Draco Malfoy paced restlessly across the crest of the long, snowy hill, looking, he felt sure, like a current-day Norse god in his tight ski pants and expensive, down-filled jacket.
The sun, blazing off magically generated snow, created a perfect backdrop for the Capricorn Race— the Ministry’s newest Let’s-All-Have-Jolly-Fun-Together affair. Instituted the winter after the war, the race was a sledding event that took place on the day that the sun entered Capricorn, the first true winter sign of the Zodiac.
“Ooh, doesn’t Malfoy just look the Nordic prince?” Draco overheard a witch from the Personnel Department ask.
He was arrested mid-smirk by her friend’s reply. “I admit his arse is magnificent. But outside that, he reminds me of a pixie that sat on a thorn sometime back and still hasn’t managed to pull it out of his bum.”
As both women giggled, Draco scowled and edged away. Their opinions meant nothing; he had more important matters on his mind today. Namely, the winning of the Capricorn Race. For four years he’d represented the Department of Finance, and each year he’d been defeated by the most unlikely person he could imagine: Hermione Granger, from the Department of Research.
It figured that Granger would consistently win a race symbolized by a goat. She was certainly as stubborn as one. She'd proved it time and again— besting Draco when they were students, getting her way in every project they'd worked on at the Ministry, resisting his repeated efforts to ask her out.
He knew she was terrible on a broom, had taken forever to master one. But she was a clever little bat out of hell on a sled. Sled racing, it seemed, had been a winter tradition for Granger and her father since she was very young.
Hermione’s skills were good; Draco had to give her that. Not only was she light-weight and petite, she was fast and nimble, able to easily outmaneuver the competition.
But Draco planned for the outcome of this year’s race to be different. In the months since his last defeat at Granger’s hands, he’d begun a concentrated campaign with one sweet –and -simple goal in mind: Malfoy Victory.
This year, he’d acquired a new sled. Designed in Switzerland with no expense spared, it was sleek, aero-dynamic, perfect. He'd put in extra training hours and even lost six pounds to make himself more competitive.
Up until October, he’d been sure that this was his year to win. Then just before Halloween, word had gone around the Ministry that Granger was getting a new sled, too. With her scientific knowledge, mathematical skill, and familiarity with the Muggle world, she would surely come up with something to once again give her the winning edge.
Now he waited restlessly beside his beautiful, green-and-silver dream sled, curious to see Granger’s new design.
Draco turned from gazing out over the long, steep slope of the race course toward the crowd gathered near the evaluation booth, where sleds were checked for magical enhancements that would give them an unfair speed advantage.
Suddenly the crowd parted and Granger was walking toward him, dressed in a perky little knit cap and very tight ski pants. Draco’s interest in her sled was momentarily diverted by the extremely snug fit of those pants. If only she were walking backward… Quickly, he refocused on the sled she was pulling. And let out one of the loudest snorts of laughter he’d ever uttered.
That was her new sled? If so, this race was all his, plain and simple.
Granger’s sled was an adorably cutesy version of a miniature Santa’s sleigh, very ho-ho-ho in its red and green design, with a broad curving back. Not sleek, not aero-dynamic, not designed to win.
“Hey, Granger,” Draco called out. “I hope you brought Rudolf along to pull that thing for you.” He grinned wickedly. “Oh, I forgot— no magical reindeer allowed. Guess you’re out of luck.”
Hermione tossed her curls. “For your information, Malfoy, I won’t need a reindeer. My sled is made of yak dung. Muggle bicycle racers have been using it for years to build winning models.”
Draco’s smile faltered. Fuck all. He’d been right about her research skills and Muggle knowledge giving her an edge. But this was his year to win, damn it, and he wasn’t going to let anything shake him.
“Yak dung? Well, I’ll just make sure to stay well ahead of you on the slope so I won’t be bothered by your sled’s smell,” he smirked.
A pensive little smile crossed Hermione’s face. “Material aside, my sled is designed to look like the first one my dad ever bought me. It was a Christmas gift when I was three.”
“Sentimentality never won a single race yet,” Draco told her, circling her sled and looking it over. The broad back featured a picture of a jolly, winking Santa Claus. While racers were not permitted to enchant their sleds mechanically, they were allowed to dress them up with magical decorations.
Suddenly the Santa shifted, blurring and disappearing before Draco’s eyes. In Santa’s place was a picture of Hermione, in a snug green jumper and very short, Christmas-plaid skirt. Winking just as Santa had, Hermione grabbed the hem of her jumper and began to pull it over her head.
Before Draco could catch more than a flash of skin, the action stopped and repeated itself. Santa. Wink. Hermione. Wink. Skin.
Draco did a double take. He couldn’t be seeing what he thought he was seeing. Could he?
But apparently, he was. The real Hermione gave Draco a saucy grin, hopping aboard her sled as the announcer called for racers to take their marks.
“A little something to keep you entertained,” she told him. “While you follow me to the bottom of the hill. See you at the finish line, Malfoy!”
Draco remained standing, entranced by the picture.
Hermione had given him just a glimpse of something he’d wanted to see since his Hogwarts days. He couldn’t look away, not just yet… And while he watched, the scene on the sled shifted again.
It appeared that Hermione had disrobed off-screen. She was now kneeling in front of a cozy fireplace, wearing an elf hat and a short, fluffy negligee of sheer white with a fur-covered hem that barely reached her thighs. The fullness of it made the outline of her body hard to see, but the hint of two rosy nipples was just visible if Draco looked close enough. And he was. Oh, he was looking very close indeed.
So close that he almost missed the start of the race. Dazed, he scrambled into his seat, his mind filled with the vision he’d just seen and its accompanying, double- entendre caption.
The one that read: “Time for bed. Because that’s when Santa comes.”
Merlin’s balls. Shakily, Draco reached down to release the brake, positioning his foot to push his sled off the crest of the hill. He needed to focus, focus, focus. No. He needed to see more of Granger. And he needed it right now.
The things she’d been showing him were like a dream come true. She’d been his secret fantasy for so many years. Not the everyday kind of fantasy— the kind he saved for his most private, special occasions, when he needed something extra to dream about to get him through the life that had been planned for him, the life he’d since fought so hard to set right and salvage.
Because Hermione Granger was no ordinary witch, damn it all to hell. Brilliant and ballsy, she was the girl he’d always wanted, the one he was certain he could never, ever get. Had she known all along how he felt? Seen it in his eyes each time he’d asked her out? Even though he’d done it in the most casual and off-hand way possible, he must have given himself away.
Was that why she was tormenting him today? Or was it all just a trick to win the race?
Pulling his mind away from what he’d seen on the back of her sled, Draco made a quick calculation. His engineers had assured him that his new sled was unbeatable among the current crop of racers. If he hung back, just momentarily, he could see what Hermione would reveal next. Just one more scene. Then he’d whiz past her and beat her to the finish line.
Mind made up, Draco hesitated for a few seconds as the final gong sounded and the announcer shouted, “Go!”
Hermione shot ahead in a spray of snow with Draco immediately behind her, so close that the front of his sled almost rammed the back of hers. His eyes were glued once again to the scene displayed before him. That filmy nightie, with its silver spaghetti straps and almost see-through fabric…
Picture-Hermione was moving again. This time, she stretched and yawned sleepily, so that her breasts rose against the sheer fabric. Rising to her feet on ivy-and-holly covered stilettos, she turned fluidly, describing a sexy little ellipse with her hips and rucking up the hem of her negligee so that her knickers showed beneath the white fur trim.
Across the shapely, satin-covered curve of her buttocks were the words Merry Christmas, Malfoy in red and green embroidery. Glancing over her shoulder, she winked again.
Evil witch. Evil woman. He was going to lose this race if he didn’t get control of himself right this minute. Draco let the bracingly cold air wash over his face as they flew down the hillside, navigating a turn in the race course.
Granger and her sexy, Slytherin–style tactics be damned. She might never go out with him, but at least he would have the satisfaction of defeating her this year. Determination renewed, Draco began to edge his sled to one side of Hermione’s, aiming to sweep past her and over the finish line.
That was when the scene on the back of her sled changed yet again.
This time, Granger faced him full-on, her gorgeous breasts bare and rosy, her nipples standing at attention from the cold. She wore nothing but a pair of tall, black boots and a Russian-style beaver hat, her hands tucked inside a strategically placed sable muff.
It was all too much.
Draco lost control of his sled, veering off course in a violent spiral and just clipping the corner of Hermione’s sled in the process. In seconds, they were both tumbling down the hill, sled-less in the snow, as Ernie Macmillan whizzed past them to claim the Capricorn Race crown.
At the finish line, the crowd was screaming and cheering, but neither Draco nor Hermione heard it. Draco lay on his back in the snow; Hermione, who had fared less well in the crash, had done a frosty face-plant.
Slowly, she lifted her head as Draco struggled to his feet. Her face might be covered in white, but there was no disguising the look of fury on it.
“Malfoy, what in bloody blazes did you do?” Hermione yelled. “You’ve made me lose the race!”
“I made you lose? What the hell are you on about?” Draco yelled back. “I was all set to win, until you hijacked my chances with your sexy pin-up girl pictures!”
“I…” Hermione had the grace to blush as she brushed away the snow from her cheeks and rose to her feet.
Draco was determined to continue with his angry rant. “Telling me no when I asked you out, then taunting me with those images… That’s cold, Granger. If you wanted revenge for the past, I’d say you damned well got it, in spades.”
“I didn’t tell you no when you asked me out! I told you I was busy! No and busy are not the same words.”
‘But I thought… they mean the same thing.”
“They do not! When Theo offered me a cup of hot, mulled wine before the race, I told him no, not I’m busy. I wanted my mind to stay sharp. When Minister Burkhalter of Bavaria offered me five hundred Galleons to have sex with him, I told him no, not I’m too busy to sleep with you. When…”
“Wait… Burkhalter tried to pay you for sex?”
“That’s not the point, Draco! The point is that when I told you I was busy, it meant my calendar was full. And I wanted to clear it before I said yes.” Her voice and eyes both dropped and she seemed suddenly a little shy. “Because it felt important, that you would ask me out.” More blushing. “I’ve wished you would, for a long time now. And I wanted it to be special, not crammed into one corner of a busy month.”
“Then you do actually have an interest in seeing me?” Draco sounded amazed.
Hermione nodded vigorously. “I was afraid you wouldn’t ask again. I thought the pictures might keep you intrigued until I could clear my calendar and let you know I was ready. You’re the only one who could see them, you know. Besides…,” She gave a small shrug and grinned. “I really did want to win the race.”
“So you used the most underhanded, borderline-cheating scheme you could think of. How is it that you were not sorted into Slytherin? There’s not a single one of us in the snake house that wouldn’t applaud your tactics.” Draco grinned back at her.
“Maybe… there’s a chance I could slither in sideways?” Hermione looked up at him through her lashes as Draco suddenly reached for her, pulling her into his arms.
“You’d be a welcome addition, I can promise you that,” he murmured as he bent to kiss her. “I think… it’s where you belong.”
The crowd at the foot of the hill erupted once again into wild whooping and shouting.
“It sounds like everyone’s really glad that Ernie won,” Hermione said breathlessly.
“They finished cheering for Macmillan awhile back,” Draco told her. “I think we’re the ones attracting attention now.”
“Mmm. Sounds like I won after all, then.”
“Sounds like both of us did.”
Grabbing Hermione around the waist, Draco pulled her down into the snow.