The next few weeks passed in a blur for Hermione. The blur had started that first morning when she had sat for her placement exams, which had taken an entire day and left her drained mentally and physically. She truly believed that if it had not been for the distractions provided in the days prior to the test her performance would have been compromised by stress and lack of sleep. Even then, the night before the test was one that she had no wish to repeat as sleep had avoided her for the majority of the night.
She had not expected to have the results back the next morning! The man from the education department, Mr. Marsh, had been very pleasant, as well as patient as he sat with them explaining the results. While she had done well enough, she supposed, it was not quite what she had wished for.
She had a fair grasp of basic algebra; Mr. Marsh had then explained that she was at about the level expected of her age, it was the same with her language skills. It was her science and history that gave them the most concern.
By the end of the day they had a plan for her education and would have her caught up before the end of the summer. Thankfully, since Harry was using tutors it was not an issue for her to join him and begin right away.
Their classes began at eight and ended at three, with little homework as most work was completed during the day. Outside of that she spent time with her family helping prepare for Christmas Eve and Day.
The day before Christmas they began their holidays, starting with the early morning return of Luna. After an emotional reunion and quick breakfast, they made their way to the vans parked in front of Fairgrove's main building.
Harry was busily flipping pages on a clip board and directing people to different vehicles. The Grangers queued up. When they reached the front Harry smiled. "The Grangers." He flipped a few pages. "You'll be in van three. Welcome home Luna!" he said, giving her a quick hug then pointing down the way. "There is a number in the back window. What we're doing today is a little different though. Unlike the other lists you've done this will be for a single family, the Thompsons, Philip and Rebecca. They have a son Jason, age ten, and a daughter Madeline (Madie), age six. Madie became ill recently, and was admitted to the hospital last night."
He flipped open a folder and handed them a page out of it. "A nurse had her parents fill this out last night and faxed it over. It's a short list of likes etc… pick a few things you think they would like… things to keep them busy... Try to avoid things that are too loud. I've given you a budget of a hundred dollars. Any questions?"
Before the morning was over, they had found things for both kids. A Beakman's Inquizator (an electronic quiz game about science), and several X-men action figures for Jason, and Disney play sets (Aladdin, and Lion King), and some books for Madie.
That evening they helped finish the wrapping and delivery of the gifts, as well as participating in the small Christmas parties in the children's ward. The smiles that their efforts brought to those children and their families were heartwarming.
One of their stops for the evening had been to personally deliver the gifts for Jason and Madie. Little Madie's eyes went wide when she saw the small play sets for both of her favorite movies, they were perfect for her to play with on her bed or tray table. Jason had been surprised as well and his smile was just as genuine.
The next morning found them helping with the deliveries to local orphanages. Toys, books, clothing, as well as monetary donations, it had been quite an experience for them all, one that they wished to continue in the future.
The next morning they had been invited to breakfast with Harry's family, but when they arrived one person was conspicuously absent. "Where's Harry?" Luna asked.
Shar smiled. "Oh, he'll be along shortly. He had to go tend to something." She led them past the kitchen and to the dining area. As they sat she asked a question. "Luna, how are things going with your training?"
The girl smiled. "Very well, Chinthliss and Lady Ako are pleased with my progress. She looked at Hermione. "By the way, I found out what nargles and wrackspurts are." She turned back to her breakfast and scooped some eggs onto her plate.
Hermione just stared at her. She had heard Luna talk about both of them along with some other creatures but had never been able to find any thing about them… she sat for a moment more before her curiosity burst. "Well? What are they?"
Luna's hair hid the smile that had crept across her face as Hermione waited for her answer. She took another bite, savoring the eggs covered in salsa before answering. "You remember I said that I saw nargles around mistletoe?" Hermione nodded. "Evidently there is a form of pixie that uses the specific magic produced by mistletoe when they nest. I was seeing their 'wake' within the magic. Lady Ako taught me how to adjust my sight to be able to see them."
Hermione was stunned. "You… you can see them?"
"Yep," she said. "And the things I called wrackspurts?" Hermione nodded. "They are disruptions in a person's magic brought on by stress. That's why I saw more affecting you during exams. The same type of disturbance can happen when someone is confused or angry."
"And the sight lets you see that?"
Luna nodded. "And more… they said that when I have enough practice I will be able to use the sight for all kinds of things. It's rather exciting."
The back door opened and Harry entered followed by a portly man with a long white beard. He wore a red and green flannel shirt, and well worn overalls along with a light weight red jacket and cap.
Shar and Tannim stood walking toward him. "Nick! We are so glad you could join us! Is Martha with you?"
He shook his head. "No, she doesn't like to travel the way I do this time of year. Besides, you know we always leave on vacation after I rest up, she has last minute things to finish."
He shook Tannim's hand and hugged Shar. "I just wanted to check on Harry. I heard things have gotten interesting in the last few weeks."
Tannim chuckled. "A little."
Nick smiled widely. "Well we can't have your life get too boring." He stepped toward the table. "Now, let's see. You must be the Grangers." He offered his hand.
"Robert Granger," Robert said shaking the hand. "My wife Lisa, and daughters Hermione and Luna."
Luna's face broke out in a large grin, as she hopped from her chair and ran to the man "Mr. Klause!" she yelled as she hugged him tightly.
"Ho..Ho..Ho.. It's nice to see you too Luna," he said hugging her back. "I trust you are doing well."
She released him enough to look him in the eye. "Yes sir. I'm doing very well. Thank you for the books and paints."
"You are most welcome! I hope you enjoyed them?" he asked as he tweaked her nose softly making her giggle.
"I did…" Her voice trailed off. "But I'm afraid that I won't be able to show you what I did with the paints… I don't live with my father any more."
He hugged her again, then reached in his pocket and pulled out a package which expanded to a medium sized box. "Then you will just need to show me what you have done with these when you've finished."
She squealed as she took hold of the package taking it to the table and ripping it open to reveal a case full of painting supplies. She jumped into his arms again. "THANK YOU MR. KLAUSE!"
He held the hug a short time then let her go and stood to look at the Grangers who all looked bewildered. Harry was the first to speak. "Nick, I didn't know you knew Luna."
Nick made his way to a chair and sat, scooping up some breakfast. "For years, her mother too, believers… both of them." He took a bite of a biscuit. "Sweet girls, both of them. Such a shame about her mother."
Robert finally shook off his stupor, he sat heavily in his seat. "Who…?"
Nick chuckled. "Who am I? I'm known by several names but most know me as Nicolas or Kris Kringle today."
Lisa shook her head. "You're FATHER CHRISTMAS!"
He smiled brightly, his clothing shifting to his traditional garb. "Ho, Ho, Ho!" It shifted back. "Just call me Nick." He reached into his pocket again. "Mmm. I'm sorry Hermione, I almost forgot with all this food. You wouldn't believe how hungry you get running around like that. I knew I was going to be by this morning and figured I'd just drop your gift off when I met you."
He handed her another expanded package. She took it gingerly, and sat again, her eyes never leaving his twinkling ones. She turned slowly, and began to unwrap the gift carefully. Inside she found an intricately carved wooden box inlaid with a single rose and when she opened it a small figure of a couple dancing together popped up, as a soft song played.
"It plays three songs, Canon in D, Edelweiss, and The Last Waltz… I just couldn't chose so I made it so it could play all three." She had launched herself at him at that point her arms wrapping around him.
Her mother stroked the edge of the box, her eyes glistening as tears formed. "It looks just like my mother's did… It was… How did..." She looked over at Nick, who was hugging a now crying Hermione.
He smiled gently, as Hermione moved away. "Thank you, it's beautiful." She wiped her eyes. "I remember sitting with Grams… listening to it when I was little… before she… I loved it..."
Hermione's mother gathered her in a hug. "We found it next to her, it had fallen off her lap and broken when she… She loved it so much… my grandfather had brought it back from the war. Thank you. I think it means as much to me as it does to Hermione."
"You're very welcome." He pulled another box from his pocket and passed it to Lisa. He spoke quietly to her. "For Luna, when the paperwork is complete, I reversed the inlay on this one."
Lisa burst into tears and hugged the man tightly.
"Now," he said, "Shall we?" They all gathered around the table and continued their meal.
By mid-morning Nick had said his farewells, and departed, leaving a still stunned Granger family behind.
December 31 found Hermione with a clean bill of health, and them preparing for the journey back to England. To the Grangers' surprise they were not going to be returning by plane but by the use of something called a portal.
They gathered in the main building and followed Keighvin downstairs and into a restricted area. They entered a large empty room, with a large stone circle standing just in front of the far wall. Keighvin walked across the room and gestured at it and the center shimmered. "This is a portal," he said. "When you walk through you will be in an area of Underhill known as Grand Central. It is enforced neutral ground, no matter what happens take no offensive action. Grand Central has its own protections and you will be safe there."
"When you go through be sure to watch your step, there is a small drop just on the other side… about an inch or so. On the other side step toward the right till the rest of us are through. Everyone ready? Ok, one at a time step through."
At her turn Hermione stepped through what she could only describe as a cold shower you didn't get wet in, and down the small step. Looking around she found she was in a large room filled with similar portals. Along the far wall sat a desk with a sign above it stating 'Private Portals North America'. She stepped to the right and joined the growing group as she continued to look around. The walls were made of a gray stone, and the ceiling glowed giving off sufficient light to see easily.
A voice from behind them sounded. "Ah the group from Fairgrove, this way please." Hermione turned to see a… Anthropomorphic raccoon? She supposed that shouldn't surprise her, she had met FX briefly when he visited Harry. "This way please, have your passports ready."
Keighvin stepped over and handed over his passport. "Hey, Rattes. How have you been?"
"Well, Lord Silverhair. Yourself?" he asked stamping the page.
"Very well. We have four first timers with us," he said gesturing to the Grangers.
He nodded. "I was told to expect them. They are the first non government travelers to use the portal to London."
Keighvin nodded. "I'll give them the tour on the way."
"As you wish." He stamped each passport as they came. "Those are your exit stamps from the US. When you exit the portal in London you will be given the entry stamp to England. Unless you choose to use the 'Home' portal then it will be given as you prepare to step through. If you are carrying any fruit, vegetables or anything you believe may be contraband please deposit it in the bin to the right of the door. Welcome to Grand Central." With that he hopped off his stool and walked through the door behind the desk.
Keighvin led them to a door just left of the desk. When he opened it the sound of a crowd assaulted them. Walking out the doorway they found themselves on a walkway overlooking a large atrium, easily ten stories tall.
They were on the third floor; looking down they could see a large portal. It stood almost two stories, a large crowd was queued to enter it. Keighvin's voice rose so they could hear him over the crowd. "That's the 'Home' Portal, when you use it you get dropped directly at your own home. It is a popular way to travel, you can arrange for a specific time by contacting the booking office, otherwise it is first come first served and the wait can be quite long sometimes. And it can be a little expensive. Unless time is of the essence or you live a large distance from a public portal I wouldn't recommend it."
He continued, "Each floor has a ticket desk," he gestured toward a kiosk next to the lift. "You need special permission to come to this floor as it houses private portals. The second floor is public or governmental portals separated by country. At this time only one public portal exists in England and it's the one we'll be using. It is in a special area in Lancaster House as it houses the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Later one will be added for easier public travel.
"The first floor houses several eateries, a duty free shop, a bar… it's a lot like an airport." He led them toward the lift. "Unfortunately, we don't have time for you to explore today, as our window for entry is coming up quickly. When we come back through I'll make sure there is plenty of time."
In a few short minutes they found themselves stepping out into the afternoon sun in London.