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                                                                                                                Chapter 5: Snow Fort

“Are you alright Hermione?” Harry asked her a few hours later when they’d all finally gotten through the present opening part of the morning and were lounging around in Harry and Ron’s dormitory just waiting to head to the Great Hall for lunch.

“Huh?” Hermione asked, drawn from her thoughts of who could possibly be her Secret Santa.

“I asked if you’re alright?” Harry said, looking slightly amused by her bewildered expression, “You’ve seemed rather distracted all morning. Is everything alright?”

Hermione bit her lip, glancing at Ginny and Ron, who’d fallen to eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and laughing over the effects. Neville was looking on as well, having looked up from the game of wizard’s chess he and Harry were having with the new chess set Harry had bought Neville for Christmas.

“Oh… yes, I’m fine Harry…” Hermione answered, her face heating with a blush, “I’ve been trying to work out who my secret Santa could be. They didn’t tell me in their note.”

“Oh, I completely forgot to ask you what you got,” Ginny exclaimed, looking curious, “I got a broom servicing kit from my secret Santa. They didn’t write who they were, but I’m beginning to think it might’ve been Theodore Nott. I caught him skulking around me a bunch of times this week.”

“I… erm… I got some sugar quills and an eagle-feather quill I was admiring the other day,” Hermione admitted, biting her lip and deciding against mentioning the wool, the knitting needles and the ring on her finger.

“Pretty generic as far as hints go,” Harry nodded, “My Secret Santa was Flora Carrow. She bought me this.”

Harry held up a fancy looking cloak that would look undoubtedly fantastic on him.

“How do you know it was her?” Ginny asked and Hermione caught the mildly possessive gleam in Ginny’s eyes as she looked at Harry.

“She signed the note with her name on it, telling me that if the robes didn’t fit to see her and she’d have them altered appropriately. I was a little surprised, to be honest,” Harry answered, blushing a bit.

“Do they fit?” Ron wanted to know.

“Perfectly,” Harry admitted and Hermione wondered at the way Harry looked away as though embarrassed by that fact. She resolved to ask him about it later, sensing there was some story there.

“What’d you get Ron?” Ginny asked nosily.

“A Cannons flag,” Ron answered, holding up the enormous flag cheerfully, “And a bag of sugar mice.”

“Any idea who they’re from?” Harry asked, clearly pleased that he was no longer the centre of attention.

“Not a clue. Anyone could’ve heard me saying that I liked both these things,” Ron admitted with a shrug, “All the note said was to have a Happy Christmas and was signed by my Secret Santa.”

“Well that’s what you get for blabbing to everyone what you wanted.”

Ron shrugged again, “I don’t really care who they’re from. They’re decent gifts and that’s good enough for me.”

“You don’t want to know who gave them to you?” Hermione asked, wondering how he could not care.

“If it’s important to whoever they are, they’ll let me know, I suppose. Otherwise it was just part of the fun and now it’s done,” Ron said, totally blasé about the whole ordeal.
Hermione wanted to throttle him, though mostly that was a misdirection of her fury with whoever her Secret Santa was.

“Come on, let’s go to lunch,” Neville said a while later, “I’m starving and I bet there will be people everywhere wanting to find out which of us are their secret Santa.”

Until that moment, Hermione had completely forgotten that she’d bought a gift for Draco Malfoy and sent it off to him. She wondered idly if he liked it and she found herself mortified when, unbidden, the memory of the snog they’d shared under the mistletoe surfaced within her mind. She’d been trying very hard since the incident not to think about what had happened and she’d gone out of her way to avoid him.

It hadn’t been easy either, considering she still had to think about him enough to gather together the present she’d given him. Funny how now it seemed almost inconsequential in the light of the Promise ring stuck on her finger that Hermione couldn’t remove.

“Are you ever going to take those gloves off?” Ron wanted to know, wandering along beside her into the Great Hall, “It’s not really cold enough to need them.”

“I’m still chilly,” Hermione lied, her cheeks turning pink.

“Whatever you say,” Ron shrugged. He seemed in an entirely cheerful mood and Hermione wished she could be as well. She just couldn’t. Not with the enormous rock weighing on her finger heavily and the problem it posed weighing on her mind. What was she going to do?

She’d been wracking her brain, trying to think of anyone who might’ve been able to pull off the gift she’d been given and she was drawing a blank. The only person who knew that she specifically liked mauve, rather than simply the colour purple was her mother and perhaps Ginny. However neither of them could be her secret Santa. Her mother was obviously not a student and Ginny was a Gryffindor. The only person who knew she’d like the eagle feather quill could be Malfoy, but he would never spend so much on the person he referred to as a Mudblood on a regular basis. Even if they had snogged that one time.

The other parts of the gift were also a mystery. It was clear that the buyer had a lot of money. The sterling silver knitting set couldn’t have been cheap and she supposed the wool was something fancy and expensive based on its softness. There were also limited people who knew about her knitting habit. Her friends knew, of course, and it was conceivable to her that they could’ve told others looking for information on her.

“Ginny, did you tell anyone my favourite colour?” Hermione asked the girl as they made their way into the Great Hall.

“Erm….” Ginny said, turning to her and looking thoughtful, “I think I mentioned it to Luna the other day that you prefer mauve, but it wasn’t exactly a private conversation. I suppose we could’ve been overheard.”

Brilliant. There went that lead.

“Why are you so worked up about this business Hermione?” Ginny wanted to know, “It’s just a bit of fun, and besides the gift you got was relatively generic and harmless. Anyone could’ve seen you admiring that quill and anyone who observed you when you’re studying would know about your penchant for sugar quills. Merlin, anyone who’s heard of how much you study probably just assumed those tools would come in handy to you.”

“I need to know,” Hermione answered shortly, her fingers twisting the ring on her wedding finger nervously, turning the metal in circles around and around the digit.

“You worry too much,” Ginny rolled her eyes.

Hermione’s eyes scanned the hall nervously, wondering if her Secret Santa was even still at Hogwarts or if they had gone home to spend the holidays with their families. She couldn’t even begin to guess. As she gazed across the hall, her eyes noting the suspicious glances several other students were shooting their peers she realised she wasn’t alone in wondering who her gift this morning had been from and she hoped fervently that whoever her Secret Santa was, they would be foolish enough or smug enough to slip up.

Her gaze clashed with a pair of stormy grey eyes across the Great Hall. The house tables had today been replaced with one long table to accommodate the smaller number of students who had stayed for the holidays and Malfoy was seated across the table and down the row from where Hermione’s friends dropped into seats. He watched her nonchalantly, and Hermione wondered idly if he knew she’d been his Secret Santa. She supposed her gifts had been a little obvious and a bit of a giveaway, but she no longer cared if he knew it had been her.

She was more interested in finding out who been her Secret Santa. She had to find out how to get this infernal ring off her finger, curse it all. This was no longer a fun game to be indulged in. It was a serious mess that meant she was having to hide things from her friends, including her own hands. Hermione glared at Malfoy for a long moment, noticing idly that he was wearing the scarf she’d knitted for him. If she weren’t so stressed she’d feel smug over that fact.

His all too familiar smirk marred his facial features and Hermione narrowed her eyes on him when he lifted his hand to scratch his nose. Glinting on his middle finger of his left hand was a ring of some kind. She didn’t know why, but that, combined with the way he continued to smirk at her, made her suspicious that even if he wasn’t behind her Secret Santa’s prank, Malfoy was aware of it somehow.

All through her lunch, Hermione glanced at him, trying to work out if he’d picked up on the fact that she’d been his Secret Santa. He gave no indication that he thought she was, though he seemed to be sneaking smirks in her direction whenever she glanced at him inconspicuously.

As the crowd began to disperse towards the grounds after lunch, Hermione was grateful for an excuse to be wearing gloves.

“Snowball fight, anyone?” Harry offered as they strolled the grounds.

Hermione couldn’t help but laugh when Harry suddenly lobbed a snowball at Ginny, catching the girl across the chest and spraying her chin with snow. Running for cover behind a nearby tree, Hermione began rolling snowballs of her own before she peeked out from behind the tree. She ducked back in when Ron hurled a snowball at her. Lobbying the boy with snowballs, Hermione giggled when she heard a thwack followed by Ron cursing.

Gathering up her missiles and risking a break for it so as to not be pinned down, Hermione raced for a nearby rock. She lobbed a snowball at Harry, hissing when Ginny caught her hip with a snowball. Harry returned fire and managed to hit both Hermione and Ginny before pelting a snowball at Neville.

Neville seemed to have a knack for snowball making, but a lousy throwing arm and Ginny was taking advantage. The pair had scraped together a snow fort and Ginny was showering everyone with snowballs. From behind her rock, Hermione was making a collection of her own, routinely poking her head out to hurl the missiles at her friends. She laughed when she caught Luna with one and was lining up to pelt Harry again when something drew her eyes.

A ways beyond their battlefield, Hermione spotted Draco Malfoy and a couple of his cronies also out enjoying the snow and the opportunity was too good to pass up. Gathering up some of her snowballs, Hermione ducked out from behind her rock long enough to pelt the Slytherins with snowballs.

“Ha! Take that you slick gits!” Hermione heard Ron shout and she watched on gleefully when one of her snowballs whacked into Malfoy’s cheek with a wet smack while another hit Goyle square in the nose.

Ron and Harry, and indeed all those in the snowball fight seemed to take their cue from her, all of them turning on the Slytherins, who looked furious at first before falling to making their own snowballs and snow forts. Hermione hurled her missiles indiscriminately, not caring if she hit friend or foe.

When she ran out of snow behind her rock she made a break for a nearby embankment where some drifts had gathered. Her lack of discrimination was making comrades out of enemies and Hermione shrieked when she spotted Harry in a snow fort alongside Theodore Nott, pelting Ron and Pansy Parkinson with snowballs.

Someone – Goyle from the weight of the throw – lobbed a snowball at her hard, and Hermione giggled gleefully when she dove behind the embankment.

She was gathering snowballs and lobbing them blindly until she heard the slushy sound of footsteps coming her way. Malfoy came racing over the edge of the embankment in time for Hermione to pelt him with snowballs, and Hermione took great delight in doing so.

Until he tackled her into the snow to cease her fire.

“Quit it, Granger!” he growled when they rolled down the embankment. He’d collided with her hard enough to topple her to the ground and Hermione was winded when she found herself lying in the snow beneath the blonde haired Slytherin.

“Get off me,” she protested immediately, gathering up and handful of snow and smushing it into his face when he didn’t move fast enough.

“Oi!” he hissed, “Get your own snow fort Granger!”

“I was here first,” Hermione protested, not about to let him have her fort. She’d been digging into the thick snow on the embankment steadily, using the excess snow to build a shield and more missiles.

Before Malfoy could reply a lobby of snowballs came their way and Hermione cursed when she and Malfoy knocked heads diving behind the shield she’d built.

“Bloody Crabbe and Goyle,” Malfoy cursed when he noticed the size of the snowballs, “Granger, pass me that snowballs.”

Hermione didn’t even think before handing it over, realising suddenly that he could use her own missiles against her. He didn’t. He poked his head out and lobbed the snowball with all the fury of a raging Bludger at someone. Hermione giggled when she heard Goyle swear.

Another volley fell upon them, this time from where she’d last seen Ron and Pansy paired together behind their own fort, followed by Ginny and Neville.

“Damn it, they saw me run down here and they’re all targeting me,” Malfoy surmised, “Alright Granger, we team up. You make these nastily hard little snowballs and I’ll hurl them!”

“You expect me to pair up with you?” Hermione demanded, ready to argue.

She got caught across the face with a snowball for her trouble too and heard Harry’s triumphant laugh at her resulting shriek.

“Build you own snowballs,” Hermione commanded of Malfoy, making several more before poking her head out to volley her friends with missiles. He followed suit, lobbing them from right next to her.

She squeaked when he grabbed hold of her jumper, pulling her down as the others returned fire.

“Help me build this up,” he said letting her go and shoving at the snow to fortify their quickly developing bunker of snow.

Hermione did as she was told.

“We need to draw a feint attack from them before pelting them,” Hermione told him, pulling out her wand, “I’ve got an idea.”

“You’re bringing magic to a snowball fight,” he looked impressed when Hermione waved her wand, conjuring the snow into the shape of a large snow man before duplicating it and sending the snowy soldiers off to be pelted by their friend’s snowballs.

“Hurry and make more,” she told him, “Use your wand to make them, it’s faster.”

While he did that, Hermione set about using magic to better reinforce their fort. She transfigured it from a simple snow pile into an igloo with several closable manholes they could pop out of and lobby people from.

“You’re competitive,” he observed her, watching her when Hermione fell to siphoning snow inside the igloo-fort to make more missiles.

“As if you’re not?” Hermione scoffed, glancing sideways at him.

He didn’t answer. He was too busy sticking his head out one of the holes and pelting their neighbours with snowballs. Hermione joined him a moment later. Malfoy was primarily targeting Harry and Theodore’s fort, which looked rather impressive since she doubted they’d used magic to build it. While he focused on them, Hermione turned her attention to Ginny and Neville. She caught sight of Ginny’s shocked expression when the red-head saw Hermione and Malfoy working together and she paid for the distraction when Crabbe and Goyle pelted her with snowballs.

Hermione lobbed her own snowballs at the pair of oafs, chortling with glee when they looked enraged and mistakenly pelted Pansy and Ron’s fort in retaliation. Harry and Theo were firing back at Malfoy with a vengeance and Ginny joined in, Neville poking his head out. Hermione was almost blindsided when Luna appeared suddenly, accompanied by Terry Boot and Anthony Goldstein, the three of the having abandoned cover.

Hermione grabbed Malfoy’s robes at the back, hauling him back inside the fort and closing the hatch just before their lobby could hit the pair of them. Malfoy laughed when the sound of many missiles raining down on their fort could be heard followed by cursing when nothing happened.

“They’re going to pin us down,” Hermione said when the volleys stopped, “Poke your head out that one over there and hit Crabbe and Goyle’s flank. They all think there’s only the one manhole and are waiting for us to stick our heads out again.”

“It creeps me out to think about Crabbe or Goyle having flanks,” Malfoy informed her, smirking.

“Like Clydesdales,” Hermione giggled.

Malfoy laughed as he did what she’d instructed, “Make some more snowballs would you? I’m nearly out.”

“We need more snow,” Hermione commented, crawling towards the little door she’d made at the back of their fort to siphon in more snow. More volleys could be heard raining down on their fort.

“Yes! Take that Potter!” Malfoy shouted, “I got him in the face!”

In any other circumstance Hermione might’ve hexed him for his behaviour, but all was fair in a snowball fight. They’d made that rule years ago and Harry knew it.

“Hit him again while he tries to clean his glasses,” Hermione suggested, handing the blonde boy more snowballs, “Look out for Ron, he’ll retaliate on Harry’s behalf.”

She warned him too late and Hermione laughed when Malfoy dropped back down inside their fort with a nasty red mark marring his now-wet cheek.

“Bastard’s got a decent arm,” Malfoy grumbled, wiping at his face with the scarf she’d knitted for his present, “So….”

“So?” Hermione asked, surprised by the sudden change in his demeanour and his tone.

“You were my Secret Santa after all?” he accused, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall of their fort nonchalantly, his stormy-grey eyes watching her.

“What?” Hermione asked, hoping the blush on her cheeks would be mistaken for exertion from the snowball fight.

“Do you deny it?” Malfoy asked her, eyeing her strangely.

“What makes you think I’m you’re secret Santa?” Hermione wanted to know.

He eyed her drolly for a moment.

“You told me you knit. And then I was given a hand knitted scarf. Coincidence?”

“It could be a coincidence,” Hermione agreed, “Were you my secret Santa?”

“What makes you ask?” Malfoy replied, his face transforming to a smooth mask of indifference.

“Just tell me if you were Malfoy,” Hermione said, eyeing him.

Before he could answer Hermione heard the sound of running footsteps and she scooted back from the top manhole of their igloo in time to see Theodore Nott’s smug face. He aimed his wand inside the fort for a moment, muttering an incantation, before he shoved a snow drift in on top of Malfoy, who shouted in protest.

“Damn it Theo!” Malfoy shouted, dripping with snowy slush, “I’ll get that bastard for this.”

Hermione wasn’t listening.

“I’m going to kill you,” Hermione told Malfoy in a soft voice, drawing his attention suddenly from his cursing to her face.

“What did I do?” he protested, looking wary suddenly of her flat tone.

Hermione simply pointed, realising with horror that the snow was just a distraction. Theodore Nott was an insidious git. That much was clear.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake! Not again!” Malfoy cursed, following her finger with his eyes to see that Nott had used a charm to cause mistletoe to grow inside their fort directly above their heads.

“Harry must have shared the golden rule of our snowball fights,” Hermione sighed, flopping defeatedly against the wall of the fort.

“What golden rule?” Malfoy asked.

“All’s fair in snowball fights,” Hermione quoted the rule, “I can’t believe he sold me out like this! You realise what this means right?”

“That if we don’t stay stuck in here until they all converge on us, they’ll know we snogged,” Malfoy sighed, “So I guess the question becomes which you think is worse. This fort is killer, so they’ll all be teaming up to weed us out. I bet they’re out there now, banding together, making snowballs to bombard us with. And when they do they’ll never let us live it down.”

“As opposed to having them find out we snogged?” Hermione scoffed, “I think I’d rather live with a snowball fight defeat and some wet clothes.”

“It’s not like you haven’t snogged me before,” he pointed out, looking miffed with her disgusted tone.

“But they don’t know that,” Hermione pointed out.

She eyed Malfoy, noticing that he was eyeing her back.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Hermione told him when he got the same look on his face he’d worn in the quill shop when he’d begun trying to talk her into kissing him.

“I don’t want to be beaten because of something as stupid as mistletoe,” he argued, “Do you?

“I hate being beaten,” Hermione shook her head, “But it will take a lot longer to live down having everyone know I’ve snogged you.”

“It’s just mistletoe Granger,” Malfoy rolled his eyes, “Everyone knows that a snog under the mistletoe doesn’t count for anything. It’s simply an inconvenience with an easy fix.”

“Would your father buy that reasoning when he heard you’d snogged a muggle-born?” Hermione challenged.

“He probably already knows after what happened in Hogsmeade,” Malfoy replied, glancing away darkly, “That old shop keeper probably blabbed about it.”

“Do you really want to risk it?” Hermione asked him, “I know my friends will lose it if they find out.”

“It’s just mistletoe,” he repeated, glancing at her again.

Hermione bit her lip, holding his gaze for a moment. On the one hand, having snogged him once before made her less concerned over doing so again. On the other, her friends would be ridiculous about the matter.

Before she could make up her mind about what she meant to do, Malfoy’s hands curled around her jaw, tilted her face to his and he planted his lips on her. Hermione squeaked in surprise, regretting the sound when his tongue dove into her mouth. His hands pulled at her, dragging her closer, pressing her to him and Hermione gasped when he toppled her right into his lap.

The feel of his lips on hers was electrifying and the same tingles she’d felt the last time she’d kissed him swept through her, engulfing her senses. That could be the only explanation for her not pulling away from him. Hermione closed her eyes at the feel of him nibbling her bottom lip before tangling his tongue with hers once more. She had no explanation for the fact that instead of pushing him away, she found herself threading her fingers into his soft blonde hair.

Hermione didn’t know when it was that she straddled his hips. Or when he’d tangled one hand into her hair. She also didn’t know what he thought he was doing pulling the wet gloves from her hands before removing his own. In all honesty, Hermione could only say he’d bamboozled her with his intensity as he snogged her senseless. She hated herself a little for the needy little whimper he drew from her as he skilfully massaged her tongue with his.

She forgot in that moment that they were in a snow fort surround by their combined group of friends. She forgot those friends would be closing in on them, thinking them sitting ducks trapped beneath some mistletoe. She forgot it all and instead found herself sighing against his lips when she felt his cool hand snake up the back of her shirt, pressing intimately against the bare flesh of her lower back.

She also forgot that there was a back door to their fort. One that was being tugged open.

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