AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO RUINING CHRISTMAS
A Summons from the Garden
From one December to the next, Draco Malfoy's life changed completely.
Well, not completely. He was handsome then and now. He was wealthy then and now. And he had dressed impeccably since infancy. That would never change.
But then, he had been alone. On Christmas, he'd received half a dozen cards and only two presents, including a fine pair of leather boots from his house-elves. He'd eaten his Christmas feast in solitude, at the head of a dining table that could seat twenty-six. In the rafters, a choir of floating bells had played carols to cover the soft clatter of his cutlery.
He knew now that he hadn’t just been alone. He’d been lonely. A truth denied until its contrast blazed into his life like spell fire illuminating darkness.
“Where’s my wife?” he muttered, consulting his pocket watch. He hadn’t kissed her in hours. This situation was unacceptable.
On cue, a tiny owl made of intricately-folded white paper fluttered through the study door. It landed on Draco’s knuckles and blinked up at him with round eyes drawn with black ink. More ink appeared on its breast, writing a message in familiar handwriting.
I summon thee.
In the West Garden
Draco smiled, anticipation heating his skin. The landscape outside his window was brilliant white with snow. He’d need winter wear to brave the cold and obey his domineering wife. Don’t tell a soul, but he’d brave a blizzard in nothing but a well-placed napkin at her command.
“Thimble,” he called out to his valet.
The water in the fountain in the West Garden had frozen, and its tiers of icicles resembled a giant wedding cake. Hermione stood before it, smiling as Draco approached, his boots crunching through snow. She wore one of the long winter cloaks he’d given her, the dark blue velvet trimmed with white fox fur. Faux, at her insistence. The hood only half-covered her brown curls, and her cheeks were an alluring pink.
He’d first noticed how beautiful she was last winter at the Leaky, her Gryffindor scarf twined around her neck and a hot butterbeer in her hands. He’d continued to notice her through spring and summer, his attraction growing until a desperate act had become necessary. That plot had involved a house-elf, deceit, bonbons and the Little White Dress with the Red Sash. Oh, and a hex and sex by this very fountain. He’d asked her to marry him in September. They’d spoken their vows in November. Now, it was twelve days until Christmas, and Draco had never been happier.
“You come when summoned,” Hermione said, her dark eyes sparkling. “How charming.”
“I believe it would be more accurate to say I deigned to grace you with my glorious presence.”
“That’s a shame, since coming is much more pleasurable than deigning.”
Draco grinned like an idiot. He would never get enough of Hermione. They’d had Bathtub-In-Front-Of-The-Fireplace Sex last night. And Lazy-Spoons-Before-Breakfast Sex this morning. He was more than ready for another round, even if it was a round of Almost-Freeze-Your-Bollocks-Off-In-The-Snow Sex.
“What did you have in mind, wife?”
“Oh, nothing much.”
He watched, transfixed, as she slipped off one white glove. When she snapped her fingers, the frozen fountain shimmered. Its illusions fell away to reveal a huge canopy bed carved of ice and draped in furs.
“Faux, I presume.”
“Naturally,” she said with an ironic smirk. “Also magically warmed, cushioned, Silenced and Disillusioned when in use. Now, disrobe.”
Hermione watched him, transfixed, as he slipped off one black glove, then the other. With a striptease-inspired flourish, he tossed them into the snow. “Hurry up, Mrs. Malfoy. You’re lagging.”
“As usual, Mr. Malfoy, I am far ahead of you.”
She threw open her cloak.
She was starkers except for the pair of white boots that curved up over her knees. Her nipples contracted so fast she gasped, and goose bumps covered her beautiful skin. She smiled at Draco’s stunned expression and asked, “Now who’s lagging?”
He let out a boyish whoop before scooping her up into his arms and running toward the fountain, through an invisible wall of energy. When he tossed her onto the frozen bed, she bounced, laughing.
It was time for Outdoor-Winter-Faux-Fur-Ice-Bed-Fountain Sex.
Draco had never had that kind before, but, somehow, he knew it would be bloody brilliant.
The Arrival of Elderberry
An hour later, Hermione woke up to the blissful sensation of Draco kissing a path between her breasts, heading south. Wonderful, wonderful, insatiable man-husband-thing. As she stroked his white-blond hair, she heard a gentle jingling, like bells, and smelled something sweet. Was that sugar?
Draco’s head popped up, his gray eyes alert as he sniffed the air.
“Is that sugar?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I have to go to Diagon Alley.”
“Now?” He was only two kisses away from his important destination. “No.”
“Yes. This instant.” He sat up on his heels. God, his chest was gorgeous. She reached out for him, but he slipped away after a fleeting kiss. Within a minute, he had dressed and Disapparated, leaving her alone on the furs.
“Tease,” Hermione muttered.
She reached between her legs, determined to prove that a woman needed a man-husband-thing like a fish needed a bicycle – or something like that – when an incredible feeling swept through her. It wasn’t sexual. It was joyous. She took a deep breath and felt invigorated.
“I have to bake Christmas biscuits,” she said, sitting up. “This instant.”
She pulled on her boots and gloves, then stood up. After securing her cloak around her otherwise naked body, she envisioned the Entrance Hall of Malfoy Manor. With a twist of Apparition, she was there. The jubilant feeling in her heart increased tenfold when she saw the festive decorations. Pine garlands entwined with ribbons and fairy lights (volunteer fairies, of course) curled up banisters and columns. Glass ornaments hung from the ceiling, amid hundreds of floating candles. And the trees - they were exquisite. There were two in the Entrance Hall and another fifteen throughout the manor. The house-elves were artists.
Suddenly, Hermione noticed an ancient elf, standing at the foot of the Grand Staircase. Had he been there before? He had a wrinkled face with stern features, brown eyes and tufts of white hair sprouting from his ears. He wore a tunic, hat and curly-toed shoes, all green and trimmed with silver jingle bells.
If he had clothes, was he free? How had he gotten through the wards? Who had invited him? And what was in the red lacquer box he held?
“Hello, I’m Hermione Malfoy.”
“Greetings,” the elf said, inclining his head. “I am Elderberry.”
“Welcome to Malfoy Manor. Are you here to visit family or friends?”
“Yes, madam. Cicero is Elderberry’s many-times great nephew.”
Many times? Cicero had served as the manor’s butler for five generations. Just how old was this Elderberry? What wondrous and terrible events had he witnessed through the centuries? Had he been called Youthberry in his youth?
“Cicero is a treasured member of our family,” Hermione said. “And the finest butler in all of Britain. He would have greeted you himself, but he has a cold.”
“He has more than that, madam. That is why Elderberry is here. With soup.” He patted the red lacquer box. Mystery solved.
“I’ll call a Healer immediately. Cicero insisted he didn’t need any medicine, but-”
“Madam. Elderberry. Has. Soup.”
Hermione blinked. She didn’t like being spoken to as if she were a child. Not at all. But this elf was her elder and, therefore, deserved her respect and...
Had Disapparated with a merry jingle of bells. Presumably to Cicero’s quarters. She sniffed the air and smelled sugar again, a hint of vanilla and something else.
“Candy canes,” a voice said near her hip.
Hermione smiled down at the free elf, Bon Bon, who stared up at her with large, blue eyes. He wore one of Draco’s socks and a toga made of dishtowels. The snowman printed on the front dishtowel didn't hide that his belly had grown a bit pudgy. He held a sketchpad and a quill.
Hermione had founded the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare because she felt compassion for all house-elves. But she had a deep love for three in particular. Dobby, who had died by the sea after saving her life and the lives of her best friends. Glimmer, who was timid and sweet and SPEW’s greatest success story. And Bon Bon.
Bon Bon was quirky, endearing and strangely bold for a house-elf. In addition to drawing, he liked ducks and ducklings. He hated yicky vegetables, and he craved bonbons. This love of sweets had been the linchpin of Draco’s plot to woo Hermione through Slytherin manipulation.
“Elderberry smells like peppermint,” said Bon Bon. “And biscuits. Bon Bon loves biscuits.”
“What about peppermint?”
“It’s all right.” Bon Bon wrinkled his long nose, indicating he did not really like peppermint. Suddenly, his eyes turned dreamy. “Glimmer makes the best biscuits in the world. Cakes and pies and bonbons, too. Bon Bon loves Glimmer. And bonbons.”
“I know. I’m going to help her bake today.”
“Bon Bon is going to dust the knick-knacks and draw pictures.”
Bon Bon’s job at Malfoy Manor was to dust and polish all the knick-knacks by hand. Historically, this task took eight days to complete before beginning again, but in September, Hermione had given Bon Bon a sketchpad and a self-inking quill. Now, it took him sixteen days to dust and polish all the knick-knacks in the manor, which was fine by her. She just appreciated that, unlike the other elves, he actually spent some of his wages.
“What are you drawing?” she asked.
Bon Bon lifted his sketchpad to reveal a portrait of Elderberry.
“A perfect likeness. He’s very old, isn’t he?”
“Oh, yes. Elderberry serves a powerful wizard from the north.”
Hermione’s senses sharpened. The phrase powerful wizard brought to mind Dumbledore, but also Grindelwald and Voldemort.
“What powerful wizard?”
Bon Bon’s brow furrowed as he stared up at her. “Mrs. SPEW Lady does not know the wizard's name?”
“Then it is not for Bon Bon to say.”
“Is his name feared? Is that why it’s unspoken?”
After a pause, Bon Bon said, in an uncharacteristically cautious tone, “Mrs. SPEW Lady should ask Master Draco. Bon Bon must dust and polish the knick-knacks. Somewhere else. Where the knick-knacks are... The knick-knacks are not here.”
Then, for the third time that day, a male vanished from Hermione’s presence. And she still felt that odd compulsion to bake Christmas biscuits. And hum carols. And buy tinsel.
Is that why Draco had rushed off to Diagon Alley? For tinsel?
What was happening?
Drama in the Kitchen
“How’s that?” Hermione asked as she finished her second batch of biscuits.
She’d changed into a pair of old jeans and a striped jumper, which were now dusted with flour. Red icing slashed one of her cheekbones. Thanks to Glimmer, her braided hair was twined around her head like a crown.
“They’re... good, Miss Hermione,” Glimmer said in her cloud-soft voice. Because she had magically raised the kitchen counter, she stood on a stool. She wore a pale yellow shift and an apron. A dozen pretty bracelets sparkled on her wrist, all gifts from Bon Bon.
“I agree. Except for this lopsided tree. It needs more green.”
Glimmer sighed as another biscuit was ruined with Ugly.
When Cicero popped into the room, Glimmer disappeared with a squeak and a clatter of copper pots.
“Cicero!” Hermione cried out. The elf’s color had returned. “You look better.”
“Yes, mistress,” he replied with a bow.
“I’ll have to ask Elderberry what was in that soup. I assume he’ll be staying the night?”
“Oh, no, mistress. Great-Uncle Elderberry is a very busy elf. He is taking a small nap in my quarters before returning to his master.”
Hermione frowned. “That seems extreme. He’s quite elderly and has traveled far.”
“He traveled by Apparition.”
“Regardless, he deserves one night of rest. Surely, his master will understand, unless he is a cruel man.” She crossed her arms. “Or a bad wizard.”
“He... His work is important.”
Hermione stared down at Cicero, her dark eyes intent. Something wasn't right. Going against her principles, she gave a direct order without a please in sight.
“Tell me the name of Elderberry’s master.”
Cicero twisted his hands together. “He... He... Mistress Hermione! It’s December! His work is important!”
“Why won’t you say his name?”
Cicero lunged for a rolling pin.
“Do not hurt yourself for disobeying!” Hermione yelled. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”
Cicero moaned and danced a pitiful jig in place. His distress and resistance could mean only one of two things, and both were terrible.
Elderberry’s master was so abusive that elves were afraid to speak out against him. Hermione remembered how despondent Glimmer had been after her rescue, her frail arms and legs covered with cuts and bruises. The sight had broken Hermione’s heart.
Or Thing Two:
The rise of another wizard Who-Could-Not-Be-Named. A dark power corrupting the north. Evil sitting upon a throne of ice in a fortress of ice - plotting invasion, destruction and world domination! She had to Floo Harry!
And tell him what? the logical, left hemisphere of her brain scoffed. That an elf wants to go home? How ominous.
That an elf is being mistreated! That someone in pain needs my help! her emotions argued.
The least you could do is talk to Elderberry before jumping to conclusions. Again. You freak.
Hermione paused. She uncrossed her arms, nibbled on a star-shaped biscuit and thought. Cicero still danced his nervous jig, adding an occasional spin.
“You’re right,” she finally admitted.
And because there had been entirely too much popping about today, she marched up to Cicero’s quarters to speak to Elderberry.
Her voice was gentle - the Alpine maiden with the braided hair - but her cheek was streaked with bright, red blood.
“Elderberry,” she said sweetly. “Are you awake?”
Elderberry stared up into the Alpine maiden’s brown eyes. What time was it? He had to hurry home. There were lists to verify, a workshop to oversee, travel to coordinate. Master could not manage without him.
“Elderberry,” the Alpine maiden said. “You have clothing. I thought that meant you might be free, but Cicero tells me you have a master. Do you like your master?”
What was she saying? Of course, Elderberry liked his master. He loved his master. More than sugarplums and toy trains and the red stripe on a candy cane. Elderberry had served his master with devotion for 537 years. The sleigh – only he could polish it to a high gleam. Master needed him.
“Tell me the truth, Elderberry,” the Alpine maiden said sternly. “Do you want to be freed from your master?”
Freed? From Master? Elderberry had never contemplated such an appalling fate. He began to tremble.
No! Freedom would be terrible!
He would have no job, no purpose, no reason to wake up in the morning, no place to belong, no home! Freedom was a Wretched Pit of Bleak Wasteland and Despair! It was a Void of Cold and Lonely Horrible! Always Winter but never Christmas! Never, never Christmas! Had master cursed Elderberry with Desolate Freedom? Was the cruel Alpine maiden his messenger? Why? Why? Why was happening to Elderberry? He was a Good Elf!
“Why?” he sobbed.
“Oh, Elderberry,” the ruthless Alpine maiden whispered, her own eyes shining with mocking tears. “I understand. I will help you.”
When a tear spilled down her blood-streaked cheek, she wiped it away and saw her hand was red. To Elderberry’s horror, she licked the blood and made a surprised and happy sound!
She was a vampire! An Alpine Vampire! Before he could cast a spell upon the demon, she placed a wand against his temple, and all went black.
Hermione Ruins Christmas
Draco didn’t understand why he’d been overwhelmed by the desire to buy more gifts for Hermione. But once he was in the merry wonderland of Diagon Alley instead of between his wife’s thighs, he’d gone with it and found a stunning ruby bracelet at Glitter & Gleam’s. Then a black negligee at Skintillation. Halfway through his first pint at the Leaky, he and Neville had convinced Seamus that Harry and Ron were lovers. It wasn’t true. Only one of them was gay, but it was fun to start rumors about friends. Halfway through his second pint, Bon Bon Apparated on top of the bar with a soft pop.
“Oi! Foot out of the peanuts!” Hannah Abbott scolded.
Bon Bon stared down at his bare foot, which stood in a bowl of unshelled peanuts, before turning his solemn gaze toward Draco.
“Master, there is more important things afoot than peanuts. You must comes home with Bon Bon now.”
Draco’s breath caught in panic. His hands gripped into fists. "Hermione?”
“Mrs. SPEW Lady is fine, but she ruined Christmas.”
Bon Bon pointed at the fir garland draped over the wooden mantle of the Leaky’s fireplace. Its ribbons and greenery burned without fire, turning black and brittle. Draco shivered as a cold wind from nowhere whistled through the pub.
“Stop that!” Hannah ordered.
“He’s not doing it. Bon Bon, what’s happening?”
“Cicero’s many-times-great uncle, Elderberry, brought Cicero soup to gets well. Elderberry wears a green hat with jingly bells on it and smells like biscuits and candy canes. He is Head Elf for a great wizard from the north. Mrs. SPEW Lady thought Elderberry’s master was cruel, like Glimmer’s old master.” At this, Bon Bon scowled and cracked several peanut shells with his toes. “So she putted Elderberry to sleep and took off all his clothes.”
“What?!” Draco shouted.
Seamus laughed. “I can see the headline. War Heroine Molests House-Elf.”
“Shut up, leprechaun.”
Bon Bon knew the laughing man was not a leprechaun, but it was not an elf's place to correct a master. “Mrs. SPEW Lady gaves Elderberry new clothes to free him. When he woked up and found his jingly bell hat missing, he called her a vampire and began to wail and cry like a broken kitten. And that’s how Mrs. SPEW Lady ruined Christmas. The End.”
“A vampire?” Seamus asked.
“A great wizard from north,” Neville said pointedly.
“Bloody hell!” Draco cursed. He grabbed Bon Bon’s arm, and they disappeared.
Seamus shook his head. "I don’t get it.”
“Your headline’s wrong,” Neville said. “It should read, War Heroine Frees Santa’s Head Elf, Ruins Christmas.”
“Goddamned SPEW,” Hannah muttered as the knitted reindeer on her holiday jumper disintegrated to reveal her plaid bra.
The Entrance Hall of Malfoy Manor was a bleak and terrible ice fortress. Huge shards of ice speared the walls and the Grand Staircase, and the floor had collapsed into an icy pit. Christmas trees and garlands had been reduced to smears of black ash. Half-lost among stalactites, glass ornaments pressed together like catacomb skulls, shattering with sharp pops. Homeless pine fairies hovered in mid-air, as if immobilized, their mouths open in eerie, silent screams.
And it was so cold.
The wind from nowhere wailed through the manor, impervious to warming spells or Shield Charms. Its lashing chill seemed to penetrate skin and bone. It bit into Draco’s chest, sucking away hope like a Dementor.
This was not the winter of sparkling snow and sleigh rides and jingle bells. Of warm scarves and hot butterbeer and long, sweet kisses under the mistletoe. It was the winter of relentless cold. Of blue lips and black fingertips and starvation. Of falling asleep in the snow, never to wake again. It was the winter of despair.
“Bon Bon’s heart is cold,” Bon Bon said.
“Draco’s is, too."
“Christmas is leaving,” Bon Bon whispered. “Master must tell Mrs. SPEW Lady. Bon Bon cannot.”
Draco nodded. Together, they stepped forward and stared down at the three figures in the icy pit.
An old elf wearing a blue tunic glared at Hermione. “She’s a vampire!” he cried out. “An Alpine vampire!”
“I’m not a vampire, Elderberry!” Hermione said. For some reason, her hair was up in quaint braids. A red smear marked her cheek under a layer of frost. “It’s the middle of the afternoon.”
“Day walker!” he screamed.
A female elf wearing a yellow dress and a savage expression stood between Hermione and Elderberry. Tiny icicles hung from her big ears. Glimmer, Draco thought. He’d never seen her before, except in Bon Bon’s drawings, but she would clearly protect her mistress with her life. Draco liked her immediately.
“The vampire stole my clothes!” Elderberry accused. “She stole my golden bell! Give it back, demon!”
He stepped forward and slipped, falling on his back. All the fight seemed to leave him as he curled onto his side with a pitiful whimper. The wind grew worse, whipping Draco’s hair into his eyes and piercing his heart like a knife.
“Why did master free Elderberry?” the elf sobbed. “Why? Elderberry does not want to be free.”
He could not have stated his case more clearly.
Now, if Draco could just convince his beloved, misguided, know-it-all wife of her mistake.
Yes, Hermione, There is a Santa Claus
In the end, logic prevailed.
“Father Christmas isn’t real,” Hermione insisted again, shouting to be heard over the storm. “He’s a beautiful symbol of the season, but he’s only a symbol.”
Draco held her in his arms, his fur-lined cloak wrapped around them both, but they still shivered in the freezing wind. Bon Bon and Glimmer, joined by Cicero, huddled together. They all levitated Elderberry, who wept softly.
“He’s just a myth,” Hermione said with a forlorn glance at the miserable elf.
“Like dragons are a myth?" Draco asked. "Like magic is a myth?”
She took a breath to continue the debate but then paused, her eyes narrowing. He could almost hear the gears whirring inside her head, as she realized how achievable Santa’s impossible tasks could be with magic. Flying reindeer and trips down the chimney, even if a house had no chimney. A sack filled well beyond its capacity. A way to make Christmas Eve last for years, if necessary.
“But how could he live so long? Some sort of alchemy?"
“No one can conceive of all the wonders unseen in the world.”
Hermione considered this, her expression hard with intense concentration. Draco saw the moment when her calculations became belief. Her breath caught, and her eyes widened. Her fingers gripped his robes, and she smiled up at him, her face radiant with childlike wonder.
“Father Christmas is real,” she said.
Draco couldn’t help himself. He pulled Hermione even closer and kissed her. She moaned and clung to him, her mouth opening under his as he stroked her back and the nape of her neck and even her silly, ice-glazed braids. Potent desire blazed through the coldness in his heart. She was his, and everything would be all right. They’d give Elderberry back his clothes. Christmas would be saved and... What was that shrill noise? Hermione pushed away from him, staring up in horror.
“The pine fairies. They volunteered to be decorations.”
Draco considered this. “Yet they’re not burned to ash.”
“Accio Lento Pine Fairy.”.
The nearest fairy drifted down into Hermione’s uplifted palm, gentle as a feather. Its shrill whine grew more piercing, and its body began to quiver.
"Oh, no, Mrs. SPEW Lady,” Bon Bon said right before the fairy exploded, blasting a plume of pine-scented glitter into Hermione’s face.
“Fuck! Fuck!” she screamed, frantically slapping herself. "Accio Elderberry’s Golden Jingle Bell! Accio Elderberry’s Golden Jingle Bell!
“What are you doing?” Draco demanded.
“I burned his clothes in our bedroom fireplace.”
“You burned them?"
“It doesn’t matter. All the jingle bells on his hat were silver, except for one.”
“She stole my golden bell.”
“Yes, but it should be here by now. Accio Elderberry’s Golden Jingle Bell!” The air above them filled with whines, and more fairies detonated, raining glitter.
"The bell’s trapped in ice,” Draco said. He spun Hermione around and pulled her firmly back against his body. One hand rested against her stomach. The other curled around the wrist of her wand hand. Valiantly ignoring his arousal, he whispered in her ear, “Try again. And add some speed.”
As one, they lifted her wand into the air.
Draco felt a stillness overtake Hermione's muscles as she assumed the mantle of command. She cast the spell with a tone of authority that sent a shiver down his spine.
“Accio Prestissimo Elderberry’s Golden Jingle Bell!”
Energy blasted out of the vine wand so forcefully that they slid back a meter. The air glistened with fairy carnage, but Draco kept his eyes sharp and seeking. An impossibly fast flash of gold streaked down into the pit. He snatched the blur with a yelp, his gloved palm stinging. Triumph surged through his blood as the bell thrashed inside his fist, jingling madly.
Hermione whirled around and punched him in the chest. “It’s not a bloody Snitch! Give it to me.”
The instant the bell touched her skin, it calmed. She rushed forward and knelt beside Elderberry’s floating body. The other elves placed him on his feet again, and she put the golden bell into his hand. It shimmered with an unearthly brilliance in the icy light. He stared down at it, mesmerized, his sobs fading.
“Elderberry,” Hermione said. “You are not free.”
The frigid wind disappeared. Draco shuddered in relief but then grimaced as the sound of fairy whines grew more strident.
“The bell is mine?” Elderberry asked. “Master did not free Elderberry?”
“No, I freed you, and I’m sorry. I thought you were unhappy. I didn’t realize who your master is or that you love him and serve him with pride. I didn’t understand that there couldn’t be any Christmas without him or without you. Please forgive me, Elderberry. Please save Christmas.”
A dozen fairies exploded with violent bursts like firecrackers.
“Before there are more fatalities,” Hermione added.
“Hmmpf,” Elderberry grunted.
A bright light flared. When Draco opened his eyes, Elderberry stood at the top of the icy pit, dressed all in green. Silver bells dripped from his tunic, curly-toed shoes and hat. The golden bell now gleamed from the front of his collar. He glared down at Hermione in severe judgment. She stood to receive his verdict.
“Elderberry will save Christmas if you stop drinking blood,” the elf said.
“But I’m not - ”
Draco practically coughed up his left lung.
“Fine! I’ll stop drinking blood if you save Christmas... And bring those poor fairies back.”
“Don’t push it, vampire!” Elderberry barked. “What’s dead is gone. Sing fiftyThe Twelve Days of Christmas and one hundred Jingle Bells and contemplate what you’ve done. All verses! No cheating!”
“I will. I promise,” Hermione said before Draco had to practically cough up his right lung.
“And next time, Cicero can cure his own Scratchy Pox.”
Cicero gasped as another flash of brilliant light consumed the room. When Draco opened his eyes this time, Elderberry was gone.
It was as if the Yule-Pocalypse had never happened.
The ice fortress and pit had disappeared. Festive greenery and glittering ornaments once more decorated the Entrance Hall. The air was blissfully warmed by candlelight and fragrant with sugar, vanilla and peppermint. The surviving pine fairies flew out of the manor and toward the woods, screeching in panic.
“Bon Bon’s heart is cozy,” Bon Bon said. He hugged Glimmer so tightly that she squeaked. “Bon Bon loves Glimmer.”
Draco’s heart was cozy, too. He turned toward his wife but stopped when he saw her anguished expression. She stared down at the glitter staining her hands.
“No. Just... no.” She shook her head and turned away, trudging up the Grand Staircase. She sang her penance like a dirge.
”On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree...”
One partridge down. Five hundred ninety-nine to go.
Draco sighed and followed her.
"It’s going to be coal,” Hermione muttered.
She held a box wrapped in red paper and satiny, white ribbon. It was medium-sized, moderately heavy and made no sound when gently shaken. Its tag read From Santa, as her gifts from Santa had always been marked, but now she knew the box wasn’t from her parents or Molly Weasley.
“So what?” Draco said. “I got coal almost every year I attended Hogwarts.”
He softened his words with a lingering kiss on her shoulder. Santa had left their presents in the bedroom this year, so Hermione still wore her black negligee. Its delicate straps had the most delightful habit of slipping down her lovely arms. Draco wore his snowflake boxers and held Hermione back against his bare chest. Both of them half-reclined on a fur throw (not faux, but heirloom) spread before a Christmas tree glittering with magically-retrofitted electric lights.
"What if it’s worse than coal?” she asked. “What if it’s... a box of glitter?" She shuddered in revulsion.
Draco smiled, but he didn’t laugh. He wouldn’t dare. He just hoped his wife’s crusader tendencies wouldn’t inspire her to found a new, useless organization like the Society for the Abolishment of Fairy Explosions or some such rot. (Although, that acronym wasn’t bad.)
“I'm serious, Draco. The joy of glitter is forever dead to me. It is the dust of the grave.”
“Just open your present.”
With hesitant fingers, Hermione untied the white ribbon and tore the red paper. She lifted the lid and pushed tissue aside to reveal the leather cover of an antique book. The ornate, golden script of its title glowed in the candlelight.
"He forgave me,” Hermione said softly.
“He really is.” Hermione put her book aside. Turning around, she straddled Draco and snogged him breathless. He gripped her hips as he tumbled them back into the fur.
"Happy Christmas, Mr. Malfoy,” she whispered against his lips.
“Happy Christmas, Alpine Vampire.”
That earned him a bite on the neck, which led to delicious shivers and wilder kisses. Which now seemed to be leading to Ornament-Rattling-Tinsel-Shaking-Under-The-Christmas-Tree-Sex-With-Hermione-On-Top.
Draco had never had that kind before, but, somehow, he knew it would be bloody brilliant.
Glimmer’s Christmas Present