The November morning was cold, and the chill was
piercing the impermeable walls of Hogwarts Castle as its students
down for breakfast. Many were wearing their thick cloaks indoors;
shivered as Dumbledore stood up.
"I'm very sorry for the inconvenience," he began, "but we have
to readjust the Heating Charms in a number of years. Professor
is hard at work to correct that oversight and everything should be
again in a few moments. In the meantime, may I suggest some of this
and very warm breakfast?"
The students eagerly began munching on the steaming oatmeal,
as the temperature in the castle quickly rose. As they were
final mouthfuls of their meal, nearly one hundred owls flew into the
shaking frost off of their wings, delivering the morning post.
An especially tired-looking screech owl collapsed into Ron
bowl of porridge.
"Oh, Errol," the gangly fifth-year said in disgust as the
cereal splattered his robes.
"I just hope you can read the letter," Hermione said practically.
looks drenched with oatmeal too."
Ron gingerly untied the note from the unconscious owl, then dumped
orange juice onto Errol in hopes of reviving him. "Go on. Fly off to
Owlery. You've caused enough trouble already." Errol blinked
and climbed out of the bowl, but stood patiently, waiting for Ron to
The fifteen-year-old read it, then exclaimed, "Brilliant!"
"What?" his best friend Harry Potter asked.
"Harry, how d'you feel about going somewhere else for
Somewhere else? Harry's eyes opened wide. The Christmases at
had been the best of his life - then he realized what Ron was
and a large grin split his face.
"Mum wrote to me last week and said that Bill and Charlie were
to be home for Christmas; Gringotts told Bill to take a couple weeks
since they didn't know when he'd have another chance, what with
I mean Voldemort - and everything." Harry nodded. "And
not a lot to do in Romania during the winter, so Charlie's coming up
well. And she said you could come down too, if you wanted - hang on,
you read it."
Harry took the letter from Ron and read aloud:
Yes, of course, bring Harry for Christmas! And by all means,
Hermione as well, since I thought you said she'd be staying at
I haven't seen her in simply ages. I've talked to Dumbledore and he
it's all okay, since we've got the wards from last summer
Your father is running around like mad trying to fit some extra
onto the Burrow. All together we're going to have 12 people staying
and who knows how many Apparating in on Christmas. I think I've told
that Gringotts is making Bill take the weeks off while things are
calm - they don't know when they'll have to work later. They're
really hard trying to freeze the accounts of suspected Death Eaters
don't need a treasure-hunter for now! He's also bringing his
down with him. He met her in Egypt, and by all accounts she's an
lovely girl. I'm excited to meet her.
Don't forget to book seats on the Hogwarts Express, and DON'T
it until the last minute! I want all of you coming down! And tell
brothers NOT to bring any of that Wheezes nonsense with
Hermione smiled delightedly, then stopped in shock. "You mean I
to have Christmas presents for twelve people?" she asked in a
tone. "And I haven't even gotten anything for you two yet!"
"Oh, don't worry about it," Ron said offhandedly. "I don't think
give anything to you either. Or just get them all candy. Really
candy for Fred and George."
Harry had barely finished reading the letter when yet another owl
over to Ron, a handsome tawny he didn't recognize.
"What is this, Post Central?" Ron asked irritably, taking the
from the owl. "Oh, great, it's from Charlie!"
He pulled out the letter. It was written in thick blank ink and had
scorch marks around the edges of the parchment:
Mum told me you were coming home for Christmas. Excellent. And
bringing Harry and Hermione as well - even more excellent. Well…
be a full house around here! Bill's bringing some girl back from
Her name's Flora or something floaty like that and he thinks the sun
moon revolve around her. Frankly, I don't think she's that great. I
her when I popped over to Egypt to see some very interesting dragon
Really pretty. The girl, not the drawings. She's working with some
of Divination crap related to pyramids and that's how he met her.
name sounds familiar - have you met her before? I don't know… Bill
pretty serious about this one. She's not as bad as some. You've met
you should know. Maybe I'll follow suit and bring a dragon with me.
ha. I'd kill for the look on Mum's face though.
But I can't complain about Bill too much. He's convinced Percy
come home for Christmas. You know how he practically worships Bill.
so happy, Bill could drag a flock of veela home and she wouldn't
What would your friends like for Christmas? I'm not getting you
Be sure to tell Fred and George to bring the latest Wheezes and
have some fun.
Harry laughed when Ron finished the letter.
"So Percy's coming home for Christmas, and Bill's bringing a girl,"
said thoughtfully. "Mum's probably going through the roof - she must
thrilled." Percy Weasley had taken an apartment in London, claiming
that "it was closer to the Ministry." It was no secret, however,
Percy's moving out had correlated with a huge row between Percy and
in which the son took the Ministry's side of denying Voldemort's
Since then, he had not been in touch with his family and avoided his
as much as possible.
"Does Bill do this often?" Harry asked curiously as the trio walked
"What, come home for Christmas? Yeah, basically every year. He
sends stuff to Hogwarts for me, too - really cool stuff that he
"No, bring girls."
"Yeah," Ron replied. "Bill falls for a girl every couple of years
sometimes brings her home. Not usually at Christmas, though. Some of
are pretty nice, but most of them are horrid. Unfortunately,
ends up in rows with the nice ones and we discourage the horrid ones
best we can."
Harry grinned. The Weasley twins were probably experts at
unwanted guests. At that moment, they reached the greenhouses, and
conversation ended as they donned rubber gloves and began the day's
At lunch, Hermione was engrossed in a thick, commercial-looking
entitled One Hundred Wizarding Gifts, but quickly discarded
"Some of these are ridiculous, honestly," she exclaimed, and read:
A Fwooper: perfect for someone you'd like shut away in St.
The more the merrier.
"I think I'll get them all books," she exclaimed peevishly,
her custard with a vengeance. Ron looked at Harry and rolled his
The days before Christmas were long; the fifth-years seemed to have
the usual amount of work, and Quidditch was cancelled because of
snow and sleet. The Hogsmeade visit was a bright spot, though; Harry
planning his gifts to the Weasleys already. Hermione was talking
about magical suitcases--and how educational it would be to use
Charms on presents -- to anyone who would listen.
The snow melted on the day of the Hogsmeade trip, destroying hopes
a White Christmas, but it was nice to walk the cobbled streets
needing galoshes. Students were hurrying about, looking secretive;
spent hours in the bookshop called Parchment Publications.
had to purchase a wizarding suitcase as well; he didn't feel like
his entire trunk to the Weasleys'. Hermione was fascinated by the
that it wouldn't ever fill up, no matter how much gear was put
And it's a good thing, too, Harry thought as he shoved two old
sweaters; extra-large boxes of Chocolate Frogs; bags of Filibuster
and enormous containers of Bertie Botts' Every-Flavor beans inside,
"Planning on eating anything else this holiday?" asked Ron jokingly
he saw an inordinate amount of candy disappear into the valise.
"Well, I need rations for the train, you know," Harry replied. "Now
off, I'm trying to put your present in."
Hermione's head appeared outside their door. She was carrying a
"You're not supposed to be in here," Ron said automatically,
sweaters into his suitcase. "I see you've packed."
"I'm just making sure that you've booked seats on the Express; it's
in an hour, you know, and you haven't eaten anything. And as for
I see you haven't!"
Ron quickly sat on his suitcase to close it and dropped a towel
Pigwidgeon's cage "Have too." Harry carefully packed away the rest
his presents and followed him to the Great Hall.
The Hogwarts Express trip was long, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione
a compartment with the other Weasleys and hardly noticed. Fred and
were enthusiastically discussing ways to get rid of Bill's
Hermione clicked her tongue and let out a humph.
"She might not be that bad, have you considered that?"
"She likes divination, Hermione," Fred said in the tone of
talking to an imbecile. "She'll probably be staring at Harry and
the whole time. Between that and Dad and Percy glaring at each other
pretending they're not, it's going to be a lovely
"I got her a present," Hermione said, and showed Harry
Balls: Foolproof Methods of Divination by Kendra Prenuncius.
He nodded his approval.
After several boxes of candy and even more games of Exploding Snap,
Express came to a halt. Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys stumbled
of their compartment, unsure whom to look for. They didn't have to
long; Bill Weasley was striding across the platform, grinning. He
Harry a firm handshake, clapped his brothers on the back, and
hugged Ginny before escorting them to a Gringotts car he'd brought
The ride to the Weasleys' was pleasant, even though everyone tried
talk at the same time. Bill told funny stories about his work at
Fred and George set off some Filibuster fireworks, scaring the
Harry, in a burst of seriousness, asked how the fight against
"Not so well, Harry," Bill replied, his face tense. "A whole family
Muggles was murdered in Devon." Hermione flinched. "And they've got
Anna Hudson locked in St. Mungo's -- under the Imperius curse for
long… The value of a Galleon's going down pretty fast. Gringotts is
that we're going to have hard times."
At that moment they pulled up to the Burrow and Harry grinned with
The Weasleys had come into some money recently, a long and
story, which Ron told again and again. Arthur Weasley was about to
working at the Ministry if they didn't offer him more pay. He had
to work in secret for the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's
group, without compensation. The Aurors had perpetrated a raid on
Flamel's old house, trying to confiscate any hidden bottles of the
of Life before the Death Eaters seized them. In doing so, they had
discovered a cabinet filled with golden objects, the results of
experiments with the Stone. Dumbledore had pressed these upon Arthur
as payment for his work for the Light Side.
The Galleons these objects brought had put some real Weasley money
Gringotts for the first time in decades. They'd also added on to the
yet again. The cottage now appeared so precarious that even a slight
could pose a serious danger. Harry didn't have much time to stare at
remodeling, however, as Mrs. Weasley ran out and began hugging the
enthusiastically. "Harry! Hermione! Wonderful to see you." As Fred
George gave her an indignant scowl, she added, "And you too, of
Mr. Weasley and Charlie followed her out of the house. Behind them
Percy, his arms crossed, a disdainful sneer on his face. As Mr.
shook Harry's hand, and Charlie clapped him on the back, Percy
past his father and greeted his family. Harry he acknowledged with a
nod and "Harry. Nice to see you. You too, Hermione."
"Hullo, Percy," said Harry. "Work going well?"
Ron snickered. "Yeah, Perce, the cauldron bottoms getting any
"That's not funny!" Percy retorted. "You know very well I was
to Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation after
unfortunate and very accidental demise of Mr. Crouch!"
"Yeah, yeah," muttered Fred, opening the door.
"You're in Ginny's room, Hermione, and I think we've expanded Ron's
for you, Harry. Haven't we, Arthur?" called Mrs. Weasley as they all
their suitcases inside.
"Damn! I knew there was something I forgot. Hang on, Harry - you
just drop your stuff in with Charlie and Bill for now. It'll be done
a few minutes."
Mrs. Weasley ushered them into the spacious dining room. "Fleur
be here soon - I hope something hasn't happened to her! The food's
cold, so we'll just have to start without her. There you are, Arthur
good, the room's done."
As Harry eagerly spooned potatoes on his plate, he smiled widely.
back at the Burrow was like -
BANG. The door flew open and hit the wall as it opened in a gust of
"Oh, good, you're here!" exclaimed Bill, striding across the floor
quickly kissing the newcomer on the cheek. "We were worried.
I'd like you to meet…"
The girl took off the scarf that had been wrapped around her head,
long and silky blonde hair, and an exquisite, tanned face. "'Ello,
she said, returning the kiss. Harry gasped. He knew her! She
"…Fleur Delacour," Bill finished. "She's working on Divination in
"Fleur!" Mrs. Weasley was the first to recover from the shock of
her. "You probably don't remember me, but I was at the Triwizard
It's nice to see you again."
"Nice to see you as well. Ah, it is little 'Arry Potter, ze
Her English had improved tremendously, Harry thought, but she still
that annoying habit of referring to him as a "little boy." "And Ron,
helped rescue Gabrielle from ze lake!"
"Hi," said Ron, a silly grin on his face. Hermione punched him on
arm, and he sat up sharply. "Er - nice to see you."
"You must be Arthur, 'e who is working so 'ard for Dumbly-door
'E-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." Mr. Weasley nodded. "Ah, yes, Bill 'as
me all about it. I am working for 'im too, did you know?"
"I'd heard." Mr. Weasley cleared his throat. "Now, it's a cold
out there, Fleur, and I know you had to walk rather far."
"Yes. Bill told me zat Dumbly-door 'ad put up wards, but
"It's been made Unplottable," Percy explained pompously. "You can't
or Disapparate near it. I assume you had to go to Ottery St.
Fleur nodded. Mr. Weasley continued, "So how about you sit down and
some coffee with us?'
"Zat would be wonderful," Fleur said appreciatively. As the adults
down for coffee, Harry, Ron, and Hermione trouped upstairs to their
After a short discussion about the surprise appearance of Fleur,
rolled over onto his stomach and said, "Anyone up for some Quidditch
Affirmatives were quickly voiced. " Charlie's giving me his
Cleansweep Six for Christmas!" Ron said excitedly. "I mean, it's not
Firebolt or anything, but it's way better than the Four I'm
"And you need to stop so many more Quaffles," Harry replied,
"Come on, everybody says you're the best keeper since Oliver Wood
"Harry, I'm the only keeper since Oliver Wood."
"-and he was the best Keeper at Hogwarts in about two hundred
"I don't want to leave this house," Hermione said with a sigh,
out the window. "I love it here."
Ron's ears turned pink, but his only comment was, "Yeah, and when
get back, we have to think about that Ball thing."
Harry sighed. Arabella Figg, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts
had decided that the school needed a festive morale-booster in the
of the war with Voldemort, and had proposed a Valentine's Day ball.
Dumbledore had wholeheartedly agreed. Ron had spent the past two
either deploring the state of his dress robes or asking loudly who
Earth he was going to ask to the Ball. Harry, who knew
whom Ron was going to invite, shrugged and said "Dunno" every time
question was raised.
Hermione quickly changed the subject by taking out her chessboard.
good, a chance to beat you," Ron said sarcastically. This started a
and happy argument which distracted everyone completely from the
of dances in general and the Valentine's Day Ball in
They fell asleep quickly that night, exhausted from the long journey
happier than they had been in a long time.
Breakfast at the Burrow was always a loud but joyous occasion, and
next morning was no exception. Charlie entertained them with stories
Norbert, who had grown very big over the past four years. Then
Hermione, and Ron had to explain Norbert to everyone else present -
and Fleur had not heard the story. Harry poured himself another cup
hot cocoa and looked out the window. He was surprised to see the
blanketed in white. "Hey! Everyone! It snowed!"
"Well spotted," Ron said sarcastically. "I mean, we all knew you
half-blind, but…" Harry threw a roll at him, earning a warning glare
Mrs. Weasley, and quickly
"I guess we can't really play much Quidditch today, then - we can't
with real balls, and whatever we use will probably get lost."
"Yeah, you can still play in the snow," Charlie said. "But I've got
Charlie's idea, once Mr. Weasley had Apparated to the Ministry and
had shut himself in his room, was to enchant a few sleds to fly and
have a snowball war. It was great fun, Harry thought, as he rapidly
his sled to the right. Sleds were harder to fly than brooms, but it
a strange and exhilarating feeling. Fleur, much to everyone's
turned out to be an amazing flier. When Charlie demanded where she
where to fly like that, she replied that she used to play Quidditch
Their fun was suddenly interrupted when Mr. Weasley Apparated home
"Charlie Weasley," he said, "what do you think you're doing?"
"Er - I've enchanted these sleds," he explained.
"And aren't sleds Muggle objects? Isn't that, therefore,
"Dad, you wrote the law-"
"Don't try that on me, Charles Albert Weasley!"
"Aw, c'mon, Dad - no one can see us, the snow's too thick. We're
facing the village, anyway."
"Be that as it may, I think it's time for lunch." Covered in snow
laughing loudly, the group walked inside.
* * *
"Presents!" Ginny yelled on Christmas morning.
pulled on a sweatshirt and bolted downstairs, where Weasleys were
into nearly every chair. It was like seeing a gigantic sea of red
Hermione moved over on the couch to make room for him. With four
on it, everyone was slightly starved for space - Harry was squashed
Ginny, and Hermione and Ron were sandwiched together, but no one
seemed to mind.
Harry unwrapped another Weasley sweater - this one striped in
colors - and a bag of Zonko's tricks from Ron. Hermione really
given everyone books: Harry's was Seeking the Snitch: Six
Seeker Strategies; Fred's The Beater's Bible; George's
Your Own Business in Twenty-Seven Not-So-Easy Steps; Charlie had
Men Who Love Dragons Too Much; and Percy A History of
Magical Relations. Harry though it looked the most boring
he'd ever seen, but Percy seemed pleased.
Ron, however, had not received a book. When he unwrapped Hermione's
it revealed a Quaffle in a shiny wooden case. As he took it out, a
look on his face, he noticed something that looked like a black
near the center. Charlie reached out and unceremoniously took it
"If that's what I think it is -"
"It's one of the Quaffles from the Quidditch World Cup," Hermione
breathless. "And it's signed by the players."
"It is, then," Charlie breathed. "Where did you get this
Hermione? It's easily worth a thousand Galleons! Don't waste it on
"One of the Quaffles?" Ginny asked at the same time.
"They switch them all the time, so that the charms don't wear out,"
explained as Charlie examined the Quaffle reverently. "If the
rough, and the game takes awhile, they use about fifty."
Meanwhile, Hermione was answering Charlie's question. "Well, Viktor
it to me, and I didn't really want it - I mean, it was nice of him,
what would I do with it? - so I thought, well, Ron'd
it more than I would, and I guess it could go in your room or
She anxiously awaited the explosion that usually accompanied
name. It never came.
"You - didn't - want - it?" he asked hoarsely, incredulously. "And
you gave it to - to me?"
Hermione nodded, smiling.
"Well - thanks." He grinned at her awkwardly.
Hermione, blushing furiously, opened his gift to her. "Oh,
she said, sounding choked. "Oh, Ron." It was a huge, thick
Previous Condition of Servitude: House-Elves from the Beginning
Today. "Thank you." She looked like she was going to throw her
around him, but stopped just in time. "Where did you find this?
and Blotts didn't have it, the Hogwarts Library didn't have it…"
Ron's ears were beet red as he became very interested in his gift
Harry, a Chocolate Frog collector's album. "Well, y'know, maybe
something in there to convince you that spew stuff is nuts."
For once, Hermione didn't correct him. Instead, she watched him
the wrapping off of Fred and George's gift.
"Wow!" Inside were new sage-green dress robes. "Thanks! Where did
get these? And how'd you afford it? And why did you bother?"
"Whoah, little brother!" said George with a grin. "Madam Malkin's,
made a killing on the Wheezes - sorry, Mum - and because you were a
to the name of Weasley in those old ones. And we turned down a
pair of shocking pink with flashing cuffs for these, too. You'd
Ron laughed. Harry, meanwhile, had opened Bill's gift: a large box
Egyptian candy. On top of it was a picture, and the words Ask me
this later. Harry glanced at it, puzzled: it was the Gryffindor
Team from 1971, the seven players in the air.
He shrugged and opened Sirius's present, a wizarding watch. The
were labeled with the names of his classes, but a note read: "Harry
you can change the dial. See instruction manual. Merry Christmas!
"Who gave that to you?" asked Percy curiously. "I'm not the watch
- that's Bill - but I know that's a nice one."
"You'll be wanting Fleur to work with that, Harry," said Bill with
grin. "She's the other mechanical genius around here - besides Dad,
The outburst that followed successfully covered Percy's question,
was, Harry thought, exactly what Bill had wanted.
"You do mechanics?" Charlie asked in disbelief. "Divination
cogs! How did Bill get so lucky?"
Fleur smiled. She'd lightened up a lot in the past year, Harry
It was a genuine smile, not an ornament for her face. "Ask 'im
Zat's a long story, about a pyramid and a curse, and getting trapped
"Er, or perhaps now is not the time," Mr. Weasley said quickly.
about some delicious Christmas dinner instead?"
They liked the idea very much.
About an hour later, the adults sipped coffee as everyone devoured
excellent pie. Harry was deliciously full, and he was afraid that
table would break under the weight to all the food. It had been a
meal: although Percy had not spoken to his father with the exception
"pass the potatoes" and "cream please," Fleur had entertained them
stories about ancient Egyptian beliefs, and Fred and George had told
highly amusing story about their interview with Greg Zonko in
As Bill poured himself more black coffee, Harry suddenly asked,
About that picture…"
"Oh. Yes. Could I see it for a moment?" Harry pulled the picture
his pocket. One of the Chasers had just scored a goal. "Gryffindor
Team, 1978. My first year. Well, the truth of the matter is, Harry -
knew your parents."
The world quickly spun. Harry blinked at Bill. "You - you knew my
"'Course I knew them. Everybody knew them. They were Head
and Head Girl; your dad was captain of the Quidditch team. Even
they were gone, James was a legend."
"For troublemaking. Troublemaking and Quidditch," added Charlie.
could even give Gred and Forge over there a few lessons."
"What were they like? I mean, did you really know them?"
"'Bout as well as anyone - your mum helped me with Charms once, and
dad was a phenomenal Quidditch player. They were all really funny
really nice. Your dad's friend used to give commentary at the
matches sometimes. Had us rolling, he did."
"Which friend?" asked Harry. "Professor Lupin?"
Bill sighed. "No, Harry. Sirius Black." Percy winced at the mere
of Sirius's name. "Oh, grow a backbone, Perce. He was so funny -
terrible, what happened to him later," he added, giving a
wink at Harry.
Harry agreed wholeheartedly. "Yeah. It's terrible."
With that, the conversation turned to other matters - treasure
trolls, the turkey. Fleur moaned that she could not possibly
into her robes. Harry looked down at the picture again. The team was
the ground now, as they might have originally posed. A handsome boy
messy black hair was waving the Quidditch cup proudly. Harry smiled.
Dad," he whispered.
* * *
I'm at the Weasleys' for Christmas - I'm sure you've heard. Bill
Mr. Weasley say to tell you "hello" and "merry Christmas." Thanks so
for the watch - Fleur Delacour (yeah, she's the one from the
Tournament. She's Bill's girlfriend now. Weird!) fiddled with it so
it's kind of like a Family Clock and kind of like the Marauder's
It's got your name on it, and Ron's and Hermione's, and whoever
be a danger - I mean like Professor Snape or Malfoy or Filch. We
want to put Voldemort on it, for obvious reasons, and I think my
good enough for that already. And the places for the hands tell what
doing, except it's useful stuff instead of "traveling,"
or "school" - "looking to blame something on you" and "coming this
and "in class" and "detention" and stuff. It's cool.
But you should've seen what Hermione gave Ron! It's one of the
from the Quidditch World Cup, and it's signed by all the players!
Krum gave it to her, but she says she didn't want it. Ron's pretty
- he's been smiling like an idiot for two days now.
I hope you've had a good Christmas. Mine's been great.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
P.S. Tell Professor Lupin "hi" and "merry Christmas."
P.P.S. Will I see you anytime soon?
* * *
"Harry?" asked Ron that night. "Who're you going to take to the
"'Cause I was thinking, well, maybe I'll ask Hermione."
"Ah," replied Harry. He was afraid that he might laugh if he said
else. "Well, good night."
They left the next morning, after long good-byes, bone-crushing
from Mrs. Weasley, and a long debate from Ron about whether to bring
Quaffle with him or not. (He finally decided to bring it, "just in
someone curses our house or something.")
The Express was nearing Hogwarts when Ron gesticulated madly at
"What?" he mouthed. Ron motioned towards the door, towards himself,
towards Hermione. Harry shrugged.
"Erm - Harry?" Ron asked, clearing his throat loudly. "Could you go
me some more Every Flavor Beans?"
Harry knew perfectly well that there were some in the suitcase, but
Ron's money and left the compartment. He located the witch with the
cart and wandered up and down the corridors, poking his head in on
people to say "hi," until Ron stepped out from their compartment and
frantically at him.
"She said yes!" Ron whispered excitedly, smiling broadly. His ears
"I asked Hermione to the Ball, and she said yes!" Ron beamed. He'd
smiling ever since Christmas, and now his face looked like it was
to crack from grinning. "Er - Harry?"
"Harry, do you reckon she might - she might like me?"
Harry struggled very hard to stop the impending laugh, and managed
change it into a cough instead. With a shrug, he said "Anything's
and watched Ron's smile grow even wider.
The train slowed, then stopped, at Hogsmeade station. As students
to disembark, Harry leaned against the wall, feeling a grin to match
growing across his face. It had been a merry Christmas, he thought -
very merry Christmas. And as he climbed off the train, holding his
in one hand, the Boy Who Lived looked forward to a Happy New