It had taken them much longer than Harry had thought it would to find the house. Hermione had something very specific in mind, and he knew better than to interfere when she did. He just wanted four walls they could all their own, a little garden, an office for them to share, and a spare bedroom for friends. Well, and hopefully a good kitchen, since he still did most of the cooking. But his needs were really few.
Still, the first time they walked into the two-story house they knew that it was theirs. It sat on a tree-lined street, and the back garden had a couple of trees as well, though they were young ones so there was plenty of sun, too. Downstairs was a kitchen that had plenty of room for two cooks and a table, a large living room with built-in bookshelves, a small room that they could easily make into an office, and a dining room off the kitchen, with a half bath in the space under the stairs. Upstairs was a large bedroom and two small ones, plus a large full bath. And everywhere, window seats and nooks and little architectural details, like the banister that was made for sliding or the simple art deco mantle over the fireplace. They kept their poker faces in front of the realtor, though, and the house was soon theirs.
At least, in name. Escrow took far longer than Harry had thought, and while Hermione took advantage of the time to pore through design mags and buzz to him about fabrics and paint chips—really, he didn't care, so long as it was comfortable and it wasn't garish, and with Hermione he didn't worry much about either—as November turned into December Harry was worried, because Christmas was coming.
He'd spent holidays in lots of places, but he'd told himself, foolishly it seemed now, that he and Hermione's first married Christmas would be in their own house, and he still wanted to make that happen. Despite Harry's fortune, they'd agreed that while there might be little presents—books or something similarly on the scale of their schooldays—their real present to each other this year, birthdays and Christmas, was the house and their August wedding. At the very least, he did not want to spend the holiday in their little flat off Diagon Alley.
"So, maybe we should take a trip over the hols, while the painters are here?" Harry asked over breakfast on 4 December.
"Harry, we just got back from our honeymoon," Hermione said. "Don't you want to spend the holiday with our friends and family? Besides, we'll miss the Boxing Day Buffet at the Burrow and you know how Molly gets."
"Of course. You're right," he agreed, but in his head he thought, time for plan C.
On 6 December they finally had the title to the house, and at breakfast Harry asked when Hermione thought they'd move in.
"Well, the floors need to be refinished first, so that's a week …"
"Sanding, then two or three coats of varnish, and everything has to dry thoroughly and it's been so wet. A week at least. But the floors will be so gorgeous we won't even want any rugs on them."
"Didn't we buy rugs, though?" Harry asked.
"Well, we still want it to be cozy," Hermione said.
On 12 December they walked through the house for the first time since they'd bought it—and Harry insisted on carrying Hermione over the threshold.
The floors were, in fact, gorgeous. "What's next?" Harry asked.
"Well, the painters say they'll need four days …"
"Harry, these walls haven't been painted in years and this plaster will soak up the paint like a sponge. They need to put in a coat or two of primer. And there are a lot of walls."
"Even with magic?"
"You can't do that with nonmagical construction. You haven't been listening to me at all, have you? I know that happens to other married people but really, Harry."
"I was just hoping," Harry said.
On 18 December Hermione announced that some of the furniture was late and she didn't want to move in until it had all arrived.
"Hermione, don't you think you're being a little rigid?" Harry asked, beating egg whites for weekend waffles. "As long as we have a bed …"
"No," Hermione said, setting down her mug of tea. "We can't really unpack until everything is moved in. That's no way to live."
"But we're nearly all packed and living out of boxes now!" Harry pointed out.
"Yes, but we're leaving here. I want to attempt to have much less clutter in the new house, and that comes from unpacking properly the first time."
"If you say so," Harry said, setting down the bowl and burning his finger on the edge of the waffle iron, where the safety cover had broken away. "Damnit!" he said. "Can't we unpack any of our wedding presents? I know we got a new waffle iron from George."
"Harry, please. It's all organized."
"Fine," he said, sucking his sore finger into his mouth.
By 21 December Harry didn't have much hope, and then Hermione suggested that they go early to see Sirius and Remus up at their country house.
"Why?" Harry asked. "I thought we'd just go up there on Christmas morning."
"Well, the movers are moving us out tomorrow but won't move us in until after the holiday."
"What? WHY THE HELL NOT?"
"Harry, don't shout. Movers get holidays too."
"Why can't they move us in on the same bloody day?"
"I don't know, it's not how they do things apparently, when there are houses. And they have to get all our things out of storage. It's complicated. Besides, you don't want to be in a half-unpacked house for the holiday, do you?"
"I don't mind unpacking on Christmas," Harry said.
On 22 December Harry watched the movers take everything out of their flat except what they had packed in two small bags, and it was very late that night when they sat on the dusty floor, eating Thai takeaway from plastic containers in the dim light of their wands.
"This is like our first night here," Hermione said.
Harry nodded. "This flat has been good to us."
"We had our first parties here."
"Ha, remember when Ron got so drunk he—"
"Excuse me, I've been trying to forget that."
"Sorry. But there were other fun memories, too."
"Good friends," Hermione said, and they were silent for a bit, eating and remembering.
Then Harry said, "I asked you to marry me here."
Hermione smiled. "The best memory of all," she replied.
On 23 December, Harry slept in as they'd got to the country house at such a late hour, but when he woke up Hermione wasn't around. Sirius said they should go for a good long ride on the bikes since they hadn't been just the two of them really since the wedding, and to be honest Harry had had about enough with Hermione and all her delays (fine, they weren't her delays, but still) and didn't mind getting out of the house all day. By dinner he was in the best mood he'd been since the day they'd bought the house. No wonder everyone lived in old family homes; buying a new place was almost more of a problem than it was worth.
On Christmas Eve they had a large breakfast and then sat around with Sirius and Remus playing silly games most of the day, Exploding Snap and Quaffles to Quaffles from their own "Quaffles to Potters" deck that had been a present from Ron and Padma at their engagement party. Remus had made a light but festive dinner of oyster stew and then just as it was getting late Hermione said, "It's time to go, Harry," and handed him his cloak.
"Where?" he asked.
She held out her hand and he knew, suddenly, and he didn't know why he hadn't thought of it, but of course they would go there. After all, it wasn't far—that's why Remus had bought this house in the first place, all those years ago. He took her hand and they Apparated.
It was snowing in Godric's Hollow, a wet, heavy snow that pitted the drifts in the graveyard. This time they knew the way and walked hand in hand straight to his parents' gravestones with their simple inscription. He hadn't been there since that Christmas when he was seventeen, when everything was so different, and wondered at how Hermione had been the one to be with him that night.
After a moment Hermione said, "Harry, I'd like to come here every year."
He looked over at her and she looked back in her steadfast way. "Every year?"
"It would be like they were having Christmas with us," she said. "We could bring the children here, when we have them. It would be our own Christmas tradition. If you'd like to, I mean."
Harry nodded, mostly trying not to cry again, and swallowed hard. "I'd like that. I think that's a brilliant idea."
Hermione smiled and squeezed his hand harder. "Let's go home."
"You mean, the country house?"
"No," she said, smiling. "I mean our home."
He just stared, then followed her out of the graveyard and they Apparated once again, to the back garden of their new house.
They unlocked the back door and walked through, turning on the lamps. "All the furniture is already here," Harry said.
"Yes, it is," Hermione replied.
"And all our things," he said, seeing the boxes sitting in piles in each room.
"They did a good job putting the boxes in the correct rooms," Hermione said.
"They really didn't move us in the same day," Hermione said. "They brought it all here yesterday. Remus and I supervised the move-in while Sirius kept you occupied."
"Harry, you were so stressed from everything, and I didn't want you unpacking on Christmas Eve but you know how you get. Besides, I wanted to take you out to Godric's Hollow."
"You don't listen to me, Harry. If I go on and on about details you tune me out. So I just took advantage of it." She grinned.
"I've been managed?"
Hermione laughed. "There's one more thing," she said, and led him into the living room.
And there, on top of the corner table, was a small tree, only three feet tall, covered in tiny lights and fabric garlands. "No presents under the tree?" Harry asked.
"Technically the house is under the tree," Hermione said. "And I suppose unpacking is sort of like unwrapping, right? You did say you wouldn't mind unpacking on Christmas."
Harry glanced at his watch. "It's still Christmas Eve for another hour," he said. "No need to rush." He glanced up the stairs. "Is the bed made?"
"Of course," Hermione said.
"Then I have a present for you, too," he said, and kissed her. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."
"Happy Christmas, Harry. Welcome home."