow of a doubt. Because the second he was close enough, his right leg arced through the air and landed firmly in the small of Zoro's back. And he didn't stop there, forcing Zoro face-first into the wall with his foot. "You're really ungrateful."

Why Zoro hadn't been expecting further retaliation was a mystery. His guard had been down as he went back to his shopping, picking out hair ties for Vivi that would stretch forever without snapping. They had fallen from his hand as he slammed into the wall, the force of Sanji's kick leaving a crack in it where his forehead had hit.

He took a moment to pull back even after Sanji's foot had dropped. There was the taste of blood on his lip, but the resentment that boiled in him had little to do with pain. Attacking from behind was a coward's move. And while Zoro had never trusted the Slytherin, he'd thought him better than that.

But then, he'd never thought of himself as ungrateful, yet he couldn't deny the truth in Sanji's words. Rankled at both Sanji's behavior and his own, he turned. "You bring out the worst in me," he said, because they weren't meant to share space together, not willingly. That afternoon by the lake had been a fluke, and this trip had already proved that. "And you didn't have to come with me. Don't know why you did."

Frustrated, Sanji reached out and tugged Zoro closer with a fist in his cloak. "Because you're an idiot and you'd probably manage to wander into the Forbidden Forest without me. And I don't want that on my conscience."

After all, Gryffindors could go on and on about their sense of honor or whatever it was that they apparently had, but that didn't mean shit to a Slytherin. And Sanji certainly didn't owe anything to anyone - unless he decided he did, and he'd never, ever feel that way toward Zoro. All Sanji could ever feel around him was a constant, low-thrumming anger that escalated too quickly for him to control. Anything he felt aside from that was temporary insanity.

Still, that didn't mean he actually wanted Zoro to go out and get himself killed. The truth was that ever since that day by the lake, he'd been questioning everything he knew about Zoro, but at this point, he was almost entirely sure that he'd been wrong in thinking there was a soft part of him. There was nothing vulnerable about the person in front of him. And he had to remind himself of that, because every time he tried to do something that wasn't antagonistic for Zoro, it always backfired, without fail. They were just naturally repelled from each other, and that was all there was to it.

He took a deep breath and let it out, glancing to the side as his hand dropped from Zoro's cloak. "And anyhow, if I'd changed my mind, you'd have been even more angry with me."

Zoro calmed when Sanji released him. They were already attracting some attention-thankfully just fellow students who'd witnessed plenty of their spats before-but if they kept at it, they'd likely be thrown out. Besides, he didn't want to fight. He didn't want this trip to last any longer than it needed to.

"Believe me, I wouldn't have been angry." If Sanji had changed his mind, he would've done what he should've done in the first place and found someone else. Anyone else. "It's my own fault, anyway," he admitted through an aggravated sigh, kneeling to gather the fallen hair ties. And it was, really. For bringing it up in the first place. "Set us up for disaster."

"Whatever," Sanji said, feeling drained of his previous anger. Now he just wanted to be far away from Zoro. "I can't deal with you anymore. I'm leaving before you cause more trouble."

Gritting his teeth, Zoro said nothing. He didn't care if Sanji left, didn't want him to stay. He'd really screwed himself here, but he'd rather wander in the snow than have a repeat of this scene in every store.

"Send up sparks if you get in trouble, I guess I'll come get you," Sanji said. He turned around, pulling his cloak closer around himself again, and headed out the door. Perhaps he'd stop by the Three Broomsticks... though more likely, he'd find himself in Honeydukes, spending all of his money on candied ginger and those little butterscotch squares he ate almost obsessively.

With Sanji gone, Zoro allowed himself a more leisurely pace to finish choosing gifts. He got turned around a total of ten times after leaving Gladrags, more than half of those times occurring between Tomes & Scrolls and Scrivenshaft's alone. But he had no intentions of shooting up any sparks. He couldn't completely convince himself that Sanji would seriously wait around him.

The day had gone so irrevocably wrong so fast. He'd overestimated himself, his ability to keep control and keep from pushing too many of the other boy's buttons. He didn't know what it was about Sanji that made such a thing so impossible, would probably never know, but he would do well to remember from now on.

It was nearly suppertime when he reached Honeydukes, his final destination. Most of his money went there, buying a great bunch of cauldron cakes, jelly slugs, and several boxes of Bertie Bott's Beans for the Portgas brothers' bottomless stomachs. His own stomach grumbled as he left, a reminder that he'd missed lunch.

"One more stop, then," he decided, making his way toward the Three Broomsticks.


The Three Broomsticks must've moved. Either that or Zoro had gone the wrong way again. Which was by far the likelier of the two options and he knew that very well, but chose to believe the former. In any case, the Hog's Head was a fine substitute. It wasn't favored by most Hogwarts students, but Zoro had never been one to pass up an opportunity to partake in a little imbibing.

Laden with boxes and bags, he sought out a table, but his eyes instead found Sanji, who was surrounded by several of his own bags and was holding a tall glass of firewhiskey. Surprise stilled Zoro for a moment, but even more surprising was how he walked over to Sanji instead of going to the bar and ignoring him. "You actually stayed."

Dazedly, Sanji squinted up at the figure standing over him. It took more than a few seconds and a lot of head-tilting for him to figure out that it was Zoro, and even longer for him to realize that he'd spoken. "Of course I did... I told you I would," he said slowly.

Zoro wasn't entirely sure what to say to that. Luckily, there was something to distract him from potentially feeling a tiny bit bad for doubting his word. "...Are you drunk?"

"No, I'm not drunk. Maybe you're drunk." Sanji laughed at his own joke, causing his posture to shake just enough that firewhiskey suddenly sloshed down the front of his cloak. "Oops." He brushed at the liquid absently, not seeming to realize that his wand was laying close by, just waiting to be used for cleanups such as the one he dearly needed now.

"You should go back to the castle, I mean, you're really drunk," he continued, staring amusedly up at Zoro as he continued to make a mess of his cloak.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Zoro sighed and sat down, dropping his purchases to the floor. They'd never get back at this rate. "I hadn't pegged you for such a sloppy drunk."

"I'm not drunk," Sanji protested. He dropped his sticky hand back to the glass of firewhiskey and took another sip, luckily managing to not spill more on himself. "I'll get us back, it'll all be fine."

"Sure." Zoro propped his chin in his hand and frowned over at the bar. He would have to pass this time, since it seemed like Sanji had done enough indulging for the both of them. "How much have you had?"

"Not enough to deal with you," Sanji muttered sullenly. His glass was now empty, and he frowned down at it. That wasn't right, surely. He'd have to get another to make up for this tragedy.

Obviously Sanji hadn't had enough to be pleasant, either. Not that Zoro particularly blamed him; he was hardly friendly company himself. He didn't feel bad about it, really; he was simply willing to acknowledge that he didn't make things easier between them. But hell, why should he? And if Sanji wanted to get wasted, he wasn't going to stop him. As long as Zoro didn't have to carry him back to the castle.

"Get me another drink," Sanji said, holding out his glass for Zoro to take.

"Why, your legs broken?" He did it anyway, less to be obliging and more to grab a handful of bar nuts and sneak a sip before returning to the table, placing the glass in front of Sanji. "Here, boozy."

"I'm not boozy," Sanji muttered lamely as he picked up the glass and took a long gulp of firewhiskey. It burned satisfyingly all the way down to the pit of his stomach, and warmed him even further. "I'm drinking my sorrows away."

"What kind of sorrows could you have?" Zoro wondered, though he refused to be genuinely curious; not only did he doubt the Slytherin's problems went beyond anything superficial, he didn't care if they did. "Aside from the obvious, but no amount of drinking will get rid of that face."

Sanji scowled at Zoro and narrowed his eyes. "None of your business."

And even though that was true, the urge to just blurt it out itched at his throat, and even another gulp of firewhiskey wasn't enough to take that away, so he finally just gave in and said it. "This is the fourth year in a row I haven't been home for Christmas. My uncle's never asked me to, not once. Nor have any of my friends. It's silly, but... I guess I feel lonely. I mean, what's the point? In making friends, that is. What's the point if they don't even think of you?"

Zoro didn't look at him when he spoke. He looked at a stain on the closest wall, a dark stain with no shape, because he couldn't feel sorry for a stain, not even a little bit. Because who cared if a stain was alone on Christmas? Not him.

And he didn't need to care. Because it wasn't his business. And he couldn't do anything about it, anyway. Couldn't help the situation even if he wanted to. He wasn't Sanji's friend. Though he certainly ended up thinking of him often enough. Just not by choice.

"That's rough," he offered finally, an unhelpful murmur. He didn't want to sympathize, but he didn't want to be unnecessarily cruel, either, not if the other boy was actually broken up about it. Not after Sanji agreed to guide him, no matter how horribly that'd gone. And not after that afternoon by the lake.

"You don't have to pretend to care," Sanji said, and he found that he wasn't upset about the idea of Zoro not caring at all. "It's actually kind of nice to say it to someone who doesn't, because then you don't have to be burdened, and I don't have to hear about it ever again."

If only that could be entirely true. Even without caring, Zoro did feel the burden, a speck of it, and that was enough. Piling the Slytherin's admission on top of the debt Zoro already felt he owed...

"Anyhow... perhaps we should go," Sanji continued. But though he had begun to sound shockingly sober, the alcohol made itself known violently as he began to stand, felt dizzy, and wobbled back down into the chair.

Sighing, Zoro set his hand on Sanji's shoulder in case he attempted to stand again. "Let's wait until you remember how to walk, all right?" He frowned around his next words before speaking them and getting up. "I forgot something on my list, anyway."

"So you're just going to leave me here while you go and get yourself lost?" Sanji asked. He let out a tiny, annoyed sigh and folded his hands over his lap, tilting his head against the back of the rickety, uncomfortable chair. "Fine then. I suppose I'll take a nap."

"Yeah, sleep it off," Zoro muttered, mind already gone searching for ideas. His friends were easy to buy for; he made an effort to think about them, to notice things. With Sanji, he did the opposite. But stepping outside, feeling the rush of cold prickling his skin-that was enough to lead him. Back to Gladrags.

Sanji, meanwhile, turned back to the table after watching Zoro leave. Taking a nap in a place like this was a ridiculous, terrible idea, and there was no way he was actually going to do it. Instead, he fished one of his books out of a bag from Tomes & Scrolls and cracked it open, then proceeded to wile away his time getting lost in ideas of potions he'd someday have the skill to create.


The sky was even darker when Zoro returned, a new box held under his arm. He came to a stop standing over Sanji, who was still entrenched in his book, and asked, "On a scale of one to falling-down, how drunk are you now?"

Sanji laughed and snapped his book shut, then turned to look up at Zoro. He was rather pink-cheeked, and Sanji ignored the small, unknown part of himself that liked that look on Zoro. Instead, he forced himself to worry about how cold it was going to be outside. "Wobbly, at the most. You were gone a while. Get yourself lost?"

"No." Maybe. For a second. "Shut up," said Zoro as he collected the rest of his gifts and considered handing Sanji's over. He seemed to be in better spirits. But the thought made his throat go all itchy. "Wobbly's good enough, I guess."

"Right," Sanji said, and when he pushed himself up out of the chair this time, he actually made it to his feet. He realized that he must have still been just inebriated enough, because he didn't even feel angry at himself over the next thing out of his mouth. "Need help carrying anything?"

"...Yeah." Before he could change his mind about everything, Zoro passed Sanji the last-minute purchase. "If drinking makes you this agreeable, why didn't we come here first?"

Sanji patted at the box absently, tucking it under his arm and gathering up his own bags before leading the way to the door (though he admittedly went a little more slowly than he usually would). "I don't know. We'll have to remember it for next time."

"Next time," Zoro snorted. "Right."

As they left the pub, he silently debated whether or not to tell Sanji that the self-warming coat inside the box he carried was a gift for him. He decided against it; having the Slytherin walk back to the castle without the added heat would make up for how idiotic Zoro felt about buying him anything at all.

And the way Sanji kept shivering as he led them up the street was kind of amusing, along with how he was trying to go as quickly as he could (which still wasn't that quickly at all).

After a couple minutes, Hogwarts appeared over the snowy hill, a dark black shadow against the navy blue sky with soft, yellow lights dotting its windows. It looked very warm and inviting to Sanji in that moment, even knowing that his own dormitory would be chilly. That was, however, the only drawback to being a Slytherin, really.

Their trek up the path to the castle was as silent as their previous walk down, even without the silencing charm. Zoro felt at war with himself. Disliking Sanji. Pitying him. Relying on him. Avoiding him, pursuing him. Amused, infuriated, befuddled by him. Not his friend. Not at all. And yet he'd bought him a gift, felt compelled to appreciate his help (or attempt to help), to make amends (for what, for acting in the same manner they always did?), to try and make his lonely Christmas better. And why?

Once they'd reached the inner grounds of Hogwarts, Zoro slowed his steps. "Oi..."

Sanji glanced over at Zoro, and upon realizing that he was now slightly ahead, slowed his own steps to match. "Hm?"

Zoro watched snowflakes fall while he picked out words, hating himself for being so conflicted over his behavior. "I was kind of an ass today, wasn't I?"

Sanji shrugged his shoulders, unperturbed. "You're kind of always an ass though. Don't worry, I'm used to it." It was his roundabout way of saying that he didn't blame Zoro, and that he had been a bit of an ass himself as well.

"I won't apologize, then." Mouth a faint smirk, Zoro looked at him then, relieved somehow. And after a bit more walking, he found it easier to nod toward the box Sanji held, to tell him, "Keep that, by the way."

"What?" Confused, Sanji glanced back down at the box, which he had almost forgotten he was even holding. There was no way Zoro had actually gotten him anything nice. "What is it, just an empty, self-exploding box?"

"You want me to ruin the surprise by saying yes?" Zoro's smirk stretched wider as he picked the pace back up. "Don't open 'til Christmas."

For a few steps, Sanji lagged behind as he took the box in hand to shake it next to his ear. It didn't produce a rattling sound, nor the sharp sound of something solid hitting the sides, but there was definitely something in there. "What is it?" he asked curiously, jogging to catch up.

"I don't remember," Zoro evaded, a smidgen of laughter in his voice. Sanji was almost being... cute. The mere possibility of such a thing threatened to make his head ache.

"You don't remember? But you just bought it!"

"It's only two days, you can wait." They were nearing the entrance to the castle now, the distance between them soon to be growing as Zoro would head directly for Gryffindor Tower. "Just don't leave it out in the sun for too long. Or was it, don't get it wet? Ah, it probably doesn't matter..."

Sanji quirked his visible eyebrow as he pushed one of the doors open and held it for Zoro. "Huh?" None of what Zoro was saying made any sense, and he wondered if a second wave of drunkenness had suddenly hit, but that didn't make any sense either. "Ah... anyhow," he began, then stopped. How the hell was he supposed to say this? "Whatever it is, thank you. You didn't have to go out of your way for me, and I didn't get you anything, but... it's very kind of you."

Now he felt all self-conscious about making an admission like that, and he pulled the collar of his cloak a little higher around his blushing face. Merlin, why couldn't he stop thinking about the ways that Zoro wasn't just some rude idiot? Why did he have to find out that there was more to him in the first place?

"It's not a big deal." And if Zoro said it wasn't, told himself repeatedly that it wasn't-it wouldn't be. "Said I'd owe you, didn't I?" The softening of his smirk was an unspoken parting, a bid to Sanji to have a nice holiday, as he turned toward the staircase.

"Still," Sanji said quietly, folding his gloved hands together as Zoro turned away from him. "You didn't have to."

"Ah, I remember now," Zoro threw over his shoulder, pausing on the steps. "Don't feed it after midnight."

"It better not be a pet! I've already got a cat!" Sanji called, voice raised, at Zoro's retreating figure. After a moment, he became aware that he was smiling widely, and even as he made his way down to the dungeons, it didn't once fall from his face.


The Christmas feast spread out through the Great Hall, seemingly endless despite being contained at a single table. Zoro was sure that even back home, Luffy and Ace could sense what they were missing, and hated it.

He sat with Lola, fellow Gryffindor Beater, and a couple of players from the Hufflepuff team, talking Quidditch over the meal. It felt like the perfect leisurely end to a day that had been blessedly uneventful. Other than opening his gifts from home, the Portgas brothers, Vivi, and Usopp (including socks that would supposedly make his feet turn different colors, depending on his mood), he'd taken advantage of having the dormitory to himself, and had spent hours sleeping or just sprawled lazily on his bed while snow danced outside the windows. It'd been very close to bliss, and he had the deep blue feet to prove it.

Of course, that couldn't last.

The disturbance came in the form of his one-eyed Eagle Owl, who swooped down over the table to land on his shoulder. He recognized one of the letters dropped before him, familiar with Luffy's chicken-scratch writing, but the other... The other was a smaller, red envelope. A Howler.

Sanji watched from his vantage point further down the table, only interested because one of those letters had been sent from himself, just this afternoon.

At first, the Howler was simply a letter expressing slightly flustered gratitude at the gift he'd opened that morning (an attractive navy blue peacoat that, when he put it on, seemed to warm his body immediately; he'd even tried it out by taking a walk on the grounds after breakfast, and it was as if he'd been walking through one of the vineyards back home on a pleasant summer's day, rather than through the snow at Hogwarts), but the longer he looked at what he'd written, the more angry he'd become with himself.

And that, in turn, had manifested as anger with Zoro, for causing him to feel so strange in the first place. Needless to say, he had very swiftly enchanted the letter into a Howler, and now he had to cover his mouth to keep from showing his pleased smirk as he watched it begin to steam slightly.

"Ah, hell..." Zoro muttered.

"Better open it soon," Lola advised with her red, missing-toothed grin.

Grimace on his face and strengthening breath taken, Zoro broke the envelope's seal.

Sanji's voice exploded into the Great Hall, startling several students and faculty members. Strangely, he didn't sound angry so much as very loud and annoyed.

"Oi, bastard..." the Howler began."Thanks for the present, it's surprisingly thoughtful of you. Although in all fairness, it wasn't very creative, and I know you only did it because you pitied me. Ah, whatever. The point is that you're nowhere near as apathetic as you like to make people think you are. Actually, you were kind of cute the other day. Like an ugly little puppy dog! When you weren't being an asshole, that is. Er, this is rambling, isn't it? Hm. I had a horrible time on our shitty platonic date. In fact, it was the worst I've ever been on, and I didn't like it at all, and if you ever speak to me again, I'll be forced to hex you to the point of being unrecognizable. Goodbye! Oh, PS - I have something for you, meet me after dinner."

Sanji watched as the Howler burst into flames, its ashes crumbling to the table in front of Zoro. Now that the adrenaline of sending something so aggressive and rude had worn off, he realized that it hadn't been very aggressive and rude after all. In fact, it was downright fond, and now he realized he'd just broadcasted that fact to the entire remaining student body (which, luckily, didn't account for very many people at all). He thunked his head down on the table, feeling absolutely miserable with himself.

But the Howler hadn't been the only thing to combust. Sanji missed the burn of embarrassed anger that spread over Zoro's face and down his neck, his jaw clenched tight. There was chatter and curious laughter going around the room but Zoro barely heard any of it, nor did he hear Lola pressing him for details. It was just the echo in his head, the voice of the infinitely-confusing thorn in his side that he was beginning to see would never be removed.

As much as he wanted to absolutely throttle Sanji, Zoro kept from seeking out the Slytherin at the table, instead going back to his dinner resolutely.

"What was that all about, huh?" Lola was asking, her hopelessly romantic imagination already running wild, no doubt.

"What was what about?" Zoro grumbled, deciding nothing had happened. He was the damn poster boy for apathy. And like hell he was going to meet up with Sanji.

If, once done eating, he was standing outside the doors in the same spot he'd waited for Sanji two days earlier, it was definitely for an entirely different reason. Just... a reason he hadn't exactly come up with yet.

Sanji took his precious time appearing, probably too busy gorging himself on the various sweets now dominating the tables to notice that Zoro had left. But the point was that he eventually did, and that Zoro was still there.

He cleared his throat as he approached Zoro, posture radiating embarrassment, and retrieved a bottle of something bright green (with a matching bow around the neck of it) from his bag. "Here," he said, holding it out for Zoro to take. "It's from my home town. Absinthe, since you didn't get to have a drink the other night."

The irritation with which Zoro had been prepared to lash out at Sanji drained out of his tense body and still faintly-reddened face much faster than he would've liked. He was easily swayed by liquor, that was all.

He took it, gave it an appreciative once-over, but he didn't want to be touched by the gesture. Sanji must've felt obligated to give him something, he was sure. "Should I wait until tomorrow's mail drop to thank you?" he asked, not sounding quite as unamused as he wanted to.

Sanji's face flared with heat and redness, and suddenly his legs were moving on their own, carrying him as quickly as possible toward the entrance to the dungeons. "Don't thank me for it, or I'll kick your ass!" he called out over his shoulder, and he even managed to sound as if being thanked was truly the farthest thing from what he wanted.

The smile crept across Zoro's face only after Sanji had disappeared from his sight. His grip on the bottle was firm and fond as he started for his dormitory to dig up a bit of parchment for a letter. He'd be thanking Sanji, all right.