The Slytherin common room was palatial in winter-time, with fires that roared up and over the immense black hearths to keep the cold's incursion limited to its frost fingers creeping across beveled window-panes. They spent most of the hols lounging about in their common room, by far the best in four houses, for why go without into the chill and dreary mass of stay-over studious Ravenclaws, dewy-eyed Hufflepuffs, and energetic snow-fighting Gryffindors when the benefits within were the greatest. For the house that preferred to reap the greatest results from the least amount of effort, a holiday spent indoors was one well-spent indeed.
The prospect of Harry Potter being the Heir of Slytherin was, to Draco's great annoyance, still a buzz topic in their common room. Some of the more open-minded second years were declaring that Potter should have been Slytherin from the start.
"Frankly," Draco drawled to his captive audience, "I am fatigued by these continued projections of Potter's success in our house. From the very day we met there was something terribly...well, I hate to say common about him, but there you have it. I don't think someone like Potter could follow in Slytherin's footsteps."
"He does speak Parseltongue," pointed out sharp-featured Blaise Zabini. "And some of the fifth-years who'd been near the front of the table hinted that Potter was mumbling something about Slytherin when the Sorting Hat was sorting him."
"Come on, d'you really think Saint Potter would be the heir, close as he is to that Mudblood friend of his?" Millicent Bulstrode sniggered, plunking herself into an overstuffed green chair.
"He's not the heir." Draco waved a hand dismissively. "If he were, then I'd want to help him any way I could...instead of wanting to feed his guts to the giant squid."
Most of the Slytherins in the impromptu circle accepted this circular logic without question. Crabbe and Goyle had dull looks on their faces; but then, they generally did. Blaise appeared thoughtful, while Millicent simply sat and looked out the window with a disagreeable look on her face.
"The heir to Slytherin would be a Slytherin himself," Draco said loftily, but even he was not too terribly assured with his own logic, merely the force of his convictions. Very little was known of the Chamber of Secrets aside from the allegation that Salazar Slytherin had built it himself and, according to Draco's father, it had been opened fifty years before.
Pansy Parkinson tipped herself into a chair nearby, giving Draco an expectant look. "So? What are we going to do about it?"
Draco shrugged. He had stayed at Hogwarts over the Christmas hols on the sole expectation of another attack...if it happened, then naturally he didn't want to be the last in the know. Then, too, there was the prospect of remaining in the bosom of his house, no matter how occasionally disagreeable, rather than returning to the echoing-empty halls of Malfoy Manor and awaiting the day he could dutifully rip open ten to fifteen expensive, tastefully-wrapped, really quite unwanted presents.
Such largesse, it made him want to sneer. Surely there were dozens in his house who would kill for any one of his presents; look at the way Flint and his teammates had handled their new Nimbus 2001s with surprised awe in their eyes.
"Why don't you tip over the dining hall Christmas tree onto Potter's table in the Gryffindor section?" a prefect suggested, laughing as he passed their couches smelling of snow and the outdoors. A few lingering crystal flakes clung to his green-and-silver scarf.
Draco watched them melt on the tile. "Not bad..." he said thoughtfully. "Crabbe! Goyle!"
"Eh? We gonna go bake, then?" Goyle roused from his half-doze closest to the fire.
"No, idiot," Draco said impatiently, though he knew he oughtn't expect Goyle to follow his train of thought. Ha, ha.
"Ooh, are we really going to do it?" Pansy squealed.
Millicent straightened up in her poufy chair. "Dun' think he was serious, do you?"
"Well, did you want to go out of doors and make silly snow-wizards instead?" Draco offered, standing and groping for his wand. The prefect's remark was taking hold as a truly fine suggestion for a miserable winter afternoon. He could already picture Potter and his friends wishing each other a happy Christmas and sharing spoils between them; it made him want to do something to smash up that cracking good fun.
"I'm in!" Pansy announced eagerly, casting a spiteful look at Millicent, who narrowed her eyes in response. "We gonna go bring the tree down, then?"
"I think so," Draco said, thoughtful. They would have to be terribly clever about it, to keep from getting caught... "Blaise, you with us?"
"I shouldn't think you would escape scot-free if I were to withhold my genius," Blaise drawled, but his conceit was justifiable. They had only effected their various pranks since the first year with his intelligence on their side, and had to show for it a mere detention here and there compared to Potter's string of punishments.
"Right, then," Draco said with a nod. Crabbe and Goyle were lumbering to their feet, the thought finally percolating that action might be required of them.
"Draco, we gonna go nick some goodies from the house-elves?" Crabbe said hopefully.
"No, we are not!" Draco snapped, exasperated. They never listened, did they; between the two of them they couldn't follow half a conversation. Then he reconsidered. "Well, perhaps afterward."
The cluster of second-years moved for the hall that would take them out of Slytherin's tower. An ickle first-year was just coming through the portrait, flushed and tousled and plastered with snow.
"What's this, then?" he demanded, grinning. "What are you up to? Can I come along, then?"
"No, Arthur!" the second-years chorused.
"Honestly, how some people get into Slytherin..." Blaise said, just barely at the edge of earshot.
It was nearly time for the Christmas feast at Hogwarts. The house-elves had been laboring all day, one was sure, on the trimmings and trappings of the great spread that Dumbledore would port into place with a wave of his wand. The tree in question had stood since before the inception of the holiday, grand and towering almost to the very limits of the enchanted ceiling, laden and sparkling with superb ornamentation, colors of all four houses represented on some quarter of the great fir.
"Remember, the gig's off if we can't topple the tree onto Potter," Draco whispered tersely.
"Hold off a moment, Potter?" Pansy snorted, bringing them to a halt. "What if we have to *wait* for a long time?
"It gives us more time to plan then, doesn't it?" Blaise replied, squinting at the immense tree. He looked at Draco. "We're not aiming to hurt anyone, are we? We'd get caught for sure, and..."
Draco shook his head at once. He knew how Blaise operated. No matter how nasty, his pranks weren't generally injurious. He was a cautious one. Too, the thought of sending someone to the hospital wing for Christmas didn't sit particularly well with Draco, either.
He looked up at the Christmas tree while Blaise did his assessments. Malfoy Manor had three trees every year; one for the outdoors, to impress those without, another for the ballroom within, to impress guests and visitors, and a third in their so-called family room, the smallest trimmed with family ornaments. Draco had always thought the smallest tree was theirs and theirs alone, until he grew old enough to recognize that one was for appearances as well.
This grand Hogwarts evergreen was for appearances of another sort, he supposed. He turned his head and noticed Pansy giving him a peculiar glance; she averted her eyes hastily once she saw him looking.
"Right, then," Blaise announced, hands on his hips. They were still the sole occupants of the cavernous hall, but for some Hufflepuffs near the end of their table who hadn't noticed the Slytherins. "Wish we had an Invisibility Cloak. The less magic we use, the easier 'tis to get away with it."
"Oh?" Draco raised a brow.
"We'll have to push it over, then make a quick escape," Blaise said.
Draco was almost disappointed by the simplicity of it.
They secreted themselves behind the tree itself. They could cast an Innocuous Charm on themselves, Blaise whispered, and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchens if anyone did indeed spot them in the chaos of the crashing tree. That way if anyone caught them, they could claim they were stealing in to nick a load of goodies from the house-elves...by far a less serious offence.
"So who will take the blame for the falling tree?" Draco asked pointedly.
Blaise shrugged. "Trees fall," he replied.
"Yeah, they get unbalanced and whatnot!" Pansy agreed. "Our tree's fallen before if someone as much as looked at it wrong."
"And this is a very...big...tree," Blaise emphasized each word with a flick of his wand before stowing it away. He eyed Crabbe and Goyle. "I think either of them should be able to tip it quite nicely without our help."
"Then what're we doing here?" Millicent grumbled.
"Supervision," Draco said darkly. "And the rest of you are here for company, I suppose."
Blaise looked disgruntled. "You'd've used magic if not for me," he said. "And gotten yourself caught, I suppose."
They waited. Goyle muttered something about baking again, and Draco in a fit of distraction agreed to a round of baking after the tree-tipping was done. Pansy then suggested making snow-wizards after all, but one had to draw the line somewhere, did one not?
Potter and his friends entered the dining hall at length, bright-eyed and wrapped in their woolens and positively reeking of good cheer and many happy returns. They were decked out in a great deal of snow that melted behind them as they advanced into the hall, toting books and scrolls.
"This is it!" Blaise whispered tensely beside him.
Crabbe turned to look. "This's it?" he repeated dully, and began to lean, visions of baked goods dancing clear in his head.
"No, you idiot, not yet!" Draco said frantically, but it was too late.
Blaise drew his wand with speed a quick-draw might have envied. "Tutti innocuo!" he cried, casting the charm on their group of Slytherins.
The tree was falling, and the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs alike were transfixed. This was the Slytherins' cue to sneak around the fringes and make for the carefully-concealed house elf door.
The Mudblood Grainger had her wand out and pointed even faster than Blaise. "Albero diritto!"
Potter was in the process of bowling over all three of them out of the path of the crashing tree, and thus nearly caused Grainger's spell to misfire. It took, however, and returned the tree to its upright glory.
"Quick thinking, Hermione!" Potter complimented the Mudblood, tangled on the floor with the other two.
"Geroff me!" Weasley said, but he was grinning as well. "Yeah, that was brilliant, Hermione!"
The Mudblood turned pink.
Draco crowded through the elf-door last, scowling. Somehow he felt he'd missed something.
"Help you, sir?" a house-elf was timidly asking of Blaise. A half-dozen behind it looked up from various stages of food preparation.
"Never mind the baking," Goyle grunted, "we'll stay here, thanks."
"We could bake here!" Crabbe said in an unusual feat of logic.
"This way, sir..."
Draco became aware of Pansy looking at him oddly once more. "What is it?" he demanded.
"Nothing!" Pansy said, hurriedly looking elsewhere once more. "We gonna go bake after all?"
Draco shrugged and followed. "Beats making snow-wizards or going caroling." He passed a tray and snagged himself a cup of pumpkin juice. Be merry, and all that. Somehow the deed was missing the normal amount of devilish glee he'd feel in successfully pulling a prank.
So he joined the others, steeling himself for a round or two of baking. He laughed when he discovered Goyle already had flour on his nose. The house-elves supplied them lavishly with all of the ingredients and cookie-cutters they could possibly think to need. And the afternoon passed more pleasurably than he might have thought. After a while he no longer even thought of the cheery look of Potter and his friends.
And a merry time was had by all.