A Visit from Saint Dumbledore

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter or any character from the Harry Potter books. They all remain the property of J. K. Rowling.

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It was Christmas of their third year at Hogwarts and Harry, Ron, and Hermione were relaxing in the Gryffindor commons room after a spectacular feast where the house elves had outdone themselves with amazing dishes including a flaming pudding in the shape of a volcano that shot out warm cherry boulders and oozed chocolate lava. All three friends had enjoyed double portions of that treat on top of the usual holiday dishes and were now nearly immobile, resting deep in the cushions of overstuffed armchairs near the fire.

Harry stared at the flames and smiled oddly.

"Have you got gas?" asked Ron.

Hermione stared at Ron like he was something at the bottom of a caldron after a rather unpleasant Potions experiment.

"No," said Harry. "I was just thinking about the time my Uncle Vernon played Father Christmas at his company's holiday charity party back when I was ten."

Ron and Hermione turned their heads in Harry's direction and leaned forward.

"Go on," said Ron. "You can't leave us hanging with an image like that."

"I wasn't invited to the party," said Harry, "but I got to see him when I looked out the window as they all got in the car to leave. And I saw Dudley wearing the suit while Aunt Petunia was making it and using Dudley as a dressmaker's dummy."

"How apt," said Hermione.

Ron snorted then tilted his head back and rolled his eyes. Moving major muscle groups was not a top item on anyone's agenda after Christmas dinner.

"Why didn't your aunt just rent a costume?" asked Hermione.

"I heard them talking about it," said Harry, "and she couldn't find one to rent that was big enough for him."

"He certainly wouldn't need any padding," said Ron.

Hermione shook her head gently and closed her eyes.

"But that wasn't the best part," said Harry, his smile growing wider.

"Do tell…" said Hermione, eyes still closed.

"Uncle Vernon had to bounce all the children at the party on his knee and ask them what they wanted for Christmas," said Harry. "I figured out what happened then from things that Aunt Petunia said when they got home."

"Uh-huh," said Ron.

"Uncle Vernon was supposed to listen to the children explain what they wanted on Boxing Day, say something noncommittal like 'We'll see…' and hand each of them a candy cane," said Harry. "He was sitting in a red canvas folding chair that was barely big enough to hold him," Harry continued, "and Aunt Petunia stood behind him wearing a green dress and handing him candy canes after each child finished their list of toys."

"I think I can see this coming," said Hermione.

"They were next to a Christmas tree covered in glass ornaments and sitting right in front of a table filled with slices of cake and cups of punch," said Harry.

"Um-hum," said Ron, nodding slightly.

Harry went on. "The last child in line was…"

"Dudley," said Hermione.

"Dudley," said Ron.

"Dudley," said Harry.

"Dudley came up and sat on Uncle Vernon's knee," Harry went on. "Then he started to recite a long list of things he wanted—at least twenty items—video games, a motorbike, and so on."

Ron and Hermione nodded as if to say "Go on…"

"As I gathered from what was said afterwards, Uncle Vernon's face apparently got as red as his suit. Then the canvas chair collapsed and Dudley, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia all fell into the table, knocking it over, and covering them with punch, frosting, and chunks of cake." Harry paused. "And then — "

"Then?" said Ron and Hermione.

"Then the Christmas tree, which had been bumped by the table, fell over and dozens of glass ornaments shattered on the floor and on Dudley, Uncle Vernon, and Aunt Petunia," said Harry. "A photographer at the party snapped a picture of Dudley and Uncle Vernon covered in frosting and tiny bits of glass, framed in pine boughs," said Harry. "It made the newspapers."

"Smashing," said Ron. "Wish I'd seen it."

"Can you guess what happened when they got home?" asked Harry.

"It's obvious," said Hermione.

"What is?" said Ron.

"It is," said Harry.

"What is?" said Ron.

"I got blamed for it," said Harry.

"How could they blame you for what happened?" said Ron.

Harry smiled broadly and answered, "It was a charity party Uncle Vernon's company was putting on for orphans. Uncle Vernon was asked by his boss to take a major role in the party because his family had taken in an orphan—me. Therefore…"

"It's your fault," said Ron.

"Obviously," said Hermione.

The three sat quietly for a few minutes, staring at the fire. Ron and Harry and Hermione were content to let the red and gold flames dance while they rested and digested.

Harry got the same odd smiled he'd had earlier.

"Have you got gas?" asked Ron.

Hermione gave Ron the same cauldron bottom Snape-scrapings stare.

"No," said Harry. "I was just thinking how much Professor Dumbledore looks like Father Christmas."

"Yeah," said Ron. "Put him in a red suit and he'd be Saint Nick."

"Funny you should say that," said Hermione.

"Why?" said Harry.

Hermione opened her eyes and rested her chin on her left hand. "Because of something I found in the library," she said.

"Well…" said Ron. "What was it?"

"I found a letter Professor Dumbledore had written twenty years ago, hidden behind an original edition of Hogwarts: A History," she answered.

Harry leaned forward. "What did it say?"

"It was a Christmas letter to his brother," said Hermione. "I know I shouldn't have, but I made a copy of it."

"Cool," said Ron.

"Could you get it?" asked Harry.

"Yes, but I'm not moving," answered Hermione, taking out her wand and waving it with a restrained flourish. "Accio epistlarum," she said. In a few seconds a tightly rolled parchment tied with red and green ribbons floated from the door to the girls' quarters over to the fireplace and into Hermione's outstretched hand.

Ron and Harry watched her closely as she unrolled the parchment and started to read.

"Christmas Eve, New Salem School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, New England, United States," she began.

"There's another school besides Hogwarts?" asked Harry.

"More than a dozen," said Ron. "My brother Charlie taught a lesson about dragons for Care of Magical Creatures class at one in Egypt last year."

Hermione gave Ron another look. His mouth closed and he settled farther into his chair.

"Go on, Hermione," said Harry.

"Good greetings of the season to you and Minerva," she continued.

"That's McGonagall," said Ron, who saw Hermione glaring back at him and didn't say anything more.

"My kind thanks to you, Minerva, for reading my words to Aberforth since he so dislikes reading himself," she continued.

"I'm sorry I can't spend the holidays with you both, but I had to bring a large bag full of toys for the poor young witches and wizards of New Salem who almost didn't get any presents this year due to a highly contagious outbreak of cockatrice pox. No one could bring the presents to the school without breaking quarantine and risking infection."

"As you know, I had cockatrice pox when we were both boys and couldn't get it again. It's a very rare affliction, thank goodness. Breaking out in stone scales is not pleasant."

"Thanks to the generosity of everyone at Hogwarts and Hogsmead I was able to get enough magical toys and other donations to make Christmas quite merry at New Salem. The sack that held them was so heavy I had to use a floating spell just to carry it on my back into the fireplace at The Three Broomsticks. Madame Rosmerta was kind enough to put out the fire long enough for me to use the Floo Network to get to New Salem directly."

Hermione paused to take a breath and continued.

"As you know, Minerva, I'd just finished crafting the item we'd discussed for a particular student and had it in the pocket of my best red robes. You know how absent minded I can be. It seems I was distracted as I stepped into the fireplace and was thinking about how I'd need more time to identify good candidates for Defense Against the Dark Arts instructors for next term. I reached into my pocket for the floo powder and must have turned the as yet uncalibrated item I'd mentioned in the process. That caused me to be less than precise in my visualization for the floo network transfer and I found myself somewhere and somewhen quite unexpected."

"Please go on," said Harry. Ron nodded agreement. Hermione continued.

"I found myself in a completely different fireplace than what I'd been expecting. It wasn't New Salem at all. I was in a large living room that looked quite old fashioned by Muggle standards. I stepped out quickly and saw a man in a striped dressing gown and a night cap staring at me from the hall near the living room."

"It was clearly late at night, so I apologized to the gentleman for my intrusion in his home, opened the front door, and departed. I didn't know where I was but I knew I had to get out of the area as fast as I could. I was in an area filled with large houses set far apart, a few of them lit by the soft glow of oil lamps. The ground was covered with several inches of new fallen snow and a small family of deer was pawing beneath it looking for grass on the neighboring yard. The snow meant it would not be all that easy to carry the bag of toys on foot, charmed or not."

"Then I heard sleigh-bells. A two-horse team was coming up the street pulling a bright red sleigh big enough for six. I stopped the driver and offered him twenty galleons for it and the harness, which he seemed glad to accept. He must have thought me a lunatic, but he climbed on one of the horses' backs, tied a bit of rope through the bridle of the other and rode on. He sounded like a Dutchman. How, I thought, had I ended up on the wrong continent, not just the wrong fireplace?"

Ron and Harry leaned close as Hermione went on.

"I put the toys in the sleigh and reached into the bag to see if there was anything in there that might help me. I needed some altitude to help learn where I was. The first package I pulled out was a sack of self-rising flour donated by Zonko's Joke Shop. I spelled up a gust of wind and blew it over the herd of deer, coating them with the levitating flour."

"I can be almost as good with animals as Hagrid is when I put my mind to it. I was pleased that I was able to persuade the puzzled deer to grab a bit of the harness and help me lift the sleigh. Then I saw a small broom that the driver had used to sweep out the sleigh under the front seat. I grasped it tightly between my knees and started to gain some altitude."

"I looked behind me and saw the gentleman I'd disturbed earlier, along with what looked like his entire family standing on the porch of their home, so I waved and shouted, 'Happy Christmas to all!' and 'Good Night!' to them as I flew away."

Harry looked sharply at Hermione. "You don't mean…"

"Uh-huh," she said.

"Then what?" said Ron.

"It's almost finished," said Hermione. "Just a few more lines."

"When I got some altitude I realized I was over New York, not New Salem, so I headed north until I reached the school. Unfortunately, the school's west wing wasn't there, so I had to use the item in my pocket to make some adjustments—a great many turns, actually, and then I was able to complete my delivery and help make the holiday far brighter for the New Salem students and faculty than it might have been."

"They're taking excellent care of me here, and I can attest that Madame Farmer's Indian Pudding is every bit as good as it is reputed to be. I have a double portion at every opportunity. I hope you are both having a good holiday and should be returning home shortly, though this time I think I'll be much more careful with floo powder and fireplaces."

"As best I can determine, my thinking about more time when I left Hogsmead had taken me to a home that had formerly belonged to a wizarding family but was now occupied by one Clement Moore. And you can guess that my timing was somewhat off as well."

"I'm pleased that no lasting harm was done through my error and look forward to seeing you again at New Years."

"Warmly, Your brother — Albus."

"That's it," said Hermione.

"I guess Professor Dumbledore really does look a lot like Father Christmas," said Harry, grinning.

"Or like Saint Nicolas," said Hermione, starting to giggle.

"What?" said Ron, looking puzzled.

"Muggle humor," said Harry.

"You wouldn't understand," said Hermione.

She and Harry couldn't stop laughing for the rest of the day.