It was four o'clock on Christmas Eve, and everyone had gone home hours before. Everyone except Audrey Noble, that is. She'd only started working in the Department of International Magical Cooperation in October, and she didn't feel comfortable knocking off work early, not even on Christmas Eve. Anyway, she had nothing but a dyspeptic cat and a lumpy sofa bed waiting for her at home, so she was hardly in a rush to go. No family, no Christmas decorations, not even -
She smacked herself in the forehead. No heat, because she'd forgot to tell her landlord she was out of oil before she left for work this morning. She eyed the stacks of parchment surrounding her speculatively. She had enough work to keep her busy through Boxing Day, surely? There was the trade agreement with the West African Magical Conglomerate that needed fine tuning, for starters, and the Albanian attaché had lately been making noises about the language in his country's extradition treaty that also needed her attention. She could kip on the sofa in the employees' lounge, go out and find a doner kebab van when she got hungry, and by the time she could see her desk again she could see about getting her furnace tank refilled. The cat wouldn't even notice her absence.
A cough made her jump. Audrey swiveled around and saw a red-haired man, bundled up in a fine cloak and an amazingly ugly scarf, standing in the doorway. Oh, no. Not just any red-haired man, but Mr. Weasley, her boss.
"Miss Noble, what are you still doing here?"
His voice was unexpectedly kind, which unsettled her even more. "Ah - I - er - you see-" she stammered. A quill she'd stuck in her hair and forgot suddenly fell in her lap, making her jump. "Working?" Her voice cracked on the second syllable. She wondered how quickly she could cast a Disillusionment Spell and hide under her desk until he went away.
"On Christmas Eve? Don't you have family waiting for you at home?"
She shook her head. "The war, you know."
"I see." He gave a small nod. "I'm sorry, I hadn't realized."
She shrugged. "It's not something I go around telling everyone about. Everyone's got their own stories, mine's not exactly unique."
They stared at each other. Audrey wondered why he didn't just go, so she could get back to work. Much to her surprise, however, he then asked, "Would you like to spend Christmas with me?"
Her mouth dropped open. "With - with you? Sir?"
"Well, er-" He reached up to rub a spot between his eyebrows, just above his nose. "Not only me, my family, actually." Because he was looking down at his feet, Audrey was able to see the beginnings of a bald spot on his head. "I've got five brothers and a sister, see, and everyone 'cept me and my brother Charlie is bringing a guest, and Charlie's spending Christmas in Romania anyway, so it would just be me there without - without someone, so I thought-" He took a deep breath and raised his head. "Oh, bother. Was it inappropriate of me to ask?"
"No!" Audrey blurted out with more vehemence than she'd meant to. Her chest felt warm and tight. "No, it's not inappropriate at all. Just... unexpected."
He grinned, shyly. "Does that mean you'll come? I promise not to make you stay any longer than you feel comfortable. My family can be a little overwhelming at times."
She'd spent the past three Christmases with no family at all. Overwhelming sounded like the most wonderful thing in the world. "I don't have anything to bring."
The grin broadened. "That's okay. Between Mum and and my various sisters-in-law, there'll be plenty enough for everyone to have thirds, and then leftovers for later." He took a step towards her. "So you'll come spend Christmas with me then?"
She noticed he didn't add the reference to his family this time. He wasn't a bad-looking man, and though he could be priggish at times he was also incredibly dedicated to his work, a trait she tried to cultivate in herself. It couldn't hurt to get to know him in a more informal setting. Maybe it might lead to other... things. She'd been too busy learning the ropes at work to date. And besides, where else was she going to go for Christmas?
Audrey smiled at him and pushed away from her desk. "I'd like that very much, Mr. Weasley."
"Please," he said, coming forward and helping her on with her coat, "call me Percy."