Completed: 12/23/04 10:16 PM
Posted: 12/24/04 8:04 AM (My internet was being dumb)
Pairing: You'll have to guess, each scene checks another man off the list of the most popular Hermione pairings, and her husband isn't revealed until the end. (It's like a Christmas Mystery!)
A/N: Wow…this took freaking long to do. And it's also freaking long itself. Fifty-four pages by my count – took me a whole hour just to check over. I hope you all like this piece of Christmas fluff. Happy Birthday to me and Happy Christmas to you all.
(P.S. The new words actually fit the old song, so if it comes on the radio try it out – it works.)
"But, darling, it's Christmas Eve..."
Ginny watched her best friend twist the phone cord about her index finger and stopped her preparation of lunch to gnaw anxiously on her painted lips.
"Of course..." Hermione took the phone out from its place balanced within the crook of her neck, and held it tightly against her ear. Her brow was furrowed. "I understand – yes, things are very busy now..."
Ginny wished to help more, but she could only hover just beside her friend as she took the bad news. In her arms the bowl of Christmas pudding remained half-stirred.
"No, of course...I love you, too."
Ginny heard the dial tone before Hermione sighed and hung up the phone. She gave the brunette a sympathetic look. "He's not coming home?"
Hermione shook her head and finally turned around – her eyes were filled with tears.
Ginny's expression crumpled into one that looked remarkably like one of her mother's and she pulled Hermione into her arms. "Aww, come here."
Hermione sniffled and seemed to appreciate the hug. "They're on the verge of a breakthrough, he says."
Ginny tittered. "I'm sure."
"Ginny," Hermione reprimanded lightly, pulling away to precociously wipe at her eyes with the knuckles of her index fingers. "How could I say no to that? It's important work –"
"It's the bloody Ministry; who gives a damn?" The redhead swore, slamming the mixing bowl down onto the table. Luckily, it was made of plastic. "I tried to tell you about him—"
Hermione frowned at her, hands on hips. "That's my husband you're talking about."
"One who's not going to be home for Christmas Eve," Ginny's arms were thrown up in exasperation and she very nearly toppled the pudding.
"I know," Hermione murmured, eyes watering again. "Shouldn't you be comforting me?"
Ginny smiled gently, her Weasley temper evaporating. "Of course, honey," she cooed, taking Hermione's arm and linking it with her own. Then she grabbed the pudding.
"Come," she declared. "We'll finish our part of the cooking then pop over to my Mum's for tea, sound good?"
Hermione gave a watery smile.
Ginny nodded once, stoutly, and led their two-woman procession out of the sitting room and into the kitchen with a kick of the double-swinging door.
A quarter 'til one, the pudding was finished and cooling in the fridge, the English trifle had just had the finishing touches put on it, and Hermione and Ginny had cleaned both themselves and the kitchen.
"See?" Ginny started proudly. "Don't you feel loads better?"
Hermione gave her an amused look as she grabbed an extra jumper on her way into the living room. "Cooking is your therapy."
"It's a perfectly good one too," Ginny called from the kitchen.
"Yes, but very fattening." Hermione's tease brought a scowling Ginny to the living room door, her shoes half on.
"Are you saying I'm fat?" She demanded darkly.
"Pleasantly plump," Hermione decided after a mocking half-second of thought.
"Hermione!" The screeching red-headed banshee charged her, but Hermione already had her floo powder in hand.
The flames flared green as she flung out her hand, and she jumped into the larger hearth with a rushed 'The Burrow'. She disappeared with a whoosh! of fire just before Ginny reached her.
Hermione was instantly greeted by the pleasant smell of baking bread and the chattering of voices. Mrs. Weasley appeared in front of her, knitted sleeves falling down to the curve of her elbows as she clasped her hands. Her robes were charmed flickering green and red.
"Hermione, dear," she gushed. "So good to see you."
Hermione's face brightened. "Hullo, Mrs. Weasley."
"Please, please." The bustling woman embraced her as she would her own daughter – who, by the by, was about to follow the brunette out of the fireplace. "How many times; call me Molly."
"Ginny's on her way," Hermione added, moving to the side with Molly so that the way out of the man-high fireplace was clear.
"Who's here, Mol?" Mr. Weasley's voice echoed down the rickety staircase.
"Hermione!" Molly called back.
"Hullo, Mr. Weasley." Hermione added, raising her voice.
Hermione rolled her eyes, knowing those voices too well. Only two men called her that ridiculous name. There was a loud crash from the entrance hall and seconds later, the twins joined the room looking extremely innocent – which usually meant they weren't.
"Hullo Fred, George." She hugged them too as their little sister came barreling out of the grate.
"Oh boy," she muttered and quickly placed the taller twins between her and Ginny.
"What'd you do?" Fred asked, while his partner in crime held an angry Ginevra at bay by pulling teasingly at her braids.
Hermione straightened defensively. "I may have called her...'well rounded'..."
Fred and George both burst out laughing.
"—bird!" The twins interchanged.
"You are fat!" George guffawed, nudging Hermione into short laughter as well.
Mrs. Weasley gave the boys a disapproving look and Ginny was fretfully trying to look at herself from the side. She smoothed her hands over the front of her blouse and rested them agitatedly on the small bulge growing there.
"I'm not that large, am I?" She asked, abruptly near tears. Everyone was already used to the mood swings.
"Come now, let's all sit for a spot of tea," Miss Weasley suggested, knowing just the thing to say as always. With an arm around her daughter's shoulders, she led the sniffling young woman into the kitchen.
Hermione looked sternly at the twins. "Twenty-three years old and still terrorizing your Mum's home."
They gave her identical cheeky grins. "But now we know—" George said.
"—our product is a success," Fred finished.
"Poor Molly," Hermione sighed, starting for the kitchen.
"Poor you," Fred swung his arm over her surprised shoulders. "Georgie-boy and I were at the Ministry picking up our patent—"
"—for Dandy Dancing Dentures; false teeth that won't stop chattering," George interrupted. "Brilliant, aren't they, Fred?"
"One of our best works," Fred agreed. "We're gonna headline our spring catalogue with 'em."
"You see the best part, the best part, is that they only stop and come out if the wizard wearing 'em starts singing Muggle show tunes—"
"Get to the point you two," Hermione demanded, playfully swatting at their arms around her shoulders.
"Saw your boy there working."
"Ah..." she said slowly, remembering after all the amusement why she'd come to the Burrow in the first place.
"Wasn't he off by noon?" George's voice was sympathetic and she could tell he's already assumed the answer.
"They needed him to work tonight," she shrugged.
"Aww, we're sorry 'Mione," Fred squeezed her affectionately.
"There'll be other Christmases," she said.
"But this would have been your first, right?"
Hermione waved it away. "Now I get to spend it with my two favorite guys," she declared, throwing her arms around their necks. The freckle faced boys puffed out their chests impressively.
George made a soft "oh!" of remembrance and began digging in the pocket of his rather expensive looking robes. "That reminds us."
Us? Sometimes they were just so ridiculous.
"Right!" Fred interjected and began looking through George's pockets too.
Hermione waited patiently in the entrance hall, arms crossed over her chest. On her right she could hear the clinking! of china as Mrs. Weasley and Ginny started their tea. Hermione's stomach gave an involuntary rumble as she imagined the delicious honey rolls that always accompanied the Weasleys' tea.
"How you boys manage to run a business is beyond me," Hermione reprimanded with hunger-spurned tartness.
"A successful business," Fred corrected.
"And we're men," George added, and with a flourish produced what it seemed they'd been looking for.
It was a crisply folded piece of parchment sealed with maroon wax.
"What's this?" She asked curiously, taking the note between her middle and index fingers. The clock chimed loudly as she flipped it over but there was no writing on the outside.
"Just a little something for you."
Shooting them a quixotic look, she slid her nail beneath the seam and broke the wax seal. Shooting the once again innocent-faced men a look, she flipped open the small card and squinted her eyes to read the flowing, unfamiliar script.
On the first hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
a Hogwarts: A History book
Hermione looked the card over again but there was no more. "What—"
The parchment vibrated in her hand. She lifted it back up again to see a small arrow hovering between an ornate 'N' and a similar 'E'. The twins were just as curious because she could feel their breath on her cheeks as they both leaned over her shoulders.
"Whas that?" Fred asked, intrigued by the picture.
Hermione's tone was surprised. "It's a compass." She turned slightly, looking up through one of the windows then glanced back down with a furrowed brow. "It doesn't even point north."
George watched the slender arrow dip down towards an 'S' as she moved. He shrugged and looked at Fred. "Who says it has to?"
Hermione opened her mouth to reply, that it just did, but shut it again. Did compasses always have to point north? Of course they did, she admonished herself. How else would anyone find where it is they were going?
She glanced back at the odd note, and her head tilted to the side pensively. But I'm not trying to find north, am I?
She took a step forward and the needle drifted, almost lazily down to 'S'. She turned in the direction the arrow was pointing, head bent, and when she looked up she was facing the kitchen door.
She exhaled slowly. "Alright then."
Beside her, Fred was rubbing his hands together in anticipation. "This should be exciting."
"'Bout time we had another adventure, right Gred?" George declared, flexing his arms impressively.
"My sentiments exactly, Forge."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Come on Tweedledee and Tweedledum." She pushed the kitchen door open and strode purposefully inside, leaving them behind.
"Oh, Hermione," Ginny rushed out when she saw the brunette enter. "I'm sorry about earlier, you know how—"
Hermione silenced her with a finger to her lips. She was bent over the small compass. Ginny exchanged a confused look with her mother that Hermione missed, as her attention was focused solely on the parchment.
"Oi! Hermione!" George and Fred burst into the kitchen. "Wall!"
The bushy haired young woman looked up in surprise to find her nose inches away from the pot-bedecked wall of the Weasley kitchen. She took a step to the side, placing herself in the doorway, glanced at the parchment, and left the kitchen.
"Fred! George!" Mrs. Weasley looked suspicious. "What are you two up to? Getting dear Hermione into trouble?"
Fred looked hurt at the accusation. "Geez, Mum. See if we visit next year for Christmas."
Molly scowled at him.
"We're on a scavenger hunt—" George began to explain. He smacked his twin suddenly. "Oi!" He shouted, pointing. "We're losing 'Mione!"
Ginny, mouth hanging open unbecomingly, leaned nearly out of her seat to see her brothers chase Hermione down the lawn.
Mrs. Weasley, however, picked up her tea and dropped a fresh sugar cube inside it, far too accustomed to her sons' shenanigans to muster the proper dismay she'd once been able to. "Well that was certainly odd," was her only comment.
Hermione felt like she was going in circles. She'd take a step one way, only to have the compass frantically point in the other direction. When she'd head the indicated direction however, it would whirl back the other way. All in all, a very frustrating predicament.
Finally she was heading in the right direction, down the slopes with the twins following a few feet behind her. As she got closer to the edge of the woods that dotted the line of the Weasleys' property, she had to lift the parchment higher up to catch the light.
Then the needle promptly disappeared. "Hey!"
"What?" George asked jogging up behind her.
"Cheeky compass!" She grumbled. "The arrow's gone!"
Fred flicked the parchment with his finger, but it did nothing. George got bored with the stalled adventure and started looking aimlessly about while Hermione tried to get Fred to stop tapping the card with his wand.
"Oi! Fred, Hermione!"
George was looking straight back, his hair disappearing into the collar of his jumper. He pointed and they all followed his gaze. Atop the tallest tree lining the woods, dangled a wicker basket. A bright red velveteen bow decorated the side at the joint of the bed and the handle, which was intertwined ornately with green and red ribbon.
"George one, stupid card-thingy...zero," George announced boastfully.
Fred, who'd already had his wand out from trying to bewitch the compass back to life, levitated the Christmas-bedecked basket down to Hermione who caught it in her arms.
Brushing back the tissue paper, she pulled the book from it nest and opened the cover.
"Huh..." Fred muttered. "The note did say 'a Hogwarts: A History book'."
Hermione's fingers lightly caressed the spin and she gazed at it in disbelief. "This isn't just any Hogwarts: A History," she whispered reverently. "This is one of the original copies. Only five hundred of them were published."
Fred and George both looked bored. "Wow, a book," George muttered.
Hermione re-closed the book and gazed down at the ornate cover fondly. "It must have cost a fortune."
"It's just a book," Fred said giving her a queer look.
She frowned at him and settled it softly back into the basket, taking care to cover it with the tissue paper again to protect it from the blowing snow. Slipping it over her arm, she started back up to the house and the twins rolled their eyes before vaulting a snowdrift to catch up to her.
"I wonder who got it for me..." She mused aloud, over crunching snow.
"Hubby dearest of course," Fred tweaked her ear, making it redder than it already was from the cold. "Blighter must've felt awful for canceling."
"But how would he have gotten it here?" She asked, pointedly.
George looked almost wistful, "That bloke's gotta a fair hand for charms."
"Yes, but you know how he hates books. He can't understand why I like them so much. Besides, the note was written like a Muggle Christmas song I know, and he's not exactly bursting with knowledge about Muggle culture."
"Shut up, George."
"No, we could be like detectives and have our own business!" George insisted.
Hermione placed a wearisome hand to her forehead. "You do have your own business."
The Weasley twin gave her a sly look. "Aha! The student becomes the teacher..."
Fred smacked him.
"Fear not, 'Mione! Gred and I will not rest until we find out your mystery man," George went on to swear, solemnly placing a hand over his heart.
"And then promptly tell your husband," Fred promised cheekily. "He always does give a good showing of fisticuffs."
"Like so!" George exclaimed, and promptly bonked his twin on the nose.
"You have insulted my honor!" Fred cried, and threw an imaginary glove to the ground. "We must duel!"
Ginny met Hermione at the door as she ran to escape the flying snow created by the tussling men, and the two women – laughing at the comical showing of the mischievous twins – sat on the edge of the porch to watch, steaming honey biscuits held in their sticky fingers.
It was some time later that Mrs. Weasley, wielding a dripping whisk bellowed for them all to come back inside. "It's already two! Your brothers will be arriving any minute," she shrieked.
"Who won?" Ginny asked with a grin as her brothers slumped into the kitchen, carelessly dripping snow.
George gave her serious nod. "We decided to call it a draw."
While Fred and George began to argue over who had really one, and Ginny interjecting her own snippy comments, Hermione checked her watch. "I should get going if I'm ever going to get the mansion ready for the party tonight."
"Oh!" Ginny exclaimed, quickly licking the honey from her fingers. "I'll come with."
Hermione politely declined. "No, stay here and help you mum," she insisted warmly. "And keep these two out of trouble."
"Hey!" The twins shouted indignantly.
"Alright," Ginny conceded after peeking in on her mother running haphazardly all over the kitchen. "I'll send some of the boys over to help decorate."
A sepia eyebrow arched. "The boys? When have they ever been helpful," Hermione said.
Ginny's look of innocence bested that of the twins. "They owe me."
Hermione didn't want to know.
Her departure however was to be delayed a few moments by the arrival of the two eldest Weasley sons. "Hullo, boys," Mr. Weasley smiled, patting them both on the back as he led them in from the front walk where they must have apparated. "Having a Happy Christmas?"
"Mum gone bonkers yet?" Charlie asked in a hushed whisper that made Hermione laugh. He was peeking around the room to make sure the subject was not nearby.
Mr. Weasley gave both of them a disapproving look, then muttered a "not yet" out of the corner of his mouth that had Ginny dissolving into a fit of giggles. Fred elbowed her and she tried her best to stifle them behind her hand. The seven in the room shared a look conspiratorially and laughed.
"Just seeing you will probably be all she needs," George teased Bill, who still sported the long hair and fang earring that annoyed his mother.
"I do what I can." His eyes landed on Hermione and as if seeing her for the first time, gave a warm smile. "The Weasley adoptee – I've got something for you."
She actually laughed when he pulled another wax-sealed parchment from the back pocket of his trousers. "It was charmed onto the garden gate."
Hermione took it into her hands. "How did you know it was for me?"
The hippie-esque red-head gestured vaguely at the note. "It's got your initials pressed into the wax, there."
He was right.
"Fizzing Whizbees!" Fred exclaimed. "A clue!"
Charlie looked up from levitating his and Bill's bags into the house. "What are those two on about?" He asked, perplexed.
"You know them," Ginny answered knowingly. "Completely bonkers. Think they're some Muggle detecterors."
"Detectives," Hermione corrected in a murmur, but her attention was focused on the new note.
"Come on," George, poked her. "Read it aloud. Atta bird."
"On the second hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...two diamond earrings?" She recited in bewilderment.
"Ohoo!" Fred chuckled inanely, rubbing his hands together again. "This is getting good."
The hand that held the note fell to her side as she whirled to glare discouragingly at the man. "Honestly, this is ridic—"
"Merlin's beard..." Ginny whispered.
Fred suddenly found himself the center of the entire room's focus. "What?" he exclaimed, defensively.
George patted his shoulder sympathetically. "My own twin...a poof. And I never even knew?"
"Are you mad?" Fred demanded. "A bit touched in the head?"
"Fred..." Hermione said slowly. "You're wearing my earrings."
"THIS IS RIDICULOUS!"
Hermione stirred her tea stoically then sipped it. They'd spent the last ten minutes dealing with a raving Weasley twin. She fingered the dangling diamond chains lying on the table beside her and tried to focus on Fred.
"My ear's aren't even pierced!" He was bellowing.
"They are now," Ginny giggled and had to duck to avoid a flying teacup saucer.
"If this was your husband—" He warned, and Hermione laughed.
"What if he breaks out into 'fisticuffs', as you say?" She mused calmly.
He stuck his tongue out at her. Real mature.
"I've really got to go, you guys." She insisted, securely pocketing her new earrings and standing up. "There might just be another note waiting for me at three."
"Then maybe some other rotten blighter can have his ears pierced," Fred grumbled.
She patted him fondly on the head. "I'm sure it's only temporary."
After an exhausting round of goodbyes, Hermione, floo powder in hand, disappeared into the living room fireplace and was sent whizzing back home.
Waving her wand to make the enchanted bucket stop chasing after the mop, Hermione surveyed the second floor hall. Sparkling clean. "Well done me," she muttered, and sent the dancing cleaning supplies up to the top floor.
Pushing up the sleeves of her maroon jumper, she climbed the stairs in pursuit and turned down the hallway to her bedroom. She closed the door softly behind her, though there really wasn't anyone to disturb and crossed the room to the bed. The diamond earrings were lying out on the bedside table beside the equally expensive book and she stared at them a moment before picking up the ancient volume.
She sat down on her side of the king sized bed, then, with a sigh of internal defeat crawled to the other. Curled up on the Christmas-y comforter with its frolicking reindeer and brightly-lit Christmas trees, she hugged his pillow to her chest and opened the book to the first page, unable to put off the anticipation of reading it any longer.
Inhaling the cinnamon scent of the cologne imbedded in the fibers of silk, Hermione squeeze the pillow tighter and tried to ignore the niggling voice reminding her that three o'clock was quickly approaching.
By 2:57 she'd begun reading the same line over and over again, and it wasn't even particularly interesting. Solicitously marking her place with a spare bit of parchment, she replaced the book on her bed table and stretched. She tucked the pillow back under the blankets and smoothed the rumpled sheets.
She'd decided to go and check on the mop and bucket she'd left to run rampant, and hoped that they hadn't become overly rambunctious. Sighing as she walked down the hall, she ran idle fingers through her messy curls and reflected over how much she had left to do.
Decorate the house.
Air out the guest rooms.
Pick up the drinks.
The stairs disappeared right out from underneath her feet, and with a jerking sensation right behind her navel Hermione landed right on her bum in the middle of a large greenhouse. Groaning and rubbing her backside, she looked up as a third piece of parchment fluttered down into her lap.
Looking at it almost angrily, she snatched it up and very nearly ripped it open. She was hardly amused, but her annoyance at being portkey-ed to who knows where dissipated as she read the note.
On the third hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
Hermione found herself looking upon a familiar face and she smiled brightly. "Neville?"
The clumsy Gryffindor offered a hand and helped her off the tiled floor. "Felt like dropping in?" He joked shyly.
Hermione laughed, dusting herself off. "Yes, I suppose so." She gave him another hard look and smiled. "Gods, you look great." He blushed. "How's Lav?"
"Good." He reddened more if possible. As he led her to the front of the greenhouse he gave a furtive look around before mumbling something Hermione couldn't quite catch. She questioned him on it and he managed to say it at a reasonable volume this time. "I'm gonna ask her to marry me tonight."
"Really?" Hermione exclaimed. "That's wonderful news, Neville!"
His face was rather red indeed. "Don't worry," she assured him. "She'll say 'yes' and you'll make a very handsome groom."
"I hope so," he squeaked, and she patted his shoulder comfortingly.
"So...that's why you weren't going to come to the party," she smiled. "You should have said something."
He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trousers and kicked nervously at a small rock that had spilled out of the bed of a Devil's Snare, looking more the jittery first year he'd been years ago than the twenty-one year old man he was now. "'Fraid I was gonna get cold feet."
Hermione grinned despite his admission and squeezed his shoulder. "You're a sweetheart, Neville. You'll do fine."
He gave her a grateful smile she'd seen often enough in Potion's classes of olden days, and felt a surge of pride at having been helpful once more. They'd reached the front of the greenhouse and Neville left her to bustle around a counter set up in the corner.
"This is yours?" She asked in surprise.
Neville pinkened. "It's not much."
"I love it," she told him seriously. "I'm so glad you kept with your passion for Herbology."
His chest swelled and he proudly boasted that his mandrakes were soon to be ready for repotting. Hermione beamed at her friend's personality and congratulated him once more.
"I've got your flowers right here," he said, ducking down to rummage in the counter.
"Flowers?" She looked afraid to ask her next question. "They're not...roses, are they?"
Neville's confused lined face popped back above the front desk. "That's what the order says..."
Hermione hurriedly stuffed the note into her trouser pocket and gave a wide smile that seemed to placate the nervous Gryffindor. "Of course," she amended quickly. "I forgot myself, for a moment."
He smiled at her in a way that seemed to say 'I-know-what-you-mean' and Hermione's cheeks were stained pink with her embarrassment. She was saved however, by Neville procuring the aforementioned flowers and she felt her jaw drop an inch or so as he set the crystal vase on the tabletop.
"T-They're...beautiful," she managed. And then hesitantly, almost as if she were afraid they'd break, she reached out her fingers to touch the petals of the middlemost rose. It felt of velvet.
Neville looked proud, and rightly so. "I'd never had a request for Muggle flowers before, but I'm always willing to try. I cross bred it with a bit of dittany so the bloom will last this way a lot longer."
Hermione looked from Neville down to the three roses in surprise. "Wow..." she murmured.
The roses were in a perfect state of half-bloom, still cup-shaped but with a frothy outspilling of petals at the top, where the edge began to curl back. Yellow. Red. White.
As if he'd read her mind, Neville went on excitedly. "I've just started to branch off into Muggle flora, but when I got your unique order I took the liberty of researching it for you."
"Would you like to hear it?" He looked so eager that she couldn't say no, so she smiled weakly – still a bit too entranced by the roses – and nodded.
"Well, Muggles believe there's a language of the flowers – that each one signifies a different emotion. A yellow rose, for example, stands for friendship. A red one has become the universal symbol for passionate love. White roses mean..."
"Eternal love," she whispered.
Neville looked startled. "You know?"
She smiled weakly. "I had them at my wedding." Her fingertips grazed the rightmost rose and she cupped the velveteen blossom in her hand. Stupid Ministry, she thought. "Tell me more."
"Well...red and white roses together are a symbol of unity, and all three stand for the points of a triangle – the three feelings needed for true love." He gave the roses an odd look. "Muggle flowers sure do say a lot, even if they can't talk."
Hermione chuckled at his innocent comment and continuing naïveté. She felt oddly touched by the sentiments of the flowers and wondered if the giver had known about their meanings when he'd bought them for her. Her husband was rather a bit of a romantic...
She sighed. But he wasn't coming home for Christmas.
Picking up the vase in one hand, when Neville assured her they'd already been paid for, she hugged him with her free arm. "Thank you," she said. "And good luck with Lavender."
His face flushed red again, and they both waved as Hermione apparated back to the mansion.
She'd just set the small bouquet on the kitchen counter when she remembered she'd left the mop running and dashed off to disenchant it, much to the amusement of the portraits lining the walls.
Racing up three flights of stairs after you'd just apparated was not fun, indeed, and by the time she reached the top she was panting. "My wand for an elevator," she muttered.
She found the mop engaged in a handle-smacking duel with the broom. Hermione crossed her arms over her chest and cleared her throat. They both jumped apart and began furtively cleaning as if they'd been doing so all along.
"I wonder who's been teaching you to misbehave," she drawled sarcastically, and with a flick and a swish the broom and mop were inanimate once more.
She spotted the dancing bucket in the loo and disenchanted that as well before banishing the lot back to the broom cupboard.
Swearing she'd use a Scourgify Charm next time, Hermione headed down to her room for a bit of a lie down, deciding to ignore her to-do list in favor of a half hour nap. She hadn't taken but one step down the hall when there was a loud crash from downstairs.
She winced and started the long descent back to the first floor. Hesitant in her fear of what mess she'd find, Hermione peeked over the landing. She groaned.
"You boys never could land a floo properly," she sighed.
"Seamus pushed me I swear," Dean insisted holding his hands up in the air.
Hermione hopped the last few steps and stopped in front of the gaggle of sooty young men. "So you decided to get back at him by dumping my entire fireplace all over the room?"
He gave her a sheepish smile. "It was Malfoy's idea to floo."
The dirty Slytherin looked affronted and scowled at all the Gryffindors around him. "It absolutely was not," he scoffed. "As if a Malfoy would choose to go popping in and out of filthy grates."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"Ginevra invited me," he informed her haughtily.
"Oh, I bet," Seamus said under his breath.
"You're lucky she likes you," Hermione grumbled. "Personally, I can't find any redeeming qualities in you."
He narrowed his eyes. "Do you want help cleaning this sty or not?"
Spirits already lifting from a healthy quarreling, Hermione allowed herself a small smirk. "You're lucky I already cleaned the loo."
He glowered at her.
"Oi!" Dean said suddenly. "Isn't Zabini on his way—"
Blaise Zabini shot out of the fireplace in a giant black cloud that settled right over Hermione – the only one too startled to not have jumped out of the way.
"Brilliant," Malfoy smirked, taking one look at her, before helping his mate to his feet.
"Whoops!" Blaise grinned cheekily. "My bad, Granger."
"What is he doing here?!" She demanded, wiping peach circles out of the soot around her eyes.
Malfoy snorted. "Like I was going to suffer the likes of you brainless Gryffindors all afternoon."
"How Christmas-y of you," she sneered.
He gave an infuriating smirking shrug, like 'what-can-I-say'. "I've got the spirit."
"Clean this mess up," she growled, scourgifying herself.
"This sucks, you know that?" He informed her with a moody look, pulling his wand from his pocket.
"'tis the season," she reminded him, before dragging Dean and Seamus off to find the decorations.
"Oh yes," he sneered. "Happy bloody Christmas..."
Things, amazingly, picked up from there. Apart from their constant bickering, and Draco's snide remarks when Dean presented her with a card that spouted four eagle quills, Hermione and Draco actually managed to remain mostly civil to one another long enough to decorate the living room. She didn't trust him to be alone with the others and not end up hexing them, so the two of them had taken the downstairs, while the others broke off to separate floors.
She finished arranging the lights and tinsel across the mantel and turned around to find Draco trying to levitate a giant evergreen into the corner of the room.
"MALFOY!" She cried out in dismay.
He dropped the tree with a crash. "What the flying fuck!?"
"You can't put the tree up!" She was shouting as she ran over to him. "We promised to do it together!"
She flustered about getting it back up off her couch and held it with one arm as her wand hand banished the scattered pine needles out into the snowy yard.
"Ginev—Ginny," he corrected himself. "Said he wasn't going to make it home tonight."
Hermione's jaw dropped. "She told you that?" If Ginny wasn't pregnant, Hermione would have killed her.
Malfoy frowned. "Said I ought to 'be civil', that you were having a 'rough time'."
Hermione made a weak joke, fussing needlessly with the restored tree. "And you actually listened?"
Malfoy smirked and spread his arms out. "It's Christmas Eve."
She chuckled, albeit a bit morosely, and gripped her elbows. "That's what I said."
He looked a bit uncomfortable as she stared glumly at the tree, and he frowned a bit. "Well, come on then!" he declared so suddenly it made Hermione jump. "Aren't you Gryffindors supposed to be jolly and what not?"
She gave him a sour look. "You're confusing me for a Hufflepuff."
"Well, you can't rightly have Christmas without a tree now, can you?" He proposed logically.
He had a point. Hermione hated it when Malfoy was right. "I suppose not..." she conceded painfully.
"Well, then quit your bitchin' and moanin'—" he snatched the tree away from her. "—and help me put up this bloody tree."
"You know, for a minute I thought you were actually being nice to me," she shouted and flopped down on the couch to watch him struggle to maneuver the large tree across the room on his own.
He was slightly disheveled after the ordeal and was fixing his hair in a vain manner when he replied, "And I actually thought you'd forget that worthless bloke you married and get into...the fucking...Christmas...spirit!"
"Don't swear in my house," she yelled, finally exhausting her patience on the blonde's caustic tongue. "It's fucking rude."
He started to laugh, and when she cursed again – "Damnit, Malfoy!" – he only laughed harder.
"You need to loosen up, Granger," he said, once his hearty laughter had subsided enough to allow him to do so.
"I am loose," she replied stiffly, adjusting a few of the tree's branches in a nitpicky sort of way.
"You've only got an hour 'til the party and you're already in a foul mood."
"It's five?" She automatically looked up and around the room.
Malfoy gave a slow smirk. "Ah, yes...your mysterious admirer; though, why anyone would is beyond me."
"Oh, that's kind of like what I said to you – two hours ago," she replied scathingly.
He tapped one of those long, pale fingers to his temple and said, in an amused voice, "Photographic memory."
"Bet that comes in handy," she retorted snippily. "I'm the one with the admirer."
Malfoy looked bored and sat down on the ottoman to begin riffling through her decorations. "What the hell is all this junk?" He demanded after a period of silence in which Hermione had been looking expectantly at the stairs while idly hanging bundles of mistletoe. He was looking in disgust at a deformed clay star Hermione's baby cousin had given her. "None of it matches."
"Do yours?" She asked kneeling on the floor beside him and rescuing the precariously dangling ornament from his 'evil clutches'.
He spoke in a condescending tone. "Of course, we only ever use silver decorations."
"Green and silver," Hermione muttered, taking the box into her lap. "Figures. At least my decorations mean something."
"Who the devil cares," was his arrogant response. "You are rather...annoyingly undestitute. You can afford better than this rubbish."
"Money can't buy everything, Malfoy," she reminded him, just like so many times before. "It can't buy memories."
He scowled, "Don't you have some valentine to be watching out for."
She looked to the stairs, almost willing someone to come down them. "I bet Seamus has the next one," she said matter-of-factly.
"I'd hate to be your admirer, when your husband catches him." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Actually, I'd hate to be your admirer in general," he said with a dramatic shudder.
"Well that's good now isn't it? Ginevra would be quite upset." She smiled smugly as he sneered at her.
"Go get the lights," she commanded. "They go on first."
Placing the lid gently back on the overflowing box of 'mis-matched' ornaments so that none escaped before it was their time to go on, she set the carton beside her and felt her gaze drawn to the stairs. It took her a moment to realize she was egging on Seamus in her head.
"You do know how to plug things in don't you?" She snipped, still staring at the staircase.
"Damnit, Granger!" Something hit her solidly in the back of the head. "Turn around!"
Scowling and rubbing her head, she leapt to her feet and whirled around. "What the hell was that—"
Lying at her feet was the end of the cord of Muggle tree lights. Spell-o-taped to it was a folded square of parchment. Ignoring Draco's blatant 'where's-my-apology- look, she bent over and pick up the card, bringing the cord up with it. Sealed just like the first four, she broke the wax and flipped it open.
On the fifth hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
five golden rings.
The cord shook in her hand at a tug from Malfoy and there was a soft clinking! sound. Folding the note shut, she looked down. At the center of the down-sweeping arc, created by hers and Malfoy's hold on the string, hung five brilliant rings of gold glinting in the rainbow of glittery Christmas lights.
"Merlin's beard," she gasped.
Malfoy lifted his end and the rings zigzagged over the protruding bulbs and landed in her startled hand. "That's some admirer you've got there," he smirked.
"I...need to sit down," she managed before she fell straight down onto the ottoman.
"Oh, no," Malfoy said quickly. "You're not leaving me to decorate your ugly tree all by myself."
"Shut up, Malfoy!" She snapped, throwing her fists down at her sides. "I've just been given a small fortune in gifts over the past four hours – it's a little overwhelming."
He looked unconvinced. "And what exactly is it you've gotten?" She told him. Malfoy let out a long whistle. "An original Hogwarts: A History?"
Finally! Someone appreciates the worth of a good book. "Yes," she sighed fondly. "The footnotes are even legible still, after all these years."
They shared a moment of book loving silence, in which Hermione considered for the briefest of moments to cancel this whole party affair and just curl up in front of the fire to read her book, but it was rudely cut short when Malfoy kicked her off the ottoman.
"Stop your daydreaming, Granger, and help me."
"You know it's not even 'Granger' anymore, right?" She grumbled, picking herself up off the carpet. She scowled at his annoying smirk.
"Old habits die hard, I suppose."
She rolled her eyes.
"I still can't believe you married him," he muttered so quietly, Hermione almost didn't catch it.
After coming very close to chucking the entire box of precious ornaments right at his head, Hermione stomped off towards the stairs to get ready. "Go home, Malfoy!" She yelled over the landing. He shouted "gladly" back up at her as she whirled away and pounded childishly up the stairs to the bath.
Hermione exited the large bathroom half an hour later in a pleasant cloud of steam that curled around her bare feet and carried with it the sharp tang of her mint shampoo. Tightening the fluffy white towel around her chest, she padded across the wood floor to the vanity where she'd left her wand.
She did the best she could with it, but when she cast the drying spell her hair ended up just a bushy and unmanageable as usual. Sighing, she tucked it up into a somewhat decent bun and adorned it with a gold enameled hair comb in the shape of a celtic knot. It had been a wedding present.
Hermione looked over the gown she had planned on wearing and trailed her fingers along the side. She fingered the silky cloth delicately and was surprised to find herself blinking back tears. Blue was his favorite color.
"Stupid prat," she muttered, yanking the dress roughly off its hanger. The metal triangle grated against the wooden door of her dressing room several times before settling back into place. "I should make up the couch for him right now..."
Her grumblings carried on like this for some time, until she had finished getting ready for the party that would soon be commencing and was sitting at her vanity table looking at her reflection in its ornate mirror. She smiled at herself, to ensure that it was her same happy smile, then touched up her lipstick and headed downstairs.
She was not prepared for the sight that greeted her as she stepped down off the garland wrapped staircase. There in the corner of the living room...was her Christmas tree. It was all lit up with two hundred bright rainbow bulbs and held each and every trinket and decoration that had been in the small box. At the very tip top was an illuminated star.
Her small heels clicked against the wooden hallway then became muted as she crossed onto the living room's carpet. She circled the tree in amaze only to find a small scrap of parchment folded atop one of the middle branches. She picked it out from between the glass unicorn and wooden train it was suck between and read it.
The angel was hideous. Put star up instead. Happy Christmas.
She smiled and folded the parchment up into fourths before setting it behind the tinsel-y garland lying atop the mantelpiece of her fireplace. So, the Grinch had a heart after all.
There was another note on the tree. A scrap lying beside it denoted it as being from Blaise. Surprised and more that a little wary that she'd open it only to have an Itching Hex explode all over her, she picked it up delicately from its perch and her eyes alit on the familiar red wax seal.
Sliding her nail beneath it, she cracked the wax and opened the note.
On the sixth hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
six theater tickets.
There was a soft rustling from somewhere nearby. Hermione looked around, note still in hand. Letting her eyes half-close she focused on the quiet sound and let her senses guide her steps. She found herself back in front of the sparkling Christmas tree. Brows knitted, she tentatively reached between the branches and touched the very trunk itself. The rough bark gave way beneath her questing fingertips and she felt them wrap around a thin bundle.
When she had extricated her hand it held a twine-tied packet of official looking strips. Six tickets; enough for both her and her friends. She ruffled the fanned out slips and checked the date on them – they were for the weekend of the New Year. A sold out show.
Gingerly, she set them down beside the vase of three roses – in time for the first arrival of the evening.
Smiling her best and smoothing the short skirt of her navy cocktail dress, Hermione walked briskly to the door and opened it to admit the Weasley family. She stepped aside to admit the lot of them, and Mrs. Weasley was the first one inside, the only one not carrying the dishes she'd offered to prepare for the party.
"Oh, Hermione," She beamed. "You look wonderful, dear."
"Thank you, Molly," she said humbly, embracing the stouter woman. "And thank you for helping me with the dinner. I'm afraid I'm not much of a cook."
"Nonsense, child," the older woman smiled, patting Hermione's cheek. "I was glad to help," she insisted before bustling on into the kitchen.
Mr. Weasley came next. "Good to see you again, Hermione."
"You too, Arthur," she replied warmly before he followed his wife, juggling the platters in his arms.
The rest of them filed in with the same juggling of dishes, until Hermione was surrounded by too very jovial Weasley twins – who, somehow, had managed to get out of carrying food.
They were both wearing their lumpy sweaters knitted for them by their mother the year before; though she suspected they'd switched the lettered jumpers by the devious looks on their faces. Always jovial, no matter the season, they'd matched their cheery attitudes that night with ridiculous felt antlers that jingled with tiny bells.
They shook their jingly heads at Hermione and did a silly dance around her, drawing attention to the bells around their ankles as well. "Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas!" They chanted sing-songally.
"You're both idiots," she said, but it was less effective through the laughter. She swatted them away to close the door and they jingled into the living room declaring that "the party has started!"
Over the next hour all her old friends from Hogwarts and many of her coworkers filtered in in varying fashions and groups. Hermione greeted them all in turn, bustling through the crowds of witches and wizards holding conversations, sipping drinks, and dancing to festive music, whenever the front bell rang – which Charlie had charmingly bewitched into a rendition of 'Jingle Bells'.
At least some of her friends weren't completely hopeless when it came to Muggles.
Arriving fashionably late as per both their styles, Hermione opened the door for Ginny and Malfoy at a quarter to seven. Ginny wore a green sparkly cocktail with a matching wrap, and Malfoy was sporting a snappy white oxford and black slacks.
"Happy Christmas!" Ginny enthused, embracing her smiling friend.
"Happy Christmas," Hermione replied. "Your mum wanted to talk to you when you got here." Hermione glanced behind her. "I think she's in the kitchen."
Ginny deposited her wrap and beaded purse with Draco, before clicking off in her high high heels, who then deposited the items onto Hermione along with his winter coat.
Rolling her eyes, Hermione banished the items to the coat room with a tap of her wand and closed the front door. "Thank you for doing the tree," she told him when she'd turned back around.
He lifted his chin slightly, "Well, I knew I couldn't trust something so important to a mere Gryffindor."
Hermione just shook her head and chuckled.
"At any rate," he shifted uncomfortably. "Everyone should have a happy Christmas."
Hermione was surprised.
"Even if their husbands aren't with them," he added quickly.
She put her hands on her hips, giving a Draco a highly amused smirk. "You can stop pretending to be nice."
"Seriously, Malfoy." She held up a hand solemnly. "It's freaking me out."
Chuckling a bit, he smirked down at her. "In that case, you should run to the loo; your makeup looks atrocious."
Using his shoulder to steady her, Hermione went up on her toes to kiss the substantially taller man on the cheek, leaving behind a faint mulberry imprint of her lips. "Aww, now we can share it," she said sweetly.
He frowned, she laughed, and they both wished each other a Happy Christmas. As Ginny came to drag her husband away, Hermione smiled and made her way to the refreshment table to grab herself a glass of white wine. The cool drink felt good on her dry throat, but she nearly spit it up again as she heard Ginny screaming at Draco about the "lipstick definitely not her shade".
She had to repress the urge to cackle evilly, because she would have looked completely nutters. She did, however, do a fair share of cackling in her head and hid her smirk behind her wine glass. Malfoy wasn't that bad a bloke after all, and she supposed it was just lucky that Severus and Ginny had managed to convince him to become a double agent.
Mostly lucky for Ginny, she thought to herself, listening to the (amusing, from her perspective) ranting of the youngest and decidedly pregnant Weasley child.
Still, the thought of her and Malfoy being friends? Meeting for coffee, chatting on the floo? Bleh. It was enough to make Hermione want to sick. He wasn't that bad, but that was all Hermione was willing to grant the annoying Slytherin.
Taking one last peaceful sip of her wine, she was about to grudgingly go and bail Malfoy out of a trouble that was partially her fault (though mostly the problem of Ginny's moody swing set), when she was swarmed by the Weasley twins...once again.
They were dragging Seamus between them.
"Oi!" "Another clue!" They exclaimed. Hermione turned with them to watch the large clock above the mantel tick down the last five seconds of 6:59.
"Geroff!" Seamus gripped shrugging off the ridiculous looking redheads. With a scowl worthy of the Irish at his captors he turned to Hermione who looked at him sympathetically.
"Too bad Dean beat me to the punch," he joked in a thick accent. Hermione decided it wasn't a good idea to tell him about the five others.
He pulled the seventh card from the front pocket of his dress shirt and handed it to her with a wink. "Remind me to do this for my wife," he said with a grin, echoed by Hermione's soft smile as she took the parchment into her hands.
"Ya need a girl first, mate!" Fred roared loudly, thumping the younger man on the back.
Seamus took a swing at him, Irish temper snapping, but George got him in a firm headlock and ruffled his hair. "Come 'ere. Lemme buy you a drink, you young bachelor you."
Fred pinched Seamus' cheek in that dreaded Auntie way, and the twins dragged him down to the other end of the refreshment table, bells jingling and Seamus arguing that the drinks were already free.
Shaking her head, Hermione turned with surprisingly mounting excitement to the card and opened it quickly.
On the seventh hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
seven kinds of perfume.
She didn't have to wait long for the card to work its magic. Almost immediately a flashy font appeared and the words 'SMELL ME' flickered up at her. Glancing around with cheeks slightly pink, Hermione hesitantly lifted the card beneath her nose and sniffed delicately.
"Mmm...apples," she murmured.
"Hermione Jane – what the devil are you doing?" Ginny's voice demanded, and Hermione's eyes snapped open. She turned bright red.
"Well, I—I just...the note—"
She was saved from her own pathetic attempts at justification by a loud shing! and an equally loud cry of pain.
Hurrying to the source, Hermione fell to her knees to help young Colin Creevey up off the floor. "Oh, Colin!" She exclaimed. "What happened?"
"This fell on me," he said in a voice still squeaky, even at twenty, and held up a glass bottle.
Hermione's eyes bulged and she took it from him as he fussed about making sure his camera had survived the fall without ding or dent. She turned the bottle over in her hands and read the label. 'Apple Aroma'
She winced. "Sorry, Colin."
He gave a cheesy, childish smile and brushed himself off. "It's not like you lobbed that at me yourself," he laughed.
Hermione lifted the note back up from her side. "Actually..."
Fred and George, reindeer antlers falling down around their foreheads, pushed their way through the party-goers. When they reached her, George snatched the note out of her hands.
"How can we be proper detectives when you keep running off with clues?" Fred reprimanded.
"Oi! 'Smell me'!" Hermione looked up to see George obligingly taking a big whiff off the parchment.
He promptly scrunched up his nose and, after a few small breaths, sneezed into the sleeve of his jumper. "That tickles," he complained.
Hermione took it from him and sniffed it as well. She wiggled her nose, but didn't sneeze. "Lavender."
"Bloody hell, Granger!"
Hermione smirked, as Malfoy elbowed his way to the front of the group. "You're lucky I caught this," he growled, brandishing a violet tinted bottle. "Or you'd have a very unhappy dinner guest on your hand."
"I suppose I have your amazing seeker reflexes to thank for that?" She sneered, drawing out the one word.
Fred snitched the bottle of perfume and set it down beside the first one. "My turn," he declared, and grabbed Hermione's wrist to bring the card up to be sniffed at.
The entire room, who had by now been drawn to the proceedings by the loud voices, looked around expectantly for the next bottle to come falling from the sky. Nothing.
Ginny snatched the parchment from her brother, called him a "dolt" and smelled the parchment for herself. "Mm..." she had a content look on her face. "Smells like pears."
The third bottle thumped! into the plushy cushions of the couch behind them and made a great deal of those close by jump. One of the Patil twins – Hermione wasn't sure which (she was never good with twins) – picked it up.
"'Pear Glacé'," she read cheerily before setting in on the coffee table beside the others. "Ooh! Can I try?"
Before Hermione could agree or not, Ginny had handed the 'scratch 'n sniff' parchment to Padme/Parvati. "Wintergreen?" She wondered aloud, delicate brows artfully creased in thought. "No...peppermint."
Hermione's jaw dropped. "That's my—"
No one moved to catch the clear bottle as it fell straight through the middle of their group. Draco pulled Ginny out of harm's way and everyone took a collective step back to avoid being hit.
The bottle bounced against the carpet and rolled onto its side.
"Of course!" Bill commented. "It must have an Unbreakable Charm on it."
Hermione stooped to pick up the bottle, reading the name silently. 'Mint Breeze'. "Maybe it is him," she whispered to herself.
Hermione narrowly dodged the next bottle that actually bounced along the carpet towards her. She frowned accusingly at Ginny and the others before getting to her feet.
"Don't look at me," the redhead said in a haughty way that told Hermione the Slytherin had been rubbing off on his wife. "Fleur guessed it."
Hermione looked in surprise at the leggy blonde woman who'd appeared beside the twins. "Oh, Fleur! I didn't think you could make it!"
"Oui," the word rolled like liquid honey off the older woman's tongue. The two embraced. "I managed to get out of ze planz zat I had. Ze vwomen of ze Order must stick togezer, no?"
"Of course," Hermione agreed. There were indeed more men belonging to the Phoenix than those of the female variety.
Perfectly manicured nails flipped those luxurious blonde locks over her shoulder, and the corners of her bright blue eyes crinkled. "It vaz ze most beautiful zent of vanilla."
"'Vanilla Lace'," George read aloud. He made a face. "What girly smells."
"Zis iz a mozt intriguing gift, Hermninny," Fleur complimented offhandedly. "Zhinny, haz told me all about zis...admirer." The seductive rolling of her 'r's made the men of the room draw in a collective breath.
Hermione smiled at the half-Veela. "Yes, well, I'm sorry for the inconvenience – it looks like it might last all evening."
"Nonzense," The blonde insisted. Grabbing Hermione's hand she pulled her over to her and extended the card she was currently in possession of. "Come, ve still have deux."
Hermione held it like it was glass. Ginny, however, pregnancy hormones raging up, didn't have the patience to wait for her. She plucked it up between her green painted nails and sniffed it.
Making sure to pointedly look at her brother she announced "That...is strawberry."
Like a winning buzzer...
"Oh!" Hermione shouted. "Don't let it hit the tree!"
Someone caught it, she couldn't see who, but the pinkish bottle was passed through the crowd and when she noticed everyone's attention had settled on her she was as pink as the glass by the time it reached her.
"'Strawberry Passion'," Fred read with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.
"Oo la la!" Was Fleur's excited comment.
The final smell started with Ginny, but was passed on to Charlie when she couldn't identify the smell. Hermione watched the small card move its way through the group of people around her.
"Zis iz zometing zat I cannot plaze," Fleur murmured.
Finally, it found its way back into Hermione's hands. She knew the smell instantly. Her lips curved upwards into a soft and genuine smile as her thumb ran across the flashing words. Blinking rapidly to keep from crying, she choked out a laugh and covered it with her hand. The scent clung to her skin.
It was him...
Malfoy was giving her an odd look. "What the deuce?" He said. "What is it, Granger?"
She sniffed and stroked the parchment again with a smile. "Cinnamon," she whispered.
The final perfume bottle fell straight down into her hands. The crimson glass sparkled in the glow of a thousand twinkling Christmas lights, and Hermione traced the pattern with a fingertip. 'Cinnamon Spice'. Taking off the cap she inhaled the deep scent that had grown so familiar to the bed space beside her own, and grinned, most likely goofily, to herself.
"Oh! Vat fun!" Fleur clapped her hands gaily and grabbed Bill's hand with both of her own. "Vy aren't you zis romantic, Villiam?" Again with the rolling 'r's. "You zhould take a page from ze book of zis admirer."
"Thanks a lot, Hermione," Bill grumbled, and allowed his girlfriend to drag him off. Laughing, Hermione piled the bottles into her arms and made to excuse herself to run upstairs.
"Nonsense," Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, having born witness to the recent affairs. She promptly divested Hermione of her newly acquisitioned perfume, and brooked no argument as she insisted on carrying them upstairs herself. "You enjoy your party, dear."
The room was giving her knowing smiles and she quickly replaced her dopey smile with an annoyed huffing of her bangs out of her face. "I need something to eat."
The next card came an hour later, when Hermione had retreated to her room a moment to refresh her makeup and most of the guests had settled into chairs in the living room to chatter, or were having talks about starting up a Quidditch game in the snowy backyard.
A tapping on her bedroom window had interrupted her annoyingly necessary reapplication, and she'd quickly opened it to admit an unusually large raven. It cawed at her and circled, rather ominously, around her head before landing on her shoulder.
It extended its leg cordially so she could remove the envelope it carried. Pressing her lips to its neck, she offered it a few of the treats she kept in her bedside table for the Daily Prophet owls. Tearing off the top of the envelope, she pulled out a letter and unfolded it.
It was from Viktor.
Their relationship hadn't gone very far after their fourth year, but they still kept up a regular correspondence, and it wasn't exactly odd for her to be receiving a letter from him. After all, she'd sent him a Christmas letter as well.
Unfortunately, however, the letter only included a scarce few sentences.
I received your card, and am glad to hear that you and your husband are doing well. You both seem very happy in your Christmas picture, and Alexandria is insisting on sending you one of ours as well, but I shall include that in my next letter. For this letter, I am simply doing a favor. I was asked to give this to you.
Hope your Christmas goes well,
"He certainly got everyone," Hermione muttered and upturned the envelope. Another sealed card drifted down onto her festive bedspread. Stuffing Viktor's letter back into the envelope, she stowed it safely away in her table.
Running her fingers through the silky feathers of the bird perched on her shoulder, she opened up the note and read the slanted print that was quickly becoming familiar to her.
On the eighth hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
eight scented candles.
The unique sound of flames bursting to life, made her whirl around and there, floating around her bed were the promised eight candles in Christmas green and red. Setting the card aside, she extinguished the flames in a burst of cinnamon and pine smells and flicked off the lights.
Hurrying back down the three flights of stairs a lot faster than she'd gone up them, and descended into a first floor devoid of a good third of its original occupants. Mr. Weasley must have noticed her distress, because he came up to her, one eye fascinatingly fixed on the Muggle cookie he's procured from the kitchen, and assuaged her fears.
"Some of the boys went out for a game of Quidditch," he informed her before taking a tentative bit of the sugary confection.
Shaking her head, Hermione grabbed her coat up off the front hall peg, and slipped the thick trench as she stepped out into the winter night. A broom wooshed! over her head, whipping a flurry of snow up around her bare legs and knocking curls loose from her bun.
Gripping the lapels of her coat up around her chin, she shielded her eyes against the whipping snowflakes she identified her attacker. "REMUS JONATHAN LUPIN!" She screamed over the window. "You're the ringleader of this?"
Her old Professor and good friend descended down to eye level with her after gently waving on a few other players, who zipped to the back of the house. He looked good, the winter air bringing a healthy pink flush to his cheeks, and there was the same happy smile that appeared on so many lips during this night.
"I admit to nothing," he teased with a smile.
Hermione looked up at him sternly, but when he pointed to his cheek she cracked a smile and obliged him with friendly kiss to the cheek. "You're crazy you know," she told him. "It's freezing out."
"A bit chilly," he conceded.
"You look good," she told him slyly.
He smiled warmly. "And you're turning into quite the young woman," he said ruffling her hair, which, by now, was beyond repair.
"Remus!" She scolded and swatted his hand. "If you freeze to death—"
"I'll come back and haunt you," he promised.
Hermione stamped her feet against the walkway to reinstate the feeling in them and bobbed her knees in a desperate attempt to keep warm. "I swear if you get a cold we're moving your room to the first floor. I won't have you sneezing up a storm when I'm trying to sleep down the hall."
"I think it's you and your significant other that will be keeping me up tonight."
Hermione turned bright red. "Oh god," she hissed, mortified. "My old professor is talking to me about sex."
She hid her face behind her hands, as the chuckling of said professor grew louder by the minute. "Married for a year – I thought you'd be used to me by now."
He tweaked her ear and she batted at him with both hands, slapping him again and again on any part she could reach. "Go away – right now, before I hurt you!"
Not really taking her threat to heart, Remus indulged her anyway and zoomed off around the garden and disappeared to the back of the house. Whining at the cold, Hermione quickly stomped back up the walk in her heels and all but ran back into the house.
It seemed all the Hogwarts staff had arrived en masse and she waved cheerily at Dumbledore who was discussing the wonders of Muggle candy to a gaggle of her coworkers. McGonagall was chatting with Mrs. Weasley by the refreshment table, and the hawk-faced woman was being harangued by the jingly twins who looked to be trying to force a bright red Santa's hat on the aged professor.
She smiled down at Professor Flitwick. "Yes, Professor?"
"Would you explain once more your thesis on the Department of Mysteries? Sinistra and I are having a bit of a disagreement."
"Of course," she agreed readily and followed the short Charms expert over to her old Astronomy Professor, who was spending her wait examining the trinkets on the tree. The next half hour was spent in lively, intellectual debate that quickly spun off the topic of Hermione's thesis and onto a wide variety of Ministry regulations and the like.
After nearly an hour of flying about in the blistering cold the twenty odd witches and wizards who'd been out playing a Quidditch trekked back into the house, transfiguring their clothes back or drying off the ones they were wearing. Hermione saw to it that they were all holding a cup of scalding cocoa and maneuvered in front of the roaring fireplace.
She joined Remus who was standing beside the hearth, brushing the snow from his hair into the flames, and handed him a fresh cup of cocoa. "Did the young'ins wear you out," she teased over the rim of her own.
The lycan winked good-naturedly. "Damn whippersnappers..."
"You're gonna give yourself an early heart attack," she warned him. "if you keep up with this."
"Nonsense," he smiled. "I'm in peak condition."
"And going on forty..." she murmured, eyes dancing as she turned to look at the flames.
"You're one to talk."
Hermione's cheeks flamed.
"Well, since you decided to come over here and cruelly torment this old man, I won't have to hunt you down to give you this." It was another note.
"Marvelous," she said, cracking it open.
Remus moved to look curiously over her shoulder. "And what will you be receiving on this, the ninth hour of the yuletide?"
On the ninth hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
nine different chocolates.
"Ah ha!" The older man exclaimed. "Is there no better man to deliver such good news?"
He snapped his long fingers and moved his hand behind his back. Hermione felt the pull of magic swill around her cheeks and caress the line of her throat. From behind him, Remus produced a stack of nine heart shaped boxes. Her eyes went wide.
"That's a lot of chocolate..." she breathed.
"And I had to go through a great deal of my chocolate sources to procure these," he informed her. "But for you, oh sweetest Hermione," he drawled, waxing poetic. "Nine flavors of exquisite Swedish chocolates."
She lifted the lid off the topmost box and peered inside. A delicious caramel scent wafted around her nose and she closed it again. Brushing wayward bangs from her eyes, she looked at her friend in disbelieving amusement. "He does know it's only romantic until I get fat, right?"
His lips twitched. "I'm sure he doesn't mean for you to eat them all in one night."
Hermione swatted him.
"Hey! I went through a lot of work to get these for you," he reminded her indignantly.
"I'll give you a box..." she offered in a sing-song voice.
"These are yours, Hermione."
She finished her scanning of the labels along the sides and her index finger alighted on one near the middle. "Toffee?" She suggested slyly.
"Happy Christmas!" He was practically salivating.
Laughing, she pulled the box out of the middle and set it on the top of the stack. "Put these in my room, will you?"
"Sure thing," he agreed, leaning the stack against his chest so he could mount the stairs.
"I'm not going to find anything untoward lying about, am I?" He called over the landing.
Hermione was horrified. "REMUS!"
"Stop bellowing at the poor man, Hermione. You've got quite a set of lungs."
Hermione launched herself at the snowy newcomer. "Ron!" She cried, hugging him tight. "Happy Christmas!"
"If I'd have known you'd miss me so much, I would have left Russia sooner," the redhead teased, setting her back down on her precarious heels.
He gave her that lopsided grin of his and ruffled her hair. Everyone seemed to fancy doing that. Hermione did not. "Nope. Had to sneak out from under Moody as it was."
"Here, let me take your coat," she said quickly, belatedly remembering her hostess duties. Ginny was far more cut out for domesticity than she. "I still can't believe Alastor was going to try and keep you lot over the holidays."
"They don't call him mad for nothing." This comment was awarded with a reproachful look and a box on the ears.
"It's Christmas Eve – be nice, Ronald."
"I'm always nice."
Linking arms, Hermione led him around the living room doing her rounds of hostess and then set them both down on the couch. Kicking her feet up onto the coffee table she gave a relieved sigh. "They look good, but heels hurt like a bitch." She was awarded the privilege of a few curse words now and then, seeing as it was her house.
"Aww," Ron poked her side. "Does widdle Hermy need a footsie rub?"
She did her best to look pitiful and pouted. "Yes."
"You sure?" He grinned impishly and put his hands on her face. Hermione yelped and knocked them away.
"Holy kneazles, Ron! Your hands are freezing!" she chastised, rubbing at her cheeks to warm her face up again.
"Well it's kind of winter out there..." he drawled.
Hermione sighed and looked morosely at her feet. She wiggled her toes. "I guess I'll just have to endure it. There's only a few hours left."
Ron nodded stoutly. "Tha's my girl."
She pretended to be un-amused, picking at the cloth pills along the cushion of her couch and pointedly ignoring him.
"Gin owled me a few hours ago. She says you're having quite the eventful day," he said slowly, so as to contain the laughter she could hear bubbling just under his voice.
Hermione groaned and flung herself back on the couch. "She's telling bloody everyone – that's right."
"That why you were yelling enough to give Lupin a heart attack?" he chuckled.
She flushed and mumbled "no". "Crazy old nutter's probably eating all my chocolates right now..." She muttered, casting an icy eye on the staircase.
"You have to admit it's pretty funny..." the second youngest Weasley pointed out. "All these gifts just falling out of nowhere."
Hermione snorted. "Yes, and from all the men in my life."
"And we're finding it hysterical," he said solemnly.
She groaned again. "You're the next?"
He flashed a grin. "Not yet ten, now is it?"
"Hmph!" Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. "Fleur thinks this 'oh zo rrrrrrrrrrromantic'," she said, doing a fair impression of the pneumatic half-veela. Ron was laughing.
"I'm not a woman, sooo...getting perfume and roses doesn't exactly spell 'romantic' to me," Ron reminded her. "But he is sure giving it the old college try."
Throwing one of the couch's decorative pillows at him, she put her chin on her fist and shook her head. "I need more girl friends."
A long moment of silence passed, before Hermione glanced at the unusually quiet Ron to find him staring at her with an impatient look. "What?" She demanded – automatically defensive.
"What does a guy have to do to get a drink around here?!"
"Not aggravate the hostess," she promptly replied and left him to fend for himself.
"I'll just be coming to find you anyway," he reminded her through a laugh, and Hermione felt a tingle of excitement run down her spine as she walked away.
As promised, at exactly ten, Ron strolled over with an eager Ginny at his heels to interrupt her conversation with Dumbledore. She'd never admit it under veritaserum, but Hermione had been anxiously awaiting the changing of the hours. She'd done her best not to look directly at Ron, but in her head she was counting down the minutes. Who knew Hermione Granger would be a closet-case romantic?
"Excuse me, sir," he interrupted politely, which turned to a laugh as he spied Hermione. "And here she is," he declared with a great deal of dramatic gesturing. "The woman of every hour...Hermione—"
"Do shut up!" She cut him off with a cuff on his ears. Reaching into his pocket she let out a triumphant cry as her fingers closed around parchment and she pulled out the wax sealed note.
"Hey!" He shouted indignantly. "Stop riffling through my things!"
She looked down her nose at him – a rather spectacular feat, as he was a good two heads taller than her – and ripped the note open.
On the tenth hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
ten sets of lingerie.
Red-faced, Hermione crumpled up the parchment before anyone else could read it and quickly banished it with her wand. Amid the protests of the partygoers around her and the twinkling in Dumbledore's eyes, she looked warily up at the ceiling. If it started spouting negligee, she was going to kill him.
She waited, and prayed...and nothing happened.
"Thank Merlin," she whispered, closing her eyes in a relieved sigh.
POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP!
Her eyes snapped open. "You've got to be kidding me..."
Brightly colored bundles of silk were fluttering down around her in circular rainbow of lace, ribbons, and satin. The crowd was staring skyward as if God himself had opened up the heavens and bestowed these questionable gifts upon mankind.
The last, a sinful shade of crimson, fluttered straight down over Hermione.
"Wingardium Leviosa!" She cried, before her gift could reach the straining fingers of her friends and the ten private outfits zinged down the hall and up the stairs, where, after a moment, there was the faraway sound of a door slamming.
Looking around at their waiting and expectant faces, Hermione clasped her hands together and beamed like the good hostess she was. "Who wants eggnog?"
As the party began winding down, Hermione found herself sitting on the third step of her stairs beside the front door; coat draped over her shoulders and nursing a steaming cup of cocoa between her hands.
The first to leave were the friends with little ones at home, and as they passed by Hermione standing sentinel at the front door, they exchanged 'Happy Christmas's, smiled, waved, and made promises to meet for coffee. Every time the door opened to admit another person out into the cold, Hermione would lift her cocoa up beneath her chin and let the pleasant steam curl around her cheeks.
Mrs. Weasley left too, insisting that the two of them come for Christmas brunch the next morning and dragging Mr. Weasley behind her. Hermione was also delegated by the older woman to politely inform the pregnant Ginevra that 'all these late nights weren't good for the baby'.
She'd called down the hall to dutifully deliver the message, but Ginny hadn't heard her and she wasn't about to get up from her post to hunt the younger girl down. Probably with Malfoy, anyhow.
By the time she'd sipped her hot chocolate into nothingness, the Hogwarts Professors were making their group exit and Hermione stood to meet them.
"Lovely party, Hermione," Dumbledore beamed warmly, shaking her hand in both of his. "So kind of you to invite us."
"Thank you for coming, sir," Hermione replied with her own smiled. She kissed his cheek and they shook one last time before he moved out onto the snow littered walk.
Farewell-ing each old professor by name and exchanging a few pleasantries as they moved outside to apparate to Hogsmeade, she was surprised when Snape, the last of the line, motioned for the others to go on ahead. They disappeared with a CRACK!
She smiled softly at the use of her former surname. "Yes, Professor?"
He flicked back his customary black on black robes and spared her a half-sneer. "I never told you when you were at school, but though you were one of the most annoying, you were of brightest students I've ever had the opportunity to teach. For that reason only," he stressed. "Did I agree to play a part in your idiotic husband's foul scheme."
Another dark look. "I assure you I am not. I assume he found it...amusing."
Hermione nodded dumbly and took the offered card. It was just like all the rest. Pulling his cloak tighter around him, her Potion's professor breezed past her and strode out into the blowing cold in a billow of robes. Breaking out of her startlement, Hermione ran to the door and, gripping the sturdy frame, leaned out into the winter night.
"SEVERUS!" She called into the wind that had picked up its fervor since the untimely Quidditch game. She watched him turn, a pillar of shadow against the ivory backdrop. "HAPPY CHRISTMAS!"
He stood there a moment longer, and then there was a vast empty space where he had once stood – the crack! of his apparation muffled by the wind.
Hermione slammed the front door shut and brushed the snowflakes off her shoulder, quickly slipping her winter coat on to ward off the cold. "Grumpy old scrooge," she muttered and flopped back down upon the stairs.
Almost lazily, she picked up the card and twirled it show-offishly between her fingers watching the sharp parchment lines blur in movement. Her eyes caught the grandfather clock in the far corner of the entry hall and she 'tutted' to herself. 11:23 – Snape was late.
Reluctantly returning her coat to its peg she grabbed her empty mug in one hand, and with the note in her other she headed back through the foyer and into the living room. All that was left of her guests were her close friends from school and the Slytherins she'd managed to tolerate.
When Ginny saw her walk in, she slid off Draco's lap and stood up in excitement. "Oo! Another?"
Hermione nodded simply.
"What does it say?" The redhead pushed.
"Haven't opened it," Hermione replied rather blandly, and sat down on the couch to do just that.
On the eleventh hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
eleven short, black dresses.
Of course...his favorite kind.
"Well?" Ginny demanded. Hermione repeated it aloud.
Seamus made an inappropriate comment to which Ron threw a chocolate frog at his head and everyone else laughed.
A loud whoosh! echoed from upstairs and Hermione clicked her tongue. "They probably went to the bedroom."
Another chocolate frog went whizzing across the room before Seamus could even get the words out of his open mouth.
Rubbing her eyes tiredly, Hermione looked pleadingly to Ginny. "Actually, I think I'm gonna turn in for the night," she said. "Can you finish up?"
"Of course!" The young woman affirmed instantly.
"The guest rooms are all made up if you need or want to stay," Hermione announced to the room. Everyone present made shouts or nods of understanding, and, relieved that it was finally over, Hermione gathered up her gifts and things and headed upstairs.
As she had predicted, eleven "little black dresses" – the kind every woman "had to own" – were laid out across her Christmas comforter. Setting the vase of roses down on her vanity first, she deposited the rest of her load and picked up the first of the dresses.
It was strapless and flared out into a tulle cushioned skirt that ended well above her knees. Anchoring twisted black cloth of the dress' bosom was a bottle cap sized diamond. With a wave of her wand it hung itself up on one of the enchanted cloth hangers of her dressing room.
The next was s strappy dress that tied behind her neck and crisscrossed down her back so many times it looked absolutely impossible to get into. The ribbon 'x'ed over the front as well, making the thin material hang in an attractive fashion diagonally down over her knees. The neckline was enough to make her blush.
She quickly moved through them all, examining them with a smile of disbelief that her husband thought he could ever get her into them, and charming them onto their separate hangers. When she was finished, she kicked off her heels and directed them back to their place on the wire rack with a few expert waves of her wand.
Grabbing the pillow again from the other side of the bed, she bunched it up into her lap and plopped down onto the cushy king-sized bed. Crossing her ankle over her knee she frowned and rubbed at her own sore feet. "Stupid heels," she grumbled, shooting an irritated look at her innocent dressing room.
She'd just switched feet, when the hearth by her writing desk popped! crackled! and bled into emerald. The face that appeared had Hermione up and off the bed like a rocket and she went skidding across the wood in her hose before crashing down to her knees in front of the fireplace.
He looked pretty good for a man who'd just defeated the most evil wizard of all time. He'd been under lockdown in St. Mungo's since that battle a month and a half ago, and even best friends, like Hermione and Ron, had had trouble visiting him as often as they liked. "They wouldn't let me visit you this morning," she pouted.
Harry laughed, his head bobbing in the eerie green flames. "Yeah, they're a bunch of hardasses. I had to sneak into the nurses' lounge to floo you."
Hermione gave him a stern look. "You should be resting. The fight sucked you pretty dry."
Harry snorted. "Thanks mom."
"We'll come and see you first thing in the morning," she promised. "All four of us. We won't let them stop you from having a happy Christmas."
"Thanks, Hermione." He looked relieved. "You should see the slop they try and feed me. It's like being back at the Dursley's."
The light bulb went off in her head and she waved her hands excitedly. "Don't go away! I'll be right back."
Slipping up onto her feet again, she slid around her bed and began routing through the pile of gifts. Eventually, she found what she was looking for stashed under the high frame of her bed.
"BLOODY WEREWOLF!" Was all Harry heard before Hermione fell back down to her knees in front of him, with a heart-shaped box in her arms.
"I got a great deal of chocolate tonight," she explained. "But then I trusted Remus to bring the boxes up to my room..."
Harry started laughing, while she frowned in distaste.
"He ate most of them, but this box still has all its candies." She passed it into the green flames and watched as it sizzled and disappeared.
The head looked down for a moment and when she met her friend's bespectacled eyes again he was chewing happily on a caramel. "You're a lifesaver Hermione."
"How did the party go? You manage alright by yourself?"
She nodded and curled her legs underneath her. "Molly helped with the food, and I didn't really have to do much once the party had started."
"He really wanted to be there Hermione..."
She sighed and fiddled with the spill of cloth in her lap, tugging it down over her knees then watching it slid back up her thighs. "Yeah, I know. It's just..."
"...it's Christmas Eve," Harry finished for her. His floating head looked sympathetic.
She chuckled weakly. "That's something I loved about getting married – I'd never have to be alone on days like this. I suppose, I'm just a little disappointed..."
"No, really," she interrupted quickly. She forced a smile. "I'm alright. You should go back to bed."
Harry rubbed his lips together. "Maybe you're right. But first, I've got something I know will make you feel better."
Hermione quirked an eyebrow at him. "Really..."
Another sizzle and an object flew out of the large fire and landed upon the wood in front of her. The folded square of yellowed parchment looked up at her with innocent papery-ness, almost begging her to pick it up and read it.
"You know this is the twelfth note like this I've gotten," she told him dryly, picking it up and sliding her nail across the wax.
She flipped it open and read.
On the twelfth hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...
twelve midnight kisses.
Hermione's face twisted in consternation. "Harry...?"
Eyeing him curiously, she relented and looked back over her shoulder, loose curls spilling across her cheek.
Sirius was sitting on the edge of the bed.
Hermione's mouth went dry. A soft pop! and she knew Harry was gone, but still she didn't move. She didn't know how long she would have stayed there staring at him, heart thundering in her chest, but she knew it was his slow smile that made the parchment fall from between her fingers and her legs remember how to walk again.
Running to him, she was kissed soundly on the lips before they both tumbled back onto the cushy reindeer-filled bedspread. "That's one," he chuckled, and kissed her again.
"I thought you weren't coming," she whispered breathlessly and wide-eyed.
"Two." He kissed her again and again. "Three, four."
"Sirius..." she insisted, more firmly this time.
He stopped their flurry of kisses, now up to eight, and reached up to devotedly brush the curls out of her face. Thumbing the soft curve of her cheek, his lips lifted into the boyish smirk that made things low in her body clench and her toes curl. "I wanted to surprise you," he said so low his voice was huskier than usual.
"I'm surprised," she answered, before he kissed her again.
"You did all this for me?" she murmured in a daze. She was answered with another long kiss and she couldn't remember how to speak until the final kiss.
"How did you figure it was me?" he asked.
She played with his shirt. "The perfume. You always smell like cinnamon..."
"And you thought Remus was the smartest Marauder," he joked, lips against her cheek.
"He is," she said with a smile. "You, my love, are the hopeless romantic."
And then, to her delight and amaze he began to slowly sing.
"On the twelfth hour of Christmas thy true love gave to thee...twelve midnight kisses, eleven short, black dresses..."
Hermione loved to hear him sing in his low baritone, and when he was singing to her it was even better. Fingers twined in his long silky tresses, she moved them both up higher on the bed so that she was lounged comfortably against her husband and the pillows.
"Ten sets of lingerie..." His wand appeared from gods knows where and he trailed it down her stomach. A sharp flash of light and she was dressed in one of them. Hermione smiled with pink cheeks as she glanced down. Crimson.
"Nine different chocolates, eight scented candles..." Hermione took this one upon herself, and swished the candle flames to life. Another flick of her wand and the lights dimmed until they room was illuminated only by the candles, the fireplace, and the crescent moon streaming in through the large bay windows.
"Seven kinds of perfume, six theater tickets, five gooooolden rings..." Her breath caught in her throat as he held onto the last; dark blue eyes smoldering beside her. He levitated the rings off her bedside table and crawled over her legs to lift her hands into the air. The slid onto every other finger, glinting in the firelight alongside her wedding band and sapphire engagement ring.
"Four eagle quills, three roses..." she felt a heavy weight settle on her ears as he crooned; "two diamond earrings..."
Anticipation and happiness surged together inside her, culminating into a rising tide of nameless excitement that threatened to overflow at any moment. The pillows on either side of her sunk downwards as he pressed his hands into them and she looked up with glassy eyes as he lifted himself above her.
"...and a Hogwarts: A History book." His finished song was punctuated by a heady kiss from a wife who's arms wrapped around his neck told him she wasn't planning on letting him go any time soon.
He pulled back with a few short, indulging kisses across the corners of her sighing lips and the line of her jaw and down her throat. Fingers threaded through his hair kept them a short distance apart but he was able to see all that he needed of her.
Her wild hair was splayed across the cerulean silk sheets and her peaches and cream skin was flushed with desire, turning the apples of her cheeks an alluring shade of rose. The glittering diamonds hanging down along the sides of her face shone sparkling lights across her throat, but were no match for the brilliant shine in her caramel eyes as they gazed up at him through thick ebony lashes. The sighs that blew tantalizingly hot breaths against his face came from barely parted lips, thick from bruising kisses and rouged by fading lipstick – lips that begged to be kissed.
Oh, yes, Sirius Black, you done good.
"Happy Christmas, Hermione."