Happy Christmas, Hermione
By Jedi Tess of Gryffindor
Summary: Hermione is quite sure that Santa Claus can't possibly exist. Ron is quite sure he can. Hermione is about to find out who is right. A Christmas one-shot. R/H
Disclaimer: Deck the halls is lots of lawyers, fa la la la la la la la la. Tis the season not to su-ue fa la la la la la la la la. I will not make any mon-ey, fr-om this ficcy, I as-sure you. Ahem. Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, except Santa Claus. Not sure who he belongs to.
A/N: Hey guys! I don't usually use Ron and Mione as main characters, but it worked for this fic. It's not as good as I wanted, but it's five in the morning and my eyes feel as though they're filled with cement. Still, I suffer for love of my art.
HAPPY HOLS! Loves!
Hermione Granger was a young woman endowed with many abilities. One was that she managed all the (considerable) duties of a Prefect and did it well. Another was that she managed to stay top student in her year at the same time. Another was that she somehow continued to cope with a friendship that had led her into a potentially fatal adventure every year since her first at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Still another was that she attended said educational institute and lived to tell about it (not that she was allowed to "tell about it" outside of the wizarding community, as it was clearly stated in the Restriction for the Distribution of Knowledge Pertaining to the Wizarding World that any information given to a Muggle who was not directly connected by blood or legal relation to the wizarding community was punishable by a permanent Muting Hex).
Arguably the only ability Hermione Granger did not possess in perfection (apart from any skill at Wizard's Chess) was her capacity for belief – particularly in a mythical figure who shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. A right jolly old elf who, by all rights, could not exist in the mind of someone who had more practical sense than the entire staff of the Ministry of Magic.
Yes, indeed. Hermione Granger had reasoned out, almost beyond a shadow of a doubt, the existence of Santa Claus – the granddaddy of all holidays that were red and green, and involved excessive killing of innocent fir trees as a means of celebrating eternal life.
Naturally, the impracticalities of Christmas, jolly old Saint Nicholas, or how in the name of Grindelwald's shorty pajamas a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer could have possibly perched atop, say, Gryffindor Tower long enough for Santa to get down the chimney (never mind how the great tub of preserves would fit down it) were particulars not lost on the intelligent sixth year. But where her usually skeptical eye might squint to find fault in Professor Trelawney's absurd prediction that Santa was in fact a dangerous felon with designs on Harry Potter's life, it was widened blatant disbelief at the possibility of the good-tempered heavyweight sneaking into her dormitory every Christmas eve.
It's absolutely ludicrous, quite apart from being illegal, isn't it? she thought, gazing hopefully out of her dormitory window at the grey sky that looked almost ready to dump a heap of snow onto the frosty, though still depressingly green grounds. Someone's bound to have seen him by now, provided he could get Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen to hold his sleigh full of gifts on a roof with a forty-five degree tilt and icicles the size of a broomstick.
And for the sixth year running, Hermione decided that she was giving the whole issue way too much thought. With a sigh of resignation, she pushed herself up off the window seat and crossed the dormitory, figuring that a nice row with Ron about the subject of gift-giving and the wasting of paper and Spell-O-Tape on gift wrapping when one was already well aware of what the gift was would help restore her confidence in her own reasoning skills. After all, almost any argument with the feisty redhead made Hermione feel more intelligent. The annoying prat didn't have logical capacity to fill a teacup, however good-looking and otherwise clever he might be.
Descending into the common room (that for all its supposed commonness looked anything but usual at the moment), Hermione's sharp eye quickly picked through the four or five redheads in the room and came to rest upon the one who was supposed to be one of her best friends. Sure enough, he was spread out over two tables by the nine-foot Christmas tree, surrounded by Zonko's bags, bizarrely shaped bundles, and yards of annoyingly cheerful wrapping paper.
What made Hermione's heart sink, however, was the sight of Harry Potter's face as he set his own bags down beside Ron's and began enthusiastically pulling out his own paper, scissors, Spell-O-Tape, and brightly colored ribbon. He hadn't looked that light-hearted since Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup in their third year.
Oh, bloody brilliant – now she was going to have to spend the evening, a) pretending to buy into the Christmas mumbo jumbo and b) not quarreling pleasantly with Ron. Either of those activities would annoy, upset, or depress Harry, and Merlin knew the poor bloke needed all the cheer he could get, what with the intense pressure of ridding the universe of all that was evil bearing down on him every hour of the day and night.
Stupid Voldemort. Stupid creepy power-mongers who wear dumb masks. Stupid killing curse, Hermione thought rather childishly as she crossed to her friends.
"So," she said in falsely cheerful voice. "Back from Hogsmeade, then?"
"Apparently," said Ron rather sardonically. He was well aware of Hermione's sentiments about Christmas, having been dowsed in them during a row two weeks ago that had fortunately taken place while Harry was having a meeting in Dumbledore's office.
"Have a nice time?" she asked, deliberately ignoring Ron and directing her attention to Harry, who had for some reason thrown himself bodily over one of the bundles he'd just set down.
"It was brilliant – Mione, do you suppose you could go chat with Ginny – over on the other side of the common room – for thirty seconds?"
"What?" Hermione stared at him.
"He-wants-to-wrap-your-present-genius," Ron said in a rather drawn out series of loud coughs.
"I'll be quick," Harry promised.
"Get Ron a glass of water, won't you?" Hermione said rather sharply. Here she was, trying to preserve peace and good humor for Harry's sake, and Ron was going and being difficult. Typical.
Turning away, she wandered across the common room to Ginny, who was busy unwrapping some bundles from Gladrags.
"Oh, hi, Mione," the redhead said brightly. "Don't worry, you're safe over here. I've already wrapped your gift."
"Oh. I – " Hermione felt her cheeks redden slightly. "You didn't have to get me – "
"Oh, shut up – of course I did!" Ginny grinned widely. "We're practically related, aren't we?"
Hermione turned, if possible, even redder.
"I'm not even going to respond to that insinuation," she said tartly. "So – what're you wrapping?"
"Well," Ginny pulled the Gladrags bag toward her and pulled out a beautiful green and red scarf made of what felt like cashmere, "I got this for Luna. She was telling me all she ever seems to get is stationary or books for Christmas. So I thought something pretty and practical might be a nice change."
"It's beautiful," Hermione agreed. "What else?"
None of the above revelations concerning our Gryffindor protagonist are meant to imply that she was a complete Scrooge. She still enjoyed giving and getting presents, when she could forget how wasteful it was (most wizards couldn't seem to grasp the idea of recycling). Moreover, she could also enjoy the beautiful Christmas trees in the Great Hall and common rooms, when she could ignore the fact that they had been killed for the enjoyment of others. And of course she loved snow (although snow did not rely on Christmas, so she could have done without the latter).
As Ginny pulled out her purchases and arranged them on the table at which they sat, Hermione was able to set aside her cynicism long enough to appreciate the care with which Ginny had chosen her presents. She hadn't just gone out and bought silly little trinkets because she didn't know what to get. She'd really put thought into each gift, and she explained the significance of each treasure as Hermione helped her wrapped them up.
"Oy, Mione! You can come back now. Harry's done."
Hermione and Ginny shared a much practiced and perfected look of exasperation at Ron's artless frankness.
"Go on, Mione," Ginny said, grinning at her. "Thanks for your help."
"No problem, Gin." Hermione pushed herself up and went back to join the boys.
"Your cough's cleared up nicely, Ron," she said pointedly as she sat down.
He glared at her, but surprisingly didn't retaliate.
"Either of you fancy a game of Exploding Snap before bed?" Harry asked sometime later, trying and failing to stifle a yawn. They'd been sitting quietly by the fire for several hours, roasting goodies that Harry had convinced Dobby to bring up to them and each reading a book (Hermione, All You Never Wanted to Know About NEWTs; Harry, Defense For Dummies: A Practical Guide to Defense Against the Dark Arts; and Ron, In My Day: Delphi Dibbon's Time With The Chudley Cannons).
It was very dark outside the window now, and many people had drifted out of the common room, eager to sleep away the hours between now and the fabulous Christmas Day festivities that were always good fun.
"Sure, I'll play," Hermione said.
They only got through three games before all three of them were gaping like fish.
"Reckon we should turn in?" Ron said with a stifled yawn as he scooped the cards into their explode-proof package.
"Yeah, all right." Harry got up and stretched. "Night, Mione."
"Night, Harry - Ron." The former grinned a little and crossed the common room to the stairs to the boys' dorm. The latter paused, as though about to speak, and then shrugged.
"Night, Mione," he said, giving her a funny look before following Harry out of the room.
Hermione stared at his retreating back, curious and rather disappointed. It was funny; every time Ron left her, she felt a kind of hollow disappointment in her chest. Not that she wanted him to be handcuffed to her or anything, she thought as she crossed to the girls' staircase. Although he did smell nice. And she did enjoy looking at him when he wasn't paying attention. He had lovely eyes.
Shut up, brain!she thought fiercely as she entered her dorm and crossed to her dresser. Lavender and Pavarti had gone home for the holidays, so the dorm was unusually quiet. Hermione changed into her flannel pajamas, unable to stop a small smile as she looked down at them. They were patterned in Chudley Cannons' logos and were violently orange. Hermione might have gotten rid of them long ago, but they had been Ron's birthday present to her and the memory of his furious blush when she'd opened them still made her giggle uncontrollably.
"Gin reckoned you'd like them," he'd muttered sheepishly.
She did like them, if for no other reason than that he'd given them to her.
Feeling a bit better than she had when she'd come up, she crossed to her four-poster and pulled back the hangings. She was just crawling up onto the fluffy bed when something on her pillow caught her eye. Her dorm was dark as she hadn't bothered with a light when she'd come in so it took her a moment to realize that it was a piece of parchment.
"A letter?" she muttered, pushing her hangings aside and grabbing her wand from the bedside table. "Lumos."
Her wand tip ignited and she touched it to the wick of the candle on her bedside table. Perched on the edge of the bed, she held up the parchment, which was thick, smooth, and scribbled over in a loopy cursive.
So, don't believe in me, Miss Granger? Quite sure I don't exist? Well, perhaps you are right. However, I would like a chance to redeem myself in your heart. Would you be kind enough to meet me at the top of the tallest tower at eleven o'clock tonight? I would very much like to meet you. Do not concern yourself about finding me. My reindeer will findyou. All the best,
Hermione stared at the note, her mouth flopping about at a loose end. Santa Claus? Was someone pulling her leg?
She read the letter again, trying to identify the handwriting. But while it bore a strong resemblance to Professor Dumbledore's loopy script, it definitely was not his.
Her next thought was that it was Ron's idea of a practical joke. But how would he have gotten the note up here? Boys couldn't come up to the girls' dorms. And it couldn't have come by owl. She would have seen it fly up the staircase, and all the windows in her dorm were tightly closed against the chill outside.
Could it, she thought in sudden unease, be a trap? Vindictive Slytherins, perhaps? She made no secret of her skepticism about Christmas. Could it even have been someone dangerous? She was a Muggleborn, and with the continually looming threat of Voldemort, one could never be too careful.
She shook her head as she mulled it over. No. Dumbledore had taken great pains to keep the school safe from the influence of the dark side. There was no way a Death Eater or the Dark Lord could have got into Hogwarts without Dumbledore knowing about it. And Hermione doubted that they would have come, even if they might have been able to find a way. Toying with Muggleborns wasn't a risk worth taking, not when Voldemort's campaign was still so fragile.
As for vindictive Slytherins, they would have had no way of getting an owl into her dorm if Ron couldn't do it. Anyway, long gone were the days when Malfoy could get her into trouble with Filch and Snape for being out of bed after curfew. She was a Prefect, after all. She could just say just she was on patrol. Anyway, Malfoy knew that. He wouldn't have tried to lure her out of Gryffindor Tower like that – not anymore.
After regarding the suspicious correspondence for another few moments, her curiosity to find out what was going on overcame her apprehension and she decided to go have a look.
Slipping out of bed, she pushed her feet into slippers and pulled on her dressing gown over her ridiculous jim-jams. Then she crept out of her dorm, crossed the common room, and crawled through the portrait hole.
The corridors were eerily quiet and dark. Moonlight filtered through the thick gray clouds massing outside the school, so many of the corridors were lit by an occasional torch. Even though she patrolled these corridors often, Hermione was still nervous and tried to be as quiet as possible. She wasn't in the mood to have the pants scared off her by Mrs. Norris or another Prefect. She scowled at the thought of a run-in with Malfoy.
Just the thought of him irritated her, and in this annoyed frame of mind, she wondered why she was bothering with this mysterious letter writer – whomever it turned out to be. Were they worth risking a confrontation with Malfoy or Filch? Or even worse – Snape?
Fortunately, Hermione made it to the Astronomy Tower (Hogwart's tallest spire) without being intercepted by anyone at all. She climbed the stairs as quietly as possible, and listened for a long moment at the door before pushing it cautiously open. She knew very well what many of the older students used this particular secluded tower for, having walked in on one too many snog-a-thons during her patrols. Fortunately, a moment's look around showed the tower to be quite empty.
A sudden thought struck Hermione as she crossed the one room on the inside of the tower. Suppose it was all a set up? Here she was, alone and shivering at Hogwarts' "romantic hotspot." Although it was extremely farfetched, suppose some boy had a crush on her and had been hoping to lure her up to the Tower in hopes of a confrontation and a good snog?
But even as this nauseating notion crossed her mind, she pushed opened the door onto the roof and came to an abrupt halt, struck totally dumb by the sight that met her eyes.
On the roof in front of her sat a monstrous, magnificent sleigh. It was made of what appeared to be red cedar, and it was trimmed in green. In the back was a bag that must have been at least ten feet wide and fifteen feet tall. It fit quite comfortably in the compartment that had been built into the back of the sleigh's single seat, which emphasized the enormity of the sleigh itself.
Attached to the front of the sleigh were eight reindeer that were anything but tiny. In fact, Hermione guess that had she been standing next to the one in front, she would not have reached his shoulder.
"They have to be large. How else would they be able to transport a vehicle this size?" came an amused voice from the sleigh.
Hermione jumped, her eyes searching frantically for the source of the voice. It came from a man who sat in the seat, holding the reins. Hermione supposed she hadn't noticed him before because he was wearing robes of the same red as the sleigh. They were velvet and trimmed in white, which almost, but not quite hid a pure white beard to rival Dumbledore's. However, unlike Dumbledore this man was quite tall but pump, with rosy, round cheeks.
Somehow, Hermione knew – really knew – who this man was. It was as though some childlike part of her assured her that the man she was seeing was real, and was who he appeared to be, rather than the imposter her logical mind insisted weakly that he was.
She was looking at Santa Claus.
"Thank you very much for meeting me, Hermione," Santa said, still sounding quite amused. "I'm quite sorry for the late hour, but – well, obviously I work a night shift." He chuckled pleasantly, and for some reason, Hermione wasn't bothered by not being one step ahead for once.
"Yes," was all she could say.
"I was actually hoping you might be willing to come for a ride with me," Santa said, getting up and jumping nimbly down from the sleigh.
"A – a ride?" Hermione asked, thoroughly surprised.
"Yes," the old man said. "I would very much like to talk to you, but I've got quite a lot to be getting on with, and I'm afraid I don't have the time to stay here and chat."
"I – " Hermione opened her mouth to give an automatic negative – and paused. Her shocked mind was beginning to grasp the rather surreal situation. She wanted to believe she was dreaming, but somehow, just as she was sure this man was whom he claimed to be, she was sure that this whole situation was real as well.
And while it went against every ounce of common sense she had to get into the sleigh and fly away from Hogwarts, she was strangely comfortable with the idea. She knew she could trust this man. Moreover, she was almost overpowered by the number of questions she suddenly had for him.
"Yes, all right," she said after a long pause. Her eyes were once again drawn to the reindeer, who was pawing the ground as if impatient to be in the air again.
"Perhaps you'd like to meet my charges?" he asked shrewdly.
"Er – okay," she said, wishing she could find something a bit more intelligent to say. Cautiously, she took a few steps forward to stand near Santa. He smelled quite good; rather like pine and apples.
"Here in the back," Santa said, leading her over to stand beside the pair of deer closest to the sleigh, "we have Donner and Blitzen." As he introduced them, they seemed to incline their heads to her. Not wanting to seem impolite, Hermione bowed back awkwardly.
"And next up, we have Comet and Cupid." A beautiful black reindeer and a pure white reindeer bowed their respective, elegant heads to Hermione, who nodded back.
"Incidentally, those two have been at it since they were paired together," Santa told her in an undertone as they moved on to the next two charges. "We're expecting a faun or two from them by next Christmas. And here," he said, raising his voice, "are Prancer and Vixen."
Two stately looking reindeer bowed regally at her, and Hermione hid a smile as she nodded in return.
"And here," Santa said, at last moving to the front of the line, "are Dancer and Rudolph, the leaders of this year's sleighride. Rudolph was brought in at the last minute because Dasher's ankles were bothering him." Santa patted the flank of the left reindeer, whose nose was glowing beacon-bright in the darkness.
"I'm also finding that he's dead handy for navigation," Santa went on. "Anyway, we'd best be off. Lots to do tonight. Come along, Hermione."
Hermione hurried around the front of the line of reindeer and followed Santa, who hoisted himself easily into the sleigh and offered her a hand up. Still not quite believing that she was doing this, Hermione placed her hand in his and allowed herself to be pulled into a seat beside the plump man.
He reached under the seat and produced a thick blanket that was the same color scheme as his robes and shook it out, placing it over Hermione's legs. Hermione was grateful, as she was starting to feel distinctly cold in the nighttime air.
"And we're off!" Santa called happily, giving the reigns a light snap. Hermione was pressed back in her seat at the sleigh began to move forward across the roof. Almost immediately, she felt her stomach jerk as the sleigh lifted off, the reindeers' legs still making the motions of running even as they cleared the Astronomy Tower.
"I'm all finished at Hogwarts for tonight, so we'll head for Muggle Edinburgh, the next stop on my list," Santa said, producing a long roll of parchment from one of his pockets. "Here, take these for a moment, won't you?" He handed her the reins.
"What? But – I – " Hermione fumbled a bit with the leather straps, feeling a bit panicky. "But – Mr. Claus, sir – I've never driven a sleigh before." Never mind a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer!
"It's all right," Santa assured her. "They've been doing this for ages. They know where they're going. They just like to know someone's holding on. That a girl, you're doing just fine." He had produced a pair of spectacles from another pocket and was examining his role of parchment.
"Well, Edinburgh will be a fast stop," he said. "There're only twenty-five homes to visit there."
"What?" Hermione said in surprise. "But – what, are people in Edinburgh particularly naughty?"
Santa looked down at her kindly, chuckling in his merry, infectious way.
"Not at all, my dear," he said, pocketing the list and specs and taking back the reigns. "Being bad or good has nothing at all to do with it."
"But – then – how do you decide who gets gifts?" Hermione said. Suddenly, all of her questions from earlier were coming back to her. She couldn't remember ever having met anyone who'd claimed they'd gotten a gift from Santa.
"It took me years to find a reliable system," Santa told her, looking thoughtful. "At first, of course, it was who was 'naughty' and who was 'nice', as you can tell by the traditional songs and stories. But children are clever and most have caught on and started being particularly generous around this time of the year. Then once they've got their gift, they go back to all the dirty little habits they'd temporarily abandoned."
Hermione knew only too well how true this was to human nature, and nodded.
"So how do you know who really needs you, Mr. Claus?" she asked curiously.
"Please, my dear! Only the wife calls me 'Mr. Claus,'" the jolly old elf said with a laugh. "Just 'Santa' will do. As to how I know – well, it's this time of year that the most sincere wishes are made, Hermione. You see, in the same way a particular god might receive a prayer, I receive wishes. Every time a person makes a wish, I hear it. But it seems that this time of year in particular, the most fervent, desperate little wishes are made. Whether those who wish them are aware they have asked or not, I hear the wish. When I hear what people say in their hearts, I really get a sense of need or want. Once I've sorted out the needs from the wants I compile my list and go."
"Do you get very many needs, sir?" Hermione asked, thoroughly engrossed in his explanation.
"It really depends," Santa said, pulling the reigns slightly to the left. "But usually, I can count on about twenty million real, genuine needs."
"How do you do it all in one night?" Hermione asked in wonder.
"My dear girl, when you've been in this profession as long as I have, you develop some efficient methods," Santa said merrily, his blue eyes twinkling.
Hermione smiled, deciding that she liked this man very much. What a clever idea! Christmas, it had always seemed to her, was about wanting this gift or wanting that gift. She was pleased to see that Santa, the icon of Christmas, was not feeding this frenzy.
The sleigh had begun to descend now.
"We're passing over Edinburgh," Santa told her. "Take a look – it's really quite lovely."
Hermione twisted sideways, but the side of the sleigh was too high to see over from her sitting position. Cautiously, she clambered onto her knees, placing both hands on the side and staring warily over the edge.
The town lay sprawled beneath them, lights twinkling in the dark. A light snow was beginning to fall and it twinkled in the light of the street lamps. In fact, everything seemed to glitter as it swept passed under them.
"Oh!" Hermione breathed. It was one of the most beautiful things she'd ever seen. As they reached the more residential area of town the lights adorning the Muggle houses glimmered at them in a truly enchanting way.
Hermione watched as they flew lower and lower over the thatched roofs. At last, they sailed no more than five feet over the roof of one cottage and landed on the next one over. The landing was so smooth that Hermione wouldn't have known they'd put down at all but for the fact that she was still gazing avidly over the side.
"Come," Santa said, helping her down from the sleigh. She swayed a bit after the flight, but caught her balance after a moment and stared incredulously up at him.
"What – I'm coming with you?" she asked.
"Of course," he said, looking surprised. "I told you I was going to convince you I was real. How will you know for sure if you don't see me in action?"
Hermione had to admit that this was a good point.
Santa was leading her across the roof to the brick chimney, a smaller sack than the one on the back of the sleigh over his shoulder.
"Now," he said as they reached the chimney. "This might feel a bit funny at first, but not to worry. It's a similar idea to Floo Powder."
Without thinking, Hermione slipped her free hand into his. It was as though she were a little girl again. He smiled reassuringly down at her.
"Now, when I say go, jump, all right?" he said, giving her hand a squeeze.
"Yeah," Hermione said breathlessly, feeling another wash of unreality at this situation.
"And when we land, don't move for two or three seconds – sometimes people get dizzy and don't realize it and fall into the tree. Rather awkward to sort out."
"Sure," Hermione said, trying not to feel nervous.
"Ready – set – jump!"
Hermione jumped as high as she could. And suddenly it was as though a Portkey was pulling her toward the chimney. She was sucked down it beside Santa, her arm banging against his as she went. Everything went black for a moment, and then – it was a though an artist had splashed a random glob of paint onto a canvas. The scene swam before her for a moment, and then solidified into a tidy living room with a small Christmas tree in the corner.
"All right?" Santa whispered. He was still holding her hand securely.
"Yeah," Hermione said rather giddily. She was embarrassed to discover that she wanted to do it again.
"Now I need your help," Santa told her quietly, reaching into his sack and pulling out a tiny crystal ornament in the shape of a star. "Go put this somewhere where it can be seen on the tree."
Hermione complied, trying to move as quietly as possible. She was very aware of being an invader into someone else's home. Whether or not she was Santa's little helper, she didn't feel quite right about coming in without permission.
While she was carefully positioning the ornament, Santa moved up beside her and placed one several wrapped parcels under the tree. They joined the meager stash already there, yet somehow they managed to make the pile look larger, fuller, more generous.
"Is that all?" Hermione whispered.
Santa crossed to the mantle and withdrew several small items. He placed handfuls of tiny goodies into each of the three stockings on the mantle, none of which had looked as though it contained anything before.
"I think that does it," he whispered, nodding in satisfaction at his work. "Come along."
Hermione joined him by the fireplace again, and took his hand again.
"One – two – three – jump!" She jumped and felt the tug behind her naval as she was pulled back up the chimney. When the splash of roof and reindeer materialized before her, she was so dizzy she nearly slipped and fell.
"Careful, there!" Santa had a surprisingly strong hand to her elbow, keeping her steady while her vision cleared. When she could see straight again, she followed him across the roof and climbed back into the sleigh.
"Up we get!" Santa called, and the reindeer, led by the beacon of Rudolph's nose, leapt into the air and climbed for the stars.
"So that's it?" Hermione asked. "Are all the houses like that?"
"Oh, no!" Santa grinned at her. "Every wish is different, Hermione. Some people simply wish for a few more presents under their tree. Others ask for a specific gift – just one. And some want things that are not material."
"What sorts of things?" Hermoine asked, feeling her curiosity peaked again. "You mean, like someone wishes to pass a class in school, or get good marks on homework, or get a pay raise at work?"
"Yes, sometimes," Santa nodded. "But other times, the wishes are of an even less substantial nature. No, I will not give you an example. Every wish is personal – every wish confidential. But I will tell you that it was a wish that brought me to you tonight."
"Was it?" Hermione stared at him in surprise. "Wow! Was it my wish?"
"Was it?" Santa asked, his eyes twinkling again.
Hermione smiled resignedly, knowing a dead end when she hit one. Anyway, despite her curiosity, she was for the first time since she could remember quite content to simply forget her questions and lean over the edge of the sleigh, watching the landscapes whisk by beneath her. And while it was cold, it wasn't unbearably so, especially with Santa's blanket wrapped round her.
Santa didn't allow her to accompany him again.
"You got to see how it works with an easier wish," he told her with a jolly chuckle. "Now just sit back and enjoy the ride while I take care of some of the trickier gifts."
Hermione was quite content to do this. It was very cozy in the sleigh, and the wonderful smell of pine and apple spice lingered in the air. She soon discovered that this was partly because one of the presents in Santa's bag was a Christmas tree and partly because Santa had a jug of apple cider stashed under the seat.
Soon they left Edinburgh behind and headed west to little villages Hermione had never heard of. She lost all sense of time and location after a while. This didn't bother her at all for some reason. Perhaps because she was warm and snug under the thick blanket. Perhaps it was that she felt as full of eagerness and innocence as a little girl. Also because she was kept supplied with piping hot cider and "Mrs. Claus's special gingerbread" by the friendly old elf.
"The Mrs. likes to keep me fed," he explained as they pulled away from a tiny hut that was almost buried in snow (Hermione had no idea how the roof had held the colossal sleigh and reindeer).
"I'm curious," Hermione said as the sleigh rose back up into the night.
"I had noticed," Santa said with a jovial wink.
"I meant specifically," she chided, unable to stop a grin. "With – what was it – twenty million wishes to grant, how do you deal with the timing? I mean, five hours or so is an awfully short amount of time to work with."
"It's an interesting dilemma," Santa agreed, leaning back in the seat and taking a sip of cider from his mug, the reins grasped in one hand. "Basically, Mrs. Claus and I worked out a route that allows me to use the various time zones in combination with some time control charms to make sure that every delivery is made in the dead of night."
"That's brilliant!" Hermione said. "So you mean you just travel west to make your deliveries?"
"Exactly!" he said, smiling at her. "Ah, here's our next stop."
After a while, Hermione became interested in the reindeer again and while Santa was making his deliveries, she got out and looked them over more carefully. Rudolph and Vixen were quite friendly and all eight were quite pleased when Santa, upon catching Hermione out of the sleigh, told her to at least give the steeds a treat while she was sneaking about (he winked at her to assure her he wasn't displeased).
It seemed to last forever. Time out of time. Or perhaps it was that time seemed insignificant. Hermione expected that she could have enjoyed the sleighride if it had gone on forever. She slept for a while, and awoke to an empty sleigh and the impatient snorts of the reindeer waiting for their apples.
But like all strange and wonderful things, Hermione's sleighride had to come to an end.
"Come take a look at this, Hermione," Santa said suddenly, motioning to his side of the sleigh. Hermione, not feeling the least embarrassed, crawled into his lap and craned her neck to see over the side of the sleigh.
"Oh!" she breathed, unaware of her eyes shining with childlike delight as they beheld Hogwarts, which in her absents had been completely bathed in snow. It was now shining like a diamond palace in the unclouded moonlight of a full, though now waning moon, and it was without doubt the most spectacular sight Hermione had witnessed all night.
She propped her head on her hand and watched as the sleigh circled once before landing on the Astronomy Tower roof, leaving tracks through the thick blanket of white.
Hermione sighed. She didn't want to leave. She wanted to keep flying forever. She twisted in Santa's lap to look up into the rosy face. He was smiling, his eyes twinkling. Without thinking, Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a tight hug.
"Thank you!" she murmured. She was so overcome that she couldn't think of anything else to say. "Thank you so much!"
"You're most welcome, my dear," he said, drawing back to study her face. "I'm very glad I was able to meet you. You're an extraordinary young lady indeed."
"Well, off you get," Santa said, ushering her out of the sleigh. "I must be off myself. The Mrs. will be expecting me for Christmas breakfast with the elves."
Hermione climbed out of the sleigh. Quickly she went around and gave each reindeer a hug. Rudolph nuzzled her cheek affectionately and Vixen licked her nose. Hermione giggled, feeling more like a little girl than she'd felt in a very long time.
She backed up from the sleigh. Santa raised a hand to her.
"Farewell, Hermione," he called in his jolly voice. "By the way, do you have a Christmas wish for me?"
Hermione gave a rueful laugh.
"Ron," she blurted out simply. Blushing furiously, she clapped a hand over her mouth. She hadn't actually meant to say it!
But Santa merely smiled.
"Happy Christmas, Hermione Granger!" he called out, taking the reigns. "And up we go!"
"Happy Christmas to you, too, Santa!" she shouted after the ascending sleigh, waving madly and jumping up and down.
It was only after it had vanished over the tops of distant mountains that Hermione realized she still had Santa's blanket wrapped round her.
Sighing in contentment, and feeling that the full weight of her night's adventures would probably take quite a while to sink in, she turned and headed back in to the Astronomy Tower.
Once again, she met no one at all in the halls leading to Gryffindor Tower, although she nearly had to shout to wake the Fat Lady.
"I wish I was the guardian of Hufflepuff," she grumbled as she swung open. "At least they come in and stay in."
"Sorry," Hermione murmured, crawling through into the common room.
"Have a fun trip?"
Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. Whirling, she saw someone sitting on a pouf by the Christmas tree.
"Ron!" she gasped, clutching her racing heart. "You scared me!"
"Obviously." He grinned. "So, have a fun ride?"
"It was amazing!" she breathed, crossing the room and flopping into a chair beside him. Then her daydreaming mind caught in a grinding halt. "Hang on – how did you know – ?"
Ron turned bright red, suddenly becoming very interesting in his right cuff.
"So you really did meet him?" the redhead asked after an uncomfortable silence.
"Yes!" Hermione said quickly, dreamlike memories filling her mind again. "Oh, Ron, it was so – it really was the most incredible thing – I rode in his sleigh! And I met the reindeer – Rudolph's by far the best. And we flew around the entire world, Ron! And I know why not everyone gets gifts from Santa. And I had Mrs. Claus' s gingerbread and – and – " Hermione fell silent, unable to explain the powerful feelings pulsing through her as the memories surged back.
"Wow!" Ron murmured. "Pretty amazing bloke, Santa, isn't he?"
"Oh, he's fantastic!" Hermione said with a laugh. "He's a bit like Dumbledore, actually. Twinkling blue eyes, fantastic sense of humor, you know?"
"Wish I could meet him," Ron said, grinning at Hermione's enthusiasm.
"Careful, he might take you up on that wish," Hermione warned with a grin. Then she frowned suddenly. "Hang on, Ron. You didn't tell me how you knew I was with Santa tonight."
Ron's blush returned. Hermione stared at him in confusion. Could he, perhaps, have seen the sleigh land? But no, he hadn't been in the Astronomy Tower, she'd have seen or heard him, she was sure. But then how . . . ?
"It was you," she whispered in dawning comprehension. "It was your wish, wasn't it? Santa said someone had wished for me to meet him, to discover that he was real. And he said I'd know if it was my own wish and I knew I'd never made a wish like that and – and – Ron?"
His gaze, which had been studiously fixed on the floor, rose to meet hers at last.
"Yeah," he said at length, his gaze trained firmly upon hers. "It was my wish."
"But – but – why?" she asked, suddenly feeling rather breathless under his intense look.
"Two reasons, actually," Ron said, and to her surprise, a small smile had appeared on his face. "The first is a bit pathetic, really. I couldn't find anything good enough to get you for Christmas. Well, Mum always told me that Santa gets gifts for people that need things, and I thought that you really needed to know Santa was real. Anyway, anything he could give would be better than what I could get you." His expression became serious. "Anyway, I know you're probably the brightest witch in Hogwarts, Mione – " She blushed with pleasure at this – "but brains aren't everything. It's not just believing in Santa. It's belief itself that's important. Part of the reason Muggles are so easy for wizards to hide from is because most of them don't or won't believe in magic. Well, that doesn't make it any less real, it just means that Muggles are blind to us. But – Mione – " He suddenly leaned forward, his expression earnest – "I want you to remember how to believe. Belief can also determine reality. The more you believe in magic, the stronger you are in it. The more you believe in Santa, the more you understand the spirit of Christmas. Does any of this make sense?"
Hermione nodded, wondering at Ron's sudden bout of philosophical insight, but impressed in spite of herself. Just as she had realized her first year with the Philosopher's Stone incident, Harry and Ron really were the great wizards. Books and cleverness, as she'd put it, paled in comparison to friendship, to bravery, to imagination . . .
"What was the other reason for your wish, Ron?" she asked curiously. The blush returned, but he actually seemed eager to tell.
"Remember the fight we had about Christmas and Santa two weeks ago?" Ron asked slowly.
"Yes . . . " Hermione said, the memory flooding back. Her own words made her blush. Common sense and logic aside, she'd sounded like a drone! There had been no imagination at all in her side of the argument, she realized now. It sounded so cold.
"Well, it was right after that that I wrote my wish down and burned it," Ron said. "Mum always said when we were little that burning the wish was the fastest way to get it to Santa because the smoke would blow it his way."
"But why did you make the wish, Ron?" Hermione asked.
He hesitated, and then leaned slowly toward her. Hermione immediately blushed. Was he doing what she thought he was doing?
"There's – there's something I've been wanting to tell you, Mione," he began, his voice husky. Her heart began to flutter. "I've been wanting to say it since the day we met on the train our first year."
Slowly, he leaned forward. His cheek brushed hers as he brought his lips to her ear. Hermione shivered, half with dread, half with anticipation. Here it came. The words she'd been waiting to hear since their row after the Yule Ball in fourth year.
She heard him inhale and felt his breath as he let it slowly out. Then he whispered:
"I told you so."
He pulled back, grinning maniacally. Hermione wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. She even considered slapping him.
He was absolutely right. Ron had insisted there was a Santa. Hermione had insisted he was wrong. Ron had known all along that there was a Santa. For the first and probably last time, their roles had reversed – and Ron had been right.
Hermione laughed. She couldn't help it. Ron looked relieved that she was taking it so well, although when she snorted, he looked a bit concerned.
"Congratulations, Ron," she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. "I admit it. You were absolutely right."
"Er – yeah." He seemed at a bit of loss. "Nice blanket," he said, by way of changing the subject, no doubt. He fingered a bit of the material. "Gift?"
"Oh, no, I accidentally was still holding it when the sleigh took off," she told him, fingering the material. Her fingers came to rest over the white trimming, wherein a bit of green shrub had been tangled. It must have been from on of the house roofs, which had been covered in hanging vines. She pulled it carefully off, and was about to toss it aside when she realized what it was.
Slowly, she raised her eyes to look at Ron. He was staring at the greenery in Hermione's hand as well, with a look of suspicion and surprise.
My wish! she suddenly realized. Santa gave me this blanket on purpose!
She hesitated, and then offered the plant to Ron, determinedly looking into his astonished face.
Ron stared at the sprig of Mistletoe she'd placed in his hand, dumbfounded. He eyed her for a moment, as though asking permission.
"Want to know what my wish was?" Hermione asked, her voice trembling slightly. She looked meaningfully at the Mistletoe in his hand, and then up at his stunned face.
Ron paused for a moment, as though plucking up the courage. Then, very slowly, he reached out and took her hand in his free one. Even as their fingers laced together, Ron leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. Hermione couldn't help smiling happily, pressing closer to deepen it. Ron's other hand, still clasping the Mistletoe, came up to rest across her cheek.
When they pulled apart at last, staring at each other in wonder, Hermione felt another blush and a shy smile creep onto her face.
"Happy Christmas, Ron," she said.
Ron's solemn face suddenly split in a grin. He tugged her gently into his lap, tucking the thick red blanket around both of them. Wrapping his arms around her and pulling her into a tight hug, he said quietly,
"That it definitely is."
OMG! It's 5am! This is freakin' crazy! I have to get up in THREE HOURS! Oy vay! At least I have a five hour car ride to sleep through. Yay!
Happy Christmas to you all!