December 12, 2000

7:35 p.m.

Hermione took a huge gulp of her butterbeer as soon as the Hog's Head barman handed it to her—anything to calm this scratchy throat she'd had these past three days. She swore as she clutched her scalded mouth.

"You're a disaster, aren't you?" Ginny said, blowing delicately into her pint of butterbeer. "You've got a sore throat, the Wizengamot is being stubborn over the new Elf Offspring clause you're trying to pass, your sister's mad at you, and now you've burnt your mouth raw on butterbeer."

"Everything in a nutshell," Hermione said, fanning herself with a napkin. "Except Hyacinth's not really mad at me, she's just..."

"Still a little shaken up?"

"Yeah," Hermione said darkly. "I knew I shouldn't have said anything. I should have just seen her back to the house, then Apparated to mine and Ron's flat. Now she's being all quiet and shirty—Mum wrote me yesterday asking if I 'jinxed her or something' at tea last week."

"You did the right thing, Hermione. If you never would have said anything to Hyacinth, she might be even more freaked out wondering what's wrong with Parvati and Lavender."

"But Ginny, I showed her—" she flung up her left forearm. "This! That's what did it in for her. For both of us, really. God, I feel so guilty," she said, her head falling into her hand.

"Hermione," Ginny said, placing a hand on her other arm, "relax. You're getting all worked up over something you can't control. Just how we've all had to come to terms with what the war gave and took away from us, Hyacinth will eventually realize that this powerful, strong warrior is her one and only big sister."

Hermione shrugged. "I suppose."

"Besides, I'm sure she'll come around a bit soon. Luna said she sent Hyacinth those radish earrings she promised. She's really happy, Luna is. She said she's only dreamed of being friends with a Muggle, and in that dream she was being chased by a flock of Blibbering Humdingers."

Hermione rolled her eyes, but smiled. "At this point, I think Luna would be the only person who could get my sister to calm down a bit. I just wish I could be with her more."

"You've been in the Wizarding world for ten years now—surely you're used to spending time apart?"

"Yes, but Christmas is coming. That time of year where Hyacinth and I race down the slopes in Norway, stay up all night talking in the ski lodge, and actually get to be sisters for a few weeks. I won't be there to spend time with her this year."

"Right, but this year you'll be spending time with us!" Ginny said. "Admit it, you're excited."

Hermione laughed bashfully. "I am. Ron's told me all about Christmas at the Burrow. He said that your mum's sausage hors d'oeuvres and your dad's homemade eggnog are to die for."

Ginny nodded. "Definitely true. It's easy to gain a stone off those things. Did Ron mention anything else?"

"Er, that he wants to try his hand at carving the ham this year, but that's all."

"Of course." Ginny rolled her eyes. "Ron's priorities start and stop at mealtime."

Hermione laughed knowingly. "What else should I know about Christmas at the Burrow? Do you all sing carols or anything like that?"

Ginny shuddered. "Merlin, no. Weasleys are not singers. Seriously, don't bother asking unless you cherish your sense of hearing."

"But you've got to have some sort of music." Hermione couldn't imagine Christmas without carolers from the local church or her mum's Trans-Siberian Orchestra CDs.

"We do. Mum usually tunes the wireless to Celestina Warbeck, and last year Percy brought over his piano to play some carols for us. I still can't quite figure out how he Flooed it in." Ginny smiled wistfully. "And about five years ago, Fred tried to play the icicles."

"The icicles?"

"Took two spoons and tried to tap out 'Jingle Bells' like it was a xylophone. About pissed myself laughing when he got ice down his jumper."

Hermione snorted on her sip of butterbeer. "How did that happen?"

Ginny shrugged, then pantomimed Fred waving his arms and arching his back against the ice. "AHH! COLD! Frozen ginger alert! Oh shit, now it's in my bum! HELP!"

Hermione's laughter rang throughout the pub. "'H-help?' H-he really expected you lot to pick ice out of his bum?"

"Nah, but he did find a shred of common sense and casted a Heating Charm on himself. Then George asked him if he needed a nappy for his 'little accident.'" Hermione clutched her stomach in laughter. "See, I told you you'd cheer you up!"

Hermione sighed, suddenly remembering why she was depressed in the first place. "Yeah."

"You're going to have a fantastic holiday with us, I promise."

"It'll be nice. It's the first Christmas Ron and I have spent together!"

"Exactly. And if Hyacinth needs you, I'm sure she'll owl you like she always has. And if she doesn't, then she'll probably just owl you saying 'Merry Christmas.'"

"I know," Hermione said, tossing back the last of her butterbeer. "I know she will."