Dawn threaded her way through the throng of people in the ball room. She had a smile plastered on her face, and nodded greetings to a dozen strangers who said hello to her. She silently cursed Hermione for talking her into coming to this thing. "It'll be fun," she'd said. "Get out of the library, and meet some people." Like Hermione was one to talk about getting out of the library. "It's New Year's Eve! It's a chance to let your hair down!" Hermione had talked her into coming, and now the little witch was nowhere to be seen.
Like there was anything actually 'fun' about the Council's annual New Year's Eve Party. It had started out as fun, the first few years, when it was a gathering for the Council's and Slayers' friends and family. The meeting of friends and family had been eclipsed by the politics. Now most of the people here were here to try to push their own private agendas. More deals were finalized here, than in the board rooms. As head of the Council's research division, Dawn usually managed to keep herself out of the political side of things, but nearly everyone knew that she was someone who had the ear of the Slayer (Even with nearly fifty of them now, Buffy was still the Slayer) and the chairman of the Council, so she'd already had to deflect half a dozen people who had tried to get her backing for one scheme, or another.
The ballroom was full. Witches and Wizards in their formal robes mingled with the Muggles from the Council in their tuxedos and evening gowns. A smattering of Wiccans, and representatives from other magical societies were sprinkled through the crowd. House Elves, dressed like miniature butlers, moved through the crowd, hovering plates with hors d'ouevres, and drinks over their heads. There was a string quartette supplying music for the evening. Not too loud to stop conversation, but loud enough to keep eavesdroppers from listening from more than a few feet away.
The few people who weren't here to do business, were here to be seen at what was considered by many to be one of the foremost social events of the season. Frivolous social butterflies, who might know everything there was to know about the latest in fashion, but couldn't carry on a conversation about anything else, and couldn't tell you which end of a stake to stick into a vampire.
There were a few people here that Dawn would have liked to talk to. She had spotted one of her old friends from Hogwarts, but Rob Harding was the new Minister of Magic, and this was a business party for him. She'd have to work her way past several layers of his flappers to actually get to talk to him, and with so many people around, he'd never let his true self show…not that she was sure if she had ever really met his true self. Rob was a consummate politician, and it was impossible to tell what he was really thinking, most of the time, but Dawn thought that he would be one of the rare politicians, who would be remembered long after he was gone as a statesman too.
Dawn reached out and snagged a glass of champagne off a tray hovering over one of the House Elves' heads. Maybe if she got a little drunk, this 'party' would become more tolerable.
'I'm going to kill Ron,' thought Harry. 'He drags me to this bloody awful thing, and then disappears on me.' He really should have known that he couldn't have any fun at a function like this. He'd be swarmed if he let anyone recognize him. Not being recognized had become second nature for him, whenever he went out in public. The Someone Else's Problem spell was pure reflex now. He cast it automatically whenever he was anywhere that he might be spotted. It had of course raised alarms when he entered the Council building, but their security people all knew who he was. Some of them were even friends, and they'd respect his desire to remain anonymous.
So here he was, alone in the crowded room, as unnoticed as the House Elves, in their butler uniforms. People navigated around him as automatically as they avoided the floating trays of drinks and hors d'oeuvres.
One of the trays stopped beside him. "Good evening, Harry Potter."
Harry looked down, and smiled at the elf. "Good evening, Dobby. It's been too long." His spell wouldn't have fooled any of the House Elves, either, but they were all much too well behaved to make any sort of fuss over him. He snagged the lone glass of champagne off the tray. "So, how have you been?"
"I have been very good, Harry Potter. How is our new Chief Auror?"
"They're keeping me busy." Dobby's tray had disappeared. Harry knew that Dobby's duties at this party didn't really include serving the guests himself. Dobby had made an exception for him. "So, what's it like being the Council's major-domo?"
"I also am kept busy, Harry Potter." Dobby's eyes kept sweeping the room, alert for anything that might be amiss. They settled for a moment on someone, and he frowned. His ears curled downward in the way that they did when he was really angry.
Harry looked where Dobby was looking, and he frowned too. The Malfoy money still let Draco go lots of places where he wasn't welcome. The one time Slytherin Prince was obviously already several sheets to the wind, and it was looking like he was about to get into a fight with a man who had objected to the way Malfoy had been leering at his wife.
"I must take care of this, Harry Potter," said Dobby. "Perhaps, if you look over by the Christmas tree, you will find a friend." There was the crack of air falling into the place where he had been, as he disapparated.
Dawn suppressed a smile as she watched Draco Malfoy being hovered toward the exit, over the head of Dobby. She really shouldn't be enjoying watching that so much. Dobby was also looking much too pleased with himself. She'd have to have a word with him about that. His dislike of Draco Malfoy might make him go too far one day.
She was standing near the Christmas tree. Dobby had stopped by, just before he had gone to take care of the Malfoy problem, and suggested that she might find something of interest here. So far, Malfoy's exit was still the highlight of the party for her, though.
Harry grinned as Malfoy floated out the door, upside down. This party wasn't a total waste, after all. He hoped that Dobby wouldn't drop Malfoy on his head…too hard. He wouldn't like for the elf to get into trouble.
He resumed his journey toward the tree. Dobby had supplied one bit of entertainment for the night. Maybe his suggestion to look over there would have a similar benefit.
He froze when he saw her. For a moment, he considered just turning around, but she turned toward him before he could. He was puzzled for a moment as her eyes just slid right past him, without any sign of recognition, but then he remembered his SEP spell. He could still escape, but he didn't. He just stood there and looked at her. 'She is still beautiful,' he thought. Her hair was shorter now, a bob cut just below chin level, but he decided that it suited her. There were a few wrinkles starting to show around her eyes, and at the corners of her mouth, but they gave her face character. He tried to remember what had happened to them. They had never really broken up: they had just drifted apart. Their lives had taken different tracks after they left Hogwarts. At first they would see each other on weekends, and spend holidays together, but their jobs had them both travelling all over the world, and it had become harder and harder for them to meet up. Sometimes a couple of weeks would pass without seeing each other, and then it would be a month or two. Their frequent letters had become postcards, and then just birthday and Christmas greetings. Christ! They hadn't even exchanged Christmas cards this year! He tried to remember the last time that they had spoken. It had been three years ago, when the Aurors had come to the Council about the case of a Slayer who was suspected of going bad. They'd met briefly, and their conversation had been all business, both of them completely professional. No one who saw that meeting would have suspected that they had once been lovers.
He saw a puzzled expression play across Dawn's face, and she started to scan the room. This time it wasn't a casual looking around. She was searching for something. Her eyes settled on him, and she snorted in amusement.
Dawn felt that she was being watched by someone. Sunnydale instincts died hard. She started to scan the room, looking for the source of the feeling. She couldn't see anything obvious, but she knew that there was something watching her: something close by. She took a couple of deep breaths, clearing her mind, and looked again, very deliberately looking at everyone who was near her. She looked toward one completely ordinary looking wizard. 'Nothing to see there,' she thought. 'Move right along.' She snorted.
"And these are not the droids I'm looking for," she said out loud. Now that she knew it was there, the illusion hiding him fell away, and she recognized Harry. She smiled.
Harry smiled back. "You always were good at seeing past illusions."
"So, why were you hiding from me?" asked Dawn.
"I wasn't," said Harry quickly. "At least not from you. I am hiding from just about everyone else."
"Why would Witch Monthly's 'Most Eligible Wizard' want to hide from everyone at a party?" asked Dawn.
"One of these years, I'm going to curse whoever puts that list together."
"I think I saw her earlier," Dawn looked around. "I'm sure we could find enough people who'd cover for you. Hermione's supposed to be around here somewhere."
"So's Ron," said Harry, "but he disappeared right after he dragged me in here."
"So, I got dragged here by Hermione; you got dragged here by Ron; Dobby made sure we'd run into each other, and now none of them are anywhere in sight. I sense a conspiracy."
"I see you've kept your paranoid instincts well trained. Useful talent for the head of the Council's research department."
"You think I'm paranoid?"
"Of course, but even paranoids have enemies—or in this case friends—trying to manipulate their lives."
"So, you think we're being manipulated too."
"Hey, they didn't make me Chief Auror because of my looks," said Harry. "I'm going to have to find a particularly nasty assignment for Ron, after the New Year. Send him to some tropical island to do a survey of all the dark creatures that live on it, or something like that."
"Maybe I'll send Hermione to help him. Make sure that they do a real thorough job." Dawn sighed. "What happened to us, Harry?"
"We got too busy. One of us was always running off to some corner of the world, for one reason or another."
"They were important reasons," said Dawn. "People needed our help."
"Yeah, but we got so tied up taking care of everyone else, that we forgot to take care of ourselves, and look where it got us."
"Both of us at a party that we really don't want to be at," said Dawn.
"The earlier parties were much more fun," said Harry.
"I was thinking the same thing, when I first got here," said Dawn. "Do you remember the first one?"
"We snuck away, to go up to your room to make out."
"I've still got a suite here."
Harry extended his elbow to her. "Let's blow this party."
A bemused look crossed Dawn's face, and for a moment Harry was afraid that he'd made a mistake, but it was quickly replaced by a smile, and she slid her arm into his. "Yes, let's." They started to walk toward the hallway that led to the residential section of the building.
"So what were you thinking there?" asked Harry.
"Oh, just having a Sunnydale thought," said Dawn. "When you said 'blow this party' I wondered just how much high explosive it would take. You know, the Slayer curriculum does include handling explosives now. I wonder if I can give Giles a heart attack if I propose that we have the girls submit a plan for the destruction of the Council building, as a class assignment."
"I don't think that's a good idea," said Harry. "Ginny used to complain about how Buffy was the only Slayer who got to blow up her school. A few of those girls might want to try to put the theory into practice."
Ron and Hermione watched their two best friends laughing together as they left the room, and smiled. It had been a long time since they'd seen either of them really laugh. They gave each other a look, and they both raised their hands to give each other a high five. Phase one of their plan had gone off without a hitch. Now they just had to make sure that no one would disturb their bosses over then next few days. Dobby had already taken care of making sure that there was enough food and drink in Dawn's suite to last them for quite a while.