Harry Potter looked down at the parchment in his hand. Sixth year had not been much fun so far, and he had not been looking forward to the holidays. He had assumed that the choice of where to spend Christmas would have been limited between staying at Hogwarts or going to Grimmauld Place.
And as he wasn't going to go to Grimmauld Place, he rather thought that Christmas this year would be spent pretty much alone, with the few teachers who stayed on at the castle during the holidays.
But this parchment changed all this. Grinning, he went in search of Ron.
Ginny sighed, and stared out the window beside her large bed in the fifth year girls' dorm. Perhaps it had been a mistake. He hadn't really looked once at her since returning to Hogwarts, despite the talks they'd had at the end of summer at Grimmauld Place.
Harry had returned to them that summer quiet and insular... or rather, quieter and more insular than before. Ron had tried, Ginny had tried, even Hermione had come and tried, to pull him out of the mood he was in, but all recognized that it wasn't an easy place for Harry to be. They should have known when he requested to stay on with the muggles rather than return to Grimmauld Place how very much he hated it there without Sirius.
Or perhaps it wasn't Sirius' absence, but the presence of Kreacher which made it unbearable for him.
Either way, Ginny had been on a mission. And finally, finally, after nearly six weeks of arguing via owl, she and Ron had convinced him to come. The final three weeks at Grimmauld Place before returning to school had been, at times, uncomfortable, but Harry had finally begun to open up.
But on the train, returning to school, he had told her he'd rather spend every holiday he ever had either at Hogwarts or with the muggles, and he'd sworn he wouldn't return to the headquarters of the Order until Kreacher was gone.
Ginny had tried to get Dumbledore to clear out the old houseelf, but when it became obvious that that wasn't going to happen, she began working on her mother.
A letter to Bill, and another to Charlie, and she'd gotten her way.
The Burrow's wards and defenses would be reinforced by the beginning of December, the location hidden by the Fidelius Charm, and Harry would be invited for the holidays.
Ginny knew that two weeks at the Burrow would restore him in a way he desperately needed right now.
And maybe, just maybe, he'd begin talking to her again, rather than avoiding her.
Ron Weasley sat in the library. Not a place he enjoyed being, normally, but he'd found it drew him irresistibly these days. Since returning to Hogwarts for sixth year, Ron had found himself constantly looking to be wherever Hermione Granger was. Thus, he was spending rather a lot of time in the library, by anyone's standards.
"Ron, what are you doing?" the brown-haired witch looked at him, obviously losing patience.
"Reading a book."
"No, you're not.
Actually, he hadn't been. He'd been watching her take books down from the shelves and wondering how he could possibly find such a thing a turn on. Everything about Hermione had that effect on him these days. Everything. Even when she nagged him.
How sad was that?
"I am," he said defensively.
"Fine..." she smiled sarcastically at him. "What's it about?"
"The book you're not reading," she said.
"Oh....umm..." Ron glanced down at the book open in front of him, then back up at her, flushing. "I've only just opened it..."
"Well, can I give you a bit of advice?" she said, putting her own books down on the table and turning his around. "It helps if you don't try to read it upside down."
With a little huff, she picked up her pile of books and glared at Susan Bones, who was sitting at the next table giggling, then strode from the library.
Ron sighed, and stood, picking up his books and stuffing them in his bag. At least Christmas holidays were only a week away. He could deal with anything for a week.
Hermione reached the portrait hole entrance to Gryffindor tower before she slowed down.
"Password, love?" the Fat Lady asked.
"Apertus," she muttered angrily.
"Come, love... it can't be that bad?" the Fat Lady smiled at her.
"Want to bet?" Hermione snapped, stepping through the hole into the Gryffindor common room.
Thoughts of Ron sitting staring at Susan Bones in the library made her angry all over again, and she stomped through the common room, heading for the staircase to the girls' dorms.
He was either blind or stupid. She was betting on both, because the alternative, that he'd never noticed her, Hermione, was too painful to bear.
Yes, Christmas is coming. How bloody wonderful that I've already accepted Ron's mother's invitation to spend the holidays with the Weasley family.
I must be a masochist, she thought. What a nightmare.
Harry finally found Ron as he was about to enter the common room.
"Hi, Harry," Ron nodded.
"I just got a letter," Harry panted.
"Your mum," Harry grinned. Ron suddenly seemed a lot more interested.
"She's asked me to come with you for Christmas," Harry said.
"So?" Ron said. "I thought you said you wouldn't go back... there..." Ron looked around, hoping no one was listening. "So long as... it... was there?"
"But I haven't been invited there," Harry grinned. "I've been invited to the Burrow."
Ron's eyes widened. They hadn't been to the Burrow since earlier in the summer, when Dumbledore had insisted the entire Weasley family move to headquarters, saying the Burrow was no longer safe.
"But..." Ron took the letter from Harry and glanced at it. "But how?"
"I don't know, " Harry said, climbing through the portrait hole after him. "But I don't much care, either! It's going to be a wonderful Christmas!"
It was a group with mixed emotions which set off for the train ride home on the twentieth of December.
Ron was both excited, and nervous. Christmas was his favorite holiday, and Christmas with his family was always better than in the drafty old castle. Christmas with Hermione was the source of his nervousness. He'd bought his Christmas gifts the last Hogsmeade weekend, and he hoped she would like what he'd gotten her. The prospect of two weeks with her outside of school was also making him a bit uneasy, despite the fact that they had spent the majority of their summer holidays together. Everything was different now.
Hermione was mildly depressed, and rather short-tempered. She loved the Weasley family dearly, but rather thought the prospects for her holiday had gone from bad to worse after hearing Susan Bones giggling with several other girls in the washroom about how handsome Ron Weasley had become. Hermione had stomped out, and been in a foul mood ever since. That had been three days ago.
Ginny was nervous and happy. She missed her parents, and this year, both Bill and Charlie were also going to be home for Christmas. Percy wouldn't be there, she thought, but that might be for the best, after all. Most importantly, Harry was coming with them. And Harry was happy about it.
Harry himself was eager to get on the train and get back to London, where the elder Weasley's would be awaiting them. He'd carefully shopped for gifts for each family member, and was very excited at the prospect of a real family Christmas where he wouldn't be expected to sit alone in his room. He had to admit to being mildly nervous. He knew the Weasley's didn't have much money, and he'd tried, desperately, to buy their gifts with this in mind, not wanting anyone to be made uncomfortable, but at the same time, unsure of what would be appropriate. Ultimately, he had simply bought with the person in mind, and he rather thought he'd made some good choices, although there were two that he was reasonably sure he'd be nervous about until he'd seen their reaction.
As the carriages pulled into the Hogsmeade train station, Harry jumped out excitedly, and turned to help Hermione out. He was rather surprised when the small hand that took his caused a jolt to run up his arm. He glanced up, not to see Hermione, but the smiling face of Ron's little sister, Ginny, grinning down at him.
Harry smiled back, his breath catching in his throat, and then sighed in relief as she jumped down and released his hand.
The train ride seemed endless. Harry, as usual, bought far more snacks than he should have, and simply dumped them on the seat between he and Ron. The four of them, later joined by Neville and Luna, ate, talked and laughed their way all the way to London.
When they exited platform nine and three quarters, Bill and Charlie Weasley were awaiting them, and Ginny ran forward, hugging her eldest brother tightly.
"Hey, smidgen!" Bill swung her around.
"Bill, did you do it? Is everything okay?"
"Of course," his eyes twinkled at her. "When I get a request like that from my favorite girl, how could I ignore it?"
"But it will be safe?" she asked as he put her back down on her feet.
"I wouldn't be taking you there if it weren't, Smidge."
"Thank you," her brown eyes were swimming as she hugged him again.
"Hey," he said softly. "It's that important, huh?"
"Very..." she glanced at Harry who was struggling with his trunk. "He needs 'normal' for a bit, Bill."
"Gin, what exactly is going on...?"
"He doesn't know anything about how this happened," she whispered. "And I don't want him to know."
Bill's eyes narrowed. "That important, huh?"
"Okay, Gin. Your secret is safe with me."
The Burrow was covered, from top to bottom, with glaringly bright lights. Harry's eyes widened as they approached. Mr Weasley had certainly outdone himself. How they were managing to keep this lot from being seen by everyone, including every Death Eater, in England, was beyond him.
"All that is covered by the wards?" Harry glanced at Bill, who was driving.
Bill grinned, "Rather overwhelming, isn't it? Dad discovered the muggle tradition of covering your house with lights a few years back... he's made a hobby of collecting every tacky light and outdoor Christmas decoration he can find."
"I think it's brilliant," Harry said softly, looking fondly at the teetering form of the Weasley family home.
"Well, in one way or another, I suppose it is," Charlie said as Bill pulled to a stop in front of the house.
"Come on then, you lot," Bill said, getting out. "Bring the trunks..."
Somehow, Bill and Charlie had managed to fit the six of them and six trunks in the Mini. Harry wasn't quite sure how, but was reasonably sure that magic was involved. He grinned as he watched Ron crawl into the boot to start pushing out trunks. That really didn't look possible.
And then the front door of the Burrow opened, and Molly and Arthur were framed in the doorway. Behind them stood two identical shapes, Fred and George.
"Happy Christmas!" they called.
"Come in, come in..." Arthur said, holding the door as Harry and Ron carried in their own trunks while Bill and Charlie levitated theirs and the girl's trunks behind them.
"Oh, come in!" Molly hugged each of them as they came through the door. "I do hope you don't mind that Arthur and I didn't meet you... Bill and Charlie were coming down from London in any case... and..."
"It's wonderful, Mrs Weasley," Harry said, looking around and the flickering lights that seemed to be on every surface. "Thank you."
"Oh, Harry, dear... you are welcome. We're so pleased you could all come... Hermione, your parents sent a box for you... I've opened it, love, and put your gifts under the tree..."
"Thank you, Mrs Weasley," Hermione smiled at Charlie in thanks for bringing in her trunk, and didn't notice the rather nasty look the second eldest Weasley sibling got from Ron for his efforts.
Bill and Charlie, however, noticed, and traded looks with the twins, who grinned.
"Dinner in an hour then," Molly said, bustling towards the kitchen. "You lot get your things put away... oh, it is lovely to have a full house at Christmas, isn't it, Arthur?"
"Lovely, dear," Arthur Weasley agreed dutifully. "Harry, you're in Ron's room, as before. Hermione, Molly's made up an extra bed in with Ginny..."
"I'll take that up for you, Hermione," Charlie said as she was about to take the handle of her trunk.
"Thanks, Charlie," she said continuing her conversation with Ginny. Ron glared at Charlie.
Charlie grinned and shrugged.
Yes, it was going to be an interesting Christmas at the Burrow.
"...sales are up, and we're very pleased to present you with this little Christmas bonus, Harry..."
The twins had cornered Harry shortly after dinner that night and dragged him off to their room. Harry looked down at the paper in his hands. It appeared to be a cheque. For a very healthy sum.
Harry's eyes widened.
"You're doing this well?" he asked.
"Very well," Fred confirmed.
"Very well indeed," George smiled.
Harry looked down at the sum.
"Shouldn't you be... reinvesting your profits, or something?"
"We have, Harry. We took half the profits this year and turned them back into the company... each of us then took one third of the remainder. That's yours."
Harry looked at the amount and was even more surprised. This was only one sixth of the profits for the year?
They were doing well.
"Christmas this year is going to be rather different," George grinned.
"If you get our meaning," Fred agreed.
"But... that's a lot of money," Harry said.
"Yes, it is, Harry," Fred nodded.
"And it wouldn't have happened without you," George added.
"Without your initial investment..."
"I didn't want it," Harry said softly. "I didn't want the prize money. I'm glad you took it. Look, I don't need this, either..."
"Now, mate," Fred stepped back.
"We can't take it, Harry... mess up our taxes and all..."
Harry looked down at the cheque.
"Very well..." Harry stood. "Then I want you to do something for me..."
The twins looked at each other, speculative looks on their faces.
"How can we be..."
"...of service, Harry?"
The following days were spent tobogganing on the large hill in front of the Burrow and ice-skating on the pond behind. The twins were unable to spend much time with them, as this was a busy season for the shop, but they showed up at some point on most days, and had assured their mother that they would be there on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
Molly kept them well supplied with hot cocoa and Christmas treats. She appeared to have been baking for months, although Ginny laughed when Harry mentioned this and said that her mother started Christmas baking a week before the holiday.
The afternoon of the twenty third, they were sitting in the lounge, happily consuming mince pies and hot tea, when Harry turned to say something to Ron and surprised a very angry look on his friends face. Ron was watching Charlie, who was sitting next to Hermione on the sofa, talking softly to her.
Harry glanced back at his friend, then, when looking back towards Hermione, suddenly realizing what was going on, his eye was caught by Ginny.
She smiled, and his breath caught. He stared at her for a moment, seeing her sparkling eyes, and found himself thinking...
When suddenly, Ron stood and stormed out of the room.
Harry, glancing up at the movement, saw a curious look on Hermione's face, which turned to something else when she caught the surprised look on Harry's face and the pink cheeks Ginny was sporting. She sighed, then turned back to continue her conversation with Charlie, who had a noticeably happy look on his face.
"Excuse me, Gin," Harry stood. "I think I'd better go see..."
Ginny nodded, looking down at her hands wrapped around her mug of tea.
Following Ron out and up the stairs, Harry wondered what exactly was going on. First at the train station at Hogsmeade, now this... what was going on?
Ginny Weasley was a pretty girl, he supposed. But she was Ron's little sister! She'd been great during the summer. While Ron and Hermione had spent the majority of the time nitpicking at each other, Harry and Ginny had looked on fondly, or made themselves scarce. He'd been able to talk to her.
But when they'd gotten back to school... well, it had changed. He hadn't felt very comfortable around her any longer. He'd started wondering about what he was going to say before he said it.
And now, with Christmas...
And what was up with Ron and Hermione?
Opening the door to the room he shared with his friend, Harry saw Ron laying on his back on his bed.
"You'd think she'd be able to turn it off here of all places, wouldn't you?"
"Turn what off, Ron?"
"Her... her..." Ron swallowed. "That thing she does."
"That... thing..." Ron looked up at his friend, his eyes blazing. "That thing she's doing right now, down there... with a wizard old enough to be her... older brother!"
"You mean Charlie?"
"Yes, Charlie!" Ron jumped to his feet, pacing back and forth in the small space at the foot of their beds. "And he's old enough to know better!"
"Know better than to...?"
Harry's eyebrows rose. Charlie was flirting with Hermione? Now that, that was just wrong!
"Sitting next to her all the time... always talking to her..."
"She's an intelligent witch, Ron..."
"Asking her her opinion... touching her!"
"Touching...?" Harry had seen no touching.
"He's... he needs to back off!"
"But Ron..." Harry started.
"She's mine!" Ron blurted out, then suddenly came to a stop, staring horrified at Harry.
"I... I don't know where that came from, Harry. I swear..."
"I think you've just admitted the truth to yourself," Harry shrugged, standing. "Maybe you ought to talk to Hermione."
"Hermione?" Ron looked shocked. "Are you mad?"
"If you feel that strongly about someone, Ron, you ought to tell them."
"Are you okay with that?" Ron asked, flushing deeply. "I mean..."
"Why wouldn't I be okay with that?" Harry asked. "If you feel that way about her, it's got nothing to do with me."
"Just don't mess her about, Ron. She's a nice girl."
With that, Harry left the room, rather surprised at himself. He'd seen the looks that they'd been throwing at each other for the last year, and he wasn't thick, but he was surprised at the lack of concern on his part... normally, he'd have wanted to talk to Ron about something like this. But he found himself simply eager to get back downstairs to the group.
And that was less surprising than it was frightening.