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'Twas The Day Before Christmas by apAidan
Chapter 5 : Chapter Five - Have You Heard What I Heard?
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 11

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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.

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