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'Twas The Day Before Christmas by apAidan

Format: Short story
Chapters: 10
Word Count: 36,844

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Fluff, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Arthur, Molly, George, Ginny, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Harry/Hermione, Arthur/Molly, Ron/Hermione, Other Pairing

First Published: 12/25/2008
Last Chapter: 01/23/2009
Last Updated: 01/23/2009

It's the day before Christmas, and Hermione's awakened by an unwelcome visitor, and the realization that her life is in need of some serious changes before she's going to find exactly what Father Christmas has in store for her this year.

4000+ reads. Thanks to everyone who's enjoyed this story so far.

Chapter 1: Chapter One - Hermione and the Morning Visitor
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0630, 24 December


The echo of a clanging sound resounded through the air as Hermione opened one eye and blearily peered at her alarm clock. Six thirty in the morning on Christmas Eve Day and she was awakened by either Death Eaters rampaging through her cookware or the soon to be deceased Ronald Weasley rampaging through her cookware. Propping herself up on one arm, she glanced over at Crookshanks who was glaring at her bedroom door.

Crookshanks’ annoyed indifference decided the issue it had to be Ronald. She slid out from under the covers and placed her feet on the floor silently summoning her dressing gown and her wand to her. Standing up, she shrugged into the gown, used the wand to cause her hair to attain a semblance of order and padded quietly over to the bedroom door.

Placing her hand on the doorknob, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Counting slowly to twelve in Mermish, she opened her eyes and listened. Another crash, this time sounding distinctly like one of her copper saucepans bouncing off the floor, convinced her that she wasn’t having a hallucination. Shaking her head, she quietly opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.

Yawning all the way down the steps to the main floor, she ambled into the kitchen and watched from the doorway as Ron was rooting through her cupboards. Waiting until he had nothing in his hands, she silently cast a full body bind on him and shook her head sadly as he crashed backwards to the floor.

Walking over to where he was lying by the central island in the kitchen, she stuck her wand behind her ear, picked up a large carving knife from the counter and smiled down at Ron.

“Good morning Ronald. Since it’s just six thirty in the morning on Christmas Eve day, I think I’m only going to remove one of your ears, unless you have an extremely good reason for waking me up while you’re pillaging my kitchen.” Smiling sweetly, Hermione gazed at her boyfriend for several seconds before silently releasing him from her hex.

Shaking his head, Ron pulled himself up on his elbows and glared at her. “What in Merlin’s name did you go and hex me for?”

Shaking her head, Hermione scowled and walked over to the counter where her coffee machine sat. Gently flicking the switch with her finger to take it from timer mode to on, Hermione summoned a stool from the island over to her and hopped up on it to await her morning caffeine. “Ronald, what part of it being six thirty in the morning on Christmas Eve day did you miss?”

Looking at her warily, Ron smiled. “Is that what time it is? Sorry, I didn’t realize that Mum had flooed quite this early.” Standing up, he nodded at the carving knife, which was still in her hand and pointed at him. “Would you mind putting that bloody thing away before someone gets hurt?”

Nodding sleepily, she smiled. “Don’t worry, someone isn’t going to get hurt, just you if you don’t have an excellent reason for waking me up. Exactly what did Molly wake you up before sunrise for?” Shaking her head, she glared at the coffee maker, which was taking much too long to finish the pot. Summoning a mug to her, she magically transferred half a cup from the pot to the mug without interrupting the process. Taking a large drink, she smiled.

Shaking his head, Ron walked over to the icebox and opened it, rummaging around until he pulled a container of juice out. “I still can’t see how you and Harry can drink that stuff, even in the morning.” Starting to take a drink from the container, Hermione’s glare stopped him and he smiled sheepishly as he turned to look for a glass.

Shrugging, she smiled as she could feel the caffeine begin to work its magic. “That’s because you a barbarian and a clod. You still haven’t told me why Molly woke you up before sunrise or why you decided to pass that punishment onto me.”

Looking at her, with a hopeful glint in his eye, Ron smiled. “Breakfast?” Seeing her glare and the carving knife’s aim drop a bit south of his belt buckle, he amended. “I meant we could go out and have a nice bit of breakfast someplace while I tell you what’s got Mum so upset this morning.”

Shaking her head, Hermione took another long pull from her coffee, set the mug on the counter and magically replenished it. “Ronald, tell me what the problem is, now. We’re not having breakfast,” shaking her head at the hopeful look in his eye, “or anything else until you tell me what was so earth shatteringly important that Molly would wake you up before six for and you’d come over here to not tell me.”

Looking warily at the carving knife in her hand, Ron smiled nervously. “Hermione, if you’ll put that bloody hanger up, I’ll tell you everything I know.” Waiting until she levitated the knife back to its appointed place on the counter, he swallowed as it slid back into its normal spot. “Mum flooed me early this morning, or late last night I suppose depending upon how you’re looking at it, to see if I’d heard from Harry.”

Shaking her head, Hermione held up her hand to stop him as she picked up her mug. “That makes absolutely no sense. Why on earth would Harry be talking to you in the middle of the night if something wasn’t wrong at the Ministry?” Comprehension dawning in her eyes, Hermione put her mug carefully on the counter and glared. “She did it, again, didn’t she?”

“Now Hermione, you don’t know she did anything.” Looking nervous, Ron glanced warily at her wand tucked behind her ear in a Lunaesque manner. “Why would you jump to that conclusion?”

Jumping down from her stool, Hermione began pacing around the kitchen. “Just marvelous, you sister starts another argument with Harry less than two days before Christmas and now we’re going to have to suffer through the two of them not talking to each other tonight and tomorrow.”

Raising his voice, Ron shook his head, “Why do you assume Ginny started a fight with Harry? Couldn’t it be that Harry started something with her?”

Stopping in mid-stride, Hermione whirled and looked at Ron with disbelief on her face. “Ronald, they’ve either majorly rowed or broken up twenty-four times in the last three years. In all twenty-four instances, Ginny’s been the one to instigate the fight. Simple arithmetic would justify me concluding that Ginny was the culprit this time.”

Looking sheepish, Ron sighed. “All right, Gin’s twenty-five for twenty-five, but you could at least pretend to consider the fact that it might have been Harry who started it since she is my sister.”

Scowling, Hermione threw her hands up in exasperation. “Which was it this time? Harry spent five minutes innocently talking to some random witch? Harry couldn’t come to one of her quidditch matches in Outer East Elbow because he was too busy being an auror? Harry didn’t have time to go to every team party the Harpies have thrown so he’s not being supportive? Or was it my personal favorite, Harry doesn’t try to make the relationship work because he’s too withdrawn and closed off?”

Turning red, Ron shook his head. “It’s not always like that; she’s had other, legitimate reasons for her rows with Harry.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione crossed the distance between them and put her hand on his arm. “Ronald, I know she’s your little sister. Believe me, I care about her too.” Shaking her head at the hopeful look on his face, she continued. “But every time this happens, she ends up here to talk to me and it’s always one of those four excuses, or a close variant.”

Looking away, Ron mumbled something. Shaking her head, Hermione smiled. “Ron, I didn’t quite catch that.”

Turning to look at her, he begrudgingly answered. “It was a combination of one and four.”

Shaking her head, Hermione resumed her pacing around the kitchen. “That still doesn’t explain why Molly woke you up at the unholy hour or you were here rummaging through my cookware.” Stopping again, she swung around and stared at Ron.

“You were going to cook breakfast, weren’t you?”

Blushing, Ron lowered his eyes. “Well, yes. I thought it might be a nice thing to do.”

Shaking her head, Hermione glared at him. “Ronald Bilius Weasley. The only time you ever contemplate cooking for me is when you have something dreadful to tell me and you try to catch me off guard.” Narrowing her eyes, she stared at him for a second. “Out with it.”

Looking at her warily, he shrugged. “Beg pardon?”

Shaking her head, she sighed. “Ron, I’m not an idiot. Harry and Ginny having another row or breaking up yet again isn’t reason for you to even contemplate cooking. There’s something more to this that Molly felt compelled to tell you in the middle of the night. Now start talking.”

Looking downcast, Ron sighed. “Gin showed up at the Burrow in a panic just after two this morning.” Seeing the look on Hermione’s face harden, he swallowed. “She’d just come from Grimmauld Place, from breaking up with Harry. From what Mum would tell me, it went badly, worse than usual. She screamed at him and slammed the door. When she turned to go back in to try to leave on a civil note, the door wouldn’t respond to her.”

Shaking her head, Hermione looked at Ron in disbelief. “This is about Harry locking your sister out of his house?”

Sighing, Ron slumped his shoulders. “Harry sealed the house. Kreacher appeared and told Ginny that her belongings, all of her belongings, had been transferred to her apartment in Holyhead, they were in a holding trunk in the front room.” Ron closed his eyes. “Gin said that Kreacher looked worried and asked her to go find you before it was too late.”

“What?” Hermione stared at Ron in disbelief. Her wand appeared in her hand and her clothes changed from a dressing gown to a jumper and jeans in the blink of an eye. “Kreacher told your idiot sister almost five hours ago to get me and this is the first I’m hearing of it?”

“Gin’s not an idiot. She’d just broken up with Harry and the last thing she wanted to think about was facing you in the middle of the night.” Jumping down from the counter, Ron began pacing himself. “I know this looks bad, and she might have gone a bit over the top when she broke up with him, but you can’t put all the blame on her.”

Growling in frustration, Hermione pointed her wand at him. “Good point, because the last several hours of blame fall squarely on you. Why didn’t you come wake me when Molly told you there was a problem?” Walking over, she grabbed onto his arm and twisted. Colours shifted and the familiar being squeezed through a tube sensation overwhelmed Ron as they left Hermione’s kitchen behind.

Predawn London was bitter cold as Hermione and Ron appeared outside Twelve Grimmauld Place. Having left his coat behind at Hermione’s flat, Ron pulled his arm loose and immediately began shivering. Hermione glared at him and turned to concentrate on the house before them. All of the windows were shuttered, and for the first time she could remember since before the end of the war, the house seemed cold and distant. Closing her eyes, she stretched out her hand and felt for the currents of magic that surrounded the structure.

Shaking his head, Ron waited until she opened her eyes and glared at him again before speaking. “You could have given me five seconds notice so I could have grabbed my coat.”

As she turned abruptly to face him, Ron shrank back from the look of utter contempt in her eyes. “Will you grow up?” Casting a silent heating charm on him, she growled in frustration. “Tell me everything that happened. Now.”

Shaking his head, Ron looked around to see if anyone was out and about. Satisfied they were alone, he sighed. “Ginny was furious about the amount of time Harry had been spending with someone, and the fact that three years after the War, he still hasn’t really opened up to her about things. She tried to push the issue, and lost her temper when Harry told her he didn’t need to talk to her about what happened during the War.” Shaking his head, Ron missed the horrified look on Hermione’s face.

“You know how she is when she’s mad, she attacks first and thinks later. She told him that his muggle relatives had screwed him up so badly that he’d never be able to relate to anyone, so he might as well rot in this house by himself.”

Turning an ashen gray, Hermione shook her head. “Ron, you can’t be serious. I don’t care how mad she was, you mean she actually said that to him?” Pacing back and forth, Hermione began to glance up at the house in disbelief.

Nodding sadly, Ron shuffled his feet in the snow. “When Mum flooed me after three, I came straight here and tried to get in.” Holding up his hand, Hermione could see faint scorch marks on it. “The house knocked me on my arse about ten feet back from the steps with some sort of charge.” Looking at her, he nodded. “He’s sealed the house and I don’t think there’s any way in, short of getting a team of aurors and breach one of the walls.”

Closing her eyes, Hermione thought for a second. Colour began to return to her face as she calmed herself. Opening her eyes, she stared at Ron for several seconds before speaking.

“Ron, whose side are you on in this?”

Lowering his eyes from hers, he began to blush slightly. “I was hoping we could be the neutral party in this one. You know, talk to both sides, and get some sort of compromise going.”

Shaking her head, Hermione stared at him as if she’d never seen him before. “Ron, Harry’s your best mate. We’ve gone through hell together.”

Looking back up, Ron nodded, “And she’s my little sister.”

Staring at him for several seconds longer, Hermione nodded. “Fine.”

Looking hopeful, Ron smiled. “We’re neutral then?”

Closing her eyes, Hermione shook her head. “You go play Switzerland at the Burrow if that’s what you have to do. Find your sister and sit on her. Don’t let her out of your sight, even if she needs to go to the loo. If I send my patronus saying I need her here, then you drag her arse here, even if you have to use an unforgivable to do it. If I send a message telling you I need anything to try to make this right, get it here as fast as you can manage.” Opening her eyes, there was a feral gleam in them that made Ron shiver. “Go home, Ronald. I’ll handle this.”

Turning abruptly, she strode up the steps and placed her hand on the door. Ignoring Ron’s shouted warning, she allowed a few seconds for the magic of the house to recognize her and then she opened the door. Stepping into the entrance, she paused as Ron called her name. Turning, she stared at him with a look of disdain and repeated, “Go home,” before she stepped inside and closed the door.

Chapter 2: Chapter Two - Decked in the Hall
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As the door closed, Hermione stood still for several moments to allow her eyes to adjust to the gloom inside the house. None of the lights were lit; the normal charms that should have activated when someone entered the house weren’t functioning, suppressed by the will of the Master of the House. Shivering slightly at the chill inside the house, Hermione shook her head and began to look around. Seeing a diminutive figure sitting on the stairs, she quietly walked over to where she could see him, deftly avoiding the troll’s foot umbrella stand.

“Morning Kreacher. Sorry it took me so long to get here.”

Looking up, Kreacher sighed. “I didn’t think she’d tell you right away. I was certain of it when Master Ron tried to enter the house a couple of hours later.” Standing, the old house elf drew himself up to his full height. “May I welcome you back to Grimmauld Place, Mistress Hermione? Master Harry is…indisposed at the moment.”

Looking worried, Hermione nodded. “How bad?”

Shaking his head, Kreacher looked lost. “Worse than I’ve ever seen, even worse than after the death of Master Sirius.”

Hermione was shocked; Kreacher never mentioned Sirius’s death because of his role in what happened that night at the Ministry. “Kreacher, where is he?”

Nodding up the stairs, Kreacher shrugged. “The Blue Room”

Nodding, Hermione thought for a second. Looking up at the elf, she smiled. “We’ll make this right. Why didn’t you come get me, yourself?”

“Master Harry forbad it. I was stretching my instructions to the limit to give Miss Ginevra a message for you. Your instructions that I was to try to keep things civil between them when they quarreled allowed me to bend his instructions that much, since talking to you would be a civilized thing to do.”

Looking a bit confused, Hermione thought for a second. Looking up, she nodded. “Kreacher, the next time Harry does anything this extreme, or if he’s in a mood that worries you, you’re to get word to me at the first available opportunity regardless of his expressed wishes, unless he specifically countermands this order. Understand?”

Nodding and smiling, Kreacher bowed to her. “It will be as you instruct, Mistress. Kreacher will inform you whenever Master Harry is troubled.”

Placing her hand on the elf’s shoulder, Hermione smiled. “You’re a good friend to both of us.” Nodding at the emotions she could see in the aged elf’s eyes, she looked down the hallway towards the rest of the house. “The entire house?”

Nodding, Kreacher looked around with distaste. “He sealed the house, turned out the lights and fires, and shrouded the entire place in shadow with one wave of his hand.”

Sighing, Hermione closed her eyes and concentrated. The gloom in the entranceway lifted a bit, and a glimmer of light appeared in both of the magical lanterns that marked doorways further down the hall. Opening her eyes, she released the breath she had been holding. “I hope I don’t have to fight him every step of the way.”

Looking at Kreacher, she nodded. “Kreacher, what happened last evening?”

Looking disgusted, Kreacher shook his head. “She arrived late yesterday evening after dinner. Master Harry had arranged for Master Teddy to spend a couple of days staying with Mistress Andi so the two of them could spend time together during the holidays.” Shrugging, Kreacher looked at Hermione before continuing.

“Things were the usual until she found the box of memories and the small pensieve in the Library.” Watching Hermione, Kreacher nodded at the expression on her face.

Shaking her head, Hermione sighed. “Totally my fault, I should have put all that away. What in Merlin’s name was she doing in the library?”

Scowling, Kreacher turned his head for a second. Hermione chuckled at the impression that if he had been human, he would have spit. As it was, he kept looking away from her as he answered. “She had dragged Master Harry down the see the Blue Room, she was determined to redecorate it and turn it into an office for her use when she was here. He wouldn’t hear of it, as usual. That’s when she noticed the library door was ajar and went in to see what had been going on in there.”

Nodding, Hermione waited for the elf to turn back to her. “And that’s when she found my journal and the memories that Harry and I had been working from?”

Nodding, Kreacher grimaced. “She was a bit distressed that she couldn’t open any of the vials or read the journal.”

Snorting, Hermione shook her head slowly. “I can imagine that you’ve just put yourself in the running for the ‘Understatement of the Year’ award.

Nodding, Kreacher sighed. “But she could read the handwritten notes Master Harry had about what he wanted to go over. When she saw the notes over things that happened to the two of you, Miss Ginevra started screaming and throwing things. Master Harry moved everything you two were working on into the Blue Room and sealed the door.’

Shaking her head, Hermione imagined Ginny’s reaction to that. “That’s when things got ugly.”

Nodding, Kreacher looked away again. “Very ugly. Miss Ginevra never thinks when she’s angry; she’s more like a troll than a witch, really. She was accusing Master Harry of all kinds of things when he told her that he wasn’t ready to talk to her about the War, but he would talk to her about those things when the two of you had sorted them out.”

Shaking her head, Hermione grimaced. “Well, that certainly added paraffin to the fire, didn’t it?”

Nodding, Kreacher finally looked back at her. “That’s when she told him she was through with him, that the two of them were through. She said that his muggle relatives had damaged him so badly that he’d never be able to love her or any other witch and he might was well ‘rot in this mausoleum with the memory of your Godfather and wait for some muggle slag to rescue you’.”

While slowly counting to twenty in gobbledegook, Hermione deliberately placed her wand behind her ear in order to avoid the temptation to hex something, anything, in lieu of hexing the absent Ginevra Molly Weasley.

Shaking her head, Hermione blinked a few tears out of her eyes as she imagined Harry going though that confrontation with Ginny. “What did he do?”

Kreacher shrugged. “He watched her storm out the door, and then he closed his eyes and sealed the house. He asked me to pack all of her belongings into one of those bottomless trunks you use for going to estate and library sales. I did that, took the trunk to Holyhead and left it in her sitting room, and then returned to the front of the house where I told her where her belongings were and asked her to contact you. Then I returned to the house. By that time he had retreated to the Blue Room.” Looking up the stairs, Kreacher shook his head. “He’s been sitting on the floor, up against your desk, ever since.”

Hermione was silent for several seconds. Twice she put her foot on the first step of the staircase, and twice she stopped herself. Finally, she shook her head and looked down the hall at the feebly glowing lights she had managed to call into existence earlier.

Taking a deep breath, Hermione retrieved her wand from where she had parked it behind her ear, and focused on an open spot on the floor of the landing before the stairwell, determined to call her patronus to aid with this. “Happy thoughts. I need happy thoughts to do this.”

Closing her eyes, she began to relax and allow her mind to focus on times when she was happy. “After the first task, when I saw Harry had survived that dragon. Last Christmas Eve in Godric’s Hollow when we visited his parent’s graves before going to the Burrow. That day in the library when we promised to always be there for each other. The look on Harry’s face when my mother remembered who I was…”

Hermione’s eyes snapped open; her mouth flew open as she inhaled deeply, and her knees buckled a bit forcing her to grab the railing of the stairs for support. “Merlin,” she swore softly as the realization virtually every memory where she was truly and sincerely happy was centered on Harry. On Harry and her. Sinking slowly onto the steps beside Kreacher, she cradled her head in her hands as her mind raced in circles.

Smiling softly, Kreacher stood and watched her closely. “Mistress Hermione, would you care for a cup of tea?”

Looking up from her hands, Hermione watched Kreacher as he stood there, waiting patiently for her to express herself, a strange light in his eyes as he nodded at her. “What?”

Nodding patiently, Kreacher smiled. “Tea. You usually find it soothing.”

Looking over her shoulder up the steps, Hermione shook her head. “I really need to go up and talk to him. I need to concentrate to undo what she did.”

Shaking his head, Kreacher looked at her for several seconds before responding. “You need to just be yourself, for that is what he needs. You’ve always been what he needs.”

Still looking up the steps, Hermione sighed. “Kreacher, give me twenty minutes, and then could you please bring up tea and something to eat for both of us.”

Shaking his head, Kreacher patted her gently on the shoulder before starting down the steps. “Thirty minutes, the ovens are cold. If you want fresh scones this morning, then I’ll need thirty.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, Hermione watched the diminutive elf head down the hall towards the door to the lower kitchen. Standing, she brushed a bit of dust from her jeans, and slowly climbed the steps to the second floor.

The second floor was shrouded in gloom and darkness, reminiscent of days gone by. Shaking her head, Hermione half expected a spectral Moody to appear out of the gloom. Closing her eyes, Hermione concentrated on the atmosphere of the hallway. The gloom lessened, the shadows retreated, and the lights outside the bedroom doors began to glow faintly.

Walking towards the middle of the hall, Hermione paused and looked through the open library door before turning around and placing her hand on the knob of the door straight across from it.

The tension that pervaded the house was centralized here, in this room. Lightly holding the knob, Hermione gently tightened her grip and turned it slowly. Feeling the catch release, she pushed a bit and allowed the door to swing inward as it always did.

The faint light from the hallway streamed through the doorway, illuminating a room that was decorated in shades of blue. Shaking her head, Hermione looked around until she found Harry sitting in the gloom, his back against her desk, staring at the room’s fireplace, which was cold and empty.

Stepping into the room, Hermione glanced over at the drapes covering the window. The delicate draperies were translucent, but there was no light for them to filter as the sealing of the house blocked the windows with an impenetrable barrier. Walking cautiously, she approached Harry slowly. Looking down she noticed his glasses were setting against the edge of the hearth, broken, where they had apparently been thrown earlier. Silently summoning them to her, she repaired and cleaned them with a single flick of her wand before sitting gracefully next to him on the floor, her back to the desk.

As she settled in, Harry flinched beside her, a bit, and pulled slightly away. Ignoring his attempt to distance himself from her, she slowly leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Keeping his glasses in her hand with her wand she let the other hand brush gently against him. Gently placing her hand over his as it rested on his thigh, she squeezed gently.

The silence of the house enfolded them for several minutes. Hermione snuggled against him, and listened as his heartbeat slowed and synchronized with her own. Nudging his shoulder with her head several times, Harry finally drew his arm up and laid it across her shoulders, and she scooted closer in response.

Waiting until they were comfortable again, Hermione sighed. “Harry, I’m here.”

She could feel him nod in the gloom of the room. Taking that as a good sign she smiled and squeezed his hand again. “Breakfast is going to be up here in a bit. Kreacher doesn’t need any light to see, but I’d rather see what I’m eating. May I?”

Feeling him nod again, she squeezed his hand with hers and closed her eyes. Reaching out to the swirling currents of magic that permeated the old house, she noted the changes Harry had made when he sealed the house. Slowly, she reversed them, one by one. Withdrawing the magical shutters from the windows, she could sense the gloom lessening in the room they were sitting in. Withdrawing the shrouding shadows that filled the house, Hermione could feel the atmosphere begin to return to normal. Opening her eyes, she saw that the lights were gently glowing in the room. Smiling, she stared at the fireplace for a few seconds until a small fire began to crackle merrily.

His voice halting, Harry broke the silence. “She’s right, you know.”

Looking up at him for a few seconds, Hermione squeezed his hand gently. “Harry, Ginny couldn’t be more wrong if she tried. Do you trust me?”

Turning his head, he looked down into her eyes. He could see the tears glistening in her warm brown eyes as she gazed up at him, “Always, but I don’t see how you can fix this, fix me.”

Her eyes narrowed for a second, then they darkened, and all of her compassion and love for him was shining through. “Harry, we’ve known each other since we were eleven. You’ve been my best friend since that night you came storming into the girl’s lavatory and rescued me from a twelve-foot troll. Listen to me when I tell you this, there’s nothing wrong with you that’s not wrong with any twenty-one year old bloke.”

Reaching up, she placed her hand on the back of his neck and pulled his face towards hers. Gently kissing him on the cheek, and then his scar, and finally lightly on his lips, she smiled at the astonished look in his eyes.

Starting to shake his head, Harry stared into her eyes and stopped. “Hermione, you don’t need to…” The rest of his response was cut off when she gently pressed her finger against his lips.

“Harry, there are many things I need to do. I need to be with you, have you in my life. I’m afraid that I’m very guilty of taking our relationship for granted. You’ve been a part of my life for so long, that I’ve frankly forgotten what life was like before I knew you.”

Smiling at the look on his face, she nodded. “And, since I’m in the confessing mood, I’ll admit that I have no intention of finding out what life would be like without you in it, so we’re just going to have to honor those promises we made that we’d be there for each other.” Sighing, she looked down as she hooked her pinky finger around his. “A promise is a promise, Harry. I have no intention of breaking mine. How about you?”

Chuckling, Harry shook his head and brushed his cheek against the top of her head. “I suppose not, but that doesn’t mean you need settle for taking care of me just because I can’t seem to move my life forward.”

Squeezing his hand, Hermione made a disgusted sound in the back of her throat. Looking up, she was about to respond when she saw Kreacher waiting patiently in the doorway with a tray in his hands and another floating in mid-air behind him.

Straightening up, she smiled at him. “It appears our breakfast has arrived, so we need to make a couple of adjustments so we can eat and talk.” Nodding to Kreacher, Hermione smiled as she took her wand and conjured up a low table that sat beside them on the floor. Scooting herself to one side of the table, but keeping her hold on Harry’s hand, she moved the table between them as Kreacher came over and gently placed the trays on the table. Smiling impishly, she took Harry’s glasses and put them on him, giggling a bit as he blinked several times.

Shaking his head, Harry smiled. “Thank you Kreacher, but I don’t know how much of an appetite I’ll have after last night.” Harry’s stomach picked that moment to express its displeasure at having been ignored for so long, which elicited a chuckle from Hermione and a knowing smile from Kreacher.

“Harry, I think the indications are that you’ll be able to do justice to Kreacher’s breakfast, never fear.” Hermione smiled at the sheepish look on Harry’s face. “Kreacher, I think you’re a bit ahead of your timetable, not that I’m complaining.”

Smiling, Kreacher shrugged slightly. “Mistress Hermione, things work out occasionally for the good. Scones, porridge, bangers, and fruit.” Looking at Harry, he nodded. “She’s concerned about your diet; the bangers are tied to the fruit. Eat some fruit, have some bangers.” Turning around he headed towards the door before Harry could respond.

Shaking his head slowly, Harry looked at Hermione with a suspicious look. “My diet?”

Shrugging, Hermione smiled. “What can I say? I mentioned to Kreacher last month that I hoped you weren’t still eating like you did from the house tables back in school. I suppose he must have listened.”

Smiling smugly, Harry reached over with a fork and speared one of the bangers on the serving plate. When the sausage refused to come free from the plate, Harry glared at Hermione.

Pretending to not notice, Hermione applied a generous supply of butter and honey to a scone. “Have some fruit, it’s good for you,” she helpfully suggested.

Scowling, Harry placed a couple of pineapple rings and several orange slices on his plate, and then reached over and attempted to spear his selected sausage once again. Again, the banger stuck to the serving tray without budging.

Smiling coyly, Hermione took a spoonful of porridge before commenting. “Maybe it would help if you actually ate some of the fruit?” Reaching over, she neatly speared Harry’s selected banger on the end of her fork and moved it to her plate.

Shaking his head, Harry ate a couple of orange slices before slicing the pineapple into sections and adding it to his porridge. “I don’t see any fruit on your plate, Miss Keeper of Harry’s diet.”

Slicing the banger into sections, Hermione smiled as she ate a portion of it. “Try it now, Harry; I think you’ve earned yourself one.”

Muttering quietly to himself, Harry reached out and removed a banger from the serving plate. Looking up at her, he shook his head. “Thank you.”

Smiling, Hermione looked up and watched him for a few seconds. “For?”

Shrugging, Harry smiled sadly before looking away. “Caring enough to come over here on Christmas Eve.”

Sighing, she carefully put down her fork and reached over to squeeze his hand. “Harry, I realized a couple of things this morning, one of which was just where my priorities in life were.” Looking a bit sheepish as Harry looked up at her, she nodded. “The other was that I need to talk to my landlord about subletting my flat after next month. I think I’m going to move home in time for New Years.”

Studying her face for a few seconds, Harry nodded. “Moving back to Oxford? Finally made up your mind about University I take it.”

Smiling, Hermione shook her head. “Don’t be silly. I do love my parents, but living with them again would drive me spare in a matter of months.” Seeing the look on his face, she laughed. “I know Helen has you fooled, but my Mum is not the angelic paragon of perfection you think she is. Harry when I said I was moving ‘home’, I meant here, back to Grimmauld Place.”

Shaking his head, Harry frowned. “Hermione, that’s not necessary. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. What happened to you and Ron getting out and discovering what you needed to take your relationship to the next step?”

Smiling sadly, Hermione shrugged. “We did. Or at least I did this morning.” Leaving it at that, Hermione smiled as Harry’s head dipped a bit as he was trying to eat. “You didn’t sleep any last night, did you?”

Yawning, Harry shook his head. “Not really. I just sat here and thought until you came in.” Nodding, at the half bowl of porridge in front of him, Harry sighed. “I just don’t feel like going back down to that room and trying to sleep.”

Nodding in understanding, Hermione picked up her wand and banished the entire breakfast setting, table and all, to the kitchen. “Well, fortunately we can do something about that. In the mean time, you’ll kip here in my room until I come back.”

Standing up, she reached out her hand and helped him to his feet and turned him towards the bed. A quick flick of her wand and the bed was turned down. “I’ll speak to Kreacher downstairs; you get ready and go to sleep.”

Looking at her dubiously, and then at the bed, Harry shrugged. “I’ll try, but I don’t fancy the nightmares that are going to come if I try to sleep.”

Smiling warmly, Hermione wrapped her arms around him and hugged him to her. “Harry, you never have nightmares if I’m sitting with you, correct?” she whispered in his ear.

She could feel him nod as he relaxed against her. “I think I can solve your problem.” Releasing him slowly, she went over to the wardrobe standing in the corner of her room and opened it. Reaching inside, she pulled out a red and gold quidditch jersey.

Smiling, Harry shook his head. “I wondered where my old quidditch jersey went.”

Nodding, she shrugged. “What can I say; it’s comfortable to sleep in.” Blushing a bit, she smiled at him. “And hopefully, it will be comfortable for you to sleep with.” Taking the jersey with ‘Potter’ emblazoned on the back over to the bed, she stripped the covering from one of the pillows and replaced it with the jersey. She then slipped the flannel case over the jersey.

Tossing him the pillow underhand, she smiled as he snagged it out of the air one handed. “I slept in that often enough when I was here, it should keep you company and keep the nightmares at bay until I get back.” Blushing again, she nodded as he held the pillow up and looked at it.

Seeing the look on his face, she smiled. “Everything will be fine, Harry. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Remember, it’s Christmas Eve, so we’ll be leaving here about six.”

Shaking his head, Harry grimaced. “I’m certainly not looking forward to this evening. Between Ginny’s cold shoulder and hexes and the rest of the Weasleys trying to find out what happened, it’s going to make for a very long evening.”

Smiling mysteriously, Hermione shook her head. “You just leave all that to me. Trust me; this will be a very special Christmas Eve.” Kissing him gently on the forehead, she nodded towards the bed as she waved her wand and the lights in the room dimmed a bit. “Sleep, Harry. Leave the rest of it to me; I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Slipping out into the hallway, she gently pulled the door closed. Looking down the hallway, she could see Kreacher standing near the top of the stairs, waiting for her. Walking towards him, she smiled.

“He’s going to sleep for a while. I’ve got a few errands to run, but I’ll be back by early afternoon at the latest.”

Nodding, Kreacher smiled. “Any instructions, Mistress?”

Shaking her head, Hermione nodded towards the end of the hall that contained the master suite and the bedroom that Ginny had ‘used’ as hers for propriety’s sake. “I want both of those rooms emptied of everything. We’ll repaint, repaper and totally remake them both. I don’t want there to be a hint that she had ever set foot in either room, much less anything else. We can’t do anything major until after the holidays, but I want them emptied before he goes in there next.”

Nodding, Kreacher smiled. “Very good. Something along your original thoughts for that room?”

“Kreacher,” Hermione’s voice was very subdued as she looked to the house elf. “I’ve never had the nerve to ask, exactly how far will you and the house let me go with respect to changes here at Grimmauld Place?” Watching the older elf carefully, Hermione was gratified to see a faint smile begin to play across his face.

“Mistress Hermione, you have been the Mistress of the house since Master Harry inherited Grimmauld Place.” Kreacher looked as if he was choosing his words carefully as he watched Hermione in turn. “At one time, both myself and the house resisted that, but that September, you proved yourself a worthy choice, as did he. Strictly speaking, Master Harry’s wishes would override yours, but since it’s never been in his heart to gainsay you, he would have to expressly contradict you to keep your will from being realized.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled. “That’s what I thought.” Looking at the elf, who was waiting patiently for her to speak, Hermione shook her head. “Someday, you and I are going to have a long talk about things, but for now, I want you to know you have both of our thanks for your service and friendship.”

Smiling, Kreacher shrugged. “Would Mistress Hermione care for me to go to her flat and retrieve her clothes?”

Nodding, Hermione chuckled. “I’m willing to wager that you remember where everything goes from last time. Please, if you can do so without waking him, I’d appreciate it.”

As she started down the steps, Hermione stopped and looked back for a second. “And Kreacher, let’s keep the traffic down in the house until I get back. Set the floos to allow only Ministry emergency traffic and myself, and keep the doors locked. We don’t need Harry getting woken up until he’s had some sleep.” Seeing Kreacher’s nod, Hermione headed out to take care of some long overdue business.

Chapter 3: Chapter Three - And This Will Be a Sign
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Stepping down and shutting the door behind her, Hermione looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to her. While not yet sunrise, there was enough light in the square to see a red-headed figure leaning against a tree, watching the front door of Number Twelve.

Nodding, Hermione slipped her hands into her jacket pockets as she walked over. “Hello George, fancy meeting you here.”

Nodding, George watched her warily. “Everything good in there?”

Shaking her head, Hermione sighed. “It’s going to take a lot of talking before he’s truly over what happened last night, but at least he’s talking and the house is on its way back to normal.”

Shaking his head, George looked at her for several seconds. “You know, they’re both idiots. I’m not certain why you and Harry have put up with it for as long as you have.”

Sighing, Hermione looked at George. “They’re your sibs, George; you really shouldn’t be saying that.”

Laughing, George shrugged. “If being family didn’t stop us from calling old Percy a prat and a git when he was acting like one, it shouldn’t stop us from recognizing that both Ginny and Ron have serious issues.” Seeing the look on Hermione’s face, George nodded. “I was at the Burrow this morning and talked to Ronniekins when he came back. He doesn’t even have a clue about how badly he stepped in it.”

Sighing, Hermione looked at George and studied his face for several seconds. The usual glib smile was gone, and she saw the serious George that rarely made a public appearance. “Why were you waiting out here?”

Nodding towards the house, George smiled. “I was hoping you were smart enough to exit the house and apparate to wherever you’re going next, rather than open a floo connection and have to deal with Mum and Ginny.”

Raising an eyebrow at the expression on Hermione’s face, George laughed. “Also, I’m here to give you the Weasley family scorecard so you’ll know where everyone’s lined up before you go to the Burrow.”

Shaking her head, Hermione chuckled at the thought. “George, before you go any further, let me say that Harry and I both appreciate you doing this.”

Nodding sagely, George smiled. “There are three basic camps in the Weasley family right now. Four, if we count you and Harry as a camp.” Seeing the startled look in Hermione’s eyes, George sighed. “You two have been part of the family since you were twelve or so. No one’s going to chuck you out simply because Ginny’s being a drama queen and Ron’s being a prat.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled. “Thanks for that, George. I was hoping we wouldn’t lose everyone because of this.”

Smiling, George laughed. “Oh, it’s going to be uncomfortable and loud for a while, but a good chunk of the family thinks you two are better off this way.” Seeing the surprised look on her face, he shrugged. “We’re not all idiots; mostly we’ve been marveling that things have gone on as long as they have.”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled. “The other three camps?”

Nodding, George was serious again. “Ronniekins is all by himself. He’s determined to be neutral in this, and he tells everyone who will listen that he’s going to get you to help him work something out between Ginny and Harry. Ginny and Mum are both together in thinking that Ginny might have been a bit rash, but Harry overreacted and now the solution is for those two to shag and make up.”

Hermione’s face froze into a scowl, which prompted George to take half a step back. “The rest of us, once we heard the details on what happened, have realized that the days of Ginny and Harry are now officially over, with side bets saying that the only reason the days of you and Ron aren’t officially over is that you haven’t had the time to spell it out for him and Ronniekins is too busy trying to jolly Ginny into apologizing to Harry to realize he’s gone too far.”

Seeing the look on Hermione’s face soften, George nodded. “Most of us will support you two, to various degrees. Fleur, Angelina, and Audrey all have said that we can have Christmas Day somewhere a bit more neutral than the Burrow so you two will feel welcome, but it’s a bit short notice to move Christmas Eve.”

Leaning over, Hermione kissed George on the cheek. “Tonight, we’re doing something different for Christmas Eve, but tomorrow afternoon, let us know where the gathering is and we’ll be there, at least until the hexes start flying.”

Smiling, George shook his head. “You can take her. Or him, for that matter. And besides, if Harry’s still in a funk, defending you will certainly bring him out of it.”

Laughing, Hermione blushed. “I doubt I’ll need defending.” Looking worried for a second, Hermione bit her lower lip. “You didn’t mention Arthur,” she asked hesitantly.

Sighing, George rolled his eyes. “Dad’s firmly behind you and Harry, he understands that his ‘precocious princess’ has a nasty temper on her and those two haven’t been really happy for years now. He’ll be with Mum if she goes off in a huff, but he made it quite clear to Bill and me that he doesn’t condone what Ginny did and he thinks that both you and Harry moving on is the best thing that could happen. He just asks that the two of you take your time, because the Prophet would like nothing better than to start up about you stealing Harry from Ginny, again.”

Blushing, Hermione shook her head. “I was kind of hoping that since they run that rumor twice a year, they might let us alone right now and wait for their usual spring-time character assassination special edition.”

Shaking his head, George looked at her for several seconds. “Going to the Burrow to have it out with Ginny?”

Shaking her head, Hermione gave George a very predatory look. “I’m going to the Burrow to tell Molly that Harry and I won’t be there for Christmas Eve, we’ll be going to Godric’s Hollow and then to Oxford for the evening. If she’s smart, your sister and I will be having words only to the extent that I’m informing her that all of her things are in Holyhead at her flat she has there and that she’s no longer on the floo open access list for the house.”

Whistling, George looked at her in surprise. “You got Harry to ban her from the house?”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled mysteriously. “She’s not banned; she just can’t come and go as she pleases any longer. And Harry hasn’t done anything.”

Nodding thoughtfully, George slowly smiled. “I should have seen that coming. You’re back home now?”

Nodding, Hermione shrugged. “Should never have left, but I needed to find some things out, and now that I have, I’m back to stay.”

“Good for you.” Looking thoughtful, George nodded for a second. “If you need someone to sublet your flat in Kensington, Verity is looking for a place.”

Smiling, Hermione nodded. “Have her talk to me after Boxing Day, I’ll introduce her to my landlord and we can work out the arrangements.”

Nodding, George put his hand on her arm. “Just remember, you two are as much a part of this family as any of the rest of us. Mum, Ginny, and Ronniekins will all be hell to live with for a while, but eventually they’ll come around. The rest of us won’t let them divide the family over this.”

Looking worried, Hermione tried to smile. “George, you know how Harry feels about family…”

“And we’re his family, and yours. It’s exactly that reason we’re not going to let the family be pulled apart over this. If some members of the family wish to exclude themselves because they’re too immature or stubborn to see reality, then that’s their choice, but we’ve agreed that every member of the family is always welcome.” Nodding, George nodded towards the house. “You run along and do what you need to do; I’ll keep watch here to make certain no one does anything foolish trying to get in.”

Leaning up, Hermione kissed him gently on the cheek. “You’re much too nice. Careful or people will find out that George Weasley is actually a big softie.”

Blushing a bit, George smiled. “Angelina already knows, and no one else would believe you. If anyone asks, I’m waiting to prank Ronniekins if he shows up again.”

Smiling, Hermione took a step back; looked around to see that no one was out, and turned in place and disappeared.

That familiar appartion discomfort abated as Hermione found herself standing outside the gate to the Burrow. A couple of garden gnomes peaked out from behind various plants, wearing small knit caps which told Hermione that Luna had been here recently, but no one else was outside on a cold December morning.

Opening the gate, Hermione slowly walked up the path to the door. Looking around at the house where she had spent so many happy moments over the last decade, she smiled wistfully for the carefree days when all they had to worry about was Voldemort. Taking a deep breath, she placed her hand on the door and prepared to knock.

Just as she touched the door, it flew open and a very surprised Ron was standing there. The two of them stared at each other, Ron pointedly looking at her upraised hand. “Since when have you started knocking at the door?”

Shaking her head sadly, Hermione shrugged. “Since I chose sides between Harry and Ginny, I suppose. I thought it might be polite rather than barging straight in.” Looking pointedly at Ron while she stood on the stoop, she smiled thinly. “May I come in?”

Looking surprised, Ron stepped back and nodded. “Of course, you’re always welcome here, you know that.”

Shaking her head, Hermione stepped around him and into the house. “After this morning, I’m not certain of that, Ronald. We still need to talk, but first I’d like to speak with Molly.”

Looking shocked, Ron’s face became slightly flushed. “Do you mean the me waking you up this morning, or the you choosing to side with Harry this morning?”

Shaking her head, Hermione looked at Ron for several seconds before answering. “It’s all part of the same thing, Ronald. Harry’s been you best friend since that first day on the train, and mine almost as long. Even without considering that, you can’t sincerely expect me to believe that you think what your sister said to Harry was right.”

Shaking his head, Ron frowned. “It wasn’t right, and it was unnecessarily cruel and vicious. But you know how Gin is when she gets going on with something. Harry should know that by now and make allowances for her when she’s provoked.”

Stunned, Hermione stared at him for almost a minute before shaking her head. “Ronald, that’s not the behavior of someone who cares about someone. You know what Harry’s childhood was like, how he’s still paying the price for everything that happened.”

Shaking her head, Hermione began pacing around the room, becoming more agitated with every step. “There comes a time when two people have to just realize that things aren’t ever going to work, and if they try to make it work, they only end up hurting each other.”

Stopping and looking at Ron with regret in her eyes, she sighed. “I’m not going to allow that to happen any longer. It stops while all of us can still be friends, it stops before she hurts him so badly he can’t survive it. It just stops now.”

Ron was staring intently at Hermione when Ginny’s voice broke in from the doorway. “And just who appointed you Harry’s defender and mistress?”

Whirling around, Ron turned to face his sister while Hermione slowly turned her head to nod to the newcomer. “Gin, you’re still upset about what happened last night.” Ron held up his hands and stepped between his sister and Hermione. “This probably isn’t the best time to discuss this. Why don’t you go back upstairs and I’ll send Mum up with some hot chocolate in a bit.”

Eyes flashing, Ginny stepped into the room. “Ron, don’t be any more of an idiot than you have to be. You should be just as interested in this little conversation as I am.” Turning from her brother, Ginny smiled coldly at Hermione. “Well? We’re waiting to hear why suddenly you’re Harry’s defender and leash holder, again.”

Hermione stared at the younger witch as she sadly smiled. “I’ve been Harry’s friend since we met, and we’ve watched each other’s backs for ten years now. I’ll admit I haven’t been doing a very good job of it for the last several years. But that’s all changed and this isn’t going to happen again.”

Laughing coldly, Ginny tossed her head and smiled as her hair flared behind her. “Please, Harry will forgive me the way he always does when I go a bit too far. In a couple of days, everything will be fine between us.” Shaking her head, she smiled maliciously at Hermione. “He’ll probably feel guilty enough about locking me out of the house to finally let me redecorate those two rooms. I think a billiards room would serve much better than a musty old library, don’t you Ron?”

Shaking his head warily, Ron looked over his shoulder at Hermione before answering his sister. “Gin, I don’t think this is the time or place to think about remaking the house.” Turning back to Hermione he smiled sheepishly. “Harry’s doing alright, isn’t he?”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione shook her head in exasperation. “It took you long enough to ask about your best mate.” Seeing the look on Ron’s face, she shrugged. “Harry’s better. I finally got him to talk and eat. Once I convinced him to let me take care of things, that everything would work out, he was able to let go of things. Then I put him to bed so he could try and get some sleep.”

Smiling wickedly, Ginny nodded. “That’s just what he needs. A couple of hours of dreaming of me and he should be ready to talk tonight.”

Chuckling to herself, Hermione nodded as Ginny’s eyes narrowed at her lack of reaction. “And exactly what about kipping in my bed is going to make Harry dream of you?” Nodding at the shocked look on Ginny’s face, and sadly noting a similar look on Ron’s, Hermione smiled and turned to face an open space on the sitting room floor. “Kreacher?”

A faint pop heralded the appearance of the house elf. Bowing low towards Hermione, Kreacher pointedly ignored the two Weasleys in the room. “Mistress calls?”

Allowing Ginny to sputter for a few seconds, Hermione tilted her head to one side. “Kreacher, could you retrieve that trunk for me and put it in my flat in Kensington so I can finish packing.”

Nodding, Kreacher smiled. “My pleasure, Mistress. Should I begin to pack your belongings for your return to Grimmauld Place?” Kreacher’s question elicited another strangled outburst from Ginny and a stunned expression from Ron.

Shaking her head, Hermione looked thoughtful for a second. “It can wait until after Christmas, Kreacher. But you can take that excess furniture we were talking about earlier and put it where you retrieve the trunk from.” Smiling and nodding at the look on Kreacher’s face as he mentally calculated the amount of space the two bedroom suites would take up in a small one-bedroom flat, she nodded. “I’m certain they’ll get much more use there than they will collecting dust in the attic at Grimmauld Place.”

Nodding sagely, Kreacher executed another deep bow and disappeared before he could return to his standing posture.

Silence reigned in the sitting room for several seconds following the elf’s apparition ‘pop’. Openmouthed, Ginny stared at Hermione in disbelief. “He came?”

Nodding, Hermione shrugged. “He always has. I never really thought about all the implications of that until this morning.” Shrugging her shoulders, Hermione let that statement hang in the air for Ginny to think through.”

“You’re moving back?” Ron’s face was starting to turn pink again as he finally found his voice after Kreacher’s appearance.

Looking at him with sympathy, Hermione took a step towards him, but stopped when he stepped back in response. “Ron, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to find out this way. But, yes I’m moving back home to Number Twelve. I think I’ve found out everything I need to know now and nothing would really be served by my continuing to live in Kensington.” Watching Ron’s face, Hermione could see several emotions playing across it. Disbelief, sadness, anger, and resignation all played across his features.

Shaking his head, Ron looked at her with a curious expression. “You never did answer that question for me that night. I never realized that it would take you four years to give me your answer.”

Puzzled, Hermione thought back to where she and Harry had beenfour Christmas’ ago, and was stumped until she remembered the night, earlier in December that year, when Ron stormed out of the tent leaving her crying as he abandoned the two of them to their search for the Horcruxes. “I suppose you’re right. I have chosen Harry, and if I would have taken two seconds to be honest with myself I would have known that it’s been that way since our third year at school.”

Nodding sadly and taking a step towards him, he allowed her to put a hand on his arm. “I never meant to hurt you, it’s just taken us this long to realize you and I are friends, and we shouldn’t try to change that.” Watching him for a few seconds, it saddened her to see him shrink within himself as he processed the information.

Starting to speak, Ginny was shocked by Ron’s whispered, “Just shut it, Gin,” before he turned back to Hermione. “I can’t even argue with you, I think I’ve known for months this was going to happen.”

Blinking back tears, Hermione smiled sadly. “We’re both your friend, Ron. And it would hurt both of us terribly if we lost that. I understand that this makes things difficult, and we’ll be discrete and respect you. I don’t think any of us wants things to end badly.”

Looking lost for a second, Hermione added. “Don’t hate Harry. If you have to hate someone, hate me. He’s lost so much, had so much taken from him, I couldn’t bear to see him lose another member of his family.”

Ginny’s scornful laugh broke the moment. “Oh, please. He’ll only notice what you tell him to notice.”

Turning to face the other witch, Hermione’s face became a mask of cold indifference. “What happened Ginny? Once upon a time, you loved him. Where did all of this venom and spite come from?”

“Where?” Her eyes grew big as she stared at Hermione in disbelief. “I’ll tell you where. It came from being left behind while you ran off to save the world with my boyfriend. It came from three years of waiting for him to finally turn to me for anything important. He never let me near anything personal or deep, I was shut out of what made him who he was.” Shaking her head, she glared at Hermione. “Three years of waiting for today, the day you decided to take back what was yours all along.”

Shaking her head, Hermione looked at Ginny with sorrow and pity, not the antipathy she thought she would feel when she came here. “Ginny, you can’t continue to hurt him and yourself like this. I can’t stop you from hurting yourself, but I can and will keep you from hurting him any further.”

Tears rolling down her cheeks, Ginny shook her head. “Why couldn’t he have ever truly cared about me? Loved me?”

Surprisingly, it was Ron who answered her. “He does love you, care about you. This is why you were able to hurt him so badly.” Shaking his head, Ron stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his sister. “Gin, you haven’t been happy for two years now. If ever there was a day to let go and remember that you both care about each other, this would be the day.”

Glaring murderously at Hermione, Ginny shook her head and broke out of Ron’s embrace. “No! I’m not going to be shuffled off like a cast-off set of robes. Give me five minutes with Harry and we’ll be back to normal and you’ll be wherever it is you find yourself when you’re not desperately throwing yourself at Harry or my brother.”

Sidestepping so she was clear of her brother, Ginny removed her wand from her back pocket and glared at Hermione. “Don’t interfere, Hermione. I’m going back to Grimmauld Place and talk some sense into Harry.” Keeping her eye on Hermione, who was standing there, arms crossed and shaking her head, Ginny crossed to the fireplace and removed a pinch of floo powder from the container on the mantle.

Smiling sadly, Hermione nodded towards the floo. “Give it a go. Make certain you enunciate clearly. No telling where you’ll end up if you’re upset and mumble.”

Shooting Hermione a look of pure disdain, Ginny smiled and stated, slowly and distinctly, “Number Twelve Gimmauld Place” as she cast the powder into the fireplace. Stepping into the green flames, she disappeared from view.

Chuckling at the look on Ron’s face, Hermione simply counted off on her fingers. “Five, four, three, two, one.” As she said ‘one’, green flames erupted from the fireplace again and Ginny came tumbling out of the fireplace. A melodious but annoying voice from the fireplace announced, “The floo address you are trying to reach has been restricted by order of the householder. Please try again later.”

Looking around in a daze, Ginny shook her head slowly. “I can’t believe Harry would block me like that. This isn’t right.”

Looking at Ron, Hermione nodded in answer to the unasked question in his eyes. “Ron, you explain it to her; I need to talk to Molly.”

Shaking his head, Ron tried to smile. “This is going to take some getting used to; I don’t know if I’m ready to see you two together.”

Walking over to him, Hermione enveloped him in one of her trademark hugs. At first he stiffened when she wrapped her arms around him, but he gradually relaxed into the hug and awkwardly returned it. “Ron, we probably won’t be much different than we’ve always been in public. Harry and I haven’t gotten around to discussing anything, we just sorted out the fact that I was coming home and that we were going to be there for each other. He’s still pretty rocky after last evening. I’m going to wait until he wakes up and has a spot of lunch before we start rearranging the known world.” Shaking her head, she smiled. “That reminds me.”

Stepping back, Hermione shook her head at Ginny, who was sitting in the middle of the sitting room floor looking lost, and quietly called “Kreacher?”

The house elf returned with a subtle ‘pop’ and bowed. “Mistress, you called?”

Smiling, Hermione nodded. “Kreacher, there’s been a change in plans. Please put that excess furniture in the attic at Grimmauld Place after all. And see if you can find suitable spots to put all of the belongings from my old trunk away. If you can’t, leave them in the trunk, we’ll pick that up later after everything is sorted out.” Seeing the surprised look on his face, Hermione shrugged.

Shaking his head, Kreacher glared at Ginny once before looking back to Hermione. “As you wish, Mistress. Master Harry was still sleeping when I left; your belongings are back in your room. Will there be anything else?”

Smiling, Hermione shook her head. “Kreacher, I thank you again. I’ll be home right after I go to Oxford.”

Nodding, Kreacher bowed to her and then nodded his head to Ron. “Mistress, Master Ron.” He disappeared with a subtle ‘pop’.

Shaking his head, Ron took a deep breath before speaking. “Mum’s in the kitchen, Dad’s in there also. I’ll talk to Ginny for a bit before I go back in there.”

Crossing to the door that led to the Burrow’s kitchen, Hermione paused and looked back over her shoulder at them. “We never planned any of this.”

Smiling sadly, Ron nodded as Ginny glared at her. “We know. Or at least I know. Will we see you two tomorrow?”

Nodding towards the kitchen, Hermione squared her shoulders. “I hope so. Wish me luck?”

Ignoring his sister’s bitter laugh, Ron nodded. “Dad’s been trying to calm her down since George left. Bill’s already gone back to Shell Cottage, he finally just told her that Fleur and Victoire were going to spend Christmas Day wherever you two were, and they hoped they’d see everyone there.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled as Ron nodded in return. “Ginny, please think before you do anything else. Harry and I both care about you, but that won’t stop me from protecting Harry if you try to hurt him again.” Shrugging at the glare she received, Hermione pushed on the door and started the, suddenly, long walk to the kitchen.

Chapter 4: Chapter Four - Tidings of Comfort and Joy
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Shaking her head, Hermione looked around the back yard of her parent’s home in Oxford. The apparition point that Harry had helped her create between the gazebo and the gardening shed was screened from the view of the neighbours by yews that Neville had charmed to keep the four flagstones hidden from the outside world.

The ‘conversation’ with the elder Weasleys had taken much longer than she had hoped, but not quite as long as she had feared. Molly’s insistence that Ginny and Harry could work out this ‘minor disagreement’ had persisted for almost two hours while Arthur and her had tried to explain to Molly that there really wasn’t anything to fix, and if Ginny hoped to salvage a friendship with Harry, she needed to seriously change. Once Molly realized that Ginny wasn’t going to be able to patch this up with Harry, the real treat began.

While Molly had often loudly criticized the Daily Prophet over the years for the scandalous way it had portrayed the relationship between Harry and Hermione, she certainly must have mentally filed all of those tidbits away because they all came out in the ensuing hour. Hermione’s assertions that nothing untoward had ever occurred between the two of them, and Arthur’s reminders that half of the ‘incidents’ that the Prophet had mentioned over the years the Weasley family had been present for fell on deaf ears as Molly was convinced that both her youngest children had been treated horribly wrong.

Finally, it was Ron’s entrance into the kitchen that swayed the issue. When he came storming in, red-faced and upset, Molly subsided, thinking he was going to take Hermione to task. The look of shock on her face when Ron began dismantling her accusations point by point was priceless, and in other circumstances Hermione would have laughed. His passionate defense of their honor, “Mum, honestly, both of them are pants at lying. They can barely keep Christmas gifts a secret much less carry on a ‘torrid affair’ for ten years,” was only surpassed by his startling admission that he’d known for the last year that things were over between the two of them, he had just been too stubborn to admit it until now as the body blows that felled Molly’s disbelief.

Apparently, Ginny was still in denial, but Ron had informed Hermione as he walked her out to the road that she was adopting a ‘wait until Hermione blows it’ attitude, feeling that it was only a matter of time before Harry saw through Hermione’s plotting and came back to her.

Looking up at her parent’s house, she could see her mother watching her from the kitchen window. Smiling, Hermione waved to her and started walking through the snow to the door. Climbing the steps, she smiled as the door popped open and her mother was standing there waiting for her.

“Happy Christmas Eve, Mum.” Reaching out, Hermione enfolded her mother in a hug.

Hugging her daughter for a second, Helen Granger held her at arm’s length and looked at her for several seconds. Smiling smugly, she nodded. “You finally did it.”

Narrowing her eyes, Hermione studied her mother. While not a tall woman, Helen Grange was still taller than her daughter by several inches. Her chestnut hair was full and wavy, and her hazel eyes gleamed merrily. Looking over her mother’s shoulder to the kitchen clock, Hermione shrugged. “Finally got to the house before noon on a holiday?”

Shaking her head, Helen drew her daughter into the kitchen and took her coat and scarf. “Well, there is that, but it seems to me that you’re indecently cheerful for this early on a day you needn’t be up and around at all.” Crossing the kitchen, Helen took two mugs from beside the sink. Looking over her shoulder at her daughter, she smiled. “Tea?”

As Hermione was about to respond, Helen interrupted, “That’s right, you and Harry are coffee drinkers these days. How is the dear boy?”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled warmly at the mention of Harry. “He had a rough night, but I think he’ll be fine. And tea will be just fine, Mother. Harry and I drink coffee; we’re not wedded to it.”

Nodding knowingly, Helen poured tea into the mugs, and set them on the table. Gathering lemon, cream, and sugar, she was surprised to see her daughter sipping her tea when she returned to the table. “Given up on the lemon and sugar?”

Sighing, Hermione nodded slowly. “Sometimes. Right now this is just what the dentist ordered.” Smiling at her mother’s wince over that old joke, she nodded. “Are you and Daddy still going to go to Christmas Eve services?”

Smiling, Helen watched her daughter over her mug as she sipped her tea. “Of course we are. It’s your father’s yearly concession to me. And though he’ll grumble about having gone ‘high kirk’ for weeks, I do think he enjoys it as much as I do.” Placing her mug on the table, Helen smiled at her daughter. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” Hermione began, suddenly nervous at the prospect of talking to her mother about the recent changes in her life, “I was thinking that if you didn’t want to have to worry about driving and parking that late at night, Harry and I could go attend with you and we could take you and Daddy there and back.”

Feigning innocence, Helen looked quizzically at her daughter. “Don’t you mean Ron? And why won’t you two be at the Burrow tonight, as you usually are?”

Staring at her mother for several seconds, Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. “Mother, you know very well that if I said Harry, I meant Harry. As in Harry and I. As in not Ron and I. And being at the Burrow tonight would be…awkward for a whole host of reasons.”

Nodding, Helen smiled as she picked up her mug. “Not the least of which would be ‘Harry and I’ instead of ‘Ron and I’. Correct?”

Sipping her tea, Helen Granger studied her daughter over the top of the mug. Watching Hermione worry the edge of the tablecloth, she smiled and set the mug gently on the table. “Do you want to talk?”

Looking up, Hermione studied her mother’s expression for a few seconds before noisily releasing the breath she had been holding. “I’m not certain where to start, Mother. Everything’s happened very quickly. If seems as if everything changed in the blink of an eye.”

Nodding, Helen smiled encouragingly at her daughter as she tried to repress a chuckle. “That’s what happens when you finally open your eyes, dear. The two of you have been moving towards this moment since you were eleven, and it’s very overdue.”

Shaking her head in exasperation, Hermione studied her mother for a bit. “How did you know? You knew before you opened the door.”

Nodding knowingly, Helen reached over and squeezed her daughter’s hand. “It’s simple, really. When you appeared in the back yard, you were genuinely happy. The last time I saw you that happy was in Canberra when you and Harry came to collect us.”

Shaking her head, Helen sighed. “The two of you were very happy together the two weeks we stayed in Australia settling our affairs there. You can imagine my disappointment when we returned to England and you took back up with Ronald.”

Shrugging, Hermione rolled her eyes. “I was an idiot, what can I say. I thought that Ron and I had something. I should have realized that his not coming with us to Australia to find you two spoke volumes about our lack of relationship, especially when there was never a question about Harry coming with me, even when Ginny threw a colossal tantrum.”

Nodding, Helen looked at Hermione carefully. “And how are the Weasleys taking the changes? I can’t imagine Ron is taking things very well.”

Smiling faintly, Hermione shook her head. “Actually, Ron is taking things surprisingly well. Apparently, I was more in denial about the state of things between us than he was. According to him, he’s been expecting something like this for almost a year now, especially as frequently as Harry and Ginny have been rowing of late.” Taking another long pull from her mug, Hermione shrugged. “Ginny, on the other hand…”

Shaking her head, Helen finished for her daughter. “Ginny is still living in her fairytale and expecting the handsome prince with green eyes to come back to her?”

Nodding, Hermione chuckled. “Something like that. Though for the life of me, I don’t know why. She all but admitted she’s always known how Harry and I felt about each other, down deep. Why she would hang on so desperately to something when she knew he didn’t love her the way she wanted to be loved is beyond me.”

“Hermione, just because you didn’t buy into the whole ‘Cinderella’ story when you were a little girl, doesn’t mean that other girls didn’t.” Shaking her head at the expression on her daughter’s face, Helen smiled. “From what Molly has said, Ginny’s been fixated on ‘The Boy Who Lived’ since she was six. Harry was a living, breathing fairy tale that walked into her life, the same day he walked into yours. You saw a scared little boy who desperately needed a friend and someone to care about him. She saw the wizard who defeated that Voldemort person while he was still in nappies. Why are you surprised that you’re the one he chose?”

“Who chose Hermione?” Both women looked up as Alex Granger entered the kitchen. “Happy Christmas Eve, Pumpkin.” Looking at his daughter curiously, he shook his head as he crossed to the kettle sitting on the stove and poured himself a cup.

“Harry did. He and Hermione finally figured things out.” Helen answered smugly, watching her daughter’s face go slightly red.

Nodding thoughtfully, Alex sat at the table with them. “About bloody time. Didn’t think you two kids were ever going to come to your senses.”

Helen’s “Language, Alex” and Hermione’s “Language, Daddy.” were delivered at exactly the same time with exactly the same tone, and both women started giggling at the look on his face.

Shaking his head at the two women in his life, Alexander Granger smiled. “Don’t get me wrong dear, but your mother and I were seriously considering talking to someone at that hospital of yours about having you two checked to see if someone had used some sort of spell or potion on the two of you.” Looking over at his wife, Alex nodded. “What was the name of that witch who married Harry’s cousin? The one who’s a doctor there? Patience?”

Shaking her head, Helen smiled at her husband. “Harry’s cousin is married to Chastity and she’s the Healer at St. Mungo’s. You’re thinking of Patience Greengrass, she’s the sister of Arianna the tooth healer, the ‘dentist with a wand’ as you put it back in November. Patience is also a healer, though she specializes in trauma more than Chastity does. Their little sister is dating that dreadful boy that went to school with the children.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, Hermione looked from her mother to her father in shock. “Do I want to know exactly how you two know all this?”

Looking bewildered, Alex shrugged. “Hermione, we do have an owl, and some of your friends stop by the house from time to time. We always enjoy catching up with them. Audrey was here this morning, around nine, wasn’t it dear?”

Nodding, Helen smiled. “She’s such a dear. And since she’s so charmingly American, she feels compelled to chat about everything. That’s how I knew that everything had gone awry between Harry and Ginny.” Looking over at Alex who had an amused grin on his face, she nodded. “How did she put it?”

Chuckling, Alex looked thoughtful for a second or two. “I believe she said that it had gone ‘to Hell in a handbasket’, or something to that effect. Evokes quite a visual, don’t you think?”

Shaking her head, Hermione stared at her parents in disbelief. “You knew? At nine? I was still arguing with Molly at nine.”

Smiling at their flustered child, both Alex and Helen looked at each other and shook their heads. Alex turned back to her and held up his hand to try to calm her down. “I don’t know if this will make you feel any better, but almost everyone’s known about you and Harry for years now. From what I understand, up until this morning, there were only five who hadn’t figured it out. The two of you have been quite the sticking point for your friends and family since the end of the war. Half of us were in the ‘they’ll never figure it out, let’s make them see reason faction’,” he said nodding towards his wife, “and the other half belonged to the ‘as long as they don’t schedule a wedding, we’ll let them figure it out for themselves’ group.” Nodding in satisfaction, Alex smiled as Helen was shaking her head in dismay.

Hermione closed her eyes and placed both of her hands flat on the table. Taking several deep, calming breaths, she tried to slow her racing thoughts into some semblance of coherent, rational thought. Finally, when she could trust herself to speak, she opened her eyes and stared at both her parents. “How much?”

Looking smug, her father smiled and winked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Looking over at his wife, who was scowling slightly, he smiled. “Helen, do you have any clue as to what our daughter might be referring?”

Scowling slightly, Helen nodded to her husband before turning to her daughter. “Hermione, it’s simply a coincidence that your father will be choosing the next four,” she stopped as Alex cleared his throat and smiled at her. “I mean he’ll be choosing the location of our next five vacations. Coincidentally, of course.”

Glaring at her mother for a few seconds before she broke out in laughter, she shook her head. “You two have wagered over everything I can think of, since I’ve been old enough to pay attention to it. But I’m a bit shocked you’d go this far.”

Sighing, Helen smiled at their daughter. “Hermione, both your father and I are very competitive people, and given to having strong opinions on things. On those occasions that we disagree, we’ve found that it makes things a bit easier if we focus on the wager, rather than what we’re disagreeing on. We both only wanted for you to be happy, and we were both convinced that your Harry was the key to that. As to how the two of you would come to that conclusion…”

Shrugging eloquently, Helen Granger smiled at her daughter as her husband began chuckling at the look on their daughter’s face. “Pumpkin, you might want to consider something similar with Harry.” Smiling at the look on his daughter’s face, Alex continued. “You’re both very competitive, both strong-willed, both fairly used to being correct most of the time…”

Shaking her head, Hermione turned a delicate shade of pink. “Daddy, I think I’m getting the picture. We’ve never really rowed, at least not like Ron and I.”

Sipping her tea, Helen smiled. “Your sixth year? I seem to remember most of your letters home that year grousing about how much of a prat Harry was being with that ‘dreadful tome of dodgy shortcuts’ you were so opposed to.”

Blushing, Hermione closed her eyes. “I still feel bad about that. I was just annoyed that Harry was getting shortcuts from the margins of that textbook, along with some very suspect hexes and other ideas, and I treated him very shabbily. And I was totally wrong about ‘that dreadful boy’ as you so charmingly put it.”

Nodding, Helen continued. “Of course, there was your third year when you had the poor boy’s new broom confiscated because it could have been dangerous. That seemed to last a while.”

Looking indignant, Hermione glared at her parents. “Of course it could have been dangerous. A mysterious broom just appears when Harry needs one while everyone is worried that an escaped mass-murderer is out to get him. Any reasonable witch would see that it could be a problem.”

Nodding, Alex smiled. “An escaped mass-murderer who just happened to be his wrongly imprisoned godfather, correct?”

Sighing, Hermione nodded slowly. “Yes Daddy, we were both correct and both wrong. It was from Sirius Black and it was perfectly harmless. Harry’s forgiven me for that, and he’s apologized several times for losing his patience with me over that.” Shaking her head, she laughed. “We definitely need something now that we’re going to be consciously spending more time together.”

Shaking her head, Helen tried not to laugh at the distressed look on her daughter’s face. Deciding to change the subject, she gave her husband a look to let him know and asked. “About tonight, what did you and Harry have in mind?”

Blushing a bit, Hermione worried her lower lip as she tried to look confident. “Well, all I mentioned to Harry was that I had everything under control for this evening, so I was thinking that we could come here for dinner around five or so.”

Smiling, Helen nodded. “Dinner around five, that’s doable. We don’t usually leave for the Christmas Eve service until nine or so, and since we’re not driving, we can delay that quite a bit.”

Nodding Hermione smiled at her mother. “After dinner, and before the service, I think Harry and I will pop up to Godric’s Hollow where his parents are. I told you about that first Christmas Eve when we visited his parent’s graves?” Seeing her parents nod their heads, she continued. “We’ve done that most years since the war ended, without the running for our lives part, of course.”

Smiling at the wary looks on her parents’ faces, she nodded encouragingly. “It always seemed a quiet interlude of sanity before we plunged into the chaos that’s Christmas at the Burrow.” Blushing a bit, she shrugged. “And now I can see that it was something that was just for the two of us to share. Ginny couldn’t really ever connect to that part of Harry’s life and Ron was very uncomfortable the one year he went with us. We wouldn’t make a big deal of it, and we’d usually try to time it so that we were there during the service they held in that little kirk next to the cemetery.”

Tears shimmering in her eyes, Hermione came around the table and hugged her father. “Daddy, I’m scared that I’m going to mess this up. Harry’s so very important to me; I don’t want to lose him just when I found out what he really means to me.”

Holding his daughter close, Alex let her cry against his shoulder for a few seconds before answering. “When you went to the house this morning, did you leave him any doubt that you were coming back home for good?”

Looking up, Hermione shook her head. “I just rushed in like I usually do, and tried to get him talking to me and not focusing on what she did. By the time I got him to eat and ready to sleep, I had told him I was moving back and the only thing he was worried about was whether or not I realized what I was doing, getting my self into.”

Smiling at her daughter, Helen shook her head. “Hermione, you’ll be fine with this, your instincts are usually very good when it comes to Harry. Your only flaw is that you tend to be overprotective of him, but right now, he needs a bit of protecting, but I think the two of you will straighten things out soon enough.”

Looking thoughtful, Helen smiled. “If anything, ask Kreacher. I don’t know much about elves, but from what I’ve seen of him, Kreacher knows everything that goes on in that house and if he’s on your side, then you’re pretty much set.”

Shaking her head, Hermione blushed. “Kreacher said that I had been the Mistress of the House since Harry inherited it. How could we have both been so blind to miss what we meant to each other?”

Nodding thoughtfully, Alex smiled sadly. “From what you’ve told us, that was a very stressful time for both of you. I think you can both be excused for not seeing exactly how you felt about each other considering everything else that was going on at the time.”

Looking over at the clock, Alex smiled. “Speaking of time, what time are you and your young man coming to the house tonight?”

Smiling, Hermione bit her lip for a second before answering. “I know, if we’re going to be back here at five, I need to go so you two can get everything ready for tonight.”

Nodding, Helen smiled, “I think that will work nicely, dear.”

Hugging her father one last time, Hermione whispered something in his ear before letting go. “I’ll be back with Harry a bit before five, is there anything you want us to bring for the dinner?”

Laughing, Helen shook her head as she handed Hermione her coat and scarf. “Not a thing. When Audrey told us this morning what had happened last night, I had a feeling that we might have company tonight, so I had your father run to market before they closed at noon. Dinner will be no problem; I’m even ready with treacle tart for dessert.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione chuckled as she stepped through the door to the back steps. “Mother, have you no shame? The poor boy already thinks you’re perfect, you don’t have to try so hard with him.”

Hugging her daughter, Helen laughed. “Hermione, your young man is very easy to love and I would be inclined to spoil him whether or not you were serious about him. Don’t worry about me, just keep you mind on being there for him, and leave dinner to me.”

As they watched their daughter trudge through the snow towards their gazebo, Alex and Helen looked at each other and smiled. Watching for the telltale puff of snow displaced by her apparition, they closed the door and looked at each other for a few seconds.

Smiling, Alex nodded. “Double or nothing, a June wedding?”

Laughing, Helen shook his hand. “Done. A year from January, she’s always wanted a winter wedding. Any family vacations before then by mutual consent?”

Laughing, Alex nodded. “She might want a winter wedding, but I don’t think either of them will be in the mood to wait, once they discover exactly what they’ve been missing for the past six years.”

Feigning shock, Helen smiled. “Alex, that’s your daughter you’re talking about there.”

Smiling wickedly, he shook his head. “It’s your daughter I’m talking about. Maybe I should opt for an early spring elopement instead.”

Shaking her head, Helen arched her eyebrow. “Your wager is for June next. Care to wager on when our first grandchild will make an appearance?”


Chapter 5: Chapter Five - Have You Heard What I Heard?
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A small puff of displaced snow and a faint ‘pop’ heralded Hermione’s arrival at the apparition point near the outside entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. Glancing to her left and right, she surmised that the muggle charms were still in effect since no one was within sight. Walking quickly through the snowy alleyway, she came to the street and turned towards the right onto Charing Cross Road to reach the Cauldron. Smiling at the pedestrians who were hurrying along during the early afternoon of Christmas Eve, Hermione ducked into the tavern’s entrance, disappearing from view as she reentered the wizarding pub.

Stepping clear of the entrance, she lightly stamped her feet to restore a bit of feeling; all of the snow had been cleared from her by charms Tom had recently added to the entrance. Looking around she noticed the regular customers sitting around, swapping holiday sentiments, as well as a very dodgy looking group setting in the back, all dressed in black. One of the trio seemed to be staring at her, his piggish eyes and bristly hair seemed vaguely familiar until Hermione realized she was exchanging a stare with one of Draco’s former thuggish lackeys, Gregory Goyle. Shaking herself at the malice in his glance, she glanced over at the bar, smiling to see Hannah coming out from the kitchen area.

Walking over, Hermione smiled as Hannah ran out from behind the bar and embraced her. “’Lo Hannah, Happy Christmas to you and Neville.”

Taking Hermione’s arm, Hannah beamed as she led Hermione over to a secluded booth near the stairs to the upper level. “Is it true?”

Shaking her head, Hermione grinned. “Of course it’s true. Tomorrow is Christmas, you goose.”

Laughing, Hannah nodded towards the bar and held up two fingers for Tom to see. “Audrey and Percy were in earlier.”

Smiling, Hermione rolled her eyes. “Audrey’s quite the chatterbox, these days. I seem to be following her around the town today. I know what she told my parents, what did she tell you?”

Smiling coyly as one of the servers placed two steaming fragrant mugs in front of them, Hannah nodded her thanks as the young witch headed back to check on the group setting in the back corner. Watching the server, she shook her head as she saw the younger witch blush and step away from the table quickly. “That’s it, another insult to young Mari and that group is out on their collective arse, I don’t care if Pansy ‘I’m a reporter for the Daily Prophet’ Parkinson is paying their tab.” Shaking her head, Hannah shot a look of pure loathing at the three, who were laughing as Tom brought their drink orders to them.

Shaking her head, Hermione suppressed a small shiver. “Pansy?”

Shrugging, Hannah took a sip of her drink and sighed contentedly. “Try the mulled cider, it’s fresh.” Waiting until Hermione had taken a sip, she continued. “Pansy’s worse than Draco ever was.” Nodding over to the trio in the back, she scowled. “Those three have been following her around for about the past six months. At least Draco kept his pet trolls on a short leash back in school. Pansy lets them run loose and just uses her influence from the paper to keep people from complaining too much about it when they cause mischief or trouble.”

Watching the trio warily for a second, Hermione turned her attention back to Hannah. “You were saying…”

Nodding and smiling warmly, Hannah looked at Hermione for a second, as if searching for something. “Audrey was simply beside herself about what happened between Harry and Ginny last night. Even Percy was critical of Ginny, and he’s very careful not to say anything negative about family these days.” Giving Hermione an appraising look, she continued. “She was also fairly adamant about your riding to Harry’s rescue and the fact that there’s been a fairly major shift in the ‘who’s snogging who’ roster. Care to share any insights?”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled. “While that would be the ‘who is snogging whom roster’, I hate to disappoint everyone, but there’s been no snogging going on.” Smiling at Hannah, she waited as the blond took a long drink from her cider. “Of course, some people might take that my moving back into Grimmauld Place as significant.”

Hermione grinned as Hannah choked on her cider and glared at her. “Hermione Granger, you’re absolutely wicked. Might be significant? I want all the details and I want them now.”

Shaking her head, Hermione recapped the events since this morning at six-thirty when she awoke to find Ron prowling her kitchen up through a highly edited recount of her trip home to Oxford.

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled. “So, we’ll be in Oxford for the Christmas Eve celebration in the square tonight. But I’m not certain where we’ll be spending the afternoon tomorrow for dinner.”

Smiling smugly at her friend, Hannah smirked. “That’s after Christmas breakfast in bed with Harry, right?”

Looking scandalized, Hermione turned a bit red in the face. “Honestly, Hannah, things have been changing very rapidly, but I don’t think you’ll see us moving quite that quickly.”

“Quickly?” Rolling her eyes, Hannah stared at Hermione in disbelief. “You two have been circling around this since second year, at least. You should have jumped that boy the night of the Yule Ball, Viktor Krum be hanged. Did you see the way he was looking at you all night long?”

Shaking her head, Hermione sighed sadly. “Harry was very taken with Cho back then. I don’t think he ever really noticed me romantically.”

Laughing, Hannah shook her head. “Pish tosh. Other than Ginny, and the betting in my dorm was that she used a potion to snag him, the only witch Harry ever really had eyes for was you. Cho was some sort of barking mental crush he talked himself into, she never had a chance.”

Blushing again, Hermione looked at Hannah for a few seconds before she sighed. “There are times when I think the two of us should have been forced to share ward space with Lockhart, as apparently clueless as we both have been over the years.”

Nodding, Hannah looked over to the stairs and smiled as Neville ambled down them. “Neville, look who the hippogriff dragged in.”

Glancing over, Neville’s face lit up as he recognized Hermione sitting with his wife in their usual booth. “Happy Christmas, love. Happy Christmas Hermione, I didn’t think I was going to see you until tomorrow afternoon.”

Looking puzzled, Hermione glanced from Neville to Hannah, who was glaring at her husband. “Tomorrow afternoon?”

Blushing, Neville leaned over and kissed Hannah on the cheek. “Sorry dear, I forgot that Arthur wanted to keep that under wraps until tomorrow morning.”

Shaking her head, Hannah grinned at Hermione. “It was supposed to be a secret until tomorrow morning, but Arthur came in a while ago and asked if the Weasleys could use the big room upstairs for Christmas dinner. Seems someone feels a neutral site might be a good idea with all of the changes that have gone on today.”

Shaking her head, Hermione took a long drink of her cider. “Honestly Harry and I would have been fine going to the Burrow tomorrow, but I suppose separating the dinner from the family time and gifts might not be that bad an idea.”

Shaking his head, Neville slid into the seat beside Hannah. “Oi, I can imagine that the whole gift thing might be a bit sketchy tomorrow. Did Ron usually get you personal, romantic gifts?”

Smiling, Hermione rolled her eyes and looked at the amused look on Hannah’s face. “Whatever else he got me, usually at Harry’s suggestion; Ron always got me this hideous perfume that I made the mistake of telling him I liked the first time he got it for me back in school. Every year, I cast a simple charm on the bottle and it evaporates slowly during the course of the ensuing year, and by October I’m usually out.”

Smiling, Hannah nodded. “And he never noticed you never wore his perfume?”

Shaking her head, Hermione sighed. “I doubt he ever actually smelled it after the first time the saleswitch sold it to him. I should have been honest with him from the start, but he looked so eager when I first unwrapped it and tried it out that I didn’t have the heart.” Smiling mischievously, she nodded at Neville. “I used the ‘perfume smells different on every witch’ line the next day that first year when he noticed that what I was wearing wasn’t what he remembered.”

Looking at Hannah suspiciously, Neville shook his head. “You’ve told me that before.”

Smiling, Hannah nodded. “And with really good perfumes, like the ones you create for me, it’s true. Well crafted perfumes will interact with the body chemistry of the witch in question and will be subtly different for each witch who wears it.” Nodding to Hermione, she laughed. “You could give both us a vial of that wonderful perfume you make from moonflowers, and it would be different on each of us, but equally wonderful. But the stuff that Ron bought Hermione would smell exactly the same and equally bad on both of us.”

Shaking her head, Hermione grinned. “Unfortunately, she’s very correct Neville. But please don’t tell Ronald about what we said. I’m getting out of this with the two of us still on speaking terms; I’d really like to keep it that way.”

Nodding sagely, Neville smiled. “My lips are sealed. Although, I might suggest to him, when he starts dating a different witch, that he attempt to match his perfume to the witch, since that one was so totally you, he shouldn’t give it to any other witches.”

Laughing, all three of them were red-faced when Tom wandered over to see if they need any refills.

Standing, Hermione shook her head. “Thanks, but I do need to get one bit of shopping done before I head back to Grimmauld Place.” Looking over at the enchanted sundial mounted over one corner of the bar, she smiled. “I’ve got plenty of time to pick up something else for Harry and then something from both of us for my parents.”

Smirking, Hannah nodded and laughed. “Joint gifts for the parents? Sounds like my breakfast predictions are coming true.”

Looking confused, Neville shook his head. “While I’m not certain what breakfast has to do with gifts for Hermione’s mum and dad, from the blush on Hermione’s face, I’m fairly certain that it’s probably better I don’t know.” Standing up, Neville leaned over and kissed Hermione on the cheek. “Tell Harry that I’ll be looking for him to stop by on Boxing Day and we’ll catch up on things.” Pulling his old DA galleon out of his pocket, he nodded towards Hermione’s, which hung from a goblin silver chain around her neck. “We’re all here for you two, anything you need just call and we’ll be there faster than you can whistle Donald McGillivray.”

Shaking her head, Hermione returned the kiss on Neville’s cheek and nodded to Hannah. “Tonight we’re going to be in Oxford for the Christmas Eve service in the square, so we should be fine on our own. Apparently we’ll see both of you tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll tell Harry to drop by the day after.” Pulling her jacket close, she turned and headed towards the door as Neville slid back into the booth beside Hannah, neither one noticing a flesh coloured string that was retreating towards the back booth and a troublesome trio.

Heading out the back of the Cauldron, Hermione saw that the passageway between Diagon Alley and the pub was already open. Stepping onto the wizarding shopping thoroughfare, she looked around at the festive comings and goings as wizards and witches bustled around in the snow making last minute preparations for Christmas.

Looking towards her left, she crossed the busy thoroughfare and entered the dimly lit Eeylops. As the door closed behind her, she could hear the muted rustling of the various birds of prey in the shop. Looking around, she smiled as the counter witch came out of the back room.

“Hermione, good to see you again.” Caitlin Black-Jordon smiled as she crossed the shop to greet Hermione. “This one isn’t my usual stock in trade, but as soon as I saw this beauty, I thought immediately of our favorite wizard.”

Hermione followed Caitlin’s gaze and was immediately captivated by a very striking bird. Dark brown with yellow eyes, the ragged ear tufts and spiky feathers on the intelligent looking avian’s head reminded her immediately of Harry’s uncontrollable hair.

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled in satisfaction. “Caitlin, when you owled me and said you had exactly what I’d been looking for, I was a bit skeptical. I’ve never seen a beauty like this one.” The magnificent bird fluffed her feathers and let out a speculative ‘hoo hoo’ as she returned Hermione’s appraising gaze.

Nodding, Caitlin smiled as she watched the pair consider each other. “She’s a rare one around here. They’re called fish owls, they usually are found much farther to the east around lakes, rivers, marshes and other aquatic settings. They’ll hunt for what’s available, but they’re very adept at acquiring fish for their dinner.” Noticing Hermione’s involuntary shudder when she mentioned fish, Caitlin chuckled. “You don’t have to ask her to share with you, you know.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled. “Ah, but I think she’s going to be Harry’s second best girl, so she can share with him all she wants.”

The owl watched the pair of witches and nodded sagely. Hermione looked at her for several seconds before nodding. “How does she take to apparition?”

Shrugging in an almost Gallic fashion, Caitlin rolled her eyes. “No owl likes it, but this beauty will tolerate it better than most. You could take the floo to your flat from here if you wanted.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled. “That’s an excellent idea, Caitlin. That way I can introduce her to Crookshanks and let them get acquainted before I introduce her to Harry at my folks’ house tomorrow.”

Trying to hide her surprise, Caitlin’s eyebrows threatened to tangle with her hairline as she smiled at the offhand remark from her friend. “She’s more solitary than most owls, but I don’t think she’ll see your folks’ owl as competition.”

Nodding in appreciation, Hermione smiled. “From the look of her, she’s a touch bigger than most of the eagle owls I’ve seen.”

Nodding, Caitlin smiled. “A bit more stocky through the body also. Good thing your Harry’s bulked up since he was a first year or he’d never be able to carry her around like he did Hedwig.”

Colouring a bit at ‘your Harry’, Hermione shook her head. “Not you too.”

Smiling cheekily, Caitlin nodded. “Word travels fast, especially when it concerns Harry Potter. Angelina was in earlier with one of the Patils. Whichever one that was in Ravenclaw was fairly drooling over the prospect of Harry being in a ‘Ginny Free Zone’ as she put it.”

Shaking her head, Hermione arched an eyebrow. “Really now. I didn’t realize that Padma was that interested in Harry. I’m glad to see she’s recovered from what happened to her a couple of years ago, however…”

Smiling knowingly, Caitlin nodded. “However, Angelina told her that she didn’t think Harry was exactly back on the market.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione sighed. “I’ll never understand why any little thing involving Harry and I becomes common knowledge so quickly. We’re not that interesting.”

Laughing, Caitlin shrugged. “Keep telling yourself that, dear. Especially after you two start being seen in public together as a couple.” Reaching up and touching her DA galleon, which had been transfigured into a pendant that she wore around her neck as Hermione did, the older witch nodded seriously. “When I mentioned I was expecting you sometime in the next several days, Padma asked me to thank you for the upgrades to the DA galleons after she was attacked.”

Nodding seriously, Hermione scowled at the thought of what had happened to her classmate when she was attacked. “It was too late to help her that time, and thank Merlin no one’s had to use them since then, but its good knowing that everyone can call for help in an emergency.”

Looking puzzled, Caitlin gazed at Hermione questioningly as she packed up a cage, a perch and some owl treats for the fish owl. “About the activation spell?”

Smiling grimly, Hermione shrugged. “When I was modifying the protean charms on the galleons for the new ability, there was an American exchange witch who was working at the Minstry with Harry. She was muggle-born, her father was an American flyer stationed at RAF Mildenhall, and she helped with the setup of the new charms. Apparently it’s an American phrase.”

Nodding, Caitlin shivered a bit. “It’s certainly memorable, and not something likely to be said by mistake.” Shrinking the parcel so it would fit in Hermione’s jacket pocket, she handed her a padded gauntlet. “She wouldn’t usually need one, but she might get a bit peeved going through the floo. Better safe than sorry, no?”

Sliding the heavy leather gauntlet over her left hand, she nodded. “Very true.” Holding her arm out to the waiting owl, she smiled. “On you go, let’s get you home to my flat so you can become acquainted with your new sib.”

The owl gravely nodded and then made a short hop from her perch to Hermione’s proffered wrist. Hermione’s arm sagged under the weight of the bird, and she grimaced a bit. “Stars, what does she eat? Baby snorkacks?”

Stiffling a grin, Caitlin nodded. “A bit of this, a bit of that. Actually she’ll take down small deer if she’s peckish enough, so you might want to firmly impress upon her that Crookshanks isn’t in the edible category when you introduce them. See that band on her leg?”

Hermione glanced down and saw a goblin silver band, about a quarter of an inch wide, around her left leg. Reaching out a finger from her free hand, she waited until the owl nodded before she touched it lightly. “Some sort of spell attached, no?”

Nodding, Caitlin smiled. “I really wish I could do that, feel the magic the way you do. But you’re correct. It’s a Russian device, really it comes from the Irkutsk tribal areas, but the Russians are our contacts for it. It’s attuned to the mind of the familiar and functions as a limited portkey for them. This will take this beauty, if she really feels the need to hunt, to a hunting preserve near Lake Baikal when she can hunt or fish to her heart’s content before taking her back to wherever it is she calls ‘home’. It’ll also take her to her Master or Mistress; it ties into the innate magic they have for finding people with mail.”

Whistling softly, Hermione was visibly impressed. “This is the basis for that window opener you were making for me for my parents, isn’t it?”

Grinning, Caitlin walked over to the counter and retrieved a package. “Speaking of which, just put the band on Flaubert’s leg, and then place the four silver charms around the window at your parent’s house that you want him to use, and Flaubert will be able to come and go as he needs to without your parents having to get up and let him in or out.”

“Wonderful, I was hoping this would be finished in time for Christmas. I’ll put our names on it when I get back to the house this afternoon.” As Hermione was tucking the small package away, Caitlin chuckled again. Looking up, Hermione flashed her a curious glance. “What?”

Shaking her head as she smiled, Caitlin chuckled. “Nothing, nothing at all. You two have a Happy Christmas and stop back before New Years and let me know how Harry’s getting along with both his first and second best girls.”

Blushing, Hermione smiled. “We’ll do just that. You and Lee have a good Christmas, also. We’ll see you after Boxing Day.”

Stepping over to the floo, Hermione waited for Caitlin to toss a bit of powder into the flames before calling out, “Number Thirteen Gregory Place” and stepping into the green flames.

A/N – the new owl is a Blakiston’s Fish Owl, native to Japan, mainland Asia and parts of Eastern Russia and Siberia.

Flaubert is the name of the owl that Harry helped acquire for Hermione’s parents. A miniature owl, similar to Pig, but a bit less excitable.

Chapter 6: Chapter Six - There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays
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Stepping out of the floo in the lower kitchen of Grimmauld Place, Hermione brushed a bit of soot from her jumper as she nodded to Kreacher and Winky. “Hello all. Happy Christmas Eve to both of you.”

Looking up from the platter of biscuits she was arranging, Winky nodded her head happily. “Mistress Hermione is back. Winky is very happy that you’re finally going to take things in hand around here. Things have been very dodgy since Mistress left at times.” Nodding as she decorated the biscuits, Winky fairly beamed in satisfaction.

Smiling, Hermione nodded. “It’s good to be back Winky.” Turning to Kreacher, she smiled. “Everything satisfactory?”

Nodding gravely, Kreacher smiled a toothy smile. “The house is in order, Mistress. Master Harry is still asleep, and someone’s tried eleven times to come in by floo from the Burrow. I sent a throw pillow through the last time. The young Miss must be getting a bit sore from being bounced back so many times.”

Shaking her head, Hermione chuckled at the memory of Ginny looking a bit lost as she landed back in the Burrow’s sitting room. “She is persistent, I’ll grant her that.”

Looking around the kitchen, Hermione took in the scent of spices and fruit. “Fruitcake?” Seeing Kreacher’s nod, she smiled. “We won’t be here for dinner tonight, but we’ll be back tomorrow afternoon from my parents’ house so that might be nice to have with coffee when we come in.”

Nodding, Kreacher smiled. “It will be ready for the two of you when you return.”

Crossing the kitchen, Hermione paused at the door. “I’m going to go up and see about waking him. Would it be too much trouble for something light for a late lunch? I don’t want to eat too much, but we should catch a bit since we won’t be eating until after five in Oxford.” Seeing the enthusiastic nod from Winky, Hermione smiled. “I should be back down with Harry in about an hour or so.”

Sighing as Winky began bustling around the kitchen, Kreacher nodded. “Everything will be ready by two for you.”

Heading up the stairs to the main floor, Hermione chuckled at the noise she could hear from behind her. Without pausing, she traversed the hallway and continued up the stairs near the door to the floor where Harry lay sleeping.

Approaching her old bedroom, she paused with her hand on the doorknob before entering the room. The winter sunlight, filtered by the window hangings, gave the room a warm, inviting feel. From where she was standing, she could see Harry curled around the pillow she had fixed for him, fast asleep.

Watching him for several minutes from just inside the door, Hermione quietly reflected on her feelings for the raven-haired wizard. Reaching out with her senses, she could feel his presence in the room; his steady heartbeat and his slow measured breathing a rhythmic counterpoint to the emotions she could sense from both of them.

Shaking her head, she quietly walked over to the bed and toed off her shoes. Pulling the jumper over her head, she smiled at the look on his face. Lifting the edge of the covers, she slipped into her old bed, resting her head on the pillow as she carefully moved her body to where she was spooning with Harry.

Sliding her arm over him and cuddling him close to her, she felt him begin to stir a bit as he became aware of her actual presence. Inhaling, she breathed in the scent of him as he began to wake.

Moving so her face was close to his, she gently kissed his ear as his hand moved to cover hers where it lay resting on his chest. “Sleep well?”

Harry’s body suddenly stiffened as he realized that this wasn’t a continuation of the dream he had been having. Shaking her head, she hugged him gently. “Relax, I’m here and everything’s going to be fine.”

Harry lay perfectly still for several seconds before he exhaled and squeezed her hand. “’Mione? Do you know how many times I’ve dreamed that I was waking up with you?”

Chuckling Hermione hugged him again. “That must have been terribly awkward on those days when you woke up with someone else there.” Kissing his ear lightly, she sighed. “I’m not even going to suggest that you could have told me, we both know that neither one of us was ready to admit what we felt.”

Harry began to turn, and soon they were facing each other, their faces inches apart. Smiling at her, Harry watched her for a couple of minutes, his emerald eyes searching hers as if he was looking for something. Finally he gently moved a bit of hair from her face and smiled. “Since this isn’t King’s Cross, I’m going to assume that I didn’t slip away in my sleep and you’re really, actually here.”

Nodding slowly, Hermione moved towards him until their faces were just inches apart, their bodies touching. “I’m here, and if you’re willing, I’m not going anywhere, ever again.” Reaching up, she cupped his face with her hand.

Kissing him gently on the lips, Hermione felt his arms tighten around her as she brushed his lips with hers. “This morning, I realized that I loved you, and that I’ve probably loved you for a very long time.”

Smiling, Harry pulled her to him and kissed her tenderly. “I think I’ve loved you for a long time, but I never dreamed that you would respond.” Laughing a bit, he smirked. “Well, I did dream about it, but you know what I mean.”

Rising up on one elbow, Hermione arched an eyebrow and gave him a very severe look. “Mr. Potter, am I to believe you have had inappropriate dreams about me? Your best mate? Your other best mate’s girlfriend?”

Looking a bit sheepish, he nodded. “They weren’t extremely inappropriate, just a bit inappropriate.”

Feigning outrage, she glared at him. “So I’m not pretty enough to have extremely inappropriate dreams about?”

Sighing, Harry kissed her on the tip of her nose before answering. “They were extremely inappropriate in the sense that daring to think you might actually fancy me was beyond the realm of credibility.”

Burrowing her face in the crook of his neck, Hermione pulled herself close to him, feeling his body against hers. Looking up she kissed him on the cheek. “Harry, I wish I would have had the courage to tell you how I felt years ago.” Pushing him on his back, she sat up and leaned over to kiss him.

Reaching up, Harry put his hands on her cheeks and held her face in front of his for several seconds. “Hermione, you don’t know how close I was to just chucking everything last night. All I could do was sit there and wonder why I didn’t deserve anything, why I could never manage to find someone who loved me the way I loved you. If you hadn’t come…”

Tears forming in her eyes, she nodded and turned her head a bit and placed a kiss in the palm of his hand. “Harry, I came as soon as I knew, and I was wrong for not being here when it happened. All I can do is promise you that you are loved and if it takes me the next hundred years or so to convince you of that, then I’ll be happy to do just that.” Leaning over, she kissed him on the lips as she slipped a hand behind his head.

Brushing her tongue across his lower lip, she slipped into his mouth and began moving her tongue with his as their bodies moved closer together. As the kiss became more impassioned, their hands began to roam over each other’s body. Just as Harry found a very sensitive spot that was threatening to turn her into a mindless, quivering, bundle of pleasure, Hermione broke the kiss and stared at Harry for several seconds, breathing heavily.

Looking concerned, Harry shook his head. “Too far?”

Laughing as she tried to catch her breath, Hermione shook hers in return. “Not nearly far enough. But I just remembered we’re having dinner with my parents and then spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning with them.”

“And?” Sitting up, Harry wrapped his arms around her and held her as her heart began to slow.

“Oh, that feels sinfully good.” Smiling Hermione rested her head on Harry’s chest for a second before continuing. “We’re going to go meet my parents with relatively clear consciences today because my mother will try every trick in the book to get you to tell her exactly what we’ve been up to. If we haven’t done anything, then there’s nothing for you to confess.”

Laughing, Harry shook his head. “Hermione, your mother isn’t like that at all. Helen Granger is a very sweet person who loves you dearly.”

Sitting up, Hermione put on a very serious face and pointed her finger at Harry. “Harry James Potter, there are a couple of things you need to remember about my mother. The first is that she has you totally wrapped around her little finger.”

Blushing, Harry smiled. “Well, maybe a bit. But she’s a very sweet person. Rather like her daughter.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione chuckled. “Merlin, you’re such a naïf. The second thing is that if you look up the word ‘manipulative’ in the Oxford, you’ll see a wee tiny illustration of Helen Granger right beside the definition.”

Shaking his head, Harry laughed. “I can’t believe you’re saying these things about your mother.”

Glaring at him, Hermione looked very severe. “And the final thing is this.” Pausing for effect, Hermione waited until Harry was looking at her before continuing. “Helen. Granger. Has. No. Shame. She will do anything to get you to tell her exactly what we’ve been up to. So, if we haven’t done anything, you can’t be tricked, cajoled, flattered, or manipulated into telling her anything.”

Thinking for several seconds, Harry looked puzzled. Shaking her head, Hermione sighed. “What part of what I just said is confusing you?”

Slowly shaking his head, Harry shrugged. “Exactly how long are we going to not do anything so we don’t have anything to tell your mother?”

Looking up at the ceiling for inspiration and guidance, Hermione slowly counted to twelve in Mermish. Looking back down, she shook her head and sighed. “Just through tonight and tomorrow morning. If I can get through Christmas morning without my mother embarrassing me to death about our relationship in front of my father, I’ll consider it a moral victory and we’ll happily spend the rest of our lives being teased unmercifully about our sex life.” Leaning over and kissing him tenderly, she smiled. “Can you do this for me? Please?”

Grinning, Harry’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “You do realize we could go the other way with this?”

Watching him warily, Hermione pulled the pillows up into a pile and leaned back against them. “I’m almost afraid to ask where you’re going with this.”

Nodding, Harry put his elbows on his knees and sat there watching her for several seconds. “There’s always the option that we confess to everything your Mum could have possibly imagined. We tell her we’ve shagged in every room of the house, broken the shower, collapsed the dining room table and turned the gazebo out back into our own private Love Shack, all in less than twelve hours.”

Blushing furiously, Hermione stared at him. “Harry, what on earth would you hope to accomplish by that? Do you realize? We haven’t even…” Dumbstruck, she shook her head. “I can’t fathom what my mother’s reaction to something like that would be.”

Smiling, Harry chuckled at the totally gobsmacked look on her face. “Face it, if we can shock her senseless, and then let them know we’re just giving them the mickey before your dad tears me limb from limb, she might just leave us alone on the subject for a while. From what I can gather, the only reason she’s going to do this is she knows she can twist you up about it and she wants to see exactly how flustered she can get you. If we go on the offense…” Letting his voice trail off, Harry grinned at the speculative gleam in Hermione’s eyes.

Nodding slowly, Hermione grinned in anticipation. “You do realize you’re suggesting we prank my Mum?” Seeing him nod his head in agreement, she launched herself across the space between them and tumbled the two of them off the bed and onto the floor.

Crashing to the floor, a tangle of limbs and bedclothes, Hermione began kissing Harry passionately from her position on top of him.

Returning the kisses, Harry slid his hands up beneath the top she was wearing, exploring her body while they kissed. Hermione broke the kiss, sat up and stared at him very intently.

“Harry, you’re brilliant, but I don’t think our first time should be on the floor, do you?”

Sighing, Harry shook his head. “As long as you remember that I’m not the one who knocked us out of a perfectly good bed.” Glancing towards the door, Harry got a sly look on his face. “If memory serves, there’s a perfectly wonderful bed just down the hall that we could explore.”

Shaking her head, Hermione stood up and reached down to help Harry to his feet. “Sorry to ruin your plans, but your bedroom is totally empty of furniture.”

Seeing the perplexed look on his face, Hermione reached out and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close to her. “Harry, I decided that everything in those two rooms was going to go. There was going to be nothing in there to remind you of her and how she hurt you.” Hugging him tight, she whispered in his ear. “I’m sorry if I went too far, but I didn’t think either of us needed those sorts of memories hanging around.”

Holding him for several seconds, she could feel him nod in agreement. “We’ll start fresh, all new things in there if you want, but I wanted it to be something for us.”

Kissing her tenderly on the cheek, Harry nodded again. “Hermione, I’m very lucky that you’re who you are, because I would have mucked this entire thing up. But I can tell you one thing, once you finish redecorating that room, you’re going to be the only witch who’s ever in that bed.”

Blushing, Hermione blinked back a couple of tears. “You do realize that once word gets out, you’ll have an entire cavalcade of witches waiting to audition for that spot? Padma’s already rejoicing that you’re in a ‘Ginny Free Zone’.” Shaking her head, she smiled bravely. “Don’t you think you should do a bit of shopping around before you make a decision like that?”

Smiling, Harry shook his head. “Hermione, I have a Firebolt here. Why would I want to go rooting around in a barrel of Shooting Stars when I know I’ve already got the best?” Shaking his head at the slightly puzzled expression on her face, he smiled. “You’re the only witch for me, that’s never going to change. At best, any other witch is going to be a bad knockoff, and I’m very partial to the original, thank you very much.”

Tears rolling down her cheeks, she pressed her face against his chest. “Harry, I’m not going to give you a roster of all my faults, you’ve witnessed them first hand over the years. Are you certain?”

Putting his hand underneath her chin, he gently lifted her face until he was staring into her eyes. Seeing the worry and love there, he gently kissed her on the lips before answering. “I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life. Although, I should ask you the same thing. You can have a whole troop of wizards at your front door now that you’re not seeing Ron. Did you think of that?”

Smiling, Hermione winked at him. “Silly, my front door is 12 Grimmauld Place. There’s not a wizard on the planet that’s got enough brass to show up at your front door to pick me up if they actually had the stones to ask me out. You’re the ’Bloke Who Kicked Voldemort’s Bloody Arse ‘, remember?”

Shaking his head, Harry rolled his eyes. “I’m also a terrible influence on you, it would seem. Language, dear.”

Nodding towards the door to the bath, she smiled. “Hush, you. I’ve said worse, I just never did it around you until now. You start getting cleaned up; Kreacher laid out fresh towels and soap while you were sleeping. I’ll go down the hall and get something for you to wear to be introduced to my folks in tonight and we’ll go downstairs and see what Kreacher has prepared for a light lunch.”

Shaking his head, Harry smiled. “Hermione, I’m met your folks dozens of times.”

Stopping and staring at him in disbelief, Hermione shook her head slowly. “Harry, I’m only going to tell you this once. Up until this morning, you were Harry Potter, my best friend. Regardless of what we really felt for each other, that’s how they saw you, or at least they acted that way. This afternoon, my parents are going to officially meet Harry Potter, the man I love and the wizard I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”

Pausing as she smiled at the blush that was creeping up his cheeks she nodded. “You have no earthly idea what you’re in for.”

Stepping out into the hallway, she looked over her shoulder and smiled wickedly. “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

Half an hour later, they were both seated in the lower kitchen. Smiling, Harry was shaking his head as he was sampling the plate in front of him. “Hermione, are you certain things are going to be so different when we get to Oxford in a few hours?”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled wryly. “Of course not, Harry. I’m just twisting you up to see how nervous I can make you.” As he started to relax, she sighed. “Harry, that was sarcasm. Yes, it’s going to be different. Mum and Daddy never took Ron seriously because they knew he really wasn’t the one. You, on the other hand, are most certainly, without a doubt, ‘The One’.”

Blushing, Harry busied himself with his soup for a couple of minutes before looking up. “What happens if they don’t like me?”

Putting down her spoon, Hermione got up and wrapped her arms around him. “Harry, that’s not going to happen, they like you already; in fact I’d say my Mum loves you very much. It’s not you, it’s me.”

Shaking his head, Harry watched her for a couple of seconds. “All right, I’m officially lost.”

Sitting back, Hermione twisted on the bench until she was straddling the bench, facing Harry. “I’m afraid what this will do to us.” Seeing the look on his face, she smiled bravely. “Harry, I’ve told you about my childhood. My parents loved me very much, and they tried to show it, but because I was different, I basically retreated inside my head when the magic started manifesting, and they really didn’t know quite how to get me to come out. I didn’t have any friends at school; I was very wrapped up inside myself because I never knew when something strange was going to happen around me.” Becoming self-conscious, Hermione nodded as Harry reached over and grasped her hands with his.

“When Minerva showed up at the house and explained what was happening, I focused on the magic, and the distance between my parents and me didn’t go away. I was determined to understand everything about this new world I was in, and it was something that they couldn’t participate in very well. And apparently once I went to school, I became overly involved in the affairs on one Harry James Potter and I drifted a bit further away from them each year. They loved me, and I loved them, but we couldn’t connect.”

Shaking his head, Harry frowned. “Did I cause you grief dear?”

Shaking her head, Hermione leaned over and kissed Harry lightly on the lips. “Never, but I was so drawn to you, that I focused everything I could on helping you and it left less time for them. They tried to understand, and they could tell from my letters home that you were special and what we were doing was important.”

Taking a deep breath, she smiled bravely. “And then came the summer after our sixth year. Dumbledore was dead, and I knew that it was finally happening, everything you and I had feared and never talked about directly. I was scared because I couldn’t protect them. I ‘liberated’ a couple of books from the restricted section and I came home to talk, to really talk to them for the first time in years.” Tears glistening in her eyes, she looked down at their hands.

“I convinced them what was going to happen, how three seventeen year old students were going to try to save the world. I promised them that if they would let me protect them the only way I could, when you were successful, then I would come back for them and we’d spend the rest of our lives trying to regain what we lost over the years. I would bring them into my world and share everything with them from that day forward.”

Shaking her head, she looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Harry, I’ve gone and committed myself to something, committed us to something without thinking how you’d feel about it. My Mum and Dad can be a bit much, they love very completely and have a very strange sense of boundaries when it comes to the people they love.” Looking back down at their hands, she sighed. “I understand if you’re not comfortable with that and want to rethink this whole ‘us’ concept.”

Taking his hand and placing it under her chin, Harry raised her face until he was staring into her eyes, which were swimming with tears. “Darling, I’ve felt comfortable with your folks since we found them in Canberra. I love your mum, and I really like your dad. He’s a bit scary at times, but I do like him. They will be as much a part of our lives as you want them to be, I don’t have a problem with that at all.” Smiling at her, he nodded. “I’ll go to the house and revel in everything, because it means two things. I’m part of a family, and I’m there with you. We’re jumping into the deep end of this, and I suspect we’re going to make a fair number of mistakes along the way.”

Seeing that she was about to say something, Harry placed a finger on her lips to quiet her. “Nothing can return the time that I didn’t get to spend with my Mum and Dad. Except for that one brief moment in the Forbidden Forest, my time with my parents ended the night Tom Riddle crashed through the wards at their cottage in Godric’s Hollow. Nothing can replace the time you and your parents lost, but we can spend the rest of our lives with them ensuring that they’re as much a part of your life, of our lives, as we can.”

Scooting closer to her, he swung his leg over the bend and wrapped his hands around her waist. “The one thing I can assure you is that I’m never going to regret a moment of this. Today we’re going to go and meet your folks, have dinner and be a family. Then we’re going to go visit my folks and show my Mum and Dad that we’re a family. And then, for the first time in my life that I can remember, I’m going to spend Christmas Eve with my family doing something that actually pertains to Christmas.” Kissing her on her forehead, he rested his head against hers and sighed. “And it’s going to be wonderful, even if we completely embarrass ourselves in the process.”

Placing her arms around his neck, Hermione stared at him for a couple of seconds. “Harry, I know I’m mental. Can you put up with me long enough to get through tonight?”

Smiling, Harry shook his head. “Hermione, you put up with me being a moody temperamental git who had a homicidal manic chasing him for seven years. I think I can deal with twenty-four hours of being on my best behavior while spending Christmas with your parents.”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled sadly. “Tomorrow evening, after everything’s over and done with, we’ll come back here and it will finally just be us. I promise.”

Laughing, Harry smiled. “Hermione, it’ll be fine. Your parents love you, apparently they like me. I love you, you love me. What could possibly go wrong?”

Snorting, she shook her head and sighed. “You have no idea.”

Chapter 7: Chapter Seven - Messengers From the Realms of Glory
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Snow was gently falling as Harry and Hermione appeared just outside the graveyard in Godric’s Hollow. Looking at each other, they were both still grinning from the successful prank they had played on Hermione’s mother back in Oxford. As they had arrived at the apparition point for Hermione’s childhood home, they had agreed that Hermione would get her father alone for a second or two to explain the plan while Harry would stall and blush, indicating he had something to hide.

When Harry protested that he wasn’t able to blush on command like that, Hermione grinned wickedly and whispered in his ear that she had borrowed his invisibility cloak while he was in the shower and gotten quite a preview of coming attractions. Her parting advice to ‘think of me watching you in my shower’ as they climbed the steps had guaranteed a Weasley class blush on Harry’s face when her father opened the door for them.

When Hermione returned to the sitting room with her father, she nodded to Harry just as her mum asked him “Have you two been behaving yourselves in the house of yours, Harry?” Harry stammered that they had had a wee spot of trouble with the shower curtains getting ready, that the rod really wasn’t strong enough to sustain all of Hermione’s weight for nearly long enough. Hermione then pointed out that table down in the kitchen would probably need to be repaired since it was leaning quite drastically after their ‘lunch’. The pair traded off placing every naughty daydream and tall tale they had heard from their dormmates and friends over the years into the various rooms around Grimmauld Place.

Helen Granger went from triumphant when she got Harry to make the first admission, to stunned after Hermione’s blasé recounting of how leather chesterfields are very impractical for amorous adventures, to shocked when Harry reminded Hermione that they had left her battery powered ‘wand’ out in the gazebo, to very close to having a stroke when her only daughter remarked how she didn’t have to tip the delivery wizard from the local pizza shop when she showed up to the floo in just her knickers to get their delivery of a pizza.

Sputtering in disbelief, Helen turned to her husband, who was following the entire conversation with marked interest; she demanded to know if he had anything to say about the goings on of their only daughter and her newly minted boyfriend. Alex tilted his head to the side for a second, looked thoughtful, counted on his fingers a bit and shook his head before replying “I knew I should have taken September in the first grandchild bet.”

Helen’s face went a shade of purple that was usually lethal right as Alex began laughing uncontrollably. Staring at her husband, who had tears streaming down his face, the realization of what had happened finally dawned on her and she shook her head in grudging admiration as her daughter and Harry joined in the laughter.

Dinner had proceeded exceedingly well, with Helen and Alexander embarrassing both Harry and Hermione with special moments from Hermione’s childhood (“Remember when she turned her hair blue Easter morning when she was five?”) and recitations from Hermione’s letters home concerning Harry (“…and then she went on for two pages about exactly what shade of green your eyes were”).

Hand in hand, the pair approached the kissing gate that permitted access to the cemetery from the rest of the village. Smiling wistfully at the carols coming from the nearby church, they kissed once before walking through the gate, unaware of a pair of brown eyes watching them from the shadows of a nearby tree.

Walking through the snow covered cemetery, Harry and Hermione stopped briefly at the stone marker for Dumbledore’s family before approaching the stone that marked the earthly remains of Harry’s parents. Standing silently in the moonlight, they gazed at the slightly glowing stone for several minutes, listening to the muted chorus of ‘Veni, Veni, Emanuel’ coming from the church as they made their final approach. Kneeling down, the pair held each other’s hand, as Harry simply said, “Mum, Dad, we’re back.”

Shaking his head, he smiled ruefully. “It’s been four very long years since the first time we came here together, and I’d guess that the two of you knew that night what we couldn’t see. I knew I was standing here with the bravest, smartest, most loving witch in the world that night, but I couldn’t see that we both loved each other. She saved my life that night, and she’s literally saved it every day since then just by being herself.” Looking over at Hermione, Harry nodded and reached up to wipe away one of the tears that was rolling down her cheeks.

Nodding, Hermione took a deep breath and smiled. “Lily, James, I’ve come to love your son more than I can tell. I suppose I’ve loved him from the first time I saw him, but I never credited that he could love someone like me, someone so ordinary and unremarkable. Harry keeps telling me that I’m not, but he’s really the special one here. I’d like to think the two of you approve of us, my parents both think Harry’s wonderful and they’re very happy that the two of us are finally sorting ourselves out.”

Swallowing, Hermione glanced over at Harry once before turning back to the stone. “Lily, all I can do is promise you that I’ll always make certain that Harry knows that both of us love him very much. Your son is a very special person, and it breaks my heart when I think about the things he’s had to face. Whatever comes, he won’t face it alone. And James, I’ll do my best to make Harry the happiest wizard I can. We pranked my mum tonight, we’re raising Moony and Tonks’ son to be the first of the New Marauders, and we’ll do our level best to make certain there are more to follow.”

As the pair knelt in front of the graves of Lily and James, a slight solitary figure cancelled the disillusionment spell that concealed her and began to stealthily make her way from behind the massive oak tree towards the kissing gate. Cloaked and hooded, the barest hint of pale skin and red hair were evident in the moonlight.

As the cloaked intruder came within ten feet of the gate, a pair of shining silver forms began to materialize in front of the gate. A stag and a doe, both tall and regal, they gleamed in the moonlight. Green fire blazed from the eyes of the doe and she pawed the ground in front of her menacingly as the cloaked stranger came to an abrupt halt. Having been raised on tales of the Order of the Phoenix from the cradle, Ginny Weasley stopped and stared as the immortal forms of two of the heroes of the first war, James and Lily Potter, appeared in front of her and barred her way.

Low and melodious, the voice that issued from the doe was full of menace and promise. “Ginevra Molly Weasley, you couldn’t be bothered to accompany him here any other night, tonight is not your night. Go home girl before you find the full measure of your folly. Tonight is her night and hers alone.”

Shaking her head, the hood fell back revealing Ginny’s tear streaked face. “It’s not right nor fair. I never had a chance, it’s always been her.”

Taking a step forward, the stag nodded sadly. “Ginny, it’s true; you never had a chance with my son. She’s been the one who’s held his heart since that first day. You grew up in love with a myth, but ‘The Boy Who Lived’ isn’t Harry, not really.” Glancing tenderly at the doe beside him, he snorted at the fierce look she still had. “It would have been better if they had called him, ‘The Boy Who Was Loved’, because that’s what saved him that night, that’s what saved him four years ago tonight when Riddle’s familiar attacked him, it’s what brought him back the night he defeated Tom, and it’s what saved him last night when you took your frustrations out on him. Two witches have loved him unconditionally over the years, his mother and the witch who is at his side tonight.”

Shaking her head from side to side, tears rolled down her cheeks as she clenched her fist around the handle of her wand. “Why? Why couldn’t he have loved me?”

Sighing and shaking his head, Prongs stared at her for several seconds. “Despite everything that’s happened, Harry does love you, as the sister of his best friend and as someone who stood by him against Tom Riddle. He’ll always love you, the way he loves Luna, Parvati, Dean, Seamus and the others. He’ll lay down his life for you, but he won’t live it for you. He also loves your family, and you’ll always have that connection to him.” Breaking off, Prongs glanced at his companion as she stepped up beside him.

In a much quieter voice, the doe nodded to the young witch. “Ginny, Harry still cares about you and cares for you. If you want to salvage anything with them, you need to think long and hard about what you’re doing tonight.

Taking a defiant step towards the entrance, Ginny was blocked by the patronuses, whose glow intensified as they became more solid. The stag lowered his head slightly, calling attention to the antlers from which he derived his nom-de-prank. As the light of the moon reflected from the glittering points, Prongs spoke quietly. “You owe that pair in there your life twice over. Accept that your destiny lies elsewhere and remain their friend.”

Shaking her head, Ginny laughed bitterly. “She won’t allow it. Now that she’s reclaimed what is hers, she won’t allow any other witch near him.”

Shaking her head, Starlight sighed. “Don’t judge her by your standards. She has no real fear that he will stray or wander. What she won’t allow is you or anyone else hurting him needlessly. She still sees you as a friend, but her love of Harry will override that.”

Prongs continued, “And as fierce as she is on his behalf, striking at her would be the only thing that could destroy Harry’s feelings for you totally.” Lowering his voice, he continued. “Ginny, we love and respect your parents; they wouldn’t want you to be here tonight. Your brother Fred is very disappointed, he says to tell you that this isn’t how the Weasley Princess acts.”

Nodding her head, Starlight looked Ginny in the eyes; her emerald eyes meeting Ginny’s brown ones. “Fred wants you to remember what he told you when he came home from Hogwarts the summer before your first year. He told you that Harry wasn’t a doll or something you could collect and keep on a shelf. He also told you that he thought Harry had already made his choice in life. If Fred saw what was between the two of them when they were only eleven, it was something that wouldn’t be set aside for a young witch’s daydream and fantasy. Hermione sees the real Harry, the one that very few people get close enough to see, and she loves that Harry, not the one that everyone thinks they know.”

Shaking her head sadly, the doe sighed. “You’ve seen the real Harry, but you ignored him for the Harry you daydreamed about, the one that never existed except in your fantasies. The real Harry came into the Chamber of Secrets and rescued you. Not because you were a princess in a story, but because you were someone who needed help and he could give it. He would have braved the basilisk for Millicent or Moaning Myrtle if they had needed him."

Collapsing into a heap in the snow, Ginny looked up at the pair, shining regally in the moonlight. “What can I do? All I wanted was someone who loved me. Someone who looks at me the way he looks at her?” Shaking her head sadly, she whispered. “Is that so very much to ask?”

Shaking her head, the doe walked softly over to the young witch and nuzzled her face. “Ginny, what you’re looking for is difficult. It’s not very much to ask, but it’s so very hard to find. While I can’t give you any details, I do know that there’s someone out there that will care for you the way they care for each other, if you only give him a chance. Just be the witch that Harry came to care for and about, and you’ll find the one you’re looking for.” Nodding as the young girl looked up at her, she sighed. “Go home to your family for Christmas Eve, and let them go to hers in Oxford. Tomorrow will be soon enough to mend your fences with Harry and Hermione."

Shaking her head, Ginny looked down at the ground. “Can they? Will they?”

Nodding, Starlight nudged her gently. “They’re almost finished in there; you need to go home to your family. Those two will accept you, if you’re willing to accept them. She might take a little longer to warm back up to you, but she’ll welcome you back because he will. Go home Ginevra, its Christmas Eve and you should be with those who love you, with your family.”

Standing, Ginny brushed the snow from her cloak. Looking once towards the cemetery, she shook her head. “I do love him, you know. I’m not just a silly little witch.”

Prongs nodded. “If you really love him, then be happy that he’s finally found the one for him. That’s the essence of loving someone, little one. Harry wouldn’t have cared for you if you were just a silly little witch. But you need to put away the stories of your childhood and start looking for your own future and what will make you happy.”

Stepping into the shadow of the oak tree, Ginny sighed, pulled her hood up and disappeared with a faint ‘pop’ and a puff of displaced snow.

Shaking her head, Starlight sighed. “Do you think Nikolaos is correct?”

Rolling his eyes, Prongs nuzzled her gently. “He was correct about the children coming together. Like it or not, Ginny being a total bitch was essential in bringing them to see that they needed each other. Do you think she went back to the Burrow?”

Shaking her head, the doe sighed. “Her? Not a chance. That child is Molly Prewett reborn. She may have given up on getting Harry, but now she’s focused on being forgiven by the two of them. I’m afraid this night isn’t over for the youngest Weasley.”

Turning around, the pair faded their glow until they were barely visible against the snow that covered the ground. Watching Harry and Hermione exit through the gate, they both nodded as the pair kissed and embraced before apparating away, hand in hand.

Nodding to each other, they slowly faded away as strains of ‘Silent Night’ filled the air.

Chapter 8: Chapter Eight - The Grinch and his posse come to Oxford
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Snow was gently falling as the pair arrived back in the Granger backyard. Nodding to each other, they walked towards the house.

Smiling, Hermione stopped them as they reached the steps to the house. “Harry?”

Wrapping his arm around her, Harry smiled, knowing what was coming. “Yes?”

Looking thoughtful, and a touch worried, Hermione nodded back the way they had come. “Do you think they approve?”

Grinning, Harry shook his head at her predictability at times. “I know they not only approve, but I certain that they’re very relieved that we’re finally getting things straightened around.” Leaning in, he placed a kiss on her cheek, fully aware that her parents were watching them from the library window.

Smiling, she shook her head slightly. “And just how do you know that, Mr. Potter?”

Pulling her closer to him, he smiled and kissed her again. “You were there; you could feel the aura of serenity and love that surrounded the stone from the first moment we knelt down there together.” Waiting, he watched as she nodded slowly, tears forming in her eyes. “They know everything that’s happened to us, and can see much clearer than we could, apparently, how we truly feel about each other. If they would have had doubts or concerns, we wouldn’t have felt that acceptance and joy from the moment we arrived tonight.”

Smiling at the blush on her cheeks, Harry continued. “According to the letters I’ve read from her friends, if my Mum had one serious flaw, it was that she was pants at masking how she felt about things. Rather like someone I know very well.” Seeing the blush that graced Hermione’s cheeks, Harry nodded and grinned. “If she were unhappy about us being together, I’m rather certain that we would have known it tonight.”

As the two of them started up the steps, Hermione nodded her head and the door clicked and swung open. Smiling impishly at him, she chuckled. “Since Mum and Dad are so busy upstairs in the library watching us, no sense on waiting to unlock the door, is there?”

Glancing up as they entered the kitchen, Harry could see a flash of movement in the window as they crossed the threshold of the house. Shutting the door behind them with a nod, he sighed. “At least we didn’t do anything totally inappropriate while they were watching us.”

Giggling, Hermione began taking off her coat and placing it on the back of a chair. “After this afternoon, I doubt that we’ll be able to shock them with too much, though it might be a bit fun to try.”

“What might be fun, Poppet?” Alex Granger entered the kitchen and nodded to the two. “Everything go fine visiting Harry’s parents?”

Blushing slightly, Hermione nodded to her father. “Everything was fine Daddy. Harry and I want to take you and Mum to visit sometime; I’m looking at a couple of spells that will allow the two of you to see the monument and the cottage where Harry was born.”

Smiling tolerantly at his daughter, Alex nodded and winked at Harry. “You’ll find she does that, from time to time. When she doesn’t want to answer part of a question, she goes on and on about something else, hoping I’ll either overlook it or forget what I asked her.” Grinning at the exasperated look his daughter gave him, Alex sighed. “Definitely takes after her mother, she does.”

Entering the kitchen, carrying her coat, Helen Granger smiled. “You say that as if it’s a bad thing, dear. How is Hermione taking after me now?”

Kissing his wife on the cheek, Alex smiled. “She has a tendency to avoid answering subjects she’d rather not talk about by going on a bit about something else to take your mind off the question you originally asked. Something you would know about, correct dear?”

Smiling, Helen rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly, Alex. But we really should be heading out to the square if we’re going to enjoy the entire spectacle that makes up Christmas Eve in Oxford.” Turning towards her daughter, she winked conspiratorially. “Did you and Harry find an appropriate spot for us to appear out of thin air in?”

Blushing a bit, Hermione nodded. “Yes Mum, there’s an approved apparition spot near the square. It’s setup for all of the students who are attending courses here to come and go without having to have anything inside the colleges proper.” Shaking her head, Hermione smiled apologetically at Harry before turning back to her father. “Daddy, Harry was relieved that we hadn’t done anything inappropriate while you and Mum were spying on us, I mean while you were watching the moonlight in the yard, and I was just suggesting that it might have been fun to have been mildly inappropriate before we came into the house.”

Laughing, Alex shook his head. “Poppet, I wasn’t criticizing, I was merely warning Harry. And it’s much too chill a night for anything more than the mildest inappropriate behavior.”

Looking at the two of them blushing, he sighed. “Your mother and I trust the two of your and we most heartily approve of you being together. Your little performance this afternoon notwithstanding, I’m certain that the two of you are exploring your new relationship very carefully and we have no fears about the two of you.” Smiling at the disbelieving cough from his wife, he nodded. “Well, none other than the normal fears a father has about his only daughter’s happiness.”

Shaking her head, Hermione walked over and kissed her father on the cheek. “Daddy, the only person that worries more about my happiness than you is Harry. While we wouldn’t dream of depriving you of your right to worry about me, you can relax, just a bit. It’s not like the time Grandmother Jane walked in on you and Mum doing ‘laundry’ that one Easter break, is it?”

Watching Alex Granger blush and Helen look positively scandalized, Harry smiled and shook his head. While not knowing the particulars, Harry knew that Hermione had just played a rather remarkable trump card.

Shaking her head, Helen rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe my mother told you that story. You were only seven when she passed. You were much too young to hear that tale.”

Putting her coat back on, Hermione smiled knowingly. “Grandmother wrote me quite a long series of letters before she passed. She left them with her solicitor, with instructions to see that I received them after I turned eighteen, but that you and Daddy weren’t to know about the letters and the other items. Jane Martin was quite a remarkable woman, and she left me a great deal of insight, not only into my parents, but into life in general.”

Looking at Harry, she smiled. “I really wish I had seen them earlier. Her stories of wartime Britain and her meeting my grandfather would have helped us during that year we were on the run, and if I’d had read them before the fact, rather than after, I would have realized exactly which wizard in that ratty old tent I was in love with the night Ron pushed me to make a choice.”

Clearing his throat, Alex smiled as his daughter and her chosen looked up and blushed. “Hermione, if it isn’t too much trouble, I’m certain your mother would love to read some of those letters. But tonight, we have Christmas Eve to attend to, and from what I understand this will be quite an experience for Harry.” Nodding to his daughter, Alex smiled. “Poppet, why don’t I go with you and your mother will go with Harry?”

Seeing her nod, he walked over to her and waited for her to take his arm. Turning to Harry, Alex nodded. “We’ll meet you there in the square.”

As Hermione and her father exited the kitchen, Helen Granger put her coat on and smiled at Harry. “Not very subtle, but this should give us a chance to talk without my daughter overhearing us. Do you mind?” Indicating the chair in front of Harry, Helen seated herself at the table and waited.

Looking at her curiously, Harry smiled, pulled out the chair, and sat. “Is this a ‘Helen, what is it we need to talk about?’ moment or a ‘Mrs. Granger, what would you like to tell me?’ moment?”

Laughing, Helen shook her head. “Harry, every time we speak, I’m more and more certain of my daughter’s judgment regarding you. This is definitely a ‘Helen’ moment, if you will.”

Laughing along with her, Harry sighed. “All right, Helen, what is it that we don’t what Hermione to know?” Putting his hand up, Harry stopped her when she was going to begin. “Just one thing, I’m not clearly certain why, but most everything one of us knows, the other does eventually, usually without having to be told. It’s not that we go rummaging around in each other’s heads; it’s more that we seem to share things on a level that neither of us seems to totally understand, at the moment. I’ll try to keep any confidences you want, as long as they won’t harm her, but I can’t guarantee she won’t suss out anything you tell me on her own.”

Smiling, Helen nodded. “Fair enough, and that confirms one of the things I’ve suspected about you two for years now. But what I wanted to tell you is that you need to take a firm hand with my daughter on one subject.” Seeing the look on his face, she shook her head. “I’m totally serious here. Hermione feels dreadfully guilty about how things happened during her childhood, and since the two of you found us in Canberra, she’s gone to great lengths to include us in all aspects of her life.”

Nodding, Harry smiled. “She mentioned that earlier, and she was worried that I would have a problem with that. I told her that I have no reservations about the two of you being involved in our lives.”

Smiling sadly, Helen shook her head. “Harry, you’re going to have to help Alex and I draw boundaries with Hermione. The last thing the two of you need is the two of us living in your back pockets. We’re thrilled to know more of what she’s doing, and we really do enjoy her friends and their perspectives on life, but her father and I want the two of you to be happy, and you need space to build your own life together. The two of us are going to rely upon you to set limits, because Hermione is very determined to compensate for how things were when she was younger.”

Looking serious, Harry nodded. “Helen, I understand, but I hope you understand my dilemma. Your daughter, my girlfriend, is very determined to ‘make up’ to you and Alex for what she sees as you two missing out on her life growing up. While there isn’t anything in this world or the next that I wouldn’t brave for her sake, I’m very bad at telling her ‘no’ on things she has her mind and heart set on.”

Shaking her head, Helen sighed. “She’s more than made up for our inability to connect with her when she was growing up over the past several years. We understand her world and her place in it, and we’ve met friends and colleagues of hers.” Reaching across the table, Helen placed her hand on top of Harry’s and squeezed it gently. “She’s loved and loves and that’s in no small part thanks to you. We were very concerned about her up until we received those first letters from school from her.”

Smiling, Helen shook her head. “I really don’t know if I should tell you t his, but you were in every letter she sent home, from the very first one explaining she had met a very interesting boy on the train who seemed willing to be friends with her through the last one she wrote after your Headmaster’s death. She spent almost four pages writing about how you were holding up and her fears for you.”

Shaking his head, Harry smiled ruefully. “You knew then, didn’t you?”

Smiling, Helen stood and walked around the table towards the door. Waiting for Harry to join her, she slid her arm into his and nodded to him. “Harry, would it distress you if I told you that I knew that day in Diagon Alley, all those years ago?” Seeing the look of amazement on his face, she laughed as they exited the house into the snowy night. “Harry, the look on her face when she saw you told me everything I needed to know about what was going to happen in your future. I didn’t realize all of the things that were swirling around you then, if I did I would have been scared to death for the both of you, but at that moment I knew that I’d be seeing a good deal of you in the future.”

Blushing, Harry shook his head as they stopped on the four flagstones that marked the apparition point. “Was there anyone besides the two of us who didn’t see it?”

Shaking her head, Helen smiled. “Anyone who really cared about either of you could see it, if they looked. I imagine that most of your classmates wondered what the two of you were playing at, denying your relationship all those years.” Watching Harry out of the corner of her eye, Helen gave him a second to compose himself before she spoke. “Well Harry, we have a Christmas Eve to attend. Do whatever it is you do and let’s get there. Hopefully Alex and my daughter have gotten us a good place to stand and watch.”

Nodding, Harry tightened his grip on Helen’s arm. “Just hold on, and don’t let go until I tell you we’re there.” Looking at the look of grim determination on her face, he laughed. “It’s not that bad. You look just like Hermione’s does when I take her flying. Relax; I haven’t lost anyone in almost a year.”

Waiting until she turned to look at him, with shock in her eyes, Harry smirked and twisted in place, taking both of them to the apparition point in the back courtyard of the small wizarding pub that served as the hub for Oxford’s magical community. Shaking her head, she glared at him. “You did that on purpose.”

Nodding, Harry grinned. “Yep. That way you weren’t worrying about it and tensing up. If you were annoyed with me, you weren’t thinking about being magically popped across the city, so you didn’t have time to worry about it.”

As they made their way through Fris’ Flagon, the pub they found themselves in, Harry nodding absentmindedly to a couple of holiday well-wishers who greeted him with a bit of surprise in their voices. Shaking her head as they exited into the wintery night, Helen finally spoke. “Harry, if my daughter is ever stubborn enough to stay mad at you for more than twenty-four hours, tell me so I can explain to her exactly how foolish she’s being.”

Laughing, Harry grimaced. “Helen, if I ever am foolhardy enough to cause her to be mad at me, I’ll deserve whatever I get, but I appreciate the thought.”

Walking up the narrow street towards the square, the two came out into the lights and looked around. Seeing Alex and Hermione standing a quarter of the way around, they crossed to them amidst the holiday celebrants that were moving about, looking for a place to observe and participate in the evening’s celebrations.

Looking up as soon as Harry and Helen got within twenty feet, Hermione’s face lit up with a smile and she ran across the intervening distance and threw her arms around Harry. Kissing him on the lips, she smiled. “Took you two long enough. What are you and my mother up to?”

Shaking her head, Helen looked shocked. “Hermione Jane, what makes you think the two of us have been up to anything? Did you and your father stop and pick up the chestnuts you two are so fond of?”

Shaking her head in exasperation, Hermione took Harry’s arm and snuggled close to him. Rising up to kiss him again, she murmured, “We’ll talk later about you and my mother plotting behind my back. But I still love you.” Kissing him tenderly, she smiled as he rolled his eyes and returned the kiss.

The evening began shortly with a procession by the Bishop and the members of the choir from the cathedral entering the square. A number of carols were sung, both by the choir and the assembled crowd, and the bishop began to give a rousing message regarding the spirit of the season and the meaning of Christmas and Christmas Eve.

While he was speaking, a brief flash of yellow light caught Hermione’s attention and she turned to look. Down a darkened alleyway near where they were standing, Hermione could briefly see a panic stricken face that looked like Susan Bones down the way. Looking up and seeing Harry’s attention firmly on the events transpiring in the square as the Bishop was expounding upon the appearance of the angels to the shepherds outside the village of Bethlehem, Hermione murmured in his ear, “Be back in a second”, slid her wand into her hand and carefully stepped towards the alleyway. Looking around she could see a figure slumped against a wall, about twenty feet into the alley, but no other apparent figures. Stepping out of sight of the crowd, she cast a silent Homenum Revelio, and saw that the slumping figure of a young woman or witch was the only occupant of the alley other than herself.

Moving cautiously towards her, she could see the bloody features of Susan Bones in the moonlight that filtered into the alleyway. As she approached, the witch’s eyes fluttered open, and she whispered, “Hermione?”

Looking around once more, Hermione recast the Homenum Revelio. Assured that they were alone, she closed the distance between them and knelt down beside the injured witch. “Susan, don’t try to talk. I’ll just get Harry and we’ll take you to St. Mungo’s.” Looking up the alleyway to where Harry was standing with her parents, Hermione sensed rather than saw Susan move beside her. Turning, she vainly tried to dodge the unexpected attack she sensed too late as a bolt of red light struck her on the shoulder and she lost consciousness.

Consciousness returned, the throbbing pain in her head was overwhelmed by the stiffness in her shoulder and a sharp pain in her wrists and ankles. Realizing she was laying in just her jeans and top on the wet snowy ground, she opened her eyes to see what she could ascertain about her situation.

Standing over her, pointing her own wand at her was Gregory Goyle. Towering in the moonlight, the look on his face was one of rage, loathing, disgust and something else, something the chilled her to the bone. Standing a bit behind him, was one of the other two she had seen him with earlier, whom she now recognized as Cecil Warrington, a Slytherin from Umbridge’s Inquistorial Squad. A scrapping footstep behind her alerted her to where the third member of Goyle’s coterie was. The name Mordred Montague attached itself to the remembered face.

Shaking his head, Goyle focused his attention on her and spat. “Well if it isn’t Potter’s mudblood slag. Isn’t it amazing what one can find lying in gutters in the muggle world?” Grinning ominously, Goyle looked up and nodded to the person behind Hermione. As she tried to raise her hands, she realized they were held to the ground by a pair of bracers that were attached around her wrists. A sharp pain in the side of her head, as a booted foot connected, caused the scene in front of her to jar as stars shot across her vision from the cowardly blow.

Looking up at Goyle, she tried to reach out with her thoughts for Harry. Something was blocking her perceptions in all directions. Shaking her head to clear it, she was aware of a warm weight resting against her chest. Whatever else they took beside her wand, the thuggish trio had missed her DA medallion.

Goyle noisily spat on her again. “Look at me when you’re being addressed by your betters. Thanks to you and Potter, my father died in Azkaban last week. I’ve decided I’m going to take that out of your hide before we send you back to him, like we did with Padma.” Grinning, he nodded to Warrington. “I’m certain he won’t mind if his slag is just a bit shopworn and worse for wear when he gets you back, will he.”

Keeping her voice calm, Hermione stared up at him. “You do realize that there’s no where you’ll be able to hide from Harry and Ron. Hell itself won’t shield you from them. Not to mention the rest of Dumbledore’s Army and the Order when they find out what you’re doing.”

Laughing cruelly, Goyle slipped his robes back and shook his head. “Those bracers were activated before you woke up. Every memory you have from that point forward will be sucked into them after we put you back to sleep. You won’t remember a thing, just like Padma and all the others. And we’ll have the memories to savor, just like all the others.”

Staring at Goyle and Warrington, as if memorizing every feature, Hermione shook her head just enough to see the rune covered bracers glowing with a faint silver sheen. Shaking her head, she smiled coldly. “Well, are you going to just stand there and talk me to death, or are you going to do something? It’s generally considered impolite to keep a lady waiting.”

Smiling in anticipation, Goyle knelt on the ground in front of her and placed his large, hamlike hands on her knees. “Any last words before we begin, Miss Know-it-all? “

Nodding, Hermione smiled, the sight of which unnerved Goyle and caused Warrington to take an involuntary step back. “Just two.”

Willing her power into the medallion she was wearing, she closed her eyes and shouted, “Broken Arrow!” in a clear, ringing voice.

Chapter 9: Chapter Nine - And in the dark street shines, the everlasting light
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“Broken Arrow!” rang out through the clear night.

As Hermione invoked the incantation activating the emergency beacon in her DA medallion, several things happened simultaneously. A brilliant bright light pulsed out from her for twenty yards in every direction. Painfully brilliant, the flare blinded the three thugs who were staring at her, as it would have anyone not wearing one of the matching medallions. It was also the area of effect for several spells that had been built into the improved medallions. Every locking, confining, confounding, constraining and concealing spell within that radius was stripped away. As the charms Goyle and company had cast melted away, Hermione could ‘feel’ Harry’s frantic thoughts as he searched for her. A second, more primal presence registered in the back of her mind as she felt the bracers fall from her wrists and ankles.

At that moment, throughout England and Europe, and in several other places, one hundred and eleven medallions, signifying the living members of Dumbedore’s Army, flared briefly, imparting apparition coordinates and the face of Hermione into the minds of their wearers.

Goyle shook his head and started to blindly point the stolen wand at her. The silence in the alley was split by several sounds. An ear-splitting roar and triumphant hunting scream erupted over Hermione’s head. Looking up, she could see a winged shadow appear, which seemed to drop a large hissing bundle from it’s talons behind her as it streaked down, talons leading the way at the face of the wizard standing near Hermione’s feet as a name rang in Hermione’s mind. Following the flight of the owl, Hermione’s eyes widened in shock as a clear alto voice behind her rang out with ‘reducto’ an instant before Goyle’s face exploded when a crimson beam hammered through it, right between his beady, piggish eyes.

The ‘pop’ of apparitions, literally dozens of them, which soon followed couldn’t drown out the screams coming from the two surviving assailants or the battlecrys of the kneazel and owl as the two familiars continued to assault them. Harry’s voice, which she could pick out from the chaos around her, alerted her to his presence. Struggling to sit up, she was engulfed by his arms as he skidded to a halt beside her.

Holding him, she whispered, “Harry, I’m all right. A bit shaken, but I’m fine.”

Holding her tight, Harry hugged her to him and whispered, “I’m here,” in return. Then, putting his hands on her shoulders, he leaned back and glared at her. “What in Merlin’s name were you thinking?”

Nodding seriously, Hermione looked around and saw their friends and colleagues surrounding them in a defensive pattern. Some of were setting up a perimeter with spells around the area, some were trying vainly to get close enough to the surviving assailants to render them some assistance and all were vainly trying not to stare at the couple in their midst. Shaking her head, she took his hand and squeezed while she tried to reassure him that she was fine. “Harry, if you can leave off scolding me for two seconds, I need to rescue my attackers so you can properly arrest them.”

Placing her hand on his shoulder, she got shakily to her feet. Reaching down, she retrieved her wand from the lifeless hand of the late Gregory Goyle. Closing her eyes, she calmed her thoughts for a second as Harry stood and wrapped his coat around her. Smiling her thanks, she quietly, but firmly spoke. “Crookshanks, Tisi, that’s quite enough.” Holding out her arm she braced herself as the massive owl gently landed and cautiously wrapped her gore spattered talons around her wrist. As her wrist sagged a bit, she could feel Crookshanks winding his way between her and Harry’s feet.

As Harry opened his mouth to speak, Hermione turned to him and gently laid a finger on his lips. “Go find my parents and bring them here. I was foolish, stupid and wrong, and I’ll try never to do it again. You and Daddy can ground me after we get back to the house.”

Smiling wryly, she nodded at the look in his eyes, oblivious to the crowd standing around them. “I do love you, and I do understand what you’ve been going through. My mum is probably going mental worrying, and I’m certain at least five of our friends have cast anti-muggle shields around this area, so they have no hope of finding me unless you go get them.”

Smiling, she looked at the owl perched on her wrist and nodded. The familiar nodded in return, looked speculatively at Harry and then launched herself into flight, landing upon a nearby abandoned cart and commenced watching the couple with interest. Leaning forward, Hermione wrapped both arms around Harry and she kissed him very passionately.

Ignoring the whistles and snickers around them, Hermione wrapped her fingers in Harry’s hair as she kissed him deeply for over a minute. Breaking the kiss, she smiled as she murmured in his ear. “Not exactly the way I intended on letting our friends officially know that we’re together, but I think everyone gets the point, don’t you?”

Shaking his head, Harry sighed and swallowed the dozens of unasked questions that he had for her. Looking pointedly at the owl resting nearby, who was staring at him with a very calculating look, he smiled. “Who’s your friend?”

Smiling ruefully, Hermione held out her arm again. The owl took a quick hop into the air, glided to her wrist and nodded. “Happy Christmas, Harry. She was supposed to be a surprise for you in the morning, but it seems that Tisi had other ideas, thank Merlin.”

Reaching out a tentative hand, Harry waited until the owl nodded before gently stroking the feathers along her wing. “Tisi?”

Shaking her head in exasperation, Hermione smiled knowingly. “It seems she’s named herself. “ Schooling her features into a semblance of formality, Hermione nodded towards Harry. “Harry James Potter, meet Tisiphone.” Eyes twinkling, she nodded to the owl. “Tisiphone, this is Harry James Potter.”

Chuckling, Harry nodded gravely to the owl. “Welcome Tisi, and thanks.” Looking up at Hermione, he smiled warmly. “She’s gorgeous, just like you.”

Laughing, Hermione smiled. “She was supposed to be ‘yours’, but I think tonight’s little adventure has pointed out that both she and Crooks are now ‘ours’.” Looking down at the kneazel mix who was watching the exchange with fascination, she smiled. “Do you mind?”

Looking up into his mistress’ eyes, Crookshanks purred loudly and winked slowly. Shaking her head, Hermione looked up at Harry. “How about you?”

Chuckling, Harry smiled. “Sharing with you? Don’t be silly, there’s nothing I’d rather do.”

Chuckling, Hermione nodded to the owl who was quietly watching the exchange between the two. “You head back to Kensington; we’ll be there later to take you to Grimmauld Place.” As the owl prepared herself to launch, Hermione added a quick warning. “If you hunt on the way home, nothing that could be considered a pet, remember?” Swiveling her head, the owl gave Hermione a withering stare before hopping from her wrist and launching herself into flight. As she cleared the surrounding buildings, there was a brief pulse of light and she was gone.

Smiling at Harry’s questioning look, she sighed. “After you go get my folks, I’ll fill you in on the newest member of the family.”

Shrugging off Harry’s coat, she returned it to him, casting warming and drying charms on herself to ward off the wintery cold. As Harry turned to head towards the mouth of the alley, Neville’s voice called out from near the street. “Harry, Hermione, you should both come quickly.”

Hurrying towards Neville’s voice, they both splashed through puddles of melting snow and ice as they reached their friend. Taking one look at the huddled figure on the ground in front of him, Hermione dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around the sobbing form of Ginny Weasley.

Looking up at Harry, she nodded. “Healers, get them here now. I want her looked at before either of those two. Warrington and Montague will survive, and Goyle’s past caring, but I want someone to see her as soon as they get here.”

Putting his hand on Harry’s shoulder, Neville shook his head. “Go ahead and call the healers for those two. Lavender’s got her mediwitch’s parchment for her work at the Ministry, she’ll be discrete and we can get Ginny home with minimal fuss.” Turning, Neville silently cast a patronus. As the silvery bullmastiff formed in the alleyway, Neville nodded to the massive canine. “Lavender, we need a favor, so grab your mediwitch bag. Come to the coordinates on your medallion, soonest.”

The mastiff nodded and loped off down the alleyway. Twenty seconds later, a faint pop heralded the arrival of their classmate. Shaking her head, Lavender gave Neville a withering stare, worthy of Minerva McGonagall. “Seriously, I was thirty feet up the alley. You didn’t think I wouldn’t be here, did you?” Standing there in her midnight blue robes, she took one look at the scene in front of her and immediately knelt down and began running her wand over the shivering witch. “Ginny dear, can you tell us what happened?”

Shaking his head, Neville apologized. “Sorry, Seamus was in earlier complaining you were working tonight. I thought you’d be stuck at the Ministry on duty.”

Smiling warmly at Ginny, she looked up at the others. “Bugger that. Testimony in front of the Wizengamot wouldn’t keep me from answering an emergency beacon.” Chuckling at the look on Hermione’s face she shrugged. “I’m an Unspeakable; we’re all mental, loose cannons, and prone to running off at the drop of a hat.” Nodding at the scandalized look on Hermione’s face she smirked. “It’s in the official job description, look it up. I sent a patronus to my backup and was out of there before my quill could hit the floor.” Looking Hermione up and down, she frowned. “After her, you’re getting checked next.”

Shaking her head, Hermione kept gently stroking Ginny’s hair and holding the crying witch to her. “Lav, I’m fine. How is Ginny?”

Shaking her head a bit, Lavender smiled as a faint blue glow settled around the tip of her wand. “She’s a bit shocky, and she’s got the residual of a nastily overpowered stunner graze on her, but I can’t find anything physical except a couple of bruises where it put her into the wall behind her. Maybe a touch of a concussion, let’s keep her awake until well after midnight”

Looking up at Harry, Hermione smiled. “My parents?” Seeing him nod and step away, she turned her attention back to the witch she was holding. “Ginny dear, what happened? Thank you for saving me, but how did you come to be here tonight?”

Shaking her head, Ginny kept her eyes closed as she clung to Hermione. “All I wanted was for you to forgive me so we could be a family for Christmas again. They said you would be here. I’m so sorry Hermione, I never wanted anything to happen to you, even when I was angry with you over Harry, I didn’t want this to happen.”

Smiling, Hermione hugged her tightly. “I know. It’s difficult to think when Harry’s involved, sometimes. No one’s still mad at you; we’re here for you. Who told you we would be here tonight?”

“Harry’s folks, they said he was coming here tonight with you and your family. I thought if I could talk to you, tonight, you might forgive me since its Christmas and all.” Shaking her head, she started crying again. “Why did I mess everything up?”

Looking concerned, Hermione glanced over at Lavender, who was shaking her head. Looking back down at Ginny, Hermione asked quietly. “Where did you see them tonight?”

Nodding, Ginny replied in a small voice. “Godric’s Hollow. They wouldn’t let me talk to you there, they told me to go home, that you’d forgive me later.” Looking up at Hermione with a strange look in her eye, Ginny shook her head. “Merlin, that woman’s scary. I’m so glad it’s you and not me, because she scares me spitless.”

Staring at her, Hermione shook her head. “Harry’s parents were in Godric’s Hollow?”

Nodding, Ginny shuddered a bit. “It was their patronuses, outside the cemetery. I’d heard all of the stories about the Order from before I could walk, I’d know that stag and doe anywhere. They blocked me from coming in; she wouldn’t let me within sight of you two.”

Lavender placed her hand on Hermione’s arm and nodded. “It sounds right. There are rules for this sort of thing, things they can come back for and things they can’t. People forget that patronuses are a manifestation of the true self or soul, if you will. If it was James and Lily, they wouldn’t be allowed to appear to you and Harry except under most extraordinary circumstances.”

Staring in disbelief, Hermione looked down at Ginny. “And this was ordinary?”

Nodding towards Ginny who was staring at her, she sighed. “Comparatively, yes. Her they could appear to, to keep her from interfering with destiny or fate. We call it the ‘Nemesis factor’.” Sitting back on her heels, Lavender shook her head in wonder. “Or, they can appear to cause her to act as an agent of fate. Setting in motion a chain of events that led Ginny to be here at just the right moment.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Hermione turned back to Ginny. “Can you tell me what happened after you got to Oxford tonight? After you saw me enter the alley?”

Shivering, Ginny closed her eyes for a second. Nodding to Lavender, Hermione cast a drying charm on the young witch while Lavender cast a warming charm. A bit of colour began to return to Ginny’s cheeks as she opened her eyes again. “I saw you turn around and look towards that alleyway. You said something to Harry, he was listening to the man with the funny coat who was talking about angels, and you stepped away from him and I could see your wand in your hand. I was disillusioned over by the alley entrance to keep from getting stepped on in the crowds.” Sighing she closed her eyes again.

Nodding, Hermione smiled. “You’re doing fine Gin, I just stepped in the alley and you were standing outside the alley, correct?”

Nodding, Ginny shook her head. “You went into the alley, and I stuck my head around the corner to see what was happening. If you were going to be there alone, it would be a good chance to talk, to ask you to forgive me. I could see someone slumped against the wall down the way; it looked like Susan, which made no sense. Susan is on duty tonight at the Ministry. I saw you start to cast that spell you use to suss out lurkers, so I ducked my head out of the alley for a few seconds to give you time to finish. By the time I looked again, you were walking towards her, getting closer.”

Nodding, Hermione brushed a strand of hair back from Ginny’s face. “You’re doing fine, I cast my spell again, you must have ducked back out, correct?”

Nodding Ginny looked very tired as she continued. “After the second time, you started to kneel next to Susan, so I entered the alley and started coming towards you. I thought you must have heard me walking, because you turned towards me, so I stopped and hugged the wall. Just as you turned, Susan smiled, pulled out a wand and cast a stunner right at both of us. You twisted out of the way a bit, it only caught you on the shoulder but you still went down just as it hit me and slammed me into the wall.”

Wincing in remembered pain, Ginny gently rubbed the back of her head. “I wasn’t out, but I was stunned, couldn’t really think well. You fell over, and Susan began to change, she became that chaser that played for Slytherin a couple of years ahead of Harry.” Seeing the puzzled look on Hermione’s face, she added. “The one that Fred and George locked in that cabinet.”

“That would have been Montague.” Harry’s voice broke in. “He got suspended for a game the season before I started for impersonating his team’s Seeker trying to confuse the Beaters in a game against Ravenclaw. He’s a metamorphmagus.” Looking up, Hermione smiled to see her parents standing there with Harry. Nodding, she reached out her hand and took her mum’s and squeezed it gently before turning back to Ginny.

Looking up, Ginny blushed bright red as she noticed Harry standing there. “Harry, I’m so sorry I spoiled everything.”

Nodding to Hermione, Harry knelt down and took her place beside Ginny while Hermione stood up to hug her parents. “Ginny, you did fine. You’re about to tell us how you saved Hermione’s life tonight.” Taking her hand gently, he nodded to her. “All of a sudden Montague was there instead of Susan.”

Nodding, Ginny swallowed once and then continued. “He cast some sort of spell at the mouth of the alley; suddenly I couldn’t hear the crowd or the singing. Then Goyle and that other troll apparated in. After they cast several spells all around, they took Hermione’s coat and jumper off her, put some sort of cuffs on her wrists and around her ankles and threw her onto the ground. I couldn’t get enough control of myself to do anything but watch. I could feel my wand in my hand, but I couldn’t concentrate enough to cast any sort of hex or anything else. I was totally useless.”

Moving closer to her, Lavender put her arm around her friend. “Hush Gin, that stunner, even if it doesn’t take you out, it disrupts your nerves so you can’t really do anything for a good bit of time. There was nothing you could do.”

Nodding, tears rolling down her cheeks, Ginny shuddered. “That’s when Hermione woke up, I guess. They started talking; I could tell she was thinking, planning. Montague kicked her in the head and Goyle and that troll that was with them just laughed. I heard him tell her that what happened to Padma was going to happen to her.” Her eyes flashing, Ginny tried to get up from the ground. “I’m going to castrate all three of them.”

Harry and Lavender held onto her and kept her from standing. “Ginny, the system will take care of them. Just tell us what happened next.” Harry spoke quietly, gently to her as he held her.

Taking several deep breaths to calm herself, Ginny settled back onto the ground. “That’s when she did it. For a brief second, I could see the medallion flash through her clothes; mine seemed to heat up at the same time. All of a sudden she yelled out the activation phrase and then it was as if everything slowed down. Hermione was the center of this bright pulse of light, and it moved up the alley like it was something alive. As it swept over me, I felt in control of my muscles, I could stand and think again. Hermione tried to move and that’s when Goyle pointed that wand at her.” Shuddering Ginny closed her eyes.

“I was looking dead at him over her and I used the first spell I could think of that would make certain he couldn’t hurt her or anyone else. I cast a reductor and put it right between his beady little eyes. Then an enormous owl appeared in the middle of the alley, dropped Crookshanks on top of Montague and proceeded to claw the other one’s eyes out.”

Shaking her head, she grimaced. “That’s when I realized what I’d done, and I sort of collapsed. I leaned over to that dustbin and lost every lunch I’ve eaten since I went to Hogwarts as everyone started aparating into the alley. After that, Neville found me, crying like a first year afraid to get on the boats.”

Harry gently stroked her hair as he held her and looked up at Hermione. Staring at her for a few seconds, Hermione rolled her eyes and nodded. Turning to her parents she motioned them away from the group on the ground and began speaking quietly to them.

Harry smiled as he watched Helen nod enthusiastically and begin to assist Hermione in convincing her father of the inevitable.

Looking up at Neville, Harry nodded. “Nev, do you think you could help us out in a second with something. Is Hannah here?”

Smiling Neville nodded. “She’s up at the other end of the alley, keeping the gawkers out. What do you need?”

Looking down at Ginny, Harry smiled. “Ginny you’re going home with us tonight to Hermione’s parents’ house here in Oxford.”

Looking panicked, Ginny shook her head. “Harry, I can’t do that. I’ll just go home to Holyhead, I’ll be fine.”

“Nonsense, Ginevra. You’re coming home with me and Alex and that’s final.” Kneeling beside them, Helen Granger took the younger woman’s hand and patted it. “You’re not going home to an empty flat in your condition, and I’m certain that we can get you out of the weather quicker by just going across town than we can to your parents’ house. We’ll have Lavender send your family a message as soon as we get you settled in, so they’ll know where you are and can stop worrying.”

Looking up at Harry, Helen winked. “Do you think you could persuade Kreacher to bring some clean clothes for this girl?”

Shaking his head, Harry smiled. “Yes Mum, I think it can be arranged. Is there anything else?”

Breaking into a brilliant smile, Helen stood up and wrapped her arms around Harry. “You’ll do just fine.” Looking down at her watch, she smiled and nodded to her husband. “It’s before midnight; you’re cooking breakfast in the morning.”

Shaking his head, Alex looked at Harry who was looking puzzled. “Young man, you’re getting up early and helping me cook breakfast for this mob.” Nodding at the comprehension in Harry’s eyes, Alex shrugged and tried to ignore his daughter giggling at the two of them.

Shaking his head, Harry nodded to Neville. “You two have been to the Granger house, no?” Seeing Neville nod as Hannah came up and embraced Hermione before she knelt down and put her arms around Ginny, Harry smiled. “I thought so, and I know Lavender’s been there a couple of times. Could you three take the Grangers and Ginny back to the house, get them settled in and stay with them until we can get there?”

Nodding to Lavender, Harry smiled. “Lav, if you could, send a patronus to Arthur and let him know where Ginny is and that we’ll be watching her through the night. Tell him we’ll have her back to the Burrow right after breakfast tomorrow.”

Smiling knowingly, Lavender stood up and nodded. “Right then, let’s get this tour on the road. Neville, if you’d escort Hermione’s mum, and Hannah, if you’d be so kind as to escort Alex, I’ll follow on in a second with Ginny.”

Waiting until the others had left, she grinned at Harry. “Pretty smooth Harry. This way, if there’s any grief when the rest of the aurors arrive about Ginny not being present, you can say, ‘and she left with an Unspeakable’ and no one’s going to question it.”

Wrapping her arm around Ginny’s waist, Lavender smiled and leaned over to pick up the purring Crookshanks. “You hold old Crooks here and I’ll get us all to Hermione’s mum’s kitchen. By the time we get there, Helen’s going to have some of that excellent hot chocolate she makes on the stove. Hang on Gin, I really don’t want to explain to Molly I lost track of her only daughter on a jump of less than five miles.”

Shaking her head, Ginny stepped free from Lavender’s grasp and looked at Hermione for several seconds. Hermione smiled softly and nodded. Ginny turned and walked over to Harry and wrapped her arms around him.

A bit surprised, Harry looked over at Hermione as he put his arms around the red-haired witch. Seeing her smile and nod, he gently stroked her hair and whispered, “It’s all right Ginny, and everything will be fine, I promise.”

Looking up at him, her eyes brimming with tears, she shook her head. “Harry, I’m not certain how you can forgive me for what I said last night, but I’m very thankful that the two of you have. If I have to spend the rest of my life doing it, I’m going to make this right with the two of you.”

Sighing, Harry leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead. “Ginevra Molly Weasley, there’s nothing to ‘make right’. We were both trapped in a relationship that wasn’t working and we couldn’t seem to find our way out. You were right about some things, I wasn’t able to share with you the things that were haunting me and I never really gave you the opportunity to do that.”

“Merlin, Harry. Nothing justifies what I said to you last night. And none of it’s true, not really. Even if you loved me the way you love her, there would still be things that happened that you could talk to Hermione about and not to me, simply because I didn’t live it with you, and she did.” Shaking her head, she turned and looked at Hermione. “Thank you for saving him, for saving what I tried to destroy.”

Smiling, Hermione reached over and took Harry’s hand. “Gin, I’ll always be there for him, and we’ll always be there for you.” Nodding towards Lavender, she smiled. “Your ride is waiting. You take Crooks home for me and tell Mum that I’ll be there in a little while. Have her put you in the guest room upstairs; it’ll allow us to check on you during the night if we need to. But don’t go to sleep until after one.”

As Ginny took Crookshanks from Lavender, she nodded. “Yes, Mother Hermione. I’ll be a good little witch and wait up until you and Harry read me a bedtime story.”

Laughing, Hermione watched the two witches and her familiar disappear from the alleyway. Looking at Harry with a strange look in her eye, she smiled.

Chuckling, Harry wrapped his arms around her. “Hermione, you have that ‘cat that ate the budgie’ look I’ve come to be wary of. What don’t I know?”

Smiling slyly, she nodded. “Mr. Potter, there are lots of things that you don’t know. Including the fact that since Ginny’s staying in the guest room, I’m just going to have to find another place for you to kip tonight.” Seeing the look in his eyes, she shrugged. “If you promise to behave yourself, I might even consider offering my room.”

Smirking, Harry nodded. “And if I promise not to behave myself?”

Smiling, Hermione nodded. “I’ll definitely offer my room, in that case.”

Chapter 10: Chapter Ten - Father Christmas, The Elves, and a Kiss (not necessarily in that order)
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“I’ll definitely offer my room, in that case.”

Just as they embraced and began to kiss, a familiar voice rang out. “Oi, stop that or you’ll be getting nothing but coal in your stockings in the morning.”

Looking up, the two were astonished to see Ron approaching them, dressed up as Father Christmas, complete with a large sack.

Laughing, Hermione shook her head. “What in Merlin’s name are you doing?”

Smiling, Ron gestured theatrically. “Happy Christmas Harry, Hermione. Can’t you two go anywhere without causing a scene?”

Looking down at his watch, Harry chuckled at the time. “Ron, it’s still Christmas Eve for a while yet. You know us, anything to liven up a dull evening. But you still haven’t explained why you’re impersonating Father Christmas”

Shrugging, Ron smiled. “What can I say? Chastity showed up earlier this evening in a slight panic. It seems the wizard that they had hired to play Father Christmas for the children’s ward at St. Mungo’s showed up with a bit too much Christmas cheer, so she came by the Auror ready room to see if she could dragoon someone into filling in at the last moment.” Blushing a bit, Ron rolled his eyes. “Seemed a shame for kids stuck in the hospital for the holiday to miss out, so I told the boss I’d do it. I had just passed out the last of the gifts when suddenly my DA medallion starts up.”

Shaking his head, Ron looked over at Hermione. “You can’t spend one day away from me without getting yourself into trouble.” Wrapping her up in a hug, he held her for several long moments. “When I got the coordinates and your face on the alert, I almost went mental.”

Nodding, Hermione sighed. “Thank you. I can’t believe I let Goyle catch me out, of all people.”

Frowning, Ron shrugged. “Turns out he wasn’t quite as stupid as everyone thought. That last year at Hogwarts, when he was out from under Draco’s leadership, he found he liked being cruel and that he had a talent for it. No one knew he was quite this bad, but he’s been the focus of several investigations over the last six months or so, along with these other two. I found out tonight that his father died in Azkaban last week. That must be what sent him over the edge.”

Nodding, Hermione shivered. “He seemed to blame Harry and me for that.”

Snorting, Ron shook his head. “Trying to find someone else to blame, most likely. Goyle senior killed himself the day after his darling son informed him he wasn’t coming to visit any longer.” Shaking his head, Ron smiled a cold smile. “Well, there’s another pureblood Death Eater family tree that just got chucked onto the woodpile.”

Looking at Ron for several seconds, Hermione waited until Ron nodded before she pulled Harry close to her and snuggled into his embrace. “When the aurors taking the case arrive, make certain they collect those bracers and ankle restraints lying in the alley up there. They’re designed to remove memories and store them, I think you’ll find all the evidence you’ll need to convict all three of them of multiple counts, although just one’s enough to get them a trip through the Veil.”

Shaking his head, Ron looked at her. “Three? In case you didn’t notice, Goyle’s deader than Tom Riddle.”

Nodding, Hermione agreed. “True, but the Ministry will try and convict him posthumously of a capital crime so that the family seat in the Wizengamot can be forfeited and reassigned. If he’s not, then it’ll pass to some poxy fourth or fifth cousin who will probably turn out to be a Death Eater wannabe. Quite a number of the old family seats in the Wizengamot have ended up being occupied by new families that aren’t quite so entrenched in the pureblood status quo.”

Shaking his head, Harry laughed. “You should have seen some of the faces in the room when I exercised my right as the head of the Potter family to introduce the new holder of the seat that once belonged to the Avery family before it was stripped from them. If nothing else, having a Creevey sitting on the Wizengamot should liven things up considerably. Dennis asks the most interesting questions, although I’ve got to get him to stop needling Draco while the Wizengamot is in session.”

Smiling, Hermione shook her head. “Harry, I don’t know. I think they really do need to consider legislation to declare ferrets an endangered species.”

Snorting in amusement, Ron nodded. “Not to mention old seats being held ‘in trust’ by some of those families being finally returned to their original families. The Weasley seat finally reverted back, thanks to your voiding the lien on it since it was part of Bellatrix’s dowry to the LeStranges. Dad has told some interesting stories about some of the public sessions.” Shaking his head, Ron looked around to see who was close. Seeing no one other than their friends close by, he nodded to them. “Harry, I appreciate you taking care of Gin like that. I’m certain not many would do that after the way she acted last night.”

Smiling, Harry nodded towards his friend. “Ron, she’s one of us. We don’t turn our backs on each other simply because we’re having issues. You two put up with seven years of me being a git and putting you at risk. Gin is a special person, and I care about her. I’m just worried that you both are going to be all right with what’s happened today. We can’t go back, but I don’t want to hurt either of you needlessly.”

Looking acutely embarrassed, Ron sighed and looked down at his feet. “I’m not certain how to say this, so I’m just going to say it and hope Hermione can turn it into something that’s not rubbish.”

Looking up, he could see Hermione smiling at him. “I was wrong, but I couldn’t see anyway out of it. My only excuse is that I do love Hermione, and I’m hoping you’ll understand how that can drive a bloke to be stupid. I knew you two belonged together for a long time, but I couldn’t see that I didn’t love her in the way that you obviously did. I care about both of you, and I allowed my temper and pride to get in the way.”

Looking at Harry, he shook his head. “We’ve been best mates for years and partners since we graduated the Auror Academy. You’ve saved my sorry arse on more occasions than I can count, so I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for not being on your side this morning. I can’t use the excuse that Gin’s family, because you both are family.” Looking down at his feet, Ron waited for the others to respond.

Looking at Hermione and smiling, Harry nodded to her. “Ron?” Waiting for him to look back up at them, Harry nodded. “I think the teaspoon has been transfigured.” Smiling at Hermione, he nodded to her.”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled at Ron. “Ronald, as long as you stay out of my kitchen before sunup, I’m willing to credit you have the emotional range of someone I’m proud to know.” Tears glistened in her eyes. “I’m so sorry for all of the conflict we’ve had over the years, all I can say is that we both unconsciously knew what was going on and we were both too stubborn to listen to ourselves.”

Hearing a commotion up the alley, Ron looked up and saw several senior aurors standing over the body of Gregory Goyle. “Looks as if the adults have finally arrived.”

Shaking his head, Harry smiled. “I suppose we need to give a statement, especially since Gin’s not here at the moment.”

Shaking his head, Ron smiled. “Not tonight, I think that they’ll accept the fact that you two, being dedicated Ministry employees, are civic minded enough to come in and make your declarations as soon as the holiday is over.”

Remembering something from her earlier trip to the Burrow, Hermione looked around and smiled knowingly. “Ron, I haven’t seen Luna yet, did you see where she got off to?”

Without missing a beat, Ron shook his head. “Sorry, I forgot to tell you, Hermione. I got a patronus from her just after I got here. She’s very sorry; she’s in Madrid and out of apparition range. She came by the Burrow last night before she took a portkey to Madrid. Apparently there have been a couple of sightings of heliotropes up in the Basque territories, and she wanted to check it out. She’s scheduled to be back in Ottery in the morning.”

Nodding seriously, Hermione’s eyes were twinkling. “Good to know, Ron. Give her my love when you talk to her later. Hopefully we’ll see her tomorrow when the family gets together.” Squeezing Harry’s hand, trying to get him to quit rolling his eyes quite so noticeably, she continued. “Why don’t you ask her to join us tomorrow afternoon, I’d love to catch up with her.”

Smiling, Ron nodded absentmindedly. “That sounds like an excellent idea, Hermione. I’ll let her know when she floos later tonight.” Looking over, he could see Dawlish trying to get his attention. “I’ll go over and see if I can wrap this thing up. They’ll need a short statement from Ginny, eventually, but I’m certain since its Christmas Eve it can wait until Boxing Day. Those two idiots aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the Wizengamot won’t get around to a preliminary hearing for at least three or four days.”

Nodding to both of them, Ron began calling out to various members of the DA as he headed over to report in.

Shaking her head, Hermione looked at Harry in disbelief. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that boy was cheating on me before I ditched him this morning.”

Laughing, Harry shook his head. “Hermione, you know better than that. Although Luna’s always fancied Ron, and their families live less than two miles apart, neither one of them would do that. I imagine that the two of them have been seeing each other as friends and Ron’s been about as clueless as we have been. It’ll be interesting to see how long Luna lets him remain in the dark, though. For all her distracted persona, I have the feeling she’s going to take Ron firmly in hand now that he’s not seeing one of her best friends.”

Laughing, Hermione nodded. “Hopefully she’ll be honest about his choice in perfumes.” Seeing the look on Harry’s face, she kissed him and murmured, “I’ll tell you later.”

Nodding, Harry suddenly smacked himself on the forehead. “Clothes!” Turning a bit, Harry called out “Kreacher?”

Several seconds passed, and Winky appeared in the alley with a distinct ‘pop’. “Master Harry calls?” she asked, sounding a bit flustered.

Looking perplexed, Harry smiled. “Winky, I was calling for Kreacher, but if you wouldn’t mind, could you go to Ginny’s apartment in Holyhead and get some sleep clothes and a suitable outfit for tomorrow and take them to Hermione’s house in Oxford?”

Seeing the enthusiastic nod from Winky Harry smiled. As she made to leave, Harry put up his hand. “Is anything wrong with Kreacher?”

Shaking her head, Winky looked a bit nervous. “Master Harry, Kreacher’s making a delivery, house elf business you knows. He asked me to listen and see if you or Mistress Hermione needed any assistance until he returned. I’ll get things for the young Miss and take them to Mistress Helen’s house.” After sketching a shallow curtsey to both of them, she was gone.

Turning to Hermione, Harry raised an eyebrow. “House elf business?”

Shrugging, Hermione sighed. “Harry, its Christmas Eve. House elves have lives of their own, I’m certain he’s just dropping something off for one of his friends or wishing someone a Happy Christmas. Surely you’re not going to begrudge him a bit of time of his own on Christmas Eve?”

Laughing, Harry shook his head. “I’m certain you’re correct and far be it from me to impose on Kreacher tonight. Silly me, the first thing I thought of when Winky said he was making a delivery on Christmas Eve was that he was tagging along with Father Christmas tonight.”

Shaking her head, Hermione laughed and took his arm in hers. “Let’s get back to my parents house so I can tuck you in before Father Christmas and Kreacher get there.” Shaking her head, she chuckled. “Honestly Harry, sometimes I think you’re still the eleven year old I first fell in love with.”

Postlude – Making a List and checking it twice

2330, Christmas Eve, 220 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Finland

A solitary ‘pop’ heralded the arrival of a house elf in the midst of the snow-covered taiga. Shaking his head, Kreacher walked slowly towards that house sitting on the edge of the trees, a fenced in area next to it. Approaching the door, Kreacher frowned as the door swung open and an elf dressed in dark clothes nodded to him.

“Hello Kreacher, hisself is waiting for you.” Smiling the house elf closed the door behind him.

Shaking his head, Kreacher scowled. “This was ill done, Peter. Much too chancy. If I had known what could have happened, I never would have left that door open and called the young Miss’ attention to it.”

Laughter filled the room and both elves looked up as a tall bearded wizard entered the room. “Kreacher, you said yourself, things couldn’t continue as they were. You were very agreeable to getting your Master and Mistress together when I broached this plan.”

Shaking his head, Kreacher walked over to the roaring fire and warmed his hands. “It was still chancy, though worse would have happened if we would have left things to fester and happen in their own time.” Sighing, Kreacher looked up at the chimney, as if searching for an answer. “Though I hate to admit it, I might have been wrong about her. For all her willfulness, I’m starting to like the Weasley girl. She’s just not the one for the Master.” Turning and looking around, he sighed. “From the look in your eyes, I’d say you have another plan.”

Laughing, the wizard pulled a long red coat from the back of a chair and shrugged into it. “All the rest of the elves on this year’s roster are making their deliveries, I just have two small things for you two while I make a couple of personal deliveries and go reassure a couple of nervous parents about their son and his intended.” Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out two envelopes addressed, but not sealed. “Peter, would you please make certain that this goes into the stocking of young Dennis Creevey?” Kreacher could see that the small envelope was addressed to Dennis in a handwriting that looked very feminine and very familiar.

Shaking his head, Kreacher held out his hand. “I assume you have one for the young Miss?”

Laughing and nodding, Father Christmas handed Kreacher an envelope addressed simply “Ginny Weasley” in a distinctive scrawl. “Why, as a matter of fact I do. Complete with a minor enchantment that will keep them from questioning exactly who set up the plans for lunch.”

Opening the envelope carefully, Kreached snorted as he read a handwritten note, in the same distinctive scrawl as the envelope, asking Ginny to meet for lunch on Boxing Day at Maxine’s. Rolling his eyes at the barely decipherable ‘Dennis’ scrawled at the bottom of the note, he carefully replaced the note in its envelope. Shaking his head, Kreacher smiled. “What’s the world coming to, a former bishop resorting to forgery and misdirection to become a matchmaker.”

Laughing, Father Christmas put a hand on the shoulder of both elves as they headed for the door. “It’s for a good cause; my Boss is very big on love. If they’re smart enough to take the gift proffered to them, both of them will be very happy. I’ve had Gwenog’s elf watching them in Holyhead, they’re very well suited to each other.”

Nodding seriously to Kreacher, the ancient wizard smiled. “I was watching out for your two the entire time. I would have stepped in if things had gotten out of hand. If nothing else, Lily Potter would have had my head on a pike if either one of them had come to real harm.” Smiling, his eyes twinkling as they stepped out of the house, he sighed. “Hopefully young Hermione will consider us even and get over the fact she didn’t get a pony when she was seven. I’m certain she’ll be much happier with young Harry than she ever would have been with a pony.”

Nodding Kreacher chuckled. “Especially since he’s almost housebroken already. Much easier for me to clean up after.”

Laughing, the two elves disappeared into the night, on the way to deliver their Christmas missives. Shaking his head, Father Christmas smiled as he slowly faded out, leaving the moon shining down on the new fallen snow, while the stars were twinkling, and the night was silent.

Coda – On the First Day of Christmas…

0630, Christmas morning, Oxford

Awakening from a very confusing dream where she was arguing with Kreacher over the duties of the Royal Postal Service, Hermione became aware of her ear being nuzzled. Smiling, she snuggled into her blankets, and reached out, trying to find out where Harry had gotten off to, until a distinctive snort and whinny brought her totally out of her slumber and sitting bolt upright in bed.

Staring into a very large pair of dark brown eyes, attached to intelligent but definitely equine face, she gasped as she noticed Harry standing in the doorway to her bedroom smirking. “Harry, what in Merlin’s name is an Exmore pony doing in my bedroom well before sunrise?”

Smiling, Harry shrugged. “Father Christmas dropped him off, but he wouldn’t fit in your stocking?” Laughing at the look in her face, he nodded to her. “Your dad’s going to be getting up and getting breakfast started at seven, so it’s probably good that I’m down on the foldout in the library when he comes to wake me up. Since I’ll be downstairs helping your dad with breakfast, I thought this would be a good time for you two to get acquainted. I actually bought him for you last week, before any of this happened. Say ‘hello’ to your Christmas present, his name is Hector.”

Smiling at the scene in front of him, Harry shook his head at the joyful, almost childlike expression on Hermione’s face as she got up on her knees and started making over her newest friend.

As Harry turned to head downstairs, Hermione paused as she was gently stroking the pony’s rough mane. “How on earth did you know I’ve wanted a pony since I was a little girl?”

Shrugging, Harry smiled. “Winky told me one day while we were in the kitchen. She told me how you’d wanted one when you were a little girl, but living in Oxford, you parents could never really let you have one. I suppose that old stable behind Grimmauld Place is there for a reason, no?” Eyes twinkling in mischief, Harry nodded seriously. “Either Father Christmas told her or you must have mentioned it sometime when she was around, because that was the first I’d ever heard of it. Happy Christmas, love.”

And I heard him exclaim, err he disaparated from sight. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”