Disclaimer: The characters & world are not mine. I make no profit from this use.
Author's Note: This was written for blue artemis as part of the Teacher's Lounge 2012 Christmas Exchange.
A Blue Christmas
Christmas Eve 2009
When Nymphadora (but no one ever called her that, or else) no-longer-Tonks heard a muffled pitter-patter in the hall, she knew exactly what it was. She exchanged a resigned look with her husband.
"Your turn," they said simultaneously.
"I got up for Sirius' nightmare last night," Tonks (for that was what nearly everyone still called her, despite the changed name) said.
"I read 'Babbitty Rabbitty' three times tonight," retorted Harry.
"I'm growing a person. Do you know how hard this is? I'm like God over here." She rested a hand on the slight bulge of her belly.
He tried to hide his smile, and she knew she had him. "You can't use that excuse every time you get pregnant."
"Want to bet on that?"
"No. Three children – I've learned by now." He set his magazine aside and slipped out of bed, holding out his hand. "Together?"
She accepted, and together they padded down the hall, the sound of giggling now clearly audible. They stood in the doorway of Sirius' room and watched their children playing on the bed for a solid minute before Harry cleared his throat. Both immediately froze, wide-eyed, and when her daughter put her hand over her mouth, Tonks forced herself not to laugh.
"Why aren't you in your bed?" Harry asked sternly.
"I'm in Sirius' bed," Athena said after a moment of contemplation. "It's a bed."
Again, Tonks tried not to laugh. At five, her daughter already showed signs of her smart mouth. "It's not your bed. You know you're to stay in your own bed."
"But I couldn't sleep!"
"Mummy, 'Thena says Santa Claus will be here soon!" Sirius piped up.
"Not if you don't go to sleep," their father warned.
Instantly both children lay flat, squeezing their eyes shut. This time Tonks couldn't help a tiny chortle. Biased or not, she thought her children the most adorable two people on the planet, both sporting brand-new sleepsuits (gifts from Grandma), with wildly tousled brown hair.
"We're asleep now!" Athena told them, her eyes still squeezed as tightly as she could manage.
"Then how are you talking?"
That proved to be a conundrum. She opened her eyes, furrowing her brow. "But I can't sleep, Daddy. Can I go to your bed?"
"No," he began, but Tonks cut him off.
"Why don't we let them, just this once?" she said in a low voice. "They're all worked up, and they'll never get to sleep on their own, especially Athena."
"But we said –"
"I know, but once won't hurt. Besides, it's Christmas Eve. We'll put them in their own beds once they fall asleep."
"You're going to regret this tomorrow night," he warned even as he scooped Sirius in his arms.
Athena led them down the hall, cheering, and once the two were settled in between their parents, she turned to her father. "Tell me a story, Daddy."
"Athena, I am not reading 'Babbitty Rabbitty' again."
The little girl was not to be deterred. "Tell me … the story of me!" she concluded with triumph.
"And me," Sirius' little voice piped up, already thick with sleep. He snuggled against Tonks, placing his thumb in his mouth, and she pulled it away gently.
Harry raised his eyebrows at Tonks, clearly at a loss, and she smiled in return, shrugging. "Well … Mummy and I love each other so much that one day we made you, and then Sirius," he tried gamely. Tonks made a face at him.
"Nuh-uh!" Athena protested. "That's not how it went."
"It's not? How did it go?"
"Uncle Charlie said if it wasn't for him, me and Sirius wouldn't be here."
"He said that?" Tonks asked, amused.
Her daughter nodded, brown curls bouncing. "Yes, and he said he's the reason you married Daddy."
Tonks stifled a laugh. "No, darling, Uncle Charlie is most definitely not the reason Daddy and I are married. In fact …"
Hermione gazed around the room, wistful and happy at the same time. Harry had bought this house soon after the war, simply explaining the Burrow and Grimmauld Place held too many memories. He was more than happy to host any gatherings for the growing clan (as long as someone else did the planning), and by now the Christmas party was considered traditional. Everyone she loved was here.
Still ... everyone she loved was here with someone else, or nearly everyone. That didn't bother her, of course. Hermione didn't need a boyfriend to make her happy, and she'd had enough fizzled relationships to know that. Her friends, her family, and her work were more than enough. No, the problem was that no one else seemed to believe her. Whether it was her mother pushing her toward yet another client ("Jimmy Wilkes is much more handsome without his braces") or Molly attempting to set her up with every single one of her children, including Harry ("Yes, dear, I know it didn't work out with Ron last time, but you two are just perfect for each other"), Hermione was Sick. And. Tired. of being the recipient a.k.a. victim of matchmaking, no matter how good the intentions were.
Charlie Weasley approached, handing her another butterbeer, and she returned his smile. "Fine, thanks. Having a good time?"
"Oh, just splendid. I just spent the last half hour listening to my mother explain all the reasons I should date Tonks."
"What's wrong with Tonks?"
He chuckled. "In our last year at Hogwarts we hooked up at a party. After that we figured we'd give it a shot, but it took one terrible date to Hogsmeade for us to realize we weren't made for anything more than friends. Course, I can't tell Mum that."
"I suppose she still thinks ickle Charlie is her innocent little boy," Hermione teased.
He rolled his eyes. "I doubt it. But there are some things mothers simply don't need to know. Anyway, Tonks told her she was already dating someone, and that snagged enough of Mum's attention for me to slip away. Noticed you were drinkless and looking rather blue, so here I am."
"I'm not blue," she protested automatically.
"Okay," he agreed, taking a swig of his butterbeer.
"I'm not. I'm having a perfectly good time."
"I'm sure you are."
"You know, if you just came over here to mock me –"
"Hermione." He held up his hands. "I was merely making an observation. Sorry if I was wrong. Truly, that's all."
She blushed, hiding her face behind her bottle. Although he'd moved back to England after Fred died, she still didn't know quite how to take Charlie Weasley. He seemed to be a mixture of all his siblings, a little of Bill's confidence, the twins' wit, and Ginny's temper. She cast about for something to say. "So, Tonks is dating someone? I didn't know that."
He shrugged. "If I had to guess, I don't think she is. I reckon she said that just to get Mum off her back."
"Wish I'd thought of that," muttered Hermione before she could think better of it. She colored again, and Charlie raised his eyebrows, quirking a smile.
"Oh-ho, so there is something bothering the normally imperturbable Miss Granger?"
"No, it's just … why does everyone feel there is something wrong with a woman who prefers to concentrate on her career than her love life?" Hermione demanded, regretting every single word as it came out of her mouth. Why in the world was she talking about this with Charlie?
"Join the club, Hermione. Ever since Victoire was born, Mum's made it her mission to get grandchildren out of the rest of us within the year. And don't think you're exempt from that."
"Oh, I know. Believe me, I know." She lifted her butterbeer to her lips, surveying the room once more. "I think we're the only ones without a date. Luna and Neville, Ginny and Oliver …"
"I think you're right," Charlie agreed. "George and Verity, Ron and his woman du jour – besides the two of us, the only one I can see without a date is Harry." He sniggered. "And he's not being too subtle about who he'd like to fill that spot, either."
Hermione followed his eyes. Harry hovered next to the table of desserts, absently eating a treacle tart. His gaze, longing and unwavering, rested squarely on the resident Metamorphmagus, across the room laughing between Bill and Hestia.
"Hermione, he's about five seconds from spoiling his dessert with drool."
She smiled, half amused, half with pity. "Perhaps. Poor Harry. Don't you think she's a bit old for him?"
"She's what – seven years older? Do you think seven years is too much of a gap?"
Hermione fought the strange urge to flush, again, under his gaze. All she could think of were the seven years between the two of them, not Tonks and Harry. "Well, I suppose not."
Charlie snapped his fingers. "Let's get them together."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I'm Tonks' friend, you're Harry's – let's get them together."
She stared. "What are you talking about?"
"Aren't you supposed to be bright? You and I will find a way for Harry and Tonks to begin dating, say, by next Christmas."
"You want to play matchmaker? Merlin, you are your mother's child."
"Oi!" Charlie protested indignantly. "Take that back."
"Are you listening to yourself? This is the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard, and I spent seven years in the company of Harry and Ron. It's like something out of a romantic comedy."
"A what?" he asked blankly.
"A film, you know – never mind." Hermione shook her head. For having a Muggle-obsessed father, the Weasley children were remarkably ignorant about that world. "It's a terrible idea."
"It's a brilliant idea."
"They're going to hate us."
"They're going to thank us."
"You are incorrigible."
"You are defeatist."
"And what good did that ever do for anyone?" Charlie winked and continued before she could retort. "Besides, think of it this way: if we're busy with those two, perhaps our mothers will stop attempting to set us up with every semi-eligible person that strolls down the lane."
"So to prevent people from setting us up, you want to do the same for someone else?" she said skeptically.
"Exactly!" he proclaimed with a triumphant grin.
"This is a terrible idea," she repeated.
Hermione barreled through the kitchen of her flat, hopping from one foot to another as she slipped on her pumps. She was going to be late, so very late, and she only had about ten billion things to do today. A piece of toast popped out of the toaster and she held it in her mouth, trying to twist her hair into a bun and grab her briefcase at the same time. She had one arm in her coat when someone knocked on the door.
She cursed, though mentally since her mouth was full. She was even more annoyed when she swung it open to reveal a cheerfully grinning Charlie Weasley.
He took one look at her and burst out laughing. "Bad time?" he managed between chortles.
"Mm-hmm," she grumbled around the toast.
"I won't keep you long." He walked inside without an invitation, deftly relieving her of her briefcase and sliding her coat onto her arms. "Friday night. You, me, Harry, and Tonks. Dinner. Sound good? Excellent. I'll pick you up at seven, then?"
She forced herself to swallow the dry toast. "Excuse me?" she sputtered.
"Operation Auror Attraction, phase one. The group date that isn't a date."
"Operation Auror Attraction?"
He grinned again, clearly pleased. "You like?"
"I … I … I didn't agree to this, Charlie."
"Yes, but you didn't say no, either, not outright. Come on, Hermione, it's Valentine's Day. You don't have plans, do you?"
No, she didn't, but that was beside the point. "I have to get to work."
In a few quick strides he stood in front of her fireplace, arms crossed over his chest. Hermione couldn't help noticing the way his muscles bulged against his shirt. "Just say yes, Hermione. Only an evening out with friends, that's it, which you probably haven't had in weeks. You don't have to do a thing except look nice, and I expect that's not hard for you."
It must have been the compliment, for Hermione found herself agreeing without thinking about it.
"Brilliant!" he exclaimed, tossing some Floo powder into the fireplace for her. "I won't keep you longer. See you Friday, Hermione."
As she stepped into the green flames, already five minutes late according to her wristwatch, she thought she saw him wink.
"So then Harry jumps on its back, of all things, and his wand goes up its nose!"
Charlie and Tonks burst out laughing, while Harry shook his head. "Covered in troll bogies. It was disgusting."
"I hope your takedown techniques have improved with time, Potter," Tonks remarked, twirling her drink with her straw and giving Harry an arch look that lent new meaning to her comment.
Charlie and Hermione exchanged a look of their own. She was having more fun than she expected. Charlie had shown up with flowers ("It's Valentine's Day, after all, even if it's not a date"), and that set the tone for a lovely evening.
"Hermione, let's dance," Charlie said all of a sudden, yanking her hand before she had a chance to respond.
They settled into a slow rhythm on the small dance floor at the front of the restaurant. Although it was awkward, Hermione was acutely aware of the warmth of his large, calloused hand around hers. She caught just a whiff of his cologne, something vaguely spicy.
"I wanted to give them a moment alone," he explained after few moments.
"Yes, that's a good idea," she agreed, then smiled. "You know, you aren't a bad dancer."
He smiled rather self-consciously, the first time she'd ever seen him anywhere close to embarrassment. "Can you keep a secret?"
She laughed. "Charlie, I promise."
He eyed her, a curious look on his face. "Yes, I bet you can. Well, years ago I was going to be in a friend's wedding back in Romania. The maid of honor was hot, I mean really –" He caught her eye and ducked his head, grinning. "You know what I mean. Anyway, I really wanted to impress her, so I took dancing lessons. Spent a month in the arms of a Gypsy grandmother."
Hermione laughed, quickly stifling it. "And did it work?"
"No," he admitted, shaking his head ruefully. "I've never seen a girl less interested in me, that is, until I met you."
"I'm not disinterested in you!" she protested automatically, then blushed. "Not to say that I'm interested in you, that is, it's just –"
"There aren't words to describe this ugly mug?"
"No! Not at all!"
"There are words?"
"No – yes – I don't think you're ugly!"
"Oh, then it's this ruggedly handsome face that has you all tongue-tied?"
"No!" she denied so loudly other patrons glanced over. "Charlie ..."
"Calm down, Hermione. I'm teasing you."
She glared at him. "You do that a lot."
"Sorry, but you're an easy target." He smiled, and she noticed that it was slightly crooked. His voice dropped. "You look nice tonight."
"Oh, why, thank you." She would never admit the time she'd taken to select the red dress. Not for the first time that night, Hermione wondered how in the world she had gotten here, dancing with her ex-boyfriend's second oldest brother and, she was forced to admit, enjoying it.
"Look," he said suddenly.
She glanced back at their table. Harry and Tonks were sitting close, heads bent intimately.
"There," Charlie said softly. "This hasn't been so bad, has it?"
She turned back. He was looking right at her with a slight smile, and for some reason she couldn't help but return the smile. "No. It hasn't been bad."
"Harry?" Hermione exclaimed in disbelief. "That can't be you."
Green eyes glared at her from behind wire-rimmed spectacles, the only indication that it was her friend. The scar was hidden behind a mop of blond hair, and he wore some sort of short khaki-colored robe over matching trousers, puttees, and boots. His wand hung in a holster around his waist.
"You are the last person I expected to wear a costume."
"Talked into it," Harry growled, clearly unhappy about it.
Hermione wanted to point out that if he hadn't dressed up, he would have stuck out more as the only person at the party who hadn't, but she thought better of it. "By whom?"
Harry sighed, crossing his arms and looking for all the world like a petulant child. "It's from Star Wars. You know, the films?"
She tried her hardest to hide her smile. "Yes, I've heard of them, but I haven't seen them. You didn't answer, Harry. Who talked you into it?" she asked, even though she was certain she knew the answer.
His scowl deepened. "Tonks," he mumbled. "Shesaysimjustlikelukeskywalk er."
"She says I'm just like Luke Skywalker." He shook his head. "Don't ask. I'm not."
"So if you didn't want to, why are you wearing it?"
He shrugged. "She showed me her costume."
He nodded over Hermione's shoulder, lifting a glass to his lips, and Hermione turned. Her jaw dropped. Though she wasn't immediately identifiable as herself, the woman who was clearly Tonks stood in the middle of a crowd of admirers, mostly male. She wore a gold bikini and nothing else, her brown hair hanging in a long braid over her shoulder.
"You tell me you could say no to that."
Hermione didn't respond. Her gaze drifted from the scantily-clad Auror to the redhead standing next to her. Charlie wore sandals that laced all the way up to his knees, some sort of skirt with leather flaps, and a red cape. One hand clutched a sword, and a gold helmet was tucked under his other arm. His chest was bare, so very bare and toned and …
She jumped when Harry waved a hand in front of her face. "What? Oh, I'm sorry, Harry."
"I said, do you want a drink or a snack or anything? I'm heading that way."
"No, I'm fine."
She gave him a smile as he walked away, then turned back to see that so very bare chest directly in front of her eyes. Hermione jumped again.
"Alright, Hermione?" Charlie asked, grinning.
"I – I'm fine," she stammered. "You just startled me is all."
"What do you think of the costume?"
"I, um – you're some kind of Greco-Roman?"
"I'm a Spartan warrior," he said, puffing out his chest, as if it wasn't close enough already. So close she could see the dragon tattoo that covered one pectoral up to his shoulder. "You like that?"
"What? No! I mean, I've never been fond of tattoos."
"Oh, but this tattoo is special." The dragon, covered in dark green scales, seemed to stare at Hermione from beady eyes underneath two shiny golden horns. "This is Greta, a Romanian Longhorn. She was the first dragon I ever bred and raised from an egg."
"Like Hagrid," she mumbled absently.
He chuckled. "Well, legally, in my case." He glanced down, studying the dragon, who was currently blowing idle smoke out of its nostrils. "I think she likes you."
"She's – it's a tattoo, Charlie. She – it can't have feelings."
"That's where you're wrong. Greta happens to be an excellent judge of character." He caught her eye. "As I said, she likes you."
It was most disconcerting that she chose this exact moment to notice how deeply blue his eyes were, the color of a most idyllic, calm sea. He held her gaze just past the point of lingering, and then he grinned again, flicking his eyes to one side. "Harry and Tonks came together."
"What?" How many times was she going to say that tonight? Too much candy earlier, she supposed, slowing her mind. "Yes, they did."
"I think we're making progress, Hermione. I can feel it."
She refrained from rolling her eyes. This party was merely the most recent in a months-long line of dates and outings, even spending a week at the coast over the summer. Hermione had to admit she'd had fun, even when (as if was nearly every time) Charlie found a reason to leave Harry and Tonks alone, thus leaving she and Charlie alone. And Hermione had to admit she didn't mind that, either. Charlie had become a good friend through their long conversations, and even his teasing didn't bother her as much as it used to.
But every single time Charlie swore Harry and Tonks were on the verge of finally becoming a couple, and every time it failed to happen. Hermione hadn't noticed their chemistry or obvious attraction, but she was getting tired of their will-they-or-won't-they dance.
"You say that all the time, Charlie," she pointed out. "And even if she did get him to wear a costume, which I would have sworn no one could do, it doesn't change anything."
"Then how do you explain that?"
He pointed. Tonks' group of admirers now consisted solely of Harry, who stood far closer than mere friends normally did. His hand even rested on the small of her back as they talked.
"See? See?" Charlie gloated. "It's going to happen tonight. I can feel it. Mind you, I don't reckon any bloke in his right mind could resist that costume. I knew Tonks was well fit, but … blimey." He whistled.
Hermione stiffened. Was that all it came down to, showing a bit of skin to get what one wanted? She didn't know who she was more disappointed in – Tonks, Harry, or Charlie himself. "I suppose if that's what you're looking for."
"What's wrong with that?" He snorted, eyeing her costume. "Not that you would know anything about that. Who are you supposed to be, anyway?"
"I'm Jane Eyre. She was actually a very – never mind, that's not important. At least I have the decency not to lower myself to get someone's attention."
"You have to be kidding me," Charlie scoffed. "It's a Halloween party. It's a costume. She's showing no more skin than either of you, I might point out, did at the beach. What are you on about?"
"Nothing!" she insisted. "I simply find it extremely distasteful to see men like Harry reduced to a pile of drool by some bare skin. Even you can barely tear your eyes away."
He stared at her. "Merlin's pants. Are you jealous?"
Now it was her turn to scoff. "Jealous? Don't be ridiculous, Charlie. Why would I be jealous if you ogle Tonks?"
He stared a moment longer before shaking his head. "Yeah. Why would you? You know what, Hermione? Maybe you're right. Maybe this mess with Harry and Tonks has run its course. Maybe we should just leave off."
"Yeah, maybe we should."
"Fine. I'll see you around, Hermione."
She watched him stalk away. She'd gotten what she wanted. So why did she feel so awful?
Hermione sighed, taking a sip of her butterbeer. Harry's house was full of people, from the kitchen to the living room and even outside, but she'd rarely felt so alone.
Everyone was moving on in their lives. Fleur had a baby, Ginny was engaged, Percy had been promoted, and even Neville had a girlfriend. As for Hermione? Another blue Christmas. Her latest bit of legislation for merpeople rights had died on the Wizengamot floor, her last date had been with the son of her mother's university roommate and ended with a slap across his face, and she hadn't had a night out even with friends in over a month.
And she hadn't spoken to Charlie since Halloween.
He was here, of course, teasing Tonks, holding Victoire gingerly, and laughing with George. Not so much as a glance in her direction. Not like they'd spent nearly every weekend together for almost a year. Not, she was finally letting herself realize, that he missed her nearly as much as she missed him.
Suddenly the room was far too small, and she needed air badly. Setting the empty bottle on a table, where Kreacher would pick it up in an instant and for once she didn't object, she grabbed her coat and stepped out the back door, where she was less likely to be disturbed.
"Hurry up, someone's sure to have missed us by now."
Hermione spun around at the words and gaped as two laughing people ran into view, hand in hand, straight from the direction of the shed that housed enough Firebolt Mark IIs for a Quidditch team. Tousled hair, rumpled clothing, flushed faces, and swollen lips – she knew a freshly shagged look when she saw one.
"Uh, what are you doing out here?"
She fixed her best friend with a smile. "Just getting some fresh air, Harry. And you?"
"Oh, I think it's pretty clear what they've been doing. Or, who, rather."
She spun around again. Charlie Weasley leaned against the wall of the house, smirking.
"Wotcher, Charlie," Tonks called, not at all nonplussed and still holding Harry's hand.
Hermione tore her gaze from Charlie and turned around once more. She was about to make herself dizzy. "What's going on here? Are you two together now?"
Harry sighed and caught Tonks' eye, holding it for a second before giving his attention to Hermione. "Yeah, about that … we've actually been together for a while."
"And how long is a while?"
"Er, a year and a bit."
"A year and a bit?" she repeated, her tone just this side of shrill. "And you didn't think to tell anyone?"
"Where's the fun in that?" Tonks asked airily, giving her a grin as she walked past. "And technically, sweetheart, you never asked." She winked at Charlie. "Look at that, mistletoe."
They glanced up at the sprig of green above their heads. When Hermione looked back to see Tonks and Harry disappear inside, she could have sworn she saw the Auror's hand slip inside her pocket.
"So …" Charlie said, drawing it out. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."
"Happy Christmas, Charlie," she said stiffly.
"Come now, Hermione, you can't still be angry at me?" He took a step closer. "Tell me you haven't thought of me every day like I've thought of you."
That wasn't at all what she expected him to say. "You – you have?"
Another step. "Merlin's beard, haven't I? Your eyes … your hair … your smile … your perfume … your voice."
He was far too close now. "Why would you do that?"
He reached out, twirling one lock around his finger. "The brightest witch of her age, and you haven't figured it out? I'm crazy about you, Hermione, have been forever. Why do you think I wanted to take you along on all those double dates?"
"I don't know what to say," she stammered, finally finding her voice again.
"Say you'll stop being so blue at Christmas. Tell me what you're thinking."
Amazingly, she began to smile without realizing she was doing so. All those months, all those dates. "I … I think you are incorrigible, Charlie Weasley."
"Aren't you glad?" he whispered, lowering his head to hers.
As their lips pressed together, Hermione wondered who exactly had been doing the matchmaking over the last year, and then she decided she didn't care one bit.
Christmas Eve 2009
Tonks snapped back to the present at her daughter's voice. "Yes, darling?"
Athena frowned. "I'm waiting for the story, Mummy."
"Um …" She exchanged a glance with Harry over the two small heads. That was certainly not a tale for her five-year-old, not just yet. "Why don't we read one of the books Aunt Petunia sent you?"
"Okay, but I choose."
"I wanna pick!" Sirius took his thumb out of his mouth long enough to protest.
"I'll decide," Tonks said over their squabbling voices. Pulling her wand, she levitated the top book from the stack that had arrived in the post yesterday to the bed.
"Lazy," Harry muttered, and she aimed a kick at him.
"Mummy!" Athena said in astonishment. "Did you just kick Daddy?"
"Of course not. We don't kick in this house. Now, settle down. Santa won't come if you're still awake, and we have the party tomorrow, too."
"Will Uncle Charlie be there?" Athena asked.
"And Aunt Her-my-oh-nee?" she enunciated carefully.
"And will they bring Nicholas and the baby?"
"Yes, Athena," Harry said with a trace of impatience. If they let her, the girl would run through the entire group.
"And Unca Ron?" Sirius asked.
"Yes, Sirius. Everyone is going to be there. Now hush so Mummy can start the story."
With one more affectionate gaze at the two small beings between them and running a hand over the one on its way, Tonks smiled at Harry before opening the book and clearing her throat.
"'Twas the night before Christmas …"