A/N: Checkmate takes place in real time in Harry and Draco's seventh year, in 1997. All the days of the week and the date of Christmas are accurate for that year. So the date of the Yule Ball when Harry and Draco danced Ti'kira was Dec. 22, 1997. This story takes place in real time – December 22, 2006, on their 9th anniversary.

Happy Holidays 2006 to everyone!

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Cocoa and Candy Canes

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He'd intended to do it at dinner.

All week long as he'd planned this evening – from making the reservations at Draco's favorite elegant French restaurant, and arranging for any emergencies from their practice to be covered by other colleagues, to finally picking up that one essential secret purchase – that had been his intention. He'd envisioned a romantic candlelit dinner, soft music, a quiet table with just the two of them. . . . It would be perfect, Harry thought.

But it wasn't quite like that.

Oh, there was candlelight and soft music, but once they were seated at the table amidst all the lavish décor, they were never alone. A host of omnipresent waiters insisted on giving "Monsieur Malfoy" and "Monsieur Potteur" their devoted, undivided attention . . . and no privacy. Draco, stunningly dressed, hair shining like beaten silver in the candlelight, didn't help matters either. He ordered an elaborate and enormous dinner for them both, and while the waiters hurried back and forth bringing out the multitude of courses, he flirted charmingly, but quite outrageously with Harry right in front of said waiters. Draco also made good use of the seemingly endless supply of champagne, proposing a multitude of toasts, most of which contained very suggestive innuendos about what they'd be doing later tonight, innuendos that made Harry blush more than once. It was all great fun, and Harry enjoyed it immensely, but somehow through it all, Harry never found that perfect moment he'd envisioned. And though his hand slipped into his jacket pocket to touch it many times during the evening, the little black velvet box remained steadfastly hidden away.

When at last they were served an incredibly delicious dessert, something with puddles of dark melted chocolate and drizzles of caramel, Draco winked suggestively at Harry while informing the waiter that there was a much more delectable dessert yet to be had at home. Harry giggled rather embarrassingly and began to hazily suspect that maybe he'd drunk a few too many toasts. But it was while standing in the restaurant lobby afterwards, as they were putting on their cloaks and mufflers and getting ready to Apparate home, that Harry realized belatedly that dinner was over and he had not gone through with his plan.

A few minutes later, standing in the street outside their own gate, they discovered to Harry's delight that it had started snowing while they were away at dinner. A lazy flurry of feathery white flakes drifted down all around them in the darkness as they walked hand in hand up to the house. "Happy Anniversary, Draco," said Harry for perhaps the tenth time this evening, and he stopped in the middle of the walk, half-way to the house, to pull Draco into a kiss. He was already feeling slightly drowsy from all the rich food and just a bit tipsy from all the champagne; Draco's warm mouth on his only added to his feeling of intoxication, and he leaned heavily into Draco as the snow fell around them with a hushed, gentle pattering sound.

"Let's go in," murmured Draco after one long, very stirring and thorough kiss, pulling away only just enough to speak against Harry's mouth. "I'd much rather continue this in by the fire."

A small wave of anxiety ran through Harry then, as he remembered what he hadn't done yet, and he stood rooted where he was, suddenly needing a moment alone to collect his thoughts, to let the cold frosty air clear his head, to plan again what he was going to do. "You go ahead," he answered. "I'll be there in a moment – I . . . just want to watch the snow fall."

Draco pulled back further to look into Harry's eyes, the flash of questions in the light gray eyes changing almost at once to an indulgent acceptance. "Don't be long," was all he said as he took a step toward the house. Their hands parted with a shimmer of gold and crystal white sparks.

Harry smiled a few seconds later as the warm rosy glow of firelight spilled from the house out into the yard through the parlor windows and the front door which Draco had very pointedly left open. He took a deep, bracing breath of the icy air and tried to think. Tomorrow was Saturday, the day before Christmas Eve, and eight year old Lily was coming to spend the day. Harry's love and pride in Lily was immense and he wanted to do so many things with her tomorrow – wanted to bake gingerbread cookies and decorate the tree, and now that it was snowing, he hoped they could build a snowman in the back yard. He grinned. Maybe Draco would even help with that. Then there would be the party at the Weasley's tomorrow evening. Molly and Arthur Weasley were now the proud grandparents of ten; they adamantly insisted on counting Lily as one of them, and the Burrow would be brimming over with laughing children and good food and lots of holiday cheer. Certainly there would be no private moments tomorrow.

So it had to be tonight. Which of course was what Harry'd wanted anyway, since tonight was their anniversary, but . . . now there was no romantic setting, no violins and candles; it would only be their own small, dull parlor . . .

With a sigh Harry tilted his head back, letting the falling snow brush his upturned face, its touch icy and soft. He remembered clearly a night nine years ago when he'd stood just like this outside a small jewelry shop in Hogsmeade, smiling up at the snow-filled sky, wondering with a happy shiver of anticipation if Draco was going to give him a ring. And now, with the tables turned, he felt the same shiver of nervous anticipation.

Draco rarely wore the necklace Harry had given him that night exactly nine years ago, the night of the Yule Ball. It was the night Draco had given Harry the ring he still wore, the night they'd danced the ancient wedding dance Ti'kira together, which they considered to have been their own marriage ceremony of sorts, and the reason they celebrated their anniversary on this night. Draco had worn the necklace tonight for this special occasion, but most of the time it now hung in a beautiful crystal and silver case that Draco'd had made for it. Harry had no doubt that Draco loved and treasured his gift, but Draco had explained when he commissioned the case that it was too precious to wear every day. His work was hazardous and he was afraid it would be damaged. Since Harry had never told Draco how it had been nearly destroyed by his father's curse, and then restored by Hermione, he didn't protest. But it had hurt a little.

And yet, Harry knew, with a certainty that went bone deep, soul deep, that Draco loved him. It was a love he felt as a constant inner warmth through all the intimate bindings they shared. He wasn't aware of how that love lit up his eyes and his face from the inside, but he saw it in Draco and it made him fall in love over and over, more every day.

They were partners in so many senses of the word. They not only shared a home and were lovers, bound together heart to heart by the ancient ritual spell of Ti'kira, but their magical auras were joined with a rare Magebond that created a profound emotional and physical connection between them. Draco was also an invaluable and irreplaceable partner in Harry's medical practice. His expertise with potions had often played a critical role in their most difficult cases. Harry could not do without him. So when he'd thought about that hurt, he'd simply realized that his disappointment lay in wanting Draco to wear something every day that proclaimed they belonged to each other – something very like the ring Harry himself wore.

He'd begun right then to plan for tonight. And now that tonight had come, it seemed he had messed everything up.

"Harry! Do come in," called Draco from the house, interrupting Harry's thoughts. "It doesn't snow any faster if you watch it, you know. And the tree lights are complaining of the draft."

Harry turned to face the house just as Draco poked his head out the door.

The light from inside the house was a golden stripe that framed the shadow Draco cast over the snow-covered porch. "Good lord, Harry, you're covered in snow!" he said, his voice amused and full of pretended horror. "Come in, now," he added, still amused but insistent. "If you turn into a block of ice out there it's going to put a serious damper on my plans for later!"

Harry had to smile at that and stood patiently on the porch while Draco made a fuss of brushing all the snow off him before letting him come into the house. Finally he was allowed to hang his cloak next to Draco's just inside the door and step into the parlor. Draco firmly closed the door behind him. Across the room, a cozy fire blazed in the grate; the burning logs and the fir tree in the corner filled the room with the lovely smell of evergreen. The tree was not decorated yet except for the tiny bright, multi-colored fairy lights that flitted from branch to branch. Draco hadn't lit the lamps and the fire and the fairy lights gave the room a snug, inviting, and intimate warmth that made Harry slip his arms around Draco's waist and pull him close.

"I made cocoa. With peppermint," said Draco softly, with a nod toward the fire. On the parlor table between the two arm chairs in front of the hearth, sat a tray with two steaming mugs of hot cocoa. Each mug had a red-striped candy cane in it.

"Mmm," said Harry, leaning in for short kiss. "That's perfect."

And it really was the perfect finish to their fabulous dinner, Harry thought, as he sank into his chair with the warm mug cradled in his hands, and sipped the sweet, mint-flavored chocolate. He gazed around the room, at all the familiar things he and Draco had collected in their nine years together. There were some older things here too. Draco's chess set held a place of honor by the hearth on its own special table. They still played occasionally, and Draco nearly always won. In fact, they'd set up this room very much like Draco's tower room at Hogwarts.

"What are you thinking?" asked Draco, sitting in his own chair sipping his own mug of cocoa.

"I was just remembering that room we shared at Hogwarts seventh year," said Harry. "Something about tonight, about sitting in front of the fire, and the chess set there, reminded me."

"What I remember best about that room is the bed," said Draco with a smirk. "That is . . . that you were in it." He raised his mug in a toast at Harry's laugh. "Thank you for dinner," he said, then paused and gave Harry a breath-taking smile. "And speaking of beds, you know I meant all those things I said at the restaurant."

Harry grinned back at him, and felt a wave of heat creep into his face that was not from the fire or the hot cocoa. "I know," he said. "I'm counting on it."

A comfortable quiet fell between them and Harry sat and watched the fire, conscious of the moment, of the peaceful calm that filled the space. Such a simple, yet wondrous thing it was, to sit here with the person he loved, watching the fire and drinking cocoa. The sense of contentment he felt was nearly overwhelming. Their usual lives were so busy, so full of work and traveling, it was often hard to find time to spend with Lily and friends and each other. Harry felt this moment like a treasure, like a perfect Christmas present that the slow tranquil passing of time was unwrapping.

Draco pulled his candy cane out of the cocoa and Harry watched him suck on the end, thinking how Draco would taste like peppermint if they kissed, and how he would feel that delicious icy sensation on his tongue. And the realization hit him that here, right now in their very own parlor was the most romantic moment he could ask for.

"Draco," he said softly, as he set his mug back on the table. Draco turned to him and their eyes met. Harry felt his heart do a slow burn and melt at the look in Draco's eyes. "Come here."

In seconds, Draco was in Harry's lap, his arms around Harry's neck. "I thought you'd never ask," he teased, but any reply Harry might have made was cut off by Draco's mouth finding his in a long lingering ardent kiss.

Draco ended the kiss with a sigh of pleasure. "God, you taste good," he breathed.

"So do you," whispered Harry.

There was a loud twitter of impish laughter from the tree.

Draco looked up, then rolled his eyes to the ceiling. All the fairy lights on the tree were clustered together on the end of one branch, the closest to Harry's chair, obviously watching them with keen interest. "Hush, you lot," he threatened. "Go on now, or we'll be seeing how you like it out in the snow."

There was another muffled round of giggling and then one by one the tiny glittering fairy lights went out as the fairies dispersed and curled up in the tree branches to sleep, leaving the room lit only by the flickering amber firelight.

"Don't know why you insist on having real fairies for the tree every year," said Draco as he loosened the knot in Harry's tie and undid the top button of Harry's collar. "They're such a nosey, noisy lot."

"They're pretty," said Harry, his arms tightening around Draco. "They remind me of our dance at the Yule Ball – and the dance we did afterwards."

"Ah," said Draco, meeting Harry's eyes again, this time seriously, understanding running between them like electricity through the Ti'kira binding that connected them, heart to heart.

The night was full of memories, it seemed, but this was one of the most special they shared. And Harry knew this was the moment he'd been waiting for. He shifted so that he could reach into his jacket pocket. "I have something for you," he said softly. "I meant to give it to you at dinner, but it never seemed to be the right time."

Harry held out the small black velvet box, a box that by its very size left little doubt as to the contents within.

After a moment's hesitation, Draco took it. "You got me a ring?!" he whispered, for once rendered nearly speechless with surprise.

"I did," said Harry, and his heart turned over and he couldn't help smiling – that very, very rare, shy, unguarded look that he loved so much was on Draco's face now as Draco stared down at the small box he held. "Open it."

Draco hesitated a second more, then carefully lifted the top. His soft intake of breath was all the comment Harry needed to hear.

"I wanted it to be like what you said when you gave me mine," said Harry. "That it means we belong together."

"Oh God, Harry." Draco glanced up, his eyes misty and bright and full of apology. "This is . . . so much more than I ever expected. I thought that dinner . . ." He paused, then looked down again at the ring in the box. "I thought that dinner was our gift to each other. I don't have anything for you."

Harry took the box from Draco and gently lifted the ring from its satin nest. "This is for both of us," he said, as he held it up in the firelight. It was an elegantly wrought reclining silver griffin with emerald eyes, the curled tail lapping over its front legs to form the ring. Each detail of wing and feather and talon was delicately and intricately engraved. It was the perfect mate to Harry's own beautiful dragon ring. "If you would wear it, that would mean so much to me."

"Of course, I'll wear it," said Draco in a hushed voice. "Are you crazy?" He seemed to have regained most of his composure and now smiled at Harry – that smile that always turned Harry's bones to jelly. "How could you even imagine that I wouldn't?"

Harry grinned back, but he felt quite serious as he slid the ring onto the fourth finger of Draco's left hand. He'd wanted this, had planned for this moment, for nearly a year. Finding a silversmith with the artistic skill to design and make it had been the most difficult part, but he'd not been willing to compromise on anything less than a match to the quality of the dragon ring Draco had given him. To see it on Draco's finger now, truly meant more to him than he could say.

Draco spent another moment admiring the ring on his finger. "It's exquisite, Harry," he said. "A Slytherin griffin." His arms went around Harry's neck and he bent his head so that his next words feathered across Harry's mouth. "I love it. And you." And then he kissed Harry deeply.

A small thrill shiver ran through Harry with this kiss, and he felt an answering shiver in Draco. He felt the magical connection between their auras stir, felt that deep musical vibration within him hum like a harp string too low to hear, responding to their awakening shared desire. Draco's heartbeat became an echo of his own, and for a timeless moment the boundaries between them dissolved and Harry was lost in this kiss, lost in the outpouring of love that flowed into him through all the magical bindings that joined him inextricably with Draco.

Then Draco gently broke the kiss, pulling away only slightly, his forehead resting against Harry's. "Come to bed with me, Harry. Now," he whispered, breathless. "I need to thank you properly . . ."

"Properly?" whispered Harry back.

Draco uncurled from Harry's lap and stood up, then held out his hand for Harry. "All those things I said in the restaurant . . . don't even begin to cover what I mean by properly."

Harry's last coherent thought as he took Draco's hand and let Draco lead him off to their bedroom was that he was very glad he had not given Draco the ring during dinner. Their own little dull parlor had turned out to be the most perfect, romantic place he could have ever imagined. Though, of course, he amended to himself with a smile as Draco closed the bedroom door behind them and pulled Harry into his arms, anywhere he was alone with Draco tended to be so.

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