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.”
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