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The remnants of last night’s snowfall crunched under Draco’s boots as he walked through Diagon Alley. The sound matched the crackling of the crisp, parchment invitation he was slowly crumpling in his fist.

Ministry Christmas Party December 19th! the parchment read. This year, all party-goers are to wear their ugliest, tackiest holiday jumpers! Don’t risk being turned away at the door. Dress in your worst and join us for a night of fun!

Draco didn’t own a tacky holiday jumper. A Malfoy would never. But he knew exactly how to get one. Where better than a shop run by Weasleys, kings of ugly jumpers and tacky living in general? Shoving the crumpled invitation into his pocket, he pushed open the door to George’s joke shop.

The place was crowded with shoppers, but Draco had no trouble spotting what he was after. Near the front window hung a rack of brightly colored jumpers, with a sign that blinked off and on proclaiming their celebratory value.

He grabbed the first one on the rack. This one would do. No use in looking further, as it was quite the ugliest piece of clothing he’d ever seen. Bright blue, with a large, tan-colored gingerbread man taking up most of the front surface. The creature had black button eyes, a green bow at its neck, and a bright red smirk, the only part of the entire jumper that Draco found relatable.

“Got everything you came here for?”

Draco looked up to see George Weasley coming toward him, wearing a smirk to rival that of the gingerbread man’s.

“Jumper for the Ministry party,” Draco mumbled. “I’ll take this one.”

“Great choice,” George replied. “Doesn’t hurt that gingerbread men are Hermione Granger’s favorite holiday treat, now does it?” He winked, whisking the jumper out of Draco’s hands. “I’ll just wrap this up for you and send the bill to Malfoy Manor, shall I?”

“It doesn’t need wrapping,” Draco protested but George had already disappeared toward the back of the shop, leaving Draco to ponder the other man’s words.

Granger’s favorite treat? What the hell was that supposed to mean? He and Hermione had been flirting for months, ever since she’d joined the Ministry staff upon her graduation from Muggle university. But he didn’t think it had been that obvious to everyone else. Maybe the fact that he’d grown to find her more intriguing than any woman he’d ever known was causing him to lose his sense of stealth.

In the back room of the shop, George whistled to Ron, who was lazing in a cushy chair, using his wand to gift-wrap packages for the customers. “Heads up, little brother. Malfoy’s on the premises.”

“Bloody rotten bugger,” growled Ron. “He’s been sniffing round Hermione for weeks now. I’d like to dot his eyes and cross his Ts. As in ferreT giT.”

“If you hadn’t been slipping around with Lavender behind Hermione’s back, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Lav and I have history. Surely Hermione can understand that.” Ron whined. “Malfoy is complicating things.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t get any sympathy from me. But you are family, and pranks are life. Here’s proof positive that the latest one is working.” George waved the gingerbread man at Ron.

Ron’s face lit up. “He got the invitation, then.”

“Yep. And this ugly jumper is our chance to put the icing of total disaster on Malfoy’s holiday party cake.” George lifted his wand and began to weave a spell.

Ten minutes later, Draco walked out of the shop with his package, while Ron chortled gleefully in the back room and George hummed, “Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap” under his breath.

*

At eight p.m. on December 19th, Draco stood glaring at the ugly jumper reflected in his bedroom mirror. The gingerbread man smirked back at him from the middle of his chest.

He wished he could just skip this party. He’d have done it, too, if it hadn’t been for his father’s pride in the job Draco had landed at the Ministry. An opportunity to regain some of the lost family honor, as Lucius had put it. And tonight, the chance to mingle with the right people was a stroke of luck that must never be turned down.

But more importantly, Draco harbored the secret hope of spending some quality time with Hermione Granger, in a relaxed party setting. For that reason alone, he’d wear a jumper depicting a shit-faced Santa humping a reindeer, if he had to.

He was just turning from the mirror when the humming started.

It took a few moments for him to locate the source of the noise. Puzzled, Draco realized the sound was coming from his jumper. He brushed one hand over it. Black button eyes glowed as the gingerbread man shivered into sudden, horrifying life.

“’The way you squeeze my lemon makes me fall right out of bed!’” it sang loudly.

“What??” Draco was too startled to register that he was talking to his clothes.

“’The way you squeeeeeze my lemon…’”

“I heard you the first time!” Draco grabbed his wand and performed a quick Silencio, his mind whirling as the bright button eyes went dark again.

A holiday jumper, foolishly purchased at the Weasley’s joke shop. Didn’t it just fucking fit that they’d have put some kind of embarrassing spell on it? But Draco had nothing else to wear if he wanted to be admitted to this party, and he was already running late.

The silencing charm seemed to have worked. Did he dare risk attending? For Malfoy honour and a chance to dance with Hermione Granger, he decided he would.

It would turn out to be one of the worst, best mistakes he’d ever made.

*

Feeling self-conscious as hell, Draco descended the white, marble staircase into the ballroom where the party was taking place. He couldn’t stop looking down at his jumper. He’d thought all was well, but the moment he set foot in the building, the gingerbread man had started that low-pitched humming noise again.

“How is Silencio not working?” Draco hissed to his jumper.

“’I smell sex and candy here!’” sang the gingerbread man happily. As if things couldn’t get any worse, it suddenly dawned on Draco that the creature’s voice sounded exactly like his own.

He glanced up to see if anyone had heard, and got what was possibly the second worst shock of his twenty-two years. No one else in the entire ballroom was wearing a tacky holiday jumper.

Every other witch and wizard in the vast crowd had come dressed in their formal, glamourous best.

A sense of unreality washed over Draco as he realized this wasn’t an ugly-jumper party at all. It was a fancy dress ball. A bloody Black and White ball, to be precise. Not only was he dressed inappropriately in a ridiculous, singing jumper, he wasn’t even able to blend in until he could escape.

Draco lifted one foot to run back up the stairs but before he could turn, Professor McGonagall was at his side.

“Ah, Draco” she greeted him, staring at his jumper in puzzlement. “Is there to be a play of some sort later on?”

Draco nodded vigorously, seizing on the out she’d given him.

The gingerbread man chose that moment to sing out, “’I’m long and I’m strong and I’m down to get the friction on!’”

McGonagall’s eyebrows rose. “If that is a line from your play, then I must confess it sounds rather vulgar. Does Kingsley know about this? Oh, of course he does.” She answered her own question. “He has a penchant for a bit of bawdiness. Well, I’ll look forward to your performance of… how did you put it? ‘Getting the friction on?’”

Draco flushed bright red but breathed a sigh of relief as McGonagall patted his arm and moved off into the crowd. Someone was going to pay a heavy price for this little prank. Someone with the surname of ‘Weasley.’

A few people nearby were beginning to cast odd glances his way. He heard whispers, and one definite giggle. Revenge would have to wait. He needed to escape. Right now, before his dignity and reputation were shredded beyond repair

Backing stealthily toward the stairs with his eyes on the milling crowd, Draco ran straight into a stout society matron who was descending from the other direction.

He whirled to face her. “Madam, I am so sorry…”

“Stroke me like the rain?” entreated the gingerbread man in a hopeful voice.

“I beg your pardon?” The woman’s ample bosom heaved, her diamonds glittering indignantly.

“I… I said, “Stroke of luck it didn’t rain,” Draco stammered. “With everyone turned out in all their finery, I mean.”

He gestured to his jumper as she stared. “Excuse me. Play practice, really must run.”

As Draco’s foot hit the bottom stair once again, he heard an outburst of laughter. George and Ron Weasley stood a few meters away, in an alcove beneath the staircase, well turned out in the wizarding version of black tie.

“Play practice, Malfoy? Really?” George grinned. “Since when do you care anything about theater? Oh, right— ever since you became this evening’s main entertainment. Ron and I are so enjoying having our own private jester.”

“You bastards!” Draco balled his fists. “How did you manage to change my invitation?”

“You can thank Pansy for that one,” Ron laughed. “She doesn’t like your chatting up Hermione any more than I do. Easy enough to tamper with your invite, since Pans works in Event Planning.”

Draco scowled and took a step forward. “I should have known you’d fuck with my jumper!”

“Actually, that was George. But yes, you should have known, since you’ve been trying to fuck with Hermione for weeks!” Ron glowered back. “Tonight, she’ll see you for the big fool that you really are!”

Wands quickly drawn, the two men circled each other. George, who reeked of fire whiskey only a little less than Ron did, grinned and watched. He’d intervene if necessary but for now, this show was too good to miss.

On the far side of the room, Hermione Granger stood alone near a tall, gilt mirror. She wore an elegant, white satin sheath with a train that flared stiffly to one side, paired with long, black gloves and Christmas-red lipstick. Totally retro Muggle ‘50s, though no one here would know that.

Her originality was the talk of the ball. But at the moment, her only focus was on finding Malfoy. She sipped her champagne, standing on tiptoe to try and spot him over the heads of the crowd.

She’d seen him coming down the staircase, of course, and almost lost her knickers in shock. Perfectly tailored, sharply dressed Draco had opted to attend the Black and White Ball wearing a hideous, gingerbread man jumper.

How he’d known gingerbread men were her favorite, Hermione had no idea. What mattered was that Draco was the most bravely rebellious man she knew, flouting convention by sending a private message meant only for her.

She sighed with pleasure. It was the single most romantic thing a man had done for her, ever. And that jumper looked so good on him, too. The way the vivid colors set off his fair good looks. His ice-blond hair and handsome face above the silly, round head of the gingerbread man. Such a bold contrast. It was delicious. He was delicious.

Hermione sipped her champagne and plotted how to angle for a dance, followed by a shared drink and conversation in a dim corner of the room. They’d been flirting for weeks; his jumper was proof positive that it meant something!

Near the stairs, Draco was just raising his wand to hex the snarl off Ron’s face when the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, walked past, deep in conversation with Professor Trelawney.

The gingerbread man chose that moment to sing out, "’One leg in the east, one leg in the west, and me in the middle trying to do my best!’” causing George to double over in a fit of coughing.

“Ah, a prophecy. How exciting!” exclaimed Trelawney. “Draco, I remember you as being stellar at divination! Let’s see, east and west are cardinal directions, legs could refer to the steps of a journey. But that business about you being in the middle doing your best— tell me, are you on a quest of some sort?”

Kingsley’s eyebrows had arched toward his non-existent hairline at the gingerbread man’s words. “Sly dog,” he elbowed Draco in the ribs. “When in that situation, ‘his best’ is all any man can hope to do.”

He clapped Draco on the shoulder and headed back into the crowd. “Brave of you, ignoring the memo and dressing to celebrate the season instead. A one-man rebellion. I like it!"

George was still doubled over, laughing uncontrollably and muttering things about Malfoy luck and pacts with the devil, while Ron’s face turned redder than his hair.

“Yeah, well here’s where any devil-spawn-dark-magic-dealing Malfoy lucking fuck runs out!” Ron shouted.

He raised his wand just as Draco reached his limit of tolerance for holidays, pranksters, and the whole hellish evening.

Dropping his own wand, he punched Ron in the nose.

Blood spurted as Ron fell backwards, stumbling into George and sending them both sprawling to the floor.

George lay flat on his back, crying with laughter, while Ron held his face and yelled in outrage.

Suddenly, Lavender was at Ron’s side, kneeling between his legs and mopping at his bloody nose with the hem of her ball gown.

The gingerbread man chose that moment to offer a musical suggestion: “’Lick him like a lollipop should be licked.”

George held his stomach and drummed his heels on the floor, as Lavender’s head snapped up.

“Perv much, Malfoy?”

“Me, Brown? I’m not the one down there between Weasley's legs."

Draco rubbed his fist, which stung like hell. For once the gingerbread man might have nailed it. There'd been rumors linking Lavender with Ron's lollipop as far back as sixth year. The downside of all this was that Hermione would likely never forgive him for walloping her ex at a fancy dress ball.

A crowd was starting to gather. Draco heard a rustle of fabric as someone came up behind him.

“Tell the truth, Malfoy.” It was Granger, her voice low and amused. “That felt rather brilliant just now, didn’t it?”

“What?” he asked, startled.

“Punching Ron. Reminds me of what I did to you in third year,” she chuckled. “I happen to know from experience that it feels nice.”

So did the tickle of her breath against his neck and ear.

“Yeah.” Draco grinned, watching Lavender crooning over Ron and tending to his injury. “But he deserved it.”

“So did you, way back when.”

Draco turned to face Hermione then and got the full impact of how gorgeous she looked this evening, with her holly-berry lips, snow-white gown and those long gloves hinting at the sort of black magic not made with spells.

A smile curled the corners of that red mouth. She’d noticed him noticing, and it seemed to be making her very happy.

“Professor McGonagall told me you were going about spouting crude song lyrics,” Hermione teased. “Wasn’t hard for me to guess that George and Ron had been up to tricks. It figures they would try to ruin my holiday gift from you.”

“Your… gift?” Draco looked puzzled.

“The jumper.” Hermione tweaked the bright blue fabric of his sleeve. “How you bought one with a gingerbread man, because you know that’s my favorite. How it shows that all our flirting means… you like me.” She paused at his bemused expression. “Malfoy? It does mean you like me, doesn’t it?”

Draco’s face cleared. “Oh, it does,” he agreed. “Why else would I wear it to a fancy dress ball, if not for you?”

The gingerbread man chose that moment to interrupt with what could only be called a lament.

“’A good shower head and my right hand, the two best lovers that I’ve ever had,’” it sang sadly.

“I wonder what tune you’ll be singing when I throw you into the fire later tonight,” Draco muttered to the jumper.

Hermione just laughed and tugged at his sleeve again. “This has George Weasley’s brand of pranking all over it. But on the off chance that what your jumper just said is true…” She laughed even harder at Draco’s scowl. “I think I’ve had enough champagne for one evening. Would you be interested in getting coffee and a sandwich someplace? Like, my flat?”

“I would.” Draco reached for her hand and pulled her toward the staircase. “And right now, too.”

At the top of the stairs, he grabbed the hem of his holiday jumper and yanked it over his head, revealing a simple, white Oxford cloth shirt underneath. Stretching his lean muscles, Draco breathed a sigh of relief. “Much better.”

Then he looked at Hermione. Her eyes glittered as if she were enjoying this small hint of what it would be like to watch him undress.

Grinning, Draco restrained himself from making a snarky comment. It seemed his disastrous evening was turning into something rather brilliant and he didn’t want to do a single thing to send it spiraling back the other way.

As they headed to retrieve their cloaks, Hermione looped her arm through his. The ugly jumper was wadded up and tucked under his other arm, the gingerbread man singing a catchy tune about ‘getting paid to do the wild thing.’

“Trust me, no one would ever pay you for that,” Draco told his jumper.

“Are you sure?” Hermione giggled. “Because gingerbread men are adorable, don’t you know?”

Draco sighed. “Do you think the spell will end at midnight, when the ball does?”

“Probably. George wouldn’t get much benefit from this prank if the jumper kept singing once you were home alone. But until then, things could stay interesting.”

Damned if Hermione wasn’t right.

As they wrapped themselves in their evening cloaks and prepared to Apparate, the muffled voice of the gingerbread man broke out with a musical question for the ages: “’Would she go down on you in the theater?’”

“Fuck’s sake,” Draco swore, but Hermione was enjoying herself.

“If ‘she’ happened to be invited to the theater, I think there’s no telling what ‘she’ might do.” Brown eyes sparkled as she crooked one finger for him to follow her, then vanished with a wink and a pop.

Draco smirked like the lucky fool he knew himself to be and sent a mental salute to the Weasleys for pranking him straight into Hermione Granger’s life. Then he made up a quick lyric of his own, about Lavender licking Ron’s lollipop until it became smaller and smaller and finally disappeared. The gingerbread man hummed along.

Seconds later, Draco and his ugly jumper were inside Hermione’s flat.

FIN