Author's Note: H/H alert. ;) Many thanks to the wonderful Hildigunnur for beta-reading! Feedback is appreciated, as always.* Silly Old Thing
Hermione skimmed through Ron's very lengthy letter from Romania as they walked down the stairs from Gryffindor Tower.
"I don't believe this boy," she said, looking up at Harry. "Devoting three entire pages to a play-by-play commentary of a Quidditch match they played. And he finds it hard to complete a fifteen-inch essay for Charms!"
Harry shrugged. "When Charlie Weasley gets on a broom, there promises to be one hell of a match, if a short one. Ron was so excited when he found out that Charlie could get him a temporary position in the local Quidditch League. And anyway, that letter's addressed to me, if I remember correctly."
"Yeah, okay," Hermione said absently as she flipped over a page and strained to make out Ron's untidy scrawl.
"I'm sure when he writes to you, he'll be sure to include a complete history Romanian folklore and culture."
"Do you know that you could get arrested for reading someone else's mail?"
"Fascinating," Hermione said, but she was grinning. She started to read out loud from the letter.
" 'I'm having the most fantastic time here, Harry. Charlie's great, this country's great, and the dragons are awesome. I rode Norbert the other day. He just magnificent, really, there's no other word for it. Not too friendly though. He gave me scars that makes the one I got from him back in our first year look like a tiny scrape.' " Hermione winced, then continued.
" 'The first couple of days were pretty rough, though. The first day, there was a seriously pregnant Short Snout about to give birth, and everyone was running about yelling things like 'Hot Water!' and 'She swallowed my shoes!' and 'Time for another contraction- everyone DUCK!'"
Harry chuckled, and Hermione suddenly noticed a photo tucked into the pages of the letter. She looked at it, gasped, and passed it on to Harry, who burst out laughing. Hermione quickly turned back to the letter.
" 'Someone took that picture of me on my second day here. Don't worry, they all assure me that my eyebrows will grow back soon, and that a Mohawk is very fashionable nowadays. Anyway, Charlie says that everyone goes through this initiation ceremony, even he did. It's practically a ritual.'" Hermione paused and looked at Harry. "Poor Ron!"
"Oh, he doesn't seem too upset. Come on, let me read a little," Harry said, taking the letter from Hermione.
" 'Charlie's friends are unbelievably cool, if a little… insane. But the coolest is this really wild American girl named Jaime. She's amazing Harry, I wish you could meet her. Why, just the other night---'"
"What?" Hermione asked, when he stopped reading.
Harry's eyes quickly skimmed the paragraph, and he looked up at Hermione, struggling to keep a poker face. "Oh, nothing important."
Hermione folded her arms and narrowed her eyes at him. "What?" she repeated.
Harry shrugged uncomfortably, fearing her reaction. "Let's just say that Norbert might not have been pleased to know that his harness had been used for such… alternative purposes."
Hermione stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. "I'm so glad he's having a good time," she said finally, a little breathless.
Harry felt enormously relieved. "You really are? You're okay with him- I mean with this…"
Hermione looked at him and smiled, her eyes dancing. "I actually am. I honestly, actually am."
Harry grinned back, suddenly feeling happier than he'd felt in ages. Then he noticed that they were heading down a rather familiar corridor. "Er… Hermione, where exactly are we going?" he asked.
"To the kitchens."
"Oh, Hermione, not again," Harry said, looking around for a means of escape.
Hermione reached out and grabbed his hand before he could flee. "Don't even think about it, Harry. As the only two members of S.P.E.W. who have stayed back for the Christmas Holidays, it is our duty to pay a visit to the House Elves."
"But we visited them two days ago!"
"Please, Harry?" she said imploringly, and squeezed his hand.
"All right," he said automatically. She grinned and tugged him down the corridor.
"I really think we're finally getting through to them, Harry, I really do. Dobby tells me that three other elves have decided to ask for wages. Isn't that wonderful?" she gushed. Harry struggled to keep up with her, not wanting to let go of her hand.
They stopped abruptly at the secret entrance to the kitchens, and Hermione unclasped her hand from Harry's, reached up and tickled the pear in the painting. It giggled, squirmed, and the door swung open to reveal the gleaming kitchens.
As they stepped in, Dobby was upon them almost immediately. "Harry Potter, sir!" he squeaked. "And Miss!" he added, seeing Hermione.
"That's right Dobby," Harry said, linking arms with Hermione and grinning at her. "Sir and Miss Harry Potter have come down to visit you."
Hermione rolled her eyes at him and laughed as she took a step away and removed her arm. "How are we doing today, Dobby?" she asked, bending down to address the elf face-to-face. "Have any other elves agreed to reconsider their positions?"
Dobby shook his head a mite sorrowfully. "No, Miss! The elves is feeling very sad indeed today, as there is so little work to be done. There are no students in the castle, so the elves is having less work in the kitchens!"
"But that is good!" Hermione said, straightening up. "This is your day off! You have to enjoy it!" she said, speaking very loudly and slowly. A few elves who were half-heartedly wiping down the already spotless counters glanced at her sullenly. The rest just ignored her.
Hermione bit her lip, looking disappointed. "Why don't you go talk to them?" Harry suggested. "Mingle a bit. Compliment them on their cleanliness. Or something."
"You should do that, Miss Hermione!" said Dobby eagerly. "Your Harry Potter is correct!"
At first, Harry thought it was a trick of a light. But then he realised, and was sure, that Hermione had blushed at Harry's words. She left for the other end of the kitchen without a word. Harry watched her go, intrigued.
"Did Dobby offend Miss Hermione, Harry Potter, sir?" Dobby said nervously, looking up at him with wide eyes.
"I'm not sure whether she likes me being addressed as her Harry Potter," he said, gazing after her.
"But Harry Potter is, is he not?"
Harry smiled to himself. "Well, I'll always be, whether she likes it or not. Dobby, could you help me carry out a small experiment?"
Dobby nodded and listened, his eyes growing wider each second. When Harry finished speaking, Dobby squealed, clapped his hands together, and hurried off towards Hermione. Harry wandered towards one of the large stoves and pretended to inspect a large pot of tomato soup. He strained his ears to make sure he could listen to what Dobby was telling Hermione.
Unfortunately one of the elves near him dropped a very large steel pot, and the noise that resulted prevented him from hearing Dobby perform his part.
"Excuse me Dobby, what?" he heard Hermione ask, when things quietened down again.
"Harry Potter, Miss Hermione's beau-friend, said that—"
Hermione giggled quietly. "Beau-friend? Now really, Dobby," she said, glancing up at Harry. He caught her eye and grinned. Looking very flustered indeed, Hermione quickly turned aside and tried to engage in conversation a very sulky little House-Elf that was washing the dishes.
Harry smiled to himself. She didn't deny anything. This was perfect. Dobby appeared beside him, and Harry leaned down. "Great work," he said, keeping his voice low. "Now announce to all the other elves in the kitchen that Dumbledore has ordered you to go play in the snow for an hour."
Dobby blinked, looking amazed. "Dumbledore has ordered that?" he squeaked.
"Make sure you tell everyone that. And get them to clear out of the kitchens quickly," Harry said, straightening up. Dobby nodded eagerly and appeared suddenly on a large table in the middle of the kitchen.
"Dobby has an announcement! Dobby has an announcement!" Dobby squeaked loudly. "Headmaster Dumbledore has ordered all Elves on Kitchen Duty to go… play in the snow for one hour!"
Immediately there broke out whispering and muttering among the house elves. Many of them cast suspicious looks at Dobby, who frowned and said, "Harry Potter himself has conveyed this message! Do you doubt Harry Potter?"
All of the House Elves almost immediately scurried over to Harry, offering their most profuse and heartfelt apologies. Harry waved them away uncomfortably. "Just go," he said. "Go to the grounds, make some snowballs, and throw them about. It's fun."
Some looked fascinated, some looked reluctantly, but one by one, they slowly disappeared with loud pops from the kitchen. When it was completely devoid of elves, Hermione marched over to him, looking annoyed.
"Dumbledore announced no such thing!" she said heatedly.
Harry shrugged. "An hour in the snow won't hurt them," he said. "Besides, you were the one who wanted them to enjoy their day off."
Hermione blinked, then smiled. "You're right about that. I guess we've got the kitchen to ourselves, then." She looked about the vast room. Harry couldn't take his eyes off her.
Hermione walked along the counters examining the food laid out for lunch. It wasn't as much as it would usually be, because of the scarce number of students staying over at Hogwarts for the Christmas break. "Isn't it fascinating how the elves make so much food everyday? And it's such good food as well!" Hermione commented.
Harry nodded absently. He really was not in the mood to talk about food, of all things.
"Oh, look," Hermione said, stopping in her tracks. "This turkey's only half-done. The elves must have left before they finished it." She took out her wand.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked immediately.
She looked at him, her eyebrows raised. "Finishing the job, of course."
Harry folded his arms. "Have you tried out any cooking charms before?"
"Oh please, it's just a simple basting charm. Any second year could do it," she said, waving her wand. The turkey burst into flames.
Harry quickly hurried beside her and extinguished the fire with water from his wand. They both looked at the charred turkey sadly. "You were petrified for half of our second year," Harry reminded her.
"I didn't think it would matter," Hermione said, pouting. She then seemed to notice that he was looking at her. "What?" she asked. "Do I have a spot on my chin?"
"No, of course not. What, now Harry Potter can't look at his girlfriend without her getting all suspicious?" he said, keeping his tone playful.
Hermione blushed furiously. Why hadn't he noticed before how pretty she was when she got flustered? "Oh, that Dobby," she said, not looking at him. "Such a silly old thing. Actually believing that there's something between us—"
Harry leaned forward and shut her up.
When he pulled back, she looked shocked, her lips partly opened, her eyes glazed. The charred turkey smoked quietly in the background.
"In that case," Harry said, his voice husky, "I suppose I'm just a silly old thing as well."
"No, I…" Hermione shook her head, as if to clear it, and stared at him. Then she smiled, her eyes sparkling. Harry felt his knees go weak. "I think you got the point rather well."