This was my submission for the 2011 D/Hr_ADVENT FEST.

Chapter 1 is the SHORT-VERSION of the story, as submitted for the fest (due to maximum length caps). Chapter 2 is the LONG-VERSION of the story, as it was written and intended to be read. You decide which version you like better.

Assigned prompt: Mistletoe

Thank you to those who nominated me to participate in this wonderful event! I am extremely honoured by your faith and friendship, and hope you enjoy this piece that I've written for you.

Thank you most especially to my beta, plot bunny goddess, and wonderful friend, "Unseenlibrarian" - without you, dahling, this story would have fizzled. I owe you again!

Thank you to my friend, Ladysashi, for making me an 'Elf-Yourself' online using Misha Collins' face (I've just discovered the American show, 'Supernatural' – it's brilliant!).

Thank you to the mods of this fun fest, as well! I had a fabulous time!

Please review!

DISCLAIMER: "Harry Potter" is the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. This fanfiction was written entirely for fun, not for profit, and no copyright infringement is intended.

TIMELINE: December, 2023

STORY DETAILS: Post-Hogwarts, Epilogue compliant. Characters are a bit OOC (out-of-character) for this fic.

SHORT-VERSION MAIN CHARACTERS FEATURED (alphabetical order, last name): Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, Hugo Weasley, Rose Weasley + original character

LONG-VERSION MAIN CHARACTERS FEATURED (alphabetical order, last name): Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson, Harry Potter, Bill Weasley, Ginny Weasley-Potter, Hugo Weasley, Rose Weasley + several original characters

SUMMARY: Hermione Granger's attempts to get rid of an annoyingly persistent Mistletoe elf, whose job it is to help her regain her lost Christmas cheer before the holiday. The battle of wills is on with the little blighter! And hey, who sent her such an obnoxious gift anyway, and why?

RATING: M/R (Profanity, Snogging, Dry British humour)

**IMAGES for this fanfic can be found by going here (remove all spaces from the URL to make it load properly): http:/ / s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / One-Shot%20Christmas%20Stories /

LIAR, LIAR (short version)


1 December, 2023

A midget in an elf costume was sitting cross-legged in the middle of her desk when Hermione returned from lunch.

She stopped, blinked twice, and realized this wasn't some sort of freak hallucination conjured by an odd case of indigestion. There really was a very small man – no taller than three feet from the tips of his pointy, green elf shoes to the top of his pointy, green elf hat – waiting for her in her office.

"Hello," the minikin jovially greeted her, stretching out and hopping off the desk. He approached her and gave a military-style salute. "My name is Basil JollyBells. I'm your friendly, seasonal Mistletoe elf. My holiday cheer services have been procured on your behalf, Ms. Hermione Granger."

"Holiday cheer services?" she asked, feeling dread crawl up her spine.

The elf nodded, the little red pom-pom at the top of his hat bouncing merrily along in agreement. "Yes, Ms. Granger. Apparently, you've lost your Christmas spirit. I'm the elf assigned to your case."


Merlin's toes, she was starting to sound just like her ex-husband, Ron – speaking in one-word sentences.

"Ms. Granger?" the elf faltered, his smile dropping into a curious frown. "You are Ms. Hermione Granger, are you not?" he asked, scratching the side of his head.

Having clearly heard his purpose, Hermione made an on-the-spot executive decision.


"No, sorry, you've got the wrong person, Mr. JellyBelly," she shook her head, opening the door to her office and waving her arm to usher him out. "Ms. Granger quit last month. She no longer works at the Ministry. I'm her replacement, Penelope Clearwater."

"I'm sorry to have wasted your time," she stated, trying to look tragically apologetic. "You should go back to your employer and tell them the news that she's moved on. Perhaps they can locate her new place of employment."

The elf put a hand over his surprised, little mouth. "It's JollyBells. Basil JollyBells. And I am very sorry to have interrupted you, Ms. Clearwater. My sincerest apologies. I'll just be..." He headed for the door.

She watched the dismayed little elf walk out, returning his wishes for a good afternoon.


4 December, 2023

The elf was back - and he didn't look jolly in the least.

Hermione quickly shut her office door and watched as the little, green man jumped out of the guest chair and crossed over to her. He reached into his inner pocket of his suit and pulled out a picture. He then compared it to her, frowning.

"You are Ms. Hermione Granger," he contested her previous claim. "This picture from my employer proves it."

Hermione managed to keep her features and voice sincere, despite wanting to erupt into giggles on the spot. "Yes, I'm very sorry for that. You see, I thought you were sent to me as a practical joke. I apologize for causing you any amount of inconvenience, Mr. HollyBalls."

The elf huffed. "It's JollyBells, Ms. Granger. Yes, well, now that we've settled that, I suppose we can get back to working your case..."

"About that," Hermione stalled him.


"I've spoken with your employer. We've come to an agreement to terminate the contract," she bald-faced lied. "In short – no pun intended - you're being recalled."

The elf assessed her through shrewd, narrowed eyes. "Ah, so you spoke with my Mistress, then?"

With as innocent an expression as possible, Hermione nodded. "Oh, yes, she was quite agreeable."

"My employer isn't female."

Hermione felt her stomach drop a notch. "The wife of your employer, I meant."

The elf gave her a shrewd smirk, and folded his arms over his chest. "And who would that be, Ms. Granger?"

Sweat was beginning to form above her top lip. "Why, George Weasley, of course," she stammered, praying she'd guessed right.

The elf shook his head, settling back on his heels.

"Oh, silly me, Mr. Dill, but I meant Arthur Weasley."

The elf's smirk grew wider. "It's Basil, not Dill. And you're North Pole frigid, Ms. Granger. I'm afraid I don't believe you in the least regarding your knowledge of my employer's identity." He uncrossed his arms and reached into that inner pocket of his green velvet jacket again, this time pulling out a rolled-up scroll. "Now, I have a contract to fulfill, so shall we go over the details so we can get this over with?"

He headed back over to her desk, this time parking his tiny bum in her seat, and began reading off his Terms of Service agreement.

Bugger, just what she needed: an elf skilled in interpreting legal jargon.


6 December, 2023

For two blasted days, she'd been compelled to kiss strange men as a result of that blighting Mistletoe elf and his buggering contract, and Hermione was beginning to become quite vexed (not to mentioned, quite chapped on the lips) by the unwanted experiences.

The contents of the awful contract that currently held her in sway, and that had been read aloud to her on Monday, had been quite specific... and utterly loathsome: the elf's job was to get her to snog every available bachelor - within a certain age range, and to whom she was not related - that she came across from now until Christmas, in the hopes that doing so would return her Christmas cheer to her.

Unwilling to be bullied into being "cheerful" in such a manner, Hermione had used her vast knowledge and honed skills to attempt to get her out of her current fix.

She'd first tried to free the elf from his service by destroying his contract, but that elegantly rolled piece of parchment had proved more indestructible than a horcrux. She'd tried to banish him with a Greater Magick Circle, which he'd laughed at. Even stuffing the little blighter into her bag with the Undetectable Extension Charm on it had proved fruitless, as he'd simply reappeared before her a moment after she'd pulled the drawstring closed.

It turned out that she couldn't get away from him, either. A Metaphysical Sticking Charm connected the little guy to her magical aura, guaranteeing that if she tried to run, Apparate, or Portkey away from him, he'd go along for the ride.

The only times she was allowed some privacy was in the loo and in her bed at night.

Clearly, some very strong, possibly old, and quite bizarre magic was at work to protect the elf and assure he could not be prevented from his job. Her powers appeared to be useless against its might.

In desperation, she had asked an Unspeakable down in the Department of Mysteries for help. The man had taken one look at the elf, paled, and spun on his heel, racing away.

"What are you, JollyHells - an evil, little gremlin in disguise?" she asked the elf at her side, suddenly suspicious.

Her diminutive companion rocked back and forth on his heels, hands behind his back, not in the least bit insulted. "It's JollyBells, Ms. Granger. And no, I bat for the opposite team, in fact."

"Right, so you're a mischievous creature that has something to do with mistletoe... Oh, my God, Nutmeg - you're a Nargle! Luna was right – you do exist!"

The elf looked at her as if she'd just said the queerest thing in the world. "It's Basil, not Nutmeg. And no, I'm not a Nargle. A Nargle is much smaller."


11 December, 2023

This morning, she'd snogged five men on her way into the office, including her boss. She'd nearly lost her job for harassment over that one. Thankfully, all she'd had to do was point to the Mistletoe elf standing nearby, and her boss' eyes widened with recognition.

"Mistletoe elf, hmm?" he rhetorically asked. "Bad luck, ol' girl. Marge in Accounting received one as a gift a few years back. Nothing but trouble."

"Tell me about it," she sighed and glared over at her petite companion. "What did she do to finally get rid of it?"

He smirked and leaned back against his desk. "She kissed every eligible man in the Ministry until she found the one fellow that made her toes curl. Married him, she did, living happily-ever-after."

After that, Hermione had placed a piece of Muggle duct tape over her mouth...

...which she'd summarily been compelled to rip off after stumbling into her childhood rival, Draco Malfoy, in the M.L.E. Main Office just before lunch time. Not only had she been made to kiss the handsome, recently widowed wizard against her will (okay, it hadn't been that bad an experience... quite good in fact, if she had to be honest, as Malfoy had gotten right into it with her, snogging back with some serious skill), but she'd gotten a bad case of lip rash as a result of tearing the tape away. And she'd had to suffer the man's infuriating smirk afterwards as she'd tried to explain and apologize. Thank goodness he hadn't seemed too upset by her forwardness.

Now, as she and the elf sat in the living room of her cottage - she sipping wine after dinner - her slightly inebriated mind came up with an excuse to get her out of the contract. "You know, I have a heart condition."

It was sort-of the truth – she'd been heart-broken by Ron's mid-life crisis (read: her catching him red-handed "seeing to" a young, blonde thing in the back supply room of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes three Christmases ago, which had led to their divorce).

The elf looked over his shoulder at her. "Is that so?"


Hermione nodded very sincerely. "Oh, yes. Too much stress and I could fall over just like that." She snapped her fingers. "Being forced to kiss all these people... you could be the cause of my death, you know."

JollyBells glanced at her for a long while, silent, continuing to cool his cocoa with short puffs of air.

"I'm sure there must be a clause somewhere in that contract of yours about release of service for health-related issues," she tried again, uneasy in the elf's lack of a response.

The Mistletoe elf snorted. "Did you know that I've been doing some research on your background when you're asleep? I know why your heart is really bad, Ms. Granger, so it's no use fibbing to me anymore. You're angry and hurt by what that pudge of an ex-husband of yours did to you this time three years back. It seems to me that the major hurdle standing in the way of you ever enjoying Christmas merriment again is the connection between that event and this particular season. Therefore, if I can make you unafraid of another relationship with a man, especially now when the season's in full-swing, I'm sure you'll get over your hang-ups and return to loving Christmas as usual."

He sipped his cocoa as she reeled from that.

"You should know that I have never once, in one-hundred and thirty-three cases, failed to do as I've been contracted by my employer, Ms. Granger," he informed her in a very no-nonsense tone, "and I don't intend on breaking that record now. Losing the office betting pool and looking bad to my boss is not on my list of things to do this year. So, you'll have to resolve yourself to the idea that I will help you win back your holiday cheer."

She stared, agog, at him. "You'd willingly put my life at risk for a job – and a bet?"

He nodded, taking another sip.

"You're going to force me to keep up this ridiculous and humiliating behaviour, aren't you?"

Again, he nodded, completely confident.

"I hate you," she huffed.

The elf nonchalantly shrugged and turned back to staring into the fire. "All of my clients say that at first."


13 December, 2023

Hermione arrived in her office after lunch to find a bouquet of white roses, tied off with a silver and green silk ribbon, laid rather romantically across her chair. Pleasantly surprised, she reached out and snagged the accompanying card to read who had sent her such a lovely and unexpected gift.


I've read somewhere that it's proper custom to wait three days after finding interest in a witch to call upon her for the first time. Can we dispense with stifling social protocol, call two and a half days "close enough," and skip right to the part where I ask you to dinner on Friday night?

~ Draco Malfoy

The note slipped from between her numb fingers, landing on the floor. The elf picked it up, read it, and whistled with joy. "Wonderful! Your first official date in three years," he pronounced. "That's the ticket to fighting off those holiday blues!"

"Malfoy wants to date me?"

For some reason, she just couldn't wrap her head around the idea.

Sure, he'd changed a lot over the last twenty-five years, regaining respectability, becoming an honest business man, and no longer espousing anything having to do with blood status. She knew him through their occasional interactions and from word-of-mouth from her daughter (who was his son Scorpius' best friend), and Harry (who had developed a friendship with the man over Quidditch). They both agreed that Draco was a loving father and had been a doting, loyal husband to Astoria, even up to the day her illness claimed her.

And okay, he was still quite attractive for a man in his early forties, with only the hint of a widow's peak and few lines to mar the naughty, boyish smirk he'd thrown her way. He'd filled out as he'd grown up and aged, giving him a strikingly handsome face, and his milk-white skin had been replaced with a healthy glow from a fading summer tan. He still dressed with impeccable taste and in the finest cut robes, but he wore them now like it was simply the requirements of fashion, not his due or to boast of his wealth. And, yes, all right - the kiss that had been forced upon both of them had positively sizzled. Still...

That annoying elf clapped his hands together and rubbed them with anticipation. "So, I'll go ahead and send off your confirmation to the young sir." Shutting his eyes, he scrunched his face up with intense concentration and opened his palms, face up, as if he were sending wishes off into the air.

"You look like you're attempting to have a cosmic bowel movement," she snarked. "Listen, what if I hadn't wanted to go? You just took the decision out of my hands."

The elf dropped his Buddha-At-Rest post and grinned at her. "Come on, I saw you snooker each other. You both liked it."

"Snooker? What are you, twelve years old?"

The jolly smile left the elf's face and he sighed. "You know, I'm just here to make you smile. Why are you so dead-set against the idea? Don't you feel you deserve happiness, too? You're a good person, Ms. Granger. You work hard. You're attractive and have great teeth. You donate to charity, recycle your garbage, call you mum more than once a month, and take excellent care of your home. You have a respectable position at the Ministry, have a good slew of friends, and your children love you. What so wrong with you that you can't accept that you deserve to find joy and love in your heart again?"

Hermione opened her mouth, shut it, and thought on what the elf had said.

Godric, she had been sabotaging her own happiness for the past three years, hadn't she? Ron's cheating had broken something in her, and she hadn't even noticed it. Worse, she'd let him make her afraid of putting her heart back on the line. She'd let him ruin her love of Christmas.

Her eyes filled with tears and she turned away, busying herself with arranging the roses she'd received and struggling to hold her emotions in check. As she calmed down, she made the decision to take back control of her life.

"All right, I will see Malfoy this Friday evening," she agreed.

The elf nodded enthusiastically, clapping his hands.

"But," she made the important caveat, "you are not coming with me on this date, and that's not negotiable. I'm forty-four years old, I fought against the darkest wizard in the history of our times, have maneuvered around the political maze of the Ministry for over twenty years of my career, married a Weasley, and given birth to two children. I think I'm more than qualified to handle proper dating etiquette - and all without the advice of a third-party, thank you very much."

The elf pursed his lips together. "You promise to give the date your best effort? No dodging out on him? No phantom stomach pains? No emergency need to get home to floss your cat's teeth before his bedtime?"

With a sigh, she nodded. "Agreed. I'll make the best of it. But if he gets obnoxious, grabby, or says something insulting, I'm on the first Knight Bus home."

The elf nodded back. "All right, then I hope your date is fun and brings you some good cheer."

Truthfully, she just hoped the date wasn't a disaster.


15 December, 2023

She'd sat across from Malfoy at the dinner table for the last two hours and had had an amicable, intelligent discussion about her work, his work, the state of the Ministry, and how she'd gotten mixed up with a Mistletoe elf in the first place. Malfoy – Draco, he'd requested she call him – had been courteous, demonstrated excellent table manners, and was a good listener. He also had wise opinions on the subject matter.

All except where the elf was concerned. Her date seemed to find the little git's meddling in her life as something of an amusement. "I certainly didn't mind his interference Monday afternoon," he murmured in a sultry tone, staring at her through a smoky, mischievous gaze. That slow, seductive smirk crawled back up his left cheek. "Did you, Hermione?"

The way he said her name made her heart pound.

She reached for her cup of coffee and took a sip. "Where did you say you planned to take me after this?" she asked, hoping to distract him.

His smirk widened. "It's a surprise. You'll like it. Trust me."

He was right – she'd loved his idea.

"Biblioteca di Magia!" she sighed with pleasure, recognizing the place from the pictures she'd seen in books. "The Library of Magic in Rome! I've always wanted to come here!"

"I know," he stated with a teensy bit of smugness. "I asked around."

She raised an eyebrow at that. "Have you and Harry been conspiring again?" He had the good grace not to deny it, merely giving her a guilty smile. "I swear you two are rubbing off on each other over the years. He's more Slytherin every time I turn around."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Rolling her eyes, Hermione chose not to respond, focusing on the wonderful gift before her instead. It wouldn't do to point out their differences, not when they were having... well, a lot of fun, actually.

The library, she noted, was abandoned. But then, it would be at this time of night, wouldn't it? That meant Malfoy had obviously arranged for them to have a private tour of the place. She wondered how much something like that had set him back; probably a lot of Galleons. She couldn't help but be impressed.

"I've read that this library has an original tenth century copy of Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes in Old English under a Stasis spell," she said.

To her surprise, Malfoy took her elbow and led her right to where the tome, displayed on a stand in one corner of the room.

"Oh, my God!" she breathed in a whisper. "This book was instrumental in Beedle the Bard's storytelling. He wrote his Tales after reading it. It's believed the book-"

"Inspired not only him, but the Peverell brothers that he wrote about in The Tale of the Three Brothers. The rumour is they used this book to create the Deathly Hallows," Draco finished for her.

She glanced over her shoulder at him. "The Tales helped us figure out why Voldemort was after the Elder Wand, and why it didn't recognize him as its master."

Malfoy's lips twisted with wry humour. "Potter told me. Funny how the bloody thing was mine for almost a full year and I didn't even know it."

"It's a good thing you didn't. If the Dark Lord had known..."

A poignant silence stretched between them.

She turned back to the book. "I'm glad you didn't know," she reiterated, thinking of all of the things that might have changed had he been armed with such knowledge. Perhaps Voldemort might have been able to extract the knowledge from Draco's mind using Legilimency, and simply put the wand in the seventeen-year-old wizard's hand and cast an Avada upon him. If that had happened, Harry would have lost, and the world would be a much different place.

As if sensing her thoughts, her companion put a warm hand on her shoulder. "I'm glad I didn't know, either."

After they'd spent some time wandering the library, talking and discovering all of the old things that the place had to offer, he took her home to discover new things... like dizzying kisses at her door, that his brand of cologne had just become her favourite smell in the whole world, and that there existed between her and her former childhood rival a sizzling chemistry that couldn't be denied.


16 December, 2023

Draco's note and another bouquet of roses, delivered via owl, arrived at her window just before the noontime hour.


I wished to communicate once more how thoroughly I enjoyed last night. Our time together was an absolute delight. You are a remarkable woman – so filled with passion, so intelligent, so lovely, and absolutely radiant in red.

My interest in you has only been further warmed. I'd enjoy another opportunity to take pleasure in your company soon. Please owl back as to when your schedule is cleared for several hours, if you find your curiosity similarly... aroused.

~ Draco

As she penned a response, she kept her writing hidden behind her hand, not wanting to give that stupidly grinning elf any more ammunition. When she'd finished, she folded the paper, gave Malfoy's Eagle owl a treat, and gave it the note to take back to its Master, sending it on its way.

As she watched it wing off into the sky, she was keenly aware of the elf at her back, and his smuggy smugness. "Oh, do shut up," she groused.


21 December, 2023

Almost seven days had passed since Hermione's date with Malfoy, and there had been no word from him.

Her return note to him on Saturday had let him know that she'd been interested in seeing him again, too, and she'd given some dates that she knew were open in her schedule for them to consider for a second date. He hadn't replied. She'd sent a second note just two days ago, beginning with some light 'how are you?' banter and ending on a 'hope to hear from you soon' note, but still, there was no reply.

Perhaps she'd come off too strong, or seemed too desperate? Some men, she knew, didn't like aggressive women, and Hermione was known for her take-charge attitude about most things. She might very well have turned him off without realising it.

Thank the Fates the stupid elf's contract stated that once she'd kissed the same chap twice, the spell broke and she was no longer required to snog out with complete strangers. No more awkward, sloppy kisses with disgusting, unseemly men. If only she'd known that earlier, she could have gotten rid of Mr. JollyBells weeks ago!

Unfortunately, the contract wasn't complete just because one part of it had been fulfilled. She still hadn't found her lost Christmas cheer – which was the whole point behind this ridiculous exercise. And now with Malfoy's uncanny silence and her own doubts creeping in, she was beginning to lose whatever good feelings she'd managed to achieve, and was back to dwelling in the blues.

She turned to the elf, who was sitting in the chair across her desk from her, reading the latest gossip in Witch Weekly.


"I'm quitting this life, and taking Holy Orders," she announced.

"Is that so?" he unconcernedly asked, his eyes never lifting from its perusal of the article he was reading.

Hermione nodded. "Yes, I think it's for the best, all around."

Basil looked at her with a frustrated sigh. "If you'd just let me go see what's keeping him from replying-"

She slammed her hand down on the desk. "I will not send you off to ask him why he refuses to return my letters. I won't appear pathetic or desperate – especially not to the likes of Draco Malfoy!"


24 December, 2023

"They took Scorpius out of school last Sunday," Rose informed her as they worked side-by-side, fixing breakfast. "Apparently, he had an acute appendicitis in the middle of the night, and had to be rushed to St. Mungo's. Then, when he was there recovering from surgery, he caught a case of Dragon Pox. Poor Scor!"

Hermione looked up from cooking the eggs, gasping in shock. "Dragon Pox! But that's... goodness, that very dangerous!"

Rose nodded. "He was put in quarantine, along with his father, who got exposed when he went to visit him after the surgery."

Merlin! Draco had caught Dragon Pox, too? Well, that explained why she hadn't heard a word from the man. Dragon Pox caused a very high fever in the patient that left them delirious for days.

"I'll Floo to St. Mungo's now and check up on their condition," Hermione offered. "Finish the eggs, will you? And get Hugo up and eating. You know how that boy is."

Within minutes, Hermione was in the foyer of the hospital, and asking after Draco's health. It seemed he was just being readied by the Healer to be discharged for home, having run the gamut and beaten his illness. She was given his room number and went up to visit.

Just as she reached the closed door, it opened and Malfoy stepped out. They nearly collided.

"I just heard this morning from Rose what happened," she quickly explained. "I was... worried. Are you all better now?"

There were some residual scabs showing just at his collar, and he looked wiped out, but thankfully, he hadn't been scarred by the illness. Clearly, he'd been allowed a shower as well, for he was clean, his hair still a bit damp, and he smelled of soap. His smile was slow and lazy, but genuine. "Much, thank you. I received your notes, but didn't break the fever until last night. I've just read them and was on my way to reply. I apologize for the unintentional delay."

She shook her head. "No need. I'm just... very thankful you're better. How's your son?"

"Fully recovered from his surgery and illness. He was sent home yesterday. My mother has been seeing to his care in my absence."

"That's good. I'm glad to hear that, truly."

Silence fell between them as they stared into each others' eyes, each seeming to wait for the other to make some sort of move.

"The Healer says I'm not contagious any longer," he finally broke the ice.

Hermione licked her lips. "Oh? That's excellent news."

They moved towards each other at the same time, their arms coming about each other in natural harmony, their lips meeting in a kiss filled with fire and need.

"I've been dreaming of doing this again with you for the last week," he finally admitted when they broke the snog for some air. "Well, in between the fevered hallucinations of cheerful Christmas elves wearing green hats."

Hermione burst into laughter. "Sounds like you got the good potions."

He grinned and swooped in close for another kiss. "They were quite extraordinary, I assure you."


25 December, 2023 (Monday morning)

Basil was gone when she awoke. He'd left her a note magically tacked to the mantle.

Dear Ms. Granger,

It is with the utmost pleasure that I, Basil JollyBells, do hereby certify that you have regained your lost Christmas cheer. My employment contract has been fulfilled, and as such, my services are no longer necessary.

Blessings be upon your home now and always!

Cheerfully yours,

~ Basil

P.S. I've left you a small present under the tree.

Hermione searched and found the elf's gift: a frame magical photo of him in some place she didn't recognize, smiling into the camera. Folded neatly on top of the photo was the contract that had started it all off.

With shaking hands, she unfolded it and read the name of the person who had employed Basil's services on her behalf. She read it again – twice more – just to be sure she'd gotten it right.

"Santa Claus?"

She held the contract out to show her children. "According to this, Santa Claus hired Basil JollyBells to bring me Christmas cheer."

Ever the curious one, with her mother's penchant for understanding legalese, Rose came over and took the document from her mother's hand to read it. When she was done, she looked up at her. "See the seal on the bottom?" she pointed out, handing the parchment back. "It's notarized. Someone named 'Santa Claus' was legally allowed the sign this document."

Silence reined for long minutes.

"Well," Hermione finally broke the awkward moment. "Let's just get to opening gifts, shall we? We have Christmas lunch at the Weasleys' to keep, and then tonight, we're going to Grandma and Grandpa Granger's for dinner."

"And then later tonight, you're meeting up with Mr. Malfoy for a little Christmas celebrating without the kids," Rose gave her a shrewd look. "Scorpius owl'd me last night with all the juicy gossip. Go mum!"

Blushing, Hermione stood up and put the photo of Basil above the mantle in a place of prominence, the contract next to it. As soon as the stores reopened for business, she'd have them framed together and properly mounted on her wall, she decided, happily. That way, she would never forget her new friend and the lessons he'd taught her this year.