Chapter 18 : Twas the Night Before Christmas
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Christmas Eve 1998
It was the night before Christmas; Hermione was curled up in an arm chair in the drawing room at Grimmauld place, her cold hands wrapped around the hot chocolate Mrs Weasley had handed her just minutes ago. The book in her lap had long since been abandoned, although she continued to absentmindedly turn a page every now and again. She’d been very quiet since they’d returned for the holidays. Most of the order had assumed it was being back here, having the existence of the prophesy thrust upon them once again that was the cause.
In reality that was only a part of it.
It had been a week since she’d overheard Malfoy talking to his father and she hadn’t told a soul. Even more puzzling was why? Because try as she might, she couldn’t understand her choice to remain silent. What she’d heard terrified her; Malfoy was a Deatheater with orders to kill. The implications were enormous, yet she couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He’d sounded so desperate, and so afraid.
“What’s wrong?” Lupin had asked looking up from his own book. Hermione jumped with surprise, in her reverie she had almost forgotten he was seated in the matching armchair opposite her.
“Nothing,” she whispered, barely convincing herself.
“You know,” he began carefully “here I don’t consider myself your teacher. You can talk to me Hermione.” He fixed her with a quizzical gaze, which she tried very hard not to meet.
“Is it about Ron?” He asked kindly.
She studied him for a moment before closing the book in her lap and laying it on the floor by her feet.
“No.” She replied sighing softly.
Lupin paused, patiently waiting for her to elaborate.
“I should have said something weeks ago, I don’t really know why I didn’t,” she began her voice barely above a whisper. Lupin merely smiled, listening carefully while stirring his hot chocolate with a cinnamon stick. “I overheard something while we still at school. In the heads common room,” She scoffed looking down at her hands gripping tightly to the warmth of her own mug. “Late one night, I shouldn’t have been out of bed. Ron had left a book on my desk and…” She sighed nervously; she was getting caught up on details that were neither here or there at the moment. “I heard Malfoy, talking to his father in the fireplace. He was using the Floo Network.”
Lupin didn’t say anything for what seemed like a very long time.
“I know I should have told someone.”
“It’s alright Hermione,” he whispered, smiling wryly “We already know what he said. The order has been monitoring the Floo Network since the beginning of term. We don’t really understand how he thought he’d get away with it; Dumbledore said it was out of bounds for students in his welcome speech.”
Hermione studied Lupin silently for a long moment; she didn’t quite understand.
“Maybe he didn’t want to get away with it,” Lupin continued “Maybe that was the point.”
“I don’t understand if what I heard is correct, then he’s a…”
“A Deatheater?” Lupin interrupted, “Yes, it would seem so. You’re wondering why Dumbledore hasn’t removed him from the school.”
Dumbstruck she merely nodded.
“From what he’s been saying, it’s only reluctantly that he is what he is. In which case to remove him from the school gives him no way out. The order would effectively be forcing a fate similar to that of his father, or a death sentence, onto him,” Lupin smiled kindly. “I can see that you don’t understand, and that’s OK. At the moment the best thing for him is to keep him at the school where we can watch him. And don’t worry Hermione we have been, he doesn’t so much as breathe without the order knowing about it.”
“But if he’s joined them surely it was a choice?” she asked confused.
“It’s not always that simple Hermione; not everything is black and white. Some Deatheaters’ aren’t made, they’re born. The way he’s been raised; his parents have been grooming him for this since his infancy. Don’t misunderstand me; there are always choices in this life, Hermione. But once you’ve been set on one path, and been raised to believe it’s the only one, it’s far more difficult to stray from it.”
It was done.
As he’d fallen to the ground, his shocked expression bathed in the green light engulfing of the alleyway, it had seemed to Draco that time had slowed down. That split second seemed to have lasted a lifetime. He saw the shock as he had realised what was about to happen, he saw the life leave his eyes, saw the darkness swallow him as his body fell, crumpled and broken to the wet ground.
He felt numb as he stared at the body, his wand arm still extended and his hands shaking uncontrollably. It was almost as though it hadn’t happened, it didn’t feel real.
They’d been following him for days, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed. Suddenly there were no more options, he wouldn’t be allowed to go back to school, and there was suddenly no reason for stealth. He had his orders, and now? Now that his use as an insider at Hogwarts was exhausted he had no choice but to carry them out, or to face the consequences of his defiance.
There was no way out.
He’d just killed a man.
He felt a wave of emotion as he stared at the hand, lying limply on the ground a puddle forming in its palm as the rain continued to fall. Muttering the words had been so easy, but he knew that he’d have to live with the consequences forever. The power of it, his panic, his fear, his utter disgust with himself was too much.
His stomach lurched, and he spun around and fell to knees as the bile rose uncontrollably in his throat.
Moments later he leaned back against the wall, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and burying his head in his hands.
“This is not happening” he whispered, closing his eyes and trying to fight another wave of nausea.
Suddenly he heard footsteps at the other end of alleyway.
Panicking, he scrambled to his feet, and with one final glance at the crumpled form before him, he ran.
He peered cautiously around the kitchen door, relieved to find Mrs Weasley nowhere in sight. He hadn’t had so much as a moment to himself all day. She seemed to have taken it upon herself to make Christmas at Grimmauld Place an occasion worthy of remembrance for all involved. She meant well, Harry knew, wanting Christmas Day to be perfect, one peaceful day amid the turmoil of this new war. Yet for all her good intentions Harry knew that he was not the only one tiring of being “asked” to help.
Searching through the cupboards he helped himself to a bottle of Butterbeer, and headed for the dining room. He rolled his eyes upon discovering that the table was already set for breakfast the next morning, and could not help but think that Molly was organising Christmas this year as though it were a military operation as opposed to a holiday. Throwing a glance to the head of the table he noticed that a place had been set for Sirius. It meant a lot to him that she’d noticed that Harry never failed to. Even if now it was more out of habit than any sub-conscious belief that he may come back. Sirius was dead, and he was finally beginning to truly accept that. Yet even so, Harry couldn’t help but feel that as long as they were living in Sirius’ house, they should treat him with the respect that he deserved even if he was no longer there to see it.
Taking a swig of the velvety liquid and feeling the familiar warming sensation spread throughout his body, he walked to the end of the table. Drawing out Sirius’ chair and slowly taking a seat he revelled in the first minute of peace and quiet he’d had all week.
Barely five minutes had passed before the door swung open, and there she was, the one person he had been trying so hard to avoid.
“Oh, sorry” She whispered softly, meeting his gaze only briefly before looking down at her feet. “Can I sit down? I’m trying to hide from Mum.”
Both were incredibly uncomfortable, Ginny averted her eyes apparently too embarrassed to even look at him. Harry had not been alone with her since that night a week ago, involuntarily the image of she and Dean kissing flooded his consciousness. He could still hear that almost imperceptible moan and still feel the jealousy that he wasn’t the one that had caused it.
“Sure,” he said softly before he even thought about it. The moment the word left his mouth he regretted it. What was he thinking? He could barely stand to look at her. Things were bad enough as it was without them enduring a strained conversation during which he would more than likely say something he would later regret.
“I was about to leave anyway.” He added rising from his seat and practically bolting for the door.
“Harry, please wait,” she pleaded, catching hold of his wrist as he attempted to brush past her. He stopped dead in his tracks at her touch but could not bring himself to turn and meet her gaze. Her warm skin was searing into the flesh of his arm like a brand, feeling to Harry as though the trace of her dainty fingers would be indelibly marked on his arm.
“About the other night…”
“Don’t apologise.” He spat, cutting her off more abruptly than he intended.
“I want to,” she uttered quietly meeting his eyes for the first time in what seemed like months. “I really wish you hadn’t seen that. I feel terrible, Harry I really do.”
He had no choice but to believe her. He could see it in her eyes.
He sighed heavily and reached up rubbing his weary eyes.
“Why?” he asked angrily, “You don’t have anything to apologise for!”
“Don’t I?” She questioned harshly, her eyes filling with unshed tears. “Because that’s not how it feels Harry! And I think you know why.”
Frustrated he sighed, drawing his cool hands up to his face and rubbing his eyes. “We have to stop this. Ginny you’re my best friends’ sister. There’s nothing between us.” Even to his own ears it sounded unconvincing.
When he finally allowed himself to meet her gaze, he could barely stand it. The way she was looking at him was dizzying, as though she could see through every defence he had set up between himself and the outside world. He felt naked in front of her, exposed, vulnerable. As he stared into those crystalline blue depths, shrouded by a veil of tears still threatening to spill, he could tell that she could see him for all that he was. She saw him more completely than he could himself.
Saw exactly what he felt for her.
“Nothing?” she mouthed barely above a whisper, taking a step towards him, not dropping eye contact for a second, her body suddenly mere centimetres from his own.
“Is that what this is Harry? Nothing?”
He could feel her warm breath on his neck, her hand still grasping his wrist sending lightning bolts of sensation up and down his arm as the scent of her hair filled his nostrils. All the while her penetrating gaze was rendering him useless.
And suddenly her lips were on his.
Cutlery and flatware clattered loudly to the floor, as he lifted her roughly onto the dining table, Mrs Weasley’s immaculately laid Christmas spread forgotten, as she reached forcefully for Harry’s belt.
It was at that moment they heard it the commotion in the Hallway; a scream of Horror, someone was crying, someone was shouting, there were barked orders and a clattering as something fell to the floor. And then the portrait began to scream.
Something was wrong, very wrong.
“Alastor, what Happened?” They heard Arthur shout over the commotion.
Their eyes met in alarm as they heard the heavy clumping footprints belonging unmistakably to Mad Eye Moody approach the Dining room.
“Molly stop fussing and get the bloody door!”
They sprang apart just as the door opened.
It took several moments before Harry could process what it was that he was seeing; Arthur Weasley sweeping shattering plates and goblets onto the floor, as Mad eye Moody, soaked to the skin, laid the lifeless body of Kingsley Shacklebot to rest on the table.
* * *
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been lying there; listening to the rain, as he tried to wipe the image of Kingsley’s eyes, wide and lifeless staring up at him from his mind. It was close to 3am when they’d turned in for the night but Ron was sure that he wouldn’t get a moment sleep tonight. Or for quite some time, he was sure.
He hadn’t seen Harry since it had happened; he’d been in the room when he and Hermione had entered, but when his mother had bustled them into the kitchen Harry had not been with them. Ron had sat at the table, with his siblings and Hermione, too shocked to even really think about what had just happened, let alone talk about it.
Harry had not come to bed. He could guess that Harry had once again retreated to Mrs Black’s bedroom with Buckbeak. He didn’t expect to see him much over the next few days.
He watched as the rain ran down the window pane, a constant torrent that seemed unending. For just a moment he wondered how long Kingsley had lain, alone in the rain before Moody had found him.
It was a thought too awful to bear.
He didn’t hear her coming.
The footsteps tiptoeing gently along the corridor, coming to a halt outside his bedroom with only a moment’s hesitation before pushing open the door. It was only when she stepped inside that he noticed her at all. Her cheeks were tearstained and her eyes were puffy and bloodshot. He wondered for how long she had been crying.
She didn’t move. Just stood in the open doorway, staring at him as her bottom lip trembled.
“Do you want to get in?” He asked softly.
Nodding softly, she turned and slowly pushed the door closed, attempting to stifle the squeak of the ancient hinges. Pointing her wand at the lock she softly whispered “Colloportus” before climbing in beside him.
She propped herself up on her elbow, studying him carefully.
“Are you…” he began before he was silenced by a finger placed gently over his lips.
“Shh” she whispered softly “Just listen to me for a minute. I’ve been thinking.”
She wriggled closer to him in the bed, placing a palm over his bare chest and studying her flesh against his with a great deal of scrutiny.
“We’ve spent the last six months dancing around how we feel because of something that might happen tomorrow,” she began softly, a tear rolling down her cheek. Silently he reached up and brushed it away, she turned to meet his eyes. “The thing is Ron, this is a war, and any of us might not make it till tomorrow.”
“Don’t talk like that,” he whispered softly. “You and me, we’ll get by.”
“You don’t know that,” She smiled sadly “I love you for saying it, but you can’t know that.”
She paused, leaning over, resting her chin on his shoulder. Tentatively she placed a gentle open mouthed kiss to his neck, his eyes slipped closed at the sensation as his breath caught in his throat. Slowly she began to trail kisses over his collarbone to his chest.
“I’m sick of talking about this,” she whispered pulling back to meet his eyes. “I’m sick of being sensible. I’m sick of trying to do what’s responsible when I know that what I want is what’s right.”
He reached over, brushing a strand of her dishevelled hair away from her eyes.
“I want you, Ron.”
There was a moment of silence as he studied her face, searching for a hint of hesitation that she knew he wouldn’t find.
“I love you, Hermione” he whispered reaching up to meet her lips with his own.