Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit.
Acknowledgement: Rpeh for some beta work and advice while writing.
Author's note: This takes place between the final chapter and the Fleur epilogue and ignores the alternate. It was written for a challenge I put forth to myself to write Christmas themed chapters of my completed works for the holiday season. It is intended as nothing more than some Christmas fun. Chapters of this nature will be coming to my other three completed fics in short order. Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday to all.
Harry pulled his broom through the blizzard without much effort. He was rather disappointed that his Gryffindor teammates didn't seem to be faring as well. He lifted himself upwards and floated near the middle of the pitch and observed the action occurring around him. It was fairly difficult to see the red robes through the white snow on the dark night, but he managed. The magical lighting only helped some and Harry knew it was getting to the point where it was just silly to stay practicing.
Of course, the rest of the team thought practicing on the literal last night of term before the Christmas holiday was silly. But they hadn't performed nearly to the level that they should have, in Harry's opinion, in the first match against Slytherin.
Sure, they'd won. But Slytherin was by far the worst team they would play all year. And they'd been outmatched. No, that wasn't fair. Their chasers and beaters were fine. Their keeper had been completely outmatched.
Harry never really thought he'd miss Cormac McLaggen. But here he was. While the keeper had been a total pain in the ass and borderline impossible to coach at times he'd at least been able to stop the quaffle during matches. Something that his current keeper seemed to be struggling mightily with.
He'd been fine in practice. Not as good as McLaggen, who'd benefitted greatly from the training as the Hogwarts backup keeper during the Triwizard Tournament. But still, McLaggen had allowed fewer goals in the entirety of Harry's sixth year than their keeper had in the last match against Slytherin.
Harry watched Demelza Robbins catch a pass from Ginny Weasley and speed down the pitch. Demelza had been in her first year during the Tournament. And she'd been one of the few to show up at every single optional practice. She wasn't quite as good as Ginny, but the two of them were heads and shoulders above any other chaser at Hogwarts.
He followed the play, staying high above it as Demelza faked to her left, then cut back hard to the right. Harry could already see where the play was going and he winced as his keeper, Ron Weasley, flew to the completely wrong hoop.
It made Harry's blood boil. It shouldn't have, he knew. But that didn't prevent it from doing so. Ron had really had the best tryout that year. It had been close, but he'd really been the best after a rather grueling day of working out. He'd been telling Harry for years that he'd been practicing and practicing and practicing. And Harry had actually believed him.
And he'd been competent in practice after the tryout. Not truly impressive, but competent. Harry knew he'd need to have his beaters play more defensively than they had in the past. He'd liked to have them support more near the opposition's zone rather than back in his own. But Ron wasn't good enough to defend against a rush himself. They had tailored their game plan around that.
And it hadn't mattered. He'd made three saves. Three. Against thirty-seven shots. Harry didn't even want to do the math to figure out what the save percentage was on that one. He knew the number would just anger him.
But worse was that since the match he hadn't been able to save a damn thing in practice either. Which, honestly, was half the reason for the additional practice right before the holiday. Harry knew Ron tended toward indolence in his free time. He wanted to make sure Ron got some quidditch in before two weeks away from the pitch.
Ron would have probably argued that he really needed a break and to not constantly be playing quidditch. But Harry didn't really believe in breaks. Well at least not when the player was habitually lazy.
Harry flew after Demelza, catching up to her rather easily and shooting past just as she threw the quaffle through the completely empty hoop. Ron hadn't even started to adjust back to it yet.
"Come on, Ron!" Harry yelled as he shot through the hoop and grabbed the quaffle out of the air. "I saw that coming from the middle of the pitch! Hell, I almost stopped it!" And he probably could have had he wanted to. But plowing into his own chasers in practice was a recipe to have Madame Pomfrey screaming at him.
"Well you should have then!" Ron spat. Harry shook his head. He wasn't entirely wrong. In a match Harry would have disrupted the shot better than he had. He flung his broom around and sped up toward Demelza.
"Run the same fucking play," he said and chucked the quaffle down toward the middle of the pitch.
"Okay," Demelza said, flying off after the quaffle. Harry gestured for Ginny to not intercept it and she obliged, instead choosing to spear through the beaters and turned to watch the play.
Demelza caught the quaffle in nearly the same position that she had before. Harry turned and shot up toward the floating lights and watched from between two of the magical lanterns that lit the pitch.
He tracked Demelza easily enough as she sped toward the hoops. She faked slightly earlier this time, but again Ron fell for it and she shot across the pitch and threw it easily through the hoop. Harry dove for it and grabbed it effortlessly out of the air.
"Again," he lobbed it at Demelza. She nodded and flew back toward the center of the pitch. Ginny cut in front of her and gesture for a pass. Demelza obliged and spun around the other way.
Harry was about to scold her but as Demelza shot back toward the middle of the pitch Ginny threw a perfect pass directly into her path. By now he noticed the rest of the team was watching from the other side of the pitch as well.
She made the same move at virtually the same spot on the pitch. And again, Ron flew to the wrong hoop. Harry was waiting for the quaffle on the other side. He caught it and rifled it back at Demelza. She bobbled it but recovered.
"Again," Harry said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. He'd already let too much of it into the throw back to Demelza. About a quarter of the way down the pitch she relayed the quaffle to Ginny and kept flying down toward the opposite hoops. She cut around them and continued down the pitch. Ginny lobbed the quaffle straight up as Demelza flew by. Demelza caught it easily and continued down toward Ron.
Harry thought she looked slower this time. But it could have just been his imagination or the snow billowing around them playing tricks on his eyes. She faked slightly later this time but it was essentially still the same move. And again, Ron broke to the wrong hoop.
"For fucks sake!" he yelled as he caught the quaffle and threw it as hard as he could down the pitch. He saw Ginny float over toward it and catch it with ease as he stared at Ron. "You even know where she's going! Again!"
To his credit, Ron didn't say anything. Of course, he looked away from Harry angrily and moved quickly to defend the hoops. Demelza flew back down toward Ginny and caught the quaffle as she turned for another attack.
This time Ron shifted toward the right hoop. And he didn't flinch the wrong way when Demelza faked. For a moment he looked like a supremely competent keeper. Except that this time Demelza didn't fake and the quaffle sailed through the left hoop. Harry was waiting for it.
"That's not fair!" Ron yelled. Demelza actually looked sheepish for a moment and Harry was about to speak when a shrill whistle rang through the air.
"Enough! It's almost lights out as is!" Madame Hooch flew toward the pitch from the Castle. She started waving her wand at the lights and they slower winked out of existence. Harry flew toward her.
"No," Hooch said. "Locker room and then back to the castle."
"Fine," Harry sighed, knowing he wouldn't win an argument with the flight instructor. "You heard her."
"What were you even thinking!" Hooch yelled at him as the team flew toward their locker room. Gryffindor had inherited the Beauxbatons's locker room from the tournament. Slytherin had occupied Hogwarts's and Hufflepuff Durmstrang's meaning Ravenclaw got the newly built one.
Theirs was at the north end of the pitch, located under the stands there. Harry turned to Hooch and shrugged.
"Well it wasn't that bad out. At last it's warmish," Harry said.
"There's got to be four inches of snow on the ground just since dinner!" Hooch laughed.
"Could be worse for the match in February," Harry said.
"It could be. Go get changed," Hooch said, waiving toward his locker room. Harry nodded at her and started off toward it. He landed in the snow before the entrance and stepped inside.
Ginny and Demelza were already changing. There were separate rooms for changing but neither of the girls bothered. Demelza was always quicker than Ginny, she'd pulled her jersey off and quickly pulled school robes out and shrugged them on.
Harry noticed Ron was watching her out of the corner of his eye. He frowned at that. He'd assumed it was just good manners to not try to steal a glance at undressed teammates and he wasn't sure how to broach the subject with his friend. Harry went and stood between Ron and Demelza as she was pulling her robes on.
"Good practice, Demelza," Harry said.
"Thanks," she smiled at him. "Sorry for not running the exact same play on the last one, but, well-"
"But you figured throwing the quaffle at the keeper as he floated directly in front of that hoop was a bad idea?" Harry finished for her.
"Something like that," she said.
"I'd have probably been more irritated had you. Coffee, tea, cocoa, sandwich?" he asked, gesturing to the spread Dobby left for them after every practice.
"No thanks," she said. "I'm just going to trudge back up to the castle and go to bed. Whoever decided the train should leave at eight in the morning should be hexed into oblivion."
"And yet you're never late to my six o'clock practices," Harry laughed.
"I like those. I hate train rides," she said before pulling her hair out of the pony tail it was in and grabbing her bag.
"Well practice is more fun than sitting on a train," Harry said.
"Yes it is," she said. "Anyway, enjoy your holiday."
"You too," Harry said. "See you next year."
"You could grab me a cocoa, Captain," Ginny teased as Demelza left.
"Sure thing," Harry laughed. He picked up one of the steaming mugs from the table and handed it to her.
"Thanks," she said and took a big sip from it before placing it down in her locker and stretching her arms above her head. She was wearing a sports bra and boy shorts and it wasn't an unappealing sight.
But he had better things to think about than that. Of course, he half wondered if he openly leered at Ginny if Ron would say something, in which case he could chastise him for openly leering at Demelza. Either way, it wasn't worth it to think about for more than a minute or two.
So instead he grabbed a sandwich and sat in his own locker cubby. The team all wished him a happy holiday as they got ready to leave. Ginny and the beaters left next. Harry was moderately surprised to see that she had an arm around each of them as they stepped out into the winter chill.
Moments later it was just he, Ron, and their third chaser, a promising third year named Jeremey Hamm, in the locker room. Ron was eating and Jeremey was dressing after opting for a shower to try to fight the lingering chill from practice.
Harry had changed out of his uniform and was simply waiting for the other two to leave before he did. He firmly believed that he should always be the first one to practice, and the last one to leave.
He looked up as the door opened, half expecting Madame Hooch to come in and yell at them for not being back in the castle yet. But by his watch they still had plenty of time to get back to the dormitories.
"Why the hell do you practice in weather like this, Potter?!" Daphne Greengrass snapped as she walked into the locker room.
"Team only," Ron moaned.
"Hey Daph," Jeremey Hamm said.
"Hello Jeremey, any fun Christmas plans?" Daphne asked, ignoring Ron. She picked up a cocoa and sat in the cubby next to Harry.
"Nah," Jeremey said. "Just going home to see the family. Probably try to show my kid sister some magic if my parents let me. You?"
"Same, just going home," Daphne said. "Should be nice."
"Should be," Jeremey agreed. "Anyway, Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Daphne echoed as Jeremey waved and left the locker room.
"I still don't think she should be here," Ron said.
"She's harmless," Harry said.
"I'm offended," Daphne responded.
"Well quidditch harmless," Harry said.
"Anyway, I promise I didn't tell anyone in my house that they should just take every shot they had for the last match because you can't make a save to save your life," Daphne said jovially. Ron glared at her.
"I'd like to see you do better," he growled.
"Sounds like effort," Daphne responded.
"Probably wouldn't have gone to the wrong hoop three straight times in practice, too," Harry said quietly.
"Not you too," Ron frowned. "I couldn't see, the snow was everywhere I didn't think she'd do the same thing over and over."
"You didn't hear Harry barking at Demelza to run the same play? Because I did from the stands," Daphne said.
"Oh fuck you," Ron snapped.
"No, you're supposed to be fucking Granger," Daphne said. Ron blushed and looked away.
"They broke up," Harry said.
"Before or after they slept with each other?" Daphne said.
"No idea. I didn't ask," Harry said. "We should stop teasing him, though. He'd had a rough few hours."
"Rough can be fun," Daphne said.
"You have an amazingly one-track mind," Harry said.
"You're the one with your mind in the gutter," Daphne said.
"How about we just walk back to the castle before Hooch comes and yells at us," Harry said.
"But I haven't finished my cocoa yet," Daphne pouted.
"Chug it," Harry suggested.
"Pass," Daphne said, taking a small sip of her cocoa.
"Well I'm leaving," he said. "You can sit here or come with us."
"Fine," Daphne whined. She stood and took another swig of her drink before walking with Harry and Ron to the door. They stepped out into the blizzard and turned toward the castle.
"Still can't believe you're staying here for the holiday," Ron said. Harry shrugged his shoulders. He wasn't really excited about that, but there wasn't much he could do about it.
"I'll be fine," he shrugged. He'd been invited to the Burrow, of course, but the invite had been extended shortly after Ron and Hermione had become a thing. And Harry really didn't want to third wheel with them as a couple. And while that hadn't lasted, he still knew that all Ron would talk about was Hermione or Quidditch. And even Harry thought both of those topics could get exhausting.
"You could stay with me," Daphne suggested.
"I'm sure your parents would love that," Harry laughed. "Hi mom and dad. This is Harry Potter he's staying for the holiday!"
"I do not sound like that," Daphne responded.
"It was pretty close," Ron said.
"Thank you," Harry said.
"Screw you," Daphne said.
"Again with the sex," Harry teased. Daphne rolled her eyes.
"Where's your godfather anyway?" she asked.
"Somewhere in the western United States chasing some girl," Harry said. Sirius had written that he was following a young witch he was infatuated with to San Francisco. He found it rather annoying. But it hadn't taken Harry very long to realize that Sirius was a terrible father figure. He wasn't big on responsibility. But that had been alright with Harry. It had left him alone with far better company on many of his vacations. But, unfortunately, this holiday that wouldn't be the case.
"That sucks," Daphne said.
"It does," Harry responded. He reached into his pocket and ran his fingers over the folded parchment there, frowning slightly to himself as the castle approached.
"You sure you'll be okay?" Ron asked.
"I'll be fine," Harry said.
"He's a big boy," Daphne agreed.
"Still you should come home with me," Ron said. Harry frowned as they stepped into the castle. He hadn't visited the burrow for an extended period of time in years. And honestly, he didn't really want to, mostly because he knew he'd just wind up listening to Mrs. Weasley harp on Sirius the entire time.
But Harry had always been independent. He didn't need someone hovering over him and trying to take care of him. When he was younger it was a pleasant new experience. But as it happened more and more he found it more suffocating and annoying than anything else. And he was legally an adult now, too. He didn't feel like he needed to be watched over during the holiday.
And while he knew Ron relished moments like that. He also knew it was why his relationship with Hermione ultimately failed. Because he expected her to treat him like his mother did. And Hermione often had better things to do than wonder what Ron was doing. Harry knew she'd never admit it, but he expected that she found him rather dull. And that she was probably simply annoyed that he shared none of her interests.
"I'll be fine, Ron," Harry said.
"But you don't need to be alone," Ron said.
"I also don't need to be the odd man out at the Burrow either," Harry said. Ron frowned at him, clearly not sure what to say.
"Walk me back to the dungeons?" Daphne asked as they stepped into the proper corridor.
"Okay," Harry said, knowing that Ron wouldn't follow as they stepped down toward the Slytherin common room. Ron continued toward Gryffindor tower with after a quick exchange of good nights.
"You know what you should do?" Daphne asked as they approached the dungeons.
"What's that?" Harry responded.
"Go into town and get a drink and enjoy yourself," she responded.
"I'm sure the professors would love that," Harry said.
"Screw them. You're seventeen and you're Harry Potter. What are they going to do put you in detention?" Daphne laughed as she spoke.
"Probably," Harry said.
"Well then don't go. Worst case they expel you and you're playing professional quidditch before the end of the season," Daphne laughed. "And it's not like they'd want the headache of expelling Harry Potter."
"You're probably right," Harry sighed.
"I know I'm right. So, go get a drink and enjoy yourself tonight. Then sleep all damn day tomorrow," Daphne ordered.
"Join me?" Harry asked.
"Can't," Daphne frowned. "Someone has to drag Astoria out of bed in the morning."
"And you volunteered?" Harry teased.
"Well no one else will," Daphne said.
"Well maybe I'll go anyway. I could use a drink," Harry said.
"You look like it," Daphne responded.
"Gee, thanks," Harry rolled his eyes.
"Don't shoot the messenger," she smiled as they stopped outside of the Slytherin common room. "But do enjoy your holiday and Merry Christmas." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek before stepping away from him.
"You too, Daph. Merry Christmas," he responded. And with another smile she slipped into the common room and left Harry alone in the dungeons.
Alone. That word stuck with him. It reverberated through his head and he couldn't help but frown. It wasn't a good word. It wasn't a word that would have bothered him that much just a few years ago. But now something about it sent a pang through his chest. A pang he couldn't really put words too.
He let his fingers trace over the parchment still in his pocket. He swallowed hard before slipping it out and unfolding it slowly. The parchment was stamped with the Gringotts seal and the ink was already starting to fade off of the page.
I am sorry for the short notice but I will not be on the continent as anticipated for the winter Holiday. I wish I could come see you in person to share this news but, unfortunately, we are set to leave in just a couple of hours and I still have to pack so this letter must suffice.
I am sure Ronald has been quite the chatterbox about how William is finally getting to lead an expedition into Iran to explore those newly discovered Persian tombs. It is quite the opportunity for him.
Well, today we learned that Eric contracted spattergroit and will be unable to travel with the rest of the team to serve in his capacity as translator and logistical coordinator for the mission. And, as it turns out, I am the only one as fluent in as many languages as he is. So they decided rather last minute that I would be a suitable replacement!
You know I have been trying to get them to let me do some field work for the last year and a half and this is not an opportunity I can pass up. The downside is Eric's duties are not in the actual exploration. He was mostly to communicate with the local witches and wizards and arrange for any supplies that the group would need while sending reports back to Gringotts on a regular basis.
So sadly, it is unlikely that I will be in the tombs while there is any danger or question of their contents. But still, it is field work that will be much better than sitting behind a desk and dealing with people who simply hate goblins.
I am sorry that I will not be present for the holiday. I am sure that Mom, Dad, and Gabrielle would love to have you for the holiday if you would like. The excursion is planned to be four to six months but if it is successful it may run for the entirety of next year.
I must run and gather up what I will need for the trip now. I will update you as soon as I have any more information.
Harry received that latter eight days before and he'd heard nothing since. He frowned down at it as he walked through the castle, not really paying any attention to where he was going.
At first nothing about it had bothered him. But he'd been focusing more on his mid-year exams and drilling his quidditch team, than the exact contents of the letter. He'd really just been happy for her. She was being given an opportunity that she'd desired for a very long time. And he knew she'd be phenomenal at it.
Really, at first, he was just looking forward to hearing about all sorts of interesting stories of magic and spells from Persian wizards. He'd been fascinated enough by the thought that he'd actually perused a couple of books on the topic while in the library with Hermione.
But as the winter term drew to a close he slowly realized just what her letter meant. He'd spent the last few months waiting to see her again. And now he'd have to wait much longer than anticipated. In fact, now it might be a year before they'd really have any solid time together.
Gringotts was pretty notorious for not really wanting any of the personnel on their excursions to have much in the way of outside contact or distractions. In fact, one of the reasons it had taken nearly a decade for Bill to land his own excursion was because his family had shown up while he was the number two on a similar trip in Egypt. It had taken him three and a half years to work back up to that point again and get his own team. And Harry wouldn't want to jeopardize Fleur's career in that same way.
Of course, there was a chance that the mission would be unsuccessful and that they'd be back well before the Easter holiday. But Harry also didn't want that to be the case. The goblins had a tendency to blame the team for any failure. Even in cases where there simply wasn't anything worthwhile to loot the goblins would assume that they simply didn't look hard enough.
Being on an unsuccessful mission of that nature tended to reflect poorly on the individual team members and Harry understood it to mean they would be less likely to receive consideration for future projects of a similar nature.
Still, Fleur's role was more of a liaison for this. So as long as they were within budget and didn't cause an international incident then the goblins really had nothing to complain about from her. At the very least the goblins would be harder on Bill than her if the mission was completely unsuccessful.
He really hoped for the best for her. He wanted the expedition to be successful because that he knew that would make her happier. But it was while he was thinking about this, and coincidently while Ron and Hermione were attempting to make out on the couch in the common room, that something else hit him.
He was lonely.
It wasn't really a new feeling, he knew. He'd been lonely for much of his life. He'd grown accustomed to it in his childhood and had been able to cope with it during his summers at the Dursley's.
After the tournament things had changed for him. He gradually grew more and more comfortable with the people around him in his life. He started to feel more like he really belonged in more areas than simply with Ron and Hermione.
Deep down he knew that had started with the Hogwarts quidditch team for the tournament, but his relationship with Fleur, and even Daphne, had solidified it. And since then, that perpetual feeling of loneliness that had stuck with him for the vast majority of his life had slowly started to fade away. It happened gradually and he'd never even realized it was gone.
At least until he read the letter again and it occurred to him that he would be alone at Christmas for the first time since he was ten years old and the Dursley's locked him in a cupboard for the holiday.
He knew he was being silly. He knew he wouldn't be alone, for one, as a handful of students and professors always remained at the castle for the holiday. Worst case he knew he could at least spend time with Hagrid or Dumbledore and not feel like a complete burden on their company.
He also knew he should just suck it up and accept someone's invitation. But the invitations had rubbed him the wrong way. They all seemed forced and like something the person knew they should be doing, but didn't actually want him to accept.
He knew that was bullshit. He knew the Delacours and the Weasleys would both be thrilled to have him. Hell, Hermione invited him to meet her parents, or to even stay with him at the castle, but by that point he'd just grown accustomed to saying no that he hardly thought about it. The only ones that he thought would probably be more confused than glad for his company were Daphne's parents.
But he just couldn't bring himself to accept the invitations. Something about them just felt wrong. Like they were not what he was supposed to be doing that holiday.
Except that was a silly line of thought. There was nothing he should or shouldn't be able to do during the holidays. He frowned to himself as he walked and scanned the letter once more, as if hoping some type of hidden detail emerged on the parchment.
He should have just lied and said he was going to stay with Sirius in London. There were worse things than being alone at Grimmauld Place. Well the house was still creepy, but he'd at least be able to wander about in London to kill time during the holiday.
And that would have probably been a better option than wandering around the castle and occasionally sneaking to the town. Although he knew Daphne was right. As long as he didn't do anything monumentally stupid in town, no one would comment on his comings or goings.
It wasn't long before he realized he was outside. The cold winter air didn't really bother him that much. After so many winter quidditch practices it was something that he was just used to.
He stood outside the doors for a few moments, relaxing in the ambient heat from the magically lit torches. He paused for a moment but since he couldn't think of anything better to do than wander toward the gates and the town.
He knew it wouldn't be a very quick walk. But one he got outside of the gates he could apparate if he wanted to. He wondered if he could apparate back to London. He'd never gone that far on one trip before. He thought he could probably manage it. But he figured it was best to not press. And really, he figured a drink at one of the taverns in Hogsmead would be good enough for tonight.
So instead he walked to the town, trudging through the snow as it fell around him. It was deepening as the blizzard strengthened. He kept walking through it, marveling at how the snow could obscure even the lanterns that lined the path to the town. At least the billowing white around him made the night seem lighter than it was.
He paused for a moment to simply admire it. The snow around him really was beautiful. He stared up at it, unable to differentiate between the flakes and the stars as the world seemed to glitter around him. He turned to share a comment to his companion, only to realize there was no companion around him. He sighed and continued his march to the town.
The blizzard was waning when he could finally see the town ahead of him. Hogsmead was decorated for the holiday, magical lights floating and flashing around all of the buildings, signs wishing holiday cheer all about. Harry stepped past the Hogs Head, pausing only to toss a galleon in the basket in front of two gnomes singing Christmas carols and entered the town proper.
It was too late for most of the shops to still be open. But there were plenty of people milling about in the streets. He saw Professors McGonagall and Sprout walking down one of the streets. His head of house saw him and they locked eyes. Harry smiled sheepishly her and for a moment he thought she was going to scold him. But instead she just turned and continued on her way.
Harry gazed around and realized he wasn't the only student to have snuck out that evening. He gazed around the bustle of the town and saw quite a few of his classmates engaged in various activities around the small town. He wondered why no one really talked about sneaking to the town for the holidays.
Of course, he barely remembered what he did his first and second year during the winter holiday. And the dementors in the town during his third year probably would have put a damper on the festivities. And everyone was focused on the ball during his fourth year. And then for the last two he'd bailed via the floo immediately after term ended. He supposed people probably did talk about it, he just didn't bother listening.
He waved to Dean Thomas as they crossed paths, but didn't really stop to talk. Instead he watched a couple of fifth year Hufflepuffs bob for apples. A bit further down a few Ravenclaws were caroling with some of the locals. He dodged a running Slytherin girl and shifted away from the three ghosts chasing her.
Two other ghosts floated the opposite direction, singing and laughing gaily despite the chains hanging off of them. Harry watched curiously before continuing on his way.
He spent the better part of an hour wandering up and down the streets and taking in the festivities. He tried eating a roasted chestnut but decided after about a tenth of a second that it wasn't worth it and instead enjoyed some spiced cider.
After that he watched a small performance depicting Saint Nicholas and his house elves making children's toys and then traveling to give them away. He could have sworn one of the elves in the performance was Dobby, so he decided to sneak away before the elf noticed him.
He found himself standing outside a booth filled with stuffed animals and little floating targets fluttering around behind a counter. A little girl was sniffling and looking plaintively at a large purple stuffed camel creature that made an odd noise every few seconds.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"I missed," she sniffled.
"Five knuts for three tosses, hit the tiny ones and win a big animal," A man in Victorian garb said, juggling three small red balls.
"Alright," Harry said. The girl looked up at him as he took the balls. He missed the first two throws and frowned at himself. On the third toss, which also missed, he noticed the slight of hand from the other man and caught the tip of his wand out of the corner of his eye. Harry frowned at that.
"Too bad young man," the man laughed.
"Well I'm a seeker not a chaser," Harry said, he put more coins down on the counter. "I'll give it another shot."
"Good luck," the man smirked. Harry missed the first two throws but before the third he distracted the man keeping the stand with a flourish and threw a quick shield between the man and the targets. His third throw hit one of the flying targets square on.
"Purple camel me," Harry said.
"Wait, you.." the man started.
"Purple camel, with the horn thing," Harry said again, pointing to the stuffed animal. The man narrowed his eyes but then saw the scar. Harry could see the wheels spinning in his head but he eventually just reached for the stuffed animal and handed it to Harry. Harry smiled and handed it to the little girl.
"Thank you!" she squealed and hugged him before running off. Harry turned from the stand and walked back through the town, finding himself distracted by flashes of light against the snowy sky.
He watched some fireworks for a few moments, slipping through the crowd as he did. A few people stopped him here or there to chat, but mostly they left him alone. Everyone was too enamored with their companions or the festival to notice Harry Potter.
The thought sent a pang through him as he stood alone in the middle of the town. He stared longingly at a couple of fireworks in the sky, the light sparks flashing against the light snow.
As the light show ended he turned and saw he was mere meters from The Three Broomsticks. He did the only logical thing he could think of. He walked over and stepped inside.
Someone was having a fairly heated conversation with the concierge at the inn part of the inn. Harry figured the amount of families and children he'd seen outside likely filled the majority of the rooms. Of course, magic made capacity much larger than it would appear, but it did still have general limitations. Although enough arguing and coin could probably make an extra room appear.
Still, he wasn't that interested in whatever argument was going on with the innkeeper so he ducked past the desk and the staircase and into the tavern proper. He surveyed the bar and ducked into a stool in the corner, behind a pillar, and mostly obscured from the entrance and the rest of the tavern.
"Hello Mister Potter," Madame Rosmerta said with a smile as she walked over toward him. "What can I get you?"
"The mead," Harry said, remembering the bottle he'd shared with Sirius and Fleur the Christmas before.
"Right away," she said and she turned away to get a glass and a bottle of amber liquid. She poured it in front of him. He took a sip to taste and nodded and she filled the glass the rest of the way.
"Thanks," he said as she put the bottle down on the bar.
"No problem. What brings you in?" Rosmerta asked.
"Just general boredom," Harry said.
"Not the Christmas festival?" Rosmerta asked.
"I honestly didn't even realize it was a thing," Harry laughed.
"Well it is more for children. Often parents bring the young ones. Christmas scenes and a glimpse of Hogwarts," Rosmerta explained.
"I think I would have liked that as a kid," Harry said.
"Most do," Rosmerta laughed. "They used to let the students come on Christmas Eve but after a couple of incidents with younger children and some undesirables they decided to not allow that anymore."
"Hurt business?" Harry asked.
"No idea, I wasn't around. It's always busy without the students though. And once the evening rolls around the parents fill up the bar for hours. One of our busiest nights really. And they buy more than butterbeer so that's always appreciated," Rosmerta said.
"You have more than butterbeer?" Harry asked as he sipped his mead.
"We do! Want a fish fry? The potato cakes are to die for tonight," Only other thing we're making tonight is a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and carrots."
"You know I can't resist a potato cake," Harry laughed
"I'll go get one started then," Rosmerta said. "Should I leave the bottle?"
"Please," Harry said. She nodded and gave him a quick refill before stepping off toward the kitchen. Harry simply examined the inn while she was gone, peering around the pillar. People were rather steadily trickling in. It was mostly families and couples and Harry watched them for a few moments, peering around the pillar that was blocking him.
He got a few surprised looks from people. And he heard the hushed whispering almost immediately. He chose to hide back behind his pillar and hope no one really noticed. But he had a feeling that wouldn't be the case.
He kept to himself mostly. Rosmerta gave a round of eggnog to everyone at the bar and then to a few people she recognized at tables in the restaurant. Once she'd finished she returned with his food.
He started on the potato cake before the fish. And as always it was delicious. Rosmerta waited on other patrons at the now packed bar. Harry ate quietly, savoring the food as it warmed him. Rosmerta came back once to refill his mead but then went to work some more. It wasn't until he was nearly done with the entire bottle that she came back to chat.
"Where's your better half tonight?" she asked.
"Iran," Harry said.
"That does not sound like a proper Christmas destination," Rosmerta said.
"No. It does not," Harry agreed.
"Work?" Rosmerta asked.
"Yeah, she'd going the logistical stuff for one of their expeditions," Harry said. "It sounds like she's mostly sitting in town and seeing what they need. But I haven't heard from her since she left."
"Well that's a shame," Rosmerta said.
"I agree," Harry laughed.
"Miss her?" Rosmerta asked.
"Oh yes," Harry said. Rosmerta chuckled and poured him a shot of firewhiskey. Harry slammed it back. After the mead it seemed to hit him almost immediately. He tried to take another sip of the mead to wash out the taste. It didn't help.
Still, there were worse things than being a little bit inebriated. And he was still fairly confident that as long as he didn't try to hop on a broom and fly back to Gryffindor tower he'd be fine. And as fun as flying around drunk sounded he figured it was probably best to not face plant into the castle from the air.
"Mister?" a soft voice said from behind him. Harry blinked a bit and spun around in the stool. A young boy, probably around eight, stood behind him holding up a chocolate frog card and a quill. "Would you sign this?"
"Sure," Harry said on reflex. He took both from the child. The card was a commemorative one from the tournament and showed all four champions smiling tensely. Harry signed it just above where his picture was stealing glances at Fleur.
"Thank you!" the boy squealed and ran off to his parents. Unfortunately, the noise drew attention to him and in just moments he was surrounded by kids and adults alike and found he was signing card after card, and then even just some loose bits of parchment, and then what he was pretty sure was someone else's check.
But it all flashed past quicker than he could really follow. Mostly he just tried to not make a fool of himself as he signed everything. Some of the adults talked with him briefly. Mostly the conversations were about absolutely nothing. Or at least nothing that he could follow.
Eventually, though, as they always did, the conversations turned to quidditch. They talked mostly of the last professional season and what he expected from when he went pro the next year. A few people commented on the current Hogwarts season.
All-in-all nothing really important transpired for what felt like an eternity but knew it wouldn't have been more than a half hour or so. For a moment he felt like someone was watching him. Well, more intently than the people wanting to talk to him at least. He glanced around the bar but didn't see anyone that stood out.
In fact, the only thing that seemed familiar was the back of the jacket on one of the patrons. But that was just the woman who was arguing for a room earlier. She must have gotten one and decided on a drink. Before he could investigate further he was pulled toward more autographs and comments.
Eventually the crowd did grow bored with him and he found himself back at his stool, with the last remnants of his mead. He poured the remains of the bottle into his glass and did it back with one swig.
"Present for you," Rosmerta said as he put his empty glass down. She placed a bottle of wine and a neatly folded letter down in front of him. He eyed it carefully. It wasn't unusual that drinks and what not wound up being sent his way when he was out, and the fact that Rosmerta actually then gave it to him made him think that it was likely safe.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Came from a nice young lady while you were entertaining those kids with stories of flying with Viktor Krum," Rosmerta said. "She looked quite infatuated with you while you were talking about quidditch. I think I've only seen one girl ever stare at you as googly eyed as she was. She paid for your dinner, too."
"Nice of her," Harry said with a frown. He disliked when people were that extravagant. But if it was something they wanted to do to be nice, he knew it was best to just not comment. Normally he'd return the favor and buy their meal, but whomever had sent over the gift seemed to be long gone.
So instead he peered at the bottle for a few moments before picking up the letter and gazing at the choppily written words.
I just detested seeing you sitting and looking all alone and dour. One shouldn't ever spend Christmas alone if it can be avoided. I'm in room five-oh-three. When you're done you should come up and see me. Bring the wine.
Harry stared at the unfamiliar handwriting for a few moments. His head was swimming from the mead and the words seemed to jumble around the parchment on him. He frowned down at it and shook his head slightly.
"Isabelle?" he asked quietly, thinking that had to be way too much of a coincidence to ignore. But his head was swimming from the alcohol so all he managed to do was raise his gaze to look at Rosmerta.
"Going to go?" Rosmerta asked, peering at the parchment over the bar. Harry blushed and looked away from the barkeep, ashamed to admit that it sounded like exactly something that he wanted to do, even without seeing this Isabelle.
"No," he said, almost too quickly. Rosmerta shook her head.
"You're only young once, go for it. I promise you that you won't be disappointed," she said, winking. "Don't be alone at Christmas."
"I don't think that's great advice" Harry said.
"Maybe, maybe not. But trust me just this once Harry, I think you should go," Rosmerta said.
"I think if Fleur found out she'd kill me," Harry said. Rosmerta just shrugged as another patron waved her down. She slipped away from him to continue her work. Harry took a few coins out of his pocket and threw them down on the bar before picking up the bottle of wine and turning to leave.
He walked toward the exit and as he passed the staircase leading to the upper floors and the hotel he stopped. He stared up at them and told himself he shouldn't. But as he told himself that his feet disobeyed and he stepped up the stairs.
He told himself he wouldn't do anything with her. He told himself that he didn't really want to do anything with her. That he was just going up to thank her for the wine and then he'd immediately leave. But with every step he took he knew he was lying to himself.
He started to feel sick. His stomach was incredibly queasy and he found himself swallowing over and over trying to fight back the bile. He didn't want to keep moving, but it didn't matter. He kept moving.
Getting to the fifth floor seemed to take no time at all. He turned right and started walking through the dark hallway lit only by ever-burning candles along the walls. The first door he came to was marked 515, and the second was 516.
He turned around and walked passed the stairs, looking down at him. Telling himself that his going the wrong way was a sign that he shouldn't really continue down this path. But he just kept moving and then he was walking down the other hall. 514 came and went, as did 513 and then 512 and then before he knew it he was standing outside of 503.
He reached up and held his knuckles against the door. He went to knock until he noticed that the occupant had left it slightly ajar. Rather than knock he rested his hand against it and pushed it open slightly.
The room was dimly lit, just a few scented candles wafting out into the hallway to set the mood. It felt very warm and very inviting and he stepped in and was assailed by a familiar floral scent. He closed his eyes, taking a very deep breath and fighting all of the urges that were rising up through his body. He heard the door close automatically behind him as he stepped into the room. But his addled brain barely registered the noise.
He did manage to fight those urges off as he stepped into the room proper. No one was waiting for him. He paused and looked around. The door of the bathroom was shut and he could see a light from underneath the bathroom door and heard the water stop running as he entered the room.
Harry froze in the little alcove between the pristinely made bed and the door to the bathroom. He couldn't take his eyes off of the door, both willing it to stay shut and to open to him. He couldn't move. His mind was too filled with thoughts of how he both wanted to be in that room more than he could remember anything in a very long time and how he wanted to flee.
And then the door to the bathroom opened. Harry's eyes flashed to the floor, to a dainty pair of pale feet with deep red polish on the toes. He let his gaze slip upwards, over a pair of finely toned calves and then to up to the hem of a towel.
He took a step away from her, willing himself to not look any further, to bolt for the door, to do everything in his power to get out of that room. To flee for his life. For his future. But he didn't. Instead he looked up further up until he saw Isabelle.
In that moment, he lost. He didn't want anything more than the woman standing before him. He stepped toward her purely on instinct, his lips crushing down into hers. She didn't resist in the slightest.
Everything seemed to happen so fast he barely had time to register what was going on. But it didn't matter. He didn't need to know what was going on. He knew exactly how to touch her. He knew exactly how to kiss her. He knew exactly how to please her. He knew exactly when to slide the towel off of her, when to help her with his clothing, and when to take her to bed.
He couldn't have said how long it lased. He couldn't have said exactly what happened. But it didn't matter. In those moments he finally felt like himself once more. He finally felt like he was where he needed to be. It was a wonderful feeling.
Later he lay on his back on the bed, the dim candles slowly burning down to nothing around him. He had one arm wrapped around her and the other traced through her silky hair as the flower scent of it filled his senses as her head rested on his chest.
He remained silent until the candles burned down to nothing, until the only light in the small room was the pale silvery glow coming from her.
"So why didn't you tell me?" he asked quietly.
"I thought it would be fun," Fleur Isabelle Delacour said softly.
"So, I didn't fail some type of test?" he asked quietly.
"Test of what?" Fleur asked.
"Going up to the room of a random female who send me drinks," Harry said.
"That depends. Do you often go up to the rooms of random females that send you drinks?" Fleur asked.
"First time," Harry said. Fleur laughed and the room seemed brighter for a moment.
"Speaking of drinks though," Fleur rolled off of him, resting next to him on the bed. She pulled the blankets up over her and slide next to him and gazed around the dark room. "Did you bring the wine?"
"Yes, I-" Harry started.
"Oh, on the dresser," Fleur said. She reached for her wand and summoned the bottle and two of the complimentary glasses to her. Harry sat up against the headboard of the bed as she transfigured them into wine glasses and uncorked the bottle with a flick of her wand before pouring them each a glass and setting the bottle down on the bedside table and then handing him one of the glasses.
"Thank you," he said, sipping his.
"You are welcome," she responded, sitting next to him against the headboard and sipped her own wine.
"So, I didn't fail?" Harry asked quietly.
"No, you were quite good," Fleur teased.
"Brat," Harry scoffed.
"I told Rosmerta to just tell you if you didn't figure it out," Fleur said.
"She pretty much did, just in fewer words," Harry said.
"And you also looked scared to death and like you may throw up when I came out of the bathroom and like you were a moment away from bolting for the door," Fleur teased.
"I was," Harry said.
"I know," Fleur laughed and drank her wine. Harry took another sip of his but in the moment he didn't really want more alcohol so set his down on the bedside table before turning to press his face into her hair.
"Not that I'm not totally thrilled to see you," he said quietly. "But why are you here?"
"Oh, uhm, well," Fleur frowned and looked away from him and took a gigantic swig of her wine.
"What happened?" Harry said, understanding her hesitance well enough. His imagination immediately flashed into overdrive, wondering just what could have caused her to throw away one of the biggest opportunities of her young career.
"Nothing," Fleur sighed and the room seemed darker. "Well. No, it was nothing."
"That doesn't sound like nothing," Harry said.
"I was just lonely," Fleur said.
"Me too," Harry said. "But that's been common for the last few years."
"I know," Fleur responded.
"What happened? It was a great opportunity and you know how the goblins don't like it when something doesn't go exactly to plan," Harry said.
"I know," Fleur frowned. "But I could not stay there."
"Why not?" Harry asked. She didn't respond. Instead she shifted over and kneeled on top of him. She slid her arms behind his back and around him while pressing her face into his chest, clinging to him.
It had happened sometime during his sixth year. He couldn't be exactly sure when. But suddenly he was just taller than her. Only by a couple of inches, but still. She'd never commented on his height, but he suspected she liked it a great deal.
He'd noticed that whenever she was feeling particularly down she liked to be held, to be able to cling to him. She'd told him it had made her feel safe and secure. And he knew that despite the general silliness of the statement, to really feel that way he needed to be bigger than her.
He obliged her by wrapping her arms around her and pressing his face into her hair. And once again he thought the room grew slightly brighter. But rather than investigating that he closed his eyes and kissed the top of her head.
"You can tell me," he said softly into the silky blonde mass.
"It was nothing," she said, refusing to raise her head to see him.
"Not talking about it isn't making me feel very good about it," Harry admitted and the room darkened.
"It was going fine. I was mostly the liaison to the local Gringotts and checked in with Bill every morning to see what I could do to help. The first few days were fine, very straight forward. I thought I was doing a good job," she said. Her arms tightened around him, like she didn't want him to move.
"I'm sure you were," Harry said.
"They started inviting me to their forward camp more. I was spending more time with them and I thought it was going well. I thought it meant that they thought I was helpful. I even figured out one of the ancient enchantments on a tomb that was searing away flesh with no noticeable marking," Fleur said.
"That sounds nasty," Harry said.
"It was, Jeremey got really badly injured and I filled in for him for a couple of days. It was mostly just exploring with Bill. I even spent a few nights at the camp with the rest of the team rather than spending the evenings back in Tehran," Fleur said.
"And then?" Harry asked.
"And then Bill kissed me," Fleur said. The room went completely black as she admitted that.
"And?" Harry asked, doing his best to not let his nails dig into her perfect porcelain skin as he held her.
"And when I pushed him away he did it again," Fleur said. Harry failed at his aforementioned goal as she said that.
"And?" Harry asked.
"And he said some nasty things when I slapped him and refused him," Fleur said.
"Like?" Harry asked.
"Well I am sure you can imagine what he said my only real purpose on the expedition was," Fleur sniffled as she spoke.
"He didn't," Harry said.
"He did," Fleur responded quietly. "And so I left. I went back to Tehran and continued doing my job feeling miserable. I tried writing you a letter but I couldn't make the words come. And I didn't want to make you worry. I thought it was just a stupid mistake. I had been so happy I thought maybe the aura."
"What happened after?" Harry asked quietly. He bit his bottom lip and made a mental note to ease his grip on Fleur. She pressed herself closer to him as he loosened his grip, like she didn't want to be any further from him.
"I came back to the expedition the next morning with the supplies they had requested. Bill apologized and blamed it on the aura. He said he could not control himself. The other men teased me about it," Fleur admitted.
"I'm sorry," Harry said.
"And when I tried to leave Bill said he wanted to show me something in the tomb. To get a second pair of eyes on it. So, we walked out of the camp. And rather than show me anything he slid an arm around me and pulled me to him," she said.
"What did you do?" Harry asked.
"I apparated straight back to the hotel," Fleur said.
"And then?" Harry asked.
"I tried just doing my job," Fleur said. "I felt totally used. Totally violated. I no longer wanted to be there. But I had to keep doing my job. I told myself I could drop off the supplies and leave. And I did for two more days. But then I got a letter from the goblins."
"What?" Harry asked.
"It said that my expedition leader had complained about my performance and wished to replace me. I read it like ten times feeling just crushed every moment," Fleur sniffled more as she spoke.
"What happened?" Harry asked.
"I stared down at the parchment. I realized that I was really not happy. And the date on the parchment stood out. I…I don't really know what to say. It is hard to explain. It stood out like a sore thumb. I remembered something my mom says," Fleur said.
"What's that?" Harry asked.
"That you should always be happy on Christmas. That it is not a day for being sad and lonely. And I was both just a few days shy of it with no feeling that change was possible," Fleur explained.
"I know the feeling," Harry admitted quietly as his own thought strayed to how he'd felt mere hours earlier when Quidditch ended.
"And suddenly I knew what I had to do," Fleur said. "I took a portkey back to London and went to Gringotts and explained why I would not be working with the expedition any further. And then I came north."
"What did the goblins say?" Harry asked.
"Nothing. They never do. They said they would investigate it but I am sure they will just blame the aura," Fleur said.
"Maybe not," Harry responded, trying to be positive. "Goblins are sick of people blaming them for being goblins. And they hate humans."
"Maybe," Fleur said, understanding what he was getting at. "But after that I, well, I knew where I wanted to be. I came to Hogsmead."
"You should have written to me," Harry said.
"I know," Fleur said. The room seemed slightly brighter again. "But I figured you would stay and I wanted to surprise you. And if you did not then I would have written and found you. I got in late and I figured that you would be asleep."
"I was not," Harry said.
"No," Fleur laughed. She raised her head to look at him, tears had stained her face but she still looked like the most beautiful thing Harry had ever seen. "I decided to have a glass of wine before bed and there you were. Sitting at the end of the bar looking drunk already."
"I was completely sober," Harry lied.
"Oh yes," Fleur laughed. She held her arms straight out to the sides and shifted around as if navigating. "That is why you were talking about flying like this."
"I did not," Harry scoffed.
"If you insist," Fleur said. She slid her arms back around him and they slowly shifted down onto the bed, her head once again resting on her chest.
"Then you decided then to have a little fun and not just run at me and grab me?" Harry asked.
"Well I did not think we should have sex on the bar," Fleur said.
"Why not?" Harry asked.
"Well there were children present," Fleur responded.
"Okay valid," Harry said.
"But yes. I saw you looking so animated and happy with the children talking about quidditch that I did not want to interrupt. And I knew if I was noticed too they would keep us there all night," Fleur said. Harry knew she was right, too. They often struggled with public attention when out together.
"You came up with the ploy with Rosmerta," Harry said.
"It was actually her idea," Fleur admitted.
"I should thank her," Harry teased.
"Probably, Fleur nodded. "But I think that would be an awkward conversation." Harry let the conversation die off for a few moments. But then something clicked inside of him and he spoke.
"Can you do me one favor, Fleur?" he asked.
"What is that?" she responded.
"Never feel bad because some asshole can't take responsibility for his own actions. You didn't make Bill flirt with you. You didn't make him kiss you. He's just trying to cover up for his own actions. Don't let yourself be hurt by it," he said as sternly as he could. She pressed her face into his neck in response. She didn't say anything, but the room brightened once more.
"Thank you," she whispered after a few moments.
"What do we do now?" Harry asked.
"Sleep?" Fleur suggested, shifting against him to get more comfortable.
"But after that?" Harry asked.
"As long as we are together I do not care," Fleur said. "We can spend a few days here, or we can go the house in London."
"I vote here," Harry said. "We can also make sure we get to your parents for the holiday proper."
"I would like that," Fleur said quietly.
"Me too," Harry said. "After all, Christmas is a time for families to come together." It was Fleur's turn to let the silence linger before speaking up.
"I love you, Harry Potter," She said quietly.
"I love you too, Fleur Delacour," he responded.
"It is my turn to ask for a favor," she said.
"Shoot," Harry responded.
"You must promise me that no matter what, we never spend another Christmas apart," she ordered.
"I can agree to that," he responded. His heart swelled as he said it. He couldn't really describe the feeling except that it was the exact opposite one he'd felt before. He no longer felt empty. Instead he felt loved, warm, and exquisitely happy for the first time in a very long time as he felt sleep encroaching upon him.
"Good," Fleur said. "Merry Christmas, Harry."
"Merry Christmas, Fleur.