Hello everybody. This is my Christmas Story for this year. As always, I don't own anything of the Harry Potter universe. And for the Harmony fans among you, this story has a Harry / Hermione Pairing. I hope you like it. Updates will be every day until New Year's Eve.
Harry looked at the exit of the tent dispassionately. His supposed best friend, Ron Weasley, had just left him and Hermione alone on the hunt for the horcruxes. He knew that he should be more upset about this fact, but he truly couldn't be. Not when he had wished that Ron hadn't come with them in the first place. Harry may be many things, but stupid and blind wasn't one of them. He had been wary of Ron ever since the temper tantrum he had thrown over the Triwizard mess. Ron hadn't just not believed him when he told him that he hadn't put his name into the Goblet of Fire, he had actively badmouthed Harry when he thought he wouldn't hear about it. Ron was to a part a fair-weather friend.
Whenever the going got really hard, he would look for the easiest way out. And he had a major sense of entitlement, something that reminded Harry badly of his cousin Dudley. While Ron would stand by Harry's side when things weren't too bad, like for example standing by his side when the school believed the Prophet, but when Ron knew that Voldemort was really back and in the end he would be seen as having been right the whole time, he always stepped back when it got hard. And his one major flaw was that he didn't even try to get over hard incidents without making a major drama out of things. A lot of situations came to mind. Scabbers vanishing, the naming of Harry a Triwizard champion, the Yule Ball where Hermione had gone with Krum, having to clean Grimmauld Place without magic, not doing his duty as a prefect properly, envy for Harry getting the Quidditch captaincy over him, Ginny snogging Dean, his whole relationship with Lavender and the lack of food on the hunt were just the first things that came to Harry's mind.
Hermione was crying her eyes out over the fact that Ron had left over the argument with Harry's lack of a plan. Well, he had expected something like that with how Ron had played a dirty game on the side of the hunt. Harry went over to his bed, pulled out his backpack from under it and looked through it for a set of vials that he kept on hand. Ron thought that it was something else, but then again he had never been any good at Potions without Hermione's help. While Harry would freely admit that Hermione's understanding of the subject was way better than his, he wasn't a slouch either. And no, his grades last year hadn't solely been the work of the book. He knew a few things about brewing potions and if he had a proper recipe he was a good brewer.
He had realised during the year that something was wrong with him. Why would he suddenly, out of the blue, develop strong feelings for Ginny? And that when he had been crushing on another girl for two years by then. No, it didn't make sense and he had suspected foul play. When Hermione mentioned that a lot of witches had bought Fred and George's love potions and were trying to slip him some, he had found a direction to investigate. Being a favourite of Slughorn proved useful then and the old Professor had told Harry how to determine if you were under a love potion, even if he was chuckling at the thought.
Harry had found out that there was indeed a number of potions in his system, and he decided that they all needed to be neutralised. Therefore he went to Madam Pomfrey to ask for a complete flushing of his system, reasoning that he couldn't be under several love potions. She agreed and he spent one miserable night at the hospital wing, while his body was cleansed of all the potions that he had inside of him. He had to vomit several times that night, worrying Madam Pomfrey a lot. She only told him once he was done that normally the process took two hours to get done, not a whole night. There had to have been more potions in him than just a few love potions.
As a result she showed him how to brew a general immunisation potion against all kinds of potions that could reasonably be used against him without causing too much suspicion. He was to take one of them each week to prevent a repeat. Harry gladly did that. And without the influence of the potions he started seeing things a lot more clearly. Suddenly he didn't have trouble understanding his lessons. He could grasp concepts presented in class easily and perform the required spells quickly. It was incredible. He wondered why anybody would want to restrict his ability to learn, but then he thought of how much of an advantage Death Eaters and Voldemort would see in that. Snape was a likely suspect.
So Harry decided to not tip his hand too early on. He used the Room of Requirement secretly to train his abilities in casting and hand to hand combat. He included all kinds of spells to learn them, not just restricting his studies to mostly DADA, like he had done before. Charms and Transfiguration offered lots of possibilities in a fight. He also picked Neville's brain for nasty plants that could give you an advantage in a battle if you had the chance to prepare the field. He went over the complete curriculum of the previous years to catch up on whatever he had missed, which sadly was too much for his personal comfort. Now, without the potions, he wondered how he could have been so stupid to not learn everything he could when he knew that Voldemort was after him.
Thankfully he had caught onto the problem early enough and used the whole year to remedy the problem. He was much better at magic than Ron and Hermione knew. And he had used the time during the hunt, especially while they had still stayed at Grimmauld Place, to continue his studies. He needed to be ready.
His supply of premade potions included both his precaution potion as well as the flushing potion that Madam Pomfrey had given him. There were a few others, like a common headache potion, pepper up potion, pain potion, hangover potion, a good supply of polyjuice, he had even nicked a few vials of veritaserum from Slughorn's personal stock. That had been very easy, as he had had a whole cauldron in class for his demonstration at the beginning of their sixth year. Much better to let a Potions Master brew something as delicate as that, than to attempt it yourself. He would say that he could brew any kind of NEWT level potion perfectly if he had time and peace, but veritaserum could go horribly wrong if you messed up even one step. It wasn't NEWT level, it was what a Potions Master learned to do during his apprenticeship.
Harry hadn't gone onto this hunt blindly. He had tried to prepare for all kinds of situations. The one thing he didn't take into account was Ron's immense appetite and his lack of restraint. The food that they had got would have lasted the three of them for a month, had they just been careful. But thanks to Ron always complaining about the lack of food, Hermione had caved in and prepared more than what was advisable. Well, now the git was gone and he could test his theory.
He walked over to Hermione and handed her a vial with the flushing potion.
"Drink this, Hermione. It'll help," he said gently.
Hermione looked at him with red, puffy eyes and simply took the potion. She gulped the whole vial down before she convulsed. Harry knew the symptoms. He had gone through them himself. He knew that within twenty minutes she would start vomiting the potions out. He lifted her bridal style and carried her to her bed.
"I'm sorry that you're going to feel horrible for the next hours, but you need to get the potions out of your system quickly," he apologised and transfigured a stone into a stone bucket. With keeping the material the bucket wouldn't suddenly lose the transformation while Hermione was still using it.
Hermione whimpered and Harry tried his best to simply be there for her. He got some water from the river and cleaned off the sweat that was on her face regularly. He had feared that she was under as many potions as he had been and the six hours that it took for her to stop vomiting were proof of that. She finally fell asleep at three in the morning and Harry vanished the bucket with all of her vomit. He would see what kind of potions she had had in her system when she woke up again. Now they only had to move to a safer location. Ron knew about this spot and while he would need a few hours to cool down, he would try to come back and Harry wasn't keen on that.
So he packed all their belongings into Hermione's bag before he carried Hermione out, wrapped in a blanket. He was sure that she wouldn't wake for a few hours, no matter what happened. He used his magic to pack the tent and then stored it in the bag as well. Lifting Hermione again, he spun on the spot and left the place for another one that he had heard about from the Dursleys when he had been seven. It was time for them to take a few days off from the horcrux hunt. And at this time of the year no muggles would be at the place he had decided to go to. Who would after all look for the Boy-Who-Lived in a muggle area? Yes, the Centre Parcs in Suffolk would not be a place where any snatcher would look for them.
Hermione woke up with a groan. She felt horrible. What the hell had happened to her? She tried remembering, but her head was spinning.
"Here, this'll soothe your stomach after all the vomiting you did," she heard a soft voice next to her.
Yes, soothing her stomach sounded like a great idea. She took the vial held to her mouth and swallowed the content. It took about five minutes, perhaps more, as she didn't really trust her sense for time, for her to get back to thinking clearly. Then a feeling of fury started up in her. Several things suddenly flashed in front of her eyes, all of them showing her completely out of character. She tried sitting up abruptly, but a firm hand on her shoulder kept her lying down.
"Don't sit up yet. Believe me, it isn't good to do that," the voice insisted.
She managed to open her eyes and saw the worried face of her one true best friend, Harry.
"What happened, Harry? My memories are all over the place," she asked.
Harry sighed and sat back in the chair next to her bed. Looking around she noticed that the place wasn't the tent they had lived in for about a month now. For one there were walls of wood to the room and the beds were solid with fairly comfortable matrasses as she noticed. And she felt warmer than in a while.
"Where are we?" She added to her list of questions.
"Well, the where is easy to answer. We're at Elveden Forest, at a bungalow of the local Centre Parcs. I have thought of finding a better place to stay for a while, and the season where the muggles keep the park open is over for the year, so we should be undisturbed by anybody if we're careful. I know of this kind of place thanks to the Dursleys once going to one on vacation because a classmate of Dudley had praised the vacation he and his parents had had here. Aunt Petunia and Dudley didn't like it at all and never went again, as they missed too many luxury applications. But for our needs it's nearly perfect. Winter is coming and we need to have some isolated walls and not just the thin linen ones of the magical tent," Harry pointed out.
"Next to that we will be able to stock up groceries at the local Tesco to replace the massive amounts that Ron ate while complaining about my lack of plans all the time. The next part of answering your questions is that I have suspected for a while that somebody slipped you some potions that made you behave strangely. I was pretty sure about a love potion keyed to Ron and one that made you doubt me. You had never displayed as much animosity against me as you did last year. Normally you would have at least given me the benefit of the doubt in regards to my theory about Malfoy being a Death Eater. You would have made me find proof, but you wouldn't have dismissed it out of hand. And honestly, I couldn't understand why you would pine after Ron, when you always argue and not in a teasing way like I've seen other couples do. And after I found out about the amount of potions in my own system, I was even more convinced that you had become a victim as well," Harry finished his explanations.
"Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry about the way I behaved. I mean, I was shocked in the beginning when you told us that prophecy, but I was determined to help you being ready. My plan was to repeat our working on spells that would help you like in fourth year, but then, suddenly, I felt this annoyance with you over insisting that Malfoy was a Death Eater and the Potions book. I also felt drawn to Ron, even if I would normally never even consider dating him. I mean, yes, he's fairly handsome, but he always hurts me when he goes into a fit. He knew what buttons to push and after how he behaved with Lavender, I normally wouldn't have wanted anything to do with him in that way," Hermione moaned.
She felt so stupid and used. Then she felt a hand take hers.
"I know, I was potioned as well to fall for Ginny. But I thought it strange and went to Madam Pomfrey, telling her that I felt strongly for a number of girls suddenly and that you had overheard girls talking about slipping me a love potion. She agreed to flush my system completely and I spent a hard night at the hospital wing. I have taken a potion to immunise me against any kind of potions that don't fall into the healing category since then. So I really understand," Harry assured her gently.
"But we wasted so much time. We should have been working on spells that would have helped us out on the hunt now. Oh, I didn't even think things through properly for the hunt. I mean, there were so many things I overlooked," she complained.
"You don't have to think of everything, Hermione," Harry comforted her, "We're going to start over now and this time we're doing things properly. Without the potions handicapping you, we'll soon be back on track. You spent more time listening to Ron and his complaints than thinking about a constructive solution. This will change now, I promise. We can talk about our strategy once you're back on your feet. And I insist that we take a week off from the hunt. We first need to recover from what happened."
"Okay, that sounds really good," Hermione agreed, knowing that she needed some time to come to terms with what had happened.
Harry had secured the bungalow in all ways that he knew. It was now perfectly safe for them to use. He would have gone back to Grimmauld Place and recast the fidelius charm, as it was better suited as a base of operations, but the constant watch of Death Eaters there prevented it, as the house would be visible for at least half an hour before the new charm could be activated after the old one was taken down, which he had found out he, as the owner of the building, could do. He would use the week to relax and then think where they could set up a more permanent base.
Hermione had slept a bit more after waking up for the first time and now she was in much better condition. The bungalow thankfully had a working shower and Hermione had been in there for the last thirty five minutes. Probably she had missed taking a hot shower as much as he did. Finally he heard the door to the bathroom open and Hermione came out, wearing some fresh clothes.
"Feel better?" He asked concerned.
"Much better, thank you. Being on the run in a tent certainly takes its toll on you," she admitted before taking a seat next to him.
He just nodded.
"So, when are we going to go grocery shopping?" She asked.
"We can go now. I secured the bungalow with all the spells we normally use and added one ward that I found in the Black library. It disturbs any kind of tracking charm and lashes out against the one using it, no matter what kind of tracking charm it is. I worked on that spell for a while and now have it down," Harry informed her.
"That's great news. I was a bit concerned about that to be honest. But for some reason I never voiced it," she commented.
"Probably the potions that messed up your common sense and ability to think rationally," he stated.
"I just wonder who gave us those potions. Most potions wear off after a time," she said.
"The main suspect is Ron. He was the only one with the opportunity to keep giving them to us and he often took the task of getting water for us. But I think there are others involved as well. He isn't capable of brewing the potions that would be needed. I think Mrs Weasley and Snape were also involved. The potions to decrease my ability to learn, which were flushed out when I went through what you just experienced, don't fit with any plans of making us fall for Ron and Ginny."
"True. I can't believe that they would do something like that. What would they gain from potioning me?" Hermione asked.
"You're a powerful and smart witch. I have read up a bit about problems with magical powers in pureblood families over the years. Anybody can see that Ron didn't inherit the best traits that distinguish the Weasley family. And the only way to correct problems like that is by finding spouses for the families that aren't closely related to them. The genealogy book at Grimmauld Place was really useful in learning more about how the wizarding families are related to each other. Where Arthur and Molly are only very distantly related, which made their union one of the few pureblood marriages that didn't suffer from a lot of danger of the children losing power, other families are too closely related. For example Bellatrix and Rudolphus Lestrange are first cousins through Bellatrix's mother and Rudolphus' father. Nott's parents are second cousins, Crabbe and Goyle have lines of ancestors that were first or second cousins, which explains their lack of brains and magical power.
"Now, Molly and Arthur are among those that don't condemn muggle inventions and discoveries outright. Therefore it isn't too improbable that they found out about the dangers of marrying too closely to your own bloodline. You, as a muggleborn, were perfectly suited in Molly's mind to freshen up the Weasley blood. While for me, I'm about Ginny's sixth cousin through my Black grandmother. Far enough away to not have to deal with inbreeding issues, not to mention that Mum was muggleborn, and on top of that I'm loaded. And it's an open secret in the wizarding world that I would inherit two of the biggest fortunes upon my majority. So trying to make me fall for Ginny and having me marry her, would be killing two birds with one stone," Harry pointed out, "Even Molly would have seen that Ron wouldn't ever get off his behind if you didn't badger him into doing his work all the time and have done so since our first year.
"So, as he was incapable of making you fall for him on his own, she helped along with some potions. You heard her tell stories about brewing love potions when we were all staying at the Leaky Cauldron before third year."
"Yes, I can see that. But how could they do that to us? It's so wrong," Hermione ranted.
"There is no law forbidding using a love potion on another person. I checked after I found out about being under the potion myself. I guess Ginny was really frustrated how I didn't fall for her earlier. After that Quidditch match, when she kissed me for the first time, I was too taken by surprise that she would go that far to stop her. After that I tried telling her that I didn't feel like that for her, but she wouldn't listen, trapped in her own fantasy world. She would cling to me and after a while it was just easier to let her get away with the innocent things like leaning against my legs and the like. We only ever kissed twice all that time and both times she caught me off guard," he admitted.
Hermione had clearly not expected that confession.
"I wondered why you sometimes looked so exasperated with her, but I thought I was imagining things and then other things seemed more important all of a sudden," she said.
"Well, I'm very glad that you're back to being yourself. To actually get this job done, I need the real Hermione Granger, not the pale imitation that ran around Hogwarts last year," Harry teased.
"Prat," she teased back, "So, we should write a list what we need to buy. I really wish we had more money available to get things. My money will be used up soon, as we bought much more than I calculated last month. Really, Ron could have been more considerate of our supplies with his gorging. And then he had the gall to complain about my mushrooms," she grumbled.
"He's a stupid, greedy git," Harry said firmly, "Forget about him right now. We're on vacation and we're going to have a great time."
She smiled at him and nodded. Then they started writing down what kind of meals they could easily prepare and Hermione was shocked how much Harry admitted he could cook if he had a proper stove and the ingredients available.
"Why did we nearly starve all that time then?" Hermione couldn't help asking.
"I can only cook the muggle way, Hermione. I need proper ingredients and the appliance to cook. While I can make due with a camping fire to roast fish or vegetables, for the better meals that isn't enough," Harry answered, "For example, I have never really learned the cooking spells that Mrs Weasley uses to make sauces and the like. Give me the spices, some flour and water, or some cream and I can create a nice sauce, but I can't simply create it from my wand. Similarly I didn't ever get the way how to multiply food. Give me a piece of meat, some vegetables and potatoes and I can serve the best goulash you've ever tried."
"Okay, we'll put that statement to the test. Goulash sounds incredibly good to me. So you need meat, potatoes and vegetables, what else should go onto our shopping list?" Hermione asked.
Harry smiled and dictated her the things he wanted to buy to have some long overdue hot meals for them this week.
Hermione relaxed in her really comfortable bed. While outside one of the worse storms in fall was raging, she was completely safe and warm in the bungalow at the currently empty Centre Parcs. Harry's idea of taking a week off in the hunt for the horcruxes and getting over the problems that had come together had been massively needed. Not only had she had one of the best meals she could remember, her best friend had been the one to cook it for them both. She hadn't known that Harry could cook like that and some very small part of her wanted to rant about him not doing it earlier, but the larger part could acknowledge that to create such perfect meals, Harry needed to have something to work with.
And when he told her just how many things he had used, a shockingly low amount compared to what they had needed before when Ron was still around, she had realised that they had really not gone reasonably about the hunt. All the negativity against Harry, which mainly came from Ron and which she had trouble going up against while wearing the locket, had taken its toll. They might have thought about covering their absence from Hogwarts properly, but they hadn't thought about how to do the hunt. It hadn't been made easier, because they didn't have a lot of time to plan anything.
They should really have met up with Harry while he was back at his aunt and uncle's house, but Mrs Weasley had put obstacles in the way of that next to keeping them apart at the Burrow. Still, they could have found ways around it. They were of age after all. Damn potions. She thought about the task before them. They had one horcrux, but didn't know how to destroy it, as they didn't have a proper tool. The sword of Gryffindor was capable of destroying a horcrux they had realised, but it was somewhere they didn't think they could get to. But it cleared up why Dumbledore had tried to leave the sword to Harry. Stupid Ministry keeping it away from him.
She also felt at ease for the first time in years. Her mind was her own again and even if she was determined to never again need a complete cleansing with a flushing potions, she was glad that Harry had tricked her into taking it.
Harry and Hermione sat in the viewing room of the cinema in Dunwich. They had apparated here for a day and had visited the once grand town. Hermione informed Harry about a bit of the town's history and how most of the impressive buildings had sunk into the sea over time. There still were a nice little restaurant that they found and a cinema, so they could just enjoy their day. There were no Death Eaters around, no snatchers and wizards had never really seen a sense in settling here. It was a perfect day for their little vacation. Just hanging out like muggles and seeing a few sights without causing suspicion.
Once the movie was over, they apparated back to Brandon and the bungalow in the Centre Parcs. Harry made some hot chocolate and they enjoyed the evening just sitting next to each other on the couch, talking about anything that didn't have to do with their mission. With time passing, none of them consciously noticed how they had moved closer to each other. Only when Hermione fell asleep on Harry's shoulder, he realised what had happened. He didn't really care. He knew that he felt more for Hermione than being a best friend. She had been the one girl that always stood by his side, exception being sixth year where she had been under potions, even if the whole school turned against him. He just watched her sleep, how her nose twitched when a strand of her long, bushy hair fell onto it.
Though the hair was much tamer than in their first year at Hogwarts. He couldn't help himself but take the strand of hair into his hand, trying how it felt. He was surprised that it was so soft, despite being so curly. He played with it for a while before noticing that the fire in the fireplace had burned down and it started to be a bit chilly in the lounge of the bungalow. He gently lifted Hermione in his arms and carried her to the room that she had chosen. He had noticed that she had been relieved to have a room of her own again. Probably she had been really uncomfortable having to change in the same room with two boys.
And Harry knew how often he had needed to stop Ron from peeping on her. He took her shoes off and put her under the blanket with her day clothes on. He wouldn't break her trust by changing her into her night clothes. One night of sleeping in her normal jeans and sweat shirt wouldn't harm her any. Once she was tucked in under the blanket, he bent down and placed a small kiss on her cheek.
"Sleep well, Hermione," he whispered and left the room after switching off the light.
He didn't notice the small happy smile on Hermione's face.