Part IV

Draco had been sitting alone in Hermione Granger's office for the last couple of hours, merely staring out the window. He couldn't tell if it was still snowing as the only thing he could see was darkness, but that didn't matter. He wasn't really looking at anything. No, Draco Malfoy was thinking.

He was thinking about Christmas, or to be more precise, about Christmases of his past. He was remembering the happiness and joy he felt when he was a child. He was trying hard to recall when he first started hating Christmas, but at that moment, all he could remember were the happy times… the good times. He thought of his parents, both out of prison now, they had begged Draco to join them for an old-fashioned Christmas this year. He had refused. Now he wished he hadn't.

He thought of a time when he was younger, in school, of a Christmas so long ago that he had to pick his brain to remember all the details, but he was certain it was during fourth year… yes, fourth year. The night of the Yule ball. The night Hermione Granger came into the great hall on the arm of Viktor Krum. She was so young and pretty. He thought it back then and he thought it now. She was smiling and happy, and he recalled that just looking at her fresh, pretty face made his chest hurt, even back then.

He read the article again, although by this time he had it mostly memorized. He thought of the ending, where she wrote:

To the little boy who wrote the above letter… all is not hopeless. How my heart breaks for the fact that you think it is. Hopelessness is in the mind and actions of others, but it can be replaced with happiness. Happiness, love, and peace of mind – those things are as real of the dirt under our feet and the clouds in the sky. Christmas may be just a day in the year, but it's also so much more, because it represents everything that is optimistic and everything that is desired throughout the rest of the year.

Take heart, young man. Instead of hating Christmas and all that it represents, open your heart to love and understanding. Try to find peace and joy in the small things, not the obvious, because I promise you, they are there… they are real… they will make you love Christmas once again.

For if we didn't have hope, we wouldn't have the capacity to love, and I promise you dear boy, the capacity to hope and love still exist by the mere fact that you even wrote your letter to Father Christmas. It's not hopeless, young man. It's merely hidden behind your sadness. Throw away the cloak of sadness, replace it with the beauty of the season, and soon you'll find your hope again. Soon all your Christmases will be bright.

She told Draco to throw away his cloak of sadness. She told him that not all was lost. Hermione Granger was telling Draco Malfoy that hope and love and happiness wasn't wrapped up in tinsel and paper only making an appearance at Christmastime, but that it was right in front of him, all year long, if he would only grasp it.

Yet for all the thoughts swirling around in his head, he still didn't know what to make of the piece of parchment clutched tightly in his hand. And there was that old, familiar ache in his chest to contend with as well.

Bringing his hand up to his chest in that absentminded way he often did, he started to rub it, then stopped. Funny… it didn't hurt any longer. The cold empty feeling was dissipating. A flush of warmth replaced the cold and he dropped his hand from his chest and looked down at the article clutched in his other hand.

She had used one of HIS old letters to write her article, and without know it, she had helped him beyond measure! Earlier, he discovered a whole slew of his old letters lying on top of a box on the floor next to the desk. Had she read them as well? What had she thought of the fact that HE was the one who had written them? She didn't identify him as the young author of the letter, so no one would know he had written it, but that wasn't the point.

She knew. Although that wasn't the point either. Draco didn't know what the point WAS, but it was something.

A little old man popped his head in the office to ask if Hermione was ready for the 'presses to go to bed' – whatever that meant. When the old wizard saw Draco behind her desk he paused, then walked onward into the office.

He asked, "Where's our new editor."

Draco thought that was a very good question. Where was she? For he needed to find her. He needed to tell her something, even if he didn't know what that something was yet. "She stepped out for a moment," he lied, adding in his head, 'a very long moment'.

"We're waiting for her editorial down in the pressroom so we can put tomorrow's issue to bed," the little old man explained, repeating the same phrase he had used at the start. "Do you know if she left the article here?"

Draco looked down at the piece of parchment in his hand, looked back up to the man, and said, "No clue."

The man walked further inside the room, only stopping when he was right in front of her desk. "You look as if something's bothering you, son. Care to tell an old man what's wrong?"

Draco frowned. "I don't even know you." Again, in his head, he added, 'and I don't even know what's wrong with me.'

"Doesn't matter, does it?" the man said cheerfully. "Sometimes it's best if you tell your sorrows to a stranger. They're less likely to judge you, at least, in my experience."

Draco's eyes moved back to the article still in his left hand. "I have no sorrows." He was a liar. He had too many sorrows to mention, but then again, perhaps not as many sorrows as he first thought.

The man sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. "Come now, lad, we all have sorrows, we all have pain, we all experience a bit of melancholy this time of year."

Draco made a dismissive sound, turning his back on the old man to stare back out at the darken sky. "Go away. I own this paper, and unless you want to be unemployed by tomorrow, you'll leave me alone immediately."

"Makes no difference to me," the man said almost cheerfully. "Come a few days, I was leaving here anyway. Got myself another job, I do, so you see, if you feel inclined to fire me, go right ahead."

Draco didn't respond, so the man continued. "What's that in your hand, lad?"

Feeling numb and void of all emotion, Draco let the article drop down to the ground. "Do you believe in the spirit of Christmas?" he found himself asking the old man. "Do you believe in hope, even if hope is sometimes done in vain?"

The man laughed a bit, smiled, and replied, "Hope is never done in vain. Hope is the opposite of vain. To do something in vain is to do something without hope. But hope isn't futile. It's what gets us out of bed each morning, helps us to believe that someday, everything will be better in the world. As for the spirit of Christmas, yes, I believe. Don't you?"

Draco merely shook his head.

"Let me ask you something," the man started, "do you believe there's love in this world?"

Draco turned back around in the chair to face the man. "What's love got to do with anything?"

"Just answer the question, son. Do you believe in love?"

Draco looked back down at the article, now on the floor. "I don't know."

"You don't know?" the man asked softly. "Well, let me ask you this; do you ever recall a time in your life when you felt the love of another, or you loved them in return?"

Draco rubbed his hand over his eyes, through his hair, and then ended by hitting the desk with his fist. "Yes, damn it all! I've felt loved! My parents loved me when I was younger. I supposed they still do, and I've loved them in return. I know what it's like to receive and return love! Does that answer your question?"

"You said you suppose your parents still love you," the man forged on. "Do you still love them?"

Draco thought for a moment, but only a moment. "Yes, I still love them."

The man laughed, causing Draco to look up at him for the first time in several minutes. The old man stated, "Then to answer my earlier question, you believe in love."

This time, Draco merely nodded his head up and down.

"Can you see love?" the man asked.

Draco frowned again, thinking back to Granger's article… 'We can't see love, but we can feel it. It's real. It exists in our hearts, we share it with others, we give it and receive it, and we withhold it if we are so incline, but it's real.'

Again, with words failing him, Draco shook his head 'no'. Fine, he couldn't see love, but it was real and it existed, but what of it?

The old man leaned forward in his seat. "Let me ask you another question, young man. Can you see the air we breathe?"

At this, Draco looked surprised. He bent at the waist, picked the letter up from the ground and read the part where she wrote about 'the air we breathe'. Leaning back in her chair, he read aloud, "We can't see the air we breathe, but we know it exist by the very fact that we are alive, and we can breathe in and out without effort. We can't see happiness, but it's as real as the nose on our face. It's obtained from the little things in life, like the song of a blue jay or the smile of a child. We can't see hope, but hope is what helps us get through each day. Hope picks us up and carries us along when we think all is dark and depressing. Hope is as tangible as love and want and the air we breathe… we merely have to believe."

When he was done reading, he looked back up, but he was all alone in the office. The chair where the little man was sitting was empty. Standing, still clutching her article, he walked toward the door and looked both ways down the long hallway. The old man had disappeared.

Thinking that perhaps the old man Disapparated away (even though Draco didn't hear the familiar 'pop' of Apparition), Draco turned back to walk in the office, when a younger man turned the corner and started down the long hallway.

"Excuse me sir," the young man began, "but do you know where Miss Granger is? We've been waiting for her down in the pressroom. It's time to put tomorrow's paper to bed, and we can't do that without her first editorial."

Regarding the young man wearily, Draco said, "Yes, I know, an older gentleman was just here and told me the very same thing."

The younger man frowned. "An older gentleman you say?"

"Yes," Draco snapped. "About your height, rather heavy-set, with white hair and a white beard. He had a red jumper on and black boots."

The young man laughed. "Sounds as if you're describing Father Christmas, although he doesn't work here – my brother and I are the only two left here this evening. Now, do you know if Miss Granger left an article for us or not?"

Without thinking, Draco thrust Hermione's editorial into the man's hand. "It's rather wrinkled, and take no mind to the bit written on the back."

"Thank you, Sir," the man said as he ran down the hallway, Hermione's first editorial firmly in his hand.

Draco gave a short, derisive laugh, which no one heard since he was alone, and said aloud, "Father Christmas, indeed." With a swish of his wand, he restored all the decorations and cards back upon her door. Lastly, he placed the squashed sprig of mistletoe back up on the top of the doorframe. Leaning against the jamb, he closed his eyes and sighed.

"What are you still doing here?"

At the sound of Hermione Granger's voice, Draco opened his eyes. "Oh, hello, Granger."

"Hello Granger?" she returned. "Is that all you really have to say to me… 'Hello Granger'?"

"Yes," he replied, pushing off the doorframe. "Why are you back?"

"I went home to think," she started slowly. "Then, I realized that I didn't want to quit, because I've wanted this job for a very long time. But I also didn't want you to dictate to me what I could and couldn't write. So, I suppose, I came back to tell you that I'm not resigning, and that I will write my editorial MY way, and if you don't like it, you'll have to fire me."

"Really?" he asked, a smile forming on his face.

She regarded his smile with a frown of her own. "Yes, really. I also realized that they were waiting for my article down in the pressroom, so I didn't want them to wait all night. I'll just go in my office, get my article, and take it down to them, so they can finish tomorrow's edition. Excuse me."

She started past him, but he reached out and grabbed her arm to stay her. "You mean, so they can 'put the paper to bed'?"

Looking first at his hand on her arm, then up into his face, she said, "Yes. How did you come to know that term?"

"Because a young man was already up here looking for your editorial. He said the same thing." He released her arm, but remained standing in the doorway, blocking her from either going back into the hall or into the office, as they were standing very, very close.

"What did you say to him when he asked for my editorial?" she asked expectantly, looking up into his face.

Without forethought, he reached for a lock of her hair hanging on her shoulder. Wrapping it around his finger, he said, "I didn't say anything. I merely handed him the piece of parchment with your article, told him to ignore the resignation written on the back, and then I sent him on his way."

"You did?" she asked, apparently ignoring the fact that he had possession of her hair.

He couldn't ignore that fact if he tried. Rubbing her soft, silky hair between his fingers, he kept it in his hold and answered, "Yes, I did. It was a bloody good editorial, especially the little letter written in the beginning." Then he smirked at her.

She smiled, too. "You thought the letter written by the little boy was the best part of the whole article?"

He nodded. "Yes. Talented little sprite. Wherever did you find such a letter?"

She placed a hand on his chest, over the same spot that always used to feel so cold and empty. Now it felt warm and full. "I found it down in the archives among a whole box of old letters to Father Christmas." Still smiling, she said, "Listen, Malfoy, I never meant to use that letter to embarrass or upset you. I made certain not to include your name."

"I know, I know." He leaned closer to her and took a deep breath. "Did you, ah, did you know you smell like peppermint and hot chocolate."

She laughed. "I do?"

Leaning even closer, so close that they were touching, he placed his nose against her forehead, and said, "Yes. Did you also know that I most equate those two scents to Christmas. Goodness, Granger, you smell like Christmas."

"Hmm," she replied. "Must be the Christmas perfume I put on this morning."

He leaned back with a look of surprise on his face. She hit his chest and said, "I'm joking. There's no such thing as a Christmas perfume."

"There should be," he smiled. "I bet we could make a fortune off it. I'll get on that right away. We'll call it 'Comfort and Joy'."

"Well, alright then," she laughed. "I'll give up my dream of being a newspaper editor and go into business with you marketing Christmas perfume. The man's version could be called, 'Deck the Halls'."

He wrinkled his nose in disgust, making her laugh again. "Best leave the creative part to me, Granger. I'll think of the names, you merely come up with the fragrance."

Placing both hands upon his chest she leaned as close to him as he had to her minutes ago, took a deep whiff, and said, "You smell like gingerbread and evergreen. That could be the men's scent."

He couldn't help but smile. "I don't smell like gingerbread and evergreen. You're a loon. Take that back. I smell good, I admit, but not like that."

"You do to me. I love the smell of gingerbread and evergreen, by the way. Did you know? They're two of my favourite Christmas scents."

Draco couldn't help it, laughter bubbled out of his chest, even though his first thought was to scowl. The smile that flirted on her face sent him into a full-blown laugh that he couldn't contain if he wanted.

"My, but you're a happier fellow than when I left two hours ago. Are you sure you're Draco Malfoy?" Her gaze clearly told him that she really was wondering what had happened to him.

He shrugged. "I'm the same person, and I'm not sure I understand my change of attitude any more than you do, but I will say that suddenly I believe in Christmas again. For the first time in years, I'm looking forward to it. I think it's because of your article, or it might be because Father Christmas set me to rights."

She was silent for the beat of a heart, then reached up with her hand and felt his forehead. "Are you feverish? You did say, 'Father Christmas', right?"

He reached up, captured her hand in his free hand, and said, "Yes, I did. Don't tell me you don't believe in Father Christmas, Granger. For shame."

"Yes, Draco, there is a Father Christmas. That's something I truly believe, I really do," she said pointedly. "I'm just curious as to what the old man said to you to make you believe, that's all."

His hand went from her hair to cup her face. "Let's not question anything. Let's just suffice to say that I've reconsidered, and I now believe, whether it was your editorial that pushed me along, or the appearance of someone who may have only been a figment of my imagination. It doesn't matter, all that matters is I now believe, so thank you." He drew his fingers lightly down her face, then moved his entire hand to the back of her neck.

Looking down at her with a lazy smile, and feeling wild and boyish, he said, "Did you see that I restored your Christmas mistletoe to its rightful place, Granger?" At that, he looked up, which caused her to look up.

Hermione cleared her throat. "Yes, I see that you did. Thank you."

He raised one eyebrow in the air. "You do know what mistletoe is used for, don't you?"

She blushed slightly, causing him to pull her closer. "I once heard it was nothing but a parasitic piece of nothing that people used as an excuse to kiss at Christmastime." She moved her hands from his chest to wrap them around the back of his neck. "But then again, the person who told me that has never been a reliable source."

"You don't say," he laughed, enjoying the mutual affection they were sharing. He felt joy and happiness for the first time in years, and he had this woman to thank for it. Now he had to repay her. "Then let me use it as an excuse to say Happy Christmas, dear Granger." And with that, his mouth descended toward hers.

The touch of her lips under his caused that hollow empty feeling in his chest to disappear completely. Kissing her, holding her in his arms, he thought of pine needles, sweets, gingerbread, peppermint, wrapping paper and bows. Holding her tighter, angling his face toward hers, deepening the kiss, he thought of sleigh rides, carols, and Christmas trees with hundreds and lights and a big star on the top.

Kissing her felt like the only right thing in his world. His mouth continued to brush against hers, their tongues touching, and suddenly the word 'hope' began to have a new, special meaning in his previously empty, cold heart.

With his mouth on hers, everything made sense, although there was nothing sensible about this kiss. This kiss was wild and wanting and he pressed her against the doorframe without thinking, making him feel happy and glad to be alive.

The knowledge of THIS KISS at THIS MOMENT at Christmastime made his heart glad. Pleasure filled his insides with an odd heat, as one kiss turned into another, and another turned into something else.

And just as all good things must end… just as Christmas ended at midnight on the twenty-fifth of December, he ended their kiss with a deep sigh and an even deeper embrace. Holding her in his arms, he kissed the top of her head and said, "Thank you for giving me back Christmas, Hermione."

"You're welcome, Draco," she mumbled against his chest, her fingers curling in the folds of his jacket.

"You're the best Christmas present I've ever received," he said with a spark of joy and laughter. "Do you mind if I unwrap you and play with you a while?"

She laughed and said, "It's not Christmas day yet."

"It doesn't matter. I don't mind an early Christmas present." He pulled her into the office, kicked the door shut with his foot and said, "Didn't you know… I don't do Christmas anyway, Granger."

Then they continued exploring the hope and wonder of Christmas – together.

~The End ~