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                                                                                                              Chapter 2: Secret Santa

Hermione held her breath as she reached inside the Christmas stocking Professor McGonagall was holding out to her and withdrew a slip of parchment with a single name on it. The week had passed torturously slow until this moment and Hermione had been on tenterhooks. She’d been going out of her way to eavesdrop on others she didn’t know in an effort to glean information about them just in case she chose them.

The suspense of the moment as she stepped back with the parchment clutched in her hand made her heart race and Professor McGonagall smiled at Hermione’s nervous expression.

Once she was far enough away that no one else would be able to read the name over her shoulder, Hermione opened her hand. Unfurling the crumpled parchment slowly, Hermione blinked in surprise and then mild annoyance when she saw the name of the person she’d chosen.

Draco Malfoy

The name was scrawled in loopy handwriting across the parchment and Hermione frowned at the sight of his name. Of all the people in the entire castle, how had she gotten stuck with him?

Hermione couldn’t think of a singular person in all of Hogwarts that she’d like to buy a gift for less. Even Pansy Parkinson would be preferable to Malfoy. The boy was a complete git. He was always insulting her. How was she supposed to find out what he liked, enough to buy him a gift, when she disliked him and didn’t at all want to spend any time in the same vicinity as him?

She was regretting the idea of this inter-house unity nonsense as she glared at the parchment.

“Not someone you were hoping for, I take it?” Ginny asked, a strip of parchment clutched in her own hand.

“Not exactly,” Hermione admitted, “I don’t know who I was hoping to get, but it wasn’t this person. What about you? Did you get stuck with someone you’d rather not buy for?”

She found it difficult to be unable to outright ask who Ginny had got.

“Well I was hoping to get someone I like; Luna, maybe Susan or Terry. I wasn’t expecting this. But I can work with it. I mean, it will be fun trying to figure out what to get him without being caught at it.”

“At least there’s that,” Hermione sighed, feeling mildly forlorn over her own choice.

What, if anything, did one give the boy who had everything and had the money to buy whatever he wanted?

“Are we allowed to swap?” Harry asked when he’d chosen a name from the stocking, looking frustrated with his own choice.

“No, Mr Potter. You may not. If you have chosen someone you dislike or do not know, you will simply have to look past those obstacles to choose them a gift. All students should keep in mind that the purpose of this gift exchange is to build inter-house unity and friendships. Having to buy a gift for someone you don’t like means you must look past that dislike to choose something for them. There will be no buying what you yourself would like, and generic gifts will be frowned upon, is that clear. I have charmed the stocking to take note of the name you have all chosen, so don’t think you can weasel your way out of getting that students something they might actually like,” Professor McGonagall told them, scolding Harry for his question.

“But I got…” Harry’s voice stopped suddenly and he made a gagging sound, clearly suffering the effects of the magic that bound him to keep his recipient a secret.

“Don’t try to tell anyone, Mr Potter. You may only discuss your choice with me. If you keep trying, you will suffer that experience again,” Professor McGonagall chided, looking mildly amused with her own spell-work when Harry made another strangled kind of choking sound.

Hermione sighed heavily, wracking her brain for any information she had stored away on Draco Malfoy other than that he was an obnoxious, bigoted, pompous git.

She’d taken to stalking him. That’s how bad things had become. Hermione was stalking Draco Malfoy. It was made all the harder to achieve, since she would never usually pay him any attention. She’d actually managed during the past six years to learn to block him out whenever he spoke and whenever she caught sight of his white-blonde hair.

It was terribly difficult to break the habit of turning the other way when she saw him and of tuning out his voice whenever he spoke. It was also practically impossible to follow him around without drawing attention to her actions.

Everyone in the castle had been on edge for days as they grew paranoid of having others following them. Just yesterday Susan Bones had broken into a fit of hysterical tears during Charms when she’d become convinced that Pansy Parkinson was stalking her, accusing the pug-nosed witch of following her and purposely getting herself assigned to sit with Susan for the class. The stress was getting to people and Hermione herself had noticed that it was hard not to be suspicious.

To throw suspicion off herself she’d been making use of everyone’s paranoia to more effectively conceal who she was stalking. She’d spoken to so many students she’d never really encountered before that she couldn’t help but reel from the information overload. Luna had accused Hermione of being a flip-flopper earlier that morning when Hermione had gone out of her way to make a conversation with the boy of Entwhistle in her year. The usually prejudice Ravenclaw boy had glared at her suspiciously when she’d asked him if he’d been enjoying his classes this year and what his plans were when he graduated.

One interesting result of the Secret Santa was that students were being more open. Where in the past the boy of Entwhistle might’ve told Hermione to mind her own business or even sneered at her for her blood, he’d reluctantly told her. Everywhere she went Hermione heard students giving away information about themselves to others in the hopes of receiving a better gift. She’d taken to passing on to others all she learned of everyone she spoke to as well, all in the hopes that the Secret Santa of the new acquaintances and friends she’d made would overhear what she’d learned.

Ron was taking terrible advantage of the situation. He clearly hoped to be given something he would like, so he’d taken to carrying on loud conversations with Harry about his favourite Quidditch team – the Chudley Cannons – and to complaining loudly about supposedly having run out of sugar mice – his favourite Honeydukes sweet. Hermione would admit it was rather funny to watch him do so. Others had begun adopting the same strategy.

It was even more fun to watch the lengths of subterfuge that some students would go to in order to learn things about their victim. Hermione had begun thinking of Malfoy as her victim. She never spoke to him, in fact she rarely even looked at him whenever anyone might catch her at it. But she paid attention nonetheless.

Yesterday’s Charms lesson – when Susan had grown hysterical with paranoia – Hermione had somehow managed to get herself partnered with Malfoy. She hadn’t even really begun to think about what she could do to glean information from him in that particular class and yet she’d suddenly found herself sitting next to him. Or rather, he’d sat next to her.

Stalking him was not at all an easy feat. In the spirit of the event Dumbledore had granted students permission to attend Hogsmeade on the weekends leading up to Christmas and that was where Hermione found herself. She’d left the boys behind at the Three Broomsticks when they’d all agreed to do some spy-work on their intended victims and she’d wandered out in the streets in hope of finding Malfoy.

The entire idea unsettled her. Ordinarily finding Draco Malfoy was not a good thing and never a task she undertook. Trying to locate him amid the rabble of students wasn’t easy either. At least, it wasn’t until she’d walked into Honeydukes and spotted him. At least his platinum blonde hair was a notable feature. She’d been only vaguely hoping he might be inside the shop when she’d gone in, and in fact she’d come in more intent on buying herself a packet of sugar quills than on finding Malfoy.

Hermione had a nasty habit of chewing her quill when she was nervous or stressed and she desperately needed to buy the sweets to replace her own tattered quill. That way she could chew the lolly version whilst properly using the writing version. She also needed to replace her quill. She was very annoyed with herself in fact. She’d chewed the feathery instrument clean through and now ink often leaked out the top.

It made a terrible mess in her bag and was quite annoying to clean up after. Not to mention it made writing practically impossible. Jostling her way through the many students inside the shop, Hermine watched Malfoy out the corner of her eye. He was loitering in front of the Dolly Mixture jars, seeming to consider the idea of buying some Sour Apple Bites and some Pepper Imps.

How interesting.

Having gleaned that little bit of information, Hermione turned her attention to the packet of sugar quills she was buying, making sure to grab two packets. She knew she’d need them. When she’d paid for them Hermione left Honeydukes.


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