Harry couldn't believe how empty the shelves were as he surveyed the small shop. A gleam of panic entered his green eyes as he walked down an aisle and realized that he had really done it this time. This was a horrible day and it wasn't even lunch time! Picking up a cauldron, one of the few items left, he sighed. "They're going to kill me."
"I wouldn't blame them if you seriously plan to give a cauldron for a Christmas gift."
Harry turned his head towards the amused voice, his cheeks turning a pale shade of red as he saw the laughter in her hazel eyes. He hastily put the cauldron back on the shelf as he muttered, "I didn't plan on giving anyone a cauldron."
"You were merely admiring the quality of workmanship then?"
"I think you've been spending too much time with Hermione. You're starting to sound like her," Harry said as he took a subtle look at the pretty witch beside him. He felt a decade younger suddenly. Fifteen without any idea how to talk to someone he fancied. His palms were sweaty and he was still blushing. God, how did she do this to him? It was Pansy Parkinson, for Lord's sake!
"Thank you," she smirked as she watched him discretely. "I will be certain to tell my new cousin-in-law that you find her eloquent and charming."
Harry smiled as he thought about his best friend, knowing she'd be scolding him for acting like an immature teen instead of a confident man when it came to Pansy. Hermione had been very blatant in her belief that he should consider dating Pansy, subtle not often a word use to describe the witch who was like a sister to him.
During her recent autumn wedding to Adrian Pucey, Pansy's cousin, Hermione had paired him with her bridesmaid at every opportunity, always giving him that smug, knowing smile that infuriated him at the same time it made him love her even more. Of course, he'd resisted her matchmaking attempts only to find himself thinking about Pansy after the wedding, wishing he hadn't been so hasty to dismiss Hermione's efforts. Now it would appear that he had been given a second chance to get to know the former Slytherin.
He picked up a rather tacky statue of what appeared to be a cat or maybe it was a dog. Giving Pansy his best 'I'm a guy and have no idea what to buy so please take pity and help me' look, he asked, "Do you think Hermione would like this?"
"God, Potter, do you want her to know you waited until Christmas Eve to buy her gift?" Pansy grimaced. "That is dreadful. Put it down now."
"It's not as if I intended to wait until the last minute," he defended himself as he put the ugly statue down. "I didn't realize it was so close to Christmas until this morning. I've been busy at work and Hermione usually reminds me of these things, but she's caught up in her romantic newlywed haze so she isn't there to boss me around anymore. And it's Harry, not Potter. We're not in school anymore, Pansy."
"No, we're not," she agreed with a smile. "Well, I guess I can assist you with buying your gifts, if you'd like. After all, it is my relative's fault that you're wandering around like a lost little puppy. It's the least I can do, to maintain the image of my family, of course."
"Of course," Harry said, his eyes flashing with amusement. "And I will gladly accept your offer, simply to maintain my best friend's reputation. I wouldn't want anyone to realize Hermione had actually been selfish enough to think of herself ahead of her friends."
"The very idea would tarnish her image as a bossy, controlling, domineering witch for certain," Pansy replied. "And since she has become one of my best friends in the years since graduation I can't have anyone doubting her bossiness."
"She is a bit bossy, isn't she?" he grinned, running his fingers through his hair and laughing softly. "I didn't realize how much I relied on her for things like reminding me about birthdays and holidays or making sure I was eating at least twice a day until I lost her to that cousin of yours."
"You didn't lose Hermione. You simply gained Adrian as well," she smiled, deciding that she rather liked the disheveled clueless look on him.
"And the rest of his family. Bloody hell, there are dozens of you!" Harry shook his head. "I couldn't remember all the names at the wedding, there were so many."
"The Puceys have always believed in large families," Pansy informed him. "I may be a Parkinson, but I was always more at home with Adrian and his family than with mine. You think the wedding was bad, wait until tomorrow! You are going to attend Aunt Catherine's Christmas party, aren't you?"
"Yes," he said. "I'm spending the morning with Ron and his family then I plan to join Hermione and Adrian at his parents' home for the evening."
"Good. I was hoping you might attend. It gets rather dull being the only one in attendance over the age of fifteen without a date," Pansy remarked casually as she moved past him to wander down another aisle.
"Oy, Harry!" a loud voice rang out across the store, interrupting Harry's planned reply to Pansy's comment. Turning his head, a large smile crossed his face.
"Fred," Harry nodded at the tall redhead who had joined him. "Doing some last minute shopping, too?"
"I really hate that you and Hermione can tell us apart now," Fred grumbled good naturedly. "I forgot to get Neville something. I was at Mum and Dad's checking the gifts to see if I could figure out what they got me when I noticed the present for Neville and realized I'd forgotten to get him anything. Doesn't look like there's much left here, though. Maybe I can get Ginny to agree to wear a red box and just tell him I'm giving him my little sister. You think that would work?"
"He's all ready got Ginny so I think it might not count," Harry said thoughtfully. "Plus, I think your Mum might hex you out of the house if you had Ginny prancing around in a big old bow."
"Nah, Mum's a worldly woman. She didn't have seven kids without knowing a bit about how such things work," Fred winked. "So have you seen anything around here that Neville might like? Trust Ginny to run off and get engaged right before the holidays, giving us someone else to buy gifts for. Hermione married that Slytherin and now Neville. Two extra gifts this year! Oy, Mum wants to know when you plan on getting yourself a nice witch to bring into the family, too. I heard her talking to Dad about it so expect to be interrogated tomorrow."
"Thanks for the warning," Harry cringed, rather accustomed now to Molly's interest in his rather dismal love life. His eyes unknowingly drifted to Pansy, who was browsing books on the next aisle. Looking back at Fred, he suggested, "You should check out the new herbology shop down by Gringotts. Neville would be happy with anything that came from there, I'm sure."
"Thanks, Harry," Fred smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow. Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, Fred." Harry waited until the redhead had left the store before moving to Pansy's side. Feeling more anxious than he had been facing Voldemort, he observed, "You know, Pansy, I think we could help each other out tomorrow."
"Really?" she arched a brow, giving him her full attention. Her fingers itched to push a lock of hair off his forehead, uncertain if she would stop with the one caress. She was going to kill Hermione for doing this to her. When she had received the owl that morning casually mentioning that the chances were very high that Harry would be out doing last minute shopping today, she had immediately flooed her friend and told her to stop meddling. Hermione had simply laughed, giving her a knowing smile before telling her to try the Emporium around lunch time.
It wasn't her fault that curiosity had gotten the better of her, sending her to Diagon Alley on Christmas bloody Eve, battling the crowds and snow just for the chance to meet up with Harry. Who was she kidding? Obviously not Hermione, who seemed to know about her growing attraction to Harry even before she had admitted it to herself. She had had a bit of a crush on Harry as far as back as sixth year and meeting him again during the wedding preparations had shown her that the infatuation and desire was still present.
"Really," Harry smiled. "You see, I am planning to go to the Weasleys tomorrow morning and I'll be the only one without a date or spouse. You mentioned something about a similar situation involving you and the Puceys' dinner party."
"You want me to go to the Weasleys with you?" Pansy was unable to conceal her surprise at his request, her lips curving into a slight smile as she saw that he was blushing again. "I'd love to, Harry."
"Great. That's just smashing," Harry stammered, again feeling like a teenager. "Did you, I mean, that is, the Puceys?"
"I'd love for you to be my escort tomorrow evening, Harry," she said softly. She leaned over impulsively and brushed her lips against his cheek. Pulling back, she could feel her cheeks heating up. Bloody hell, she was blushing like some innocent schoolgirl. Collecting herself, she cleared her throat and said, "That means we have a lot of shopping to get done. There is obviously nothing of value in this store so why don't we try somewhere else."
"I don't know. I think I exactly found what I'd been searching for," Harry replied quietly, his eyes on her face as she realized what he meant and smiled. Taking her arm gently, he started to walk towards the entrance of the store. He had to laugh as he said, "You do realize that Hermione is going to be insufferable at being right about us, don't you?"
"I know," Pansy smiled. "I'll arrange to have Adrian keep her distract so she can't become too smug. Now, what should I buy for the Weasleys? I am not attending their Christmas party without bringing gifts."
Harry grinned as they left the store, Pansy debating on the best gifts to buy as the snow slowly fell, his hand holding hers as they finished his Christmas shopping. Harry wasn't sure how she had done it, but he knew that tomorrow morning he was going to thank Hermione for giving him the best Christmas present ever. Pansy.