After spending Christmas morning with his godson and his grandmother, Harry spent the remainder of the afternoon at the home of his favorite family of redheads. It was near five o'clock when Harry finally managed to extract himself from the Weasley's. Like every year, he had immensely enjoyed spending time with his adopted family, but the increasing amount of small children that were beginning to pop up every year made things interesting to say the least. Not that it wasn't fun, but any semblance of peacefulness was long gone with little hope of returning. The Weasleys had been thrilled with his gift and most of the equipment had been broken in by the time that he left. It was always hard to leave the festivities, but Bill and Fleur's daughter, Victoire, had provided the perfect excuse by accidentally tipping a bowl of mashed potatoes onto her Uncle Harry's lap, prompting the need for him to clean up.
He took another shower as soon as he arrived back at his house and changed into a clean pair of tan trousers and grey sweater, knowing that walking around for the rest of the night, reeking of cooked potatoes would not be comfortable at the Grangers and more importantly, would not be very appealing to Katie. His ability to appeal to Ms. Bell had certainly been something that was on his mind ever since his discussion with Hermione. After the turbulent nature of his dating experiences since the end of his relationship with Ginny, having something that was more fulfilling and longer lasting was what Harry knew he needed. There were so many other unknowns in his life at the moment, including the future of his young quidditch career, that he wanted some constant in his life, someone he knew was there for him both physically and emotionally. It wasn't easy finding a woman more attracted to him than his professional occupation. Yet Katie offered that. She played the game herself in Hogwarts and understood the pressure and popularity that accompanied it.
Even with the sudden realization that he was undoubtedly attracted to Katie and how well they got on, Harry's Gryffindor courage had betrayed him when it actually came to asking her to come with him to the Granger's. Instead of acting like a man and going to speak to her in person, Harry had sent Skippy out with his rambling, written invitation. He was pleasantly surprised when she wrote back accepting his offer, but now the problem was he had no idea what she was expecting or how she viewed the whole situation. Did she think that he was just being friendly, and just reciprocating her own invitation to the New Year's party? Or did she see it as Harry wanting to be something more, going out of his way to see her on Christmas? He wasn't someone who was comfortable dealing with these situations. His dating experiences over the past four years had consisted of meeting a girl with generous assets in tight-fitting clothing after a match, going home with them, and then saying good-bye while he got dressed the next morning. It sounded pathetic even to him.
Harry finished getting ready by slipping on a pair of brown dress shoes and then a dark leather jacket. The temperature had dropped drastically in the past two days and the newsman said to expect snow at some point. He walked into the kitchen to check on Skippy who was sleeping soundly, without a care in the world. Harry took out a small bowl and poured a generous handful of owl treats for him in case he woke before he returned. With that finished, Harry concentrated on the sidewalk in front of Katie's house and apparated out of his kitchen.
The street was mostly deserted, as the people seemed to be enjoying the Christmas evening in their homes, not bustling about. The light of the day was slowly dimming and giving way to dark. Just as the news had predicted, a slight scattering of flurries of all different shapes and sizes were starting to make their presence known. Harry immediately regretted not bringing a hat or jacket with a hood, as the small frozen flakes were already beginning to accumulate in his hair. Not wanting to dally about outside any longer than necessary, Harry quickly made his way to Katie's front door. He could see that the kitchen light was on and that someone was moving around inside. It gave him a small thrill to believe that Katie maybe eagerly waiting for him to arrive. There was no surprise that as soon as he knocked, she immediately skipped to the door and pulled it open. To say Harry was pleased with her appearance would be the understatement of the century. He had told her to wear something casual, but apparently the females' version of casual and his were on two different hemispheres of thought. She had on a form-fitting dress, cut down to just above her knees, with a cloth belt that tied around the back. It was also cut tastefully in the front, not low enough to be inappropriate, but enough that it would keep Harry's attention for the rest of the night. If he had to describe the color, he would have said it was something between a deep red and maroon, but not quite traditional Gryffindor maroon. Her hair was down and she had added a few curls to give it a different look, one that Harry thought suited her really well.
"Happy Christmas, Harry, you're right on schedule," Katie greeted as she held open the door for him.
Harry stopped admiring her long enough to respond. "To you as well. You look absolutely gorgeous. Now I feel completely underdressed."
She smiled brightly, her cheeks coloring slightly. "Thank you. You look great. No need to worry. Why don't you come in before you're completely covered in snow?" Harry passed by her as he stepped into the kitchen. He noticed as he walked into the pleasantly warm room that her kitchen table was covered in various bags and packages. "Sorry about the mess. My family came over this morning and we exchanged gifts. I was just organizing my things while I waited for you."
Harry chuckled, brushing any excess snow from his hair, "Don't even think on it. I'm not one to criticize someone else's organization. You should see my house at the end of the quidditch season." Harry glanced down at his watch. "Not to rush you, but are you ready to go? I told Hermione we would be there at six, so we've got about five minutes. I'd hate to give 'Ms. always prompt and punctual' a reason to comment on my timing."
"Does Hermione know that you call her that when she's not around?"
"Trust me Katie," Harry started, holding his hands up in a placating manner, "I know for a fact that Hermione uses words that I can't repeat in the presence of a classy young woman such as you to describe me sometimes—and she's not above doing it right to my face."
"I thought you two were the best of friends," Katie exclaimed, slightly perplexed.
"Oh we are," Harry corrected vehemently. "It's just that's how we express our affection for each other. When you've been best friends with someone for over a decade, the banter back and forth is just amusing after a while. There isn't any venom."
"Well that's good to hear, you've been close for so long." Katie walked over to one of the chairs around her table and pulled off what Harry though was a long jacket. "Do you think I'll need this, or are we apparating right into the Granger's house?"
"Better put it on because we'll be outside. Mr. Granger is a little jumpy. Doesn't much like wizards and witches popping in and out unannounced. There is a story that goes along with that which would highly embarrass Hermione, but I can't tell it at the moment. I'm saving it for the appropriate time for use as blackmail if I ever need her to do something that she is not so inclined to do."
Katie batted her eyelashes at him and put on her best adorable pout. "Aw Harry, you can't allude to something tantalizing like that and not follow through. Are you sure you can't tell me?" She then proceeded to give the most attractive sigh he had ever heard. "Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"
Ignoring those inevitable inappropriate ideas that immediately jumped to the forefront of his dirty, masculine mind, Harry shook his head trying to clear it from the haze of her borderline illegal use of cuteness. Even though the battle was a furious one, he was able to hold strong against her onslaught. "Sorry, but your womanly wiles won't be enough to change my mind at the moment."
Harry was concerned when she smiled evilly. "You say that now, but no one can withstand it forever. I'll just have to try harder when you aren't expecting it."
Realizing that they were spending too much time in her kitchen flirting, Harry redirected their attention to what it was supposed to be on. "Here, let me help you with your jacket." Harry reached his hand out and Katie obliged by handing it to him. He unfolded it and held it open so that she could slip into it easily. "Alright, grab onto my arm an hold on, I've never been the smoothest apparator. Magical transportation and I are lifelong enemies."
"Except for broomsticks," Katie corrected.
"Except for broomsticks. Although they have indirectly almost killed me once or twice." Harry held his right arm out and Katie wrapped her left around it. Concentrating on their next destination, they disappeared from the kitchen with a barely audible pop.
They appeared in what Harry could only describe as a beautiful and wealthy neighborhood. All of the homes were large, and several had extremely expensive vehicles sitting in front of them. Harry led Katie, with arms still entwined, out of the small copse of trees that provided cover to him whenever he apparated into the muggle occupied street that the Granger's lived on. He led them to a house that had a neat brick exterior and two-car garage, which was lit up with holiday lights. After walking up the path that led to the front porch, Harry pulled open the screen door and rapped his knuckles against the main one to alert someone's attention to their presence. In less than ten seconds, the door was flung open and a cheerful Hermione greeted them.
"Happy Christmas you two! I'm so glad that you both could make it." Hermione forced Harry to disentangle his arm from Katie's as she wrapped her arms around him to give him a tight hug. Harry bent his head slightly and gave her kiss on her cheek. After hugging him, she pulled back to do the same to Katie. "I can't tell you how happy I am to see Harry in such excellent company for once. He spends too much time around those brutes he calls teammates and the floozies they associate with."
"Hermione!" Harry replied indignant at what she told his date. She had been so keen on them getting together, but he didn't think her putting him in such a distasteful light was going to be helpful. He was pleased though, when he saw Katie bring up a hand to cover her laughter, instead of looking at him with distaste.
"Oh, hush Harry. I'm simply noting your improving sensibility. Now come in, come in, Mum is just finishing dinner. Katie, I'll take your jacket while I let Dad know you're both here. I'll take your jacket as well Harry." Hermione took Katie's their jackets as they both stepped into the main hallway that welcomed visitors inside. "I'll be right back. Harry, you know your way around."
Harry gently placed his hand on Katie's lower back and led them forward into the interior of the Granger's home. Looking straight forward, the main hallway led into the large dining room, while on either side of the hallway there were openings that led to other parts of the home. To the left was the main sitting room, where there was a comfortable couch, recliner and several other single chairs. There were family pictures and pieces of artwork that adorned the walls, while a moderately larger television resided across from the couch. On the right side of the hallway the opening led to a narrower room that contained a small coat closet the wooden staircase that led to the second floor, where Hermione had ascended in ahead of them to fetch her father. Harry led them straight ahead so that they could see Mrs. Granger in the Kitchen, which was situated directly opposite of the dining room. Mrs. Granger was just putting the finishing touches on a salad when she noticed their entrance. She immediately wiped her hands on a dishcloth and made her way over to them.
"Harry dear, it's so nice to see you. You don't stop by nearly often enough." Mrs. Granger was just slightly taller than her daughter, with the same hair color, although hers was much straighter. She had on an apron over her pants and sweater, which she took off before embracing him. Stepping back she greeted his companion. "And you must be Katie?"
"Yes, Mrs. Granger. It's a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for inviting me tonight," said Katie.
Mrs. Granger smiled, "Oh, it's no trouble at all. Any friend of Hermione's and Harry's is always welcome in our home."
"Can we help you with anything Mrs. Granger?" Harry inquired, wanting to be helpful to his host.
She waved him off towards the dining room. "Oh, no need Harry. Everything is finished. Why don't you two have a seat at the table? There's a bottle a wine on the table if you want to help yourselves to it." She then turned back into the kitchen and began organizing plates.
Harry and Katie stepped back into the dining room, where they located the wine bottle they had been directed to. The cork was only sitting halfway inside as it had already been opened, so Harry was able to pull it out without the assistance of magic or corkscrew. He guessed that Hermione had already indulged herself as there was a half-full glass sitting on the edge of the table closest to the front door. Katie picked up two empty glasses from the table and held them while Harry poured each of them a somewhat generous amount.
"Mrs. Granger seems really lovely," Katie commented, before sampling from her glass.
"She really is," Harry said with genuine affection. "Her and Mr. Granger have always been extremely welcoming to me. That really means a lot to me and says a lot about them considering the danger that I've put Hermione in throughout the years."
Katie reached up and playfully patted his cheek, "I think it must be all of that natural charm you have. It's completely irresistible."
Harry's eyebrows raised at her comment, ignoring for the moment the pleasant contact from her hand. "I hope that isn't an undercurrent of sarcasm I detect." Harry reached with his free hand and held Katie's. "I'll have you know that I can be incredibly charming." He brought her hand up to his lips and ever so slightly placed a kiss on her knuckles, and then another feather-light kiss on the back of her hand. He was incredibly proud of himself as he watched her face flush, and definitely not from the wine she had consumed. His momentary pleasure came to a screeching halt as he heard someone clearing their throat as well as someone chuckling directly behind him. Lowering her hand, but not releasing it, he turned his head around and saw the chuckling form of Mr. Granger clutching a beer in his hand, while Hermione was staring at them with unrestrained glee. Harry couldn't tell if Hermione or the lit Christmas tree in the corner of the dining room was shining more brightly.
"Hello Harry, hope we weren't intruding on anything," Mr. Granger exclaimed, enjoying the uncomfortable situation his daughter's friend seemed to be in. Mr. Granger was at least a head taller than Hermione, and was slim, but not skinny. He was much more the academic than athlete, which was unsurprising to Harry knowing Hermione as well as he did. His hair was darker brown than both his wife and daughter, but was slightly thinning at the top. Mr. Granger's face was also very defined, and his glasses that he wore occasionally were in the pocket of his brown dinner jacket.
"Yes, Harry, I hope we weren't intruding," Hermione added smirking.
Harry smiled thinly at her. "No, not at all." He then turned back to her father. "It's nice to see you again Mr. Granger. This lovely young lady next to me is Katie Bell. She was a classmate in the same house as Hermione and I."
Mr. Granger walked over and held his hand out to Katie, which she shook. "Pleasure to meet you Katie. I think Hermione has mentioned your name once or twice in reference to Harry's quidditch shenanigans while he was at school."
"It was probably something about his reckless flying and me helping him get to the hospital wing," Katie laughed, bumping her shoulder Harry's as he grumbled at her description of his flying.
"Yes, I'm sure it was something to that effect. God knows, half the letters Hermione wrote home she wrote from Harry's bedside," Mr. Granger quipped. "Speaking of Mr. Potter," he continued looking back at Harry, making him cringe slightly at the use of his last name. "Hermione told us about how you're helping her start up her law practice. As much as we want to tell you it's too much money, we know how hard headed you are and that you won't change your mind, so all we can really say is thank you. We want the best for our daughter and her career means so much to her, we really are in your debt."
"You're not in my debt, Mr. Granger, Hermione either. If anything I'm in her debt for everything she's done for me over the years. Knowing Hermione is happy is worth considerably more than the money, no matter what the bank note says," Harry finished.
Mr. Granger was silent for a moment, looking a little choked up at Harry's words. Not able to think of anything he turned to Katie. "Katie, if I were you, I wouldn't let this boy get away. He's one of a kind."
If Harry was surprised, but extremely pleased by Mr. Granger's statement, he was even more so when Katie grabbed his hand, looked him in the eyes, and said, "I think you're right sir. I don't think I'm going to let him go anywhere." In Harry's opinion, this was working out to be an excellent Christmas evening—and they hadn't even had dinner yet.