"What in my name are these imbecilic decorations?"
Cheap trinkets hung from the ceiling. Golden globes with a nuclear amount of glitter, red and white scythes that were far too blunt to qualify as weapons, and cardboard cutouts of reindeers, snowflakes, and what seem to be little garden gnomes. An awful waft filled the air which the Housemaster recognised as some rotten mixture of gingerbread (he hated sweet), peppermint (he hated fresh), and chestnut (this one was fine).
Red, red, and red all around. Given, the House was red by default thanks to its sanguine banners and crimson carpeting, not to mention the overflowing rivers of blood that circled its perimeter and its ever-scorching pedestals of flame.
This red however was an edge more festive, punctuated with splotches of extremely unwelcome green. Green shrubs, green wreaths, green garlands, green...
"What. In Tartarus. Is that."
"I-It's a tree, your Highness," said a sheepish ghost, cradling a basket of skull-shaped cookies.
"I know it's a tree you fool!" his voice was a ravaging earthquake (as he said this, the fire in the kitchen rose to a disastrous intensity, much to dismay of the in-house pizza chef).
"Why does it look like that? How did you even get it in here?"
"Oh come now, dear. Mother was kind enough to send one down from the surface, and I did all the decorating myself! Isn't it wonderful?"
He had to admit, the tree was magnificent. Imposing and fortress-like, its dark shaft was coiled by perpetual layers of leaves, branches, and vines. Ornamental onyxes and glistening garnets dotted its flayed edges. Once again, there was an assortment of flimsy cutouts. At least it was more on brand here than whatever blasphemy was taking place on the ceiling - skulls, keys, crows, and of course, pomegranates.
A light-up figure of a three-headed dog sat atop the tree, again in a shimmering, almost blistering vermillion.
"Persephone, what is all this?"
"Why, it's Christmas you dummy! Don't tell me you forgot."
"Why do we celebrate Christmas again? We don't even believe in Jesus Christ."
"Honey, you've met him. He was here for three days."
"I don't remember every soul to have entered the Underworld," he scoffed, "not to mention if it happened over two-thousand years ago."
"Well maybe you should remember him cause he was one of the few to actually escape."
What was done to the House was nothing short of a Greek tragedy. Obnoxiously dazzling, utterly maximalist, and an affront to what was left of his senses. It reminded him too much of his conceited brethren on Olympus with their pestilent rays of sunshine and overflowing cornucopias of wasted fruit.
This alerted him to a grim realisation.
"Don't tell me-"
"Exactly as you think hon," she beamed like a pom blossom. "All invitations received and seating arrangements done. Charon's ferry booked and scheduled for tomorrow morning."
Hades wanted to scream. He chose not to because (1) it would reflect poorly on his status as Housemaster, (2) he did not wish to accidentally slaughter an entire village of mortals, and (3) he vowed to never raise his voice in the presence of his beloved. Instead, he settled for clenching his fists in quiet wrath. The magma of Asphodel Meadows boiled viciously in response.
"Persephone, I love you, but these halls are my domain as God of the Dead. To host an event like this Christmas," Hades hissed the word as if it were a curse, "would be sorely unbecoming of my station. Don't you think you should have at least brought this ordeal to my attention before going through with it?"
"You did approve it. It says so right here, on the 17th of December in the mortal year of 2022 - when I asked whether we should do this year's Christmas at the Erebus Hall and you answered and I quote-" Persephone put on the deepest, scrappiest voice she could muster. "Whatever. Do as you will. I have more important matters to attend to."
"And who exactly is keeping track of these conversations?"
"Damned Fates." the king heaved, knowing even he could not alter or even question the recordkeeping of the decisively irritable trio.
As the goddess of spring, Persephone was a force of nature when it came to making a place lively (much to Hades' dismay, the House of the Dead should be anything but lively). Through meticulous magics and the hardworking ghostservants of the House, the regal corridors had been transformed into a winter wonderland - complete with snowmen, igloos, and heaps of boxed gifts. By the entrance, a harbourfront carved out from the River Styx, sat a makeshift chariot manned by none other than Achilles of Phthia. Instead of his halberd-shaped helmet and the legendary Pelian spear, he donned a soft red cap and a hot chocolate machine. An outrageously unbecoming view for the hero of the Greeks.
"What even is Christmas about," Hades growled in an attempt to redirect his attention, "seems like a ploy made by Hermes to drum up additional commerce."
"It's more than that hon. It's the season of gift-giving and singing and gratitude, where we all get together as a family under the Christmas tree and have a positively wonderful feast."
"From what I hear, these decorations are just to make up for the lack of festive spirit."
"You're such a killjoy." the Queen pouted. Not disappointingly though, but teasingly, like poking three-headed dog with a meat-flavoured stick.
Hades was a black hole of festivity, but he knew that Persephone's brightness and vigour could easily make up for that void. It was why he was first drawn to her - watching her carefree twirl in Demeter's shrouded gardens, her sundress a magical flourish, her braid unravelling like a whispered secret. Even after she had moved into the Underworld, donning robes and crossbones as stygian as the night, she never lost even a glimmer of her luminosity, the reflective sheen of her emerald eyes.
"None of those are elements of the Underworld, my dear. They are more suited to the drunkard Dionysus or even Hestia and the hearth. Is there no alternative location say, the Fields of Elysium, for a celebration like this? Or even a mortal temple - hell, even a corporate conference room. You know we have contacts in the Bank of Greece who would be happy to help."
Gentle as a butterfly, Persephone laid a hand on her betrothed. Skin against skin. Pleasant cool against punishing heat.
Pomegranates, Hades thought to himself, as he felt her elegant fingers on the creases of his shoulders.
"I acknowledge your frustration my love. I should have kept you more involved in the process, instead of springing it up like this. For that, I apologise," Persephone treaded in a voice so soft it might shatter. "However, the pact has been signed, promises made and finalised, and the prophecy of the Fates to be fulfilled. The celebration must go on, despite wind and storm and disagreement, for the honour and reputation of the House of the Dead."
Hades shuts his eyes. He sees sigils, the aura of the deceased - a curse he shared with his contractor Thanatos in his capacity as minor god of death. With these sigils, he could see the broad outline of impending demise in whatever he looked at, a proverbial clock that sat above the bodies of the living, ticking down to when they would die - when the Grim Reaper (Thanatos' nickname in the mortal realm) would come and harvest their souls for the Underworld.
The servants of the House did not have clocks of fate. They were already dead, after all. He could only make out the faint, ember-like residuals of their lifeforce, just enough to disturb him as he slept. The souls of men possessed some variation of blue (green, in the case of denizens like Perseus and Theseus) while the Chthonic gods boasted a ballistic, electrical crimson (like the aforementioned Thanatos, his lazy brother Hypnos, and the rebellious bastard Zagreus).
Persephone was white. White like the first blanket of snow. White like a freshly opened notebook. White like the wool of a newly matured lamb, yet to encounter the injustices of the world. Pure and full of energy. She was not like anything he had ever seen.
"Your aura, my Lord." once said Thanatos during his irregular visits to the House (naturally, his job required frequent visits to the land of the living), "it's not as red as I remember it to be."
"What do you mean? Speak."
Thanatos opened his eyes, gleaming orbs of yellow that unsettled even the god of the dead.
"There are twinges, I would call it, of gold and white and yellow. A mere flicker of it, like freckles on a face, as mortals would have it."
"Are you saying I'm becoming more like the filthy Olympians?"
"No," the mercenary retorted with a confident sharpness, "you are becoming more like the Queen."
Hades sat back down, judging the harbinger of death's quizzical gaze.
"And the Queen of course, she's becoming more like you."
The observation worried Hades. He knew what he was. He did not want to be a bad influence.
Persephone was his most prized possession - no, the opposite. Persephone was, is, and will always be, the only living soul who could match his impossible temperament. The only soul as equally hard-headed and persistent in getting what she wants. But despite all of that, he trusts that she will consistently and undyingly, keep his best interests at heart.
He loves her and she loves him. That's all there is to it - as written in stone, blood, and promise.
The Underworld may not be as boundless as the sky nor as expansive as the sea, but in its extrapolative caverns and numerous circles of suffering - it is a snug, humble adobe. It has its fair share of problems and a major infestation issue (the Nekromanteion was in desperate need of pest-proofing, through both mortal and divine means), but it is home. And for the esteemed God of the Dead - home is where Persephone is.
A shift. An ignition. Despite his tidy coldness or perhaps because of it, Hades was extremely perceptive to any changes in Persephone's mood.
"Though hon, wouldn't it be so, so lovely to see your brothers bow?" she began in a voice as sultry as honey. "To provide presents at your feet? To thank you and strive for your attention?"
Something tugged at the corners of Hades' blackened heart, a pull as subtle and delicate as the Fates' thread (perhaps this too was their doing - accursed three, dictating destiny at a whim).
"Think about it. Zeus and Poseidon, in all their shining glory, dressed like the most godawful Westfield Santas imaginable, making an absolute clownery of themselves-"
Persephone's expression melted from apologetic damsel to goddess of the Hunt.
"-with every soul in the Underworld, from mortals to heroes to our favourite locked box of Titan bones, to watch in amazement?"
And that was enough inspiration for the King of the Underworld. He was not one for silliness nor entertainment, but for his egocentric kin on Olympus, he would be pleased to make an exception.
"Cerberus! You and Achilles will be the first point of contact. Guard the entrance and ensure visitors are very, very welcome."
"Megaera, gather your sisters. If we're going to put on a show for the dead, we'll need extra security for the perimeter. Let Sisyphus know, too. I think he would much appreciate this one."
"And Hecate, I expect only the finest dishes from you. Feel free to use the ambrosia and nectar we have stocked in the Pandora."
As Hades went on with his booming commands, Persephone couldn't help but smile.
"What is it." Stern and intolerant. More like a statement than a question.
An adamant and efficient leader - exactly what drew Persephone to him in the first place.
This scene - Persephone etched it into her memory. Despite the uncharacteristic merriness and wintry cheer of his surroundings, Hades was still as resolute and dictatorial as always. With his newfound passion for festivities and the guarantee given to her by the Fates, she had full confidence that tomorrow's Christmas party would be a positively Babylonian fete.