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Too Cold Outside (For Angels to Fly)

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[IMAGE: A plate of decorated gingerbread men biscuits.]

Harry sighed as he took in the disaster that was the Grimmauld Place kitchen. Every flat surface was covered with mixing bowls and measuring cups, the cupboards and counters dotted with splashes of batter and coated in a dusting of flour and icing sugar. Dean, Ginny, and Hermione were at the large kitchen table, which was laden with plates piled high with biscuits, while Neville and Ron stood arguing vociferously by the hob on whose family recipe for mince pies was superior. It was an argument they had every year, the two of them having agreed (by force) to alternate which of them got to make the pies each Christmas. This year was Neville's turn, a fact he took a little too much pleasure in while Ron sulkily made his mum's not-quite-as-famous-but-still-amazing family recipe for bourbon biscuits instead.

Every December, Luna threw a "cookie" exchange party where every guest would show up with a different batch of biscuits or sweets so that everybody could take a few of everything and go home with a delicious variety. Apparently she'd heard of the idea while travelling through America looking for the Great Jumping Jackalope or whatever it was she'd been searching for at the time, and had immediately decided to implement the custom upon returning to England. What it meant was that each year half the guests inevitably put off their baking until the day of the party, and since Harry's house had the biggest kitchen, they'd all show up bright and early the day-of with ingredients and wine, the lot of them getting sloshed while they argued over who got to make what. Inevitably, they all showed up to Luna's half-pissed and already full to the gills with all the biscuits they'd had to eat to make sure they got the recipe right.

Harry's simple shortbread stars were already out of the oven and arranged as artfully as he could manage on a large serving plate, so he joined the others at the table, gratefully taking the large glass of red wine Hermione passed him. Her cheeks were bright red, a sure sign she was well and truly sozzled. She was not a talented baker, a fact she refused to accept with any amount of grace, and every year she attempted a biscuit that was well beyond her meagre abilities. This year it was florentines, the lot of which sat on the plate in front of her in a lumpy, misshapen mess.

"How're you doing?" he asked her, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice.

"Fine," she answered glumly as she doggedly continued in her attempt to coat the bottom of her Florentines with the bowl of melted chocolate in front of her. The problem she was having was that it wasn't exactly clear which side was the bottom—Harry was pretty sure at least one side ought to be flat, but he certainly wasn't going to point that out to Hermione. "At least I'm not the only one this year having problems," she said.

She nodded across the table to where Dean was struggling with one of his gingerbread men. Dean, being their resident artist, always brought beautifully decorated gingerbread men to the party. He brought them in a box instead of on a plate, because he infused the icing with magic that animated the cookies, much like chocolate frogs. Usually he waited until after he'd finished decorating them to activate the spell, but apparently something had gone wrong with this batch because the second he'd begun icing the first biscuit, the little gingerbread man leapt up and began to sprint across the table.

Ginny was doubled-over in laughter, and Harry joined her as Dean tried to capture the wiley biscuit, which had leapt off the table and was leading Dean on a merry chase around the kitchen. Even Hermione couldn't help but crack a smile—at least her biscuits were stationary—as she cast a Stupefy at the gingerbread man, bringing him to a sudden stop.

"All right, mate?" Ron asked with a wide smile, clapping a hand on Dean's shoulder as Dean viciously bit the head off the gingerbread man with a little too much relish.

"Suppose I'm going to need to remake the icing, then," Dean said with a sigh between bites, Vanishing the brightly coloured icing from the collection of bowls on the table.

"There's more icing sugar in the bottom cupboard in the far corner," Harry told him. "Food colouring's in there, too."

"Cheers, mate," Dean said, before joining Neville in the kitchen to collect the necessary ingredients.

"Here's to making something dead-easy," Ginny said grandly, clinking her glass with Harry's. She'd made cornflake cakes as she did every year, which weren't particularly beautiful—nor technically biscuits—but they tasted amazing and required minimal effort to throw together. While neither she nor Harry were terrible in the kitchen, they didn't particularly enjoy baking, either, and they preferred to stick with the easy, tasty classics.

Ron settled in one of the empty chairs with his tray of dark brown shortbread and a bowl of chocolate buttercream and began to assemble his bourbon biscuits. Hermione glared at the perfect little rectangles—Ron was an excellent baker.

"So, Harry," she said, likely trying to distract herself from the mess of her own biscuits. "How was your first week with Malfoy?"

"Wait, what?" Ginny interrupted before Harry had a chance to speak. "You're working with Malfoy? As in, Draco Malfoy?"

"Do we know any others?" Harry sighed, wondering how many times he was going to have to suffer through a variation on the same conversation. Perhaps he should make a formal announcement at Luna's party tonight, just to get the awkwardness out of the way. "I started that pilot programme, the one pairing me with a Magical Being, and…"

"And Malfoy's a Veela." Her face screwed up in sympathy. "But he's not been in England for ages. I wonder why he decided to come back."

Harry couldn't blame Ginny for being curious about Malfoy's return—Harry had been wondering about that himself. He knew Lucius had died in Azkaban, and as far as Harry knew, most of the Slytherins Draco had associated with back at Hogwarts had left the country in the wake of the war. Narcissa Malfoy had been exiled, and Harry assumed Draco had left with his mother. There didn't seem to be anything left for Malfoy in Britain except for the long-empty Manor, and Harry wondered what had precipitated his sudden return.

"He came back just for me," Harry said with a dramatic flutter of his lashes, ignoring the sudden flip of his belly at the thought.

Ron snorted. "Lucky you."

"I heard you've been assigned a proper case," Hermione said, her voice tight with concern. "You were supposed to have all month to determine whether you could even work together!"

"Trust me, I know," Harry said. "It's not like we had much of a choice. We could hardly have said no to Robards and Julep when they said they wanted us to lead the investigation."

"I suppose not," Hermione said with a sigh. "But I don't like it."

"What's the case?" Ginny asked.

Harry shot her a look. She was fascinated by his work and was always trying to find out information about his cases, despite the fact that she was well aware she didn't have the clearance for it. She grinned at him, unrepentant.

"We're still trying to figure that out," Harry said. "We only just got it Thursday afternoon."

Ginny rolled her eyes at his obvious evasion, but thankfully Ron chimed in before she could push for more. "I know it's still new, but how has it been with Malfoy? Especially now that you're actually working together for real."

Harry hesitated, unsure how to put his feelings on their strange new partnership into words. The fact that Malfoy had already become Draco, the easy way they seemed to fall perfectly in sync while evaluating the crime scene and questioning potential witnesses, Harry's utter fascination with Veela abilities and culture, and the way Draco shared that information with him so willingly, all of it was a jumbled mess in his head; the person Harry was getting to know now was so different from the boy he remembered. True, Harry knew Draco wasn't sharing everything, that there were a few secrets he was holding back, but for some reason, Harry didn't immediately suspect the worst despite Draco's evasiveness. Even Draco Malfoy had a right to some measure of privacy. Harry wanted to know what he was keeping to himself, not because he didn't trust Draco, but because he wanted Draco to trust him. Although he'd certainly not forgotten the atrocities Draco had committed as a teenager, Harry was increasingly sure that Draco really had changed, that he'd grown into somebody Harry thought he might actually trust to have his back.

Harry knew it was too soon to trust somebody like Draco Malfoy, that he needed to be cautious. But Harry had long since learned to believe his gut, and his instincts were telling him that he could put his faith in Draco.

Sometimes, the world really was strange.

Harry shrugged. "Draco's been all right, actually. He's got loads of knowledge that I think is going to come in handy on this case, and so far our investigative styles seem to mesh well together. He seems…" Harry trailed off and took a gulp of wine. "Well, he seems different. Better. I think maybe this might actually work."

"Really?" Ron asked, clearly skeptical. His expression was so similar to Ginny's it almost made Harry laugh.

"Yeah, I know. Nobody's more surprised than me. And who knows, maybe it's all one terrific act, but…"

"You don't think it is," Hermione finished softly. She seemed thoughtful and pensive, though no less cautious.

Harry's cheeks warmed and he shook his head. "No, I don't. My gut is telling me I can trust him." Ginny opened her mouth, clearly keen to protest that, but Harry held up a hand. "I'm not saying I'm giving him the keys to my Gringotts vault, I'm not an idiot. But I'm going to give this an honest try."

"Mate…" Ron began, sounding reluctant but determined. "How do you know this isn't some kind of Veela Allure?" He flushed and cleared his throat, darting a glance at Hermione, who looked amused. "I mean, I was willing to do some pretty barmy things while I was under it, and trusting Malfoy does seem pretty mad."

"That's not how the Allure works," Harry said. He paused. "At least, I'm pretty sure it's not. I'm not like, offering to buy him a boat and prostrating myself at his feet or anything." Though he had been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about how handsome Malfoy was. Harry didn't think that was the Allure, though—he was pretty sure it was just Malfoy, bloody stupidly handsome wanker that he was.

"I think Harry's right," Hermioned said almost reluctantly, as if she'd have preferred to blame Harry's sudden willingness to trust Malfoy on magic. She brightened. "I'll do some research."

"And I'll ask Fleur," Ron added.

Harry rolled his eyes but didn't bother protesting. He knew they just wanted to make sure he was safe, and if Draco was somehow controlling him with Allure, he wanted to know. Harry was fairly certain that wasn't the case, but he'd be stupid not to check.

"Did you call him Draco?" Ginny asked, her eyes narrowed at Harry as she swirled the last of her wine around her glass.

Harry hoped his cheeks weren't as red as they felt. "We are working together. It seemed silly to keep calling him Malfoy if I'm trying to build a partnership with him."

Ginny looked like she had opinions on this—she had opinions on most everything—but luckily Harry was saved by Dean calling for her from the kitchen.

"Ginny, my love! Light of my life! My flame-haired goddess of—"

"Oh, what have you done?" Ginny called back, fondness overwhelming the exasperation in her voice as she got up to find out what Dean needed from her.

Harry watched as Dean pulled her in for a hug, pressing a loud kiss to her cheek as she laughed. Harry turned away, his chest aching. It wasn't that he was in love with Ginny anymore, not for a long, long time, but he couldn't pretend he didn't want what she had with Dean, the trust and love and intimacy. Harry and Ginny had had it for a short while, but they'd quickly realised they weren't meant to be together, not like that. It had been over eight years since they'd gone their separate ways, and Harry hadn't had a single meaningful relationship since. He'd tried, but none of the women—or men, for that matter—had lasted very long, despite Harry's best efforts.

Next to him, Ron and Hermione had managed to slip into their own little world, their concerns about Draco momentarily forgotten as Ron gallantly tried to make Hermione feel better about her abysmal biscuits. Everywhere he looked, he was surrounded by happy couples, and he knew Luna's party that night wouldn't be much better. Of their friends, the only other single people were Seamus (who'd made it clear he was thrilled to be playing the field and that monogamy and long-term relationships weren't for him) and Lavender (who'd happily stopped chasing after men when she'd realised there was nothing wrong with not being interested in sex at all).

For Harry it was different, because he did feel sexual attraction and he did want a serious, monogamous relationship. He wanted somebody to come home to at night and share stories of their day. He wanted somebody who'd laugh and shriek when he pressed his eternally cold feet against their shins in bed. He wanted somebody to have ill-advised shower sex with—the kind where reality fell short of fantasy but you didn't even mind the Bludger-sized bruise you got on your forehead from banging into the porcelain tiles, because you were too busy giggling and groping and rubbing off together on the floor, wrapped in a shower curtain.

Harry maybe had some very specific fantasies, but that was besides the point.

Harry wanted it so badly it was a constant ache right below his sternum. He wondered if he'd ever find someone, or if he'd died and saved the world only to spend the rest of his life alone. Even with all the friends in his life and the fullness they gave his existence, sometimes Harry couldn't help but feel the absence of a partner.

He was lonely.

Unbidden, an image of Draco standing on a snowy street corner in Hogsmeade flashed through his mind, Draco wrapped in his maroon Auror robes as his sharp eyes scanned their surroundings, the delicate snowflakes catching in his fine blond hair as the wind ruffled it around his face. Harry wondered what Draco was doing now, if he had any plans for the weekend; Harry hadn't thought to ask. Was Draco lonely, too? Harry didn't see how he couldn't be, being back in England without any friends or family. Didn't Draco say Veela were social creatures? Harry certainly remembered Draco loving the attention back at Hogwarts, always surrounded by people, be they friends or underlings—Harry wasn't entirely sure which term was more accurate. Still, he wondered how Draco was faring now that he'd returned, if he was doing all right, if he was getting what he needed.

Harry shivered in the toasty warm kitchen and firmly did his best to put all thoughts of Draco from his mind. It wasn't any of his business. Just because they were working together, and Harry thought Draco might not be a cowardly, intolerant terror anymore, it didn't mean they were friends. It certainly didn't mean Harry had any kind of responsibility for Draco's well-being.

Harry ignored the teensy, tiny little seed that was beginning to sprout in the back of his mind. The one that said that while Harry didn't currently have any reason to care about Draco's happiness, he might like to change that.