Disclaimer: You know I can only take credit for Jo Clearwater, no matter how much I might want the rest.
Author's Note: This is it, folks. The final chapter of Why I'm Quitting the Cannons. You guys have been fantastic, thank you so much for all of your reviews and encouragement.
Chapter 41: Christmas
Jason and Christina had found the newspaper in a rubbish bin the day the story had come out about the werewolf house. Since then, they had been walking, trying to make their way towards the general area where the article had said it was and hoping for the best. Jason had a wracking cough that seemed to just get worse and worse and Christina wasn't much better off. Winter settling in was making things increasingly difficult. What did they have to lose by trying to find the place? And so they had come.
Leo had come upstairs shortly afterward with a tray of tea for everyone (and cocoa for John), and Remus had lit a fire and then looked through a store of general health potions Molly had brought over sometime the previous week. He found something for Jason's cough and offered it to him. Looking at the bottle a little uncertainly, Jason didn't take it. "I…I can't pay for it."
Remus shook his head. "You don't have to." He pressed the little bottle into the man's hand, closing his fingers around it for him. "Drink up."
John cautiously opened the bottle and drained it. He put the lid back on and put it back in Remus's outstretched hand.
"The coughing should subside shortly, if it doesn't, we can call in a Healer," Remus offered, settling back into his seat.
Christina was still looking around the room, sitting close to John. "I don't understand why you're helping us…"
Harry responded after a moment. "Because it's right. It's the right thing to do. You're welcome to stay as long as you'd like. We have plenty of room. Everyone deserves a place to be safe."
John had slipped from his seat and was standing near Christina and Jason. "Are you sick like me?" Christina nodded, putting her arm around Jason and holding him close. "Everyone here is really nice," John added. He took another sip of his cocoa and smiled at everyone, wearing a chocolate mustache.
After that, it was decided that Christina and Jason could share a room and it would still be big enough for two. So long as the Wolfsbane potion arrived in time there was no reason the couple shouldn't be allowed to stay together. Harry planned to go to the village shop and pick up some clothes for Jason and Christina that evening and made arrangements for getting them a bed and other necessary furniture.
Christina's voice caught in her throat for a moment. Neither of them had slept in a bed in years.
Remus laid a hand on her shoulder. "Things are going to be different now. We're working on making this place self-sufficient. Whatever education you've missed, we'll make it up. Whatever you need, we can take care of. Harry's working on getting the Ministry to pass legislation to let us work. Things are going to be different."
Hermione left Snape's lab feeling exhausted to her bones. Her arms were nearly numb from grinding slowstone to powder most of the morning, and mixing blood replenishing potions all afternoon. The blood replenishing potion had to be stirred 532 and a quarter turns clockwise, and 212 and three quarter turns anticlockwise. Under Snape's instruction, Hermione had made a dozen batches. Her back and arms ached from the work, and her feet throbbed from standing all day. She arrived home and promptly fell asleep on the couch.
Ron found her there a short while later when he came home from Auror training. He covered her with a blanket and did his best to put dinner together before waking her up. It didn't taste brilliant, but it was edible and she ate it with a grateful smile.
They were just taking the dishes from the table when Hedwig arrived with a letter from Harry. She read it through twice before turning to Ron.
"What is it?"
Hermione hugged him. "Thanks to Josephine's story in the paper, two more people with lycanthropy found their way to our safe house. Josephine and Harry went out and got them what they needed this afternoon. It's working. I felt half-dead when I got home, but…it's working, Ron. It's worth it. Things are getting better."
Hermione insisted that she was rested from her nap, and the two of them to the house to meet the newest residents, Hermione side-along Apparating with Ron so she didn't splinch herself. ("Honestly, Ron, I'm not that tired.")
Harry and the others were in the common room. John had already fallen asleep and been carried off to bed. Hermione and Ron introduced themselves and Hermione asked half a dozen times if there was anything else she or they could do for them and promised vehemently (and unprompted) that all of them would have the Wolfsbane potion a week before the full moon.
Jason had a hungry look in his eyes. "Someone mentioned the potion before. Will it stop our transformations?"
Hermione shook her head sadly and Ron squeezed her hand. "Unfortunately, no. Nothing like that has been invented yet. But, the Wolfsbane potion will make it easier. You won't tear yourself or each other apart. You'll transform, but you'll still keep your heads. You can just curl up in your room and fall asleep. When you wake up, it will be daylight again and you'll be yourselves."
Jason and Christina held each other's hands. "We've spent so many nights alone and cold and howling…we try to stay away from people during the moon."
Harry looked them both in the eye. "Not this time. This time you can be here. No one can hurt you, and you won't accidentally hurt anyone else."
Josephine watched as Christina rested her head on Jason's shoulder. They both looked utterly worn out, and Hermione looked about the same. "I think it's probably time for all of us to get some rest."
They went their separate ways. Leo, Remus, and Samuel went to their rooms. Ron and Hermione Apparated home. Christina and Jason went to the room where the bed that had been picked up that day was waiting for them. This was the first time they were sleeping indoors in a proper bed in years.
When everyone else was settled in, Jo and Harry Apparated to his attic and curled up together to sleep. He lay awake for a while, holding her close, smelling her hair, just happy to be there with her. He thought about the long road he'd been on the last few months—leaving Quidditch, attempting to teach, working on the werewolf home. It was a long road, but he was happy to be where he was now. There was no more running from anyone or anything. He was home and happy and after a lot of years to the contrary, life was truly good. He was startled when he heard her say something after they'd been lying there a long time.
"I know you're still awake, Harry. Go to sleep. I'll still be here in the morning," she mumbled, snuggling closer towards his body.
He couldn't help smiling, kissing her neck. "You sleep too. I knew you were awake."
Eventually, the sandman came for them too.
Harry woke up Tuesday morning and found Jo right where she said she'd be—in his arms. He knew it was going to be a good day. He could smell her hair and feel her pressed up against him.
She rolled over then, eyes open, looking at him. "Happy Christmas Eve," she said, smiling.
"Happy Christmas Eve, Jo." They kissed, not caring a whit about morning breath, and broke apart smiling. "I don't think I'm going to get sick of that anytime soon." He reached out for his glasses and put them on.
She grinned, sitting up. "Good, because I intend to go on doing it for a while."
They did eventually wander downstairs, where the Weasley kitchen was already in full swing. Molly had a number of different dishes in progress, both for that evening and in preparation for Christmas Day dinner. "Oh, good, you're up. Harry would you break 3 eggs into the third pot from the left and stir them in?"
"Sure, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said, picking several eggs out of the basket and getting started on them for her.
"You're such a dear. Ginny's bringing Neville over later. Josephine, would you mind putting clean linens on the bed in Ron's room for me? Neville will be staying there," added Mrs. Weasley.
With helping Mrs. Weasley, it was over an hour before Harry and Jo found themselves free to spend the day the way they'd like. They decided to go to the werewolf house and decorate it for Christmas—Hermione was already there and doing the same. They hung garlands and brought in a tree, and charmed little baubles of light to hang from the garlands. Harry watched as John put ornaments on the lower branches of the tree.
Mrs. Weasley and Hermione would be cooking food for the party tonight, and they'd have music. All the people who had helped make this happen were invited—the Weasleys of course, Luna, Neville, Dumbledore, Kingsley, Flitwick, Tonks, Poppy, Minerva, Amelia Bones; the list went on. Even Penny and Percy had been invited, not that Jo had any expectation Penny would show up.
Harry and Jo slipped away from the decorating for a while to pick up a few presents for Remus, John, Samuel, Leo, Jason, and Christina. They separated to cover more ground, and Harry picked up a last minute gift of his own before they met back up for lunch—after all, it was Tuesday.
Jo had a grin on her face as they sat down to eat, hardly paying attention to the food. "I just thought of something .You know him better than I do, but, do you think Dumbledore would consider dressing up as Father Christmas for John?"
Harry shrugged, a smile in the corner of his mouth. "It can't hurt to ask. If he won't, I'm sure Mr. Weasley would do it."
Jo, nodded, taking a bite of whatever had appeared on her plate. "Oh, I'm sure Mr. Weasley would be a great sport about it, but can you picture Dumbledore as Father Christmas? Especially for a young Muggle like John…"
"It'll be perfect."
Jo took parchment, a quill, and ink from her bag and started to write. "We'll send this as soon as we finished lunch."
Harry nodded in agreement, his hand in his pocket under the table, feeling the velvet of the box against his fingers. This was going to be a great Christmas.
The party was every bit as good as they'd hoped. Neville and Ginny arrived early to help set up some tables to put all of the food on that Mrs. Weasley and Hermione brought. Luna came with Seamus. McGonagall and Flitwick came a bit later, wanting to wait until Hogwarts students who stayed for the holiday were tucked safely back in their common rooms.
Fred and George came and brought dates. Angelina and Katie even danced with Samuel and Leo respectively, and both danced with John. They thought he was adorable. Tonks detached herself from Charlie long enough for a dance with Remus. Amelia Bones came, and to everyone's surprise, Penny and Percy attended briefly.
The crowning moment of the night was when Harry whispered to John and woke him up, just in time to see Santa come in and leave some presents under the tree. The look of wonder and surprise in the little boy's eyes could have melted a heart of stone.
Hermione looked at Harry and smiled. "Thank you."
"Me? For what?"
"For all of this. We'd never have managed to get it this far if you hadn't stepped in."
He looked at his friend. "Hermione, I'd never have gotten this as far as you did. I'm just glad I was able to pick it up." He reached out and gave her hand a squeeze. "Is Snape being unbearable?"
She gave a tired smile. "He works me really hard. He didn't want to give me today or tomorrow off. But he's not unreasonable. There can be a lot of dangerous side effects if a potion goes wrong, and I know I need to learn these potions. We've got half a dozen containers of the Wolfsbane potion in progress right now. Unfortunately they can't all be made as one big batch or the aconite becomes too strong." She got a wry smile on her face. "Snape's made a point of telling me how idiotic it was of me to attempt to brew Polyjuice potion on my own, and how it was even stupider for the two of you to agree to drink it. Not that I ever said we brewed it, but you know he's always had his suspicions."
"Yeah." Harry glanced down at his watch, seeing that it was after midnight. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."
"Happy Christmas, Harry."
Christmas morning at the Burrow was a crowded but comfortable affair. All of the Weasleys were present with their special someones (and several had had the foresight to bring some extra chairs with them). Harry got up early and helped Mrs. Weasley prepare platter upon platter of eggs and sausage and toast for everyone and breakfast was had before everyone wandered into the living room for presents. Harry hung back when the others started wandering towards the living room and caught Jo's wrist briefly.
She understood and stayed until they were alone. Ginny gave them a questioning glance, but Harry just said, "We'll be along in a minute," and Ginny left, hand in hand with Neville. "Jo, I hope you don't mind. I kind of wanted to give you your Christmas present alone." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the small box he'd gotten the day before and held it in his hand.
"Harry, you didn't. It hasn't even been a week—" She didn't even reach for the box.
"Open it, Josephine. It's safe. I swear."
Looking at him skeptically, she took the box and opened it and laughed with relief. There was no ring nestled in the cushion. There was a small, folded piece of paper. She opened it up and read it to herself.
I know we haven't been together long, so I'm not asking any questions. But this box is a warning—someday, I will ask. And I hope when I do the answer is yes.
"Someday. Not today."
"That's right. Not today. Today I just want to tell you that I care about you, and I hope this is the first of many Christmases together," he said, smiling.
She threw her arms around him and kissed him.
"Oy! You two, are you coming?" called George, or possibly Fred.
"They're probably making out," called Fred, or possibly George.
There was the faint sound of someone swatting one or both of the twins.
"I guess we should go," Jo said.
"Yeah." He smiled. Holding hands, they went into the living room to join the family around the tree.
Author's Note: Well, that's it. That's the end of this particular story. I know it's been a long, long time in progress, and thank you to those of you who haven't given up on me (or this story). 8 years after I started it, and with a heck of a lot of stop and go thrown in, it's done. I've got half a dozen other story ideas ricocheting around in my head, a couple of which include elements from this story—the Werewolf house, Hermione apprenticing herself to Snape. What did you think? It would really make my year end with a bang if you'd review. I hope I made you smile and laugh over the last 41 chapters—because that's one of my biggest goals when writing (as well as making myself smile).
Read, review, and Merry Christmas, Joyous Yuletide, Happy Hanukah, Happy Ramadan, Happy New Year, Happy Flying Spaghetti Monster Day, and Happy Holidays to all!