Author's Notes: I can't even BEGIN to say how sorry I am that it's been so long since I updated, but I am. Writer's block and Real Life are a bitch sometimes, and this round, I was it's whore. Things have finally settled down (after a year) and so I feel more confident about writing again! I hope you'll enjoy this next chapter...there may be a part here and there that some might not like, but I think the whole chapter, overall, is entertaining. :D
I never could have done it without IcyAurora, Michelle, and Lunadragon, my betas. Keesa13 deserves cookies, for she helped me with the Russian. And to all of you, for being so damn patient with me. I love you all.
P.S. I had to do some chopping and massacring of parts of this chapter. The FULL version can ALWAYS be found at my website.
Chapter XXIX – A Chaikovsky Christmas
22nd December 2003
I went to Weasley's wedding today. It was an interesting affair; certainly not garish and prosaic, like many other weddings I went to as a child. Weasley didn't mess up like I was so hoping he would. His vows, while a little bumbling and long, were heartfelt, and I think that made all the difference in the world to Granger, who apparently ditched her well-rehearsed vows as well in response.
Except that I can't call her that anymore. She's a certified Weasley now.
The world around me is changing: Grangers are becoming Weasleys, Dumbledore is actually an old man now, I actually tried to curb a Weasley Twin disaster at the wedding, and I've fallen for Harry Potter.
This is not new information of course, but I wish there could be more to it. Like that he's fallen for me too.
That's unlikely to happen with Chaikovsky hanging all over him.
Seeing the Granger-Weasley pair so happy made me wonder if I will be as happy at my wedding. Raven would be absolutely gorgeous, I know this. She would glow like no other bride could. Everything would be flawless; except for one thing. The dark-haired shadow in the back of the crowd.
I would marry him too, if I could. But that would be selfish, wouldn't it? I am selfish.
I remember thinking the same thing about myself when Mother died. I kept thinking about my pain; about how I couldn't live without my mum…and then about her smell, and her chocolate packages, and that rare smile that I believed only I could see; the kiss in the corner of her mouth, like Wendy in Peter Pan. Don't ask how I know that.
And I remember thinking that Raven had to be the most unselfish person in the world to risk her life to come see me.
She was trembling with fear as she knelt before her Lord.
"You are here to ask something of your Lord?" The Dark Lord said, with nothing short of controlled calculation and barely controlled disdain.
"I thank you for granting me audience, my Lord."
"You have been valuable in your place. You risk your discovery and my wrath for coming here. Why?"
"It is…winter holiday, my Lord," she mumbled, trying to excuse her behaviour with frantic yet detached words.
"Is that an excuse?" her Lord asked with more than a hint of disgust.
"No! No, my Lord," she spoke more clearly. "I must see him, my Lord. Draco Malfoy."
The Dark Lord's exhaled breath sounded like a snarl in her ears. "You must, then?"
She dare not look up. She might fall apart if she did.
"You should just kill her and be over with it," Bellatrix Lestrange said from the wall. "She obviously cares for my nephew more than you, my Lord."
"Silence, Bella," The Dark Lord hissed. The sallow woman flinched slightly, but otherwise, gave no indication of disquietude.
"His mother's untimely death has reached your secluded ears, then," The Dark Lord directed at the girl in front of him.
"I was in Severus Snape's company when he received the news. I asked for immediate audience with you, my Lord."
"You love the boy then?"
Raven lowered her eyes further, trying to hide behind her long hair, unsure how to portray such fleeting teenage feelings, while knowing they were real. She said tentatively, "I care for him, yes. My Lord -"
Voldemort slid from his chair and brought Raven to her feet with the tip of his wand on her chin.
"Love makes you weak, young child."
"I do not know his love, my Lord," she replied truthfully, not able to meet his red gaze.
Voldemort flicked up her chin, and her eyes caught his, narrowed in deeper disgust. "Your love," he spat, his lip curling in disdain, "is nevertheless, still a weakness."
"I am sorry, my Lord." She wouldn't, couldn't, cry.
"Do you wish to bear his children? You are of age."
Raven averted her eyes for a split second. "If you wish it, my Lord," she said, trying not to show her trembling at his close and cold proximity.
He released her and she fell to the ground, not even realising that he had held her there.
"Severus, take her to the Malfoy Estate. Make sure she is not gone long enough to arouse suspicion."
Snape bowed shortly. "Yes, my Lord." Raven rose, barely catching her feet before Snape grabbed her by the collar, yanking her onward.
Once beyond the fortress walls, Snape hissed, "You are supremely lucky to have left without a curse cast upon you. The Dark Lord hates the idea of love more than any other."
Raven looked up at her mentor. "How can he hate without love? Can one exist without the other?" she asked simply, musing aloud as if the question merely puzzled her.
Snape stopped them both on a sloping curve of moonlit grass. "Your stupid, childish ideals will kill you someday, Miss Harrell. Realise that the Dark Lord only wishes you to breed with a pureblood for the sole purpose of gaining followers, slaves that he can mould from birth."
"You sound like you don't agree with what the Lord wishes."
His eyes narrowed to searing slits on his sallow face. "You would be well-advised not to question my loyalties, Harrell. I am well aware of what the wishes of the Dark Lord are, and am not blind to their consequences. Remember that before you ask to seek council with him again." His grip on her arm tightened, and in a turn and a gesture, they Disapparated.
Raven found herself in a burning village, screams of pain and fright piercing her ears. She looked up to the man holding her arm and found Blaise, eyes narrowed and jaw tight at the sight before him, the garish green glow on his pale skin making him look sickly and ghoulish.
"What? How did we get here? Blaise? Where are we?"
He looked down at her, angry. "What do you mean? Put your damn mask on," he demanded as he flipped down his. "We have to find Draco."
"Draco? What?" she asked, horrified at seeing a Death Eater mask upon her friend's face. But Blaise didn't answer; he rushed out ahead, pushing terrified villagers out of his way.
Raven blinked rapidly and rushed forward herself, trying to push her way through, until a man caught her and said, "You! I see your face, girl. I'll remember you! I'll be the one to point to you in front of the Wizengamot and tell them all that you're a murderer!"
Raven gasped, her gut caught in her throat and threatening to spill out. The man's grip on her shoulders was like dull little vices in her flesh. Then there was a flash of green and the man dropped from in front of her. Raven looked up to see a Death Eater with his wand drawn, pointed precisely in her direction. She stared in complete shock.
She heard the desperate, frightened cry behind her, and whipping around, she found herself in the middle of a crowded Muggle street. The day was bright and warm. There was a blaring of a car horn, so close and so loud her body shook, and then there was blackness. When she opened her eyes, she was looking down at the man from the village that had grabbed her. His lifeless eyes were shiny in the green of the traffic light and blood pooled around his body like a blanket.
She woke gasping, trying desperately to recognise her surroundings, the morning light grey through the curtains.
"I don't know what to do, Neville. I wish I hadn't have waited so long to go Christmas shopping."
Harry and Neville were walking through Diagon Alley, or rather, being slowly churned into it by all the last-minute shoppers bustling and pushing and shoving their way in and out of stores, three days before the holiday.
"Harry, don't be so hard on yourself," Neville grunted as he pushed his way past a crowd gathering at The Cauldron Shoppe, where they were having a 'BUY A 14-inch CAULDRON, GET AN 8-inch FREE' sale. "I'm here with you, aren't I? I mean, it's a little hard to top an engagement ring, isn't it?" Neville chuckled. "We'll both figure something out, don't worry."
"Yeah, but you could get Luna anything, and she'd think it was fantastic. I've never had to buy something for someone I'm dating before, let alone a boyfriend. I'm not even sure what he has and what he doesn't."
"He's so infatuated with you I think anything you get him would be just fine, Harry."
They pushed their way past a crowd in front of Eeylops Owl Emporium and found an empty alcove to stand in, where they weren't yelling over other people's shouts.
Harry shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. "That sounds like something Draco would say," he said darkly, giving Neville a sour look.
Neville huddled into his cloak. "You mad at him or something?"
"Who, Draco?" Harry asked.
Neville nodded. "What other sarcastic prat do we know?" he said, smiling.
Harry blinked. "No, I'm not mad at him. Things are just...complicated."
"I suppose things always are," Neville replied. Shivering, he looked around the crowded street. "How about you get him something from QQS?"
Harry glanced across the street and saw Quality Quidditch Supplies, just as busy as everywhere else, with little kids' faces plastered against the window, staring bright-eyed at the latest broom model.
Scrunching up his nose, he said, "I don't think he needs another polishing set. He's probably already got a few of them."
"What about Magical Menagerie? Maybe you could get him a cat."
"He doesn't seem like the cat type. Maybe a dog..."
"Then get him one."
"I don't know if his flat allows pets."
"You're making this kinda difficult, Harry." At Harry's grumpy expression, Neville mollified him with a quick, "Let's just go to QQS and see if there's a book on Quidditch or something he might like. It's freezing out here anyhow, and looks like it might snow."
"It hardly ever snows in London," Harry replied as he followed Neville back into the throng.
"It hardly ever snows at the Burrow, either, but it did yesterday."
After pushing their way past excited children and impatient parents, they found themselves shivering from the sudden warmth inside Quality Quidditch Supplies. They huddled in a corner by the door for a moment, surveying the crowded shoppe, and Harry took off his glasses as they fogged over. He blinked owlishly at the blurry figures around him and quickly wiped off his lenses with his shirt.
"There!" Neville said, pointing to some stacks along the opposite wall. "It looks like the books are over there."
Harry grunted and proceeded to push his way to the other side of the store while Neville followed dutifully behind.
Once at the stacks, they spent most of their time pressed tightly against them, as they were near the pay counter, so all Harry could see were the books on the shelf directly in front of his nose: Snitches and the Seekers Who Love Them by Prof. Thackery Snidge, Quidditch or Quodpot? A Fool's Dilemma by Nigel Niggleweather, Seekers and the Snitches Who Love Them by Prof. Thackery Snidge, and Quality Quidditch Supplies a Quality Quidditch Supplies Shoppe Exclusive.
Snitches and the Seekers Who Love Them? Harry pondered. What was that professor on? It sounded like psychology hooblyjib to him.
"How about Which Snitch? A Seeker's Guide to the Golden Snitch?" Neville asked, looking over at Harry from his own shelf of books.
"That'd be a great book for me, but not him. He's a Chaser."
"But he's Captain too. Shouldn't he know all there is to know about Quidditch?"
Harry smirked. "He probably already does. Alright. I want to keep looking, but keep your eye on that one."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Neville replied, then pointedly kept a watch on that book, even glaring at a woman who went to grab another book off the same shelf as she stood in line to pay.
Getting a little tired of being nose to nose with a bookcase, Harry started nudging himself back, step by step. The wizard behind him huffed a little and muttered, 'How rude!' under his breath, but Harry ignored him and gathered a little of his magic to act as a small bubble around him, giving himself a bit more breathing room. He could hear the people behind him protesting, but then someone mentioned 'Harry Potter' as he looked over to Neville, who was still a bit pressed for space, and suddenly, room was created for him. A whisper of his name spread out through the store, and an eerie quiet came over its patrons.
Great, thought Harry. Any minute now, someone's going to come up and say-
"Harry Potter! What a pleasure to see you here!" A wizened witch greeted. She was adorned in a Quidditch referee outfit bearing the Quality Quidditch Supplies logo and dangling Snitch earrings.
- Not that.
"How can we help you today?" the witch said to him, smiling brightly.
A voice rang out in the strange quiet. "Why are you helping him? He's a queer." The voice belonged to a witch with two small kids in tow. She shot Harry a scathing look and turned her children's eyes away, like he was a leper and she was afraid they might catch something just by looking at him.
Harry stared blankly at her for a moment; wishing words would come to his lips. Before he could say anything though, the QQS witch turned and said tartly, "Well, that comment's not with the Christmas spirit!"
"If you're going to help people like him, I think I'll take my business elsewhere." And she moved to leave.
"You, apparently, don't remember what Harry did for you, do you? For all of us," Neville's voice rang out.
"Neville, you don't have to-"
"No, Harry. These people have no right look down at you. I know you don't like being remembered for killing Voldemort, and being the Boy-Who-Lived, but that's who you are, Harry. And who you love is a part of that too." Neville turned to the crowd in the store. "You may not like that Harry likes blokes, but it's a part of who he is. If you can praise him and accept him as the Chosen One, then you have to respect that he's a person too, and what he does with his life, after saving all of yours, is none of your business." His voice was calm and assured; softly challenging, but quietly imploring understanding.
The woman looked slightly reproachful, for just a moment, before resuming the sneer that marred her face before. "That may be. Just don't come near me or mine," the woman said to Harry.
Scowling, Harry replied, "Like I even know who you are."
Neville started forward, looking to put someone in between Harry and the socially challenged wench. "Let's not fight. It's Christmas."
"Yes, let's just go about our own business," Harry said, still looking at the woman. As he turned around to look at the books, he mentioned over his shoulder, "By the way, I'm not queer. I like girls just as much as I like guys. Not that it's anyone's sodding business."
The bell over the door rang as a few people filed out of the store, and suddenly, there was noise and motion spreading, whispers and hesitant transactions. A few people muttered 'rude' as they passed by and Harry disregarded them. He was tired of being the perfect hero. They'd think about him whatever they wanted. They always had.
The QQS witch came up to his shoulder and patted it gently. "It's an unfortunate fact of life that you'll never be accepted for you who truly are. Not by everyone."
Harry smiled tightly. "Well, thankfully, I don't need everyone to live my life."
The older witch smiled knowingly. "Well, then let's find a gift for the ones that you do need."
A half-hour later, Harry walked out of Quality Quidditch Supplies with what he hoped would be a suitable gift for Mikhail. Both the QQS witch and Neville seemed to think so.
"So, where to for Luna?" Harry asked his friend.
Neville eyed the bustling street. "I have no idea." He noticed that people were staring at Harry, whispering as they passed by, and a few even tried to give as wide a berth as they could in the crowded corridor. Harry dutifully ignored them all.
"How about one of the street vendors? There's likely to be a trinket or something that Luna will mistake for a charm to ward off another of her non-existent creatures."
Neville shot Harry a look. "She's gotten much better about that sort of thing, you know."
Harry grinned. "Yeah, I know. I'm just taking the piss."
"Well, let's get movin', I suppose," Neville said, pushing himself between two wizards to move down the street. Shrinking his gift and tucking it in his pocket, Harry followed.
They came across a street vendor wedged in front of Magical Menagerie that had various trinkets from around the world and charms to speak several languages. Harry thought the prices a bit high, but with it being so close to Christmas, he couldn't blame the vendor trying to get a few extra knuts in.
Neville fingered a remembrall and smiled fondly at the memory of the one his Gran gave him. "I doubt Luna'd ever need one of these," he mused.
"How about this?" Harry asked, holding up a necklace with a sort of compass-dial hanging off the chain and weird symbols on the face of it.
"What does it do?" Neville replied.
The vendor, a wizened old man, perked up and turned on the mysterious charm. "Ah, this, my lads, I found on my travels in Egypt." He took the charm from Harry and wriggled his knobbly fingers in the air. "To any old Muggle, it'd be no more than an ancient compass. But no, my friends! It so happens that it points to an ancient treasure!" He fondled the trinket with reverence.
Neville and Harry shared a look. Turning back to the old man, Harry asked, "If it leads to a treasure, then why are you selling it?"
The old man gave Harry an evil eye. "If do not wish to believe the tale, then begone with you! I have many other people to service, here, lad."
The men looked behind them. No one else was approaching the old vendor's cart besides them. Harry turned back to the man and said, playing along, "Well, what's the tale, then?"
Calculatingly, the vendor replied, "The treasure is not a material trifle that can be bought or sold for galleons, boy. Half the treasure is the journey to find it!" He eyed Neville. "You are looking for something for a loved one, yes?"
"Er...yeah," he stammered, glancing to Harry nervously.
"A wife? A lover? A brother? A mother?"
"My fiancée," Neville replied.
"Ah...is she an adventurous sort?"
Harry chuckled. "That could be one description."
"Then perhaps this compass could be of interest to the both of you. An adventure for your honeymoon, perhaps? Or perhaps this?" he suggested, setting down the compass and picking up another necklace. This one had a bright blue jewel encased in silver - a locket, actually, as Harry looked closer - and behind the jewel was a script of some kind, distorted and warped by the shape of the stone over it.
"Does it do anything?" Neville asked.
The old man looked somewhat exasperated, as if speaking with someone who always asked the obvious. "Well, it's a locket, so I imagine it opens, boy."
"You haven't tried opening it, yet?" Harry asked.
"Of course I've tried. It's a puzzle locket. First, you must figure out how it opens, then, you must decipher the coded text inside. I daresay another map of adventure is inside!" he proclaimed loudly, causing a few passers by to look over, startled.
"May I take a closer look?" Neville asked, holding out his hand.
The old vendor looked wary, but placed the locket in Neville's palm. "It's heavy," was Neville's comment. Looking up at Harry he asked, "What do you think? Do you think she'd like it?"
Harry made a little shrug. "Like I said, I think she'd love anything you got her. But maybe she'd have fun sitting there trying to figure it out," he replied with a smile.
"Yeah," Neville said, more to himself. "Yeah, I think she'd like that. How much?" he asked the vendor.
The glint in the old man's eyes made Harry flinch inside. "Fifteen Galleons."
"Fifteen!" Neville exclaimed.
"That's ludicrous," Harry commented.
The old man went to snatch the locket out of Neville's hands, but the younger man stepped back. "Well, I've got to make a living, boy! You can't put a price on love!"
"Seven Galleons," Harry said.
"Ha!" The man barked. As he reached again for the locket, he said, "You shouldn't be cheap, boy! Isn't your girl worth everything in the world?"
"Well, of course she is!" Neville replied. "But I can't afford that much."
"Then give me back my locket!"
"Ten Galleons!" Harry called out. Goodness, they were making a scene.
The wrinkled vendor paused in his reaching, leaning far over his folding table of trinkets. He looked between Harry and Neville and back again.
"Can you do ten Galleons, boy?"
"I'll help, Neville," Harry offered.
"No, I couldn't, Harry. It's for Luna."
"You can pay me back later. You still have that job in the Herbology department, right?"
"Well, then, you can pay me back."
Neville hesitated but said, "Alright. But I'm paying you back right after the hols, okay?"
Harry nodded once. "Okay."
They split the bill between them and parted ways with the strange old vendor.
"Do you really think she'll like it, Harry?"
"I really do, Neville. You shouldn't have second thoughts. It's...Luna."
"Yeah, it is pretty, isn't it?" Neville said, taking it out of his pocket and looking at it again. "It's got a puzzle and it's functional, once she can open it," he chuckled.
They continued to squeeze their way back through the crowd in Diagon Alley, getting pushed and pulled. Harry swore he felt someone grope his bum as he wedged through all the people. He looked behind him as he moved, and only saw robes and shopping bags.
Once free of the muck, Harry and Neville took the brick wall out of the alley and into an also crowded Leaky Cauldron.
"Well, so much for stopping for a warm butterbeer," Harry said. "I should probably get back to campus anyhow. I've got to pack still." They moved through the chairs and barstools and stepped outside into the chilly wet air of Muggle London.
"Where does Mikhail live again?"
"Yorkshire. But then I'm going to Wiltshire to Malfoy Manor for New Years."
"Wow, Malfoy's actually going back to that place?"
"Yeah, I'm surprised myself. But he says he needs to get the affairs of the Manor in order, or he'll never be rid of it." Harry took out his wand and flicked it in the air.
"He's going to sell it huh?" Neville said over the loud whoosh of the Knight Bus arriving with a screeching halt two inches from their noses.
"Where'll it be?" The conductor said in a twangy drawl.
"Magic University Campus, please," said Harry as he stepped up onto the first level of the bus, Neville following him.
"That'll be eight Sickles and a Galleon for each of ya."
"Merlin, I'm going to go broke for Luna," Neville said as he handed out a few coins.
"But she's worth it, isn't she?" Harry said as he paid his own fare.
"Of course," Neville said wistfully, a small smile on his face that vanished into surprise as the Knight Bus took off and they were thrown back into two large, poufy chairs.
"To answer your question, I'm not sure what Draco's going to do with the Manor," Harry said between clenched teeth as the bus took a sharp turn. "I imagine it doesn't have many happy memories anymore."
"Yeah, you're right."
They nearly flew out of their seats when the bus came to an abrupt stop, right in the middle of the courtyard of the campus proper.
Harry muttered a "thanks" as they made their way off the bus, feet barely touching the grass before the Knight Bus was off again in whoosh of chilly December air. They walked across the courtyard and into Number One.
"Well, I'd better go wrap these up. I'm leaving for Yorkshire tomorrow morning," Harry said as they climbed the stairs.
"You nervous? About meeting Mikhail's family, I mean."
"More than I'd care to think about," he said, stepping onto the landing.
"Well, I wouldn't worry about it, Harry. At least you don't have to deal with my Grandmum's plans for our wedding."
"Good luck with that."
"You too. Not that you need it. See you after the hols, Harry. Have a Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, Neville."
The carriage was toasty despite the dreary weather outside. The clouds where dark and filled with rain, and this far south, the little bit of snow Wiltshire had already acquired was melting away quickly under the onslaught of water from the sky.
Even in the gloom, though, Wiltshire never looked more beautiful. While the leaves were mostly gone this time of year, there was a strange light in the air, as in an old photograph, when the paper turns yellow with age.
"It looks so surreal," Raven commented from his left, effectively voicing his thoughts. He turned to watch her looking out the carriage window, her black hair wisping away from her face as the light breeze filtering in from the window, cracked open at the top to let some of the stuffy air out of the cabin.
"It does," he agreed, and turned back to his own window, watching the forest with a sort of detached dread.
He didn't want to be here, in Wiltshire, on his way to Malfoy Manor, but it had to be done. He'd much rather Harry be here too, he thought, whipping around the pitch on their brooms, playing a pick-up game of Catch the Snitch, or lying on his bed, relaxing and talking about nothing in particular.
He wrinkled his nose. When did he get so damn soppy? Fucking Gryffindors.
He reached over and took Raven's gloved hand from her lap, twining his fingers with hers. She squeezed his hand reassuringly, but he could not relax. Turning a bend, he saw the Manor's iron gates just ahead, ivy crawling over wrought-iron bars. Even from here he could tell the Malfoy Crest was dull and corrupted from the vines growing over it.
He sighed. Even though there was a house-elf or two up-keeping the Manor, he supposed there was only so much you could do without the bidding of your masters. The wood could only get so polished until you had to wait for it to get dusty again.
The carriage stopped just shy of the gate. Draco squeezed Raven's hand one last time before stepping out of cabin into an inch of soft, wet earth. Looking down in distaste, he looked back at the trodden, unkempt narrow path that led to the Manor. He supposed it didn't surprise him that the lack of traffic had kept the road from being packed down and the grass from not overgrowing. The tracks of their carriage were deep grooves in the mud that lined the tire tracks of the road.
Turning, he walked up to the gates, looking up at the Manor from between the bars. It was tall and looming, a dark smear on an ever-darkening sky. The coolness of the winter air brushed over Draco's cheeks as he tried desperately to think of anything else besides the memories that kept coming to the fore of his mind as he looked at his childhood home. Taking out his wand, he cast a key-charm directly at the Malfoy crest in front of him. The crest glowed as it registered him as the owner, and with a great, shuddering creak that hurt his ears, the gate swung, opening before him.
He returned to the carriage and signalled the driver-less carriage forward. As they lurched up the drive to the cobblestone park, he heard the gates closing behind them and gritted his teeth against the sound.
The Manor sat at a perpendicular angle to the gates, up on a slight slope, probably as to seem more intimidating. Draco wasn't sure it would matter where the house was situated; it would always look like it was looming above you.
It wasn't that the Manor was a decrepit old house, falling apart after years of disuse. No, nothing quite like that. He'd seen Grimmauld place once; the home of his cousins was worse than a plague on the Black name. The Manor was dour; made of rough, dark stone. It was a three-story affair that stretched out on each side from the front door in sprawling wings. Pansy once told him it looked more like a hotel, with the uniform windows on the top two floors, and larger ones in the dining and parlour rooms on the first floor. It did have that air, he would agree now, watching as a light behind the stained glass-inlaid doors sprang to life – and then suddenly the Manor didn't look quite so depressing. But that didn't assuage his fears of stepping foot here again.
Having charmed his shoes clean, he stepped out of the carriage again and turned to hold out a hand to Raven, who gathered her skirts and descended from the cabin with the air of a lady returning home.
"It's been a very long time, since I was here last," she said, looking up at the silent stone and dark windows, holding so many secrets.
Draco folded her arm in his and guided her towards the door. "I'm still trying to decide if it's been long enough," he replied.
Harry fiddled nervously with the charm around his neck. He wasn't any closer to understanding its true meaning, and for now, it was just a decoration. That he never took off. It got so taking it off for a shower even made him a little nervous, but Harry was unwilling to admit that he had a strange attachment to the thing.
He was sitting in the living room near the window, watching the snow fall in silent flakes to the ground. The campus was covered in a light blanket of the white confection, and Harry yearned to go out and play like so many times he wished he could as a child. But he was waiting. For Mikhail.
A few moments ago, Draco and Raven had been by, wishing him a Happy Christmas and that they'd see him for New Years at the Manor. Raven had given him a hug and a light peck on the mouth, telling Harry he looked handsome in his nicer slacks and button-down shirt – an ensemble he finally decided on, sans robes – for his first meeting with Mikhail's family.
And she had looked so pretty with her hair pulled back from her face, falling in ringlets down her back. She had a black hat atop her head, and wore a dark blue dress made of heavy fabric that felt stiff under Harry's fingers as he held her back. She sort of reminded him of pictures of Muggles from the previous turn of the century he once saw, and her cold-reddened cheeks made her look like Snow White.
Draco had stood in front of Harry, nothing on his face betraying his thoughts. They were all standing on the porch, and Raven turned around and went down the first step, most likely to give Draco the privacy he needed to hesitantly brush his fingers across Harry's cheek before saying, "Goodbye." Harry bit his lip but said, "Good luck," and then Draco and Raven were gone.
Sighing deeply, Harry almost missed the tall wizard Apparating onto the grounds because of the fog his breath made on the window. Then he saw him, and jumped up to answer the door before the man had even knocked.
Mikhail's hand was poised in a light fist, ready to rap upon the white door of Number One when Harry flung open the door, breathless.
"Hi!" Mikhail said brightly, a bit startled.
Harry stepped back a half-step, looking sheepish. "Sorry. I've just been ready for hours, and was starting to get a little antsy."
Mikhail took out his pocket watch. "Am I late?"
"No, no, I just didn't have anything to do for the last two days but get ready to go to your parents' place, and I'm a light packer, so..."
Mikhail chuckled and took a hold of Harry's face and kissed his mouth. "You are absolutely adorable when you babble."
"Gee...thanks." Harry said with a lopsided grin.
"Well, I guess I don't need to ask if you're ready to go," Mikhail joked.
Harry chuckled. "Nope. My trunk is already in my pocket."
Mikhail held out his hand. "Shall we go then?"
Harry slipped on his jacket and stepped out from the dorm, closing the door behind him. He took Mikhail's hand and pressed up against his boyfriend. "Yes."
Mikhail pressed his lips to Harry's and spun them in a circle, and with a crack, they were in a different county.
Harry looked up and saw a large house framed by two magnificent oak trees. Everything was covered in a light blanket of snow, and in the chill air, Harry shivered a bit in Mikhail's arms. The Chaikovsky house was two stories tall, in traditional half-timbered style; dark brown accents against white, and a bright red door. It had a long parkway, and Harry could see a dirt road leading to the house winding off in the distance. The only hint that the structure housed a Wizarding family was the presence of real fairy lights glowing in glass bubbles floating all around the exterior of the house, and even a few kept in jars placed on the staircase.
"Come on, let's get out of the cold," Mikhail said, taking Harry's hand and leading him up the stairs and into the house.
A cacophony of noise hit Harry as the large door opened and they stepped inside. Harry's glasses fogged over for a moment, while he heard Mikhail say, "Mama! Papa! We're home!"
"Oh, fantastic!" Harry heard a woman shriek as he wiped the condensation off of his lenses with his shirt, and shoved the spectacles back on his nose just as a great shuffling of footsteps came from the back of the house.
A tall but curvy woman came into view, her dark hair up in a bun, wearing fitted robes of deep magenta, a delighted smile on her face. "Oh, Mikhail!" she exclaimed, as about six people crowded into the foyer behind her. Turning to Harry she said, "And this must be the 'Harry' we keep hearing so much about." She shot a smirk in Mikhail's direction. Holding out a hand, she introduced herself as "Anastasiya LeonidovnaChaikovskaia," and while Harry tried to digest that, he shook her hand and replied, "Pleased to meet you," and the women standing behind her squealed, whispering in fast Russian to each other.
Mikhail took the reins at that point and gestured to his father, who was standing in the back of the group with a snifter of brandy. "You already know my father, Stanislav."
"Pleasure to see you again, Harry," he said, lifting his glass in salute. Harry nodded in return.
"This is my Uncle Dmytro, and my Aunt Katya. She's my mother's sister." He gestured to a slightly rotund fair-haired man with glasses and an auburn-haired small woman, her hair in a clasp at the crown of her head.
"And vat a pleasure it is to meet za famous Harry Potter!" Dmytro said in a heavy accent, pumping Harry's hand up and down, while Mikhail said, "Uncle!" in a scandalised voice.
"Oh, hush, Mik," Katya said, lightly shaking Harry's hand. "He is just excited," she said in quiet tones.
Pointing to a tall, dark-blonde man, Mikhail said, "That's my cousin, Nikolai...he's a few years younger than you-"
"But still old enough to drink!" Nikolai said as he knocked back a bit of something clear.
"He's been in America for the last few years," Mikhail said in Harry's ear. "So he's happy that he can finally drink whenever, wherever, because you can't drink until you're twenty-one over there, regardless of where you were born." He smirked at his cousin.
"Oh, can we get on with the introductions already, so we can get Harry drunk enough to make him spill all his secrets?" a tall blonde woman whinged with a slight accent, pushing herself forward and presenting her hand. "Michaela," she said, smiling. She pronounced it 'meek-SHAY-la'. "Otherwise known as Mik's wiser, older cousin."
"More like annoying and meddling," Mikhail snorted, winking at Harry.
"Nice to meet you," Harry replied.
"You know, just because I'm the middle child, does not mean you can just ignore me or save me for last!" the final girl said, tossing her long auburn hair over her shoulder.
"This brat is Ana, named after my mother. And as she said, she's the middle child. In fact, I think she's as old as you, Harry."
"Try older, cuz," she rolled her eyes before leaping forward and giving Harry a big hug. "My birthday's in April," she said in his ear. "Welcome to the family."
"Er...thanks," Harry muttered, returning the hug lightly.
"Ana, get off of him. He hasn't even had a chance to get settled in yet."
"You're right!" Mikhail's mother said. She took Harry's arm and looped hers through it. "Come, Harry, I've got a room all set up for you. You'll be bunking with Nikolai."
"Nikolai?" Mikhail said, with a rather interesting question lingering in the air.
His mother looked over her shoulder and with a laughing 'I know what you're thinking, son, and I'll not have it in my house' look, she said, "Of course, love. With Nikolai. They're closer in age."
Mikhail's look said, 'But he's my boyfriend!' He even opened his mouth to sputter a bit. It went completely ignored.
"Does this mean Mikhail has to bunk with Mykhailo?" Nikolai asked. "Oh...Mykhailo's gonna be so pissed..."
"Like hell if I'm gonna let that stuck up piece of-"
"Mikhail! Why don't you get settled and have a glass of firewhisky with us, son?" Stanislav said, pulling his son past the staircase and into the kitchen on the right, with Dmytro, Katya and Nikolai trailing behind.
Anastasiya started up the stairs with Harry in tow. He heard the other two girls tromping up the stairs behind them, speaking in fast Russian again. Where was a translation spell when you needed one? On second thought, Harry wasn't sure he wanted to know what they were saying. Because it was sure to be about him.
At the top of the stairs, the hallway went in an east-west configuration, and they took a right, going above the kitchen. There were five doors in this part of the hall, and Anastasiya led him to the second one on the right.
"This is one of the guest rooms. It seems odd to have so many rooms in a one-child home, but we always knew we'd be hosting family and friends, and wanted a nice place for them to stay."
The room had two twin beds, one closet, and a desk with a chair. The room was decorated in cream and dark blue, with heavy tapestries on the window.
"The closet has an enlargement charm on it; so don't worry about taking up too much space, because Nikolai certainly doesn't." She smiled. "I believe Nikolai's taking the bed on the left, but I'm sure you guys can figure something out. The bathroom's just across the hall on the left. There is another, larger guest room at the end of the hall, and a closet next to the stairs. Mikhail's room is in the corner across the hall. Our rooms and a few more guest rooms are in the other wing. There's also a bathroom below near the stairs as well. Please feel free to treat our home as your home. You are always welcome here." She patted his arm and walked to the door. "I'll leave you to unpack. Please join us when you're finished. Girls?"
Michaela said, "I think we'll keep Harry here company."
"Yep," Ana said, smiling and nodding.
"Do call if you need any help, Harry," Anastasiya said with a smirk, before closing the door behind her.
"So! Harry – do you love my cousin?" Ana jumped right in, flopping on Nikolai's bed.
Harry had his hand in his pocket, his hold on his trunk going slack in shock. "Erm...what?"
"Oh, Ana, honestly. You can't just come at him like that. Look at the poor boy. I think he thinks he has been locked in here with nundus." Michaela sat down next to her sister. "Do not worry, Harry. We're just being nosy family members."
"Oh. Well, nosy people I can deal with. It's nothing new to me. Besides, most of my best friends are too nosy for their own good." He smiled to show that he wasn't without good will.
Taking out his trunk from his pocket, he set it on the floor, unshrinking it. "So, what do you want to know?"
"Well, I want to know if you love my cousin," Ana restated, like it was far more important than any question her sister could ask.
"While that is a good question, dear sis, I think I would like to know just how intimidated he is by our family yet."
Harry shrugged as he re-shifted the things in his trunk, stuffing his gifts back to the bottom. "My best friend has an immediate family much larger than what I've seen so far, so this isn't so bad." He looked up at the girls. "It's only intimidating because I've never had a boyfriend before. I'm not really sure how to react to meeting his family. It's not like I have a family for him to meet."
Michaela's look turned a bit sympathetic, but Ana said, "We heard Mik met your uncle...A Lupin or something?"
"Oh, Remus. Er...he's not my uncle. He's not even related to me. He's just the last person alive who was best friends with my parents."
"Oh goodness, Harry! I am sorry..."
"No worries. I think Mikhail totally got the wrong idea about the situation when he met Remus, but that's okay. Remus is like family." He smiled and closed his trunk. "So, I take it there are more of you?"
Michaela smiled ruefully and Ana said, "Unfortunately, yes. Uncle Stanislav has a brother and he has two children. They are all completely rotten."
"Well, I'm not sure I'd got that far..." Michaela said.
"Oh, please. Mila's got her wand shoved so far up her arse I'm surprised it does not poke out of her nose when she laughs."
Harry laughed. "And is...Mykhail-Mykhailio-"
"Mykhailo," Michaela supplied.
"Yeah, is he as bad?"
Ana rolled her eyes and fell over on the bed. "Oh, jeeze. Thinks he's Merlin's gift to...well, Merlin."
Harry chuckled. "They sound like quite a pair."
"They are. Actually, I mean. They are twins."
"Their parents are not much better, but they come every Christmas anyway." Michaela said.
"I do not know why, Ivan does not get on with Aunt Ana at all," Ana said.
"And he hates Mikhail," Michaela finished.
"He hates Mikhail? Why?"
Ana's face went sad, and Michaela sobered. "For the same reason you are here, Harry."
Harry pondered that for a moment. "You mean...because he's gay?"
Michaela just nodded.
Harry scowled. "Wonderful," he muttered, looking down to his trunk. As he latched it and locked it with a spell, the door burst open and Mikhail stood in the frame, obviously broken free to save his boyfriend from his evil cousin's clutches.
Noticing the sour looks in the room, he immediately said, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Michaela said. "Just talking about, you know, family." And she gave her cousin a look.
"Oh. Yeah. Those arseholes." He swooped down to kneel behind Harry and give him a hug. "Don't worry about it, love. I'll protect you."
That made Harry smile. He put his hands on the arms around him and turned his head to say, "Shouldn't I be saying those words? You know, Saviour of the Wizarding World and all."
Mikhail grinned and said lowly, "Not this time, Potter. Now you get to have your own knight in shining armour." And he kissed Harry amid grins and little squeals from the girls on the bed.
"Come on," Mikhail said, once Harry's embarrassed blush wore off. "Let's go downstairs and get sloshed. Uncle Dymtro's hilarious when drunk."
"Too bad Nikolai is just obnoxious," Ana commented as they filed out of the room.
Draco stood in front of the door for just a moment – a slight hesitation. As he went to take the handle and open the door, it swung open, a small house-elf peeking behind it.
"It is so wonderful to have Master Draco back at Malfoy Manor," she said, bowing her nose to the floor. "Please, please, come inside. Lindy will tend to your needs." The house-elf opened the door wide and allowed Draco and Raven to step inside.
Draco forgot what manners he felt he could have towards a house-elf, even with his upbringing in mind, mostly because he was staring slack-jawed and short of breath at a foyer that was as familiar to him as his wand, yet so foreign he felt like he was seeing it for the first time. He wasn't sure what he was feeling, but he was keeping back a torrent of emotions and thoughts that he would rather never have to deal with.
"Thank you, Lindy," Raven said for him, nodding and smiling down at the creature. "If you would please fetch the luggage from the carriage, that would be most helpful."
"Oh yes, Master Draco's honourable guest. Lindy will see to it right away," she said before closing the door and popping out of room.
Raven stepped just behind Draco, placing a hand on her boyfriend's shoulder. Draco swallowed hard and said, not looking away from the candle-lit room around him, "It looks so...perfect. Like it's never been touched."
"You almost don't want to ruin it, do you?" Raven asked, more rhetorical than serious.
"I can't just leave everything here, Raven. It's...I don't think I could live here anymore. But I can't let it sit here like a museum to all the things that nobody wants to think about anymore. That I don't want to think about anymore."
"But it is your family home, Draco. Perhaps we can try and purge it of what makes it so undesirable, and start anew?"
Draco's brow furrowed in thought. Finally he turned to her. "Make it ours," he said, with some determination.
Raven smiled. "Yes. I like that."
Draco leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the mouth when Lindy popped back into the foyer.
Bowing low she said, "Master Draco, Lindy is putting your belongings in your old bedroom, and your guest's in one of the guest rooms. Is this okay?"
Draco smiled and looked down at the house-elf. "Yes, Lindy, that is fine. Which guest room?"
"The one in the Northwest corner, Master Draco."
"Hmm...no, that will not do. Please put Raven's things in the room next to mine. The one in blue and white."
"Yes, Master Draco. Lindy is seeing to this right away. Is there anything Master Draco is needing from Lindy or the other house-elves?"
"Tea, Lindy. In the Summer Room near the kitchens. Thank you."
"Yes, Master Draco," Lindy said before popping off again.
Draco smiled at Raven. "Granger would be so proud of me."
"Have you ever heard of S.P.E.W?" Draco asked with a slight grin while he guided her down the hall.
Harry was now sitting on a large sofa, pressed between Mikhail's Aunt Katya on one side, and Nikolai on the other. He had a glass of scotch in one hand, untouched because he had to answer questions about...everything.
"What are you studying Harry?" Anastasiya would ask.
"Medical Magic," he would reply.
"What do you think you will do when you graduate?" Katya would ask.
"Erm...I don't know yet," he'd say.
"Have you thought about professional Quidditch, Harry?" Michaela would ask.
"A little," he mumbled, not looking at Mikhail.
"Are you and my plem'annik¹ Mikhail moving in together?" asked Dmytro.
Mikhail thankfully steered the line of questioning away from that quickly enough that Harry didn't have to come up with a reply.
"So, Harry, which one of you tops, and which one bottoms?" Nikolai asked at one point, effectively ending all conversation.
"What?" Nikolai said, looking around in wonder. "I want to know."
"Nikolai Derevko!" his usually quiet mother exclaimed, scandalised.
"Now, Nikolai," Stanislav said, admonishing.
"Highly inappropriate," Dmytro said, and his two girls nodded, scowling at their brother.
"That is absolutely nobody's business, Niko," Mikhail said with clenched teeth.
"Sorry..." Nikolai had the grace to look sheepish, and knocked back more of his glass of alcohol.
Trying to get over his mortification, Harry asked Michaela and Ana, "So...I know Nikolai has been in America, but how is it you guys speak English so well?"
Michaela answered. "Oh, because of Mikhail. He has been speaking English too long. Does not keep up on his Russian."
"That's not true!" Mikhail said, defending himself. "I know as much Russian as if I were born there. You only learned English so you could navigate the shops in Diagon alley without a translation spell."
"I made sure they knew enough English to communicate with their cousin," Katya put in. "We visit here so often you see. It just seemed fair for everyone to know both English and Russian."
"Moj russkij otlichnyj, kuzen,²" Mikhail said with a glare in Michaela's direction.
"Stop showing off. We all know you know Russian," Michaela shot back.
Just then, there was a ringing coming from the front of the house before the door opened, and several voices all clamoured over each other, each talking in a language Harry couldn't understand.
"Stanislav!" a voice bellowed.
Harry saw Anastasiya put a hand to her forehead out of the corner of his eye.
"Oh, no," Ana said, rolling her eyes.
"Assholes," Michaela muttered under her breath, and her mother shushed her.
"They are family," her mother said firmly.
"Yeah, stupid family," Nikolai said under his breath, taking another drink.
Stanislav stood and said something in Russian, walking out of the sitting room and into the foyer. There was a babble of voices, all sounding cheerful, Harry decided, before he thought he heard his name, and the voices stopped and started again, with even more fervour. Then Stanislav returned with four new people in tow. They all seemed to zero in on Harry, who sat in the middle of the sofa, feeling decidedly unprotected under the scrutiny of the narrowed eyes in front of him. Why was Mikhail sitting on a chair way over there?
"Harry Potter," the man with the booming voice said, with an accent that didn't cover up his glee at meeting such a celebrity. He stepped forward to shake Harry's hand, but Harry couldn't stand from the cushy sofa fast enough, and the man had to reach over the coffee table to clasp Harry's hand roughly.
"Sorry," Harry muttered, and he saw Mikhail shift to stand from his peripheral vision.
Stanislav spoke. "Harry, this is my brother, Ivan Chaikovsky. This is his wife, Agnessa, and their son Mykhailo and daughter Mila."
"Nice to meet you," Harry said, finally able to get to his feet. Mikhail stood and moved to stand next to him.
Agnessa said something in Russian, directed at Harry, but Harry just looked at her in confusion. He glanced at Mikhail and then heard a huff from Mik's aunt and just as he looked back at her to tell her he didn't understand, she was taking out her wand and pointing it at him.
Faster than anyone could blink, Harry's wand was pointed right between her eyes, and a gasp of breath was held throughout the room. Agnessa's eyes were wide and fearful and she said some things in her native tongue before pausing and saying slowly in English, "Translate," and she moved her wand hand like she was casting a spell.
Harry frowned. "No. Nobody casts a spell on me. Period."
"You will have to speak English while you are in our house, Agnessa," Anastasiya said with finality.
Ivan chuckled as if trying to understand the strange words coming out of Anastasiya's mouth. "But we are all Russian, are we not? Should not Harry get a translation spell and we be finished with it?"
Mikhail's mother glared. "Harry Potter is our guest. We will be accommodating him during his stay, not the other way around."
Stanislav's smile was tight, but he said happily, "It looks like this is a perfect time to get better at speaking English."
Harry lowered his wand, and pursing her lips, Agnessa put her wand away.
"Sorry if I scared you," Harry said, putting his own wand in his pocket.
Agnessa nodded. "Yes, I must know not point wand at such powerful wizard," she said, her English stilted and heavily accented.
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm not that powerful."
Mykhailo stepped forward and said in a rather sneering tone, Harry thought, "Are rumours true? I hear you like sleeping with za men."
Nikolai stood, true to Nikolai form and said bitingly, "That's none of your business, Mykhailio!"
"It is Mykhailo, you stupid-"
"Children!" Katya exclaimed, standing and moving out from behind Mikhail to brace her small form between what must have looked like two sides of a war. This meeting the family thing was not going well at all, Harry decided.
Mikhail stepped closer to Harry and twined his fingers with his boyfriend's. "Yes, it's true," he said to his cousin, then looked at his uncle with an expression that demanded that he say something about it.
"Too bad," his cousin Mila sniffed. "Harry Potter is rather cute."
There was a chime coming from the kitchen, and Anastasiya said, "I believe supper's ready. Let's all get ready to eat."
Stanislav said, "Why don't I take you all upstairs to your rooms?" and he led them away.
Everyone else filed into the dining room while Anastasiya went to the kitchen to gather dinner. Every place was set beautifully, with gold inlaid china and crystal goblets for wine. The silver gleamed, and there were beautiful red and green flowers in the centre of the table amidst white candles that glowed and flickered merrily. Harry felt very out of place with his trousers and button-down shirt, while everyone else was in robes of some sort. Mikhail seemed to read his thoughts and whispered, "You look edible," in his ear, and Harry blushed as they sat down next to each other at the table. Michaela sat down on his other side, and he felt himself relaxing.
And then the other guests came into the dining room.
Generally, everyone was stiff and uncomfortable, but only for a moment, as Anastasiya came into the room with several dishes floating in behind her. She flicked her wand and they floated gently down around the table, situating themselves in their proper places. It all smelled wonderful, Harry decided.
Once everyone was sitting, Stanislav stood and with a flick of his wand, the goblets around the table were being filled with a deep red wine. Once filled, Stanislav picked up his goblet and gestured to the people gathered.
"What a wonderful Christmas Eve, everyone! I am so delighted that Harry could join us, and with this meal, I wish us all very happy holidays this year!" Then they all raised their glasses and toasted each other with sayings of "Happy Christmas!" and "Glad to have you, Harry!" amongst clinking goblets and sharing wine. Then Stanislav used his wand to slice up the Christmas ham and started serving everyone, their plates hovering over to him while he cut and served. After each person had ham, there was a rather interesting mash of everyone making sure they got what they wanted on their plates, with bowls and serving dishes floating and zooming around the table before settling back down when everyone was finished.
They all dug in, and it was quiet but for a clinking of flatware against china, and chewing and sipping wine. Then Agnessa wiped her mouth and said to Anastasiya,
"These foods is good, Anastasiya."
"Why, thank you, Agnessa," Anastasiya replied, smiling and nodding at her sister in law. "How are your gardens doing?"
"Zey ver doing vell before...vat is word? Cold?"
"The first frost?" Anastasiya supplied.
Agnessa nodded. "Yes, frost. It vos early. I have pictures from before in room."
"Oh, lovely. I'd love to see them after supper." To Harry she said, "Agnessa is a prize winning exotic gardener."
"Really? Do you grow Siberian Squill? I've been meaning to get some to study for use in some of the less than pleasant healing potions."
"I do not know zis plant. Perhaps you describe to me?"
"So, Harry," Ivan interrupted, "How did you and Mikhail meet?" His words were careful and he put the food on his fork in his mouth as if it might bite him before he could get it in.
"Oh...we're both on our school Quidditch team."
"What position do you play?"
"Everyone knows Harry Potter plays Seeker, Uncle," Nikolai said as if his uncle were an idiot.
"Vell, I do not know. I do not get za news from England like I used to," Ivan said, looking pointedly at his sister in law. Anastasiya looked at him calmly, not needing words to convey how she felt about Ivan.
"Harry's the best Seeker I've ever played with," Mikhail said, giving Harry a sweet smile. Harry blushed.
"You are just saying zat because he is your boyfriend," Mykhailo said.
Mikhail frowned across the table at his cousin. "I am not. He's really very good. He started playing at a younger age than most professional players. His friend Draco Malfoy is also very good, though I'd like to think that has to do with him being under Harry's tutelage."
Harry smiled. "No, Draco's pretty good. He was also always a cheat at Hogwarts, but he wasn't a bad Quidditch player. The rest of his team just sucked."
"Vill you play Seeker for professional team, zen?" Ivan asked.
Harry loaded his fork again while he answered. "I've thought about it."
"Harry is studying to be a Medi-Wizard," Anastasiya told Ivan.
"Zere is no money in zat," Ivan said, waving his hand as if to wave away the notion.
"I don't need money," Harry said earnestly, totally seeing what Mikhail's cousins were saying about Ivan and his family. Well, Agnessa seemed alright, as far as he could tell.
"Yes, I imagine England pay you vell for killing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
Harry frowned. "No, actually. My parents left me some money before Voldemort killed them when I was a baby."
Half of the table flinched at the name, and Harry had to try very hard not to roll his eyes. Honestly.
Mikhail put his arm around Harry and gave him a little hug. Harry sent him a small smile, but otherwise, continued eating. Dinner from then on was rather subdued, with light conversation between couples of people, and Harry wished things hadn't gotten so awkward.
Trying again to have a conversation with Agnessa, he repeated his question about Siberian Squill, describing it to her and what its magical properties were. She nodded, saying yes, that she cultivated some, but that she used it more for decorating their house in Russia, not in her exotic gardening. She agreed to send him some bulbs when they returned home.
Once dinner was finished, they retired to the family room to partake in some dessert and coffee and watch the fairy lights dance around the tree. Mikhail's face lit up fantastically when his mum brought out a fruit piroshky, his favourite dessert from Russia.
"You've got to try this, Harry – it's the best thing in the world, and my mum makes them the best." Mikhail held out a pastry for Harry to try.
"You humble your mother, Mikhail," Anastasiya said, blushing.
Harry leaned forward and took a bite out of the flaky pastry and fruit filling. It was very good. He told Anastasiya this and she waved his comment away. Then Harry happened to see the looks on Mykhailo, Mila, and Ivan's faces and his mood took a downturn. They didn't disguise their homophobia very well, did they? Harry thought.
"Don't give them a second thought, Harry," Mikhail said into his ear while everyone else was distracted with 'safe' conversation. "They're just jealous."
Harry chuckled sardonically. "Oh? Of what?"
"Of me. They're just pissed that someone as gorgeous as you is dating me and not them."
"Even your uncle?"
Mikhail conceded. "Okay, maybe not him, but I bet Mykhailo's just pissed because he wants to fuck you and can't."
Harry blushed a bright scarlet and tried to hide his face behind his own piroshky. "Shut up," he mumbled, making Mikhail laugh.
Shortly after finishing their coffee and piroshky, Nikolai demanded that they should all be able to open one of their presents before bed. His mother said that he should learn how to wait for Christmas morning, especially after twenty-one years of Christmases.
"But Mama, I want to open one now," he whined.
"Oh, I left my present for you upstairs," Harry said to Mikhail.
"That's okay, you can bring it down later."
"If you are going to keep asking, I am going to send you to bed," Katya was saying.
"Nikolai, please shut up. You are giving me headache," Mila said.
"Looking at you gives me a headache," Nikolai retorted.
"I vill not have you talking to my daughter zat vey!" Ivan bellowed, standing.
"Oh, Merlin, here they go," Mikhail said, putting his hand around Harry's bicep. "Let's sneak upstairs." He and Harry stood.
"Ivan, please calm down," his brother said, putting a hand on his arm.
"No, I vill not! Vy is it your wife family always insulting mine?"
"Because you're a bunch of bigoted morons!" Nikolai yelled.
Now everyone was standing and yelling at each other in heated Russian and they didn't notice Mikhail and Harry slip out of the room and up the stairs.
Mikhail led them to his room and shut the door. There was a cot and a valise taking up most of the floor space, but generally, Mikhail's room was pretty spacious. It had Quidditch posters all over the walls, and a small but tidy desk. The dresser had pictures of Mikhail at different ages, and some trophies and medals from Hogwarts and Quidditch. Some old Quidditch gear and memorabilia from Ravenclaw sat in a corner, and Mikhail's bed had a star-pattern quilt made of varying shades of blue and bronze-toned fabric.
"My mum learned how to quilt and made it for me after I went to Hogwarts," Mikhail said, noting Harry's gaze.
"It's nice. I wish I had something like it."
Mikhail sat himself and Harry down on his bed. "Maybe my mum can make you one. In Gryffindor colours."
"Oh, I can't ask her to do that."
"Yes you can. She'd want to. I can tell she really likes you. Besides my father's side of the family, you're like family here. Everyone loves you."
"I don't know how, I just answered a bunch of inane questions."
Mikhail smiled. "Yes, all things most of them knew already, from talking to me." He brushed the backs of his fingers against Harry's cheek. "You don't get it do you?" he asked. "People don't just love you because you're Harry Potter; they love you because of who you are. As a person."
"No, I guess I don't get it. I don't understand how people can just see me as any other person and not the 'Famous Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World and Chosen One'. Not people I've just met anyhow. It took long enough for the people I grew up with to get over me being Harry Potter, and to see me just as 'Harry'. You know that's all I've ever wanted."
"And you've got it, Harry. Really, you do." Mikhail kissed him then, and Harry closed his eyes and relished it. It was sweet, and tender, and loving, and when Mikhail cupped his cheek in his hand, he felt some of the tension from the evening ebb out of his body and he relaxed into the kiss.
Harry opened his mouth without prompt, and as he and Mikhail touched tongues a slow burn started to coil in Harry's stomach. Kissing Mikhail was something Harry really didn't feel like stopping at any point soon, because the world started to melt away, and all he felt was Mikhail's stubble scratching his chin, and the soft, pliable lips demanding more of his attention. And the feel and taste of their breath mingling kept Harry hoping heaven had some of this in it, or he didn't want to go.
Mikhail's arms were around him now, and Harry was burying his hands in Mikhail's short hair, and when Harry fell back onto the bed, Mikhail's heavy warmth fell automatically between his legs. Mikhail's hands moved over the soft fabric of Harry's shirt, teasing his nipples through the fabric, before undoing the buttons, one by one.
Harry moaned and arched up a little, and his boyfriend ground down into him and then the door crashing open destroyed his little world of pleasure-induced delirium.
They stopped and looked up, seeing Mykhailo in the door, a wide-eyed and determinedly shocked and disgusted look upon his face. As Mikhail sat back off of Harry and Harry sat up, Mykhailo entered the room and spat, "Gross."
"Well, you can leave if you don't like it," Mikhail bit back. "This is my room,after all."
Mykhailo said something in Russian which seemed to have the effect of "Fuck off, you disgusting faggot," in English.
Just as Mikhail was about to open his mouth to retort Harry stood from the bed and crossed the room to get in Mykhailo's face, which was a bit hard, seeing as Mykhailo had at least six inches on him.
"Look, Mykhailo, I don't give a rat's arse what you think about me. But Mikhail's your family, and if you can't accept him for whom he is, then what the fuck are you doing here?"
Mykhailo look startled, being confronted by a man who was several inches shorter than him, and he stared into Harry's eyes for a moment before responding.
"I am here because it is Christmas, and we always spend Christmas here."
Harry huffed, and Mikhail said from behind him, "You're thirty-three, Mykhailo. You don't have to come here any more if you don't want to. You're not some kid doing whatever you dad wants you to do anymore."
Mykhailo didn't answer, he just went to his valise and took out a few of his belongings and disappeared down the hall.
Mikhail sighed. Harry went over to him and hugged him about the shoulders. "I'm sorry," he said into his boyfriend's hair, kissing it. "I wish I could help more."
"Well, even if you became the poster boy for gay wizards everywhere, I doubt my uncle and his family would change their minds about who we are."
Harry tilted Mikhail's face up and kissed his mouth softly. "I think it's time to go to bed," he said. "I'll see you in the morning, okay? Hey – and cheer up. It's Christmas!"
Mikhail smiled and kissed Harry again. "Goodnight, Harry. Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, Mikhail," Harry said, before retiring to his shared room with Nikolai.
When he got there, Nikolai was already sprawled out on his bed in his dressing gown, long limbs everywhere and dozing softly.
"Hnnuh?" he mumbled in his sleep as Harry came in.
"It's just Harry, Nikolai. Go back to sleep."
"Hunmm," he replied.
Harry just shook his head and closed the door, going to his trunk and changing into his pyjamas. It was as cold in Yorkshire as it was in Cumbria, and Harry slipped into the thick covers gratefully, falling into sleep with ease.
Harry woke in the middle of the night to a creaking noise. His wand was already out and pointed towards the door. "Who's there?" he whispered.
"Calm down, it's just me," the voice of his boyfriend said, before the light from the moon coming in through the window gleamed off of Mikhail's bare chest as he moved towards Harry.
"What're you doing here?" Harry said in a panicked whisper, lowering his wand and sitting up. "You'll wake Nikolai!"
"No, I won't. That boy sleeps like the dead," Mikhail said, and kneeled on the edge of Harry's bed.
"That doesn't explain what you're doing here," Harry said, slipping his wand beneath his pillow and crossing his arms.
"To finish what we started earlier, of course," Mikhail said with a mischievous grin on his face as he leaned forward to kiss Harry.
But Harry dodged his advance and said, "Mikhail, your mum put me in this room and not yours for a reason. Besides, it'd be rude to...do stuff in your parents' house!"
Mikhail rolled his eyes. "Oh, please, Harry. My parents are probably expecting it. It's not like they're strict. They just didn't want to make the rest of my family uncomfortable." He leaned forward again to kiss Harry, and with an 'oh, fine,' look on his face, Harry let him.
After a few moments of kissing, Mikhail pushed the duvet aside and slipped beneath the covers with Harry, making Harry lean back into his pillows.
Breaking away for a moment, Harry whispered, "I still don't feel right, with Nikolai right there. I mean, what if he does wake up?"
Mikhail smiled and pulled out his wand from his pyjama pocket and cast a spell that erected a black screen barrier between Harry's bed and the rest of the room. Then Mikhail cast a silencing spell around Harry's bed so no noise reached outside the barrier. Dropping his wand on the floor, Mikhail grinned down at Harry and resumed his kissing, diving deeper with his tongue and slowly lowering his weight down upon Harry, who found his legs parting to allow Mikhail to lie between them.
Mikhail moved his hips in a gentle rocking motion, his lips leaving Harry's to travel along his jaw and under his ear, where the hot breath panting there sent delicious shivers down Harry's whole body and he broke out in gooseflesh.
One of Mikhail's hands played with Harry's hair, while the other teased his ribs through his pyjama top before going to work on the buttons. Harry's hands roamed all over Mikhail's back, where sweat was gathering and his skin was like a supernova. His hands slicked against the smooth flesh, and it was hard to find purchase there when Mikhail finally got Harry's shirt unbuttoned and his rocks became shallow thrusts down into Harry.
Harry pushed himself up a bit, letting Mikhail pull Harry's shirt down his shoulders and off, throwing it over his shoulder. Frowning, Mikhail blinked down at Harry's neck, where the charm he wore glowed faintly blue-green in the dark of the bedroom, shining off Mikhail's eyes and skin.
"Are you sure you won't take this off? Its glowing is kinda weird."
Harry put his hand over it, the glow dulling. "Yes, I'm sure."
Mikhail's mouth formed a tight line for a moment but he leaned down and kissed the back of the hand Harry held there, trailing kisses over the forearm and up to his shoulder, apparently deciding to ignore the strange necklace for the time being.
His hands stroked the skin of Harry's torso, and Harry moved his hands to Mikhail's back, digging his blunt nails into the flesh behind the shoulder blades. Then Mikhail shoved his hands down the back of Harry's pyjama pants, grabbing onto his ass and squeezing the flesh there.
"Stop me if I'm going too fast..." Mikhail whispered in a tone that hoped that Harry wouldn't.
Harry waited for the feeling of bugs crawling under his skin to come but it never did. He waited for that voice in his head to protest, but if it did, it was faint under the pounding of blood in his ears. Everything felt…normal. There was a tensing in Harry's shoulders and back as he waited for the inevitable letdown. For it to stop feeling so good.
But strangely, nothing came.
"I'm okay," Harry whispered back.
They continued rocking, pressing their bodies together, grabbing flesh clumsily, panting heavily into each other's ears, little grunts and moans escaping kiss-bruised lips, and then with a burst of ecstasy, it was over.
Breathless, Mikhail fell beside Harry, still half on top of him, and they laid like that for several minutes, each breathing heavily and feeling immensely sated.
"Wow," Mikhail said after a moment. "That was...the most we've ever done..."
"Yeah..." Harry said, gasping. "It was...incredible." I can't believe I just did that… Have I finally gotten over Draco? Harry was certain that it shouldn't be disappointment he was feeling at that thought.
Mikhail chuckled and rolled up to kiss the last of the breath out of Harry before falling back down next to him.
Harry slipped his hand under his pillow for his wand and cleaned them up before turning to Mikhail and snuggling into the curve of his body, pushing away his thoughts. Mouthing kisses on his chest, he said, "I suppose you'd better get back to your room."
"Are you kidding? After that? No, sir, I'm staying right where I am, thank you very much. Besides, I imagine Mykhailo's already noticed I'm gone. I don't really want to think about talking to him about why I smell like wonderful boy-sex."
"He's only going to say something in the morning when you're not there either. Maybe he's still asleep."
"No, I doubt it." Mikhail got up on one elbow and looked down at Harry. "I was right, you know. About Mykhailo."
"What do you mean?"
"I think he thought I was asleep, but I woke up a bit after we went to bed, and he was jerking off. Right there, in my room."
"And?" Harry asked, not quite getting why that proved anything other than that Mykhailo was as horny as any other male Harry had met.
"He was panting and saying your name."
Harry's eyes shot wide open in alarm. "What?!"
Mikhail nodded. "I pretended to be asleep, and waited for him to be finished, and then a few moments later, I came here. I know he was still awake and knew I had heard him."
"Oh my god..."
"He can't have you, you know. No matter what his fantasies want."
Harry gave him the 'no shit' look. "Well, I don't want him anyway. You don't have to get jealous of your cousin, Mik. I want to be with you. You're cousin's still an ass, even if he's obviously a closeted one."
Mikhail chuckled and leaned down to kiss his boyfriend. They lay like that for several moments, kissing lazily and stroking each other's skin before Mikhail shifted and said, "Maybe I should go back. This bed is a little small."
Harry watched as Mikhail retrieved his wand from the floor and his pyjama bottoms from the tangle of sheets at the foot of the bed. Mikhail gave him a beautiful grin and one last kiss before taking down the barrier spells and leaving the room, looking as shagged as Harry felt.
Flopping back into the bed, Harry fell deep asleep, not even thinking about how incredibly naked he was, or that his thin covers didn't do much to hide the fact of what he'd been up to that night.
Someone bouncing onto his bed in the early hours of the morning woke Harry from his blissful slumber, and he blinked against the bright sunlight streaming in through the curtains.
"Harry! Harry! It's time to get up! It's Christmas morning!" Nikolai was nearly shouting. "Whoa-ho... You look like you were busy last night!"
"Oh, shut up," Harry said playfully, rubbing the sleepies from his eyes.
"So, did you and Mikhail do it?"
"Oh my god!" Harry exclaimed, sitting up and trying to pull his covers up to hide his nudity better. "No!"
Nikolai laughed, and continued to lie there, pinning down the duvet. "It's okay. Mikhail told me that you haven't been like that yet."
Harry stopped struggling. "He did?"
Nikolai sat up, nodding. "In total confidence. Don't worry. The girls don't know. I think Mikhail just wanted some advice."
Harry looked dubious. "And he wanted it from you?"
Nikolai shrugged. "I don't like blokes myself, but I've had my fair share of relationships. He just wanted reassurances that he wasn't pushing you too much."
"He's not," Harry insisted.
"I told him he wasn't either, but he's stupidly insecure about it." Nikolai shrugged and stood. "Better get into something resembling clothes, though. Everyone's sure to be up soon and opening presents." With that, the strange young man bounced off Harry's bed and out the door.
Once the door was firmly closed, Harry got out of the bed and found his pyjamas, which had been strewn all over, it seemed, and slipped them on. Or was that too informal? he wondered. Shrugging out of his pyjamas, he knelt in front of his trunk to find a decent set of clothes to wear. He was fingering an old and comfortable Weasley jumper when there was a knock on the door and it opened behind him. He froze, looking over his shoulder.
Mykhailo stood in the doorway, a bright pink flush creeping up his neck and from his ears to his cheeks.
"I-I am sorry..." the older man stuttered, looking pointedly anywhere except Harry's naked body. "I just came to...wake everyone. I vill go now." And he backed up a few steps to close the door.
Harry stood, using the jumper to cover himself. "Wait!" he said. Mykhailo paused, and then, instead of standing there with the door wide open, he came in and shut it most of the way behind him. He looked down at the floor and to the left, the tension in his body visible in the set of his jaw and the cords of his neck.
Harry stood there, holding his Weasley jumper to his groin, contemplating what exactly to say.
He started with, "I know."
"Know vat?" Was Mykhailo's careful reply.
"Mikhail saw you last night...wanking...and it's alright!" Harry said complacently, holding out his free hand as if to stop Mykhailo from fleeing. "Really. I mean...I understand if you don't want your father to know about you...and I'm not going to say anything. I promise. I just think that maybe you owe it to yourself to be honest about how you feel."
Mykhailo's lip curled. "How I feel about vat, exactly?"
"About men," Harry replied.
Mykhailo scowled. "I do not feel anything about men. I do not know vat my kuzen thought he saw, but I like girls."
Harry frowned. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. And in the long run, I don't really care. But maybe you should think about it a bit more...especially before you call my boyfriend a faggot."
Then Harry turned, not caring much about his nudity, and pulled his jumper over his head before bending down and retrieving some pants and jeans from his trunk and slipping them on. Grabbing Mikhail's present, he slammed his trunk closed and spun back around, taking a few steps forward. Mykhailo stepped to the side, and Harry opened the door the rest of the way, stalking out of the room and down the stairs where Mikhail was sitting with Nikolai, Stanislav and Michaela.
Mikhail was dressed in a jumper and his pyjama bottoms, Nikolai was still in his dressing gown, and Michaela was curled up in a chair with some hot cider and wrapped in a large blanket.
"Happy Christmas," Harry said, putting a smile on his face.
There was a 'Happy Christmas' from everyone in the room and then Mikhail said, "What's wrong?"
Harry shrugged. "Nothing." He went to the tree and put Mikhail's gift underneath with all the other brightly wrapped presents. Sitting down next to Mikhail on the sofa he smiled and said, "I forgot to bring it down last night."
Mikhail grinned knowingly, and put an arm around his boyfriend and pulled him against his side. "You sure everything's okay?"
Mykhailo walked into the family room and moved to sit on the other side of Harry on the sofa. He smiled tightly, but otherwise, sat in his pressed trousers and jumper and played with the fabric on his knees while trying not to look at anything in particular.
Harry turned to Mikhail. "Yep. Everything's fine."
"How'd you sleep last night, Harry?" Stanislav asked, taking a sip of his coffee.
"Oh," he said, looking up at Mikhail and across the room to Nikolai, who was sitting next to the tree like he couldn't wait to rip open all of his presents, "pretty well." Nikolai snorted.
Michaela said, "Nikolai's snoring didn't keep you up?"
"I do not snore!" her brother protested.
"Yes you do, brother," Ana said sleepily as she padded into the room and plopped down on the floor in front of her sister's chair, "only when you drink."
"I didn't drink that much yesterday."
His family around him snorted and moved on to other, gentle topics of discussion. Harry just leaned against his boyfriend, feeling warm and secure, and tucked his feet under him, purposely ignoring the slight flinch from Mykhailo when his feet rested against the other man's upper thigh. It didn't seem like Mikhail ignored it though, as his arm around Harry's shoulders squeezed him a little closer.
As the morning went on, the rest of the family came down the stairs, Ivan, Agnessa and Mila all looking impeccable in their semi-formal clothing, and Anastasiya, Katya and Dmytro looking more comfortable, still in their pyjamas and dressing gowns. Anastasiya had come from the kitchen, bringing in a tray of coffee, tea and cider for everyone to choose from.
"Is everyone downstairs?" Anastasiya asked. "Good, I guess it's time for presents! Stanislav, if you would?" He gestured for her husband to distribute the gifts out to everyone. As the gifts were passed around, Harry felt certain he would only get one, when in fact he had four: two from Mikhail, one from Mikhail's parents, and one from the Derevko family.
Everyone had a tidy little pile of gifts; though Harry noticed the parents didn't have quite as many.
"Now," Anastasiya said, "Harry, you are our guest, so you should go first."
"Me?" Harry asked. "You want me to open all of them?"
Anastasiya nodded. "Yes, of course dear. Guests first." And she smiled.
"Okay…" Harry said, looking at the collection of packages on his lap.
"Open ours first!" Ana said, smiling. "We cousins picked it out for you."
Harry picked it up. It was wrapped in a simple gold foil, but upon closer inspection, Harry noticed little darker gold snitches flying across the paper. It was tied with a green bow. Slipping off the bow, Harry tore off the wrapping and opened the wooden box inside.
Inside was a quality note-taking quill and a journal.
Harry looked up from fingering the leather cover of the journal and said, "Wow…thanks you guys, really."
"We know it seems a bit impersonal, but we thought, no matter what you are studying or what profession you go into, it is always a good idea to have a really good quick-notes quill and a journal to write things in," Michaela said.
"Are you kidding?" Harry said. "This'll be perfect for my medical notes. Thanks!"
"No problem, Harry," said Nikolai.
"Now ours, Harry," said Stanislav.
Their present was a bit larger, and looked a bit like a garment box. Harry quickly unwrapped to and opened the box inside to find a new winter jacket lined in soft and silky rabbit fur. The pea coat was made of thick, dark, navy-coloured wool, and the rabbit fur lining the collar, the cuffs, and the body was a shiny black.
"Oh…oh, wow. Mr. and Mrs. Chaikovsky, you shouldn't have." Harry looked up from the coat with wide eyes.
Stanislav waved him away. "No, no, Harry. It was our pleasure."
"Please, Harry, call us Stanislav and Anastasiya. It would mean much to us for you to accept this gift."
Harry fingered the fur rimming the collar. "I will. I like it very much. Thank you, Stanislav. Anastasiya." He smiled at them, still in a bit of awe.
"Now mine, Harry," said Mikhail.
Harry shook his head. "Nope. I want you to open mine first."
Mikhail smirked. "Alright," he conceded.
Taking Harry's gift, he slipped off the twine and tore off the staple plain brown paper. Harry liked to think his wrapping job wasn't too bad.
Inside was a book on Advanced Quidditch Theory and Practices, as well as a book on the theory of Spell Creation and a blank journal.
Mikhail smiled as he thumbed through each volume. Looking at Harry, he gave him a quick kiss. "Thanks, love."
Harry smiled. "I thought you could use the journal for all of your spell creation discoveries."
"That's a perfect idea. I think I will." They kissed again, and then Mikhail gestured to the two packages left on Harry's lap.
Harry picked up the larger one first. It was a book on all the Pro-Quidditch teams with a thorough history and a stats list on the current players. It also had a pros and cons section for each team, obviously written for those players looking to play professionally.
"Wow, awesome, Mikhail! Thanks!"
"Now the next one."
Harry opened the smaller present and saw a small silver key nestled in white fluff. Underneath it was a small slip of paper. On it were directions to casting a spell. A very specific locking and unlocking spell.
"I…Mikhail…" Harry stuttered, looking down at the small package which held so much meaning.
Mikhail said, "It's the key to my building. And the spell key to my flat. I want you to have it."
Harry looked up at Mikhail. "I…don't quite know what to say."
Mikhail ran his hand through his hair and explained, "I'm not asking you to move in with me…I just want you to be able to come and go."
Harry looked back down at the gift and swallowed. "Okay."
"I am not sure Harry appreciates za gift, Mikhail," Mykhailo said.
"Shut up," Nikolai said. "No one asked you."
Mikhail frowned. "Harry?"
Harry looked up, startled. "I'm fine! It's okay, really. It's just…unexpected." He smiled. "Really, I'm okay. Just a bit surprised is all. Don't worry."
Leaning up, he gave Mikhail a long, close-mouthed kiss, partially for his own reassurance. Was this too fast? He didn't know. Under Harry's new jacket and his own pile of presents, he felt Mykhailo gently brush his foot with his fingertips in his own silent form of unexpected reassurance. There was a noise from the Ivan-Mila side of the room, but otherwise, the room was silent.
"Thank you," Harry said, closing the box and tucking it into his pocket. Smiling at the room, he leaned against his boyfriend and let Mikhail's arm drape heavily around his shoulders, pulling him close. He wiggled his foot in response to the fingers still resting lightly atop it.
"Nikolai," Anastasiya said. "How about you go next?"
Grinning widely, Nikolai tore into his presents with relish, and Harry was happy to have the focus move off of him once again.
1 - Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 !-- / Style Definitions / p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal mso-style-parent:""; margin:4.3pt; mso-pagination:none; mso-hyphenate:none; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-language:AR-SA; page Section1 size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0; div.Section1 page:Section1; -- plem'annik - "nephew"
2 - Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 !-- / Style Definitions / p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal mso-style-parent:""; margin:4.3pt; mso-pagination:none; mso-hyphenate:none; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-language:AR-SA; page Section1 size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0; div.Section1 page:Section1; -- Moj russkij otlichnyj, kuzen - "My Russian is excellent, cousin."
I'll be "re-writing" the earlier chapters of this story. I probably won't be updating it here, but on my website. It's been FOUR years since I started this story, and my writing style and skills have changed, so I feel the need to make the whole story flow better and be more cohesive. I won't be changing the plot, really, mostly the flow of chapters and some of the dialogue. For more consistent updates on my story status (since I can't make notes to EVERYONE here), please visit my website or LJ. Thanks!