The Ministry of Magic was in full Christmas mode. The atrium was full of falling (but not settling!) snow, as Harry stepped out of the floo. There were also enough tinsel, baubles, floating candles, streamers and tinkley Christmas music to make even the most ardent lover of the festive season wonder if perhaps the Ministry elves had gone a little too far this year.
Harry joined the queue for the lift, noticing Ron and Hermione ahead of him. There was a “ting” as the lift arrived, and those waiting surged in. Just as the doors were closing, Hermione noticed Harry, and indicated by some urgent hand-waving and mouthing that she wanted to talk to him. With a few “excuse me’s” and some rather intimate bodily contact, Harry managed to push through the people in the lift until he was stood next to Ron.
“’Lo, Harry, did you see the match la...?” Ron began.
“Great news, Harry!” Hermione said, cutting Ron off. “We’re going to have Secret Santa again this year!”
This news was obviously fresh out of Hermione’s HR department, because several of the other occupants of the lift turned to her and began to ask questions, giving Harry a chance to speak in an urgent undertone to Ron. “No! Really? Secret Santa? After what happened last year?” he asked, an aghast expression on his face.
Ron rolled his eyes. “I know,” he hissed back. “I don’t think Madame Merryweather will ever be the same again.
It had, of course, been understandable that someone could have made the mistake of confusing Madame Melinda Merryweather, an aged and dignified witch of ninety-eight, with Belinda Merryweather, a sprightly, rather lovely witch of twenty-four who was currently beguiling all the wizards in the accounts department, but what was not excusable was that someone could have thought that anyone would want a set of spelled lace underwear which would leap to one side of the wearer when the words “frogs and newts” were uttered. No one wanted to think about why Madame Merryweather had actually worn the underwear (although perhaps it had been out of a sense of obligation that went with receiving the gift in the first place), but the fact that Madame Merryweather had worn them, and had been standing in line in the Ministry cafeteria when someone had remarked that the tapioca pudding looked like frogs' and newts' eggs...
Someone in the lift let out a muffled guffaw. Hermione, obviously divining the reason, turned and glared in the general direction of the fool who had laughed, before announcing haughtily, “This year it will be interdepartmental only. It was thought that last year’s event became an excuse for too much absenteeism from desks due to “fact finding missions.”
This announcement precipitated more discussion amongst the occupants of the lift, just as a “ting” rang out heralding the arrival of Ron’s floor. He grinned at Harry and said, “Cor, Harry, hope you don’t get your boss! What do you get for the man who has everything?!”
It was lucky Ron had then begun to shoulder his way out of the lift, as Harry had turned a bright red colour, and Ron would have been bound to ask why.
By the time the lift reached the DDADA floor, there was only one other occupant in the lift. As Harry made to depart, the woman turned to him and asked, without much hope, “don’t suppose there are any jobs going are there?”
Harry shook his head. “Sorry. We’re fully staffed at the moment. If anything comes up, it’ll be in the Ministry Herald.”
The woman looked glum. “And by then half the Ministry will have applied!”
Harry shrugged, and sent the woman a rueful grin as the door to the lift closed, then he turned and made his way to the door of his department.
There was an air of quiet professionalism about the DDADA, which went well with the somewhat more opulent surroundings than could be found just about anywhere else in the Ministry. Deep-pile carpets muffled footsteps, the lighting was soft and ambient, and fine art hung on the walls.
There was also, Harry noticed as he closed the department door behind him, a very faint aroma of cigar smoke - which meant his boss was already in residence.
It seemed that Lucius had decreed that Christmas had now formally begun, for only two weeks after the rest of the Ministry has bedecked every possible surface with Christmas fal-de-lals, the Department for Defence Against the Dark Arts was now tastefully decorated with obviously expensive decorations, and softly glowing fairy lights were strung along the length of the corridor which led to a large area the staff of the DDADA affectionately referred to as The Hub. Leather sofas and easy chairs were carefully positioned, forming small enclaves where the staff could come together for their coffee breaks, lunch and afternoonses. This was actively encouraged by their boss, who regarded the socialisation which went on at such times as important for his staff’s well-being...it also has to be noted that several of the departments more serious cases has been resolved by barnstorming sessions in The Hub, where all the staff had come together, in the manner of a muggle police incident room.
There was only person in The Hub when Harry got there: Aniriel Redwood, Lucius’ personal assistant.
“Harry! News!” she began.
“Old news,” Harry said, guessing what she was about to say.
“What? But how can you know...you came up in the lift with Hermione, didn’t you?” Aniriel accused.
“Guilty as charged,” Harry said with grin. “But, honestly, Aniriel, after last year? Really?”
“Mr Malfoy thinks it’s a good idea,” Aniriel said, her eyes fixed with a twinkle on Harry.
Harry fought to keep the blush off his face. “Does he?” he managed, nonchalantly, “he must be the only one, then.”
“Oh come on, Harry,” Aniriel’s tone had turned wheedling. “You know you’ll enjoy it really. Here,” Aniriel held out the cloth bag Harry now noticed she was holding. “I’ll even let you have first pick!”
With deep suspicion, Harry eyed the bag which he guessed contained all the names of the members of the DDADA staff, before it occurred to him that if he got first pick, the chances of him picking Lucius were much slimmer than if he took his pick later. He let out a resigned sigh. “Okay, go on then.”
Aniriel shook the bag, and Harry stuck his hand in, rustled around the bits of paper he could feel in there, and then sized one and pulled it out.
“Don’t tell me who it is,” Aniriel squeaked as Harry began to unfold the paper. “Right,” she added, “I’m off to do the lap.” She tripped off in the direction of the offices which led off The Hub like spokes off a wheel, leaving Harry to stare in disbelief at the scrap of paper in his hand:
What were the odds? He couldn’t believe it. Of all the twenty-three staff he could have picked, he had to pick the one he’d had a crush on for the last year, and the man who, as Ron had so accurately remarked, had everything.
Harry trailed disconsolately to his office, toying with the idea, and then discarding it, of asking Aniriel if he could have another pick – she was far too fair to countenance that sort of thing, and besides, Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Aniriel knew of Harry’s infatuation with their boss. No, there was nothing for it, he would just have to do his best to think of something (other than himself, naked, on a plate!) that he could gift to his boss, something Lucius might actually like, something he didn’t have....
It says a lot about Harry’s state of mind, that upon catching sight of a shock of white blond hair coming out of a nearby shop that he shouted out, “Draco!” Hey, Draco!”
Whilst Harry and Draco had not exactly been enemies at Hogwarts, there was so much rivalry between them on the Quidditch pitch, that their relationship could best be described as “armed neutrality”.
Draco swung about, and strolled over towards Harry. “Hello, Potter, and to what do I owe the honour of having you bellow my name down the length of Diagon Alley?” he enquired with a tight smile.
“I need your help,” Harry blurted, having decided the best way to approach the subject of asking Draco what he thought his father might like for Christmas, was head on.
Draco quirked an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yes,” Harry hurried on, before his nerve failed him. “We’re doing Secret Santa at the Ministry, and I’ve picked your Dad, and I’ve no idea what to get him...I thought you might have some ideas?”
Draco stared at Harry, and then let out a disbelieving laugh. “Honestly, Potter, do you think I’d be trailing round the shops and fighting my way through this lot if I wasn’t still hunting for a present? For my father!” he added. “Honestly,” he went on, “I have the same bloody problem every year! Every year I ask him what he’d like for Christmas, and every year he says, ‘oh, nothing’. One year I actually didn’t get him anything, and the look on his face would have been hilarious, if I hadn’t been on the receiving end of it!”
Harry managed a grin, but he was so dispirited by the thought that if even Draco couldn’t think of anything to give his father, there was slim to no chance of him thinking of anything.
Draco noticed Harry’s despondency, and must have been feeling particularly benevolent, because he said, “why not just get him a bag of Squirrel’s Extra Nutty Nut Bits – he likes those?”
Harry looked doubtful. “A bag of sweets?”
“They’re expensive sweets, if that helps,” Draco said. “Look, I wish I could help, but I’ve got to get to the International Floo by five, or I’m going to miss my connection in Bucharest – I’m spending Christmas with mother and her new husband,” he went on. “Perhaps I can pick up something for dad there?” he added, more to himself than to Harry. “See you, Potter. Good luck, and merry Christmas.” Draco slapped Harry on the back and then sauntered off down the street.
Harry looked down the length of Diagon Alley, then sighed and turned towards the Leaky Cauldron and his way back into Muggle London.
Harry walked out on the London streets; the crowds of shoppers were just as thick here, and Harry was buffeted and jostled as he made his way through the throng. After a particularly hard shove, he turned off the main street on the first side street he found in an effort to get away. It was quieter here, there were far less shoppers, and although the shops were decorated, it was in an understated manner. Harry strolled along, gazing into shop windows, until all of a sudden he came to a halt, staring fixedly through a higgledy-piggledy mullioned window at an item which sat, by itself, on a dusty velvet cushion in the centre of the shop’s display. Harry opened the door and went inside. He found himself in a little cave of a shop, filled with all manner of very dusty second hand bric-a-brac. But there was only one thing Harry had on his mind. He rang the bell on the counter, and an old man appeared from behind a threadbare curtain at the back of the shop.
“Hello, young sir, and how may I help you?”
“Good evening,” Harry said politely. “That glass...ornament, in the window...may I see it please?”
The old man’s eyes twinkled. “Of course, young sir, one moment.” The shopkeeper made his way to the window, and reached in to retrieve the object which had caught Harry’s attention. He brought it back to the counter and placed it on a cloth. “There, and very lovely it is too. Quite different, rare even.”
Harry had to agree. He reached out and picked up the orb of glass, staring into the depths of it, where colours seems to swirl and roll like oil in water. He had never seen anything like it, and he thought it was simply lovely...and just the sort of thing Lucius might like as a paperweight on his desk. “How much?” he asked.
The old man put on a considering expression. “It’s a special thing to be sure. But I’m guessing you have someone special in mind to give it to?”
Harry nodded, still turning the orb this way and that to watch the play of colours within.
The shopkeeper scratched his nose consideringly. “Well, now, let’s see. I like the look of you, so let’s say twenty-five pounds, shall we?”
Harry would have snatched the man’s hand off at one hundred pounds, but he made an effort to look slightly hesitant. “Well, I’m not sure...but why not? The person I have in mind is very special, and worth it!”
The old man grinned and held out his hand across the counter. Harry shook it, and then reached for his wallet, hoping that he actually had twenty-five pounds in Muggle money. He was relieved to see he had, and as he got it out, the old man carefully wrapped up the glass orb.
Harry stowed the glass ornament carefully in his pocket, then turned to the old man. “Thank you so much,” he said. “I’ve been really struggling to find a gift for this person, but this is great! I’m sure he’ll really like it.”
“Merry Christmas!” he added as he turned to go.
“And to you too, young sir,” the shopkeeper replied, a strange little smile on his face.
Harry was the last to leave the DDADA department on Christmas Eve, due to a late running appointment in Canterbury. By the time he returned to the department, everyone else was just leaving. They all wished Harry happy Christmas, but no one was inclined to dawdle, and so Harry found himself in the office on his own. He tidied his desk, then slung his bag on his shoulder and made his way to the big Christmas tree which had taken up residence in the Hub. For the last couple of days, Secret Santa presents had been appearing under it, and now Harry went to find one with his name on it. But when he got to the tree, there were no presents left beneath it. Harry stared at the empty space, a frown on his face. He was a popular member of the DDADA team, so he didn’t think someone had picked his name and then decided not to get him a gift. He could only assume someone had taken his Secret Santa gift in error. Harry was disappointed, but sure it was just some mistake which would no doubt be apologetically rectified after Christmas, so, shrugging, he shut off the lights, locked the department door, and went home.
Much to Ron’s disgust, Harry had volunteered to work on Christmas Day. As Harry had pointed out to his friend, most of the other members of staff had family, whereas he did not, and therefore he felt he should offer to work the skeleton shift over Christmas. Ron had said Harry was too bloody kind-hearted for his own good, had pointed out that Harry did have a family (even if they weren’t technically related!), and had declared that he didn’t see why anyone should have to work on Christmas Day anyway. Hermione had intervened at this point and begun to explain to Ron why it was necessary to have at least one member of staff in each department over Christmas, and Harry had left them arguing.
He didn’t mind working on Christmas Day. The DDADA department was comfortable and quiet, and Harry was intending to finish off some last odd bits of paperwork from his job in Canterbury, and then ensconce himself in his favourite chair in the Hub and read a book he had been saving for this very occasion. He had been enjoying Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, and the latest book had come out at the beginning of December; Harry had had to restrain himself from reading it the moment it landed on his door mat. He had also put together a hamper for one, which contained all sorts of little treats. He was quite looking forward to spending a day in peace and quiet.
The Ministry was unusually empty when Harry entered it on Christmas Day. One of the Ministry elves was desultorily sweeping the floor, which it did with a bit more alacrity when it caught sight of Harry, but there was no-one else in sight and no queue to the lift. Harry travelled up to the DDADA floor, relishing having the whole lift to himself, and without having to stop once on the way up. He knew that there were other people in the Ministry building, but guessed they were hunkered down in their departments, possibly with their own long-awaited book to read.
Harry had finished the last of the notes from the Canterbury case by half past ten. He tidied his desk and made his way to the Hub. He couldn’t stop himself from having one last search under the Christmas tree, just in case he had missed his present the last time he had looked. Then he searched between the branches, but all he found was a small bag of golden foil wrapped coins which had been missed when Aniriel handed out the chocolate tree decorations. Feeling that this did in some small part go towards the disappointment of no present, Harry settled himself in his favourite chair, opened up his hamper to chose which treat he was going to consume first, and then, with a sigh of pleasure, he opened up “The Lost Plot”.
Harry had just turned over the first page, when he heard the department door open and close. He let out a silent groan, hoping against hope it was just someone checking he was in residence, rather than some other sad Billy-no-mates who had decided they had had enough of being in their own department on their own, and had decided to sally forth to the DDADA department in search of companionship, comfy chairs and very excellent coffee!
It was Lucius.
Harry surged to his feet. “Hello, Lucius. It’s okay, I’m here,” he began.
Lucius smiled. “I had no doubt you would be,” he said. “And I wasn’t checking up on you...I actually came to bring you this,” he went on, sliding a small, slim, beautifully wrapped gift from inside his coat. “I’m awfully sorry, but I totally forgot to put it beneath the tree.” Lucius held out the gift to Harry. Then he added in a rush, “Actually, that’s a lie. I had no intention of putting it under the tree. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I wanted to give you your gift personally, and hopefully have the pleasure of watching you open it.”
Harry took the gift from Lucius’ hand, sure that a blush was staining his cheeks red. “Gosh! That’s really kind of you.” Harry dropped his book on the small coffee table, and then began to unwrap his present. Inside was a black card folder heavily embossed with the crest of the Mayfair Marauders Quidditch team. Inside the folder were two of the most sought after tickets in the wizarding world: tickets to the cup final between the Marauders and the Salisbury Saints. Tickets to the VIP box, no less. Harry gasped. “Oh, wow, this...this is amazing,” then his expression sobered. “But I can’t possibly accept these – these are really valuable.” He gave Lucius a despairing look. “It’s not that I’m not grateful, but...”
Lucius interrupted. “I’m sorry, I should have explained, there is a small caveat which comes with your gift.” He smiled. “You have to take me as your guest!”
Now Harry knew his face was burning. “Oh, of course, oh, wow! I don’t know what to say...thank you! I should love to go to the cup final with you. But are you sure? Surely...I don’t know, Draco?, would like to go with you?”
Lucius stepped closer to Harry, and the look on his face was intense. “I’m sure he would...but I am also sure that I would far rather go with you as my companion...I hope that is all right? I hope I haven’t got this wrong,” Lucius continued, a note of concern entering his voice, “But when I got the lover’s ball from you for Christmas...”
Harry was confused. “Lover’s ball?” he asked. “You mean the glass globe? But how did you know it was from me?”
Lucius had a rather dismayed expression on his face now. “Oh, oh dear, I think I’ve made a rather awful mistake. I’m afraid I have to admit to fixing the Secret Santa so that I got you and you got me. You see, I thought you had feelings for me, and then when you gave me the lover’s ball...but you didn’t know what it was, did you?”
Harry shook his head. “No, I didn’t...I just knew it was the perfect thing for you as soon as I saw it. And I do have feelings for you, I just never thought, well, I didn’t think...”
He didn’t get any further. Lucius pulled Harry into his arms and kissed him soundly.
It was every bit as wonderful as Harry had imagined, on any number of occasions, that it would be. Being held against Lucius’ broad chest, one of Lucius’ arms around him, Lucius’ hand cupping the back of Harry’s neck as Lucius’ tongue duelled with Harry’s in a heated kiss which showed every sign of developing into something more...had the sound of the office door not reached their ears.
They were stood apart when Hermione and Ron burst into the Hub calling out “Merry Christmas!”
“We’ve brought Christmas to you, Harry, since you couldn’t come to us,” Ron said gleefully. “Oh, oh hello Mr Malfoy, are you checking up on Harry?”
Ron heaved an enormous hamper onto the table with a thud, right on top of Harry’s book.
Hermione gave Harry and Lucius a considering look, and a small smile played at the corner of her mouth. She winked at Harry, before turning to Lucius. “Will you join us Mr Malfoy? We’ve got absolutely masses.”
Lucius looked a little undecided, but Harry wasn’t about to let the man out of his sight. “Please do,” he said, “unless you have somewhere else to be?” he added, suddenly realising that Lucius probably had some swanky Christmas planned somewhere.
But Lucius smiled. “Thank you for your invitation, Hermione. If you are sure, then I would love to join you. But will you please call me Lucius? And also, will you please not mind if I kiss Harry again?”
He turned and pulled Harry back into his arms. “Merry Christmas, Harry” he whispered, before claiming Harry’s lips in a searing kiss.