Happy Holidays, friends! This was written for Dramione Advent with the prompt "Silver and Gold" which has mostly just prompted Dolly Parton running through my head since October...
Love and thanks to alpha In Dreams and beta LightofEvolution. I'm grateful to these ladies, to the wonderful people who take the time to run the advent each year, to the lovely person(s) who nominated me, and to all of you wonderful readers.
Hermione looks up from where she is twirling a silver pendant slowly in her fingers, studying the etchings.
"A gift, I suppose," she answers with less than her usual assurity.
Harry drops down beside her on the sofa, the Gryffindor common room oddly quiet. Only the orphans and strays are here now, all the other students having left for the hols.
"Whom," she corrects, absently, having gone back to twirling the piece.
Beside her, she can practically hear Harry roll his eyes. "From whom, then?"
"It didn't say," Hermione replies with a shrug. "Just wrapped in white paper, a red tag with my name."
"Strange." There's suspicion in his voice. Merlin love Harry, but he is a distrustful thing. He will make a wonderful Auror after they finish at Hogwarts.
Hermione pulls herself from her curiosity and lays the pendant to the side, offering Harry a grin. "Should we have breakfast?"
His own smile returns, and he agrees that breakfast does, indeed, sound delightful. They rise together and start towards the door. As an afterthought, she reaches for the silver bauble and tucks it in her pocket. There's something intriguing about the markings. Almost like runes…
The rest of Christmas Eve passes like most any other day. With the exception of the pendant and Harry's occasional comment of, "But, I mean… who would send it… I mean whom…" Which would then lead to a discussion of when to use who versus whom…..
Hermione's thoughts have digressed. The point is, with that exception, it is a lazy and purposeless day. Not such a terrible thing, really. Life has been nothing but purpose for so long; being idle feels like the height of luxury.
The only problem, though, with being idle, with the quiet, is that it gives time for her darker thoughts to seep through the cracks of her emotional walls. It's then that she will remember there is no advent calendar in the Granger's sitting room this year. She will know that her mother will not be sending those little tarts from their favorite bakery. Her father will not be choosing the very best tree he can find, not too tall, full with dark needles, wide at the base.
Well, those things may be happening, but they are happening to other people. Childless and well-to-do, will the Wilkins even bother with a tree? Do they have any reason to open the little doors for the advent, counting down to Christmas morning?
It's late now, almost curfew, and Hermione shakes her head to clear her thoughts, seeking distraction. It's then she remembers the pendant hidden away in her trousers. She has peeked at it during the day, but anytime Harry caught her, he made her feel like a criminal with contraband. Now, he is turned in for the night, and she is alone in the common room with a book and her spiraling thoughts.
She runs her thumb across the particularly deep grooves along the left side of the piece. They are runes, she's fairly certain, but she'll be damned if she knows what they mean. She tried a cursory glance at her Ancient Runes text, but found nothing similar to what she sees here. One is similar to the rune that traditionally stands for self-reliance and survival, but the angle isn't quite right.
She's startled by a knock on the door.
With a frown, she rises. No one ever knocks on a house door. Either you belong here and you give the password, or you don't and you simply don't come. It's a rare thing for another house to turn up without a Gryffindor escort.
Cautious, but trying very hard not to give in to the paranoia that plagues poor Harry, she opens the door and peers into the corridor.
A second year Hufflepuff is standing there, looking a bit out of place, but not terribly so.
The Morehouse boy. His parents were both killed during the war. Hermione gives him a smile. "Happy Christmas Eve, Marty."
"Happy Christmas," he says back, slightly awkward. "This is for you. It's not from me," he adds quickly.
She looks down to find his arm extended, a small white package held within.
She takes a breath and reaches forward. "Who gave it to you?"
Hermione looks up, furrowing her brow in confusion. "Someone left it in or Secret Santa exchange, but it had your name on it," he explains further.
Odd, indeed… Hermione takes the package and offers thanks for the delivery. Her first mystery package had shown up in the Gryffindor room in their small pile under their tree. There had been so few, and mostly wrapped in the blue and silver paper Hermione herself had purchased, that the glossy white had glared at her.
She turns around and carries the package inside, sliding off the ribbon and tag, both red once again, as she moves. With care, she unfolds the sides of the paper and reveals a small box, similar to the one that held the silver pendant.
Her breath catches. Inside is a bracelet of gold. More of a cuff, it is wide, a prominent piece of jewelry. It looks old and is marked with more runes, equally indecipherable. After so many years of rune study, she would think at least some of them would be familiar, but Hermione doesn't understand anything she's seeing.
On one end, Hermione finds a ridge flanked by deep grooves. It looks like something is missing, and she wonders what was intended to sit there. Perhaps it is an antique, damaged or dismantled over the years. She runs her wand over the piece, searching for the feel of dark magic at work, but finds nothing so concerning.
Unsure if she should be more wary, she removes it from the box and slips it on her wrist, careful to put it on her right arm, not the left where angry raised letters are still settled on her skin.
It's pretty, she decides, in a crude and archaic way. The center band is left solid with no markings or embellishments while the rune like images line the top and bottom, like hieroglyphics telling a tale.
She leaves it on when she retires for the evening, something humming in her blood like she should.
Christmas morning is both parts jolly and somber. The whole of the castle, which is not a very large amount of students at all, gathers for a midday meal, specially prepared by the house elves in celebration. Roast goose with sage dressing, ham, plum pudding and other traditional dishes line the tables in heaping plates and bowls, far too generous for the scant twenty residents in attendance.
Hermione takes the place between Harry and the only other Gryffindor still in the castle, a sixth year who lost both parents in a Death Eater raid on Hogsmeade just before the final battle. Three left orphaned seems positive at first glance, but Hermione was devastated to find that her bold and reckless house has fewer orphans amongst them because their casualties had been the highest.
Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw have both been left with about six students each, making up the majority of this group of leftovers. Three professors remain; McGonagall, Flitwick, and Hagrid, the professors with no families waiting at home for them, take the total to eighteen.
Rounding out the number, only two snakes sit amongst them. With the professors on one side and an empty chair on the other, Hermione finds the pair: Draco Malfoy, quiet and reserved with a napkin in his lap and his eyes downcast, sitting beside a second year girl with strawberry blonde plaited hair and a sad expression. A Carrow by marriage, Hermione has heard, the girl had been terrified of her uncle Amycus. She's virtually alone now, her entire family in Azkaban or deceased.
What a sad lot they all make.
McGonagall calls for a toast about perseverance and new beginnings, ushering in the next year and creating a family together in the wizarding world. McGonagall is a brilliant woman, but she's not known for her warmth. No one seems cheered at the prospect of relying on one another in the year to come.
Hagrid tries his damnedest to lighten the mood, presenting each student with a small package containing his infamous rock cakes and homemade necklaces made from shed dragon scales. It's a sweet gift, honestly. Ridiculous and inedible and looking like a child's craft project, and it's all Hermione can do to hold back a sob at how much it means to her.
Hagrid looks concerned, like he made a mistake, when she rises quickly, bench screeching on the stone floor, and flings herself at him in a tight hug. He's awkward and overly gentle, but his eyes are suspiciously glassy when they part.
She drapes the dragon scales around her neck, fingering them lovingly. They are different sizes, jagged like teeth, and utterly perfect from someone as oddly innocent as Rubeus Hagrid.
As she retakes her seat, the sleeve of her robe falls back, revealing her forearm and the bracelet settled there. "From Ron?" Harry asks her.
Shaking her head at him and picking up her fork to finish her pudding, she answers, "Another anonymous. Pretty isn't it?"
"Maybe you have a secret admirer," he tries but after a quick glance around the table mutters, "Though, I can't imagine who…"
They keep their voices low, the meal being so quiet. When she glances up, however, she finds Malfoy watching them… watching her in particular. He has barely spoken to anyone all year, hardly met anyone's gaze. As expected, the moment her eyes meet his, he looks away, dabbing at the corner of his mouth with his napkin, and then quietly rises to leave.
"Mister Malfoy, have you finished then?"
He looks back at McGonagall and answers with a nod and exceptionally polite, "Thank you for your words, Headmistress," then leaves the hall.
As lunch begins to wind down, Hermione slips away just as Harry seems to make eyes at Luna. He thinks he's subtle, her ridiculous friend. It's obvious why Harry wouldn't have made it in Slytherin. She smiles at him and wishes him a nice Christmas on her way out.
Hermione begins wandering aimlessly, or so she tells herself. She hadn't realized she was seeking him out until she stumbles across Malfoy suddenly, making Hermione come to an awkward stop.
He sits in the back of a completely empty library. Even Madam Pince had someone to see for Christmas, it seems.
Approaching cautiously, Hermione is trying for an opening remark, something to spark conversation. Watching him leave the meal early, quiet and alone, had started her mind working to recall interactions with the wizard since the war. They are few and far between, she had realized. For the first month of term, she hadn't even known he was in the castle. They share no classes, he doesn't play for the House team, and Hermione eats at odd times of the day, often by stealing away to the kitchens for light fare.
He doesn't look up at her approach, though it's impossible he didn't hear her steps. The room is so deathly quiet, it's eerie. Hermione has never realized that even a library has a cacophony of noise: The turning of pages, soft mumbled words, footsteps, and books being slid from the shelf. Today, there is nothing.
"Hello," she says quietly, still unsure what more to say. She supposes she will just follow his lead. If he's nasty, she will just pretend she was passing through.
He's slow to look up, seeming to steel himself. She suspects he had known she was there all along. "Figured it out, then?" he asks with no malice. Hermione isn't sure what she is to have figured out, so she stalls in answering by asking another question.
"Do you mind if I sit?" She gestures to the empty chair beside him.
Malfoy shakes his head and even goes so far as to move his satchel off the space in front of the chair.
They sit in silence for a moment before he asks, head down, "How did you know it was me?"
Merlin, Hermione is terrible at this. A more devious sort could just work around the conversation until she figured out what he meant. She hates deception, but he just seems so open. If she admits to not knowing what he means, will he tell her? Or just stomp away?
She looks up, still trying to decide how to go forward, only to find him staring at the bracelet on her wrist. She's putting two and two together to make six, she knows, but could he have…
"Pretty, isn't it?" she asks quietly. Regardless that they are alone and no librarian is shushing them, it doesn't feel right to speak at full volume in a library.
"Is it? I suppose I never thought of it in regards to aesthetic."
That pretty much seals it. Malfoy sent the gift. He doesn't seem ready to say more, so Hermione assumes she will have to drag more interaction out of him.
"I thought so. It's not flashy, but it appeals to me. The age of it…" she prompts, digging for more.
Malfoy nods and simply says, "Quite."
She watches as he starts to go back to his book when he pauses and reaches for her sleeve. "May I?"
He wants to touch it? She thinks it strange since he gifted it, but she agrees and holds her arm closer for his inspection.
"You're wearing it on the wrong arm… and where's the pendant?"
Ignoring the comment about the wrong arm, she reaches into her pocket to find the silver piece. "Just here. I didn't have a chain for it-"
He snorts at her, the most animated, the most Malfoy-like she's seen since before the war. Without asking further permission, he snatches the pendant from her palm and reaches for her arm again. They both notice when she flinches.
"Sorry. A little jumpy these days," she says, and he looks almost irritated but also pained.
He doesn't comment, but instead removes the bracelet from her wrist and slots one of the carvings into the deep grooves Hermione had noticed before. When they slide together, she would swear there is a spark.
Malfoy hands it back to her and comments, "Left arm, or it's not doing as much good."
Confused, Hermione does as instructed. The moment the gold piece is clamped around her wrist, the letter-shaped scar closest to her hand, the crude and jagged 'd', seems to fade just slightly.
"It takes time," he says, looking apologetic. Does he imagine she is disappointed? Hermione's face must not be giving anything away, but in reality, she is awed.
"It will heal?" she asks in a whisper, tears welling in her eyes as she takes in the image of the partially healed part of her scar.
"Mostly. It might leave a faint line. More like how a scar should be instead of always looking fresh."
She'll take it. It's more than any healer ever promised.
The first tear becomes too heavy for her lashes to hold and drops from her eye onto her arm, splashing across the still-angry 'b'.
"Thank you." Such a common and ineffective phrase. You thank people for passing the sugar or holding your book. What can you possibly say to something like this?
But Malfoy doesn't seem to find it inadequate, cheeks coloring ever so faintly. "It's the least I can do," he mutters, and, to her disappointment, begins to gather his books and satchel.
He looks down at her and makes no move to retake his seat, so Hermione rises, wiping at her eyes with her sleeve. "The least you could do is nothing, Malfoy."
"Yes, nothing; that's pretty well what I did," he snipes, finding a little heat in his voice.
Ah, so it's a guilt gift. Hermione finds herself a bit put out. "At the Manor? You can't think I expected anything more from you…"
That was apparently the wrong thing to say because his face drains of color. "No, I suppose you wouldn't have," he bites back.
Ye Gods, he's sensitive. Hermione is making a mess of this, but he's not helping either. "Merlin, Malfoy, I just meant there was nothing you could have done."
"Whatever, Granger." He turns and starts for the door, and Hermione feels worse for him than when she came. What he's done for her is more than a bauble for apology. He's trying to fix what happened. Physically fix the devastation his actions helped set into motion.
She looks back down at her wrist and finds the 'd' a bit more faded, the 'o' beside it more pink than red. "Where did you get this?" she blurts out, suddenly entranced by the impressive magic at work. If it serves as a way to keep him talking, all the better.
His shoulders rise with a deep breath and subsequent sigh, but he turns around and takes a few steps back toward her. "It was in our vaults. Don't worry yourself, Granger, it cost me nothing. So if you were about to demand to pay it back or return it-"
Hermione listens to his petulant little speech, pouty and entitled as he is, but when he starts to suggest she was going to give it back, she cuts him off with what is probably a really ill-mannered bark of laughter. He frowns at her in turn.
"Return it? You'd have to pry it off me," she says through her trailed off laugh, grinning at him and shaking her head.
His posture relaxes and his mouth straightens from a frown to what almost seems to be a smile trying to take over.
"Honestly," she goes on, excitement building, "this is amazing spellwork. Once it does whatever it's doing, I can't wait to research it. How old are these runes? I've never seen anything quite like this. Is it goblin made? Must be, but typically their pieces have more finesse in the work… unless it's just truly that old that even goblin work was unrefined. Oh! I should speak with Professor Flitwick! It must have charms involved, right? Imbued in the metal? Or maybe not… maybe it's more inherent magic-"
She cut off when she hears a low chuckle, her vision refocusing on the room around her. She sees Malfoy with an expression of mirth, his lips quirked into that boyish grin he used to wear back in fourth year, before the world turned dark. At that time, he was still nothing more than a relatively harmless bully. Someone she thought might grow out of his cruelty someday. Someone she still had hope for.
"I'm glad you like it Granger." He pauses and considers. "So, how did you know it was me, anyway?"
With a grin of her own, Hermione shrugs. "I didn't. I just thought no one should be alone on Christmas so I came to find you."
His smile falters, and he looks struck by that. "You didn't know?"
"Not one clue," she confirms. "Harry thought someone was trying to kill me with the pendant. By the time the cuff arrived, he thought I had a secret admirer. Honestly, I was more distracted by the runes than the source."
"They aren't runes. It's Sumerian."
Her eyes blow large. "Sumerian?!" She is stone still for a moment, then suddenly scrambling to take it off, forgetting her earlier assertion he would need to pry it from her. She's so disappointed to give it back, but it's not right. The thing should be in a museum, not worn as a bit of vanity on one insignificant witch. "I can't… I can't accept this. I mean, thank you, of course. It's just… I could never-"
His hand lays over hers, lifting her fingers away from the cuff. "You can," he argues, simple but emphatic. Her gaze trapped by his own, she makes no move to remove his hand from hers.
"The least I can do, remember?"
Their voices have gone soft again. Standing alone together in a quiet room, the lights low here away from the stacks, Hermione feels like they are alone in the entire castle. "Maybe after it's healed, I could give it back?"
He shakes his head at her. "It's not just healing, it's protection. Silver and gold, Granger. Healing and protection. This piece isn't just fixing what happened, it will help make sure it can't happen again."
A thousand words dance over her tongue, arguments and denials, until she just lands on, "Thank you," once more, feeling as inadequate as it had the first time.
"You're welcome, Granger," he whispers, still holding her hand, thumb caressing over her knuckles.
"I wish I had a gift for you," she laments, and she means it more than she can say. Will he receive anything this year? Father in Azkaban, mother locked up in her own house, friends scattered to the four winds?
He starts to respond, no doubt to tell her a gift isn't necessary, when she makes an impulsive decision. She's made a lot of impulsive decisions in her life, so really, it's not exactly out of character…
Lifting up on her toes to close the distance, she lays her free hand at the back of his neck and pulls him to meet her. Hermione settles her lips gently against his cheek, lingering there, slightly parted. His skin is soft and warm, and she indulges just a moment in the physicality of being close, of a first with someone who has just revealed himself to be more than she'd thought.
The hand holding hers closes more tightly over her fingers as his other finds her cheek, turning her head gently so she loses contact with his skin. Has she offended him? She barely has time to wonder before he has joined them together again, this time his mouth slanted over hers.
Just as she's settled in to enjoying whatever this is meant to be, trying not to overthink and simply revel in the feeling of his mouth caressing and his hand tilting her jaw, he pulls away and lays his forehead against hers. "I'm sorry, Granger." She thinks to protest, sure he's apologizing for the kiss, when he continues, "I didn't know how to make her stop."
"You wanted to?" she asks, lost in those grey eyes she used to think of as cold. How did she miss the warmth? Who is this wizard? It's like she's meeting him for the first time. Her question is simple, but it holds so much hidden, layers of conversation stuffed between the cracks of the words.
"There are a lot of things I wanted to do that last couple of years, Hermione." His hand slips to her wrist, and he fingers the gold cuff. "I had this hidden away in sixth year, but I never gave it to you."
He shrugs, a gesture she only feels because her eyes are still locked within his. "Didn't think you'd take it."
With a soft press of her lips against his, she's agreeing that she probably wouldn't have, but maybe now things are different.
"Can I take you to Hogsmeade tomorrow?" he asks. "There are things I'd like to say. A story… I found this mirror, back in fifth year… I don't know how to explain it, but it made me see you differently. I'd like to know if maybe you could see me differently, too."
Looking down at their still-joined hands, then back to his open face, she nods in agreement and gives him a kind smile. "I think I already am."