"You'll never believe what Father Christmas brought me!" exclaimed Hermione.
Harry gaped, taking in her shortness of breath and flushed state, as he opened the front door to admit her. She looked like she had run several blocks –which she had –and was soaking wet from having slipped in the slushy snow on her way from where her parents had parked the car.
And if that wasn’t uncharacteristic enough, the last time Harry had seen her –when school had let out for the holidays a week earlier–she had been stuck on the idea that Father Christmas wasn’t real. What had happened on Christmas, or the two days since, to convince her otherwise, and to put her into such a state? And where were her parents? The Potters had invited all three Grangers over for tea…
“I thought that you didn't believe in Father Christmas…” commented Neville, voicing the same question as was running through Harry’s mind.
Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but shut it again as she spotted her parents coming up the walk.
Better to wait till the grown-ups were all safely ensconced in the kitchen, before discussing Father Christmas. After all, Lily had refused to answer her questions on the subject, and her parents… Her parents had been denying the whole thing for years, only to have the nerve to seem surprised this past Christmas morning at the sight of a large present under the tree… A present they both swore that they hadn't bought…
Taking a deep breath to calm her excitement, Hermione pasted a neutral expression on her face –or tried to. She couldn’t quite extinguish the sparkle in the corners of her eyes, as she pretended to ignore the question, replying with a question of her own, "Shall we go up to your room?"
Neville nodded, but whatever had her so excited was contagious and curiosity piqued, he struggled to stand still, shuffling impatiently from side to side, as he watched her meticulously remove her sodden boots, and neatly hang her coat in the hall closet, where a discreet drying charm would insure it was ready to wear when she came back for it.
He wasn’t alone. Beside him, Harry was practically bouncing.
The very instant she shut the door of the hall closet, Harry grabbed her wrist and pulled her impatiently in the direction of the stairs.
Ignoring Lily’s warning not to run in the house, Neville chased after them, taking the stairs two at a time to make up for Harry’s head-start. Even the possibility of being denied biscuits for ignoring Lily paled in comparison to his burning curiosity.
He burst through the bedroom door close on Hermione’s heels and waited impatiently while Harry shut their bedroom door, blocking out Lily's admonitions.
Finally, he rounded on Hermione, repeating the question she had ignored earlier, "I thought you said that you didn't believe in Father Christmas!"
"I didn't," Hermione answered, excitement creeping back into her voice as she let her mask drop and sat heavily Neville’s bed, "but there's no denying it now. There's no way that my parents bought it for me. Both Mother and Father denied any involvement in acquiring the gift, though they both blamed each other.
“Even the paper seemed magical –one of the Father Christmases definitely winked at me –though neither Mother nor Father noticed anything odd about it. I asked –twice.
“Do you think that Father Christmas has only started visiting me now because I only just found out that I was a witch, and that I couldn’t actually get presents from him before because of the Statue of Secrecy that Lily told me about? Or do you think maybe I just couldn’t tell that they were magical gifts from Santa before, the same way my parents still can’t?”
“Huh?” Harry frowned, flopping onto his own bed across from her. Only half of her spiel had registered. Why did she have to use such big words, and talk so fast? But he’d gotten the gist of it, mostly… “Maybe…I don’t know…he is a wizard...”
Neville, still standing by the door shrugged. “I have no idea either. But it sounds like our gifts from Santa were wrapped in the same paper as yours was... What did you get?” he asked, still curious, “something magical?”
“Not magical, no,” Hermione shook her head, “But definitely something that my parents would never buy for me. They might have let me take all my toys back to my room, but there is absolutely no way that they would buy me more toys, and especially not a super-duper deluxe pram for Annie; it would remind them too much of my baby sister that died before she was born…”
Some of her excitement drained at the memory of her parent’s reaction to the present. “You should have seen the expression on Father's face when I unwrapped it. And Mother... She can't stand the sight of it, and almost burst out crying. In fact, I bet that if she knew how to, she would make me send it back. But since mail addressed to Santa's Grotto doesn't actually go to the North Pole...
“Never mind...” Hermione took a deep breath and smiled deliberately, in a bid to rally her former excitement. “I can't wait till next time that you come over to my place, so that I can show you, and we can play House for real. Mom wouldn't let me bring it here, but you’ll see it is the best pram ever; it's got..."
Neville cringed at the mention of playing House, but Hermione was too caught up in her genuine excitement of describing the pram's multiple features to notice. Two against one –three when Colin joined them –they didn't often get roped into playing House, despite how often the subject came up, but when they did, Hermione's bossy side came out in full force, especially when she decided that they were doing the task assigned to them ‘all wrong.’
Ignoring her description of the multitude of attachments her new pram came with, Neville took a seat next to his brother and his mind drifted back to the time that she managed to convince them that it would be fun to steal some of Heather's diapers and practice putting them on Annie. Hermione had claimed that they needed to practice for the next time they were left alone with Sirius, or as she referred to him ‘the world's most inept babysitter,’ since she wouldn't necessarily be around the next time.
Neville shuddered. He really, really didn't want a repeat of that experience, and pushing a pram seemed even more boring than changing diapers, especially if she made them pretend in absence of the toy pram she’d been forced to leave at home, or worse steal Heather’s and risk Lily’s wrath…
He caught Harry's eyes and whispered, "Do something."
Harry frowned at his brother. He really didn’t want to get suckered into playing House, to make Hermione feel better about leaving her pram at home, but why was it always his job to get them out of sticky situations?
Hermione had stopped talking and was looking at him expectantly.
"I'm really sorry that you didn't get to bring Annie or your toy pram over to play," the words tumbled from Harry’s mouth, but despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get them to sound sincere. Fully aware of Hermione’s rising indignation at his unintentional put-down, he soldiered on –in for a Knut, in for a Galleon. “But Neville and I got some really cool presents too. Do you want to see? It might get your mind off things..."
Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but quickly shut it again, as her mind caught up with her mouth. She’d been so excited to share news of her gift that she was acting like an egocentric toddler. Here she was in Harry and Neville’s home, in their room, two days after Christmas and, instead of asking about them, she was going on and on about herself and getting mad at them. Surely they were as excited about their presents as she was about hers.
“So what did you get?” she asked.
“Sirius got us both training brooms!” exclaimed Neville, cutting off Harry’s attempt to reply.
Hermione frowned. That wasn’t the answer that she’d been expecting. “I thought you already had brooms.”
“No, those were baby brooms.” Neville shook his head, fetching his new broom from its place of honour at the foot of his bed, and holding it out to her for inspection, “Training brooms don’t fly as high or fast as grown-up brooms but they go way higher and faster than our baby brooms, high enough to finally be able to join in on back-yard Quidditch matches. Gran and Lily were so mad...”
Harry nodded. “I was sure Mum was going to throw a fit, but Dad says that we’re the same age he was when he got his training broom, and he refused to let her make us give them back, no matter what she said. I can’t wait to try them out.”
Hermione reached out hesitantly. While she didn’t quite understand the boys’ obsession with broomsticks, their ‘baby’ broom had been kind of cool, and the novelty of seeing new magical items still hadn’t worn off in the months since she’d learned of their existence. “Can I see?”
Neville nodded, handing it to her reverently, and after a moment she found herself asking, “Do you think I could try it?”
Neville snatched the broom back from her. “Sure,” he answered, his tone not quite matching his words, “but only after Harry and I have had a chance to break them in. They were our presents, and Lily hasn’t even let us try them out yet ‘cause of all the snow we’ve been getting.”
Hermione nodded, she wasn’t that eager. Besides, she couldn’t exactly go outside and try out a flying broomstick with her parents sitting in the kitchen with Lily and James. “Fair enough, so, what else did you get?” she asked.
“Remus got us these really cool Never-Non-Bouncing-Balls,” answered Harry, beating Neville to the punch. “We haven’t had the chance to try them out yet ‘cause Mum tried to confiscate them, and Neville had to hide them from her, but Remus says that once you start them bouncing, they never stop, until the charm runs out –which takes years –or someone manages to blow them up.“
Hermione frowned, “But isn’t that dangerous? What if they hit you in the eye, or break something, or get out into the Muggle world and threaten the Statue of Secrecy, or...”
“Don’t be such a party-pooper,” Neville cut her off. “I’m sure they’re charmed not be dangerous, or break anything or be seen by Muggles. We should totally try them out now, while Lily’s distracted with your parents...” He jumped down from the bed and began rummaging beneath it, searching for the unopened package that he’d hidden there.
“But you don’t actually know that for sure, do you?” pressed Hermione, unconvinced. Then, in a thoroughly transparent attempt to change the subject, asked, “What did you get from Father Christmas?”
“Father Christmas got us each a –” Harry started to answer.
But Neville, still riffling under his bed, cut him off. “That can wait,” he insisted, “Lily will only be distracted so long. Any minute now she’s going to come up those stairs and call us down for tea.”
Hermione snorted, shaking her head in confusion. “That makes absolutely no sense. And when she walks in here and finds us playing with those hazardous balls that she already confiscated once, then what? You said yourself that they won’t stop bouncing on their own. How are we supposed to hide a bouncing ball?”
“Then she’ll get mad,” Neville refused to be discouraged, a grin forming on his face as he pulled the charmed box out from its hiding place, “and she’ll probably blow them up or take them away again... But if you would just let us get on with it, we will have had our fun and it’ll have been worth it.”
“Oh! Of all the immature...” Hermione mumbled under her breath. Arms crossed and chin raised she lifted one foot, and firmly brought it down, “No!”
“But...” Neville tried to insist.
Hermione held his gaze, refusing to back down.
Neville pasted a pout on for size and tried again, “But...
“No!” Hermione held her ground, “I have absolutely no interest in getting pelted with interminably bouncing balls, or in being reprimanded for engaging it such immature trouble-seeking behaviour. If you want to do so, so badly, you can do it some other time, when I’m not around to catch a share of the blame.”
Harry looked away, reluctant to meet her eyes, but Neville continued to stare her down, not the least bit contrite.
Still, neither boy contradicted her, so she continued, “Now I’m interested in hearing about your other gifts, unless they’re all as idiotic as those dratted balls... But if you don’t feel like sharing, I propose that we find something else to do.”
That made Neville frown; she hadn’t exactly mentioned playing House, but unless they fell into line... he could feel the unvoiced suggestion hanging over them. So rather than wait for her to say the words, he gave in and changed subject, “Of course we got other gifts. Those were just our favourites... Gran gave me a scratchy sweater that she says used to belong to my dad. She gave Harry a scratchy sweater too, but his is new.”
“And, Mum and Dad bought us each a Transformer Autobot and charmed them so that they transform by themselves, and fight and everything,” Harry cut in, before Neville could get too morose about his Gran’s choice of gifts.
But even the Autobots were a sore subject for Neville. “Gran didn’t like them very much,” he mumbled.
“But that’s only ‘cause she didn’t know what they are,” countered Harry, “Mum made her understand that we should have some Muggle toys, and Autobots are all the rage; all the cool boys at school are playing with them. And Mum says that Dad...”
Neville giggled at the memory. “Lily said that she brought James to the Muggle toy store to help her pick out our gifts, and he made a fool of himself ‘cause he thought the Transformers were magic, ‘cause he thought they transform like with Transfiguration, except they don’t, not really. So then James told her that they had to buy them, even though Lily didn’t want to. She said they weren’t really age-accropiate.”
“Age-appropriate,” Hermione corrected, then tried to change the subject again, Autobots were for boys. “What about Father Christmas? What did he get you?”
“Pogo balls!” Harry exclaimed. Even though they were Muggle toys, the pogo balls were almost as cool as their new brooms and Never-Non-Bouncing-Balls –possibly cooler. They hadn’t tried out the latter two yet, so it was hard to compare... “They’re pretty cool, but Mum says we’re not to use them upstairs or we’ll bring the house down on ourselves, whatever that means... Want to go downstairs and try them out?”
Hermione nodded, finally something she didn’t mind doing... something that actually sounded fun...
Collecting the pogo balls from the messy toy chest in the corner of their room, Neville tossed one at his brother then gestured for Hermione to follow them out of the room.
As they passed the kitchen where the adults were still talking, Hermione caught wisps of their conversation; they were talking about her gift from Father Christmas. Hermione paused at the door, straining to hear. She heard mother say, “argued about it … believe him … no idea where it might have come from…” the rest of her words unintelligible.
Hermione leaned against the closed door to listen better but, only partially closed, the door swung open under her applied weight, and she found herself crashing to the floor.
In the resulting confusion, only James noticed Lily’s sly smile.
A/N: Many thanks to Robin4 for allowing me the use of Never-Non-Bouncing-Balls. Also, many thanks to my beta, Arnel, for sticking with me after all these years, and for the quick turnaround on this chapter.