Squeals of childish glee greeted Hermione as Dobby met her at Grimmauld's door. Rushing into the kitchen to discover the source of the merriment, she found Harry being wrestled to the floor by Ronnie and Harry, each of whom had a hold of one of Harry's legs.
"You will never defeat me!" Harry was shouting, as the boys giggled like demons.
"Bet you can't catch me," Hermione challenged, before running back out of the room as Ronnie and Harry released their existing "prisoner" in pursuit of her.
"Dobby has finished setting up the tree, Harry Potter."
"Thank . . . you," Harry replied, attempting to catch his breath. "Did Hermione come alone?"
"Yes, Harry Potter," Dobby said, in his increasingly characteristic tone of vexation.
I suppose that means Blaise hasn't talked to her yet. "Dobby, I told you, Severus is supposed to dance with his other Eligibles, and I've invited them tonight to help out Blaise. Be cheerful about it, all right? He'll dance with me, as well."
"Harry Potter is knowing best," Dobby replied, popping out of the kitchen.
"Wonderful. A moody house elf. I hope he doesn't try anything funny tonight," Harry muttered, following the sounds of someone being captured to the drawing room. "You lot, don't you know it isn't polite to trample a lady?"
"Hermy's our pwisoner!" Ronnie exclaimed in delight, making no move to climb off Hermione.
"Uncle Hawwy," his namesake asked, making a grab at Hermione's wand, "what's a demon?"
"You are, you little pirate—a trampling demon. Come here," Harry ordered, kneeling down and throwing open his arms.
Little Harry ran right into them and was swung up and around in circles as a reward.
"No fair!" Ronnie demanded, completely forgetting about "Hermy" and rushing his godfather.
The boys' godmother rose and brushed herself off. "I left the pre—those items—in the hall. Shall I put them in the library?"
"Yep. Oof! Tree's in there, too," Harry said, as he tried to spin one boy while the other was clinging to his waist. "Hang on, I can't handle both of you at once," he said, laughing.
Hermione found Dobby in the library dusting shelves with a passion. "It certainly looks clean enough to me."
"Aurors is not house elves."
Oh, dear. "Dobby, would you stop that and come here, please? I've brought something for you."
"Hermione Granger has brought Dobby a present?"
"Yes," she told him, handing Dobby a small box.
He unwrapped it at once, his ears quivering. "Oh! Hermione Granger is very good to Dobby! Soft socks!"
"Those are cashmere. I thought you might like to try a new kind of yarn."
"Dobby is liking his soft cashmere socks," he said, sliding them over his feet and levitating so that he could stretch out both legs in front of himself to get a better view of his present. "Thank you, Hermione Granger."
"You're welcome. Do you want to tell me what's bothering you?"
"Dobby is very happy."
"Yes, now you are, but just a moment ago—"
"Dobby is needing to be dusting, but he is thanking Hermione Granger again for the soft socks," Dobby said, getting back to work after Vanishing the wrappings of his gift.
Hermione sighed. Too loyal to say anything, she thought, returning to the other room to find Harry reading to the boys. "Have you had them all day?"
"Yes. Ron and Lav are shopping."
"For pwesents," Ronnie and Harry said as one, sage expressions on their mischievous faces.
"Trampling demons get presents?"
"Yes!" Little Harry insisted, while Ronnie merely nodded.
Hermione took a seat on the sofa and snuggled into the pile of boys to listen to Big Harry read. Soon, both children were fast asleep.
"Your evil plan is working," she teased.
"They're not in bed yet—don't jinx it," Harry whispered, laying aside the book and rising from the sofa with Ronnie in his arms. "Could you . . . ?"
"Of course," she replied, lifting Little Harry up and following Harry to the boys' room.
When the children were tucked in, Hermione pulled Harry into the corridor, saying, "You've really upset Dobby, haven't you?"
Harry snorted, gesturing for Hermione to follow him to his bedroom. "I'm not worried about that. He'll get over his snit—at least, I hope he will. I'm worried about this," he said, handing Hermione a box. "Go on. Open it. It's—"
"Severus' Christmas present."
"Know-it-all," Harry replied, smiling nervously.
Hermione lifted the lid of the small wooden box to reveal an intricately wrought silver serpent with emerald eyes. "Oh, Harry! This is beautiful."
"It's a hair clasp. Severus' hair's been getting a bit long, and I thought, I mean, he wore the cauldron pin, so—"
"He'll like it. I think he'll like it very much. . . . Where's my present?"
"You'll just have to wait. But you're sure it's not . . . too personal?"
"If Severus hexes you, you'll know."
"That's reassuring," Harry said, taking the box back and putting it away. "I'm not sure when to give it to him, though. I can't do it in front of the other Eligibles."
"You're a clever boy, Harry. You'll sort out a way to be discreet about it."
As the two of them went back downstairs, they heard the front door opening and the sounds of the excited voices of a group of people pouring through it. Harry attended to his hosting duties, and Hermione took herself to the kitchen for a cup of tea to brace herself against seeing Blaise.
Who, of course, is sitting at the table, she thought, suddenly worried, for she and Blaise hadn't spoken since their argument. "H—Hello."
"Happy Christmas, Hermione."
That's not such a bad reception, is it? "May I?"
Sitting down and reaching for something to say, Hermione asked, "Did you ever remove the—"
"Curse from Marazelle?"
"Unfortunately, I did. Harry was on me about it at the Ollivanders' party. . . . I'm sorry she didn't apologise to you."
"I never expected her to."
"And I'm that sorry I accused you of shagging Severus. It was unconscionable of me."
"I shouldn't have teased you like that. I'm sorry, as well."
"You don't want Severus."
"You haven't been taking women to the Hog's Head," Hermione replied, choosing her words carefully because she'd already checked with Aberforth Dumbledore and knew that, some months ago, it had been a bloke with whom Blaise had been spending his time there. But no one lately, thank goodness.
Smiling humourlessly, Blaise said, "The idea bothered you, did it?"
"It . . . it did."
"Why, Hermione?" Blaise asked, leaning forward in his chair and placing both hands on the table in front of him.
How to answer that? "Oh, well, I—"
"You what, Hermione?" Blaise asked, his voice low and caressing.
The kitchen suddenly became very hot. "I don't like to think of you being with other women," she whispered, placing her hands in her lap and staring down at them, her heart beating hard.
"Do you like thinking of me being with you?"
The question startled Hermione because it came just above her right ear. "Blaise, I—"
Blaise reached for Hermione's hands and pulled her gently up to stand against the length of his body. "I hope you do, you know."
"You . . . you do?"
"Oh, yes," he breathed against her lips.
Hermione's mind blanked.
"It's the season for hoping," Blaise continued, his eyes dark and dilated as he wrapped his arm around Hermione's trembling frame.
Hermione felt herself shaking with nerves, and Blaise must have, as well, because he pulled back a bit.
"I'm fine," Hermione said, more sharply than she'd intended.
Blaise released her. "Forgive me. That was . . . forward. I didn't mean—"
"There you are!" Ron sang out happily, walking into the kitchen. "Thought you might be at the food, Zabini. Happy Christmas! Hermione, you feeling well?"
A look of surprise crossed Ron's face, but he said, "She's in the drawing room saying hello to everyone. Why do you—"
Hermione left the kitchen before he could finish his question.
Damn it!" Blaise exclaimed.
"Er, did I interrupt something?"
"Just me," following the advice of a meddlesome old fool, "misreading things. Nothing out of the common way."
"Were you . . . ? Yeah, I guess you were."
"Have a minute?"
"Several, apparently," Blaise said in disgust, throwing himself down in his chair.
"There's something I think you ought to know about Hermione."
Hermione stood, feeling confused, down the corridor from the kitchen door. She'd loved feeling Blaise's arms around her, but, given his behaviour of late, it had seemed wrong to embrace him.
Frustrated almost to the point of tears, she thought, I don't even know if he's got over . . . if he'll ever get over Susan, and I just can't—
"Hermione? Are you all right?" Lavender Weasley asked, approaching her.
Oh, yes—fine. Splendid, even. Fuck! "Yes, I'm fine. Really. How are you, Lav? Happy Christmas," she said in a rush, smiling to cover her embarrassment.
"And to you," Lavender said, a quizzical expression on her face. "Have you seen my—Ron?"
Oh, no! She'll think I'm upset about Ron. "Oh, I, I think he may have gone into the kitchen, but I'm not sure," she lied.
"Well, I'm sure he'll turn up. Have you seen Harry's tree? It's so tall! We're just about to begin decorating it."
"Shall we, then?" Hermione asked, smiling a bit too brightly.
In the kitchen, Blaise was staring at Ron, utterly gobsmacked.
"You're not serious."
"I am. She's not a prude by any means, but, well, I just think you might want to take things a bit slowly."
"Yes, I'd say so. I . . . this is . . . well—"
"It's hard to believe, I know. But there was a war. . . . Look, you won't tell her that—"
"Not to worry, Ron. Thank you. I can't believe what an arse I just made of myself. Gods! What Hermione must think of me."
"It's not your—hey! Who's there?" Ron demanded, turning towards the door because of a suspicious creaking outside of it.
The door swung open, and a sleepy looking Ronnie shuffled into the kitchen. "I'm thirsty, Daddy."
"How does pumpkin juice sound?"
"If you'll excuse me?" Blaise asked, giving Ronnie a pat on the shoulder in passing.
With a nod at Blaise, Ron told his son, "Don't tell your mum I'm giving this to you, all right?"
"Won't," said Ronnie, taking a few sips of his drink before handing it back to Ron, who downed the rest of it in one gulp and set the glass down before lifting Ronnie onto his shoulders.
"It's back to bed for you, I think."
The two Weasleys encountered Severus Snape in the corridor.
"Good evening," he greeted them, reaching out to shake Ronnie's chubby and enthusiastically offered hand, much to Ron's surprise.
"Are you a demon?"
Ron chuckled. "I see that someone's learnt a new word. He was only with Harry for half the day, too," he said, giving Snape the apologetic look familiar to parents of small children everywhere.
"No, I'm not a demon. I'm a Snape."
"Is that anything good?"
You'd have to ask Harry that, Ron thought, barely managing not to laugh.
"Not if you're a student," Snape replied.
Ron did laugh then.
"I'm going to be a student," Ronnie insisted, "and I'm not afwaid of Snapes!"
You will be, Ron thought, saying, "Come on, now. It's time for bed."
"I don't want to go to bed. I want to talk to the Snape!"
"Mr Weasley, your wife is asking for you. Perhaps I might continue my discussion with your fearless son as I tuck him in?"
"You want to tuck Ronnie in? Are you mad? Have you ever even attempted to tuck a small boy into bed?" Ron asked, not sure if he was worried more for his son or for Snape.
"I believe I can manage it."
"Well, I suppose it would be all right," Ron agreed, swinging Ronnie down to the floor. "You behave, Ronald Arthur."
"Yes, sir," Ronnie said, sliding his hand into Snape's.
Ron grinned in relief. Nice to know you're not always such a bastard.
"Now then, what have you been hearing about demons?"
Harry, who'd popped back upstairs to comb his hair after being teased about it by his guests, heard Severus' voice in the corridor outside of his bedroom and went to the door. Ducking his head out of it, he saw Severus entering the boys' room behind Ronnie.
This is too good to miss, he thought, creeping quietly after them.
As he peeked into the room, Severus was just pulling the covers up over Ronnie and answering, "No. If you conjure demons while standing inside a circle of protection, you'll get eaten."
"I told Hawwy he was wrong!"
"Tell him again. Better yet, instruct your brother to apply to me before conjuring any demons at all."
"You'd help us?"
"Aw, that's no fun."
"Conjuring demons is not 'fun', Mr Weasley."
Ronnie giggled. "I'm not Daddy."
"So you aren't. What are you, then?"
"I'm a twampling demon!"
"I don't believe you'll find being so a profitable enterprise," Severus replied, not too stiffly, either.
Harry could hear the humour in Severus' voice, and it warmed him. He's really quite good with kids, isn't he?
"What's a 'virgin'?"
"I beg your pardon?"
That's my cue, Harry thought, stepping into the room. "What's this? Do I hear a little boy still awake?" he inquired, looking everywhere but at the bed in which Ronnie was lying. "I hope that's not so," he continued, concern larding his voice, "because Father Christmas doesn't visit houses with unsleeping children in them."
Harry watched Severus wink at Ronnie as he said, "I'm afraid you're mistaken. There are only exhausted trampling demons here."
"I'm happy to hear that," Harry said, grinning at Severus and gesturing for him to follow. Closing the door, he whispered, "I'll bet your opinions on elves visiting people's homes are different, now."
"Indeed. I begin to see the wisdom of Father Christmas."
"I blame Ron."
"Using words like 'virgin' in front of his son. I'm certain it wasn't Lav, and they don't have telly. I wish I could have seen your face, though."
Severus smirked. "Thank you for rescuing me, Harry."
Oh, good. We're back to first names. "You're welcome," he said, noticing how Severus' hair swung forward to partially cover his face; he began to reach up and push it back but stopped himself half-way, blushing as he realised that Severus could see it. "Er, have a minute?"
"My room's this way," Harry said, turning and feeling mortified as he replayed his words. Nice one, you git. Very smooth. "I've got something I want—" Worse and worse! "Just this way," he continued, opening his door and entering his room.
Severus was amused by Harry's mortification and more than a little curious to see his bedroom. It was much as he had imagined it: the furnishings were tasteful and comfortable-looking; keepsakes, interspersed with a great many more books than he would have thought to find, lined the shelves; the desk was messy; and there was a large chair in the corner of the room that had a book laying open across one arm.
I wonder what he's reading? Severus thought, as Harry pulled something from an armoire.
"Er, I don't know if this is appropriate, but I thought, well," he said, handing Severus a small box, "happy Christmas."
No one said anything about presents! "I didn't expect—"
"That's all right," Harry interrupted. "Go on. Open it."
Severus opened the box and removed a hair clasp. "This is very fine, Harry, but . . . does my hair bother you?"
"What? No, not at all! It's just that you've been letting it grow, and I thought it might be bothersome, long hair, when you were working over a cauldron."
What a truly thoughtful gift. "Thank you, Harry. I'm . . . I like it very much."
"Would you like to . . . I mean . . . ."
"Oh, to wear it? Yes, of course," Severus replied, laying the box aside and reaching up to put the clasp in his hair.
It slipped from his fingers, but Harry caught it.
"Why don't you let me?" he asked.
Severus turned and bent back a bit. He could feel Harry's fingers shaking as they moved through his hair, and he suddenly felt rather grateful to Blaise for insisting he use that poxy shampoo.
"That looks good," Harry said, after closing the clasp around Severus' hair.
"Accio mirrors!" Harry cast, pulling them from the air and handing one of them over. "I'll stand behind you so that you can see the clasp."
Severus cleared his throat. "Should I tax you with vanity for having two mirrors in your loo?"
Harry chuckled. "Yeah, that's me—terribly vain. Do you like how it looks?"
"Y—yes, I do."
"I do, as well," Severus replied, turning and taking the mirror Harry held. "And, as I have been thoughtless enough to neglect your present," he continued, bending slowly towards Harry, "perhaps I might—"
A strangled yelp, followed by a very loud thumping sound, interrupted them at this inopportune moment. The noise was coming from the boys' room.
"I'd best . . . investigate that," Harry said, somewhat breathlessly as he headed for the door. "See you downstairs?"
Or naked and writhing in chocolate. "Yes, of course. Thank you again, Harry."
Harry smiled and then moved quickly away as the disturbance in the twins' room grew more intense. Severus thought that he heard some protest about "pumpkin juice" but wasn't certain.
It seems I've been too naughty for Christmas kisses, damn Father Christmas to one of the Four Great Hells! Severus thought, sighing.
Not one to miss an opportunity, however, he took a moment to spy on Harry's reading material. When he saw the book's title, his mind blanked. No sound or thought reached him for a moment, and then everything came rushing back at once and he swayed under the weight of it.
Don't hope. . . . He's . . . he couldn't be . . . . He is! He's thinking about it. He's thinking about children. He's thinking about me. He's thinking about us.
The book was called, What to Expect When You, the Wizard, Are Expecting.
Father Christmas must like me after all.