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SIYE Time:4:52 on 17th June 2021


Love, Secrets, And Organized Elves
By Spenser Hemmingway

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Category: Alternate Universe, Post-HBP, Hogwarts Discovery Challenge (2005-6), Holidays
Characters:None
Genres: Fluff, Humor, Romance
Warnings: None
Story is Complete
Rating: PG
Reviews: 26
Summary: ** Honorable Mention in the Hogswarts Discovery Challenge **
Can a secret love be a true love? Of course it can, but only if they can find someplace private to meet. It's Christmas and time to start exploring!
Hitcount: Story Total: 8234; Chapter Total: 3226







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Love, Secrets, And Organized Elves

By Spenser Hemmingway


Chapter the First: In Which Our Friends Discover And Are Discovered


This place reminds me of Santa's Workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.”–-Buddy the Christmas Elf



“I’m sorry Ron, but one more game of Wizard’s chess, and I’m going to start destroying my own pieces just to make the game end more quickly,” Harry told his friend, with a look of desperate exasperation.

Ron nodded to Harry with his own expression of weary relief. Was Ron actually tired of his third favorite pastime after snuggling up with Hermione and playing Quidditch?

“No problems mate,” Ron told him, “I think eight games are enough for anyone. We have to find something to do though, or I may actually start studying. I’m bored silly Harry.”

“I know…I am too. We all are. Happy Christmas, my rosy red bunions!

“I was going to mention those to you Harry.”

“Shut up Ron,” Harry said, but with a big smile to tell his friend he had gotten the joke.

Hogwarts that year had been determined to be a safer location for many of the students to spend their Christmas holiday. The increased Death Eater activity throughout England had overruled family celebrations, and staff and student body alike had been invited to remain at the school.

When Professor McGonagall had approached Harry the previous summer regarding his return to Hogwarts for his final year, he had accepted her invitation with the proviso that certain conditions were met. The foremost of these was that Ron, Ginny, Hermione, and he could leave at any time to carry on their search for Voldemort. While accepting his terms, reluctantly, she had, in this case, asked for the favor of their remaining on the school grounds through the holidays. All four had agreed, barring emergencies, or serious, unforeseen events. All four were suffering the consequences of their decision.

The first few days had been pleasant enough, decorating the Common Room and helping Hagrid with the school trees. In the mornings, they spent some time practicing their defensive spells with what was left of the D.A. However, with record low temperatures, it was far too cold outside for Quidditch. The indoor activities everyone had attempted, such as gnome bowling and the ill-fated Wizard’s skeet shooting in the Great Hall, had been…well, less than successful.

Harry had to admit that the decorations adorning the Common Room were indeed splendid. Holly, ivy, and multi-colored ribbons were hung everywhere, and interlaced with them were a number of small silver bells that softly rang when someone kissed under the mistletoe. That last idea had actually been Ron’s, and everyone was very amused at how Hermione pretended to be upset about his having done it.

The tree was an especially beautiful one that had been specifically selected for Gryffindor by Hagrid. It was covered in angel hair, glass balls, and the occasional mischievous decoration. One such was an ornament with Father Christmas on a broom, chasing an ogre who had stolen a bag of toys. Another was a clear glass orb which would occasionally display colorful blooming poinsettias. That had come from Neville, who in turn had received it from a distant aunt living in Mexico.

The angel on the top of the tree was one Spenser had donated, and it depicted Louis Armstrong with angel wings, silently playing his trumpet. Harry’s contribution had been to obtain a set of charmed ever-burning candles. Their fire fluctuated between several Christmas colors, and gave a warm glow to the room when the other lights were extinguished.

“So Harry, what are you going to give Ginny this year?” Ron asked.

“I was going to give her the music box I left at the Burrow, the one that Professor Flitwick charmed with you playing your recorder, but, with our staying here, I think those old wool socks in my trunk will have to suffice.”

Ron nodded in understanding, trying not to smile at the thought of Ginny’s expression when she saw them. For months now, whenever she and Harry were out in public, they had to pretend they were no longer together. Apart from a few close friends, everyone thought that, at best, they were just casual acquaintances.

“Yeah, I’m going to have to come up with something for Hermione too,” Ron said, “I can’t believe that we can’t even go into Hogsmeade to shop. It’s even too late for most owl-mail order deliveries. I had my eye on a great pair of dragon-leather gloves for her.”

“Are you sure they won’t be like those slippers you found for her birthday?” Harry asked, “The ones that inflated her feet to four times their normal size when she put them on.” Ron’s poor choice of gifts was legendary.

“Yeah, and then she gave me a swift kick in the arse with one of them.”


*****



In her room, Ginny was completing the last of her Christmas cards. She set them aside with the intention of posting them when, or rather if, the Weasley owl Errol arrived. She dearly loved their old family pet, but the last of the previous year’s cards had finally arrived at the Grangers’ just after Easter. Actually, it might be better to ask if she could borrow Hedwig from Harry. Harry…she had almost forgotten, it was time for their little scene, and then to meet in the tunnel behind the south tower statue of Oz the First.

He had given her the Marauders’ Map with exact instructions on how to open the passage. She was looking forward to spending some time with him, and not having to act as if she hated him while doing it. Grabbing her school jumper, she checked herself in the mirror, and headed downstairs for the show.


*****



“Okay Hermione, could you explain to us again, slowly this time, why you and Spenser are covered in Christmas pudding and wassail?” Harry asked.

“And could you explain to me what wassail is?” Spenser added, “I hope it’s not something like Minotaur puke.”

“Wassail is a beverage made from mulled ale, roasted apples, eggs, curdled cream, nuts, and spices. This is entirely your fault, you know,” Hermione told him matter-of-factly.

My Fault? You’re the one who had me write that story about house-elf enslavement. I could have told you they wouldn’t like it. Now I’m probably going to have to eat cold bologna for Christmas dinner. You’ll be lucky to get a glass of water and a toothpick.”

“Ah, that explains it,” Harry said, “I’ll talk to Dobby this evening, and settle matters if I can. You both do look delicious though.”

Harry couldn’t hold back a smile, and saw that Ron was almost biting through his tongue. He then noticed Ginny at the foot of the stairs, checking to see who was there. A tilt of his head to her indicated four first-years and three fifth-years scattered around the room. He nodded to her then, and she started in their direction.

“Harry Potter you are the most ignorant twit that I have ever had to encounter. Why my family has decided to befriend you is beyond all comprehension,” Ginny screamed at him.

“The rest of your family seems to be somewhat sane,” Harry yelled back, “I cannot believe you’re even related to them.”

“Well you’re related to a green baboon. Oh, hello darling!” she told Spenser in a softer voice, and then proceeded to give him a quick, but passionate kiss, carefully avoiding the food that covered him. Ginny gave Harry one last angry glare, and then stormed out of the room through the house portal.

“Blast it Harry, I thought it was Neville’s turn for her to be in love with,” Spenser whispered.

“Neville had a big fight with Luna, and then asked us to reschedule him,” Harry whispered back, “I would rather have you do it then to use Seamus again. He actually tried to kiss her back.” Harry patted Spenser on a clean portion (the only clean portion) of his back, and then pretended to storm out of the portal himself.

“Well that was another successful performance I believe,” Hermione quietly commented, “What would everyone like to do now? I mean, besides cleaning ourselves. We could go to the library. They have a new copy of A History of Magical Doorknobs on reserve for me.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite that bored yet,” Spenser said, “You know, I’ve been an exchange student here for almost four months, and I’m still getting lost. Is anyone up for a little exploring?”

Hermione rolled her eyes with a stern look on her face, “Spenser, I don’t know about your American school, but here the students are expected to refrain from going into unauthorized areas merely to satisfy their curiosity.”

“What she means is that she’d love to Spense,” Ron explained. He forced himself to keep a straight face but gave her a quick kiss as well. The silver bells rang, and Hermione smiled at him. “We can find Luna too. Apart from the ghosts, and maybe Fred and George, she’s done more exploring than anyone. By the way Hermione, you taste really delicious too.”


*****



Harry ran up to the entrance to the secret passage, and, after checking for anyone following him, pulled out his wand, and tapped the base of Oz’s statue three times, “May the wolfs’ bane never wilt.” The statue silently pulled inward several feet, and then returned to its original place after he had passed inside.

“You’re getting a little too eager to kiss your decoy boyfriends Ginny,” he said, putting his arms around her.

She put her own arms around his neck, and stared into his eyes, “How do you know that I haven’t given up on you in favor of one of them?”

“I guess I’m just going to have to find a better place to dispose of their bodies. How about someone from Slytherin House next?”

“I’d rather kiss Dobby.”

“I can arrange that. He’ll have to use a breath freshening potion though,” Harry said in a perfectly serious tone, but then pulled her to him for a long deep kiss.

Harry held Ginny tight, and, for the short time they would be together, everything could be peaceful and good. Ginny could feel Harry’s heart beating against her, and he ached inside to be able to tell the world that this was the finest of men. Harry Potter was her first true love, and she…she was the target that could cause him to hesitate if Voldemort held her in front of him.

Ginny had fought beside Harry, and she had more than proven herself numerous times. Harry no longer had any doubts about this, and knew they were meant to be a couple. He also knew that even if they were apart, she and all the Weasleys would still be targets. Together they would be then, albeit in strict secret…for now. There was no need to tempt fate.

“Oh, excuse me Harry…Ginny. We didn’t realize this passageway was occupied.”

Luna stood at the again open entry with two young first-year Ravenclaw students. They seemed to be in awe of Harry. Luna, it appeared, was giving them a tour of the castle, including some of the lesser known areas. Harry and Ginny quickly broke apart and gave them a scared look.

“Luna, what are you doing here?” Harry quickly blurted out, “How did you find this place?”

“Oh, I used this map that Fred and George sold me. It is very curious that some of us don’t appear on it. Anyway, several students have these now. This is Sean and Stella.”

“Fred and George reproduced the Marauders’ Map?” Ginny said in a soft but firm voice. “I am going to kill them. When the teachers get one of these, Harry and I will never be able to be alone. How could they?”

“Stella, Sean, there is something very important that I have to tell you,” Harry said. “Some very terrible people will try to hurt Ginny--they will kill her perhaps, if they find out she’s my girlfriend. This is something that is very, very important to keep quiet. That will be a secret between you and me. Can you do that?”

The two nodded, and then gave Harry and Ginny warm, sincere smiles, and they felt the first-years would indeed do as they asked. Harry ruffled the boy’s hair and returned his smile.

“I wouldn’t worry too much Harry. I heard rumors about lots of places that aren’t on this silly old map,” Luna told them. She had been privy to the secret, and knew the consequences of their being discovered. Despite what she had inadvertently done, Luna still maintained her normal cheerful, curious, expression. “Sean and Stella, you had best return to Ravenclaw. Hermione, Ron, and Spenser are looking for us.”

“How do you know that?”

Luna ignored Harry’s question, gave both of her fellow Ravenclaws a quickhug, and off they ran just before the aforementioned found them. Harry took Luna’s map then and held it up to Ron and Hermione as they rounded the corner. Recognizing the copy for what it was, their faces fell. Spenser was merely confused.

“Luna says they’re all over the school. Fred and George of course,” Harry told them, “but she also said there may be some places that don’t appear on the maps.”

“I guess we picked a good time to go exploring,” Ron said, shaking his head at what his brothers had done. The twins would be getting a howler that evening.


*****


Since they were already in the south tower, Luna suggested that the first place they visit should be the fourth floor. The tower was actually one of the newer constructs in the castle, and it was built from extremely large stones. In one room on that level however, there was rumored to be interior walls assembled from much smaller and even newer brickwork. There were a hundred reasons as to why this might have been the case, but the possibility of discovering an uncharted room or passage seemed to push its way to the forefront.

The room was approximately twenty by thirty feet, with tall ceilings and only a single window, far too high for any practical uses. It seemed to be too small for a classroom, and, being empty, clearly wasn’t utilized for either storage, or as a residence for staff. The unusual wall at the far end did look as if it were an addition to the original architecture. The six friends all began examining it for hidden latches, or unseen breaks.

“If it is some manner of door, there is undoubtedly a spell or password that will be required,” Hermione said.

“There’s definitely no latch I can see,” Harry added, “Perhaps you need to tap certain bricks, like you would at Diagon Alley?”

After almost an hour, and several attempted spells and passwords (including Open Sesame), it was decided that it might be time to move on to some other location. Ron continued to study the wall and was the last to leave.

“Knock, knock…can I come in?” he finally said, rapping on the wall before turning to follow the others. He was almost out when…

“Excuse me, did you really want to come in?”

Ron spun round to find a rather tall ghost dressed in eighteenth-century clothing holding open a large door open for him. In one hand, he held a ghostly green lantern, and in the other an enormous tankard of some foamy beverage. Ron had no doubt that Hagrid would have loved to have had a non-spectral version of it.

“Blimey! That wasn’t there the first time that I looked,” he said.

“I must say, we seldom get visitors coming through this door. I believe the last time was Sir Hector Halitosis. Dreadful man–-needed a place to sleep off an especially nasty drunk. He ended up falling asleep on one of our billiard tables.”

“Harry, Hermione…everybody!”

“The problem was we were to have a competition that evening. We needed to have the headmaster levitate him out. Dropped him in the lake I believe. Ah, there are more of you. How splendid. Do come in please.”

Everyone followed the ghost into the chamber, which seemed to be about six times larger the outer part, and with much more practical windows, covered with ornate iron bars. The room contained a half-dozen dirty billiard tables and two snooker tables. To one side was a large table covered with a heavy coat of dust and the rotting remains of what once had been a modest feast. At one end sat several bottles of good wine and sherry.

Across the room were three large chairs and a sofa, all draped in old lightweight tarps to protect them. Finally, there was a large fireplace, the flame of which cast a strange glow that illuminated the room but gave off no heat.

“Oh, how rude of me! Permit me to introduce myself. I am Sylvester Lord Puddintame. I’m afraid I don’t really get to meet many of the students.”

“I’m Harry Potter sir. This is Hermione Granger, Spenser Hemmingway, Luna Lovegood, and Ron and Ginny Weasley. Where exactly are we?”

“Harry Potter…Ginny Weasley? Sir Nicholas has told me a great deal about you. The two ill-fated lovers, forced to meet in secret.”

“I really wish he hadn’t shared that with you your lordship,” Ginny told him, “Do all the ghosts know?”

“Only a few, and all are reliable and discreet I assure you,” Puddintame told her in a soothing voice, reacting to the worried expression she had. He moved/floated over to the cue rack and somehow removed a beautifully inlaid stick. “By the way, welcome to the Ghosts’ Billiard Room. Would anyone care to place a wager on a game?”


*****



The day ended with Harry and Spenser both down a Galleon and wondering what Lord Puddintame would do with money. Luna and Ginny declined to play, but both Hermione and Ron came out ahead with their wagers. Ron, in fact, became extremely fascinated with the game, and Hermione was pleased that he listened to her advice about intersection and reflection angles when banking a shot.

As payment, Ron took some of the wine as a Christmas gift for Hagrid, as well as an especially nice bottle of sherry for Professor McGonagall. Hermione quietly accepted an ornate ebony and rosewood cue she thought matched Ron’s recorder.


*****



The next morning Harry woke to Ginny shaking him, and saw that Hermione had already roused Ron, who was giving her an evil look, and trying to put pants on under the blankets.

“What’s wrong? Is it Voldemort?” Harry asked, accepting his glasses from Ginny, and then seeing the scared look on her face. It had to be serious if she was risking being seen with him.

“I received a reply to Ron’s howler to the twins. They are really sorry about the maps, but they didn’t know you were returning to school when they started selling them. They wrote that the maps won’t show any of our locations, and they are intentionally misleading. They will show some secret rooms and passages, but not all of them, and others that don’t really exist. Every few minutes the fake map changes as well. They are really worthless jokes.”

“Then what is the problem?” Ron asked, managing to pull a shirt on, but putting one sleeve over his head.

“Sean Seetuit, the first-year from Ravenclaw that we met yesterday, borrowed Luna’s map,” Ginny told her brother, “He took it to Morgan’s Keep at the western end of school, and somehow discovered a real, uncharted passageway while looking for one of the fakes. His friend Stella was so scared that she didn’t tell Luna until this morning.”

“I see. We’ll be down in a minute,” Harry said. “Girls, I love both of you dearly, but I’m not going to get dressed in front of either of you.”

“Oh crum!” Ginny said with an impish grin, before following an equally amused Hermione out.

“You could have said something earlier Harry,” Ron told his friend, while trying to loosen the sheet that he had belted into his trousers, “and where are my socks?”

“They seem to be inside your shirt, which is inside out by the way.”


*****



Where the south tower was the newest addition to the castle, Morgan’s Keep was one of its oldest. Hermione, again quoting Hogwarts, A History explained that Professor Francis Morgan had been one of the school’s first Potions instructors. He also was reputed to be such an extreme taskmaster, that even Snape would have appeared kind and gentle in his light. Argus Filch worshipped the man’s memory.

The Keep was supposedly haunted by the disembodied spirits of the many students he locked up and tortured there. None of the school ghosts would either confirm or deny these stories. Occasionally, however, on a cold winter’s night, what was thought to be their cries could be faintly heard echoing across the school grounds. It was not a good place for a first-year student to become lost.

The search party arrived at the tower, where Luna had brought a still crying Stella earlier. After speaking with the girl, they decided that the place where they should begin their search would be in the Keep’s deep dungeon. Stella had only accompanied Sean as far as the first level down, and then, hearing strange sounds from below, abandoned her friend, and ran all the way back to her own tower. Sean had never returned.

In addition to Ron, Ginny, and Hermione, Harry had located Spenser. Neville had risen, and gone out before dawn, leaving a note that he going to brave the cold in search of rare Christmas buster-berries near the bogs. Luna stayed at the entrance to the Keep with Stella, who was latched onto the older student with a death grip.

A series of staircases led further and further down into the bowels of the earth. Some were spiral, while others were at sharp angles leading into the darkness. Even with the Lumos Spell, the six were having great difficulty making their way down. Occasionally they would need to bring their wands together to unite their glows into one brighter light. All the while, they thought they could hear something faint coming from below.

After what seemed to be an eternity, they came to a large level area that appeared to be tapered in shape. At its widest point, it was approximately thirty feet across, and its ceiling could not be seen even with the combined light from their wands. It was a dead end. It also smelled faintly…curiously…of pine needles and cinnamon. Again, they could barely make out a distant sound.

“Do you think we’re at the lowest point?” Ginny asked.

“If we were any lower I think that could order Chinese take-out. Okay Ron, you did so well last time…where is the door?” Spenser asked.

Ron took the comment seriously and began to study the shape of the room. He walked around, rubbing his hand against the wet stone wall, tapping it occasionally, and apparently in deep thought. Finally, he seemed to make up his mind.

Alohomora,” he called out pointing his wand at the tip of the room’s triangle shape. Naturally, the hidden door opened in the wall behind him and to his left. He was extremely pleased that his friends could not make out his embarrassed expression in that light, or he their amused ones. “Would you believe I meant to do that?”

“Of course, Ron,” Harry told him, trying to allow him a little dignity, “Wait…what is that? Is it music?”

It was music. It was Christmas music. As the door slowly opened, it revealed a large chamber that was lavishly decorated in reds, greens, and dark purples. No less than five well-decorated trees circled the room, and large scented candles floated through the air in a manner reminiscent of the Great Hall. A roaring fire burned in another large fireplace, but, unlike the Billiard Room, in this case the flames were real, as was the food that was spread out over the table. There was a goose, several game hens, as well as a boar’s head at one end. In addition, there were a number of pies, cakes, and other dishes, including a still flaming Christmas pudding.

At the head of the table sat an elderly ghost, dressed in the garb of perhaps the late middle ages. He seemed to be of slender build, with a long bushy mustache. He held a tapered pipe, and his expression was one of jovial amusement at their surprise. He beckoned them to approach, which they slowly did, but with wands drawn.

“Harry, would this one be the Ghost of Christmas Present?” Spenser asked, only half joking. He saw from Ron’s confused look that he had never read that particular Christmas story, and made a mental note to get him a copy.

“Welcome my friends. I am Professor Francis Morgan.”

Remembering Hermione’s description of the man, everyone was suddenly on the alert, scanning the room for some manner of entrapment. Seeing how everyone was at the ready, Harry cautiously advanced a few more steps, trying to read the ghost’s expression. He appeared to be exactly what he seemed, a jolly mild-mannered spirit.

“Excuse me sir, have you seen a younger student named Sean?” Harry asked him.

“Of course. Sean, they are here,” he called out, “You may bring it in now.”

Into the room the boy came, carrying a large bowl of what everyone assumed to be punch. He seemed to be neither afraid nor to have been harmed in any way. In fact, the Ravenclaw seemed to be in extremely good spirits.

“Oh no…more wassail,” Hermione moaned. Everyone gave her and Spenser an understanding smile. They also all put away their wands, deciding that what they saw before them was a genuine holiday celebration.

“Apparently sir you aren’t going to torture us?” Ginny asked.

“No heavens no…of course not. I wish someone would revise that history book. It is extremely frustrating at times convincing people that I was never a fiend.”

“The history was incorrect?” Hermione exclaimed unbelieving.

“I am afraid so. The stories were the result of a terrible prank inflicted upon me by twin students of mine. They were real punsters. Yes, I believe that is what the current vernacular term is. It is so hard down here to keep up-to-date with contemporary English sometimes.

“Anyway, Christmas was my life, and I strove to keep it all the year. That play on words is why this tower became known as Morgan’s Keep. I could never hurt a fly. Those two red-headed boys thought it humorous to paint me as an evil tyrant. Unfortunately, some scholar seems to have actually believed their tales.”

There was a question there as to who had the more embarrassed expression. Was it Ron and Ginny who were considering whether the jokester twins might have been ancestors, or Hermione who had to realize that her favorite bit of light reading had a very big error?

“Now if all of you could assist me. This room is magically enchanted to entertain visitors during the Christmas season, but it still requires some degree of corporeal assistance to serve the food. I also believe that a carol is in order with the punch.”


*****



The group spent a wonderful morning with the professor’s ghost, enjoying a good lunch, his wonderful stories about Hogwarts Christmases past, and Harry and Ginny even took the opportunity to dance with each other to some music that Morgan caused the room to produce for them. Ron found a tin whistle on one of the side tables and joined in with the unseen orchestra. Hermione, at one point, decided to play prefect and severely scolded Sean for his actions. Only the season and the memory of her own first-year mischief stayed a punishment. The boy also showed her a spell that Professor Morgan had taught him for turning fruitcakes into suits of armor. This of course explained why there were so many in the castle.

The third piece of music was a slow one that neither Harry nor Ginny recognized. Ginny lay her head on Harry’s shoulder, and the two barely moved, concentrating more on being together than on any dance. How much longer did they have, they both thought, and when would this terrible war end so they could go on together. No, they would live for the now, and the hope that everything would soon be over. They would live for the day when there would be no more pretending, no more hiding, and no more fear in their lives.

“Harry there’s someplace I want you to take me this afternoon,” Ginny softly told Harry as they danced.


*****



Two hours later, after excusing themselves, and promising to visit Professor Morgan again before classes resumed, Harry led Ginny by the hand off to a large chamber that they had visited only once before. They stopped before the large statue, and Harry made the point of putting a reassuring arm around her. For some reason, he kept his free hand on his wand. Before them stood the giant stone snake in the Chamber of Secrets.

“Ginny are you sure you want to be here?”

“Yes Harry. It’s been almost five years, but if I don’t face this place again, I don’t think the bad dreams will ever go away.”

“I think I understand. This chamber will always have a special significance for me as well. It doesn’t show on the Marauders’ Map, but it has been such an essential part of the school’s history…and mine. I destroyed the first Horcrux here, as well as the basilisk. This is where I first fell in love with you.”

“Only it took you almost four years to finally realize you had,” Ginny added, teasing him.

He smiled at her, and then led her up to the statue. Placing his hand on it, he thought it felt warm for some reason. Considering the weather, they were experiencing, this left him a bit confused. For a brief second, he thought he could hear something as well. Shaking his head, he turned to look out over the room, taking it all in, and reliving that day.

“That’s where Tom Riddle was standing when I met him. Where he used my wand to write fiery letters in the air, revealing himself as Voldemort. He summoned the basilisk then, and if it weren’t for Fawkes blinding the snake, neither of us would be here.”

“All I remember Harry was waking up to find that you had defeated both of them. You saved me Harry. That was when I discovered I loved you as well–-not a crush anymore. It wasn’t because you had rescued me; it was because of who you were. You are good, brave, noble person. You’ve been a part of me ever since then.”

Harry turned to study her face, and their eyes became locked on one another’s. He took her hands, and once again gave her his best smile.

“Ginny, you need to stop saying that. The next thing that you know I’ll have a fan club.”

“You already do Harry.”

“Then I had better…” Harry started to say, but suddenly jerked his head up, trying to listen for something. He let go of Ginny’s hands, and walked back toward the statue again. Something was not right. Examining it, and then noticing indentations in the floor that he had previously missed, Harry drew his wand, and spoke to the giant snake in parsel tongue, commanding it to open. The upper portion slowly pulled back and up, while the lower split in two, opening up before him.

Illuminating the area with his wand, he advanced through the opening, knowing that Ginny was within arm’s reach behind him. The first thing he noticed was a gust of extremely warm air and animal waste hitting him. The next was three large basilisk eggs, and they seemed to be trying to communicate with him. Were they about to hatch? What was the incubation period for a basilisk? Could it be five years?

“Ginny, what do you remember about basilisk eggs?”

“Harry, I remember that they’re laid in a dung heap. The egg is spherical and doesn’t have a shell, but instead was covered by a thick skin. The egg has to be hatched by a toad, but I don’t remember how long it takes.”

“That’s great Ginny. I should have paid better attention to that lesson after what happened before. I think we need to go find Hagrid and Professor McGonagall quickly.”


*****



Hagrid had indicated the eggs were indeed about to hatch, and the spells that Harry had considered using to destroy them would have instead merely hasten the process. This was one time where Harry had made a wise decision to allow the staff to intervene instead of trying to resolve the issue himself.

With the new Muggle Studies instructor, Professor Marvel, Hagrid had removed the eggs to the train station where representative from the Ministry arranged for their transportation to an unrevealed overseas location. Ron had to wonder if Charlie might be preparing a special treat for his dragons’ supper.

The good fortune of finding the eggs was off-set by the scolding McGonagall and Hagrid gave Harry and Ginny. They both seemed to be much more scared about what had almost happened than angry the two had returned to the Chamber.

“Professor, this was something we had to do to find some closure with what happened five years ago,” Harry told her.

“I completely understand that Mr. Potter, but I cannot have two of my best students going off into such a place–-setting the example for our, shall we say, less capable young Wizards to imitate. I’m afraid the two of you will have to undergo two hours of detention alone together, twice a week for the remainder of the school year.”

“Professor you can’t…ouch, Ginny! You’re as bad as Hermione is with Ron.”

Harry…” Ginny said with a pleading look on her face.

Suddenly in dawned on him what the headmistress had just done for them. Four hours a week alone together under the pretense of punishment.

“Miss Weasley…Mr. Potter, I’m afraid my decision is final. Now if you will excuse me. Good day and Happy Christmas.”


*****



The friends refrained from exploring for two more days, until finally once again mind-numbing boredom overcame them. Everyone in the school, it seemed, had taken it upon themselves to imitate their searching out new secrets, and the results had been entertaining in most cases.

Three students had discovered a secret entrance to the food lauder and were found there asleep after finishing off the better part of six pies. Another student located what she thought was a hidden labyrinth under the school, and, when finally rescued a day later, insult was added to injury when she was told that she had stumbled into the school’s old sewer system.

Other stories were not quite as entertaining. Three students happened upon the resting place of an especially nasty poltergeist named Ravachen Ruly. This particular spirit went beyond being annoying to outright cruel. Peaves was an innocent child beside him. One student was severely beaten by flying pumpkin rinds, while another was stripped to his underwear, and hung from the ceiling over the room’s fire pit. The third student escaped with a bad case of molasses and pillow feathers, summoning assistance from several of the staff.

Restraining spells at first had little effect on Ravechen, but Professor Marvel was finally able to subdue him with a large enchanted Muggle vacuum cleaner. The students were told that the poltergeist had been locked in that room many years before after an incident involving an ostrich, a large bottle of laxative, the Hungarian Potions master, several moonberry pies, and a traveling broom salesman from Kent. Word quickly spread that the younger students should immediately scale back their explorations.

Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione however were bored enough again to actually take up the idea of a visit to the library. A blinding blizzard made even a walk outside to visit Hagrid unwise. Luna was busy in the Ravenclaw tower making turnip preserves for everyone’s gift. She did tell them of a lower-floor hallway she had always wanted to explore in the northernmost part of the castle. She indicated where it should have been on the map but declined the invitation to come.

Neville was with Madame Pomfrey after mistaking a thistle-itch plant for the similar-looking berry he was seeking. Seamus and the others they sought out were also otherwise occupied, specifically with trying to produce adequate Christmas gifts. One student had discovered a spell that transformed hardtack into fruitcakes, and Hermione made a mental note to see if any new armor arrived anytime soon. Two students had set up a small production line in an empty classroom, producing nutcrackers that were charmed to chase after rats with a sword. Still another group had enlisted Seamus, for some strange reason, to help them develop exploding taffy treats. If the owls were still flying, Fred and George could have made a fortune selling materials for the projects, if not the gifts themselves.

Finally, having searched out Spenser, the group went off to find the mysterious hallway Luna had described. The northern wings were well lit, which was welcome after their previous explorations. The hallway was very easy to find, and no one could understand why it wouldn’t have appeared on the map. It twisted around in several directions, with no doors or windows they could see, finally ending in a large circular room with a series of statues inset on the walls. Each was of a Wizard or Witch holding what appeared to be actual wands. The first thing Harry noticed about them was that they all seemed to be smiling.

“This has to be some manner of puzzle. Either that, or it is of some form of shrine to happy Wizards,” Hermione pointed out, “I don’t know if there is a doorway here, or if something is supposed to happen. Ron…”

“Oh no. It’s someone else’s turn.”

“Very well,” she said with an exasperated look on her face, “I will just have to find it for you.”

Harry and Ginny began examining one of the stone witches. They saw it had the same facial features as all the others. They were all the same height, same physical build and clothing, the same everything almost, except for their gender. Another thing they noticed was how each of them seemed to be staring directly into the eyes of another statue directly across the room–-Witch to Wizard and vice versa. Each one also had what appeared to be a step in front of it up onto the base.

“I wonder…” Harry mused, “Hermione, Ginny, everyone stand on the pedestal in front of your statue, but don’t place yourself across from anyone. Good. Now Alohomora!” Nothing happened.

“Harry, what if we placed you boys on the male statues and Hermione and I on the Witches?” Ginny suggested. Again, nothing happened.

“How about the other way around Harry,” Ron suggested, “Alohomora!

All at once, the eyes of the statue opposite from them began to glow. Each of them raised their stone arms and pointed the wand they held directly at each of the friends. Before anyone could move, white light flashed out, and the five friends vanished.


*****



“It was a bloody interactive Portkey,” Ron called out to everyone as he made his way over to check on Hermione, who gave him a nod and a quick hug, “Someone put in a security system on that portal.”

“Which we bypassed in less than five minutes,” Spenser pointed out, “I have a really bad feeling about all of this.”

The enormous place where they had come was not exactly a cavern, but neither was it a room. The walls were a blinding white color, and everything was illuminated from some unknown source overhead. The ceiling, if that’s what it was, since it appeared as a blue sky, was far, far overhead. The structure was constructed of the largest blocks of stone that anyone had seen in England. They reminded Ginny of the Egyptian pyramids they had seen during the family’s visit there. The ground was covered with well-mowed grass, and an oddly colored brick path led off through an actual briar patch and over what seemed to be a small hill. Everyone felt they were indoors, but it could easily have been mistaken for an outdoor park somewhere.

Just before the briars several signs were posted: Trespassers Will Be Eaten, Small Children Must Turn Back, Large Monsters With Big Appetites Ahead, and Refer To Previous Signs.

“I believe that we’re not supposed to be here,” Hermione said.

“Still, I think we should see where this leads,” Harry countered.

The walk through the briars soon turned into one through a grove of very large, angry-looking trees that provided a canopy for the path. Overhead large flapping sounds could be heard, along with a fantastic roar. At one point, something seemed to swoop down and run at the treetops as if trying to reach the group.

When they emerged from the wooded area, they found a large field strewn with what looked like Muggle barbed wire and large wooden stakes set in the ground and sharpened at one end. A series of thirty or forty additional warning signs, all different, had been placed along the path almost shouting at them to turn back.

“I definitely believe that we’re not supposed to be here,” Hermione said again, “Harry look.”

On the far side of the field was a stone face wall with an extremely large door and on the floors above it a series of balconies with shuttered doors and windows. The friends cautiously approached with wands at the ready. Curiosity was overruling simple common sense, telling them that they indeed should not be there. Why then had it been so easy? This time it was Harry’s turn to knock.

A small window on the door popped open, “Go away, you indeed should not be here,” an older gentleman, perhaps the gatekeeper told all of them.

“Where exactly are we sir,” Ginny asked.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that young lady. Now go back before I send the flying lions back out after you. Shoo! Shoo!”

“I’m very sorry if we are intruding, but we’re not sure how to get back now,” Hermione explained.

“Well you just go left at the…no that won’t work. What you need to do is go over the bridge down by…no we burned that one. Oh bother, who are all of you anyway?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon. My name is Harry Potter and…”

“Harry Potter! Jumping up and down Martha! We’ve been expecting you for days now. You are all very late. Didn’t Miss Lovegood give you directions?”

Naturally, everyone was completely flabbergasted at his words. What did Luna have to do with this place? The gatekeeper closed his small window, and a moment later the door swung inward, revealing a small elfin man and a large step ladder.

“Welcome…welcome! Come in please. Oh, we have so much to show you, and it is almost Christmas Eve. Please come in. Arnold, they’re here. Go tell him quickly.”

“Sir, are you an elf?” Hermione asked.

“Of course, my dear…a Christmas elf. We and the toy-maker elves run this entire operation. Didn’t Luna tell you? Her father ran an excellent story in The Quibbler about our operation. She had us reset the wards to allow you to come down here.”

“Where exactly is here?” Harry asked.

“Why this is Father Christmas’ workshop, or at least one of them,” he explained.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at the North Pole?” Spenser asked.

“Have you ever been to the North Pole? It’s just several feet of ice floating on water. They keep planting flags there, and those Muggle boats…submarines I think they’re called…keep breaking through the icecap. No, Father Christmas, or Santa as you Americans call him, does have a home in the far north, but the workshops are more strategically located throughout the earth.”

As they followed the elf into the enclosure, they saw before them one of the most magical places they had ever witnessed. Everywhere there were smaller toy-maker elves busy at work on countless projects. Toys were being produced, but so were other more adult novelty items that put Fred and George’s work to shame. It reminded Harry and Ron of Fitzgumby’s toy store to an almost infinite magnification.

“You are being forced to produce all of this!” Hermione sudden blurted out in an angry voice, “More enslaved elf workers!”

“Enslaved? Miss, we are paid extremely well for our efforts. We even have an excellent dental plan…Hermie got tired of making toys and set up a practice.”

“Yeah Hermione, they even have a union,” Ron said before Harry could stop him.

A union? You knew about this Ronald, and you chose not to tell me,” Hermione yelled, while poking him with her wand. “I could have organized the house-elves ages ago. Who pays all of you?”

“Uhm, Father Christmas does,” the clearly embarrassed elf told her. “He began investing in coal and cookie production centuries ago. Plus, there is the rent we collect from Hogwarts.”

“What are you talking about?” Spenser asked, walking up to him, but accidentally knocking over a crate full of ceramic dolls. Slapping the side of his head, he pulled out his wand, and attempted to repair the damage he had caused. Nothing happened, even after several attempts. The others tried as well, but with the exact same results.

“Why won’t my magic work here?” Harry asked.

“For the same reason that Muggle devices won’t work at Hogwarts,” a new voice answered.

Everyone turned to see the newcomer, and they were stunned silent. Before them stood the actual Father Christmas, but in this case wearing overalls, and a baseball cap.

“Feldercarb! He does exist…and he’s a White Sox fan,” Spenser stammered.

“Actually, I try to cheer on several teams, and not show any favoritism. To answer your earlier question however, there can be no Wizard magic in this place. It is governed by a far more ancient and powerful force then you will find in your school above us. It is something older than even the Christmas traditions the world now enjoys. Before there was Christmas here, there were the celebrations of the winter solstice.”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” Ginny said softly, “Do you really travel all over the world delivering gifts?”

“I do, where it is needed. More often, I merely sew the Christmas spirit, or the equivalent, where they do not celebrate the season. I go by many names in different countries, and I arrive by different means. Some places on foot, some on a donkey, some riding a reindeer, although my favorite is driving the team. Would you like to see them later?”


*****



Father Christmas spent the next few hours giving them a tour of the factory. Most of the work was being done by magical means, but occasionally an enchanted Muggle device, such as a forklift (which fascinated Ron), was allowed to be used. Coming across a table lined with clear glass balls, Ginny fell behind to examine one.

“Those are family orbs my dear. Go ahead and pick one up.”

Suddenly, the image of her mother appeared inside. She was busy in the kitchen as usual, this time apparently making bread. The picture was extremely life-like.

“With those you will be able to see your family wherever they are,” he explained, “I gave one to your Argus Filch last year so he could see his own family.”

Ginny almost dropped the orb at this revelation. “He has a family? Filch hates children!”

“Ah yes, well that is a very personal matter for him, and something that should not be spread among the populous of your school. Not unlike Harry and your secret. Yes, Ginny I know about how you two love each other. It’s all that he sees you when you’re sleeping, and he knows when you’re awake business…and no I do not peek into the ladies’ shower rooms. Mrs. Claus has a temper.

“Back to topic however, Argus has a wife, four sons and a granddaughter. They are all magical, and you know he is not. He had another child, a little girl that very much resembled eight-year-old Kelly, but she died a horrible death while playing with some other children. Argus Filch was unable to save her, and he has cut himself off from all of his family…most of the world in fact. He has returned home only once, quietly in the night, to meet his small granddaughter who is the only joy of his life.”

“That just isn’t right,” Ginny softly said. “Can’t you do anything about it?”

“Ginny, there is far more to Christmas than just me. I’m simply the embodiment of its spirit. Most of what I do is through other people. I inspire more than I act.”

Ginny thought about this for a few moments, trying to apply that same inspiration to this situation. Suddenly her eyes lit up. She gave Father Christmas a quick kiss on the cheek, and then called for Spenser, hoping she could convince him to help her with her idea.

“I saw Ginny kissing Santa Claus,” the American sang.

“Oh, shut up Spenser,” she said giggling, but then seriously, “I need your help to write Argus Filch a Christmas story.”

That did make Spenser stop singing.


*****



A few minutes later, they caught up with the others outside the reindeer stable. One of the Christmas elves was demonstrating how the reindeer could carry a rider. Everyone was enjoying his flight through the chamber as if it were a Quidditch game…everyone except Hermione. She was occupied with studying an inscription carved into a large marble stone on one of the walls and puzzled about what language it might be.

“Father Christmas, what does this monument stone read?” she asked.

“Please call me Nicholas. I see you found our foundation stone. It was the first block set in place when we began to build Hogwarts nearly two thousand years ago.”

“What!” Hermione shouted, “You built Hogwarts…when?”

“Yes, we did, the elves and I, although we didn’t call it that back then. I believe it was finally completed in the year 22 A.D., and it really was a special place, but much smaller than it is now. After a time, and with the growth of Wizard magic, we decided it was best if I move my residence, and this operation was hidden. The four founders of your school approached me and…well a deal was made. Only your headmasters and their closest confidants are aware that we are down here working.”

“But The Quibbler story he told us about…?”

“Does anyone, other than Luna, believe everything that is written in The Quibbler?”

Hermione, for the second time in three days was astonished that her Hogwarts, A History had been in error, or at least incomplete. Hogwarts was Father Christmas’ castle! When a good portion of Britain was still living in primitive shelters, he had been building England’s first castle. Finding out how old her school really was…it almost took her breath away.

“That was bloody brilliant mate,” she heard Ron say, and coming out of her daze saw him approaching the reindeer that was being guided back to the ground in front of them. Ron rushed up to it and began studying the harnesses and the makeshift saddle that was on the reindeer’s back. “I have to try that! By the way, why is this reindeer’s nose glowing bright red?

“Ron, that may not be a good idea,” Harry told him.

“Harry’s right,” Ginny added, “I think it’s harder than it looks.”

“Nah, it’s just like riding a broom,” Ron told them, and then, gesturing toward the elf, “If he can do it, I certainly can!”

With that, Ron quickly climbed onto the reindeer before the Christmas elves could block his path. The poor animal, sensing a heavier, unfamiliar rider, began to buck, and then run…straight at Ginny. Seeing that Ron was unable to control the animal, Harry darted out in front of Ginny, trying to grab the reins. At the last possible second, the reindeer took to the air, knocking Harry to the ground and grazing him with its hooves.

“Oh no!” Ginny called out, “Harry got run over by a reindeer!


*****



Christmas day found Argus Filch in a foul mood. Instead of the peace of an empty school, he had to endure the pranks and mischief of a castle full of bored children. He had repeatedly asked to have the torture chamber reactivated in the dungeon, but his requests fell upon deaf ears. He had long ago forgotten that he wasn’t really serious about such threats. Well, at least the Christmas feast had been good.

Stroking Mrs. Norris, he unlocked the door to his small room, only to find a candle still lit on one of the side tables. Filch was certain that he had put it out earlier since he remembered burning himself doing so. A quick search of the room found no one there, but then he noticed, next to the candle and his cherished family orb, a roll of parchment with a ribbon and a tag that read Happy Christmas.

Cautiously opening it, suspecting it might explode, he found it was some form of story. Carefully reading it, the color left his face, and he began to breathe deeply. When he had finished, he went over it again, this time mouthing each word as he went. Once he had finished rereading it, he carefully rolled the parchment back up, and placed it in an old chest he kept. He stood there a full minute deep in thought before going over to the table and picking up the orb.

Filch next pulled out a small satchel, tossed a change of clothes inside, along with some toiletries and the glass ball. He then blew out the candle, picked up Mrs. Norris, and went to see the headmistress about arranging for quick transportation to Yorkshire.


*****



In the Common Room, all the Gryffindors were beginning to open their gifts, most of which were simple concoctions that were meant more to demonstrate the sentiment than to actually be functional. Ginny had given Ron a velvet bag for his recorder, sewn together from two decorative ribbons. Harry had given Ron a surprisingly nice picture frame made from tree bark, bubblegum, and baling wire, and Hermione an enchanted quill sharpener he had produced from an old peach pit. Ron’s gifts, as usual, were quite different. Harry received a bottle of cologne made from a recipe he found in The Quibbler, and Hermione was given a box of automatic dental floss he had charmed (guaranteed to give you the brightest smile). For his sister, he had stitched together several wool socks to make her a Quidditch cap. Unfortunately, he forgot to wash them first.

Despite the improvisations, everyone seemed to be in great spirits. Even Dobby had made an appearance, offering Hermione and Spenser a plate of still-warm cookies as an apology for the house-elves’ outburst. Spenser had given Neville a cutting from an Oregon myrtlewood tree, and Luna a Native American dreamcatcher he had improvised. He came over to Harry, Hermione, and Ron and tossed them each a medium-sized book.

“I’m sorry if it isn’t very good, I have one for Ginny too,” he explained, “Merry Christmas.”

“What are they?” Ron asked. His eyes shot wide open when he opened it, and read the first page.

“It’s my first book about you, and, before you go freaking out, there are only four copies, and the master is safely locked up in Portland. I know that someone else will write your real story someday, but this one needed to be told too.”

Socks! Harry Potter, all you could come up with was socks?”

“Ah, here’s Ginny…right on cue,” Hermione whispered.

“Well they are better than those enchanted toenail clippers you gave me,” Harry shouted back as he walked over to face her.

“Those are at least practical, and they aren’t hand-me-downs from your fat cousin!”

“Like the wool for that goldfish bowl warmer you knitted for Luna?” Harry retorted.

The whole room stared at them in silence, but neither one cared. All they could do is look at each other, tired of pretending, wanting to do something more.

“Oh blast…forget it…I can’t do this today,” Harry told her, and with that he took her hands, and kissed her. It was the type of kiss that you write home to mother about. It was the type of kiss that you include in some sentimental Christmas story. It was long, intense, heartfelt…and very dangerous. The whole house was there staring at them.

After a full minute, realizing what they had done, they broke apart, and looked around the room. Where the previous year’s famous Quidditch kiss had met with a variety of emotions, ranging from shock to outright celebration, the group today merely continued to look on in silence. Harry made a point of putting his arm around Ginny, as if to protect her. Finally, a third-year, whose name Harry couldn’t remember, stepped forward.

“Mr. Potter…Harry, we’re all Gryffindors here, and no one saw anything that just happened. If I had seen anything…if I thought that Miss Ginny here was your girlfriend, well I know why you want to keep that quiet. That will be a secret between you and me…you and all of us.”

Harry caught his breath, and then smiled, and shook the boy’s hand before giving Ginny another kiss. This time they were under the mistletoe, which triggered Ron’s spell making the bells ring. This time everyone did applaud.

Mischief managed!
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