Harry smiled when he saw the familiar outline of Ginny's profile next to her mother in the kitchen. No one was positive she would make it, because she never wrote anymore. Too busy, she said. But he heard her tell her mother that the players were on break for a couple of weeks, starting with the Monday before Christmas. He took a timid step into the kitchen with the plan of surprising her with a hug before she turned around.
Someone brushed passed him and did what he planned to do before he had the chance. Harry lost his ability to breathe. The man from The Daily Prophet articles stood in the Weasley's kitchen with his arms around Ginny, who smiled at him. Who brings a fling home for Christmas?
'Harry!' Ron appeared behind him.
Turning around, Harry hugged him and forced himself to breathe. 'Where's Hermione?'
'Upstairs.' He nodded in the general direction. 'My room.'
He gave the stairs a look of longing.
Ron laughed. 'You can go talk to her, if you want.'
Forcing a smile, he nodded and went up the stairs.
'You've met Mark,' Hermione said once Harry had entered the room, and she looked at the expression on his face.
'I saw him.'
Hermione nodded. 'It's the same thing.'
Ron followed Harry into the room and shut the door. 'I can't believe she brought him here.'
She furrowed her eyebrows. 'Not bring her boyfriend home for Christmas?'
Harry's head shot up at the word "boyfriend", and Ron glared at her.
Crossing her arms, she continued, 'They've been together for months. It's customary to introduce your significant other to your family.' She shook her head and turned away from them. 'It would've been odd had he not been here after all the articles.' She paused. 'And more uncomfortable for everyone involved.'
Ron turned red. 'This is uncomfort––'
'For Harry!' Hermione spun back around. 'It would've been more uncomfortable for everyone else not knowing what to say or how to act, and worse for her having to explain their relationship without him here with her.' She gave Harry a sympathetic smile, before she turned towards Ron. 'Why should she have to be the one to be uncomfortable in her own house just to make Harry feel better?'
'Because she's the one… cause… well, cause––'
She walked and stood next to Harry. 'This isn't your fault, so quit beating yourself up about it.' She took his hands and squeezed them in a reassuring gesture.
Harry shook his head. 'She's with someone else.'
'And it would have happened whether or not you agreed to that bet.' She sighed and let his hands fall. 'This is why she broke up with you,' she said as gently as she could.
'It wasn't.' Harry took a deep breath. 'She wasn't supposed to bring them home.'
Hermione closed her eyes, inhaled, opened them and forced a firm tone. 'Harry, this would have happened anyway.'
Draco waited until half past eight for Potter to come home before he headed to Malfoy Manor. His jaw hurt from clenching it on and off for the past three hours. They went through that before. How could Potter abandon him on Christmas? His anger at himself trumped his anger at Potter. How could he have been so foolish as to believe that he would follow through? They should have discussed it. He should have made a point to discuss it.
He Flooed in to the living room and saw the customary decorations of green, silver, crystal and blue scattered throughout it. The room smelled of vanilla and coffee, and in an instant, he felt at peace. He was home. It shocked him to realised he had missed it. There was a rustle next to the tree and a pale silhouette emerged from behind the plethora of packages.
Relief flooded through him that Harry failed to show and was not standing next to him as the young blonde ghost glided to him.
'Draco!' She smiled and bounced before him. 'You're home! Mum, he's home!'
He was going kill his mother.
'Ara,' Draco nodded. 'Happy Christmas.'
'Happy Christmas,' she beamed. Ara loved Christmas. Most of the year she was sullen, but at Christmas everything excited her. 'Where is he?' Ara looked around, then floated behind him.
Draco shook his head declaring Harry's absence.
Ara's face fell, and Narcissa entered. 'Indeed, where is he?'
'Mother.' He took her hand and kissed it.
'Draco,' she said with a stern tone.
'I don't know.' He stepped back and walked to the table that held the coffee set out for them. 'I don't want to talk about it, and don't say––'
Narcissa lifted her hand to stop him.
He glanced at his sister playing by the tree and gave his mother a stern look.
'She wanted to meet him,' she said near a whisper.
While preparing them both cups of coffee, he pitched his voice lower. 'We talked about this.'
'I agreed that it would be inappropriate when we had guests, but Harry is family.'
Draco rolled his eyes. Some family he turned out to be. Couldn't even bother to come home on Christmas.
'He should meet your family.'
'And how am I supposed to explain––' No. Ara was easy to explain. It was the rest of them that made it difficult. The amount of colourful coordinated gifts under the tree surpassed what would have been acceptable for the three people the evening was planned for. Four counting Ara. Even for the richest of families, it was extravagant, and Harry would notice.
There was enough for seven more children that never were, and his father who wouldn't be with them for a few more years, if everything went well. He quit telling himself that things would go well years ago. It always ended in disappointment.
'You both should have visited ages ago.'
There was nothing he could say to that, and a sharp cry tore through the house, which saved him from having to.
Harry watched more than participated the rest of the evening. Never had he felt like such an outsider before. Ron and Hermione stayed beside him all evening, but it felt different. As though they had to instead of wanted to. Every time he saw Mark touch Ginny, he winced. The worst part was that he wondered if Mark touched her on purpose to get to him, or if they both held back out of respect for her family's presence with him unnoticed. He suspected the later.
It made him sick.
'Ginny,' Mark said and pulled her to the middle of the room. 'This went better than I expected.'
She laughed. 'What did you expect?'
'Your first time away from your family, and you have six older brothers… What did you think I expected?' He laughed. 'The way you talked about them, I thought I'd, at least, eat something that made me sick or get stuck to a chair.'
Laughing, she shook her head at him. Her long red hair was cut short, and Harry missed how it used to flow with her every movement. Harry rolled his eyes at their conversation. No one noticed.
Mark brought her hand to his lips and pulled a small box out of his pocket. Everyone's attention was on the two, even though they never voiced that it was desired.
'What's this?' Ginny asked.
Harry stopped breathing, and the room went quiet around them.
She untied the gold ribbon and opened the small black box with a grin. Harry clenched the glass in his hand. It was the gaudy gold ring that he considered on the day he made the bet at the jewellery store.
'We've talked a lot about the future,' Mark said.
They talked about the future? Harry's blood boiled. Ginny always avoided talking about the future.
'I know what you expect and what I can never expect from you.'
Ginny laughed and tilted her head sideways brushing her cheek against her shoulder like she always did when she was nervous.
'But I love you despite it all. These last few months have been the best of my life, and I don't want to change any of it, or you.' He knelt in front of her. 'Will you marry me?'
She leant down and kissed him hard and then pulled back to answer. 'Of course, I will. You know I will.'
Harry's glass, along with three others, shattered.
'Oh, Harry.' Hermione pulled out her wand. In a flick, all the glass and liquid disappeared.
Looking up to see everyone's eyes on him, he muttered the same excuse he heard Dudley's aunt use the last time he caused that to happen. Hermione suggested they go refill the missing drinks, and he thanked God for her while she ushered him into the kitchen.
Obeying her command, he leant against the counter and attempted to calm himself. She said yes. But she told him they were too young to get married. He kept his eyes on the group in the living room, waiting for Ginny to break from them and come into the kitchen. To explain herself, or to plead for his forgiveness. There were four glasses hovering in front of him before he knew it. One of them nudged his hand until he took it.
'Are you going to take them?'
He shook his head. There was no way he could go back out there. It was embarrassing.
'Fine. Sulk.' She directed the glasses back to the living room. 'Once you've calmed down, you should join us.'
After pacing for twenty minutes, he took a deep breath and snuck into the back of the living room. Ron came to join him, and Hermione smiled at them from across the room. He felt everyone, except Ginny, glance in his direction at one point or another while he situated himself in the corner chair.
'Mark,' Hermione said loud enough to gather most everyone's attention, even though she stood two feet away from him. 'I know what you meant when you said you knew what Ginny expected of you, but I'm curious…' She lowered her voice to a regular tone. 'What is she unwilling to do?'
Her manner confused Harry, because he never saw her to be obvious about her intentions. He also had no desire to hear Mark's answer to that question, because he was sure, it had something to do with sex. Since Ginny and he never got that far in their relationship, the last thing he wanted to hear was how quickly she jumped at the chance with someone else.
'Oh?' Mark laughed. 'That… uhm.' He looked at Ginny who rolled her eyes. 'She doesn't want children, and I'm fine with that.'
'What?' Ginny closed her eyes and groaned at the shrill sound of her mother's voice. When she opened them, she smiled at Mark and then turned to glare at Hermione, who smirked.
Hermione smirked at Ginny?
Wait, Ginny didn't want to have children?
He looked to Ron for an explanation, but he only shrugged and shook his head. Figures, Ron was just as lost as he was.
Molly was next to Ginny, hands on her hips within seconds, and Hermione appeared in between him and Ron to watch the argument across the room. Hermione squeezed Harry's elbow and whispered, 'You're welcome,' in his ear.
'Huh?' Ron asked.
Hermione rolled her eyes at him. 'She didn't want to tell you, because she knew you wanted a family,' she said to Harry.
Harry's stomach turned. They could have talked about it or worked out a compromise. Maybe, waited until they were older and she finished with Quidditch. How did she know she would never want children? Though he wanted children, and he wanted them as soon as possible, he knew he had to wait until he was out of training. Even if his parents were his age at the time they had him, as he told Ginny.
'Where's Draco?' Hermione asked.
The question caught him off guard. 'What? Oh, um… at home?'
'Shouldn't you be with your husband on Christmas? Or him with you?'
Harry shrugged. 'We didn't talk about it.'
Sighing, she rolled her eyes.
'What did you get him for Christmas?"
'Thank, God.' Hermione laughed. 'Whatever it is, I hope it's good, because you are going to need it when you get home.'
Draco's mother told him when he was young that "no matter how bad things are, never let anyone know your life is less than perfect". Though they never talked about it in public, and no one outside the family knew, Narcissa refused to accept that her children were dead. Draco admitted to himself that their ghosts made it difficult to think of them as dead, but Christmas reminded him of it more than most days.
Lyra's crying woke up Carina, so all the ghosts sat in the living room instead of just the oldest. Ara and Carina picked the presents to be opened next and Draco, being the only "child" that could touch them, opened them all while Lyra giggled at the lights and crawled through everything she tried to touch. It was how they did Christmas his whole life, but he never intended to share that with Harry. He should have known his mother would disagree and find a way to force him into it.
'Oh,' said Ara. 'This one next.' She pointed to a blue and silver package marked for Orion. He was one of the miscarriages. Since he was two years older than Draco, they often received similar gifts. Orion's were blue and Draco's would match in green. It was a silk shirt in Ravenclaw blue. That always reminded him of the Weasley's sweaters, except no one ever knew that the blue versions of his clothes existed outside of his family.
Narcissa picked the houses for her children, and Draco often wondered how correct her guesses were. He knew he belonged in Slytherin long before he went to Hogwarts, but his mother fancied the idea that not all their children were Slytherins. None were Gryffindor.
'It's beautiful,' Ara said in awe.
Carina pointed her translucent hand to a huge box near the back. Everyone looked, and Ara giggled.
'Yes! That one next Draco.'
Draco levitated the box to sit in the middle of the room.
'Who's it for?'
Smirking, Draco read the names. 'It's for you, Ara, to share with Carina and Lyra.'
Nodding, she smiled instead of giggling and bouncing as she had for all the other gifts. Draco's face fell. She never got excited about her own gifts like she did for the others. He flicked his wrist, and the paper fell off. With another flick the box opened, and the content danced out.
'It's a train!' Narcissa waved her arm in a long graceful gesture, and the pieces put themselves together in the air. The train hooked itself up and then drove over the track as it hooked itself together to make way for the train. It circled around the tree and up and down all around the room.
'It forms itself to wrap around what ever room you put it in,' their mother said. 'Or it could be charmed to go between room. Even outside.'
'It's lovely,' Ara said, her tone soft and vacant. 'Isn't it?' she directed the question at Carina who nodded, but kept her eyes on the train flying above their heads. Everything their mother bought for them moved on its own for obvious reasons. The movement could keep Lyra and Carina entertained for hours. 'It's lovely.'