It was such a small, random thought that Harry voiced one cold December morning, not knowing what changes it was going to bring.
"Do you know how to send Christmas presents from Hogwarts?" he asked his two best friends hesitantly. He had been reluctant to ask them, as they would be the main recipients, of course, but as always, they were the first people he could think to ask for help.
It was a Saturday morning in Harry's first year, early in December, and the three friends were walking back to their common room after breakfast. The question brought Harry's friends up short, and they looked at him quizzically.
"By owl, I'd guess," said Ron, without giving it much thought.
"No, that's not what I mean. How would I buy the presents in the first place?"
"Well…" began Hermione, but then she trailed off. She looked at Ron, and then they both shrugged.
"I guess you can't really, if you're staying at Hogwarts," said Ron.
Harry looked down and nodded.
"It doesn't matter, though, does it?" asked Ron a bit uncomfortably. He, himself, had already written home to ask is mother for presents for Harry. "Everyone knows you're staying here, so no one will expect you to get them anything." He made sure to include himself and Hermione with a vague hand wave.
The girl next to him nodded energetically in agreement.
"Yeah…" said Harry. "It's just... This is the first time I've money of my own, and can actually give people presents. I just wish..." He trailed off.
Silence fell following his words.
"I know!" Ron said after a while. "We could ask some other students—"
"Don't be silly, Ron," interrupted Hermione. "You can't just randomly ask people such a thing. It makes them think of presents, and whether they're going to get any themselves this year. And if they're not, they'll only be reminded of that, and be disappointed…"
As Hermione was explaining this, they suddenly noticed Neville step up behind them. He blushed.
"Sorry, guys, I forgot the password again." He pointed at the portrait hole in front of them. "Could you help me out?"
"It's 'blizzard'," Hermione answered promptly, and then all three friends sent Neville speculative looks, wondering if he had overheard what they had been talking about.
"Er… ah…" He blushed even more. "I'm not sure, either," he answered their unvoiced question, confirming that he had heard at least part of their conversation. "The only one who's ever sent me presents is my Great Uncle Algie, and he usually sends money, because he says he never knows what to get me." Seeing Harry frown, he ducked his head.
"Well, if toads are his idea of a good present, that might not be so bad," joked Ron.
Neville blushed even more. "Trevor's not so bad, really."
"Yeah, you can play hide and seek when he gets lost. Scabbers, on the other hand…" Ron looked at the lump in his robe pocket, where his rat lay sleeping. "Pathetic."
Neville smiled, eager to be included. "Oh! I thought of something. A couple years back, Gran twisted her ankle, and couldn't go to Diagon Alley for Christmas shopping. So she had a Christmas catalogue delivered, and then ordered all her presents by owl post."
"Awesome!" Harry could not believe it was that simple. "So, how do you get this catalogue?"
At this, though, Neville drew a blank. "Sorry, I don't know."
Ron was quick to point out to Hermione that his idea of asking around had merit after all. She scrunched up her face, not liking to be outdone. One thing the boys had learned in the month they had been friends with her was that she always liked to know the right answers.
"Maybe we could ask a prefect," Hermione suggested the next morning, once they had reached the the great hall. She had to explain to the boys what she was talking about first, and Harry had to wonder whether she had been thinking about it the whole time.
"Yeah," agreed Ron. "Let's ask Percy. That's the sort of useless trivia he'd know."
When they saw the older Weasley boy walk into the Great Hall a few minutes later, Ron jumped up from his seat, and hurried over to reach him first. That was his brother, after all. No reason why Hermione should outdo him on this.
Percy was talking to one of the female Ravenclaw prefects when he saw his youngest brother rush over to him, his two constant companions of late not far behind.
"Excuse me, please. There seems to be some problem I'm supposed to deal with," he told his companion.
Ron did not wait for her to reply, and started bombarding Percy with his questions as soon as he reached him. It took the older Weasley boy a while to understand the confusing rambling of his younger brother, who was soon joined by two other voices, neither of which seemed to clarify things. The bushy-haired girl was constantly trying to shut the boys up and start from the beginning, but they were not letting her. Harry Potter, who seemed to be the centre of the problem somehow, was trying to apologise and dismiss the question altogether, and none of it was helping.
Flushed and confused, and by no means wanting to be embarrassed in front of his companion, Percy did his best to understand, and when he finally did, and realised he did not know the answer to their question, he did the only thing he knew to help: he turned towards Professor McGonagall, who was conveniently close by, about to join the other Professors at the High Table for breakfast.
"Professor," he asked, "would you have a moment?"
Harry, awfully embarrassed now about how far his question was taken, tried even more to interrupt, but once again, it was no use. Percy, with some help from Hermione, explained to McGonagall that Harry wanted to order a Christmas catalogue so he could buy Christmas presents from school.
The usually strict professor's eyes softened at hearing this. "Oh, Mr Potter, what a lovely idea. It's very simple, actually. You need to write to one of the post offices – the one in Hogsmeade should be the easiest, I think – and they'll send it to you. You can even pay by mail. If you fill in a subscription form, they can take the money directly from your vault."
"Professor, how does it work?" That was Hermione, asking the questions Harry wanted to know the answers to. "I mean, does the catalogue belong to a shop? Or can you only buy the items in the catalogue by mail? And what if we wanted to buy something from another shop—"
"No, no, Miss Granger. The catalogue lists items from many different shops – the most popular ones are all in there. It wouldn't be very convenient otherwise, would it? Most shops listed are from Diagon Alley, but there's a few others as well, a couple from Hogsmeade, even.
"They bring out several catalogues over the year, I think, though the Christmas one is probably the most popular. But if you wanted to, you could do all your shopping by owl post – over the summer, when you're back in the muggle world, for example."
They thanked their teacher before returning to their breakfast, Hermione all the while going over the intriguing new possibilities.
Harry could just imagine how an annual catalogue subscription from the magical world would go over with his relatives, so he was not much interested in that, but he resolved to send Hedwig to Hogsmeade for the Christmas catalogue immediately after breakfast.
It took a few days of writing back and forth, and filling in order forms, but less than a week later, just before the first major snowfall hit Hogwarts, Hedwig delivered the catalogue with the morning post during breakfast.
Harry refrained from opening the package in front of everyone, still remembering the reaction to his broom delivery earlier that year. He had planned to open it after retiring for the night, in the privacy of his dorm room. Presents were supposed to be a surprise, after all. It would not do to pick them out in front of an audience.
His friends had other ideas, however. They wanted to have a look as well, and persuaded Harry to open the package in the common room. Harry did not see the point in that. He wanted to pick out presents for his two best friends, after all, and he could hardly do that with the two of them present. At least, he could get an idea what they liked, he thought resignedly.
The catalogue itself was a rather thick volume with big, moving illustrations inside, they discovered with some awe.
"Oh, look, you can move them any way you like," said Hermione while jabbing one of the colourful illustrations with her wand. The image of a book that had drawn Hermione's attention really was moving as her wand movement directed.
"Try enlarging it," said Harry, but then tried it himself. That worked too. "This book is really cool," he concluded.
Hermione nodded in agreement, while Ron seemed a little less enthusiastic, a little less impressed by another display of magic, which was not as unusual to him as it was to his friends.
Other people around them got interested as well, and came over to have a quick look, make some comments, or ask about it. Harry remembered to thank Neville, when the boy noticed the catalogue and smiled at him. Neville waved off the thanks embarrassedly, but clearly looked pleased.
They had a thorough look through the catalogue. Harry was impressed to discover items from a shop called Quality Quidditch Supplies and found himself tempted to do some shopping for himself as well.
There were many more interesting things to discover. All sorts of sweets were listed – some he had tried on the Hogwarts express, and some he had never even heard of. There were also items from a rather intriguing shop called Zonko's Joke Shop, which was apparently found in Hogsmeade. Hermione also found herself drawn to the lengthy list of books and stationery. All in all, the catalogue kept them entertained for quite some time.
"So, have you made a list yet?" asked Hermione as they were getting ready to leave.
"Of the people you want to give presents to."
Harry gave her a telling look. She blushed.
"I meant other than us," she mumbled, then went on in a pedantic tone to cover up her embarrassment. "You need to write everyone's names down in a list. Then you can write down ideas for presents as they come, and when you've bought their present, you can cross them out of your list."
That seemed rather a lot of effort, when Harry really only planned to buy presents for two people.
"Blimey, Hermione, how many people did you have in mind?" Ron asked the question Harry had been thinking about.
"Well, I don't know. But with all the friends he's got, and his relatives—"
"Wait a second. I don't have many friends. And I'm definitely not getting anything for my relatives."
Hermione looked at him like he had grown a second head.
"Hermione, what do you mean, he's got many friends – who are you talking about?" That was Ron, distracting Hermione from asking uncomfortable questions about his relatives, much to Harry's relief.
"Well, I don't know. But famous as he is, everyone seems to want to—"
"Those people don't count," interrupted Harry.
"Oh, I don't know," backtracked Hermione. "It's your list, isn't it? You should know who's on it and who isn't."
"Who's on your list, then?" asked Ron, less bothered than Harry about asking direct questions.
"Apart from you two," she almost swallowed the words, "there's my parents," she went on more evenly. "There's some other relatives, as well, but my parents take care of that." She scowled at the boys. "Oh, come on! You know I don't have any friends apart from you two."
"Er, well, same here," shrugged Harry. "So there's no need for big Christmas lists. No need to go overboard."
"I suppose, yes," agreed Hermione. "But even so – when you started talking about Christmas presents, I realised this is the first time I have people to give presents to. I mean, yes, I used to get something for my parents even before now, but usually it was something I had made myself. Now I can buy them something in the wizarding world. Oh, and my mum always gave me something to give to my teachers—"
"You gave presents to your teachers?" Ron was appalled.
"Of course. Nothing big, just coffee or sweets – and cards, of course. Doesn't anyone do that at Hogwarts?"
"No. Well," Ron backtracked with a grimace, "the prefects do sometimes get something for the heads of their houses."
"Oh." Hermione sounded disappointed.
Harry remembered his aunt buying presents for his and Dudley's teachers that his cousin got to give them, making sure that everyone saw Harry had no presents to give. Harry had hated hearing their gushing thanks to Dudley while they shot him uncomfortable looks.
He also remembered saving one of the greeting cards that Dudley had tried writing on but had to throw away because ha had misspelled the teacher's name on the first line. Harry had crossed out his cousin's writing, and had written his own thanks to his then favourite teacher.
The card had been a huge success – at least where the teacher was concerned. But then she had gone on and mentioned it to Harry's aunt. Suffice it to say, Harry had never done anything like that again.
"You know, Hermione, there's no reason why you shouldn't get a present for a professor, if you want," he told Hermione suddenly. "We grew up in the muggle world, and it's tradition there."
"You think?" Hermione perked up.
"Sure. Who did you have in mind?"
"I thought, maybe, Professor McGonagall. She was the one who came to my house and told my parents and me all about magic. And she's our Head of House—"
"And we asked her about ordering Christmas presents, and she actually knew what to do. Without her, I wouldn't be giving anyone any presents.
"I'm going to get Hagrid something, too," said Harry after a pause. "He was the one who introduced me to the magical world, like McGonagall did for you, Hermione. And he's my friend. We visit him every week."
"Good idea," agreed Hermione.
Ron only nodded, feeling left out.
"And I might get a little something for Neville, as well," Harry said quietly. "He doesn't seem to be receiving the best presents, does he? And I know what that's like." He rolled his eyes. "Plus, he was the one who told us about the catalogue."
Hermione beamed at him, while Ron looked a bit glum.
"So there you go. That's your list, then. Neville, Hagrid, your relatives—" She took a breath. "And us, I suppose," she finished softly.
"Forget my relatives," Harry told her more firmly than he intended to.
Hermione frowned. "That's a bit harsh, don't you think?"
"No, it's not. I don't like them, and they don't like me. It's bad enough that we're all stuck with each other. We tend to get along better the less contact I have with them."
"But, Harry, they're your family."
Harry chanced a quick look at her. Her frown had not lessened. Ron, who knew a little more about what his relatives were really like, was avoiding looking at either of them.
"Hermione, let it go. That's just not the way things are between us," Harry finally said with a sigh.
For a while, that was the end of that discussion.
Soon enough, however, Hermione began prodding Harry about his relatives, trying to find out more about how they were treating him. She did not ask any direct questions, but he could tell her theories were getting more outrageous each day.
Harry might have explained, might have made her understand how difficult one's home life could be even without something as simple to classify as abuse; how, even though his relatives took care of his physical needs, living with them was nigh intolerable, because they never let him forget that he was not wanted.
But such confessions were not easy to make to a girl he had only befriended a little over a month ago. In the future, it would seem strange to him that he had hesitated, but that would be with the advantage of hindsight, of the knowledge of trust unbroken.
Instead, Harry decided to set Hermione's mind at ease with a little misdirection, before things went out of hand. "I'll be sending my relatives a card for Christmas," he mentioned a few days later, when they were discussing presents again.
Actually, he would be sending them a note, telling them that he would be staying at school for the holidays, but he suspected his relatives would think his absence the best present he could get them.
"You are?" Hermione sounded pleasantly surprised. Yet, she still had to push the issue. "Will you be sending any presents with it?" she asked a little too casually.
"No." Harry sighed. "Hermione, I don't get along all that well with my relatives. Please let it go."
"Well, yes, I understand that," she began in a high-pitched voice, then broke off.
Harry wondered how any child of two loving parents could possibly understand, but did not say anything. He might have told her a few things, but for all her forcefulness, for all her bookishness, she was even more naive than Ron about the darker parts of the grown-up world, and Harry was not keen to destroy her more optimistic view of the world.
"But you live with them!" Hermione frowned. "So even if they don't like you all that much, they still have to get you presents, don't they? I mean, who else will?"
Harry did not answer.
"What, they've never given you any presents?" Hermione seemed on the verge of tears.
Harry recalled used clothes and broken toys over the years. He was not sure they deserved to be called thus, but he could not stand the look in his friend's eyes. "Well…" He shrugged non-committally. "Nothing I liked, at least." That was close enough to the truth, he decided.
"And they won't be surprised if they don't receive a present from you?"
"They won't be," said Harry with such conviction that Hermione finally believed him. "Anyway, not even my cousin gives presents to his parents. They certainly won't be expecting it from me."
"What about your cousin, then?"
"Er, what about him?"
"Are you going to send him something?" asked Hermione, exasperated at Harry's deliberate obtuseness.
"Er, we fight a lot." The truth was, Dudley and his gang liked to bully Harry, but he did not want to come out and say that.
"Oh, nonsense, Harry. You can't just not give him a Christmas present because you two fight. A lot of siblings – and cousins – fight. But you haven't seen him in months! How about some sweets? That should be simple enough—"
"He's fat. He should be on a diet. Sweets won't do him any good."
"Oh, you're just being difficult—"
"No, I'm not. Last year, the school nurse sent a letter, saying he was overweight."
"Well… All right, then. Let's have a look through the catalogue—"
"That won't do either. He's scared of magic. Ever since Hagrid magicked him a pig's tail over the summer—"
"What? That doesn't sound very nice. Didn't Hagrid explain properly that it was supposed to be a joke? Or that it would be temporary? And anyway, I thought he didn't have a wand…"
"Well…" Harry did not want to dwell on the fact that it had not been temporary, and that Dudley had needed to have the tail removed surgically, but for the first time in his life, he felt almost sorry for his cousin. "Anyway, he won't like anything from the magical world, so that's that," he said, returning to the problem at hand.
Hermione frowned, but did not contradict him, and she did not bring up the Dursleys again (much to Harry's relief). They did have other things to think about after all. As the temperatures dropped, and fewer and fewer owls managed to make it through the snow unscathed, Harry was glad that he would not need to send Hedwig, that there were delivery owls to deliver the presents he had ordered.
Within the warmth of the common room, curled up snugly in a secluded corner, the three friends started discussing ideas for presents. Hermione seemed to think everyone – at least all the grown-ups – would be happy to receive books. The boys argued with her, and got her to change her mind about all but her parents – who, to be fair, would probably like books, if they were anything like their daughter.
As they started discussing Hagrid and McGonagall, both Harry and Hermione unsure what to get them, they noticed how Ron's mood kept changing. One moment he would be engaged in the discussion, making silly suggestions that Hermione kept shooting down, and the next moment he would turn sombre, and grow quiet.
Hermione was the first to catch on. "Ron, would you maybe like to help with Hagrid's present? I was thinking, Harry isn't the only one who's friends with him. We all visit him. So I'd like to help with the present myself," she said after Ron had fallen silent once again.
"Well – I—"
"Great idea, Hermione!" interrupted Harry, before Ron could give a coherent reply. "I've been thinking – I mean, McGonagall let me join the House team – and she may have bought me my broom as well – so I had this idea for her present—"
"I – I don't know—" interrupted Ron. "I mean…" He blushed.
"It's a present for a teacher, Ron. It's supposed to be something small," Harry told him, immediately catching on that money might be the problem.
"Yes, exactly. My teachers always said they received too many sweets, and what they really liked were letters and greeting cards with some honest well-wishes."
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Some of my teachers said the same thing."
"Okay," agreed Ron, "I'm in."
That left Neville. After having decided to get Hagrid and McGonagall a joint present, it seemed obvious to do the same for Neville, as well. He was Ron's dorm mate as well, after all, and he had befriended Hermione first.
This was how their tradition of giving joint presents was born, not that they were aware of it at that point.
There was one more surprise in store for Harry, though. Before leaving Hogwarts, Hermione had promised to do all their muggle shopping and send to them. The owl, carrying a parcel from her that arrived a couple days after she had left, Harry had expected. What had been surprising was the extra item it carried. It was a thin book, or booklet, accompanied by a short note:
This was the first book I bought after I found out I was a witch. It's a short introduction to the wizarding world, written for muggleborns. If you do decide to send your cousin a present after all, you could send it along. Maybe it'll help him understand our world better, and he'll stop being scared of magic.
All the best,
That girl really knew how to be interfering, was Harry's first sentiment as he read her note. He did not give it much thought, just threw in the booklet with his other books, and left it there.
Some days later, however, when he and Ron were busy sending off all their presents, he had another look at it and reconsidered.
He had always been considered a freak by his family, but a few months ago he had discovered the reason for that was because he was a wizard. His aunt and uncle had known that, but his cousin had been as clueless as Harry himself. The only reason Dudley had called him a freak was because he was a bully and had gone along with his parents.
Harry might have felt a little sorry for him for the pig's tail, but for the most part, he thought Dudley deserved it, deserved to be shown that Harry was no freak, and that magic was wonderful and powerful – not something to look down on. And if it scared his cousin a little, receiving a magic-related article, so much the better.
Harry did not bother with an actual Christmas card for Dudley. He just wrote a short letter, tied it together with the booklet from Hermione, and sent it off with strict instructions to Hedwig not to be seen, and to deliver the parcel to Dudley, and Dudley alone. He did not need his crazy family going after his owl, after all.