Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K.R.
Author's notes: This is just a little piece of saccharine sweet fluff that popped into my mind. Blame it on the Christmas season, or maybe I need an escape from all the drama of A Marriage of Convenience. Those who like me listened to the European charts in the late 70s probably know which pop song inspired this story. The Australians should know, too.
A big thank you to CaskettFan5 for editing this story on short notice.
My brother-in-law, as obnoxious as he is, knows how to throw a party. When I appeared on the Apparition Point, Fairy lights illuminated the garden of his gothic manor in the most tasteful way.
His house elves had cleaned the path that led to the main entrance from the snow that had fallen earlier that day. I ambled down the path, my naked shoulders wrapped in a toasty warmth. The Warming Charms of the Malfoy house elves were among the top as were their Gardening Charms; the clipped shrubbery that lined the path showed magical beasts: dark green dragons, a huge snow-dusted Basilisk and a couple of bushy Wyverns serenaded me with Yuletime carols on my way to the house.
I snorted; that had to be Astoria's doing, imagine a Malfoy having such a quirky idea! That bunch was all about dignity and the great Malfoy name.
Although, come to think of that, I hadn't heard Draco spout once about the greatness of his family since the end of the war, thank Merlin. Seems he'd learned a lesson or two, and Astoria would make sure they'll stick. He wasn't that stiff anymore, either. It had done him a world of good that his father had to spend special time at Azkaban after the war, and his mother lived in France, so Astoria's influence became more apparent.
I'd reached the main entrance during my musings. Torches burned to the left and the right of the imposing stairs that led into the house, and each window was lit, inviting tonight's guests to partake in the festivities of yule. I didn't have to ask who did that; Astoria's touch was hard to miss.
Laughter and the muted sound of dance music wafted down the stairs from behind the tall oak doors. It seemed the party was already in full swing although the faint sound of Apparitions from the park signalled I was not among the last guests.
Thank Merlin, or Astoria would never let me hear the end of it. She'd been dead set on me coming to her Christmas party, even though she was well aware I hate attending such assemblies and as good as never went to one, now I wasn't forced to do so anymore.
Potter's victory over the Dark Lord not only marked the end of the war, but also the end of Pureblood society as it once had been. Alas, there were still those inconvincible families like the Carrows or the Goyles; however, with all their adult members being in Azkaban they didn't count anymore. The majority of the Pureblood families had tried to lie low during the war, without committing to either of the fighting parties. Now, that everything was over, they almost fell over themselves to prove their support of Potter and the side of the Light, with our dear, old parents being in the lead.
Well, I wouldn't complain about that. It had given me a freedom I never dared to dream of while I was still at Hogwarts. Mother ceased all efforts to "bring me out" in style and marry me off to some Death Eater, and I was free to pursue an advanced education after I'd left Hogwarts. My grades were good enough to make the Director of the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry for Magic overlook the house I'd been in at Hogwarts, so I'd joined the ranks of the Unspeakables three years ago, and had finished my apprenticeship this summer. It had been trying to say the least, but satisfying, and I'd given up all the parties and meaningless chatter for my studies without even the slightest pang of regret.
I walked up the steps. The tall oak doors opened and revealed the entrance hall. An abundance of Everlasting Candles burned it the huge chandelier that hung from the rafters, and in the numerous sconces that adorned the walls.
Astoria and Draco stood at the open doors to the drawing room to welcome their guests. Behind them, the room was crowded; the chatter and laughter of too many voices and blaring music spilled out.
The moment she saw me, my little sister squealed and hurled herself at me, a big smile on her face.
The next second Astoria suffocated me in one of her trademark hugs.
'Let me breathe, Tori!' I laughed and returned her hug.
She let go of me, the smile still on her face, linked arms with me and led me to her husband.
Draco's voice was less than enthusiastic, and he gave no hint of being pleased to see me when he kissed my hand and gave me a small peck on the cheek, his only concession to our relationship by marriage. We'd been in the same year and house at Hogwarts, but we'd never run in the same circles. He'd been the leader of the junior Death Eater set, while I had to keep a low profile in Slytherin, due to the demands of our parents, and was forced to stick to myself because of that. I'd never forgive Draco that he made my school years a never-ending dark valley of loneliness: as a Slytherin, I was regarded with distrust by my classmates from the other three houses, and Draco and his cronies would've made my life a living hell had I dared to reach out to someone outside of Slytherin.
'Draco,' I reciprocated in the same cool and distant manner.
Beside me, Tori sighed, and I evaded her eyes and looked at the tasteful Yuletime decorations of the entrance hall instead. I love my little sister to bits, and I'd do anything for her. However, after all that had happened it was asking too much of me to become best friends with her husband. I'd act civil towards him, because Tori loved him and he obviously made her happy. That was the only claim to my tolerance he had.
I bumped shoulders with my sister and gave her a short smile to convey my regret.
Her smile told me she understood. Tori always does; that makes her so loveable.
The tall entrance doors opened again; laughter and animated voices signaled the arrival of a whole bunch of guests.
Tori let go of me and gestured towards the drawing room. 'Get a drink and make yourself comfortable, Daffy. You know almost everyone who is here. We'll talk later, alright?'
I nodded, and with a last wave at my sister and her husband I entered the crowded drawing room - and almost turned on the spot. It was like running into a solid wall of noise and heat. The fragrance of at least half a dozen perfumes and aftershaves assaulted my nose, and the mixture of loud music and non-stop chatter was deafening.
Why, by Morgana's saggy tits, didn't I have the good sense to stay at home in front of my fireplace, my feet propped up, and a good book in my hands?
My eyes scanned the room; Tori's friends from school made up the majority of the guests. She'd been a Hufflepuff, but had friends in all the houses, so I wasn't surprised to see Luna Lovegood and Demelza Robins among the guests. Draco's and my coworkers from the Department of Mysteries made another big portion, with the odd member of the Auror Department interspersed, thanks to our joint project of developing new techniques of magical forensics.
Of course that had been Potter's idea. He'd grown up in the Muggle world and had heard about the amazing things Muggles had developed to solve their crimes. When he explained about DNA evidence for the first time, it sounded bizarre, and it took him quite a lot of meetings and discussions during our lunch breaks at the Ministry to convince me.
Strange enough, Draco had been on his side right from the beginning and supported him wherever it was possible. Well, in the end Potter had won me over, too. There was something about the enthusiasm in those emerald eyes of his that was hard to resist.
I suppressed a groan. Who was I fooling? It was not only his eyes that were irresistible. I'd never belonged to his friends during our school days, and even though I was smart enough not to believe in Draco's diatribes about Potter, I never understood what made people flock towards him. That is, until I got to know him because of our work. He was -.
I gave myself a mental shove: it was much better for my peace of mind not to head down that path. Even though the Weaselette had dissolved her engagement to Potter last summer, he showed no signs to join the dating game again. The wizarding world still puzzled over the reasons for the break-up: they'd seemed like the perfect couple, sweethearts from their Hogwarts days on, and the reincarnation of Potter's parents, if you didn't look too closely. Well, I never had thought much of the intellect of the Weaselette. It was overrated, no matter how you looked at it. Which woman in her right mind would let go a man like Harry Potter? Men of his kindness were hard to find. Add to that a wicked sense of humour, a sharp mind, and good looks, and you really had to wonder if the Weaselette still had possession of all the brooms in her upper broom shed.
A wave of roaring laughter reached my ears and pulled me out of my musings. I resisted the temptation to conjure earplugs and threaded my way through the crowd to the bar at the other side of the drawing room. A glass of elven wine or two would help a lot to get me through the night.
Alas, I never made it that far.
Two hands grabbed me by the upper arms, and the next moment I was pulled into a hug that was much too close, and a pair of lips lingered on my cheek just a tad too long. 'How wonderful to see you here tonight.'
That was a compliment I couldn't return.
'Theo,' I said with a small smile, and tried to disentangle myself from his arms, with "tried" being the operative word there. The glassy shine of his eyes and the distinctive smell of Firewhisky in his breath was a dead give away he'd already had a drink too many. I gave an inward sigh; he'd pre-lashed at home before the party and would be drunk like a sailor before the night was much older. He'd been one of my suitors at Hogwarts, the one I wasn't allowed to scare away on my parent's orders, though I wasn't allowed to get his hopes up too high, either. I'd dropped him like a hot potato the day after the Battle of Hogwarts.
Too bad Theo had never learned to take "no" for an answer. Ever since then he'd kept harassing me whenever we met, and it was worse when he was drunk. I glared at him and used the icy voice I'd developed to keep the more adventurous of my housemates at bay during my Hogwarts days, in the hopes it would get through to him in his inebriated state.
'Let go of me, Theo.'
'Aw, come on, sweetie, you know you like it.' He pulled me closer towards him, and his hot breath brushed my cheek.
Ugh! I suppressed a shudder. It seemed I had pitched my hopes too high. What a moron!
I contemplated my choices. If I tried to pull away gently once more, he'd think I was playing hard to get and would tighten his grip even more. I hid my wand in the corsage of my party dress, and as long as he held my upper arms in a death grip I couldn't reach it. However, he was turned towards me just in the right angle for a swift jerk of my knee into his privates. Most likely pain would convey my message much better than any words his pissed brain couldn't grasp anymore.
I gave him a close-lipped smile and brought my leg into the right position.
Yet I hesitated. It was not so much out of consideration for Theo's wellbeing; the git deserved it. No, what made me reluctant to cause a scene in the dignified Malfoy drawing room was the thought of what my sister would say if I ruined the party she had been looking forward to for so long.
The arrival of a newcomer decided Theo's fate - and mine, though I had no idea about it right then.
He stood on the threshold, clad in casual jeans and a dragon hide jacket - Merlin, those bulky Auror robes he wore on our meetings in the Ministry never made me realise how broad his shoulders were - and his startling emerald eyes scanned the room for someone he knew.
I didn't wait for him to be successful. 'Excuse me, my date has just arrived,' I said.
Theo blinked once and gave me a blank look. He needed a few seconds until my words sunk in. 'Date? Who? How? What date?' He glanced around and his grip on my arms slackened.
I yanked myself free; the next moment I flung myself at the newcomer in the doorframe. 'There you are, honey, finally. You really work too much.' I threw my arms around his neck and snuggled up to him.
He stiffened in my arms, turned his head to look at me, his eyes wide as those of the deer in the wandlight, and opened his mouth.
I put a finger on his lips and brought my mouth next to his ear. I wore extremely high heels that night, but I had to get on my tiptoes to reach him. 'Be a dear and play along, Potter. Theo can't accept "no" for an answer, and he's even more obnoxious when he's drunk.'
His eyes flickered from my face to a gaping Theodore, and he gave me the slightest nod of understanding. Senior Auror Harry James Potter was very quick on the uptake, so much I'd gathered from working closely with him. It was quite the welcomed difference from the clueless boy who'd bumbled his way through his Hogwarts years, and who'd made me want to kick his scrawny arse more than once for his thickness.
Well, those days were long past. He'd come into his own since his victory over the Dark Lord, and his behind made a lot of adjectives pop up in my mind. "Scrawny" was not among them.
He didn't disappoint me this time, either. The next moment, his arms wrapped around my waist, he pulled me towards him in a firm, yet tender grip, and lowered his lips to mine.
My belly fluttered; my body tingled where his hands touched me, and for a very long moment my brain ceased to function except for one, breath-taking thought: he kissed me!
Did he have an idea how often I'd dreamt about this moment when he gave me the feedback on how the methods I had developed worked when put to practise? I'd watch his profile while we talked for hours over some fish and chips he'd ordered from the Leaky Cauldron after everyone else had already left the Ministry. Often enough our talks would continue until it was almost midnight, and his strong jaw, with a distinct stubble on it after long hours of work, and lips that looked velvety soft, would haunt me in my sleep.
His lips were much softer than I had expected, and Merlin, did he know how to kiss! Nobody heard me complain when he drew out the kiss and took his oh so sweet time to explore my mouth. It would've been the limit of ungratefulness hadn't I aided his superb performance, so I reciprocated in kind. However, I didn't count on the disastrous results that had on my body. Was that blob of quivering jelly really me? If his strong arms hadn't held me by the waist, I would've slid down alongside his body and melted into a puddle of goo at his feet.
When he raised his head, he had a dazed expression in his eyes, but there was also a slight smirk around his lips. All of a sudden it dawned on me why the Sorting Hat had considered him for Slytherin, as he'd told me on one of those long nights we'd worked together on the project I'd become fascinated with, along with him, of course. He didn't let go of my waist, either; something I was extremely thankful for. I doubt my legs would've carried me.
The smirk on his lips intensified. 'Had I known how eagerly you waited for me, love, I would've been here much earlier.'
The look in his amazing eyes that accompanied these words didn't help at all to stabilise my wobbling legs. Neither did the intimate way he emphasised the word "love".
I had forgotten about Theo. Truth be told, I had forgotten about everybody in the room. Theo used my moment of distraction to bring his obnoxious self back to my attention. His spidery finger poked into my shoulder.
'So, you and Potter? When did that happen?'
"Right now" was the wrong answer. I didn't like the belligerent undertone in Theo's voice.
Potter came to my rescue - again. 'Wouldn't you like to know?'
I had no idea how he did it, but there was something in his voice and the way he looked at Theo that made the moron reconsider. Even in his inebriated state he was smart enough not to pick a fight with Potter. Instead, he sneered at me.
'Suit yourself. You could've done better, you know.' Theo shrugged his stooped shoulders and stalked away towards the bar in a huff, without any doubt in search of more Firewhisky.
Potter's gaze followed him, while he still kept his arms around me. I could get used to that.
'That's unlikely,' he said and gave me another smirk. 'At least if he's referring to himself.'
I couldn't agree more. Something in the way Potter held me made it difficult to speak, so I nodded, unable to tear my eyes from his.
He looked back at me, his eyebrows raised. Again, the world around us ceased to exist. The smirk on Potter's lips faded away. Instead, they parted into a silent "oh".
We shared another long look.
Without a word, he let go of my waist, grabbed my hand, and pulled me with him, out of the crowded drawing room, through the entrance door and onto the stairs. Astoria called something after us. We didn't care, and her voice was cut off by the tall entrance door falling shut behind us.
Potter stopped halfway down the stairs, turned towards me, and cupped my cheek with his free hand.
'Do you have an idea for how long I wanted to do this?'
He didn't wait for an answer. Again, his lips touched mine, and again the universe came to a halt.
'Trust me?' he asked when he raised his head.
'From here to hell and back.'
A roguish smile appeared on his face. He took my hand into an even firmer grip and pulled me with him to the Apparition Point. His wand slipped into his hand from the invisible standard Auror wrist holster I had developed in the first year of my apprenticeship, and he waved it across me without uttering a word. He didn't even move his lips.
My high heels changed into sensible hiking boots, my silk stockings became woolen socks, and my red party dress changed into warm trousers with a matching knitted sweater over them.
He gave me a grin that made my belly flutter.
'I'm sorry about your nice dress. You'll need warm clothes where we'll be going. Even that's not enough.'
With another flick of his wand I was wrapped into a quilted jacket.
He waved his wand across himself and stood beside me clad in a similar attire the next moment.
'Hold tight,' he said, and wrapped his arm around my waist.
I flung my arms around his neck. The next moment, each cell of my body was condensed in the telltale pressure of Apparition.
We appeared on an agricultural road in a winter wonderland, high on a mountain above a valley. The full moon cast its silvery light over the landscape, reflected by a glistening, thick carpet of snow. From down in the valley, hundreds of lights of a Muggle village twinkled up at us. Up here, however, the moon and stars provided the only source of light, and everything was heavenly quiet.
'Where are we?' I asked, my arms still around his neck. My breath was a white cloud before my mouth.
'In the South Tyrolean alps. I've inherited a farm with a remote alpine pasture here from my family. In summer it's worked by a couple of house elves, but in winter nobody is up here. The hut that belongs to it is always held ready for the family. I'll come here whenever I need a timeout. It's down there.'
He gestured with his free hand to a dark shadow a good twenty yards down the slope. A tiny wooden hut nestled against the side of the mountain; its roof almost disappeared under at least two feet of snow.
I took another look at the enchanted landscape. 'It's beautiful here, and so quiet. I had no idea there are still places like this in crowded Europe.'
He pulled me closer towards him. 'I'm happy you like it. I come here whenever I can. There's something about this place that appealed to me from the moment I saw it for the first time.'
I could see why; this place was an oasis of calmness compared to his hectic day-to-day life. It hadn't taken me long to find out that Harry was an extremely private man at heart and gave in to the demands of the magical public on him only because of a sense of duty. He needed a hiding place, or he would lose it. That was a feeling I could relate to.
We looked at the moonlit landscape for a long time until I shuddered.
Harry gave me a kiss on the cheek.
'Let's get inside and get warm.'
He put his arm around my shoulders and led me down the agricultural road. A flick of his wand opened the front door, and we stepped inside. Harry flicked his wand again. An oil lamp, suspended over a wooden table, lit up and revealed a low-ceilinged room. A tiled stove took up one corner of the small room. Besides that stood a massive wood-burning cooker, and a shelf that held some pans, pots and crockery made up the rest of the kitchen equipment.
There were no doors to adjoining rooms; a steep wooden ladder led to a hatchway and to what I supposed were the sleeping accommodations of the hut. The room had a wooden floor and was panelled with a light coloured wood. A bench, made of the same wood, was built into a corner of the room. Together with a matching wooden table and two hard looking chairs it marked the eating and living space. Red patterned cushions on the bench and the chairs, a matching tablecloth and curtains of the same, rough fabric in front of the tiny, four-paned windows lent a modicum of comfort to the spartan room.
Harry flicked his wand at the tiled stove, and only moments later toasty warmth permeated the small room.
I opened the zipper of my quilted jacket, slipped out of it, and slid onto the wooden bench. It was surprisingly comfortable. Someone must've put permanent Cushioning Charms on it.
Harry had also got rid of his jacket and now bustled around in the kitchen area. The tight fitting, knitted sweater he'd had conjured for himself, and the straight cut, tight jeans he wore left only little of his fit physique to the imagination.
My mouth went dry, and I gulped.
He pulled open the door to a built-in cupboard above the shelf that held the meagre selection of kitchen tools. It revealed a tiny pantry. He took out cheese, very dry looking flatbread that had a spicy fragrance which at once filled the air, and a couple of small, smoked sausages, cut them up and arranged everything on a long, wooden serving plate. His moves had the ease of long practise.
I watched him with wide eyes as he put some pickled cucumbers into a crockery bowl. He'd slain a Basilisk, fought dragons, defeated a Dark Lord, and he knew his way in a kitchen. Was there anything that man couldn't do?
He put the plate onto the table, turned around, reached into the pantry once more, and whistled as he pulled out a bottle of wine.
I lowered my eyes to the tablecloth and bit on the inside of my cheeks. There was something he couldn't do after all: his whistling was horribly off key.
The sound of the cork popping out of the bottle made me look up again. He put the bottle and two crockery cups on the table and slid onto the bench beside me.
'I'm sorry I don't have any more fancy to offer to you than the durable staples the elves stock here for my weekend surprise visits. I feel somehow guilty that I've deprived you of your dinner; the Malfoy elves are supposed to be superb cooks, I've been told.'
He'd put his arm around my shoulders while he talked, and I snuggled up against him.
'Don't. I'd rather have a simple meal with you than a fancy dinner with the hordes at Malfoy Manor.'
His arm tightened around my shoulders.
'Is that true?'
I raised my head.
'I'd never lie to you, Harry.'
He looked at me for a long moment, then he took a deep breath.
The certainty in his voice made my heart beat a drum roll. His eyes bored into mine as if he was looking onto the bottom of my soul. Which was nonsense: the whole department knew Harry sucked at the Mind Arts, his lack of skills in this regard had almost broken his neck in his final Auror exams, no matter how much he excelled at everything else.
And yet - maybe he could read me, just like I could read him that very moment? Everything he hoped for, everything he feared, it was in his eyes. They were bright and full of tenderness, nevertheless there was a hint of insecurity at the depths of his beautiful eyes, as if he was a small boy who hoped for love, but expected a beating.
What had been done to him when he was still too small to fend for himself?
Words wouldn't heal his wounds. Maybe deeds could, so I did the only thing that came to my mind to give him the reassurance he so obviously needed. I slid my arms around his neck, threaded my fingers in his silky hair, and pulled his head towards me.
When I kissed him, I poured everything into that kiss, all my dreams, all my hopes, and the long time of yearning for him.
He seemed to understand. He pulled me closer and kissed me back with a tenderness that made me quiver in his arms.
When we ended the kiss, we both looked at each other. The bright smile on his face matched mine. There were no words needed: we both knew we were just at the beginning of something wonderful.