Happy Christmas, Harry Potter

Harry sighed as he felt the familiar rumble of a passing train reverberate throughout his room. He closed his book and looked at the time: It was nearing four o'clock. He stretched his arms and stifled a yawn; he was exhausted. Rumagging through endless books in the name of research was one of Hermione's specialties, not his.

He drank the last of his orange juice and glanced around his simple accomodations at the Leaky Cauldron; he'd been in the exact same room some four years earlier, shortly after he'd blown up his Aunt Marge and taken his first harrowing ride in the Knight Bus. The room was exactly as he remembered it. It was nice to see some things hadn't changed in these complicated times.

He smiled tiredly – things had been so much simpler back then, although it had hardly seemed so at the time.

Indeed, looking back on that day, he'd been at his wit's end, what with being on the lam from the authorities and without so much as a place to call home. Still, Harry found himself wishing he could go back to that time in his life, when his shoulders weren't so oppressively weighed down with the responsibilities of the wizarding world. But, alas, as Professor Dumbledore might have said, it was not to be.

Harry sighed as he ran his hands through his permanently mussed up hair. He felt old. Old before his time. He wouldn't be surprised if he started turning grey before long. At least, assuming he survived the coming months...

He pushed back his chair with a squeak and made his way to his trunk, his feet treading the worn wooden floor lethargically. He paused there a moment before bending over and gazing into the dark shadows underneath his bed. He didn't really expect to find his old copy of Monster Book of Monsters snapping away at him again, but for some reason he'd felt compelled to look.

There was nothing to be found, obviously, except for an old knut and a collection of dust bunnies that would've undoubtedly made Aunt Petunia recoil in horror. He supposed he should be thankful, really, that he didn't have to go through the hassle of subduing an enraged, snapping, out-of-control tome again.

He drew himself back up. I can't believe it, he thought to himself. I'm seventeen...how can I be nostalgic?

He roughly grabbed his coat off the bed and glanced outside; the snow showed no signs of letting up. He supposed it would thrill the Muggles, having a fresh carpet of snow on Christmas Eve, but he was having difficulty in sharing their enthusiasm.

He glanced again at his watch. He supposed he really should get going; the Weasleys were probably expecting him, after all.

So why was he standing in the middle of his room, coat in hand, with no real eagerness to leave?

He could try and delude himself that he still had one last Horcrux to find, but as he had as yet no clue as to its location, galavanting off into the countryside would be an excercise in futility. But in truth, he was not looking forward to visiting the Burrow this year; the situation with Ginny was becoming more uncomfortable as time went by; awkward, even. And being cooped up in a crowded house over the Christmas holidays only promised to make matters worse.

Much as he loved the Weasleys, he didn't want to be the centre of attention at the Burrow, as he knew he surely would be were he to attend. No, he'd much preferr to melt into the background without any fuss being made over him.

But then, he realized with chagrin, they'd undoubtedly worry about him if he didn't come.

With a sag of his shoulders he slipped into his boots and slowly made his way to the door. The floo portal in the Leaky Cauldron's fireplace hadn't been working all day for reasons unknown, but he could always try the one at Flourish & Botts. He found himself half wishing that the bookstore's would be down, too...

He turned the handle and opened the door, almost jumping at the sight of the figure before him as he instinctively reached for his wand.

"Gah! – Luna!"

For a moment in time she stood frozen in place, evidently equally taken by surprise, her hand raised in a clear pose to knock on a now absent door.

"Hello," she said finally, smiling dreamily as she lowered her hand. She'd clearly just arrived from outside; her pale cheeks imbued with the telltale pink hue of someone having recently come in from the cold.

Harry gaped at her. "Luna...hi," he said, as though needing to convince his disbelieving eyes that the figure standing before him was indeed that of Luna Lovegood. "I didn't know you were here -- when d'you get in?"

"Just a little while ago," intoned Luna in the familiar singsong voice that Harry found oddly comforting. "I thought I'd stop in and see how you were getting on." She glanced at his coat and boots. "Were you leaving?"

"Er, yeah," said Harry a bit dispiritedly. "I'm supposed to spend Christmas at the Burrow – well not really supposed, but – "

Luna nodded vaguely. Whether she knew of Harry's misgivings or not, he couldn't tell. "Yes, Ginny mentioned that they were going to have quite a large get-together for Christmas," she intoned serenely. "Which reminds me..."

She rummaged through her bag and pulled out a small parcel. It was neatly wrapped in a silky black paper speckled with a night sky motif and topped with a sparkling silver bow. She handed it to Harry.

"Happy Christmas, Harry," she intoned melodically. She took a half step back. "It was very nice seeing you again."

Harry took a step forward in reflex. "Hey, wait – are you going already?"

"Yes," replied Luna with a quirky smile. "You're leaving for the Burrow, aren't you?"

Harry hesitated. He was genuinely glad to see Luna again. "I s'pose, but – Luna, I feel bad taking this...I didn't get you anything."

Luna slowly shook her head in disbelief. Gifts don't have to take physical form for me to cherish them any less," she said as though surprised at having to explain it. "You're funny, Harry."

"Huh?"

Luna smiled and pointed to the small box in his hands. "You musn't open that before midnight," she said airily. "That would upset the Christmas Fairy, and you wouldn't want to get on her bad side, would you?. You'd be liable to get a box of dusty old vulture beaks instead."

Harry shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Um, well thanks, Luna," he said, holding the box to his ear and giving it a gentle shake. "What is it?"

Luna tilted her head slightly. "Well, if I told you it would defeat the purpose of the wrapping, wouldn't it?" she voiced. "Anyway...Happy Christmas, Harry!"

With a smile and a wave of her hand, she drifted off down the stairs, and was gone.

Harry stared at the now empty corridor. He found himself wishing he hadn't been going to the Burrow altogether. He truly missed the Ravenclaw, eccentricities and all. Just the sight of her had raised his spirits, if only briefly.

He glanced down at Luna's gift, deciding he'd open it upon his return. As he carefully placed it atop his nightstand, he felt a his heart twinge. That Luna...

He gazed at the small box and wondered as to its contents. Surely it couldn't be one of Luna's magical creatures, given her request not to open it until midnight; there were no air holes, and he seriously doubted Luna would risk suffocating one of her esteemed magical beasties. He was now genuinely curious; knowing Luna, there really was no way to predict what might lay inside.

He glanced back to the window. The snow was still coming down without letup, though at least it was slowly drifting down slow and straight – there was no significant wind to disrupt the serene cascade of large, fluffy flakes. He sighed; there had been a time, not so long ago, when he'd have run outside to play in such conditions. His snowball fights with Ron in Hogwarts' wintry courtyard seemed like such a distant memory now...

But melancholy wasn't unique to Harry these days. Everyone was strangely lifeless of late; the death of Professor Dumbledore appeared to have wrenched all hope from the wizarding world. His friends all tried to put on brave faces in the face of such gloomy prospects, but Harry knew...he could tell from looking in their eyes: they were terrified. And they had every reason to be.

And in truth, so was he.

Even Fred and George were unusually subdued, selling their wares to the few brave customers without much of their typical enthusiasm. Indeed, these dark times had taken their toll on everyone. Harry sighed and made to leave.

He paused at the door.

Except Luna...

He thought back. She'd cried immediately after Dumbledore's funeral, he remembered clearly – she'd been affected just like everyone else by his passing, that much was obvious. But she'd been seemingly immune to the prevalent despair that had followed.

Harry bit his lip. He hadn't even asked her how she was spending her holidays. Evidently she wasn't going to the Burrow...

Just as he touched the door handle Harry heard a very faint, melodic singing coming from outside his window. Curious, he went back and peered through the snow-freckled glass just in time to see Luna, a little way up the alley, ducking what appeared to be an old boot thrown at her from the second stroy of one of the old, narrow houses that lined the street. Luna, far from taking offense, simply drifted a bit further up the way and started singing anew. Harry went to open the window only to have it jam halfway up; nonetheless he was able to crouch down enough to put his ear to the outside air. Though very faint, he could just make out a familiar melody: Christmas carols?

He slowly drew up and pushed the window back down, the old wood creaking in protest before finally falling back to the sill with a bang. He looked over at Hedwig, who was gazing back at him curiously.

Why was Luna going around carolling, he wondered. He'd fully expected her to have been invited, just as he was, to spend the holidays at the Burrow. At the very least he'd have thought she'd be at home by now, enjoying Christmas with her beloved father.

No, something was awry, he could feel it. He took a deep breath and made a decision.

He quickly bent over the small desk and scribbled a quick note:

Hi guys,

Listen, I'm going to be a bit late, might not make it till after Christmas, so don't worry about me.

Harry

"I know it's Christmas and all," said Harry soothingly to Hedwig as he wrapped the tiny note around her leg, "but I really need you to deliver this to the Weasleys, otherwise they'll get worried sick. You know Molly."

Hedwig hooted in understanding. As Harry released her to the elements, he supposed that a trip to the Burrow wasn't especially displeasurable to her on Christmas Eve, owls having little use for such frivolities as calendars.

Harry buttoned his coat and hurried downstairs, giving a quick nod to old Tom tending behind the bar on his way out. He dashed up the slippery sidewalk, catching sight of Luna a couple of blocks up the narrow street. She was slowly meandering away from him.

Harry broke out in a run; through the thickly falling snow one figure looked much like any other at this distance and he could easily lose sight of her. He wished he'd remembered to bring his mittens –

"Luna! Wait up!"

Luna turned just as he caught up to her, her silver eyes wide in surprise. "Harry?"

"Hi," said Harry as he removed his glasses to shake off the large snowflakes which had quickly coated his lenses during his run. "You didn't have to leave right then, I wasn't in any rush. I haven't seen you in months...how are things at school?"

Luna stared at him blankly, apparently not noticing, or caring, that her long sandy blonde hair was becoming increasingly caked with snow. "Oh, it's all right, I suppose," she said vaguely, seeming to consider him as she answered. "Most of the students seem a bit wary of Professor Sanguini, but he teaches well enough. It's not really the same without you there, though. And Professor Dumbledore. And Quidditch. Anyway...are you all right? I thought you were leaving?"

"Yeah, I, er, was," replied Harry as he re-donned his glasses. "But, y'know, I haven't seen you in a while..."

Luna tilted her head slightly.

"But listen," he continued, "where are you going? I heard you from my room. What were you doing, singing?"

Luna nodded. "Carolling, actually."

Harry looked around them. There were no Yule decorations to be seen; indeed, it was as if the locals had all somehow forgotten all about Christmas entirely.

"Caroling?" asked Harry as a rickety old lorry slowly drove by them along the street, its engine sputtering; it seemed as if it had just been liberated from a museum. The back was filled with Christmas trees protruding from the end, pine needles shaking free and dropping into the snow as it went.

"Yes, I haven't gone carolling since before Hogwarts," she said Luna. "It was quite enjoyable, you know. Mum had a lovely singing voice but she wasn't terribly familiar with these Muggle songs, so sometimes we'd make them up on the spot – it was very funny."

She gazed around at the sombre-looking buildings that lined the street. "There seems to be no Christmas spirit this year, have you noticed?" she asked sadly, waving her hand vaguely at the dreary alley. "Even among the Muggles. I thought I'd try and bring them a bit of holiday cheer, even without Mum, but they don't seem very receptive."

"Yeah, I saw the boot," said Harry, a twinge of anger rising within him at the recollection. "I think you came across an Ebenezer Scrooge-type there. But listen, I meant where are you going after this? You're not coming to the Burrow?"

Luna shook her head but said nothing.

They stared at each other for several moments. Though Luna was by nature a very confounding person to read, Harry had come to know her better than most. But this time there was no doubt – something was definitely wrong.

"Is everything okay?" he asked in genuine concern.

Luna gazed at him in silence, a wisp of a smile coming across her pale features.

"Luna, what's wrong?" asked Harry, his worry increasing with Luna's silence. "I won't tell anyone, I promise. Friends, remember?"

At that, Luna's expression changed to one of great fondness. "Yes, I do remember," she said softly.

Harry remembered, too. His outing with Luna the previous Christmas had been a very enjoyable experience; indeed, he'd come out of it with a newfound appreciation for his friend's uniqueness.

Luna absent-mindedly twisted a few damp locks around her finger. "Daddy's not going to be back in time for Christmas," she announced quietly. "He's stuck in Copenhagen, you see, and with the Floo network being sabotaged, it's too far to apparate safely."

"The Floo's been sabotaged?" asked Harry, stunned. He hadn't been aware of this major news.

"That's right," affirmed Luna serenely. "I heard some people talking about it outside Olivander's earlier."

Harry swore under his breath. Despite the seriousness of this information, there was very little he could do about it – and in any event the Ministry were undoubtedly already knee-deep in investigating the matter.

One look at Luna brought him back to the principal matter of concern. "Can't he come some other way?"

Luna shrugged sadly. "He did try to arrange a Muggle flight, but as it turns out, they're prohibitively expensive, did you know? He doesn't know how they manage it, really. But then the aeroplanes apparently aren't allowed to leave in these conditions anyway, so he's going to have to wait it out."

"Oh," said Harry sympathetically. "Luna, I'm sorry. That's really tough...you must've been really looking forward to seeing your Dad."

"I must confess I was a little disappointed," she admitted. "But there's a few days left before school starts up again, so we'll still have some time together."

"Yeah," echoed Harry, looking up at the falling snow, his lenses immediately becoming obscured by several large flakes. "This stuff can't last forever."

"It's nice though, isn't it?" mused Luna as she joined Harry in his skyward gaze.

They both stood there for a while staring up at the heavens, the large flakes slowly drifting downwards in an infinitely grand waltz. When Harry looked back down to Luna friend he found his sight almost completely obscured; he could hear her light titter of amusement as he tried to make her out through his snow-caked glasses.

"I think you need a snow-repellent charm on those," voiced Luna airily.

"Yeah, really," agreed Harry, removing his glasses and wiping them with his sleeve. "You wouldn't know of any, would you?"

"Yes," answered Luna, "Daddy's been using one for years – he's bespectacled also. But I'm still underage, so I'm not allowed. I can teach it to you though, if you like."

"Are you kidding?" said Harry as a fresh glot of flakes fell onto his glasses just as he re-donned them. "I'm practically blind here...let's have it!"

Harry drew his wand just as Luna carefully removed his glasses, holding them at arm's length before him. "For safety," said Luna, smiling.

"Good thinking," said Harry in turn with a grin.

"Now wave your wand as if you were tracing an infinity symbol through the air," instructed Luna.

Harry raised his wand and suddenly froze. They were in the middle of a Muggle street – if they were seen –

"Don't worry," voiced Luna, as if sensing his thoughts. "No one can see clearly more than a few yards in this snow. From a distance they'll just think it's battery-operated."

Harry chuckled. "They'll think I opened my Christmas present early."

Luna tilted her head slightly as Harry waved his wand in the form of the number eight. "Like that?" he asked.

"Yes, but horizontally," corrected Luna.

"Oh, right..."

Harry repeated the movement, this time along a horizontal plane.

"And say 'Occulus Nivelis Impedemento' at the same time," continued Luna, holding Harry's glasses very steadily by the bridge, although turning her head away as if half expecting them to explode.

Harry did as instructed, and for a brief moment his glasses glowed a very faint azure hue before reverting to their natural gunmetal finish. Luna looked back and held the glasses up to gray-white sky for inspection.

"First try," she mused softly, gazing at the clear lenses. "You are quite good at this sort of thing, aren't you..."

Harry leaned his head forward as Luna carefully slipped his glasses back on. The difference was astonishing – the silvery hue of Luna's large eyes, the texture of her near-ghostly skin, the tiny crystalline patterns of large snowflakes against the weave of her Ravenclaw scarf – he could see as well as he could indoors!

"Wow," he said in amazement as Luna pulled back after making sure his glasses were securely in place. It was at that moment he saw it – a flash of white covering her left wrist, visible for but an instant.

"Hey! What happened to you?"

"Hmm?"

"Your arm!" blurted Harry, pointing at her limb. "Is that a cast? What happened?"

"Oh...yes, I had a bit of a mishap," stated Luna simply, looking at her wrist as though only now noticing her injury. "It's much better now, though."

"But...how'd it happen?" prodded Harry.

"Well, I was tobogganing with Hermione," said Luna. "I'd managed to convince her of its therapeutic properties, you see, but then the last hill we picked was home to a lair of Thrumpins. Well, they weren't very happy about that, as it turns out...we took a quite nasty spill. I suppose we should have brought along some hickory beads to ward them off, but we didn't know."

"Oh," said Harry, as surprised at hearing of Hermione tobogganing as the Thrumpins' retribution.

"But why the cast?" he inquired. "Didn't Madam Pomfrey have a look at it?"

"She did," said Luna dreamily, "but it happened only a few days ago, and she felt it best to take every precaution, seeing as I wouldn't be spending the holidays at Hogwarts – oh, look – "

She caught sight of an exceptionally large snowflake and scampered after it, very nearly running into a large streetside mailbin in the process.

"I've missed it," she said, looking off into the drifting curtains of snow. "It was such a lovely one, too..."

She turned and trained her large silver eyes on Harry.

"I'm not very fond of bone-healing medicines," she stated, patting her midsection. "I think they taste rather terrible, don't you?"

Harry couldn't help but chuckle; his memories of ingesting Pomfrey's horrid-tasting Skele-Grow potion in his second year echoed very much Luna's observation.

"Yeh, that's probably by design," he joked. "To discourage people from getting into accidents and all just to taste the stuff, you know."

Luna smiled. "I suppose that makes sense. Don't you want to go to the Burrow?"

Harry ogled Luna before shaking his head vigorously in utter stupefaction. Had he somehow momentarily blacked out and missed part of their conversation? He decided he hadn't – Luna had clearly not lost her knack for startling deviations.

He shrugged. "I just don't feel very...Christmasy, I guess," he said morosely. "And the place is going to be packed, besides. I don't know, I wanted to take a couple of days off from all this, but I don't think I'll be able to do that at the Weasleys'. To tell you the truth, I'm starting to think that spending Christmas here might let me recharge my batteries. I really need it."

"Mr. Weasley is apparently quite good with batteries," voiced Luna thoughtfully. "He collects them, you know." Whether she'd misinterpreted his remark or had simply gone off on one of her tangents, Harry couldn't tell.

"No, I didn't mean Muggle batteries," corrected Harry. "It's more of an expression...I meant...um..."

Luna smiled. "Yes, I do know what you meant," she voiced airily. "You feel that staying at the Burrow won't be very restful for you."

"Yeah," said Harry, relieved. "That's it, exactly. Don't get me wrong, I love the Weasleys, but...well, you know..."

He looked at Luna. Though she said nothing, Harry instinctively knew she understood everything he was going through. He was profoundly grateful in the knowledge that Luna would always be there, on his side and forever his friend. It was strange, really – there were times when he'd felt as though this entire war would pass Luna by as a river might flows past a jutting boulder. Indeed, despite all her eccentricities and odd mannerisms, or even perhaps because of them, this paradoxical girl had become one of the anchors that kept him connected to the little joys and wonders of life.

He felt a painful twinge in his heart; this girl did not deserve to be alone at Christmas. He took a deep breath.

"Well, you're welcome to come spend Christmas at my home, if you like," offered Luna.

Harry shifted slightly. "Um...I was going to ask you the same thing," he said, smiling sheepishly.

Luna looked genuinely surprised.

"You were?"

"Yeah," replied Harry, lightly kicking at some snow on the walk. "Well not at the Dursleys, I mean, but..."

Luna's mouth was open slightly. Harry did a double take – he wasn't sure, as it could have been a trick of the falling snow, but it looked as though Luna's eyes had gotten a little watery.

"...but if you'd rather, y'now...hey, are you okay?"

Luna slowly smiled. "Yes," she said very softly. "But I did ask you first."

"At your place?"

Luna nodded. "That's right," she replied. "It's in Devonshire, not very far from the Weasleys, actually. There's only Nevermore home today, and he's no trouble at all."

Harry blinked. It took him a second or two to place the name: Nevermore was the Lovegood's post owl – or rather, post raven.

"Yeah, I think I'd like that," said Harry finally. "To be honest I really miss hearing about the latest Quibbler stuff; I haven't had time to read much of anything lately with everything going on...maybe you could fill me in what I've missed..."

"You mean you haven't heard about Scrimgeourgate?" asked Luna in a tone of disbelief.

"Scrimgeour...gate?" repeated Harry, scratching the back of his head. "Um, I don't think so...what's it about?"

Luna was taken with new energy. "It's the latest scandal to rock the Ministry," she said, her eyes popping excitedly. "You remember Stan Shurnpike? Daddy helped reveal the story about how he'd been wrongly – "

Off in the distance, London's huge clock tower began to ring out the hour. Luna's huge eyes widened even further.

"Four o'clock!"

"Eh? What's so – "

But before Harry could say anything more, Luna had grasped his hand and was rushing back up the street, Harry in tow. For one who normally drifted about so serenely, Harry was frankly shocked to see her sprinting as though she were being chased by a horntail.

"Hey – what's – Luna, where we – " stammered Harry as he struggled to keep up.

"The Knight Bus!" exclaimed Luna breathlessly as they passed the Leaky Cauldron's entrance. "It's their last run of the day – if we hurry – "

As though on cue, the garish purple form of the Knight Bus emerged from the snow-shrouded air just as they reached the crossway, the steaming three-tiered contraption coming to an abrupt stop directly before them despite the snow-covered roadway.

So sudden had been its appearance that Luna barely avoided running headlong into it, somehow managing to skid to an teetering halt. Her stop was very shortlived, however, as Harry's boots slipped in the snow so that his feet knocked Luna's out from under her, sending them both flipping backwards to land in a heap at the bus' front door.

"Eep!"

"Oof!"

"Oi – wotcher doin' down 'ere?"

Through the mess of tangled limbs, scarves and flyaway hair, Harry could just barely make out the figure of Stan Shurnpike, evidently freed from his wrongful incarceration, ogling them from the lower step of the Knight Bus. As for Stan's words however, Harry could not fathom, what with Luna laughing hysterically in his ear.

Then, for the first time in many months, Harry did something he'd once thought he'd never be of a mind to do again.

He began to laugh.