Author's Notes: HP belongs to JKR

- I've noticed that going to work actually helps me get ideas for the story.

Chapter 20: Last-Minute Shopping

"Run that by me again?" Dan was staring at his wife.

"You heard me perfectly well the first time. Hermione wants to..." Emma began.

"That's the part that makes no sense. Hermione asked to go shopping in London? Not you?"

"Yes! She asked to pick out a dress."

"So she's not going there to buy more magical textbooks? Are you sure that's really our daughter that stepped off the train?"

"Hermione's still a girl, Dan. She can still get excited about going to a dance. Oh, she'll need shoes, perfume, and a haircut as well."

"All this for a school dance?" Dan shook his head in disbelief.

"It's not just a dance. It's a fancy ball. You know, if she was still in normal school, she would have gone to a school formal next year anyways."

"Well, at least I know who her date is. I'll have a nice man-to-man talk with him while you girls go shopping for a day."

"Actually, Harry's coming with us. He wants to help shop, and I think he needs some formal clothing himself."

"He hasn't got a suit?" Remembering the phone conversation he had with the Dursleys last summer, reminded himself, "Oh, right. Of course not."

"Hermione mentioned that wizards wear a dress-robe or something like that for these occasions, while the girls are closer in line with normal fashion. We might end up dropping by Diagon Alley again."

"Well, we might as well make it a family affair then. I'll come along," Dan resigned.

"Actually, I have a job for you to do." Emma gave her husband a slightly patronizing smile. "Don't make that face at me, you know as well as I do that you'd be bored out of your mind if you came along anyway."

"And Harry won't?"

"As far as Hermione can tell, clothes shopping is probably an entirely new experience for him. He's had nothing but hand-me-downs from his overweight cousin. He never wore anything that fit until he bought his first wizard robes. This should be fun for him."

Dan sighed. "I know he's a good kid, but I wonder how much of this... new Hermione is because of him."

"I know what you mean, but I don't think it's because of Harry. She's known him for three years before they became a couple. Maybe this is just Hermione growing up."

"What scares me the most is the fact that we might not be there to see it. We see her last summer and she brings home a boy, and a few months later the first thing she buys is one of those full-length swimsuit racers wear, and then she's talking fancy dresses. Have you seen how much she dotes on Harry? She might as well have been talking wedding dresses instead of evening gowns."

Emma's eyes widened. "I'm not going to let my little girl get married before she's graduated and landed herself a solid, well-paying job. I don't want her growing up dependent on some man."

Dan knew he'd finally managed to push one of his wife's buttons. He never dared to tell her, but she did look incredibly sexy when she argued passionately about something. He wondered how much further he could take it with her. "You know, if she does marry Harry, she wouldn't have to work another day in her life," he said with a smirk.

"Don't you dare suggest that Hermione become some kind of gold-digger," she glared at him with flames burning behind her eyes. "Since when did your daughter's wealth become more important than her happiness?"

Dan backpedalled quickly. "That's not what I said! I'm just saying that the extra money that Harry's got certainly isn't a bad thing."

"It is if she ends up being stuck doing nothing with her life with nothing to do except be a housewife."

"Harry wouldn't do that to her. Heck, she wouldn't let Harry do that. Have you seen her drag Harry out of the house to the swimming pool for the early bird swim the last few mornings? I think she's the dominant one in that relationship." Dan couldn't believe he was suddenly defending Harry.

"Oh, from what I've read in Hermione's letters, Harry can get pretty fierce when he has to. And did she show you the earrings he bought for her? Apparently he just got them on a whim, no special occasion at all."

"It might have been special to Harry. I think he'll end up paying for Hermione's dress instead of us, if this is their first dance," Dan added.

"I'm not going to take advantage of the poor boy!"

"Rich boy, you mean," Dan laughed. "And I'm not saying you should, I'm saying Harry will probably do his damnedest to try."

Despite being in the late morning on a Friday, the shops were still as hectic as ever, as there were only two days until Christmas. They went from shop to shop as Hermione tried on many different evening gowns. Harry noted that she only picked dresses with a fully covered back, which quickly limited the selection. Being outside of school, neither of them could re-cast the glamours to hide their runes. Hermione wouldn't dare wear a dress that would let her parents see the scars. Unfortunately, the trends in fashion seemed to be towards revealing more and more skin, especially along the woman's back.

Hermione had also brought along the earrings Harry bought her in Hogsmeade. Feeling that it would be a rather odd combination wearing such elegant jewellery alongside her jeans, turtleneck and beanie while walking down the street, she kept the earrings in her purse and put them on each time she tried a dress. The first few dresses that caught her attention didn't make it out of the dressing room, before she realized she couldn't expose her back. Several more didn't make the cut after she put on her earrings, realizing the colours would clash. Soon enough, they were walking through stores and back out without trying a single one.

"You seem to be really picky about your dresses, Hermione," Emma said to her daughter. "Do you already have an idea of what you want, or are you finding that dresses aren't appealing to you?"

"No, mum, I want a dress for sure. I'm just looking for something with a high neck, and a slim waist, maybe like a corset. Kind of like the old medieval dresses in the movies, you know? But not too poofy or frilly. A little more modern, a bit more flow to it. The less-is-more mantra that a lot of cocktail dresses seem to take, but a lot of these take away a bit too much, and I think wizarding society is still pretty far behind muggles in terms of fashion. I think Professor McGonagall is biting her lip every time she sees one of us girls expose our knees! Oh, and I absolutely adore these earrings Harry got for me," she said, smiling sweetly as Harry tried to make sense of what Hermione was describing. "So I want the dress to be a deep blue, maybe as far as indigo, to match."

Emma nodded. "Well, you've certainly given this a lot of thought."

"I know, but I'm beginning to think that we might not be able to find one. Am I being too fussy? Maybe I should just settle on something less..."

"NO!" Emma and Harry both shouted at the same time, causing all three of them to look at each other in curiosity.

"You first," Emma said to Harry.

"I just... want this to be absolutely perfect for you, Hermione. I don't want you to have to settle for anything. Maybe we can find a seamstress who can make a custom dress for you?" Harry asked hopefully.

Emma shook her head. "No, not at this time of year. They're probably all busy filling out orders for Christmas, and then the shops will be closed on both Christmas and Boxing day, so at best, they'll start on the 27th. You have to head back to school on the 29th. I doubt they could finish it in time, especially since many of them might still have a backlog of orders for alterations to get ready for New Year's. A pre-made one in a shop is our best bet."

Hermione sighed. "Well, we still have a few hours left. Let's keep looking."

The rest of Hermione's scheduled shopping time wasn't a complete waste, as they did manage to find her a pair shoes for the evening. They were a silvery-coloured, strappy sandal with a relatively low, 3 cm heel. Hermione had chosen them because she was unused to wearing heeled shoes at all, but still managed to pick something elegant for the occasion. She went on to buy another two pairs, both slightly different shades of blue with the same heel height but with different strap patterns, just in case they didn't match the dress she eventually hoped to find. It was nearing three o'clock, when they were just about to move on to Diagon Alley to find Harry's dress robes when Hermione stopped in front of a shop.

"What is it? Have you found it?" Harry asked.

Hermione sighed. "No, not exactly. This is... almost what I had in mind," she said, pointing to one of the dresses on a mannequin. It was a two-piece dress, with a soft, curvy corset up top that laced up at the back and a smooth, slim skirt that flared out below the knees. The second part was a long-sleeved shrug that matched the dress, hugging the arms but widening at the elbows. It would cover her back perfectly and ended at the top with a choker collar. In front, it narrowed sharply to the neck which worked with the dress to expose a diamond-shaped keyhole, perfect for displaying a necklace. The only problem with it was that it was a deep burgundy instead of anything remotely blue.

"Why don't you try it on anyways? It's just the colour that's off, isn't it? Maybe they'll have another one inside," Harry suggested. They walked inside the store and asked to try it on. Hermione didn't come out of the dressing room, but asked for her mother to step inside with her. Harry could hear them chattering to each other.

"Well, it would be absolutely beautiful if it were about two sizes smaller. Can't you tighten up it up a bit?"

"That's as tight as it gets, Mum."

"I'm sure a few small alterations would be all it would take to fit..."

"Well, the colour's off anyways. This would be absolutely wonderful in blue."

"Are you sure it has to be blue? This does look elegant as it is..."

"Harry bought me these earrings remember? And sapphire's my birthstone. He really put a lot of thought into these."

"Well, we might be able to find another one like it."

"We've been up, down, and all over London today. It'll take a miracle to find something like this again."

Emma stepped back out while Hermione took off the dress. She and Harry found the store manager. Emma asked, "Do you have that same dress she's trying on in a smaller size and in blue or indigo?"

The lady shook her head. "I'm sorry, that's all we have at the moment. I could put in an order for you, but it won't arrive until the first week of January. We do have a few other dresses over here..."

Harry could tell from a quick glance that none of them were what Hermione was looking for. All three of them glumly left the shop. "Well, we can always go shopping for another two days before you have to go back to school. We'll be able to find something then," Emma suggested hopefully.

Hermione was in a dour mood until they arrived at the Leaky Cauldron and stepped through the enchanted wall into Diagon Alley. After a quick stop at Gringotts, they went directly to Madam Malkin's. Inside, it was even busier than Flouish and Blott's at the end of summer. The shop was filled with boys who needed dress robes, and thankfully there were a dozen new hires working frantically to have all of them fitted properly. Dress robes appeared to be a blend of muggle tuxedo and their regular robes, to Harry's surprise. Apparently wizarding fashion wasn't too far behind muggles- but then again, muggle men's fashion didn't change as dramatically or as quickly as the women's.

Once Harry was changed, Hermione gave him a little wolf whistle. "You look so much more handsome in a suit, Harry. We're going to have to buy you a bunch of muggle suits and blazers next summer. I like this."

With a smile, Harry headed to the counter. The witch asked, "Will that be all? All our dress robes come with the basic Fabulous-Fit charm, but you can add the Stain-Stopper, Lintless, and a basic Self-Repair charm for only three Sickles."

"Oh, I'd like that," Harry said. An idea came to him at that moment. "Suppose I brought some muggle clothes here, could you charm them for me? I'll need all the charms on my dress robe and a permanent colour change as well."

"Sorry, for now we're only doing alterations on our own clothes. With Christmas along with the ball at Hogwarts, we're far too busy as it is. I'd suggest heading over to Unifer's Alley. Mrs. Malkin's sister owns a shop there, only it's called Mistress Malkin's. She shouldn't be nearly as busy as us right now."

Harry thanked her and paid for his new robes. He debated with himself whether or not he should tell Hermione, but settled on surprising her. It would make a perfect Christmas gift. As he walked out of the store with the two Granger women, he asked, "Hermione, Mrs. Granger, do you have any plans for tomorrow? I was thinking of going out by myself for a little bit to buy Hermione's Christmas present."

Emma frowned. "I don't want a fourteen-year-old boy out on the streets shopping by himself, especially on one of the most hectic shopping days of the year. Pickpocketers and muggers will be just as busy as the shoppers, you know. I'm guessing you want it to be a surprise for Hermione," she glanced at her daughter, who smiled understandingly. "But you should go with Dan. Make sure you're back early, because we have quite a dinner to prepare."

Harry nodded vigorously. "Thanks, Mrs. Granger. Maybe I can get Dobby to help you with dinner."

"Who's Dobby?" Emma looked surprised.

"He's a house-elf that bonded to me when I freed him from the Malfoys," Harry explained. "He loves doing housework, actually."

"Harry! You shouldn't take advantage of him like that! You should free him instead of enslaving him to you..." Hermione scolded, but quickly stopped. "Wait, I think I've had this argument with you before..."

"Yeah, me too," Harry said. "Maybe Dobby can explain it? Dobby!" Harry called out for his house-elf.

"I is here, Master Harry!" Dobby proudly appeared in front of them. Emma jumped back in surprise and stared at the wee little creature standing before them.

"Dobby, I want you to help the Grangers prepare their Christmas Eve dinner tomorrow." Dobby's eyes lit up with excitement. "But first, can you explain why you bonded to me?"

"I is being bonded to Master Harry because Master Harry is noble and proud! Master Harry is a good master!" Dobby hopped up and down gleefully.

"No, Dobby... what I meant was, when you were freed from the Malfoys, why didn't you just... stay free? Why did you bond yourself to anybody at all?" Harry asked him.

Dobby's eyes watered. "Is Master Harry wanting to free Dobby? I has been bad house-elf! I am working for Hogwarts when I should be working for Master Harry!" He threw himself to the ground and began thumping his head on the brick walkway. Emma stared in disbelief at Dobby's behaviour, still completely dumbstruck.

"No! Dobby, stop! I command you to stop hurting yourself!" Harry quickly picked the elf up and set him on his feet. "I'm just curious why you'd want to be free from the Malfoys but why you wouldn't want to... stay free."

"But if I is free, then I cannot work!" Dobby said. Harry and Hermione stared at him for a moment, thinking there would be more to his answer.

"Wait, so... you like working?" Dobby nodded.

"But... what if you could be free and just do whatever you like, for yourself?" Hermione asked.

Dobby looked horrified. "I would die without Master Harry! House-elfs cannot work for himselfs! It would be like tickling by yourself... or holding your hand with your hand... no, clapping to yourself..." Dobby's face scrunched up in confusing as he attempted to explain it.

Hermione seemed to understand. "So you mean when you work for someone else, it's like... when Harry and I hold each other's hands? That's how you feel?"

Dobby bounced up and down at the analogy. "Yes, yes, or like when Master Harry and Her-mininy press faces each day!"

Hermione went red as she avoided her mother's gaze, while Harry covered his eyes with his hand. They were still careful never to kiss in front of their parents, rather embarrassed about explaining how deep their relationship had become in a few short months, but here was ten pounds of tiny magical elf proclaiming they had done so on a regular basis. "Thank you Dobby, that's all for now. You can come back tomorrow when it's time to cook dinner..."

When Dobby disappeared again, Emma turned to her daughter and said, "You seem to have left out a lot of information in your letters home." Turning to Harry, she said, "And you should just be glad I sent Dan on some errands instead of going shopping with us today."

"Are you sure you don't want me to drive?" Dan asked.

"No, this should be fine." Harry stood at the side of the road and held his wand up. With a sudden bang, a huge, purple, triple-decker bus appeared in front of them. Dan stumbled backwards, almost as if the Knight Bus had crashed into place. Harry stepped on and it took a few seconds for Dan to come to his senses and follow him.

Harry paid the fare for both of them to Diagon Alley, where he exchanged some Galleons for pounds. Dan's eyes boggled once again at the amount of cash Harry was about to put into his pocket. "Uh, Harry, I know I've said this before, but perhaps you shouldn't carry so much cash with you. Diagon Alley seems like a fairly nice place, but if we're walking into London then you might lose that before you get a chance to spend it..."

The goblin overheard Dan, and said to Harry, "We take the security of our money very seriously, Mr. Potter. May I interest you in a blood-sealed mokeskin, guaranteed against theft by Gringotts?"

"Uh, could you explain what that is?" asked Harry.

The goblin already had its hands under the desk, ready to grab a few contracts and a blood needle as soon as Harry said the right words. "A mokeskin pouch is a good method of storage to prevent theft. The pouch itself can shrink until it becomes invisible to everyone except the owner. Our pouches, however, are further protected with a blood seal that can only be opened by the owner."

"That sounds very useful. How much is it?"

The goblin quickly whipped out a parchment, quill, and the blood needle, placing them on the desk. "Nine galleons flat for the pouch and the blood seal." Harry could easily afford that, so he picked up the quill. The goblin stopped him just before the tip touched the parchment. "Could I also offer you some additional features for your pouch, Mr. Potter?"

"Uh, what kind of features?"

"For an additional fee of eleven sickles, we can give it the Constantly Correct Change Compartment, which will automatically withdraw from your account exactly the right amount of change you require for every transaction. There is an additional transaction fee of only two Knuts for each purchase you make this way."

Harry hesitated for a moment, but decided it would be extremely helpful, not to mention convenient, not to have to visit Gringotts every single time he needed to make a purchase, nor ever accidentally be short on cash. He would have to restrict that feature for large purchases, as an extra two Knuts on every little purchase would add up quickly. "Will I be able to keep some coins on hand instead of making a separate withdrawal each time?" he asked, to be sure.

The goblin's smile faltered slightly as he explained, "Yes, the compartment is accessed by a separate flap on the outside of the pouch. When you have finalized your purchase at any store, simply open the flap and empty its contents, which will always be exactly the right amount you need. The interior of the bag will hold the coins you have placed in there yourself."

When Harry nodded in acceptance, the parchment suddenly lengthened and a new paragraph appeared detailing the new feature. He was just about to sign it again when the goblin stopped him.

"Do you also foresee yourself making purchases in British Pounds soon?"

Harry nodded.

"The Currency Exchange Enchantment is available for both the main compartment of the pouch and the Constantly Correct Change Compartment for only six sickles, which will allow you to pull out money in the currency that is accepted at the store. Of course, there is a small transaction fee of only two percent per purchase."

"I can guess it's automatic for the change compartment, but how do I convert the money inside the main compartment?" Harry asked. I don't want to do it by accident, he thought.

"Simply hold the coins in your hand, while keeping it inside the pouch, and say the name of the currency you wish to convert them to. They will immediately change in your hand," the goblin explained.

Harry took a deep breath. It certainly was useful, and he was muggle-raised after all. Hermione was muggle-born, so he would be expecting quite a bit of muggle shopping with her in the future. "That seems useful..." he said, and the contract once again lengthened and another paragraph appeared. Moving his hand down to the signature line, the goblin spoke up once more.

"The withdrawal limit for both the Currency Exchange Enchantment and the Correct Change Compartment is currently set at one hundred galleons. We could raise it as high as five hundred galleons, for a small fee..."

Dan stepped in at this point. "Harry, you don't need that. The current features should be fine, he'll take it as it is, won't you, Harry?"

Harry agreed. "That should be all I need for the pouch." He finally signed his name on the parchment, and allowed the goblin to prick the needle on Harry's finger until it turned red. The goblin gave a menacing snarl at Dan as he hurried away. A few minutes later, he returned with a pouch that he held with metal tweezers.

"Take the pouch, Mr. Potter. After you touch it, nobody will be able to see it again except you." Harry picked it up, putting the strap around his neck and letting it hang inside his shirt. He emptied his usual money-pouch into the new mokeskin one.

Dan shook his head as they left the back. "Vicious, those goblins. I heard they were nasty bankers, but I didn't expect them to be such pushy salesmen as well. Where to next?"

"Um, it was walking distance from the Leaky Cauldron, if I remember correctly. I can't recall the name of the store, but I can find my way there."

"It's not a jewellery store, is it?" Dan asked.

"No, why?"

"Well, we were thinking Hermione needed a necklace to complete her outfit. You already got her earrings that she's determined to wear, so I'll be buying her a necklace today. You had better not be getting one for her, too..."

"No, I'm getting her dress for her," Harry answered.

"I thought you couldn't find one yesterday?" Dan was perplexed.

"I figured a way around that," Harry answered. They walked together for about fifteen minutes before Harry found himself outside the same shop window he was at yesterday. Walking up to the manager, he asked her for the same dress, which was back on display in the front window.

Recognizing Harry, she asked, "Weren't you here yesterday? I thought the dress didn't fit your sister properly?"

Harry laughed. Well, it certainly wasn't usual for a young boy to be dress shopping with his girlfriend's mother. He didn't bother trying to correct her. "Um, I just found someone else who could do alterations quickly. I'd like to buy it now, please."

"Well, that's good news then. I've had so much trouble selling that dress. People come to look at it so often, but nobody's ended up buying it yet." She rang up the dress, neatly folding it and placing it in a large box. Harry paid for it with the money he had withdrawn before, and quickly made their way out.

"So that's it?" Dan asked, waiting for him outside.

"No, we've another stop to make. We have to head back to Diagon Alley." Another fifteen minute walk and they were back in the Leaky Cauldron. Borrowing some Floo powder from Tom, Harry explained to Dan how the Floo worked.

"Mistress Malkin's!" Harry said clearly, throwing the powder into the fireplace. As he stepped through, he tumbled out the other end. He was immensely relieved that he hadn't accidentally crushed Hermione's dress in his fall. Dan stepped out of the fireplace after him, almost tripping over Harry as he arrived.

"Why are you on the floor? Didn't you take a tumble like this last time? Am I really supposed to believe that you're the star athlete at your school?" Dan's eyes narrowed.

"I am! The fireplaces just hate me, that's all." Harry stood up, dusting himself off. They found themselves in a small shop with very unusual clothing- it was almost as if he was in the dressing room for a circus. There were feathery costumes, scaly vests, multicoloured robes not unlike the kind Dumbledore liked to wear, some pyjama-like set that was so thin it could only fit a skeleton, and other bizarre-looking things scattered about.

"Why hello, there. What can I do for you?" came a voice from behind the counter. The woman was shorter than Madam Malkin, but had a confident air about her that made her see much larger than she really was. She was busy sewing something- or, at least, directing half a dozen needles and thread to move themselves across some fabric. Harry was amazed at how much she could concentrate on at once.

"We were told to come here to have some clothes enchanted. I'll need a permanent colouring change on this dress, to a midnight blue. I'll also need the Fabulous Fit, Stain-Stopper, Lintless, and Self-Repair charms on it."

The woman looked at the dress in Harry's hands for a few moments muttering something to herself. "I haven't seen a dress like this in my lifetime. Is that all you want? I can have it done in an hour," Ms. Malkin said. "It'll cost you eight Sickles."

"What other charms can you do?" Harry asked.

"Well, I can put in a slimming charm so the lady will look a few sizes smaller than she actually is..." Harry shook his head. Hermione was plenty beautiful already, and she certainly kept herself in good health after reading all about proper nutrition, diet, and exercise.

"Hm? No? Well, I'd suggest a comfort charm. It'll feel smooth as silk whenever she puts it on, no matter what it's made of. It'll even feel the perfect temperature, even if the room's too hot or cold. That has its limits, though," she explained. "The Envy charm is one of my specialties. Every other dress in the room will seem to be shabby in comparison if you've got this charm on. It doesn't work very well if two dresses both have it. I can also do a Gliding Gown charm. The dress will never drag along the ground, or even up a flight of stairs. She'll never have her foot caught on the hem."

"Uh, I think I'll go for the comfort charm and the Gliding Gown. She can do without the others," Harry said, imagining how Hermione would look on the day of the ball.

"Oh, you've got a beautiful one, don't you? Well, with those two it'll cost you twelve Sickles, and it'll take an extra fifteen minutes." Harry paid and took a note of the time. He and Dan stepped out of the shop and into Unifer's Alley.

Mistress Malkin's, apparently, wasn't the only shop with unusual wares. Every store in this shopping alley seemed to have rare and unique offerings. There was one shop that offered to embellish and personalize wands- etching the owner's name or slightly changing the shape of the grip for better comfort, or even studding jewels in. Harry was perfectly fine with his own wand- he didn't want to dress it up for show. There was another shop that did magical tattoos- and apparently wizardfolk frowned upon tattoos even more than muggles. Harry walked by the shop quickly, as Dan would have given him a harsh glare if he had even looked at the shop any longer. They walked into a shop that seemed to be selling camping equipment, which interested Dan greatly. Unfortunately, wizards' ideas of camping differed greatly from muggles. They seemed to have everything to ignore the outdoors as much as possible, including detailed maps so that wizards could apparate precisely into the campsites without hiking, and tents that were far more luxurious than the one the Weasleys had taken to the World Cup, and animal-repellents that kept all wildlife as far from the campers as possible.

"I could make use of some of these things," said Dan, "But all this stuff together? It makes me wonder why wizards even bother with the concept of camping."

Further down the street, Harry walked into what he thought was a flower shop, at first. He quickly noticed that there were no bouquets- only live plants. As he walked by one pot that had a shrivelled-up, weedy thing that appeared to be dead, it seemed to fill with colour as he got nearer, then shrunk back as he passed. Curious, he returned to it, to find it perk up again. As he reached his hands towards it, a small bud at the end began to open up, revealing some shiny, chrome-like petals. The flower suddenly became tinted with orange right before Harry felt a hand slap down on his shoulder.

"Best not be touchin' that one, it'll suck the magic right outta ya through yer finger." Harry was startled to see a man, presumably the shopkeeper, right behind him.

"Really? It can do that?" Harry quickly put his hand back in his pocket.

"Naw, I'm just foolin' witcha. It does feed off yer magic though, but you'd need a hundred of these 'fore ye'd feel even a smidgen flappy."

"Um... alright..." Harry backed away slowly.

"What can I get fer ya? Would you mind takin' me aciesan off me hands? I ain't got any more blood to feed it since I sold me serpentvine. Can't be killin' chickens for no reason now can I? Din' even mean to sprout it, but once the seed touches a drop o' blood, there's no stopping it, is there? Eh?" He smiled and stared at Harry, expecting an answer.

"Uh... no, I guess not..." Harry said. "But I don't think I'll be needing that plant... I was just here to look at flowers."

"Most people don' come into this here shop to look for flowers, laddie. I got naught but the deadliest plants in all of Britain!" He gave a poorly-contrived evil laugh.

"Didn't you just tell me that first flower I was looking at couldn't hurt me?" Harry asked.

"Aye, I guess that one ain't so deadly. It could kill itself a magical fly, maybe."

"What about normal flies?"

"What about 'em?"

"What if a... never mind. Do you have any flowers? Other than that..." Harry waved in the flower's general direction, which had gone back to its half-dead, wilted state again.

"Affiniter? I do have some pixiehats, I guess..."

"What are those?"

"They're good for attractin' pixies. They like wearin' 'em as hats." Harry shook his head, remembering the class in second year when Lockhart had released a cage of Cornish pixies. He didn't want to attract them to him.

"Have you got any flowers that are a deep blue?" Dan asked. "Hermione will need a corsage," he explained to Harry.

"That's it? Ya just want somefin' blue?" The shopkeeper goggled at him. "Nuffin' ta smite yer foes and eat their toes? Hey, I rhymed!"

"Uh, no. Just a flower... like that one!" Dan noticed a flower at the back of the store, hidden behind a few larger, bushier plants.

"Oh, the Flumpet Cupflower? Some crazy chap sold it to me ages ago. It ain't done nuffin' worth the dirt it's sittin' in. Told me it keeps nargles away. Took a year ta figure it out, if I ain't never seen a nargle before, how do I know they're stayin' away now any more than they were before, huh? I'll sell it to you fer the price of the pot and the dirt, you can have the flower fer free."

Thanking the storeowner, they left the shop with Dan holding the plant. They spent some time browsing other shops, such as one that sold magical armour, and another that had antique tools, like magical staves (which fell to disuse several hundred years ago, after wands were invented). Harry and Dan were both surprised to find one shop that dealt with "Muggle Imports," which helped wizards buy muggle goods- with hefty "locator" fees, of course. There was a shop for exotic pets, none of which Harry had seen before, but at least none of them were exotic enough to be interesting to Hagrid. All of the shops seemed to have unusual things they would have a hard time finding in Diagon Alley, but not as shady as in Knockturn Alley. They continued to check out the odd wares until they found themselves walking towards Mistress Malkin's shop again, only from the other side.

"Did we walk in a circle?" Harry asked Dan.

"No... we've been going straight down the street," Dan answered, perplexed. He looked ahead, and the street did appear to be perfectly straight, stretching into the distance. He looked behind, and it was the same.

"Wait here for a second," Harry said, as he ran ahead. Two minutes later Dan heard Harry shout from behind him. "I think this street loops around somehow," he concluded.

"Then how do we get out of here?"

"Uh, let's just ask Ms. Malkin." They stepped into the shop, where the seamstress was waiting with the dress, neatly packed into the box. The colour would match Hermione's earrings perfectly.

"It's ready, dear. I had ever so much fun with this dress, it reminds me of one of my favourite witches..."

"Thanks," said Harry. "Um, could you tell us how to get out of Unifer's Alley? We didn't see any kind of exit..."

"Are you trying to walk out of here?" Ms. Malkin laughed. "You've got to floo or apparate out of his Alley! We don't have any muggles accidentally wandering in here, like they do sometimes at Diagon."

Dan looked thoroughly unamused while Harry said, "Well, I guess it's Floo again. Time to go back to the Leaky Cauldron."

The men arrived home just before the women did. Harry hastily began wrapping up the present when he saw Emma's car pull into the driveway. He stopped midway when he saw Hermione step inside. She had cut her hair so that it was now shoulder-length, instead of reaching all the way down her back. Not only that, the hairdresser had apparently given her a perm and conditioner as well, so it lay straight and shiny, as opposed to the dull, bushy mass that she had before. It looked very much like when she climbed out of the pool after her swimming lessons with Harry, which he loved.

"Hermione! I almost didn't recognize you!"

"Do you like it, Harry? I did always want to try something new... Mum helped me choose." Hermione was shyly biting her lip again. The look, combined with the new haircut, was driving Harry mad. He had to constantly remind himself that both parents were watching as he restricted himself to "just" a hug.

"I love it! The shorter hair looks really good on you. Nobody will know what hit them when you step into the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Oh, I got you your present! I'm wrapping it now. Don't look!"

"I got you yours, too. Are you going to tell me what you got me?"

"Of course not! You'll find out tomorrow morning."

Dobby somehow knew to arrive right when they were about to prepare dinner. The Grangers were amazed at how quickly and efficiently Dobby worked. Emma tried to keep up, but eventually ended up sitting back and watching the little elf work his magic around the kitchen. He ended up cooking a delicious feast that the Grangers didn't even know was possible, given what they had (or thought they had) in the refrigerator. As he prepared more and more dishes, he was flying around, and it actually became dangerous for the humans to go anywhere near the kitchen as knives and pots went flying back and forth through the air.

After stuffing themselves with the best (technically) home-cooked meal they had ever eaten, they all settled down in the living room to watch some Christmas films together, including Dobby. The little elf kept fidgeting as he couldn't figure out something to do. Emma suggested that he make some hot cocoa, and he disappeared immediately at the chance to do some work. The evening eventually ended with Harry and Hermione cuddled in each other's arms, sipping the last of their cocoa together.

"You know that was the first Christmas dinner I've ever had? Except at Hogwarts, of course. I mean a nice family dinner... even if they're not family, your parents are so accommodating."

"I've been sneaking in a good word for you in my letters home," Hermione said with a wink. "I really hope that, one day, they really will see you as family. For now, they're just happy that I've made such a wonderful friend."

"You know you're more than that to me, Hermione." Harry stroked Hermione's new hairdo. He still wasn't quite used to it yet.

"Hopefully, I'll have convinced them enough by the end of the year to take you in for another summer. Maybe you'll never have to see the Dursleys again!"

"You really think they would?" Harry asked, his voice filled with hope. A Dursley-free life would be a better Christmas gift than anything that could be bought in a store.

"I'm sure they will. They were actually pretty happy to have you around last summer already, but they were worried about us getting too close."

"I'm not sure if I want to give... this up just to keep pretending for another summer," Harry said as he squeezed Hermione tighter.

"No, I'd suggest just the opposite. Maybe they'd welcome you more if you showed how much you really love me. It might still mean less kisses and cuddles, so they know it's not just some silly teen romance."

"I guess you're right. I don't know what I'd have to do, though, unless it means jumping in front of lorries every time you cross the street..."

They both laughed as they tried to plan out the rest of their year, until they fell asleep together on the couch in front of the Christmas tree. Harry dreamed of the Grangers adopting him from the Dursleys, while Hermione dreamed of her white knight, stopping buses with his bare hands for her...

Author's Chapter End Notes:

- The inspiration for the dress came from Cho's dress in the movie, actually. I think it was the nicest one there. Obviously, Hermione's isn't going to be Chinese-y.

- I'm actually just as surprised as you probably are that I still haven't managed to get to the Yule Ball yet. I even had a couple more ideas for this chapter but decided to cut it shorter.