Title: Two Lumps of Coal
Word Count: 8,598 (hey, that's close to 5,000, right? >_>)
Prompt: Lump of Coal
Warnings: A single F-bomb, lots of bickering, and a bunch of opinionated paintings.
Summary: Someone has been tampering with Draco and Hermione’s presents and no stone is left unturned to see who did it and why. Here’s to hoping they get it solved before they annoy each other to death.
A/N: A ton of thanks to my trusty betas dollfaced and mazvn for telling me that this didn’t suck. I kinda butchered the word requirement as per the usual (sorry) but that’s what seems to happen whenever I attempt to include a plot. Happy Christmas, everyone!
Draco took one long hard look at this year's Christmas loot. He couldn't believe it, he simply couldn't believe it. He narrowed his eyes and looked down at the letter from his mother.
My Dearest Draco,
I was very distressed to hear that you'd chosen not to come home and celebrate Christmas with your father and me this year, but Lucius repeatedly reminds me that you are no longer a child, rather a young man, and we must allow you to go your own way. Still, I can hardly see why you would choose to celebrate at that draughty old castle, and I sincerely hope that next year, you will consider your family.
I hope you will enjoy the presents I specifically picked out for you.
Your devoted Mother
No. No, it distinctly said presents, not present. Otherwise he wouldn't have put it past her. His mother had a rare gift when it came to guilt-tripping. No, this was the work of someone else entirely.
He crumpled up the letter. ‘Granger.’
Finding the head girl wasn't exactly going to be hard. The castle was largely deserted, but she could usually be found in a few very specific places. Considering that it was Christmas Day, Draco was very certain she could be found in her common room. Not even she would be at the library today. Probably.
He sauntered up to the picture of the Fat Lady. ‘Let me in.’
She gave him a haughty look. ‘No.’
‘I need the head girl, and I know she's in there, so let me in.’
He sighed irritably. ‘Then get her for me.’
‘No. She's not here. Go away.’
‘Look, this isn't about... about that. This is legitimate student business.’
‘She's not here.’
‘Then where is she?’
‘I don't know, do I look like the head girl's keeper?’ No, what she looked like was a very fat painted woman who’d had too much eggnog.
‘For crying out loud! I really need to talk to her!’
‘But she doesn't need to talk to you.’
‘How many times do I have to tell you that it's not about—’
The painting swung open to reveal the bushy head of the head girl crawling out.
Draco scowled at the argumentative painting. ‘Not in, huh?’
The Fat Lady merely shrugged. ‘Must have missed her.’
Right. Of course. He had half a mind to burn the stupid canvas.
‘What do you want?’ Hermione asked as soon as she saw him, looking about as friendly as the Fat Lady.
‘A bit of Christmas cheer would be nice,’ he replied.
‘Look, I don't have time for that right now, and you're obviously only here to ruin my—’
‘I want you to give them back!’
Hermione blinked. ‘Give what back?’
‘My presents. Ha ha, very witty, now give them back!’
‘I don't have the faintest idea—’
He snarled at her and thrust the lump of coal he'd found on his bed that morning out at her. ‘Your idea of a joke is not very funny, Granger.’
She pursed her lips. ‘Not my joke, but whoever thought of it is very funny.’
‘How am I supposed to fix it?’
‘You're the head girl. You're supposed to help the rest of us whenever we have a problem, so fix it.’
‘I think that in this case, the problem is actually you, and I can't help you there.’
‘And this is exactly why I think it has to be you. You're the only one who carries that kind of a grudge against me; at least, you're the only one here.’
‘Oh, don't be ridiculous. It can't be me.’
‘Because of this!’ She dug out a handkerchief and unwrapped it to show him an identical piece of coal.
‘You're claiming you couldn't have done it because you happen to carry another lump around on you? Honestly, Granger. Your logic is lacking.’
‘So is yours, Malfoy. This was on my bed this morning.’
Hermione watched Draco with as much patience as she could muster whilst he worked things out in his mind. Merlin, had he always been this slow? What had she been thinking? Finally, she snapped. She didn't have all day, for crying out loud!
‘I'm going to the kitchens to ask the house-elves about it,’ she said and rewrapped her lump of coal. ‘You can tag along if you stop nattering.’
‘Spreading the Christmas cheer,’ he muttered.
She merely rolled her eyes. What did he expect? He was the last person she wanted to be around today.
They were several floors down before Draco opened his mouth again, this time to ask, ‘So, what made you decide to spend Christmas here?’
‘Staff shortage,’ she curtly replied. ‘I'm only here until later today, then one of the professors will take over and I'll have a late Christmas at home.’
He looked a bit taken aback. ‘You're going home today?’
‘Yes, that's what I said.’
‘Home to your parents, or home to Weasley?’
She stopped up to pin him with a glare. ‘Why are you even asking me that?’
‘Because you lost the prerogative to ask that question, ok? Now it's none of your damn business!’
‘Granger, relax, it was just a friendly question!’
‘No, it wasn't. Your questions are never friendly. It was the prelude to making snide remarks about Ron that he doesn't deserve.’
‘Oh, he deserves them all right.’
‘Look who's talking!’
‘And so do you. You deserve everything you get for constantly running back to that pea-brained excuse for a weasel.’
She stood back and crossed her arms. ‘Are you done yet?’
For a second he looked like he was going to argue more, but then he turned away and resumed walking towards the next flight of stairs. ‘Yeah, I'm done,’ she heard him mumbling. ‘I've been done for quite a while, haven't I?’
It really shouldn't hurt any longer, but it did.
When they reached the kitchens, Hermione saw Draco wrinkle his nose in distaste at the elves working there. How obliging of him to act like the worst git he possibly could, so she didn't make the mistake of believing in his kindness again.
‘Oh, Winky!’ she said, waving at a well-known house-elf.
Winky looked confused but approached them. ‘Can Winky help the head girl?’ she asked.
Draco snorted. Hermione ignored him.
‘Yes, we were wondering if any of you house-elves know what happened to our presents?’
‘Presents? Winky doesn't know anything about presents. Winky didn't take presents.’
‘No, we didn't think you had,’ Hermione hurriedly replied, before Draco could make some horribly offensive accusation. ‘But, you see, someone is playing a prank on us and has hidden our presents, leaving us only coal, and we're trying to find them again.’
‘Winky doesn't have presents. Winky hasn't seen presents.’
‘But maybe you could ask the others?’ Hermione prodded.
‘Winky didn’t take!’
‘Just bloody ask the others, all right, Winky?’ Draco broke in, resulting in Winky scurrying off and Hermione not knowing whether the house-elf was merely running away or whether she intended to ask around.
‘Oh, nice job, Malfoy.’
‘She was obnoxious. Winky, Winky, Winky. You'd think they'd learn proper grammar.’
Hermione snorted. ‘I've read some of your essays. House-elf grammar would have been an improvement.’
He looked as if he was going to angrily retort, but then he seemed to check himself. ‘Then why do I get such good grades?’
‘Maybe because you had me tutoring you for three months.’
‘Tutoring... Is that how you remember it?’
She frowned. ‘I was also tutoring you.’
‘So you at least acknowledge that it wasn't only tutoring? Good to know.’
‘What the hell is this about, Malfoy?’
‘Well, you see, Granger, it simply seems to me that you've been so busy reverting our entire relationship to what it was before, only more hostile, that I was beginning to question my memory.’
She looked away. ‘You were the biggest mistake of my life.’
‘Aww,’ he said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. ‘Don't take it that hard, Granger. At least Weasley was willing to take you back when you changed your mind.’
‘When I changed my mind!?’ she shrieked a little too loudly. ‘Excuse me, but who was it that—’ She abruptly stopped talking when she realised Winky was standing in front of them, looking up at her with big, sad eyes. ‘Yes, Winky?’
‘Winky ask other house-elves, head girl. Other house-elves say other house-elves don't know. Moure says coal means naughty and head girl has to make nice.’
Draco smirked and turned away with a snort.
‘Thanks, Winky,’ Hermione politely said. ‘And happy Christmas.’
Draco walked off without checking that Hermione was following. This whole thing was stupid. Once he found out who was pulling this prank on him, he’d make that person regret it so hard that his or her great grandchildren wouldn’t dare pull another one.
When he reached the entrance hall, he realised that he was alone. He stopped up and turned around, frowning. Why was she dawdling? Wasn’t she lacking presents as well? If she could be trusted to tell the truth, that was. But she usually could. If it had been anyone else, he might have doubted them no matter what they said, but it wasn’t really her style. Or maybe it was. He’d be damned if he knew anymore.
Finally, she emerged.
‘It’s good to know you have all day, Granger,’ he said.
‘Shut up,’ she muttered, sounding absent-minded.
His lips tightened. ‘So, what’s next?’
‘I wonder if we’re the only ones with this problem. No one else had come to see me yet, but it’s still rather early...’
‘It was early. It’s not so early anymore.’
‘You’re right,’ she said, nodding. He was about to comment on the novelty of her telling him he was right, when she continued, ‘I have to ask the Fat Lady if anyone else has tried to reach me.’
‘You have to be joking.’
She shot him a confused glance. ‘Why?’
‘The Fat Lady is on the seventh floor.’
‘Yes, I’m well aware of that fact, thank you. I live up there, remember?’
‘I’ve already been to seventh floor today, and I haven’t even had breakfast!’
‘Oh, quit your whinging. It’s not my problem that you’re in awful shape.’
‘I’ll have you know that I’m in excellent shape.’
She made an unflattering sound. ‘Right. Your jaw muscles really get a workout from how you sit around in the dungeon, eating Christmas sweets.’
‘That’s not how I work out my jaw.’
Her eyes immediately grew cold as he knew they would. ‘I don’t care, Malfoy. Follow me or not, either way I’m done listening to you.’ She began climbing the stairs.
‘Funny, here I thought you never listened to me to begin with,’ he called after her.
Sighing, he followed.
The Fat Lady was busy, it would seem. She was directing George von Rheticus, Sir Cadogan, Barnabas the Barmy and Valeria Myriadd in a very interesting off-key rendition of a Christmas carol that Hermione couldn’t identify for the life of her. So she gave up trying, waiting rather impatiently for the ruckus to stop.
‘Oh, lovely. Who stepped on a cat?’ Draco grumbled as he reached her.
‘No one, dear,’ she sweetly replied. ‘That’s the sound of your wheezing breath.’
‘Ha, bloody ha. I can’t hear myself think in this noise, much less breathe. Are they going to be done any time soon?’
‘I didn’t ask you to follow me.’
‘I want my things back.’
‘You’ll get them back, but it might be even sooner if I don’t have to deal with you every step of the way!’
‘I’m not going away, Granger.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Did you just “bah” me?’
‘Yes. Deal with it. Bah.’
‘Oh, now, that’s mature.’
‘I really wouldn’t be one to talk about maturity if I were you, Malfoy.’
‘And yet I do. I’ve been nothing but civil to you today, but all I get is a sour face and nagging. What the hell is your problem?’
‘What’s my problem? I’ll tell you my problem: It’s Christmas and all I wanted was a nice quiet day with presents and loved ones, and instead I get coal and you! How is that fair?’
She suddenly realised that she could hear her own voice far too well. She was shouting and there wasn’t any noise to drown it out.
Someone cleared their throat rather awkwardly, and Hermione turned back to the Fat Lady’s painting to find its denizens gawking at her with a mix of curiosity and annoyance on their faces.
‘Do you mind?’ the Fat Lady sniffed. ‘Some of us are trying to celebrate.’
Hermione swallowed a lump that had formed even though it had no business doing that. Today was not a complete disaster yet. It could still be saved. ‘I’m sorry, Lady,’ she muttered. ‘But, um, has there been anyone else to see me?’
‘No, no one. So if you two would take your shouting elsewhere...’ She made shooing motions with her hands.
Hermione turned and walked off.
‘Where are we going?’ Draco asked.
‘Great Hall,’ Hermione mumbled. ‘I’m hungry.’
‘You’re thinking about food now?’
‘Believe it or not, Malfoy, but whether or not you get your presents back is really not anything I intend to lose any sleep over, much less my Christmas breakfast. Besides, we can ask people there if they got presents or coal.’
‘But the Fat Lady said nobody had been there.’
‘And did she look like she would have noticed if they had?’
‘I always have a point.’
‘It’s funny you should say that.’
‘And why is that?’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Just make the dig already.’
‘Be still my heart, did you really refuse to make a dig at me?’
‘Fuck you, Granger. I’ve played nice.’
‘That doesn’t mean I have to.’
Without changing her pace or the expression on her face or even the tone of her voice, she stated, ‘Because you were the one who cheated on me.’
They had entered the Great Hall, so Draco bit his tongue. They didn’t need to have this fight in front of the people here, even though there only were a few of them. Instead he stiffly walked over to his seat and began angrily serving himself.
Hermione stood on her bench and clapped her hands. ‘Excuse me, everyone? Everyone?’ she loudly and clearly said. Draco made a sarcastic sound. “Everyone” consisted of only a handful of students. There really was no need to get up like that. ‘I just want to hear if anyone got a lump like this,’ she showed off her coal lump, ‘instead of their presents this year.’
There was a bit of giggling. Apparently they thought it was a joke.
‘No one?’ she asked again. Nobody volunteered. ‘All right. Thank you very much and happy Christmas.’ She then sat down and began eating.
Her every movement annoyed him.
Hermione noted that Draco didn’t approach her again before everyone else had left the Great Hall.
‘Now what?’ he asked.
‘Now we consider who knew about us,’ she calmly replied.
‘Yes. Why else single the two of us out? Someone apparently thought we were naughty this year for seeing each other, however briefly that was.’
‘It wasn’t that briefly.’
‘Not the issue being examined here, Malfoy. Think. Who could have known?’
‘You know that as well as I do, Granger. We weren’t really that secretive after a while. Anyone could’ve done the math.’
She knew. He was right. It was one of the many burning humiliations of having seen him. She felt like anyone could be laughing at her gullible behaviour behind her back. She’d honestly believed that there’d been something real between them and hadn’t felt the need to hide.
‘Who could have known and would have done something like this?’
‘Weasley and Potter.’
‘Don’t drag them into this.’
‘I’m not. I’m merely answering your question.’
‘I never actually told them.’ So maybe she’d hid just a little bit, after all.
‘They don’t even go here this year.’
‘They couldn’t have known.’
‘Wrong. Someone helpful could have owled them their suspicions.’
‘Then they would have confronted me.’
‘Or they would have waited for you to confess and when you didn’t, pulled this.’
‘First of all, they wouldn’t. Second of all, there’s nothing to confess anymore.’
‘Just because it’s nothing current doesn’t mean it never happened.’
‘It does in my book.’
‘So that’s how you live with yourself, Granger? You tell yourself that things in the past you aren’t proud of never happened?’
‘What are you getting at?’
He gritted his teeth and looked away. ‘Nothing.’
‘Good. Because it wasn’t me who cheated.’
His eyes snapped back to her and narrowed. ‘Do we really need to have this discussion right now?’
‘It’s not a discussion. It’s fact.’
‘Only, there’s something wrong with your facts.’
‘And that is?’
‘I didn’t cheat on anyone.’
The lie angered her the way it had angered her every single time he had reiterated it. ‘Would it kill you to show just a little respect for me?’
‘How am I being disrespectful?’
‘Your never-ending lies! Couldn’t you at least stop it now that we’re over? I don’t care anymore!’
‘If you don’t care, then why are you getting so worked up?’
‘Because you keep lying to me!’
‘You never even considered for a second that it might be the truth, did you?’
With a disgusted snarl, Hermione got to her feet. She couldn’t stomach listening to any more of his lies.
The worst part was that she knew that if she hadn’t known beyond a shadow of a doubt that he actually had done it, she would probably have believed him when he’d first denied it, and she’d still be a laughing stock.
When Hermione stormed out of the door and up the stairs, Draco followed but at a moderate distance, hoping she would cool off and try to solve the mystery of his missing presents.
On the third floor, she very suddenly turned around and hissed, ‘Why are you still following me?’
‘I want to solve this thing,’ he replied.
‘You’re such a sad person, putting so much importance on material things. But then again, the very fact that you’re still here says a lot about the warmth of your family, doesn’t it?’
He didn’t even blink. ‘Whatever makes you feel better, Granger.’
She bared her teeth at him. ‘Fine. We’ll look the spell or whatever it is up at the library, but if there’s nothing particular about coal or Christmas in any of the books there, I’m not investigating any further today. I’ll leave a note for the attending professor who’ll contact the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol if nobody comes forward.’
‘Your presents are gone too.’
‘But I don’t give a fig!’
‘That’s harsh, considering how your friends and family probably poured their hearts and souls into them. You know, quite unlike my family and all that.’
She rolled her eyes at him and turned around to walk up the last flight of stairs to the library.
Hermione didn’t even know where to begin to look, but at least that meant she had something to occupy her as she perused the different sections.
Draco always made her feel so angry.
Although she couldn’t deny that a good portion of that anger was directed at herself.
She found a few books on Christmas spells and tales, punishing spells, and mocking spells and took them to a table where she began haphazardly leafing through them.
‘Don’t take it out on the books, Granger,’ Draco said, taking a book and sitting down across from her.
‘Could you just please stop talking?’
He did and for the better part of two hours, the only sounds that could be heard was the rustle of paper.
‘I should’ve known it would go that way with you,’ she suddenly said. ‘I mean, really. I should’ve known.’
‘Divination was never your strongest subject, so I don’t blame you.’
‘I think you had the whole thing planned out.’
‘Gaining my trust and abusing it.’
‘Except for the part where I say that never happened at all. Shouldn’t I gloat?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe you think it would be extra fun if you could trick me again in some way.’
‘Believe you me, Granger. I have long since realised that will never happen.’
‘But I still never cheated on you.’
‘I saw you!’ She hadn’t meant to blurt that out and quickly covered her mouth in horror as she realised she’d given away the one thing she hadn’t wanted him to know. He might realise things she didn’t want him to realise when he knew. Like, that her first reaction hadn’t been anger. It had taken her a considerable time to be able to work up to that.
He stared at her in pure shock and then began forming a word, changed his mind, cleared his throat, and said, ‘You saw what?’
He’d still deny it? Shaking her head and cursing her own naiveté in ever giving him the time of day, she said, ‘I saw you kiss her, Malfoy. And before you try to give me any more lies, I stood there and watched for several minutes and she didn’t surprise you or force you; it was a thorough, mutual snog that may or may not have led further, and you are the worst kind of scum I have ever had the misfortune to meet.’
He stared mutely at her for the longest time and then he sighed. ‘But you seem to misunderstand me, Granger. I don’t deny having snogged other girls before and after we were together. I deny that we were together at that point in time. We were already over, so I didn’t cheat.’
Bile was rising in Draco’s throat, but he tried hard to keep it down and look unaffected. She’d seen that? She’d been able to stand there calmly, watching him, and had then waited days—presumably for him to confess—before she had confronted him?
He hated how easily she’d dismissed him, and how easily she’d slipped back into scorn and revulsion around him.
At least he’d managed to surprise her. She gaped and then sputtered, ‘What is this, I don’t even—this has got to be the weakest defence I’ve ever heard!’
‘Not a defence,’ he quietly said. ‘The truth. My truth. We were through.’
‘It’s customary to inform the other party if you’re breaking up, Malfoy.’
‘Yeah...’ he muttered. ‘That’s what I always thought...’
‘Then why didn’t you?’
He smiled sardonically. ‘I figured you already knew.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘It means nothing, Granger. I’m tired of all the fighting. It’s done, it’s over, can’t we just solve this thing peacefully and go on our merry way?’
‘I haven’t found a thing.’
‘I’m supposed to leave soon.’
‘So you said.’
‘I really don’t know where to look, Malfoy,’
‘I think you mentioned that, too.’
‘Fine. Then I’ll just go.’
‘You do that.’
‘Have a nice holiday.’
She got up, leaving him alone with the mess of books.
‘How typical of that idiotic, bigoted prat,’ Hermione muttered whilst doing a very angry version of last-minute packing. ‘You can’t just claim to be broken up unless you actually break up first. How was I supposed to know? I wasn’t...’ The lump was there again, making it harder to form words, so she didn’t. There really wasn’t much point in talking. Nobody was listening.
You had to let your partner know if you felt you were through. It was Relationships for Dummies material. You couldn’t simply go, ‘Nah, she’ll figure it out,’ and snog someone else and then say you weren’t cheating. You couldn’t. Not when the girl who thought she was your girlfriend had watched and felt the betrayal so deeply that for the longest time, she hadn’t even been able to voice her pain for fear that she would shatter.
Irritably she wiped at her eyes. Of course he had to ruin her Christmas too.
He’d probably set up this whole coal thing, solely to mess with her.
The thought gave her pause. She hadn’t even considered it, but it would be just the thing he would do. Petty and spiteful.
Was she really going to let him get away with it that easily?
She eyed her belongings and then shrugged and walked over to find a quill and paper. She wouldn’t make anyone’s Christmas happy in her current state of mind anyway.
‘I demand we go to your room,’ Hermione said without preamble. Draco was still sitting in the library, trying to figure out what had happened.
He couldn’t help the smirk. ‘Much as I love your idea of a happy Christmas, I’m still trying to figure this out.’
‘So am I. And Merlin help me, if I find even the smallest trace of either your or my presents down there, I’m going to make sure you get so much detention that you don’t see sunlight again before it’s time for your retirement.’
He realised she was serious. ‘I thought you were going home.’
‘And leave you an opening to get rid of the evidence? Never.’
‘Just for your information,’ said Draco, sitting leisurely on his bed whilst Hermione was combing through all of his and his roommates’ belongings, ‘my privacy feels invaded.’
‘I’ll invade your privacy,’ she muttered, pulling open a drawer he was quite certain she’d already gone through three times. ‘I swear, if I find as much as a hint...’
‘But you haven’t found a hint, have you?’ he countered. ‘Why don’t we stop this nonsense already.
She snorted and dived under his bed.
His eyes widened and he lunged for her, ‘No, don’t!’
She reemerged with fluff in her hair and a picture in her hand. ‘What’s thi—oh.’
He snatched the picture away from her, hardly glancing at their smiling faces preserved in the photograph for eternity, before he carelessly tossed it over in a dust bin. ‘I’m not much of a housekeeper, and I don’t like the house-elves touching my things, so I hexed my bed until they stopped touching it.’
‘Are we done here yet?’
‘Good. Let’s go, then.’
So, either Draco was innocent, or he was better at hiding evidence than she had thought. Both possibilities were equally plausible.
But she supposed that there was no real evidence that he had actually done it.
Back in the entrance hall, Draco suddenly stopped up. ‘Bugger. I forgot the letter I meant to owl my mother.’
‘Can’t you get that later?’
‘Why? With all the running up and down we’re currently doing, I might as well drop by the owlery when we’re in the neighbourhood.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘I’ve never met anyone as afraid of exercise as you.’
‘I’m not afraid of exercise, I’m planning ahead. Be back in a minute.’ Then he disappeared.
She didn’t honestly know what to do now. She could give up and go home, but she’d already owled everyone to let them know that she’d wait a day due to unforeseen complications. She could go back to the library, but that had proven futile so far. She furrowed her brow, what was she missing?
‘You look distraught. I like it,’ someone said.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ Hermione said, turning to the painting that had spoken. The little gold plate under it read Merwyn the Malicious. ‘Could you just be quiet?’
‘That’s no way to talk to someone who might want to help.’
‘First of all, you don’t know what’s wrong. Second of all, I generally don’t trust anyone whose names end in “the Malicious”. And third of all, you’re a painting.’
‘Thank you, I am aware of my current two-dimensional lodgings. But now I know why they said you got coal today. You’re a rude little girl.’ He stuck his nose in the air and wandered off, leaving Hermione to stare at a blank canvas.
‘Wait!’ she said, irrationally grabbing a hold of the frame. ‘Wait, Merwyn!’
His head popped back with just the hint of an unpleasant grin. ‘You called?’
‘Yes. I’m sorry. I’m having a bit of a bad day. Tell me, what do you know about this coal thing?’
‘Oh, not much. Only that it sounds like Yuletide magic.’
Hermione’s small hope deflated. ‘I spent all morning reading about that. It’s nothing but old wives’ tales and unconfirmed hearsay.’
‘Just because a lot of people never experienced it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I invented some of the finest hexes and jinxes, but between you and me, they were always there. They just needed someone to remember how to find them.’
‘Right. So you want me to believe that Father Christmas actually gave me a lump of coal because I’ve been a Bad Girl?’
‘Don’t be silly. I’m sure he has better things to do and good and bad are such subjective terms. Besides, someone needs to invoke it.’
‘Really? And how do they do that?’
‘Do I need to do all your work for you?’
‘Yes, that would be nice, thank you.’
Merwyn the Malicious snorted.
‘Why are you even helping me at all?’
‘My life as a painting is dull. If there is new old magic on the loose, I want to see it! Maybe help one or two youngsters channel it into something new and destructive. Do you think it’s actually possible to tap into old deities?’ His eyes had gained an unholy gleam.
Hermione slowly backed away. ‘Um, not really. But thank you for the help.’ She bumped into a rather warm and soft wall.
‘Watch where you’re going, Granger,’ Draco’s voice said far too closely to her ear.
Squeaking, she jumped forward again and whirled around. ‘Why are you sneaking up on me?’
‘Hmh. Whatever. I’m going back to the library.’ She turned her back on him and aimed straight for the stairs.
Draco sat back and flipped through his book at reasonable intervals, so it seemed like he was reading.
He wanted his things back, but he was not going to read these boring books all through his Christmas. Instead he merely leisurely flipped the pages and waited for Hermione to find something.
Division of labour at its finest.
‘I can’t find anything!’ she irritably said. ‘It’s all the same. Myths, hearsay and a load of speculations.’
‘That’s what you get for listening to paintings.’
‘I just think—’
‘I don’t give a damn what a cheater like you thinks!’
‘Oh, back to that, are we? I thought we were clear on what actually happened.’
‘We are. You are actually an arsehole.’
‘And you’re a bitch.’
‘Do I really have to spell it out to you? Remember Hogsmeade weekend?’
She looked confused. ‘We didn’t go.’
‘That’s right, we didn’t. You said you had a lot of homework and there was no talking you into going.’
‘So, I went.’
‘You claimed you didn’t! More lies!’
‘Everything considered, I think my lie is the least of the problems here.’
‘So who did you go with?’
That took Draco aback. ‘With?’
‘Yes. Who did you cheat on me with then?’
He couldn’t help the humourless laugh. ‘I wasn’t the one cheating then, Granger. You see, I thought I had a nice—if perhaps academically overzealous—girlfriend. Now, imagine my surprise when I saw said girlfriend down at Hogsmeade, not doing her homework.’
He paused to allow her to reply, but she remained silent.
‘You were with him,’ he said. ‘So how dare you accuse me of cheating!’
‘He’s my friend!’ she said defensively.
‘If it was so innocent, then why didn’t you just tell me you were going to see him?’
‘Because you never could stand him! You would have made a huge thing out of it. Never mind that I hadn’t seen him in months.’
‘If I’d made a huge thing out of it, I would have been in the right. I saw you, Hermione. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but the way he held you—’
‘He hugged me!’
‘Is that what you call it? Because the way he held you close whilst looking into your eyes certainly seemed more intimate than a mere hug to me.’
‘I can’t believe I’m arguing with you because I hugged Ron whilst you and I were together.’
‘You touched his cheek. He kissed you.’
‘On my cheek!’
‘On the corner of your mouth! And then you sat down, all snuggly-like, still holding hands.’
‘I didn’t do anything wrong!’
‘He was your ex, Hermione! And you lied to me to be with him, and acted far more intimate with him than you ever did with me! You’d better believe that you did something wrong and that you’re a hypocrite for accusing me of cheating when it was clear we weren’t actually a couple from your point of view!’
She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘If that’s how you felt, then why didn’t you say anything?’
‘Why bother? I figured you’d want the honours of ending the farce.’
‘You expect me to believe that?’
‘Believe what you want, but it wasn’t me who ruined everything.’ He slammed the book shut and got to his feet. ‘And I’d thank you to stop being so bloody self-righteous all the time. You have nothing to back it up with. Nothing!’
He turned his back on her, intending to go back to the dungeons where there might not be presents for him, but at least there was some peace to be had.
‘Just one thing,’ she said behind him making him stop up, although he didn’t turn around. ‘If you really feel like it was me who ruined it all, then why have you supposedly been trying to get along?’
That elicited a wry smile from him, although she couldn’t see it. ‘I said I was surprised to see you with him. I didn’t say that I didn’t understand it. I always knew you missed him. I just didn’t think you’d go behind my back and attempt to keep both of us.’
Then he left.
Hermione swallowed hard, blindly staring down at the books in front of her. Draco had known about Hogsmeade weekend. He’d seen her with Ron.
He was right about one thing. She’d known Draco would oppose her seeing Ron, so she’d lied. And then when she’d been there with Ron, it had felt so good and so nice just to be there, that she had allowed the same old familiarities. She’d never even told Ron about Draco.
Everything considered, she was glad she hadn’t told her friends.
They simply hadn’t been meant to be.
There was a knock on the door of Draco’s dormitory, but he wasn’t in the mood to talk to whoever it was. ‘Go away!’ he shouted from where he was lying on his bed.
The person tried to open the door. Why was that always people’s first reaction to being told to go away?
‘It’s locked,’ he helpfully supplied.
‘Please open. We need to talk,’ Hermione’s voice said from the other side of the door. That made him instantly sit up.
‘I think we’re done talking!’ he shouted back but still quickly found somewhere to hide the picture he’d been looking at. The last thing he needed was for her to realise his weakness.
She tried the handle again. ‘Draco, either you open this door or I’ll find a way to open it. It’s all fine with me.’
Sighing, he went over and opened the door. ‘What do you want?’
‘I told you. To talk.’
‘And what good will that do?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get rid of some unresolved anger.’
‘You’re the one with the anger issues, not me.’
‘I suppose. In that case, I guess I just wanted to apologise.’
‘Oh, now you realised you’ve been found out, so suddenly you want to apologise?’
‘You really are a damn hypocrite, Granger. If I hadn’t told you about what I saw, you’d still be calling me a cheater.’
‘But I still think you are.’
‘What you saw... was wrong of me. On several levels. But even though I’d lied to you, you and I still had an agreement.’
‘That you broke.’
‘No. No, I didn’t.’
‘Look, I’m not angry with you, but please stop—’
‘I let him hold my hand while we sat there, Malfoy, that’s it. I didn’t let him kiss me, not on the lips, and apart from one last hug, we didn’t do any more touching either.’
‘Do you? Do you really?’
‘Certainly. But I get the feeling that you’re rationalising rather than acknowledging what really happened.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You missed your Weasley from day one back here. It was easy to tell. You told me that you’d broken it off for the year and would reevaluate after that. I had my suspicions, but it was when I saw you that I was certain what was going on. I was a substitute for him, Granger, nothing more, nothing less. Whatever you felt when you saw me with someone else probably doesn’t amount to more than disappointment that you had to spend the rest of the school year alone.’
‘That’s ridiculous! If you suspected that, then why did you go out with me?’
‘Because I wanted to.’
‘Why did you want to?’
‘That’s really my business, isn’t it?’
Hermione stared into Draco’s eyes. Or rather, she stared at them. Ever since their relationship had gone pear-shaped, his eyes had been closed off to her. She knew that he dealt with severe post-war anxieties and depression, because he’d let her see that part of him whilst they were together, but ever since they had broken it off, she’d never even caught a glimpse of his issues.
There hadn’t been the slightest glimmer of the affection he’d used to show her either.
Sometimes she wondered how much he simply hid and how much was gone. Not to mention how much had been fake. It was really hard to tell.
‘Why did we even start this?’ she whispered. ‘What were we thinking?’
Draco often wondered much the same thing. Had it really been worth it all to be with her just for a few weeks? The Wizengamot was still out on that one.
Everything with her was one big mess.
She’d only been on loan to begin with. She’d missed her boyfriend and been lonely, and so she’d grabbed onto the first person that had offered himself.
He knew how that felt. He’d done the very same thing right after seeing her with Weasley.
He smiled at her. ‘Don’t worry so much about it. We had fun. That’s all that matters, right?’
Hermione lay in bed, staring up at the darkness of her ceiling. We had fun.
She couldn’t get that out of her head. We had fun. What was that supposed to mean? Yes, there’d been fun, but didn’t he hurt even a little bit after it was over? She supposed not. She’d read somewhere that boys bounced back from relationships more easily, maybe that was the reason. Or maybe he’d never taken them seriously at all.
No, he probably hadn’t. She remembered asking him what they’d do after Hogwarts and he’d merely laughed and said they’d jump off that bridge once they got there. It had hurt at the time that he didn’t seem to think of a them beyond the present, but she’d been unable to deny the practicality of it. Why worry about something several months in the future, when it might never be an issue?
Still, she couldn’t help but feel that if he’d acted a little more serious and committed to her, she’d have trusted him enough to let him know she was going to see Ron.
But maybe it was too much to ask that an eighteen-year-old boy acted committed and serious. Ron was probably the exception rather than the norm.
And very likely, Draco hadn’t been that committed or serious. He certainly hadn’t respected her enough to confront her about Ron.
Sighing, she sat up. She wasn’t going to be able to sleep. Instead she got out her lump of coal and stared at it again. If only she could solve this, then she wouldn’t have to be around Malfoy so much anymore. Of course, she could simply report the case to the attending professor, but then she had little hope it would ever get solved.
Besides, no matter what Draco had done, she had been somewhat in the wrong too. She needed to do something right.
Draco awoke with a start at the pounding on the door. What the...? Groggily he staggered to his feet and went over to open it. ‘Granger?’ he muttered when he saw the frazzled witch. ‘Do you even know what time it is?’
‘I went to the library,’ she said without responding and pushed past him. ‘To the Restricted Section. I didn’t really figure they had anything about something as ordinary as coal, but as I went through it, this fell out at my feet!’
‘Are you allowed to take that out?’
Again, she ignored him. ‘I don’t know who’s doing this, Malfoy, but someone is having a lot of laughs at our expense.’
‘I could’ve told you that.’
‘No, really! This spell it’s... didn’t you throw that out?’ She was looking straight at the picture he’d forgotten on his bedside table.
He cursed his tired mind for being so forgetful. ‘Probably. Accidentally turned over the dust bin before. What were you saying?’
‘When you accidentally turn over your dust bin, you put the things from it on your table?’
‘Didn’t find that one until later. Focus, Granger.’
She finally looked at him again. ‘You retrieved it, didn’t you?’
He snorted a laugh that probably did a poor job of masking how put on the spot he felt. ‘What? Why would I do something like that?’
‘You never went to the owlery,’ she said.
‘So I forgot.’
‘For crying out loud, Granger! Do you want to see me destroy it?’ He snapped up the stupid photo and made to tear it.
‘No! Stop!’ she reached out to stay his hand and he allowed her to do it. But only because he didn’t really want to destroy it.
‘It’s just a picture,’ he said. ‘Stop thinking it means anything.’
She carefully extricated the picture from his fingers and he let her. ‘Nothing wrong with keeping mementos from happier times,’ she said, placing it on the table again. ‘But you didn’t have to lie about it.’
‘Please. Like I’d want you to think I wanted you back.’
She looked away. ‘So, um, about this book...’
‘Yes, what about it?’
‘It details a whole slew of Yuletide spells. Most of them rather nasty, really.’
‘And it mentions coal?’
‘Not exactly. But there’s one about giving someone what they deserve.’
‘And you and I deserved coal? That’s... really rather weak. The person who invoked this must be disappointed.’
‘But the person could have meant it as a good thing. A blessing. Or, well, any way you can think of, really. The spell just kind of takes a mind of its own and gives people what they really deserve.’
‘Any...’ Suddenly Draco felt rather chilled. ‘Could they have done it on accident?’
‘It’s possible, although not probable. Why?’
‘What did you do?’
‘I didn’t hex us.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I may have raised my glass to the North Star and wished we both got what we deserved. Which, by the way, never included coal in my mind.’
‘What did we deserve in your mind?’
‘I hardly think that matters.’
‘No. Actually it does.’
‘Because your intentions are pretty much key to the solution.’
‘This is what the spell felt we deserved, a minor slap on the wrist. But we have to go all out to whatever you wished for us to reverse it.’
‘Why don’t I reimburse you your presents instead and we’ll forget all about it?’
‘That bad, huh?’
‘I was drunk and in a bad mood.’
‘Just tell me how bad it was and we’ll take it from there.’
He shook his head. ‘Forget it.’
‘Forget it, Granger. Please leave so I can get some sleep.’
Of course she didn’t leave. Hermione never did what Draco told her to. And he hardly wanted to physically remove her. Instead she kept asking him the same damn thing, even going as far as both begging and threatening him to know the answer.
But he didn’t budge. He couldn’t.
‘I won’t be mad,’ she said. It didn’t matter.
‘I won’t judge you,’ she tried. It didn’t matter.
‘It’s only to reverse this spell. I’ll forget all about it afterwards,’ she grasped. It didn’t matter.
He couldn’t tell her what he’d thought they’d deserved.
Finally, she threw the book at him, screamed that he was a horrible human being, and ran off.
He knew it wasn’t about the spell anymore. It was about what he’d wished on her.
And it certainly had been worse than the dragon pox.
Hermione ran all the way down to the lake, which she quickly regretted. Going outside this early on Boxing Day morning without one’s cloak really wasn’t the most comfortable thing to do. But she was upset and stubborn and decided that freezing to death would be a good revenge on Draco Malfoy.
At least then he might get his presents back.
She couldn’t believe it had been him all along. And what kind of horrible thing had he wished on her that he wouldn’t even admit it in spite of his disdain for her?
This wasn’t where she’d wanted them to end up. She didn’t exactly know what she’d expected, but... not this.
Yes, she’d picked a lot of fights with him lately, but only because she’d been so damn hurt by what he’d done.
But maybe he’d been hurt too. He had kept that picture, after all.
He just had a funny way of showing it.
‘Are you trying to catch your death, Granger?’ she heard a voice say behind her and then something warm and soft was wrapped around her shoulders.
‘Isn’t that what you want?’
‘Don’t be stupid. Why do you have to assume the worst?’
‘Come on, Malfoy. Why keep it a secret if you’d wished a long and happy life for me?’
‘Are you crying?’
‘No!’ She wiped at her cheeks.
‘Come on, we didn’t end on a pretty note. I didn’t know I was cursing your Christmas.’
‘He wanted to get back together with me that day,’ she said.
‘I said no.’
He sat down. ‘Well... yeah, I guess. The idea was to wait for the year to be over, right?’
She shook her head and sniffed. ‘I said no. Definitively no.’
‘I was tempted. Really, really tempted. But... it wouldn’t have been fair, would it?’
‘That shouldn’t have been what held you back.’
‘I was tempted. And scared of ending up with nothing. But I said no, because I decided I needed to give what I had a chance.’
‘Yeah, looking back it was the wrong decision. But how could I have known that?’
‘I wouldn’t call it the wrong decision, Hermione...’
‘Then the wrong timing. Whatever. You’d already decided it was over.’
‘I should probably have talked to you about that.’
She made a dismissive wave. ‘Why bother, really? It wouldn’t have been any less hurtful. At least that way, I could hate you.’
‘Yeah... that’s what I sort of thought...’
‘You wanted me to hate you?’
‘I thought it would be easier if you did.’
‘Right. Because you hated me.’
He sighed. ‘No, because I didn’t.’
She made a sad little laugh. ‘Yes. That’s why you couldn’t wait to get rid of me and why you wished me to hell.’
‘I thought you wanted him, Hermione. I thought I was letting you go. I thought that if you hated and despised me, letting you go would be easy.’
‘And it wasn’t?’
‘I still have that stupid picture, don’t I?’
‘But that doesn’t mean anything.’
‘You know it does. I miss you. I miss you so badly that I can’t stand to be near you, but I still... I still stayed for Christmas because I thought you would too.’
‘In the end I did.’
‘I didn’t do that on purpose.’
‘What did you wish on me?’
‘I was drunk and bitter and it was just after you’d torn me a new one and slapped my face before storming—‘
‘What did you wish on me?’
‘I wished that we’d both get what we deserved.’
‘And what was that?’
‘At the time I thought... each other.’
‘That’s what you wished on me? You?’
‘I figured we both sucked. I honestly never knew that would translate into lumps of coal.’
‘So if we want our presents back, we should start seeing each other again?’
‘I told you I’d reimburse you.’
‘Right.’ She looked down. ‘Because it’s too late, isn’t it?’
‘Don’t tell me... Why would you want to?’
‘We both handled things badly. I shouldn’t have gone to see Ron and I shouldn’t have let him touch me. You shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions and behaved in such an awful manner.’ She glared at him.
‘If it’s any consolation, I didn’t want to do it. And I only kissed her that one time, in front of enough people to make sure you’d hear about it.’
‘How’s that supposed to console me?’
He winced. ‘I suppose you have a point there.’
‘Don’t you ever do something like that again. Ever.’
‘I won’t. If you won’t allow Weasley to grope you again.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’
‘You never actually answered my question.’
‘If it’s too late.’
‘I thought you’d be clever enough to deduct the answer to that one.’
‘This whole thing started because we were so clever that we didn’t communicate,’ she pointed out.
He jumped to his feet and pulled her to hers, letting his cloak slide off her. ‘I don’t think it’s too late. Do you?’
‘I suppose not,’ she airily said.
He arched an eyebrow. ‘You suppose not? How about a bit of enthusiasm, Hermione?’
She put her hands on his shoulders. ‘I don’t think it’s ever too late.’
He slowly smiled. ‘Best Christmas ever!’
He bent to kiss her, but was interrupted by her squeaking and jumping back.
‘What?’ he asked, extremely puzzled.
She tore her handkerchief out of her pocket and threw it on the ground, where the little bulge proceeded to grow to a rather large pile of presents.
‘Interesting spell, this,’ Draco remarked.
She shot him a semi-annoyed glance. ‘You going to help me get these back to the castle?’
He shrugged and smiled. ‘Yeah, why not. I’m freezing my arse off out here anyway. Someone is standing on my cloak.’
She snorted. ‘And they say chivalry is dead.’ Then she bent down and retrieved the soggy cloak, which she gleefully threw at Draco, who threatened to strangle her with it and take all her presents if she didn’t behave.
Who could have known that two lumps of coal could lead to such a happy Christmas?