Presents at Christmas
The month of November slid by with little notice. Classes continued, as they were wont to do. The weather turned colder, and snow began to fall nearly every day. Clouds regularly filled the sky, ruining their Thursday night sky-watching.
Professor Sinistra complained bitterly about the state of the night skies, but she could do nothing about the clouds. She tried to reschedule their night-time gazing, but in the end, she threw her hands up and said she just didn't care anymore.
Astronomy had gotten interesting again, now that they were no longer doing rote memorization of star constellations. Now they talked about the planets, still learning the names of the moons, and studying their orbits, as well as delving into the mythos.
They made no further progress on discovering the identity of Nicholas Flamel. Millie's idea of sneaking the information out of Hagrid hadn't yielded results yet. She and Harry had taken to having tea with the big man every Friday afternoon, but he always guarded his speech carefully. Hagrid knew what they were trying to do, but apparently couldn't bring himself to tell Harry to not come back.
Draco had put his foot down; he made it clear that under no circumstances would he be roaming around the school at all hours looking for clues. He'd had quite enough adventures, though he described them as near-death experiences, thank-you-very-much.
So the question of just what was hidden in the third-floor corridor became of less and less importance. The Slytherins became more and more occupied with Potions, Charms, and Defence Against the Dark Arts. Harry's time was further taken up by Quidditch practice. He often returned to the dungeons more closely resembling a popsicle than a boy, and the others regularly came to watch the team practice.
Perhaps most important to the Slytherins was keeping their word, Millie's word, to the Sorting Hat. Every night they loitered in the entryway to the Great Hall, cajoling their fellow students to sign their petition. By the last week of November, they'd collected what Millie deemed to be enough signatures, and had turned the whole thing in to Professor Snape after Potions class.
He'd raised an eyebrow, though he knew about their petition as all the staff did, and it was a mark of his confidence in them that he merely nodded and told them that it would be in the Headmaster's hands by dinner. That evening, after the plates had been emptied, Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet and cleared his throat.
"I have received a petition initiated by the first year students of Slytherin House for the formation of a school choir. Now as you know, music has a magic all to itself, so I'm very pleased to announce that on Monday evenings after dinner, the new Hogwarts School Choir will meet right here in the Great Hall."
The old man's eyes were twinkling. He seemed to be in jolly spirits. He sat down and raised his goblet to his lips.
The Slytherin table burst into applause, the first years especially. Professor Snape, sitting at the High Table, also clapped his hands, a faint smile on his face. The rest of the hall joined in the applause, some people with more enthusiasm than others.
The tables filled with pastry, and the students began to speculate on who would be directing the choir. The first year Slytherins smirked knowingly at each other. They all knew that the director would be someone the other students would never suspect. That part of the petition had been obscured by a Confundus Charm courtesy of Elan Malfoy.
That evening back in the common room, the first years were congratulating themselves on a job well done. Millie was the star of the hour, for it had been she who had started things off.
"Speech!" Theo called.
"Hear, hear, speech!" Daphne echoed.
Millie grinned and got to her feet. "My fellow Slytherins," she began, spreading her arms broadly, as if to hug the whole room. Everyone in the common room applauded. Millie's voice carried very well. Erika Chabré, a second year, let out a piercing whistle that bounced off the stone walls.
"I would like to thank you all for signing our petition," Millie continued. "It means so much to me, and to all of us, to know that our House fully supports us."
Cheers and catcalls rose up from her audience. The cheers were from those who had voluntarily signed the petition. The catcalls came from those who had been threatened by Elan Malfoy with a sound hexing.
"We hope that you will all follow through on your interest in a choir. We'll see you all at the first meeting." Millie bowed from the waist, with the applause of her House rising around her.
The show over, the students all settled back into their routine. Every so often the first years would hear someone speculating over the identity of the choir director, and they smirked at each other some more.
As the night wore on, the first years tried to get their homework finished and out of the way so they could enjoy the weekend worry-free. Theo finished his first and went to bed early, claiming a headache. Draco kept yawning every three seconds and finally closed his Astronomy book and headed for the dorm. Goyle made it to eleven o'clock before he gave up studying.
Harry was at the table until quite late, reading his Transfiguration text. He still struggled in that class and was determined to improve his grade. He didn't remember his other friends leaving the table, just as he didn't remember falling asleep. He only realized it when he was shaken awake by Jessica Conejo, sixth year prefect responsible for the first years.
"Harry?" she said softly. "Harry, wake up now. It's time to go to bed."
Harry mumbled something and came half-awake. He yawned, peering around in the shadowy darkness. The fire in the fireplace had near to burned out, and the lamps which normally gave off their warm green glow had been extinguished.
Jessica was waking Pansy and Daphne as well. There was no one else in the common room. Harry yawned again and rubbed his eyes. He'd been sleeping on his books and could feel the imprint on his face. He slowly picked them up and began thrusting them into his bag.
Pansy and Daphne waved goodnight and went down the corridor towards their room. Harry was still putting his things away, moving very slowly.
"Harry, are you all right?" Jessica asked him. He looked up into her dark eyes, her pretty face framed by her black ringlets of hair. She had cut it, he noticed absently. Now it bobbed around her shoulders.
"Just very sleepy," he mumbled. She must have understood him, because she picked up his bag for him. She took his hand and led him down the corridor to his dormitory. Goyle's snores could be heard even through the thick oak door.
"Here you are. I'll see you in the morning. Good night, Harry," Jessica whispered, and she planted a kiss on his forehead.
He stumbled into the room and dropped his bag by his trunk. He didn't even get his glasses off before he pitched face down onto his bed and began sawing wood.
The weekend passed in a lazy manner. For some inexplicable reason they hardly had any homework, so the Slytherins were able to relax and enjoy each others' company.
Harry was getting rather good at quickly shuffling a pack of cards. He had also learned how to play Gobstones, a game played with coloured stones that spat foul-smelling liquid at you if you lost.
The first years went to bed late and got out of bed late all weekend. The slight break was very welcome, and they all took advantage of the chance to rest.
So, when Monday came around, they were all bright-eyed and perky in Herbology. Even those who didn't enjoy the class as much as the others were able to find interest in the lesson about the poinsettia, a seasonal plant that had been adopted into the Muggle world -- as a Christmas 'flower', of all things.
"Aunt Petunia puts those things all over the house at Christmas time," he whispered to Draco as they scribbled down notes.
"Idiot Muggles," his friend said with a sneer. "The plant has loads of magical uses, and they use it as a bloody decoration."
After the Herbology lesson, they were off to naptime in History of Magic where Professor Binns droned on and on, as usual. Also as usual, the only person paying attention was Hermione Granger. Even though the Professor never asked questions, her hand would occasionally go into the air, and she would practically bounce on her seat, eager for attention.
Tracy amused herself by mocking the other girl constantly, whispering in Harry's ear. Harry, finding Granger's attitude to be entirely funny, was hard-pressed not to laugh out loud and shame the House. Draco and Theo were whispering to each other on Harry's other side.
After lecture, Granger stayed behind to ask Professor Binns a question. A couple of girls from Hufflepuff tried to catch her attention, but she waved them on, presumably to lunch. Theo and Draco took up positions outside the door to the classroom.
When Granger had finished her business, she shouldered her bag and left the classroom. Theo pointed his wand just as she was stepping through the door and cast a Tripping Jinx. Granger stumbled and fell to the floor.
Harry was a bit shocked. Making fun of someone was one thing, but attacking a fellow student was quite another.
"Ow, what's the big idea?" she demanded. She rolled off her stomach and sat up, staring up at the Slytherins with a mixture of anger and fear.
"Oops," Theo said, with vast insincerity. "I was just showing my mates here a new jinx I'd picked up. What are you doing getting in my way, Mudblood?"
Harry started to step forward to say something, but Draco silenced him with a warning look.
"Leave me alone!" she protested, getting to her feet.
"You think an awful lot of yourself, don't you, Granger?" Draco said in his drawling tone of voice. "You act awfully superior, for a Mudblood."
"I-I don't know what you mean," she said, biting her lower lip, showing her large front teeth. "Why can't you just leave me alone? I don't even know you."
"And we don't want to know you," Pansy said scornfully. "So why not get out of here?"
Granger began backing away. "You all should just leave me alone," she said again. "I'm glad this is the only class I share with you, because I don't like any of you. Don't think I don't hear you whispering about me! I don't care about not being a pureblood. I'm happy in Hufflepuff!"
Before anyone could respond, she turned and ran away down the hall. Pansy laughed at her until she was out of sight.
"That was fun!" she declared. "I needed that. Prissy little snot with her hand in the air like some know-it-all teacher's pet."
"Probably the only reason she hasn't brought Binns an apple yet is because he couldn't eat it," Tracy said, curling her lip.
"Speaking of food, it's time for lunch," Crabbe interjected.
"Thinking about food again, fathead?" Draco jeered at him.
"My head's not fat!"
Harry was quiet on the way to lunch. The scene from after History class was rankling with him a bit. On the one hand, by her own admission, Granger was happy in Hufflepuff. On the other hand, she was being terrorized by Draco and the others. He wrestled with it awhile, but finally shrugged it off. Surely no lasting harm would come of it. After all, Dudley had bullied him for ten whole years, and Harry was none the worse for wear. It had toughened him up.
Everything will work out, he assured himself as he bit into a sandwich. Things always do.
That evening, the proto-choir remained in the Great Hall after dinner. There were about seventy students present, a turnout considerably larger than they'd expected. All the first year Slytherins were very pleased with themselves.
Professor Dumbledore came in through a side door, the Sorting Hat and stool in his hands. There was a murmuring sound as everyone wondered what was going on.
"Greetings, fellow musicians," the Professor said warmly. "I'm delighted that so many of you decided to attend. I hope you all enjoy your practice." He set the stool down, placed the Sorting Hat on top of it, and left.
There was dead silence. No one knew what to make of this twist. Then the tear in the Hat opened, and it began to speak.
"Good evening to you all! Thank you so much for coming to our first organizational meeting. I doubt we have enough time to practice any traditional holiday songs, so we're going to move right on into springtime music. Now then, I'd like all the young ladies who sing soprano here to my left, and those who sing alto to stand next to them. Young men who sing bass, here to the right, and tenors next to them. Boys! Please stand with the girls. Until your voices change, you'll be singing those parts."
Stunned, nobody moved.
"Come on now, come on. Don't just stand there, get organized!"
"This is insane!" A short Hufflepuff boy stepped away from the others. "This is a farce! I signed up for a serious choir! I'm not going to embarrass myself like this!" He walked out of the Great Hall. Several other students followed him.
"Anyone else think that this is all complete lunacy?" the Hat asked snappily.
No one answered.
"Right then. Does anyone have any requests for songs they'd like to sing?"
"Blow Away The Morning Dew," Tracy spoke up immediately.
"An old favourite!" said the Hat. "Someone else?"
"Sir Arthur and Charming Mollee," Theo contributed.
"A beautiful tune!" the Hat declared.
"England's Mountains Green," Millie spoke up, rather loudly.
"Not the proper title, but still excellent!" the Hat exclaimed. "Right! We'll also be doing This Is My Father's World, because I happen to like that song. I'll have sheet music for you all next week. For tonight, we're going to work on pitch and scales. First, warm-ups!"
The Hat hummed a note, then ran up four notes evenly and loudly, before running back down to the starting note.
"Now with me. Sing the notes with an 'ah' sound." Obediently, they 'ah'd up and back.
"Very good, very good," the Hat told them. "You there, Goyle. Move over to the tenor section please. Crabbe, you go with him. Again, everyone. This time starting one note higher." The Hat hummed and ran up four notes before sliding back down.
They followed, again making the 'ah' sound. They moved up one starting note, then another, and another, and another. Some of the older boys were having trouble reaching that octave.
The Hat kept going. Now none of the older boys were singing; their voices just didn't reach that range. Most of the girls and younger boys were still hitting the notes.
The Hat kept rising higher and higher, looking for the upper limit to the girls' voices. The last three still singing; a fifth year Gryffindor named Tiffany Trotter, a fifth year Ravenclaw named Penelope Clearwater, and a sixth year Slytherin named Elizabeth Archer, were singing notes far above the soprano range.
"Ladies, that was excellent! You'll be my leading soloists. Fawcett! You're no soprano. Get with the altos." Lynn Fawcett, a fifth year Slytherin, moved into the alto grouping.
"That was very good! Now we go down," the Hat declared.
They started on that first note again, sliding up then down the scale. They dropped a note and continued. The girls and younger boys began to fall silent; the octave was too low for them. Again and again they went through the exercise, dropping the starting note each time.
The Hat kept dropping lower and lower, trying to find the boys' limit. A number of boys were still singing, especially Peter von Erickson, who was the most audible with his powerful voice.
"Superb!" the Hat crowed. "I thought I was going to be weeks whipping you all into some sort of decent group, but most of you seem to know what part you sing already. Delightful!"
The Hat quivered in apparent glee. "I think we're all going to have a lot of fun for the rest of the year. I look forward to our next meeting. I'll see you all next week!"
The choir dispersed, but the first year Slytherins remained behind. The Hat remained animated.
"I must say, Bulstrode, this was an entirely decent amount of fun. When I first proposed the idea, I wasn't at all sure it would happen. Oh," it said dismissively, "I knew you would do your part; Slytherins always keep their word. What I didn't expect was the turnout we had tonight and the level of skill those students have. I had an inkling, from what I've seen in their heads, but even I was stunned."
"You're quite welcome. You did your part; we did ours. Our bargain is concluded," Millie said.
"Quite right. I sense the Headmaster approaching, so I shall take my leave of you. You'd best get back to your dormitory. Good night!"
The Hat went still.
"Good evening!" Professor Dumbledore called out as he entered the Great Hall. His merry eyes were twinkling, and he was smiling. "Did you enjoy your choir meeting, children?"
"Yes, sir," they said more or less together.
"Good. I'm glad your petition was so successful. It's not often that we see such initiative amongst the students. I hope you'll all stick to it. Music is such a wonderful thing. I'm proud of you for organizing yourselves like this."
"Thank you, sir," Millie said, taking the credit that was her due, even if the Headmaster didn't know it.
"It's getting late," he noted. "It's nearly past my bedtime. I shall see you all at breakfast."
"Good night, sir," they chorused.
Christmas was coming. No one could wait for the holidays to start. Harry, and everyone else, was looking forward to taking a break from school.
One morning in mid-December, the young Slytherins made their way to the Astronomy Tower to find the battlements covered with several feet of snow that had fallen in the night. Goyle employed his fire spells to melt a clear path. The lake had frozen solid, and the snow-covered hill beckoned all the students, who were waiting for the weekend.
The roaring fires in both the Slytherin common room and their individual dormitories made the House a cozy haven of light and warmth. Elsewhere, only the Great Hall was remotely comfortable. In the rest of the draughty castle, the corridors were ice-cold, and the bitter wind constantly rattled the classroom windows. Though the dungeons were made of stone and held the winter chill, the walls were solid, and neither snow nor wind could penetrate.
On the first day of December, Harry and his friends returned to the common room after dinner to find Professor Snape already there waiting for them. Harry figured that Snape must know a few good secret passages, because he thought their Head had still been in the Great Hall as they left.
"Good evening, first years."
"Good evening, Professor."
"You will all fetch your wands and meet me in the Potions classroom immediately."
Wondering what was going on, those who weren't already carrying their wands went to the dormitories to retrieve them.
"It would be wise to never be without your wand," Snape called after them.
When Crabbe, Goyle, and Daphne had returned, the first year Slytherins headed to the Potions lab.
"I have asked you here tonight so that I may pass on one of the secrets of Slytherin House. The weather has been getting colder, as you will have noticed. The castle can be quite draughty, and the dungeons in particular are very chilly. We are Slytherin, and our symbol is the snake. Cold does not affect the snake, and neither shall it affect any of you. The Self-Warming Charm is essential for you to know. With it, you will be able to handle the variations of temperature at Hogwarts. The incantation is 'Concalesco Ipse', and the wand motion is a simple tap to the head and heart."
Harry got the hang of the spell in a few minutes. Draco, Tracy, and Theo had similarly quick success. Millie and Daphne took a bit longer, as did Crabbe and Goyle. Pansy, the worst student at Charms, took nearly an hour, but Professor Snape never once lost his patience with her. Only when she could cast the spell with ease did he take his leave of them.
"Professor?" Harry said.
"Yes, Mister Potter?"
"Is it possible that I may stay at school over the holiday?"
"Yes. Sometimes circumstances do not allow a student to go home. I will be circulating a sign-up sheet within the next few days."
Harry let out a clenched breath. "Thank you, sir. I certainly didn't want to go back to my awful Muggle relatives."
Snape seemed curious, but he did not enquire, and Harry didn't volunteer. In the back of his mind, the suspicion that Snape might be a bad guy kept him from divulging lots of details.
Bad guy or not, though, Harry was very grateful to Snape for showing the Self-Warming Charm. It was practical, effective, and very clever. In the Potions laboratory the next day, the Slytherins watched with wide smirks as the shivering Gryffindors huddled close to their hot cauldrons.
We hope your school year is going well. Draco speaks quite highly of you, and we would like to invite you to join us for the Christmas holiday at Malfoy Manor.
Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy
"Brilliant," Harry said, showing the letter to Draco. "Now I don't have to stay at school."
"They didn't tell me they were going to invite you."
"It's not a problem, is it?"
"Not at all. I just didn't know. Good. You can help me prank Elan."
Professor Snape came to the common room that very night and called the house to order.
"If anyone is interested in remaining at school over the Christmas holiday, please come and sign this parchment. We will need to know how much food to prepare for the feast."
"Excuse me," Harry said to his friends. He went over to where Snape was sitting.
"Mister Potter, here is the sign-up."
"Thank you, sir, but it looks like I won't need to stay after all."
"Oh no, Mister Potter?" Snape asked curiously. "Just the other day, you were eager to stay. What has changed your mind?"
"Draco's father has invited me to the Manor, sir," Harry said happily.
Professor Snape, though, frowned slightly. "I'm afraid it's not as simple as all that, Mister Potter," he said.
"What's the problem, sir?" Harry asked, as his heart leapt into his throat. He desperately did not want to see his so-called family.
"To go anywhere other than home, the school must receive a notification of permission from a parent or guardian," Snape explained. "I advise you to write a letter home and ask for such permission, Mister Potter. Otherwise, the Headmaster will not allow it."
Harry's hopes fell. While the Dursleys would no doubt be glad to be rid of him for the holiday, there was no way they would give him leave to go home with another boy. They would not sign any such permission, just out of spite.
Harry walked back to his friends, and Draco must have seen the disappointment on his face.
"I need permission to go home with someone else, but there's no way the Dursleys will ever let me."
"Muggles have no business telling a wizard what to do," Draco said firmly. "Surely there's a way around this."
"I don't think so. Snape told me I need their approval. I've never had it before; I don't see why they should suddenly give it."
"Chin up, Harry. Ask anyway. We'll go write that letter and get it sent off."
Sure enough, Arlette brought back a letter from the Dursleys written in Uncle Vernon's own hand in blue ink on blue-lined white paper. It forbade him to associate with any of his fellow 'freaks' and explicitly instructed the Headmaster to not let Harry leave the school grounds. When Harry read the letter, he crumpled it into a ball and bounced it off the floor of the Hall. Scowling up his face, he felt like he wanted to cry.
He stomped out of the Hall and headed for class. He was furious at the Dursleys and wished he had taken the opportunity to hex them before the start of school. Those miserable Muggles weren't his parents; they weren't even wizards. They had no right to tell him who he could and couldn't be friends with, where he could and couldn't go. It just wasn't fair.
His friends walked along with him. Nobody said anything; they all knew it must have been bad news. None of them noticed that Harry's drama and subsequent furious exit had all been observed by a pair of cool blue eyes, which were glinting maliciously.
The owner of those eyes waited until the Slytherin table was empty and crouched down to retrieve the crumpled ball of paper that Potter had, in his anger, discarded to the floor. A pair of large hands carefully smoothed out the letter. A grin to match the glint in those cool blue eyes spread across his face. He tucked the letter away in a pocket. It would come in very handy, of that he had no doubts.
"I do feel so sorry," Weasley said loudly as he walked past the Slytherin table the next morning at breakfast, "for all those people who have to stay at Hogwarts because they aren't wanted at home."
Harry felt like someone had stabbed him with a knife. Draco jumped to his feet and turned around to see Weasley standing there. "What did you say, Weasley?" Draco demanded in a low, dangerous voice, absent the drawl he used when addressing Gryffindors. His left hand drifted near his wand.
Weasley had been even more irritating since the Quidditch match. He'd been disgusted that Gryffindor had lost so spectacularly and had tried to make people laugh by saying that a large-mouthed bass would soon be replacing Harry as Seeker. This made no one laugh except himself, because everyone was impressed with the way that Harry had managed to stay on his out-of-control broomstick. Jealous and bitter, now Weasley had found something better to taunt Harry about.
"I think you heard me just fine," Weasley said, a nasty smile on his face. He turned and walked off, leaving a fuming Draco to comfort Harry, who was near tears.
"I'll get him for that," Draco spat, his usual calm demeanor long since fled. "He's one to talk, that bastard. He might have a proper family, but they're all crowded together in one room."
Harry didn't say anything. Weasley's words had cut too deep.
The girls arrived at that point, and Harry immediately became the center of attention. When Draco and Theo had filled them in, they too were thirsty for revenge. Tracy put her arm around Harry, letting him burrow his face into her shoulder.
"We don't let this go," she said in an iron voice. "I want to hex him myself."
"We're all going to get a turn," Draco seethed, "and then he's lucky if I don't use my Potions knife to slit his throat. How dare he?"
"How did he find out?" Millie asked, looking fit to be tied. Her hands were shaking and clenched spasmodically. She looked like she wanted to hit someone.
"He must have found the letter," Theo said, cursing.
"Language!" Pansy reprimanded him.
"Go throw yourself off the battlements," he snarled back at her.
"I just want to go back to bed," Harry said, his voice muffled against Tracy's shoulder.
Daphne took his hand. "Harry, I know you don't want to face him right now, but you've got to go to Potions. Professor Snape won't let him get away with anything. I'll see if I can't say something to him before class."
Harry allowed himself to be led back down into the dungeons. He half-heartedly spoke the Self-Warming Charm with the others. He was numb, not feeling much of anything. He sat listlessly at his station with Tracy while Daphne and Draco knocked on Snape's office door and went inside.
The Gryffindors arrived, Professor Snape came out of his office, and the lesson began. They set to work on the Hair-Raising Potion. Harry didn't pay any attention to what he was doing. He did only what Tracy told him to do. Several times Professor Snape passed by their work station, and he appraised Harry with a long gaze, though he said nothing.
Longbottom and Weasley were at a work station together. The pair had worked in tandem ever since the other Gryffindors had realized that they were both hopelessly inept at Potions and that the rest of them stood a better chance of earning good marks by not being anywhere near either one of them. They lost Gryffindor many points, but that would have happened regardless.
Today, the pair managed to screw up even more than normal, and Weasley's cauldron began to lose its shape, melting and deforming. As the bubbling blue potion seeped out of the melting cauldron and down onto the floor, Snape finally snapped.
"Idiots!" he thundered at them. They were both trying to wipe hot potion off of themselves, and out of their hair, which was curling up into tight spirals like a poodle's.
"I have never in my entire career as a teacher seen a pair of students more incompetant than you two! Even your worthless, practical joker brothers, Weasley, have at least some idea of how to properly brew a potion. I'm disgusted by the both of you! Twenty points from Gryffindor for gross incompetence!"
"Sir-" Weasley began. Longbottom was cowering in fear.
"And detention!" Snape shouted him down. "You will remain after class and scour out every student's cauldron with a toothbrush! Be thankful it's not your own brush you'll be using."
Weasley was glaring daggers across the room at the Slytherins. He clearly suspected that they'd had something to do with this situation. Longbottom had melted plenty of cauldrons before; he himself had screwed up dozens of potions before, but neither of them had ever gotten detention for it. Weasley fumed, but that was all he could do; he had no proof.
Harry didn't go up to lunch with his friends; he crawled into bed and tried to forget about what a horrible day it had been. It was bad enough that the Muggles were interfering in his life, but now Weasley knew about his home life and would spread it all across the school. Why had he been so stupid as to leave the letter lying around? Why hadn't he torn it up or burned it or something?
His friends came back from lunch and attempted to jolly him into some semblence of good spirits, but they were unsuccessful. He would have been quite content to spend the weekend in bed as well, but Draco hauled him out of bed in the early evening.
"Professor Snape is in the common room," he told Harry. "He wants to know if you want to stay here at school over the holiday."
Harry nodded and tried to turn over and go back to sleep. "Harry, you've got to sign the list yourself. Snape said to bring you."
Grumbling, Harry got to his feet and pulled on his dressing gown. He followed Draco out to the common room where Professor Snape was seated in a chair by the fire.
"Sir," he said politely.
Snape appraised him with a cool eye. "You look horrible, Mister Potter. Surely Weasley's words can't have upset you that much."
"I'll be staying here at school, sir." Harry's voice was lifeless. He didn't want to talk about it.
Snape presented him with the list, and he scrawled his name on it with the quill that Draco handed to him. Then Draco took the list and penned his own name neatly below it.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Mister Malfoy?" he questioned.
"I'm not leaving him here by himself," Draco said firmly. "That just wouldn't be proper."
The parchment was rolled up and disappeared into Snape's sleeve. "As you wish, Mister Malfoy. Good evening to you all."
"Sir," they said in response.
"Draco, your father is going to have kittens when he finds out about this," Pansy warned him. She had been working on her Potions homework nearby.
"I don't care," Draco snapped. "Let him have a fit. I told Harry that he'd be spending Christmas with me, and I mean to keep my promise. If Father doesn't like that, he can sod off."
Draco's kind gesture sliced right through Harry's melancholy. Who cared what that gutter snipe Weasley thought? At least Harry had friends who cared enough to stick by him. Professor McGonagall had told them that while at Hogwarts, their House would be as their family. The hell with the Dursleys; Slytherin was all the family he needed.
"Bugger Weasley," he said, "and thank you, Draco." He put his hand on his friend's shoulder and squeezed slightly. "You're a true friend."
Draco grinned at him. "You're not so bad yourself."
When they went up to dinner, the Great Hall looked fantastic. Festoons of holly and mistletoe hung all around the walls, and a full dozen Christmas trees stood around the room. Some of the trees sparkled with tiny icicles; others glittered with hundreds of candles. Another tree was decorated with thousands of golden bubbles.
"Wizards are a bit more creative at holiday decorations," Harry said as they sat down.
"What do Muggles decorate with?" Millie asked curiously. None of them except Harry knew the slightest thing about living like a Muggle.
"They've got all sorts of ugly plastic stuff," Harry told her. "Useless, gaudy, and tacky, every bit of it."
"Trumpery?" Tracy asked, for she knew many words.
"If you say so," Harry laughed.
"What's plastic?" Theo asked, confused.
Harry thought about it for a minute. "It's, er- it's," he couldn't find a good way to explain it. "It's a Muggle thing," he finally settled on. "Don't worry about it."
"A Muggle thing," Pansy sniffed. "That says quite enough."
"So are you looking forward to the holiday?" That was Abraham, and he sat down with them. They wouldn't be seeing him for several weeks, and Harry knew that he would miss the older boy who had guided them and looked out for them. He'd miss Jessica too, who always had a smile and a kind word for any of them.
Harry was indeed looking forward to the holiday. Though he had been denied his first choice of visiting Malfoy Manor by the Dursleys, at least he wouldn't be forced to see those horrible Muggles. The Christmas feast at Hogwarts was likely to be a thousand times better than anything he ate at Privet Drive.
With no classes or schoolwork to occupy him, Harry thought he might devote some time to trying to find out who Nicholas Flamel was. The library would be open during the break, so he could roam at will amongst the stacks. Maybe one of his friends would be able to find out from their parents. With nothing vital to do, the mystery was sure to grate on him.
At breakfast the next morning, Elan Malfoy sat down next to his brother and reached for the sausages.
"All packed and set to go?"
"I didn't tell you?" Draco replied. "I'm staying here at school."
"What?" Elan sounded completely flabbergasted.
"Yes. Someone has to keep Harry company."
"What do you mean keep Harry company? Harry's coming home with us. Father said."
"Father invited him, yes, but Harry's worthless Muggles said no. He's got to stay at Hogwarts, and I'm staying with him."
"Father's going to be angry. You know how much he likes the family to be together for holidays."
"Father will just have to deal with it," Draco said, not sounding concerned at all. "I'm not letting Harry spend Christmas alone. We're the only ones in the house to sign up."
Elan looked troubled at that. "I suppose that's a good thing. You'll have to tell him yourself, though. I'm not going to get yelled at over this."
"No one's asking you to. I'll take care of Father."
The first years had a bit of an emotional parting after breakfast was finished. Every girl hugged both Harry and Draco, the only two who were remaining at the school. Millie had hesitated to hug, and Harry saw her start to offer her hand to shake, but she set her jaw and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing the breath out of him. Theo, Crabbe, and Goyle all shook hands, and Harry feared he might never write with a quill again, so strong were the bigger boys' grips. After breakfast, Harry and Draco were all alone in Slytherin House.
They sat by the fire talking long into the night, and when they rose, the sun was already well up in the sky. With nothing else to do, by day they searched the library for information on Nicholas Flamel. The library was as unyielding of information as Hagrid had been, but still they kept at it, browsing the stacks, leafing through any book that looked promising. By night, they shared stories and spent hours talking about nothing at all.
On Christmas Eve, Harry went to bed looking forward to the feast the next day. He wasn't expecting a visit from St. Nicholas, nor did he expect any presents. He'd never gotten presents before, so when he woke in the morning to find a pile of brightly-wrapped packages at the foot of his bed, he was very shocked. Looking at the tags, he saw that they were from his friends and their parents. It brought a tear to his eye.
"Happy Christmas, Harry," mumbled Draco, who was rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
Harry scrambled out of bed and pulled on his dressing gown. "You too, Happy Christmas. Great Scot, I've got presents!"
Draco was yawning. "Of course you got presents. Did you think we'd all forget about you?"
Harry felt his cheeks burning. "I've never gotten presents before," he said in a low voice.
"What?" Draco asked, still yawning. "What'd you say?"
"I said I've never gotten presents before," Harry spoke up, his cheeks still flushed.
Draco stared at him. "Those bastards!" he exclaimed, and Harry knew he meant the Dursleys. "Well bugger them; open your presents."
Harry picked up the top parcel. It was a decent sized box wrapped in shiny silver foil. The tag was from Daphne's parents. He tore it open to find several tins of polish and a polishing cloth. The note inside said, "For broom and wand." He smiled. A practical gift, but very suitable.
His next parcel was wrapped in shiny green foil, and it was from Theo's dad. Inside was a tooled leather wand sheath. The intricate designs ensnared the eyes. He put it with his robes immediately.
The next package was from Goyle's mum and dad and contained a fine set of Gobstones. That was excellent; now he wouldn't have to borrow a set if he wanted to play. Draco immediately challenged him to a game after breakfast.
Crabbe's parents had given him a pair of matched raven-feather quills and an inkwell filled with silver ink. He didn't know that he'd ever have cause to use the ink, but the quills were very nice.
Pansy and her parents had bought him a subscription to the Daily Prophet. He'd mentioned several times that he ought to get the paper, and now he was saved the trouble.
Crabbe and Goyle had jointly bought him a cardboard box and filled it with candy. There were Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizbees, and other things he'd never heard of before. Even the snack trolley on the Hogwarts Express didn't have most of this stuff. He nibbled on a sugar quill.
From the Davises and Bulstrodes, there were a dozen boxes of new clothes. Harry looked down at his tatty hand-me-downs and flushed red.
"They could have been a bit more subtle about that," Draco commented, looking up from his own presents.
"These rags," Harry said, absolutely disgusted with them. He immediately pulled them off and donned some of his new trousers.
"The green shirt with that," Draco said absently, lost in the design work of a polished, wooden wand case.
When Harry had dressed himself properly, he looked in the full-length mirror. "Very nice," it told him. "What a smart-dressed young man, you are. Now if only you could do something about that hair..."
"I can't believe this pile of clothes," Harry exclaimed. "This must have been all so expensive! It's too much!"
"Did you forget that Millie's mother is a fashion designer?" Draco asked, finally tearing himself away from the wand case. "It was probably nothing for her to get all that. She's good friends with Missus Davis too." He held up one of the tags. "See? And I bet Tracy helped out with choosing most of this."
Harry picked up a letter, in a Muggle envelope. There was no parcel attatched to it. Inside the envelope was a note. He unfolded it and began to read.
We received your message and enclose your Christmas present. From Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon.
Taped to the note was a fifty-pence coin.
"That's friendly," Harry said as he showed the note to Draco.
"What's this?" Draco asked, peering at the coin.
"Muggle money," Harry told him, "and not all that much of it, either. You couldn't even buy two sweets with that."
"Stingy bastards, aren't they? Still, it's rather interesting to look at." Draco was a bit fascinated by the coin.
"Keep it then," Harry said, laughing. "Happy Christmas, Draco."
"Happy Christmas, Harry."
There was only one parcel left. Harry picked it up and noted that it felt very light. He tore the paper off. Something fluid and silvery grey went sliding to the floor where it lay in gleaming folds. Draco looked stunned.
"What is it?" Harry asked, picking it up. It felt strange to the touch, like water had been woven into the fabric.
"That's an invisibility cloak," Draco said in awe. "They're really valuable, take forever to make. They're expensive and rare. What's the note say?"
"Note?" Sure enough, a note had come with the cloak and fallen to the floor. Harry seized it. It was written in a narrow, loopy script that he'd never seen before.
Your father left this in my possession before he died. It's time it was returned to you. Use it well.
A Very Happy Christmas to you.
There was no signature. Harry stared at the note. Draco had picked up the cloak and pulled it around his shoulders.
"Woo, I'm a floating head!" he said. True enough, it seemed as though his head was floating there in mid-air. The rest of his body was invisible. "Father's got one of these, but I've never even been allowed to touch it," Draco said wistfully. "You sure are lucky." He pulled the hood up over his head, and he vanished from sight completely.
Harry felt very strange as he stared at the note. "Harry, what's wrong?" Draco asked, pulling off the cloak.
"Nothing," he replied. Who had sent it? Had it really belonged to his father? What did the note mean? "C'mon, let's have a shower and get up to the feast."
Harry had never in his life seen such a Christmas dinner. A hundred fat, roast turkeys; mountains of roasted potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes; platters of chipolatas; tureens of buttered peas; silver boats of thick, rich gravy; cranberry sauce -- and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table.
The wizard crackers were fantastic party favours that were nothing like the feeble Muggle ones that Harry was used to. Draco invited him to pull the first with him, and it didn't just pop, it went off with a blast like a cannon and engulfed them in a cloud of blue smoke. Instead of cheap plastic toys and flimsy paper hats, inside was a pirate captain's hat.
Flaming Christmas puddings followed the turkey. One of the Ravenclaw boys they were sitting with (if not for Harry and Draco, the Slytherin table would be empty) nearly swallowed a silver Sickle that was hiding in his slice. Harry watched disapprovingly as, up at the High Table, Hagrid got redder and redder in the face and kept calling for more wine. Then, to his amazement, he kissed Professor McGonagall on the cheek, and she giggled and blushed like a young girl.
During pudding, a large eagle owl came swooping in and landed right on the table. It was not Arlette.
"There's no letter," Harry said, very confused.
Draco was grinning broadly. "That's my present. Well, mine and my folks' anyway. You're always borrowing my owl, so I figured you needed one of your own."
Harry was truly touched by this thoughtful gift. "Thank you, Draco. She's wonderful."
"He," Draco corrected. "He doesn't have a name; that's your job. Come up with something good, will you?"
Harry promised that he would do just that. When they finally left the table, he was laden down with his new owl and a stack of toys from the wizard crackers. He was now the proud owner of a Grow-Your-Own-Warts kit, a pack of non-explodable, luminous balloons, and sixteen marble figures that Draco told him was a complete set of wizard chess pieces.
"How can it be complete? Where's the other side?"
"Well you need an opponent, right? He'll bring his own pieces."
The Weasley clan had remained at school for the holiday. Neither Harry nor Draco had said anything about it, preferring to just avoid Weasley altogether, but now Harry tugged on Draco's sleeve as they left the Hall.
"Let's wait for him," he said. It was obvious who he meant. "I've got a couple of things I want to say to that prat." Harry was still angry over the way Weasley had taunted him about his parents' deaths.
"Hey, Weasel," Harry sneered as the red-headed boy headed for the stairs. Weasley stopped and turned around. He was alone.
"Well, looks like a couple of snakes are braving the sunlight," Weasley sneered back, just as obnoxiously. "Shouldn't you be underground eating live mice or something?"
"Shouldn't you be not here?" Draco asked in his drawl.
"Yes, what's the matter, Weasley? Got no proper family that wants you at home?" Harry threw Weasley's own words back in his face. "What is that ridiculous thing you're wearing?"
Weasley was wearing a lumpy, hand-knitted maroon jumper. It was quite possibly the ugliest thing Harry had ever seen, though he would have taken it over his old rags any day. Weasley flushed red.
"Shut up, Potter," was all he said, before turning away and heading up the marble stairs.