Happy Christmas, Harry Potter

Part 5

Harry awoke not with the frustratingly familiar start of the past months, but slowly and languidly, and more remarkably, without lingering nightmares of apocalyptic visions.

Even so, he had not been entirely bereft of dreams this night. They had, however, been more unusual than disturbing – even, he mused, rather intriguing. He briefly wondered how Professor Trelawney would have interpreted them; it seemed unlikely that romping through a sylvan glade could ever lend itself to be twisted into a vision of doom and death, but he had no doubt that the Divinations teacher would find a way to make it work, somehow.

He rolled over onto his back, the scent of cinnamon filling the small room. The mildly frosted window over his bed drew no light into the room; a blurry glance at his watch told him it was not yet six o'clock.

He stretched his arms out over his head and sighed, the events of the previous evening still weighing heavily on his mind. Should he tell Luna what he'd witnessed, even if it had been only in spirit? It seemed the only proper thing to do, but he was still utterly mystified as to the motivations behind the mysterious ghost's revelation – her abrupt disappearance having only compounded his curiosity.

One thing was certain: the sight of a visibly distraught Luna had shaken him to the core. From his previous conversations with the odd girl he'd come to imagine her as being somehow immune to the pains and miseries that were part of life. But she was most definitely not immune – rather, she possessed an inner strength, a unique set of values and beliefs which Luna held dear to her heart, an unshakeable faith that somehow, things would set themselves right in the end. It was a belief system Harry found himself wishing he could emulate.

But pushed beyond all limits, even she could succumb...

But then, he couldn't begin to imagine that sense off loss. The death of his own parents had taken place at an age when memories hadn't taken root. And though Sirius and Dumbledore's deaths had been terribly painful, he knew Luna's experience had been even worse. Harry had the distinct feeling that she'd been extraordinarily close to her mother, if her relationship to her father was any indication.

Faint, vaguely muffled voices emanated from downstairs. Had Mr. Lovegood returned at last, in the wee hours of the morning?

He swung his legs over the side and got up groggily. Recalling Luna's advice, he donned his glasses and checked out the small bowl of cinnamon atop the cabinet. Sure enough, it was infested with a small host of tiny, crayfish-like creatures!

Shuddering, he quickly disposed of the ghastly Nargles out the window. He proceeded to get dressed (earnestly hoping the tiny beasties had completely vacated his clothing) and made his way down the unlit hall, stopping briefly at what he assumed to be Luna's bedroom – though he could swear there hadn't been a door there the previous evening. Peering within, he found himself outside...and in midsummer, no less!

Lighting his wand, he quickly realized that he wasn't outdoors at all, but rather in a very oddly-decorated room, festooned with dried leaves for wallpaper, narrow bluestones for bedposts and interwoven vines for draperies. Several tree branches decorated with rustic garlands and homemade Christmas ornaments sprouted along the walls. A weathered old barrel stood in for a nightstand, atop which sat a small stack of magazines, a wooden cup and one rather thick, arcane-looking book, atop which was a small picture frame. Suspended from the ceiling throughout the room were scores of painted gourds of varying shapes and sizes, a few decorated in a holiday motif. Suspended under a large overhanging sombrero was a rickety birdcage, its delicate ribs made up of thin wooden branches. At the foot of the bed was a box filled with more of the same stone tablets Harry had seen before, their cryptic runes defying interpretation as stubbornly as their downstairs counterparts. If there was a closet, Harry couldn't see it. On the pillow was a small hawthorn twig with red, black and white ribbons, the significance of which Harry could only guess at.

His eyes fell again on the picture next to the bed (which, Harry noticed, was devoid of a blanket) in which he gleaned a small portrait, framed by honeysuckle and juniper. Curious, he took a half step inside, his feet making no sound on the mossy floor; It was the only painting he'd seen, in fact, since arriving.

I shouldn't be in here, he told himself. What if Luna walked in on him? He had no excuse, really – but he was strangely drawn to the portrait.

He slowly made his way to the nightstand next to the bed, holding his wand aloft. Gazing transfixed at the tiny scene before him, he beheld a lithe and lovely young woman sleeping peacefully under a large oak tree, surrounded by various denizens of the forest, all likewise slumbering: hares, squirrels, a hedgehog, a fox, indeed, even the birds were asleep in their nests.

The young woman's garb was highly unusual, being an odd mixture of interwoven silks, leaves and lichen. Her pale feet were bare, and draped across her knees was an unfurled manuscript of obviously great age, though the writing was entirely too small for Harry to make out. Even if she hadn't sported the familiarly long, pale blonde hair, Harry would have instantly known who she was. There was no doubt: he was looking at Luna's mother.

Peering closer, he noticed she sported a tiny pendant, which wasn't so unusual in itself, especially considering her daughter's own odd accoutrements, only...

He took his glasses off to focus more closely. He definitely recalled having seen that tiny silver pendant somewhere before, or one identical to it. He took the picture and held it an inch from his nose. The pendant almost reminded him of –

The young woman's eyes popped open.

Harry jerked back with a start, nearly dropping his glasses in the process. ཁOhཀ I...er – ཁ

She was on her feet in an instant, the parchment slipping off her legs to rest in the tall grasses. Clearly she wasn't happy at seeing him there, this intruder in her daughter's bedroom. Her unearthly pearlescent eyes bored straight into him; Harry felt a sudden sharp shiver down his spine and the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up. He hurriedly put the portrait frame back on the table.

He scampered back towards the doorway, fumbling to put his glasses on as he went. ཁS-sorry,ཁ he stammered as be bumped the door frame on his way out, nearly dropping his glasses again. ཁI'll just...er...be going...ཁ

He stood out in the hall, his breathing competing with his heart rate to see which would outrace the other. Great, why'd I have to go in there, he thought irritatingly to himself. I'm going to have a boatload to tell her now, she'll think I'm a kook...

Upon further reflection he realized a kook would be the last Luna would ever accuse him of being; she'd believed him unconditionally when ne one else had, after all. The thought filled Harry with a profound sense of relief.

He stopped at the washroom to splash water onto his face before making his way slowly down the curved staircase hugging the walls. He wondered if Luna was habitually an early riser – given her penchant for daydreaming, sleep wouldn't offer a remarkably different template for her imaginings.

As be made his way down past the cluttered printing shop on the second floor he began to make out a very faint, muffled voice from downstairs; female, definitely, but not Luna's. He moved more slowly as a second voice replied, the words equally muffled. Might one of them be the mysterious apparition from the previous evening?

He made his way quietly to the living room, the dampened voices drifting in from the kitchen. He approached silently, rolling his wand between his fingers as he peeked cautiously around the doorway.

There, seated at the small kitchen table, were two figures huddled under a large blanket, their voices muffled by the interposing layer of wool. Nonetheless, Harry immediately recognized one of them.

ཁ – hold the page up...see?" said Hermione. ཁIt shows up on the reverse only, and then only by candlelight. And not just any candle, either; it took me forever to find one of these. There aren't many places that carry Brazilian beeswax – um, what are you doing?"

Luna's voice drifted out from under the blanket. ཁYou take relish in your coffee, don't you?ཁ

ཁNoཀཁ exclaimed Hermione in horror as Harry covered his mouth to stifle a laugh. ཁNo, I'll just...I'll take mine black, thank you.ཁ

ཁAll right,ཁ voiced Luna. ཁMust we stay under the blanket though? It's getting hard to breathe...ཁ

ཁOh hush,ཁ admonished Hermione. ཁExposing the parchment to any other source of light will render it unreadable. Believe me, I've tried. Anyway, have a look at this...it's not Norse, is it?ཁ

Luna's blanket-covered head dropped slightly. ཁNo,ཁ she said, her voice doubly muffled by the wool and her lingering cold. ཁThis is much earlier...this is Futhorc.ཁ

Hermione's head leaned closer to the table's centre. ཁFuthorc? They don't teach that at Hogwarts...are you sure?ཁ

Luna nodded vigorously as parchment was being flipped under the blanket. ཁOh yes,ཁ she said earnestly. "Mum wrote her notes in this sometimes, in case the Ministry ever tried to seize her research...she didn't trust them very much, you know. She always suspected they might try and use her discoveries for – ཁ


ཁ – their own nefarious purp – I'm sorry. it's definitely Furthoc. Yes, I'm quite certain.ཁ

ཁBut how would Regulus...never mind,ཁ said Hermione. ཁAll right, let's assume for the moment that these are Furthoc – ཁ

ཁSilbury Hill.ཁ

ཁ – and...what?ཁ

ཁSilbury Hill,ཁ repeated Luna as Harry quietly edged into the kitchen. ཁThat's what it says.ཁ

There followed silence as Hermione slouched back in her chair.

ཁYou're thinking,ཁ remarked Luna after several moments.

ཁYes,ཁ affirmed Hermione. ཁI don't understand it...Silbury Hill? That makes no senseཀཁ

ཁWhy doesn't it?ཁ asked Luna, her curiosity mirroring Harry's; clearly they were discussing Regulus' frustratingly and heretofore unrevealing journal.

ཁSilbury Hill is an ancient bronze age mound,ཁ explained Hermione. ཁIt's not that far from here, actually. But the Muggles have been making exploratory digs there for centuries, it's definitely not a recent thing. There's just no way you-know – Voldemort – could have hidden a Horcrux there. Or would have wanted to...it's entirely too exposed and easily accessible."

She sighed despondently. ཁYou know, I really thought that journal would clue us in,ཁ she said after a moment's reflection. ཁBut I'm beginning to think it was a plant to throw us off.ཁ

ཁMaybe he made it that way to thwart the reader, in case he was discovered,ཁ suggested Luna. ཁThose Death Eater people wouldn't have looked very kindly on a traitor in their midsts, would they?ཁ

ཁNo, I suppose they wouldn't...ཁ

Long moments of silence passed. Harry had a fleeting urge to grab their shoulders though the blanket to give them a good scare, but resisted – there was entirely too much brainpower at work under there to risk interrupting them.

ཁLook what I'm making," said Luna, "That's a Crumple-Horned Snorkack...oops, I'm short one finger for the horns...you'll have to use you imagination, there...I'm not very good at shadow puppetteering...ཁ

ཁYes, it's very nice,ཁ mused Hermione unenthusiastically. ཁI'm beginning to get the feeling we're on a wild goose chase, honestly. Three completely different locations, none of which show even a hint of ever having been used for hiding anything, let alone – ཁ

ཁMaybe we're not looking at it the right way,ཁ interjected Luna thoughtfully. ཁWe are being rather literal, aren't we?ཁ

Hermione straightened slightly. Harry could tell even through the blanket that she was ready to grasp at whatever straw presented itself, no matter how unlikely.

ཁWhat are you saying?ཁ she prodded, the seriousness of her voice contrasting starkly with her usual reaction to one of Luna's outlandish theories.

Harry looked on as Luna poked her finger in the blanket at three different locations. ཁThree points on a map,ཁ she said simply. ཁMaybe the locations that Regulus fellow described were never intended to conceal the Horcruxes themselves, but to point the way...ཁ

Hermione drew in a sharp breath. ཁTriangulationཀཁ she exclaimed. ཁOh but...it just might...an extra layer of security, just as a paranoid infiltrator might use...Luna, that's just...that just might workཀ ཁ

ཁIt's worth a try, I think,ཁ echoed Luna. ཁWell, now that that's settled, it's getting rather hard to breathe under here – ཁ

A disheveled blonde head popped out from under the blanket and immediately gazed up at Harry in the doorway. ཁOh, hello,ཁ she said, smiling dreamily. ཁAnd Happy Christmasཀཁ

Hermione threw off her end of the blanket. ཁOh, Mister Lovegoo – Harry??

ཁHi, Hermione,ཁ said he, smiling in turn. ཁFancy meeting you here. I knew kocking you two heads together would pay off...you're onto something aren't you?ཁ

Hermione, in contrast, sat in utter stupefaction, looking repeatedly between Luna and Harry in turn. ཁBut...what are you doing here?ཁ she finally managed to utter after regaining a smidgen of composure. ཁWeren't you supposed to be at the Burrow?ཁ

ཁWell, acually,ཁ said Harry, scratching his head, ཁI thought that's where you were.ཁ

ཁI spent yesterday at home,ཁ explained Hermione, still taken aback at Harry's presence. ཁI was going to the Burrow this morning, but I wanted to stop by here before...oh Harry, they're going to be worried sickཀཁ

ཁNo worries,ཁ consoled Harry, ཁI owled them to let them know.ཁ

Hermione gaped at him as she leaned forward. ཁYou owled them??ཁ

ཁWell, sure,ཁ he replied. ཁWhy, where's the problem?ཁ


Hermione seemed at a loss. She blinked repeatedly, looking decidedly uncomfortable. ཁWell, it's just...there's no problem, I suppose,ཁ she said hesitantly. ཁI suppose if Mr. Lovegood's fine with it, that should – ཁ

ཁDaddy's in Copenhagen, actually,ཁ chimed Luna as she blew out a short, tallow candle.

To Hermione this particular news seemed to come as an even greater shock. ཁHe...he's not here?? But I thought...what's he doing in Copenhagen??ཁ

ཁWaiting for the Floo network to get up and running again,ཁ said Luna. ཁHe's been stuck there the last couple of days since all the problems started. I'd hoped he'd be back by now, but...ཁ

Hermione spun around and gaped at Harry.

ཁWhat?ཁ he asked innocently.

She bolted from her chair, grabbed his wrist and half-dragged him into the living room.

ཁHey, what gives? Leggoཀཁ

But she would not, at least until she'd dragged him to the fireplace, at which point she finally released her grip and whirled on him.

ཁHarry, have you taken leave of your senses??ཁ

ཁExcuse me? What did I do?ཁ he asked, uncomprehending.

ཁYou knew Mr. Lovegood wasn't here, and you came anyway?

ཁWell, sure,ཁ replied Harry, Hermione's accusatory tone immediately forcing him onto the defensive. ཁI didn't want Luna to be alone at Christmas. Why, what exactly are you getting at?ཁ

Hermione rolled her eyes. ཁHarry, don't you see how that could – Luna, do you mind??ཁ

Harry turned to see Luna standing right behind him; evidently she'd followed them from the kitchen.

ཁNot at all,ཁ she said whimsically, staying rooted to the spot. Wether she misunderstood Hermione's supplication or chose to ignore it, Harry couldn't tell.

ཁOh, for – ཁ

Hermione grabbed Harry's hand once more and dragged him, squawking and protesting, up the staircase to the mill's printing works on the second floor.

ཁWill you stop itཀཁ barked Harry angrily as she finally let go of his sleeve, closing the door behind them. ཁWe're not going to talk behind Luna's back in her own homeཀཁ

ཁHarry, thinkཀཁ exclaimed Hermione, tapping the side of her head. ཁYou came here knowing Luna was alone, can't you see what that looks like??ཁ

ཁNow, wait a minuteཀཁ retorted Harry. ཁJust what are you accusing me of?ཁ

ཁI'm not accusing you of anythingཀཁ countered Hermione, her hands gesticulating agitatedly. ཁI'm just asking you to consider what it looks like, now that you went and owled the Weasleys – think of what must be going through Ginny's mind right nowཀཁ

ཁWell maybe I'm more concerned with how things are, than what they look like,ཁ shot back Harry, his irritation rising by the moment – why was Hermione determined to blow everything out of proportion?

But his last argument seemed to have made an impression, as Hermione hesitated for a moment; when she did speak again, it was in a more careful, measured tone.

ཁHarry, remember when I asked Luna for her help with researching all this business with the Horcruxes, you asked me to keep her involvement in all this between us...for Ginny's sake...ཁ

ཁI remember,ཁ countered Harry warily, shifting from one foot to another. ཁWhat's that got to do with anything?ཁ

Hermione took a deep breath. ཁHarry...you have to consider Ginny's feelings in this,ཁ she began slowly. ཁIt's not just about how it looks – I'll agree with you that much – but you haven't exactly been very, well, communicative with Ginny over the last few months. How am I going to explain your staying with Luna?ཁ

ཁThere's nothing to explain,ཁ stated Harry firmly. ཁNobody owns me, Hermione, I don't have to ask anyone's permission to hang out with my friends.ཁ

ཁThat's not what I meant,ཁ said Hermione, rubbing her temples tiredly. She sighed and took a deep breath. ཁLook, there's still time...you've spent Christmas Eve here, I'm sure Luna appreciated that. Why don't you spend today at the Burrow? I'm sure it'll go a long way towards – ཁ

ཁWhat, and just abandon Luna?ཁ asked Harry disbelievingly. ཁAnd a Happy Christmas to you tooཀཁ

Hermione looked at him in shock. ཁNo, of course I wasn't suggesting that,ཁ she replied. ཁLook, I'll stay with Luna. I have a Portkey in my satchel you can use, it'll connect to Mr. Weasley's shed – ཁ

ཁNo, Hermione, I already told Luna I'd spend Christmas here,ཁ countered Harry. ཁI want to be here, you'd only be doing it as a favour. And anyway, you talk about Ginny's feelings, what about Ron's?ཁ

Hermione put her hands on her hips and regarded him with a look vaguely reminiscent of McGonagall upon one of Neville's failed Transfiguration charms. ཁHarry, it's not the same at allཀཁ

ཁHow is it different?ཀཁ

Hermione sighed. ཁWell for one, Ron's not likely to think I'm having an affair with Luna behind his back now, is he?ཁ

Harry felt a surge of anger swell within him. ཁOh greatཀཁ he snapped. ཁSo that's what Ginny thinks, is that what you're saying?ཁ

ཁI – that's not what I'm saying at allཀཁ stammered Hermione awkwardly.

ཁYou may as wellཀཁ pressed Harry. ཁYou're implying it strongly enoughཀཁ

Hermione opened her mouth and just as quickly closed it. She'd argued herself into a corner, and both she and Harry knew it. They stared at each other for several long moments before Hermione finally broke the silence.

ཁHarry, I didn't come here to argue...ཁ she said in a little voice.

ཁWell you're doing a great job of that,ཁ berated Harry – and immediately wished he hadn't. ཁHey, no, Hermione, wait, I didn't mean -- ཁ

She'd sat down heavily atop a huge bundle of bulk parchment and buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with anguish. Harry was mortified; he'd only been defending himself, after all...

He knelt down beside Hermione and gently rubbed her back. ཁHermione, I'm sorry,ཁ he said soothingly, ཁI didn't mean to snap at you like that...I guess I'm just a little...defensive these days...ཁ

ཁNo...no, it's my fault,ཁ sobbed Hermione, shaking her head in her hands. ཁI should never have gotten involved...ཁ

Harry frowned slightly. ཁInvolved in what?ཁ

ཁHarry,ཁ she choked, ཁsometimes...good intentions...just aren't enough...ཁ

ཁOkay...you've lost me.ཁ

Hermione's sobs slowly subsided, and Harry didn't press the matter. She took a deep breath and straightened up slightly, clumsily wiping her moist cheeks with equally damp hands.

ཁHarry,ཁ she said, sniffling, ཁif you want to stay with Luna until her father gets back...it's all right.ཁ

Harry blinked. He hadn't anticipated such an about-face. ཁIt is?ཁ

Hermione nodded and wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands. ཁYes,ཁ she said, her voice still tinged with a slight tremor. ཁIn fact, it was very thoughtful of you...I'm sure Luna will appreciate the company...ཁ

ཁWell, I appreciate hers, too.ཁ said Harry, relaxing a little. ཁAnd to tell the truth, I needed a break, Hermione...from everything.ཁ

Hermione looked at him, a glimmer of a smile forming on her tear-stained face. ཁShe is good at that, isn't she?ཁ she said, nodding, her voice regaining some of its energy. ཁI have to admit, I've turned to her myself more than a few times over the last months...ཁ

Harry raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise. He took an improvised seat on the huge stack of paper next to Hermione's. ཁYou have?ཁ

She nodded as she rubbed her hands on her lap to dry them. ཁOh yes,ཁ she said. ཁWith all the pressures of school, researching Regulus' journal, coordinating with the Order, it can get...well, overwhelming at times. Luna's been a godsend, she really has.ཁ

Harry smiled. ཁI can believe it,ཁ he said in understanding. ཁShe really fond of you too, by the way.ཁ

Hermione expression brightened considerably. ཁShe told you that?ཁ


Harry hesitated. He still didn't quite know what to make of the previous night's events, and he was loathe to discuss them without speaking to Luna first.

ཁNot exactly,ཁ he finally stated, ཁI kind of...overheard her.ཁ

Hermione ogled him curiously. ཁOverheard?ཁ she repeated. ཁI thought you were the only ones here, yes? Who was she talking to?ཁ

ཁEh...well...a tree, actually.ཁ

Hermione looked thoughtful. ཁI wish I could do that,ཁ she said softly after a moment, much to Harry's surprise. ཁIt would have come in very handy a few years ago...ཁ

ཁWhat, talking to trees?ཁ asked Harry. ཁYou really think she can?ཁ

ཁI've seen her do it before,ཁ explained Hermione. ཁJust before Hallowe'en I found her sitting right against the Whomping Willow, having a lengthy conversation with someone...it took me a moment to realize just what it was she was talking to,ཁ she leaned closer to emphasize the next point, ཁHarry, it never made so much as a move against her. Nothing.ཁ

They stared at each other. ཁShe really can then,ཁ concluded Harry. ཁOr at least, make herself understood to them.ཁ

ཁI don't know how, but yes,ཁ agreed Hermione. ཁI'm not aware of any spell or charm that can...I wonder if...ཁ

A look of dawning realization crossed her face.


ཁHarry...can I confide something to you?ཁ

Harry guffawed. ཁYou're joking, right?ཁ

ཁI don't mean it that way,ཁ said Hermione apologetically. ཁI just don't want you to tell Luna, because I'm still working on it...but...ཁ

She rose from the stack of papers and made her way to the mill's wind-powered printing press. Though her back was to Harry, he could tell from her body language that she was treading into delicate territory.

ཁI wanted to do something for Luna's birthday,ཁ she began slowly. ཁI mean, I thought it would be nice if someone...anyway...I'm not very good at crafts, you see, so...ཁ

ཁNo kidding, I remember those hats,ཁ needled Harry, recalling Hermione's miserable first attempts at creating garments for the House-Elves.

She turned around. ཁI decided to do her family tree,ཁ she annouced. ཁLike the one the Blacks had at Grimmauld Place – only nicer to look at, of course. I thought she might really like to see her family history charted out, but, well...ཁ

She drifted off. Her gaze had been drawn to a small bundle of Blackthorn twigs tightly bound together with dark green thread on what Harry presumed was Mr. Lovegood's cluttered writing desk.

ཁThere was...a problem.ཁ

ཁWhat?ཁ asked Harry, moving to join her.

She looked at him. ཁI was able to trace her father's line back to Edward the Confessor's time fairly easily, all things considered. I might be able to go further back if I do some more digging, but...Harry, I couldn't find anything about Luna's mother. At all. It's almost as though she didn't exist in the eyes of the wizarding worldཀཁ

Harry chuckled. ཁOh, she exists, all right,ཁ he corrected. ཁI saw her just a little while ago.ཁ

Hermione was stunned. ཁYou did?ཁ

ཁUh-huh, there's a small picture of her in Luna's bed...room. Whoops.ཁ

Hermione's eyes widened. ཁI'll pretend I didn't hear that.ཁ

ཁIt wasn't like thatཀཁ amended Harry hastily. ཁI was just – I didn't remember seeing a room there last night, I just sort of wandered in...I didn't touch anythingཀཁ

Hermione eyed him critically, but this time Harry had no riposte. He knew he really had no justification besides rampant curiosity for going into Luna's room. As it was, all he could was shrug sheepishly.

ཁI was planning to tell her, if that helps,ཁ he finally conceded.

ཁI hope so!" said Hermione. "So...what did she look like?ཁ

Harry did a double-take. ཁHuh?ཁ

Hermione moved closer. ཁDid she look...well...normal, to you?ཁ

ཁEr...ཁ Harry hesitated. ཁWhat do you define as normal?ཁ

Hermione was clearly struggling with herself; Harry had the distinct impression she was holding something back. ཁHarry, don't you find it at all odd that there are no records of her anywhere? The only thing I've been able to find out is that her name was Maia, and that's only because Professor McGonagall was able to find her school grades...but I don't have so much as a date of birthཀཁ

Harry frowned. ཁWhat are you saying?ཁ

ཁI'm not sure,ཁ admitted Hermione, chewing her lower lip in thought. ཁEither the Ministry has gone to a lot of trouble erasing any trace of her from the Wizarding record, or – ཁ

At that moment a large black shape fluttered past with a loud squawk, causing Harry to stumble backwards and fumble for his wand. ཁHermione, get downཀཁ

ཁIt's all rightཀཁ she said after having lit her own wand. ཁIt's Nevermore – look, he's got a messageཀཁ

The crow had perched itself on one of the rafters directly overhead, eyeing them warily, a tiny parchment wrapped around its leg.

ཁWe should get Luna,ཁ said Harry. ཁIt might be from – whoops, there he goes...ཁ

They took off at a run as the crow flew down the staircase. By the time they'd reached the kitchen, Luna was already unwrapping the note from Nevermore's leg, the latter pecking away happily at his treats on the counter. Hermione quickly moved to stash away Regulus' journal into her satchel under the table.

ཁAny news?ཁ asked Harry as he joined Luna.

ཁIt's from Daddyཀཁ she said excitedly. ཁHe says the weather's breaking...the Danish Ministry is discussing the possibility of subsidizing the cost of Muggle aeroplane tickets for all stranded wizarding folk...he might be back by tonightཀཁ

ཁAssuming the weather here clears up,ཁ interjected Hermione. ཁMuggle planes can't land in this weather any more than they can take off in it...but that's the least of our worries.ཁ

Harry turned to her. ཁHow do you mean?ཁ

Hermione ran a hand back through her hair. ཁThis business with the Floo network being down,ཁ she explained. ཁIt makes me very nervous; it wouldn't just shut down by itself – this has to be one of Voldemort's machinations.ཁ

ཁOh, I like that word,ཁ said Luna hazily.

ཁWell, let's not worry about that now,ཁ countered Harry, his eyes falling upon the candle and cups on the table. ཁYou guys figured something out from Regulus' journal, didn't you? Are we close?ཁ

ཁOh...well, we might be,ཁ explained Hermione, extinguishing her wand and taking her coat from the seatback. ཁLuna's theory about triangulation is certainly plausible. It would explain why the other two sites turned up nothing, for one...but that's for another time.ཁ

ཁEh?ཁ said Harry. ཁShouldn't we be checking it out? Luna, do you have a map – ཁ

ཁNo, Harry,ཁ chided Hermione as she donned her winter coat. ཁThat Horcrux isn't going anywhere...it's Christmas, you should be enjoying it.ཁ

ཁBut – ཁ

ཁNo buts,ཁ affirmed his brown-haired friend. ཁI still have to coordinate this with the Order, don't forget, assuming it even pans out. In the meantime,ཁ she said, shouldering her satchel, ཁI'll go do some damage control at the Burrow...Luna, I'm really sorry I called on you so early in the morning like this, but – ཁ

ཁI don't mind,ཁ chimed Luna. ཁThat's why Daddy gave you our Portkey – you're welcome here anytime.ཁ

Hermione bit her lip. She gave both Harry and Luna a parting hug before making for the doorway through the living room. She's barely slipped into her boots when a distinct fizzling sound emanated from the kitchen.

ཁOops,ཁ said Luna as she scurried back hurriedly, ཁI think the pickles are overdone...ཁ

Harry and Hermione looked at each other, the latter with a decidedly bemused look on her face. ཁI'm not even going to ask...ཁ She opened the door to go.

ཁWhat did he confess to, by the way?ཁ asked Harry.

Hermione paused in the doorway. ཁWhat did who confess to?ཁ

ཁThat Eddie the Confessor bloke,ཁ said Harry.

Hermione looked lost. ཁWhat??ཁ

ཁYou said you traced Luna's father's line back to his reign,ཁ explained Harry further. ཁYou never said what he confessed to.ཁ

Hermione slowly shook her head. ཁHarry, you just pulled a Luna,ཁ she ribbed lightly.

Harry raised his eyebrows. ཁI did?ཁ

She nodded. ཁYes...at least...that's what Ron calls it when...well...ཁ

ཁYou too?ཁ Harry smiled impishly. ཁShe's contagiousཀཁ

Hermione looked nothing if not embarrassed. ཁTo tell the truth, I wouldn't mind catching whatever it is she has,ཁ she murmured furtively as Luna drifted back in from the kitchen. ཁAt least in small doses, anyway...ཁ

ཁAre you sure you won't stay for breakfast?ཁ asked Luna, wiping her hands on a towel. ཁI ruined the pickles but I can substitute something else, I'm making Christmas crepes, it's a new recipe I'm making up as I go..."

Hermione smiled at her. "That's really sweet, Luna," she said. "But I really have to get going...I told the Weasleys I'd be there by now..."

She looked at the two of them thoughtfully. For a moment Harry thought he saw a look of dawning realization on her face. Her mouth opened slightly –

"Why didn't I..." she whispered.

"Eh?" asked Harry as a chilly winter breeze whipped at his collar.

But Hermione only blinked. She stepped out onto the snow-covered cobblestone walkway, reached into her satchel and pulled out a toothbrush. Tapping it with her wand, she disappeared with a bang, but not before Harry thought he detected a hint of a smile on her face.

What was that all about, he mused.

Luna, for her part, was gazing toward the early morning skies which were only just beginning to glow with the pale gray of an early winter dawn. He found it unusual that she didn't seem at all miffed (or even curious) about what he and Hermione had discussed in private.

"It's going to be a lovely day," she whispered, though Harry wasn't sure if she was addressing him.

"You think so?"

She turned to him. "I don't think you're a conceited ape at all," she announced.

Harry blinked. "Er...you don't?"

She shook her head.

Harry was under the now familiar impression he'd somehow missed part of a conversation. "Well...thanks!"

Luna smiled as they retreated back into the warm confines of the mill. "I'm going to have to start my crepes over," she said. "If there a flavour in particular you prefer?"

"Um, well..."

Harry hesitated. The idea of pickle-flavoured crepes were not appealing to his palette.

"You know, I could help you make them," he offered hopefully. "I know my way around a kitchen – "

"Oh, that's all right," said Luna. "I can manage...they're not hard to make at all. Would you like any particular variety?"

Harry was stuck. He didn't want to insist on making his own lest he imply he didn't trust her cooking. But...pickles??

"Well...anything but...pickles," he finally managed to utter. "Surprise me."

The words were no sooner out than he realized just what he'd said. "That is...don't surprise me too much – " he corrected himself again " – I'm sort of old-fashioned when it comes to cuisine, no offense."

"How about Crepe Suzette?" suggested Luna. "I have some raspberries that would go very well with that, I think."

Harry's shoulders relaxed a little. "That's great!" he exclaimed in relief. "Well...listen, do you mind if I borrow your shower for just a bit?" he asked, gesturing upstairs. "I can really use one."

Luna nodded earnestly. "Yes, you do," she said much to his astonishment. "Please do Harry – just remember about the pipes!"

"The pipes? Oh, right!" he said, as he bounded off up the stairs. "I won't be long!"

He wasn't halfway up the stairs when he remembered about being in Luna's bedroom. He had to tell her now, before he forgot...or worse.

He ran back down and very nearly ran into her at the doorway to the kitchen – she was evidently bringing her blanket back to her bedroom.

"Luna, I wanted to tell you something," he began just as he caught sight of something hanging from the rafter directly overhead. His eyes drifted upwards.

It was a sprig of decorated mistletoe.