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*~*~*~*~*~*
December 23rd - Late Evening
*~*~*~*~*~*
Harry knelt down beside the tall, pre-lit, artificial Christmas tree and plugged it in. Clear crystal, glass, and plastic snowflakes sparkled, lit by the glow of the hundreds of tiny white lights adorning the tree. He was pleased by the appearance of the stripped down decorations. Desiring simplicity in his surroundings, Harry chose that year to feature only his collection of snowflake ornaments.

He re-arranged the packages beneath the tree, double checking that none of them still bore the names of the family and friends they would be visiting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Spying a small box bearing Andromeda's name behind a larger package, he plucked it up and carried it over to a pile of other gifts waiting to be packed up into a box for transport.

Tucked into the corner of the room, the white Christmas tree lights reflected across many of the multiple panes of glass making up the six large arched floor-to-ceiling windows spaced evenly across the two outer walls of their downtown loft.

Harry checked his mobile phone and scowled. There were no missed messages or texts. Severus should have been home an hour ago and it wasn't like him not to let Harry know if he was delayed.

The coldness of the varnished oak floor permeated through Harry's thick woolen socks. Nine months of the year, he loved their refurbished warehouse loft, but the winter months reminded him of how impractical that vast open floor plan could be. As much as Harry enjoyed the views of the city those large windows provided, the glass was a poor insulator. Sometimes it seemed as if there was no barrier to the outdoors at all.

Clad in a thermal long-sleeved shirt and tartan flannel sleep pants, the slender young man gazed around the flat, filling out his mental to-do list. Laundry was folded and put away, the gifts had all been wrapped, and he had put petrol in the SUV. With the exception of packing his overnight bag, which he would do in the morning, everything seemed to be ready for their holiday trip.

Harry looked at the time and the silent mobile phone. Concerned and too stressed out to sleep, he filled the kettle with water and placed it on the burner. He selected an herbal blend of tea that advertised it would soothe the drinker and help him fall asleep.

While waiting for the water to boil, he settled into a black leather chair and turned on the television. Idly flipping through the channels, he stopped on a late night news program, just in time to see the weather forecast.

An overly cheerful man, dressed in the ugliest jumper Harry had ever seen, gleefully informed the viewing audience that they should expect a white Christmas. Apparently there was a rather strong front developing that promised measurable snow by Christmas morning.

"Marvelous," Harry thought.

It usually took about two hours to drive to Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire, but with snowy roads on top of the already heavy holiday traffic, he would be lucky to get there in four. And he didn't really even want to share his two-day holiday with the Malfoys to begin with, but he did want to share Christmas with his godson, Teddy. And since Teddy and his grandmother, Andromeda, would spend the holiday with her sister's family, Harry and Severus were spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the Malfoys. Simply marvelous.

Harry clicked off the television and went to take the whistling kettle off the heat.

*~*~*~*~*~*
In the loft, illuminated only by the light of the Christmas tree, Harry sipped the hot herbal tea. Looking through one of the large windows, he could see that the usually bright city lights were muted by a dense fog. Raining again, he thought, morosely. If the temperature dropped as predicted, icy streets would greet the morning.

From the hallway beyond their door, Harry heard the clatter of the old freight elevator used by the residents of the warehouse. He hoped that it was Severus finally arriving home, but it could just as easily be one of the other tenants. He gave a brief thought to opening the door to peer into the shared hallway, but forced himself to take another sip of the purportedly calming tea instead. He relaxed upon hearing the click of the key unlocking their door.

Severus stepped into the dimly lit loft and used his elbow to switch on an overhead light in the designated kitchen area. His hands full, he gently pushed against the door with his foot to close it. The lock clicked.

"Harry," Severus called out softly. "Are you asleep?"

"No. I was waiting up for you."

Severus walked toward the kitchen island. He had a large flat box beneath one arm, carried a heavy gift basket wrapped in green cellophane in one hand and several decorative gift bags in the other. Setting them on the countertop, he shed his slightly damp black trench coat.

"Kettle's still hot," Harry said as he joined the other man in the kitchen. He gave Severus a quick peck on the lips. "Want a cuppa?"

"No. Seems all I've done today is drink tea. If I drink any more, I'll never get to sleep."

"So, how was the Christmas concert?" Harry wrapped his arms around the taller man's waist. He smiled, impishly. "A musical masterpiece, as usual? And were you and everyone else filled to the brim with Christmas cheer?"

"'What else can I be,'" quoted Severus, "'when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon Merry Christmas! ... If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with "Merry Christmas" on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.'" (1)

"Bit of an overreaction there, Ebenezer."

"I have to share my days with all the little dunderheads, I should not be forced to spend my evenings with them as well." He sniffed. Severus taught Chemistry and Earth Sciences at a private day school. He had been volunteered, by the headmaster without previous consent, to be the stage manager for the children's annual holiday concert and school fundraiser.

"It's not the dunderheads, or the concert you mind, and we both know it. It's all their mummies and daddies..." Harry laughed. Severus hated social politics with a passion. Usually Harry attended these functions with Severus, acting as a buffer, but, due to the holidays, he had worked late and was unable to attend.

"You were later than you thought you'd be. Hope there wasn't a problem. I called you, but you didn't pick up."

"Oh, it was raining so hard, and we could only find one taxicab, so Filius and I decided to share it. Dropped him off first and doubled back. It's damn near gridlock out there tonight." Severus pulled his mobile phone from his suit coat pocket and pressed a few buttons. "Sorry if I worried you, love. I turned it off before the concert and forgot to turn it back on again."

"You got a bit of a holiday haul." Harry ran his hand over the cellophane encasing the gift basket, causing it to crinkle. The basket held an assortment of fruit, cheese, smoked sausage, crackers, and sweets. It was a joint thank you gift from both the School Board and the Parents' Association; the school staff members received one each Christmas. "Looks like we have clementines this year instead of oranges."

"Irma wants the basket back when we're done with it. She figures we can recycle them for next year instead of buying new."

"Makes sense. It's not exactly the kind of thing we have any use for around the flat." Harry pointed to the gift bags. Every year each staff member purchased three £5 gifts to exchange 'anonymously' during the staff holiday luncheon. "So what did you get in the exchange this year? Anything useful?"

Severus pulled out a gold, red and green tartan patterned tin of assorted mixed nuts, a glossy wall calendar with photographs of hedgehogs, and a pink flamingo ornament holding a gift card to a sandwich shop. All in all, not too bad a selection. The staff had decided years ago that, while a gift could be slightly silly, they would not waste money on daft and useless.

"This box is yours." Severus pushed the large flat box toward Harry. "You won one of the prizes in the Holiday Raffle."

"Which one did I win?" Harry asked as he felt the weight of the cardboard box. It made no noise when he shook it. Every year he purchased £30 in raffle tickets to benefit the school, and occasionally donated one of the prizes. He used it as a tax write-off for his business. "Please don't tell me I won one of those one-size-fits-no one school jerseys again."

"To be honest, I was backstage when Minerva drew the prize tickets, so I really have no idea. One of the soloists had a sudden case of performance anxiety and was vomiting. Since I was holding the bucket, I didn't hear much over Finch-Fletchley's retching. I was just grateful the smell of it didn't cause a domino effect."

"That could have been a disaster," Harry agreed. He pulled the kitchen shears from the knife block and snipped the heavy string tied around the mystery box. Lifting the lid, he looked down upon a riot of multi-colored fabric.

"Oh!" Harry exclaimed in delight. He pulled out an oversized quilted throw. It was an updated version of the traditional English paper-pieced hexagon quilts. Instead of the tiny coin-sized patches usually used, a single hexie in this quilt was nearly 10 centimeters (four inches) across. The enlarged hexagons were set in a diamond pattern, with a solid black path outlining them. The vibrant jewel-toned batik fabrics, some with metallic accents, sparkled against the stark black.

"This is even more outstanding close up than it was on the school website. I can't believe I won the top prize."

"Actually, the holiday in Spain was considered the top prize..."

Severus looked at the quilt, neutrally. While it was nice-looking, it wasn't the sort of thing he would have been excited to win, although it was more useful than one of the dreadful school jerseys. He removed his tie and headed toward the bedroom area to hang up his black suit and ready himself for bed.

"Not to me. The quilt will last for decades but the sunburn I would get in Spain would fade in a week."

"So, no threat to your masculinity?"

"No," Harry laughed as he set the folded quilt over the back of one of the black leather chairs. "With the black and all those saturated colors, it's not your Grandmum's hexie quilt. There's not a pastel patch in the lot."

"Come to bed, Harry. It's past late."

*~*~*~*~*~*
December 24th - Early Morning
*~*~*~*~*~*
The theme music to the BBC television program Sherlock trilled into the darkness, echoing slightly in the quiet loft. Harry's hand reached out to the charging station. Why the bloody hell was his business partner calling him at 1:43 in the morning?

"Mionie?" Harry's voice was thick with sleep. "It's nearly two..."

"I'm sorry to call you so late, Harry," a deep male voice unexpectedly answered. "It's Neville..."

"Nev?" Harry's mind blearily tried to focus. Something obviously wasn't right if Neville was calling from Hermione's mobile. "Where's Hermione? Can you put her on?"

"She's not available at the moment. She's still in x-ray."

"X-ray?" Harry sat up, jostling a grumbling, semi-conscious Severus. Climbing out of the bed, he winced when his bare feet hit the ice cold floor. Hurrying across the room to a carpeted area, he tried to focus on what Neville was saying.

"...slipped on the wet step. Her ankle is all black and swollen...Doctor doesn't know yet if it's broken or just a nasty sprain."

"Other than the ankle, she's okay?" Harry interjected when Neville paused to take a breath. He realized he was pacing.

"She's got a few minor scrapes and bruises...and she wasn't so keen on showing her knickers to everyone on the Underground platform." Neville made a sound that could have been a laugh. "Look, Harry...I wouldn't have normally called you in the middle of the night, because, honestly, it's not life threatening, but you know how hyper-focused she gets. To the point: broken or sprained, Hermione's not going to be able to get around very well for the next few days. She's upset she won't be able to come to the shop tomorrow...this morning...whatever...and she's angry at herself for leaving you in the lurch."

"Nev, give her a hug and a kiss from me when she gets back from x-ray and tell her to text me later today...after the sun rises."

"Look, I'm sorry about all of this..."

"Thanks for staying with her, mate. Tell her no worries about the shop. It's not as if we're Hamleys or Harrods with scores of crazed last minute holiday shoppers. Sev and I are heading to Wiltshire, so I'll only be open half a day anyway." Harry took a calming breath. "And before Mionie gets all wound up...tell her not to fret about Boxing Day either."

"Good luck with that."

"Sev's on holiday until after the New Year, so I can probably get him to pitch in."

"I'll let her know...and again, sorry for the late call."

"Happy Christmas, Neville."

Harry ended the call and climbed back into the warm bed. Severus grunted when Harry's ice cold feet brushed against his calf.

"Today was going to be hell," Harry thought as he fell back to sleep.

*~*~*~*~*~*
Broken.

Harry's head rested on his hands, staring down at the mobile phone that had delivered the less than welcome news.

" Shit. Piss. Fuck. Hell. Damn," he cursed, under his breath.

Even with a walking cast, Hermione's weeks of limited mobility would have a negative impact on their business, and they didn't have enough profit margin to hire temporary help. Their scheduled post holiday inventory would be migraine inducing enough with both of them climbing the stacks, but to attempt to do it alone...

"Shit. Piss. Fuck. Hell. Damn."

Severus set a bowl of oatmeal in front of his partner and sat down across the table from him. The older man picked up the teapot, dressed in the hand-knitted owl-shaped tea cozy he had received in a previous year's gift exchange, and poured two mugs of tea.

"Do you need me to cancel my appointments? I can probably reschedule them for next week."

"No." Harry looked up. "You've been trying to get your father's estate settled for months and I'd rather you get that dealt with."

"I can't imagine it should take more than a few hours with the solicitor. I can push the bank back until after Christmas."

Harry took a bite of his oatmeal and watched the heavy snow falling outside the windows.

"The way it's snowing out there, I may not have enough customers to have it matter. Why don't you just plan to call me when you're done with Mr. Davies and the bank." Harry idly toyed with a tasseled ear on the owl tea cozy. Thinking it both practical and ridiculous, Harry loved the silly little woolen bird.

"Driving to Wiltshire is going to be a nightmare. You know that, don't you?" Harry could feel pressure building in his skull. "'Christmas...Bah, humbug!'" (1)

*~*~*~*~*~*
Harry cleared the snow from the walkway in front of Once Upon a Crime, the small niche bookshop he co-owned with Hermione. In a time when even the large mainstream booksellers were closing due to competition from the Internet, Once Upon a Crime survived because it sold only new, used, out-of-print, and rare crime novels and mysteries. With their specialized offerings, Harry and Hermione were able to use the shop website to draw across local, national and international clientele.

Snow was already beginning to cover the walkway he had just cleared, and the heavy clouds above promised more of the same. Keeping the walkway clear could prove to be a losing proposition. Harry set the shovel behind the door for easy access and turned on the electric tea kettle to combat the bone-deep chill he'd acquired while shoveling.

Even though it was still fifteen minutes before his posted opening time, when Harry turned on the overhead lights and unlocked the front door, he noticed two women peering in the front windows. He flicked on the fairy lights outlining the window frames and around several display cases.

After greeting the two women and commiserating about the awful weather, he left them to wander through the stacks. He turned his attention toward the answering machine messages and the website requests.

As the morning progressed, his slow but steady trickle of customers began to diminish as the weather and street conditions continued to deteriorate. The majority of the customers were people who worked or lived within a few city blocks of the bookshop, but there were a few intrepid shoppers who had travelled via the Underground. As it neared noon, Harry began to notice an increased request for gift cards when last minute Christmas shoppers began to panic. As it was Christmas Eve Day, they feared not being able to continue shopping as the blizzard blanketed the area and shops were beginning to shutter their doors.

While this was good for business, Harry had little sympathy for those who waited until the very last minute to purchase their gifts.

Hermione called mid-morning, checking up on Harry and the bookstore. She was now safely in her parents' house in Crawley, Neville having braved the weather and rush hour to bring her and her cats there for convalescence.

Harry half-listened to the radio station playing continual holiday music. There had to be thousands of recorded Christmas-themed songs to chose from, but the same handful of tunes seemed to show up every hour or so.

"And this just in," the radio announcer broke in after the third rendition of "(I'm Dreaming of a) White Christmas" ended. "There are reports of a massive pile-up on the M4 between Newbury and Swindon. Listeners are urged to find an alternate route."

Harry exhaled sharply as the announcer blathered on about the Storm of the Century. Even though the M4 wasn't a route he would take, the news did not bode well. Andromeda and Teddy would need to travel that road, but hopefully, they had had an early start and avoided the mayhem.

Harry gift-wrapped several books as "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was crooned over the airways.

"That's an understatement," the woman commented as he handed over her credit card and receipt. She wrapped her scarf over her head and around her neck, preparing herself to battle the elements. Bitter cold air swept into the shop as the woman left.

Harry reached for his mobile and debated whether to call Andromeda or Narcissa. He finally decided it would be too dangerous to distract Andromeda if she were driving. He was scrolling through his contact list when Severus blew in through the door.

"Is it as bad as it looks out there?" Harry asked, brushing snow out of Severus' hair.

"It's possibly worse. Since the busses and taxicabs aren't able to make much headway, the Underground was packed. I missed one train because I couldn't reach the platform in time." Severus handed Harry his satchel as he unbuttoned his overcoat to reach a trilling mobile phone.

"It's Draco," Severus said as he placed it against his ear. "Draco, Harry's next to me. Let me put you on speaker."

"Uncle Sev, Harry...Are you on the road?"

"No. We haven't left yet. The bookshop is open until three."

"You might want to hold up on driving. They've closed down portions of A303 and there's reports of a multi-vehicle smash up on the M3. I'm glad I drove in last night. I just had to deal with rain and fog."

"Did Andromeda and Teddy make it in?" Harry asked.

"No, but they're safe at home." Draco paused, listening to someone on his end. "That ancient Volvo of Uncle Ted's died again. Aunt Andy never even made it out of her garage."

"I've never been so grateful to that pile of scrap as I am right now."

"Too right," Draco agreed. All of them had been trying to get the widow to replace the automobile, but she hadn't wanted to lose that final memory of Ted. "Father and I will go for them...if it ever stops snowing."

Severus continued to talk with Draco for a few minutes while Harry assisted a man looking for used hardback copies of the Steig Larsson trilogy. Scandinavian thrillers had been very popular with buyers that holiday season.

*~*~*~*~*~*
December 24th - Afternoon
*~*~*~*~*~*
It was a quarter to two when Harry switched off the fairy lights and flipped the sign on the door to CLOSED. He had not had a customer for the past forty-five minutes and, by joint agreement, the other shops on his block were closing as well. The snow had let up a little, but the wind had picked up, causing swirling white outs and wind tunnels along the city streets.

Harry emptied the till and accounted for the credit receipts. While he readied a bank deposit slip, Severus checked the corners of the bookshop to make sure there were no patrons tucked away in the stacks or the loo.

"The weather outside is frightful..." Harry switched off the radio, happy to finally be shut of the festive music. He set the afterhours message on the answering machine and unplugged the electric tea kettle. Into a large canvas tote bag, he placed a stack of mail, shop paperwork, and a few books and catalogues, as well as the zippered pouch containing the bank deposit.

"Oh, I forgot to ask, how did you make out with your father's estate?"

"Everything is pretty much settled, although I still need to make some decisions about Spinner's End. I'll need to go through the contents and get the row house ready for sale."

"Let me know when you want to do it. We can probably fit anything you want to keep in the shop's SUV. If you think you might be interested in furniture though, we'll need to rent a lorry."

"I'd imagine most of it can go right into a skip."

"I'm sure there's one or two things you might want to keep." Harry tucked the ends of his scarf into the collar of his overcoat. "Do you have any idea what the property is worth?"

"A few years ago, I would have said it was worth the price of the lot itself, but Davies has received inquiries from several estate agents. Apparently, Spinner's End is experiencing a resurgence, and is in the process of gentrification."

"That can't hurt the property value."

"The entire time I lived there, I always thought of it as a tip. I just can't get my head around the idea that someone would actually want to live there."

"Well, don't mention that to the estate agent." Harry pulled on a knitted hat. "I'd point out all the original wood work...or some such rot."

"I'm sure there is plenty of actual rot, too." Severus replied, dismissively. He had few fond memories of either his father or the row house.

"You're so incredibly positive, you know that, right?" Harry laughed as he set the security system and locked the door. Severus pulled the metal security gate closed and Harry locked it.

Well," Harry said slowly as he watched the vehicles spin their wheels and fishtail on the slick street. "We're obviously not driving to Wiltshire this evening...and possibly not tomorrow either."

"Let's head home, and we can send our regrets to Lucius and Narcissa...although I am certain it won't come as a surprise to them, if the conditions are poor enough that they are closing major thoroughfares." Severus pulled on his gloves. "While you make the deposit at the bank, I'll head to Chang's, if they are still open, and place an order for take away."

"Good idea. I want nothing better than to curl up with you and watch the telly. One of the channels must be playing some version of The Christmas Carol this evening."

*~*~*~*~*~*
December 24th - Evening
*~*~*~*~*~*
Steady snow continued to fall beyond the window panes as Christmas Eve drew to a close. Tucking the hexagon quilt around them, Severus and Harry settled in to watch a black and white 1950's version of The Christmas Carol. One of the other channels was playing a more recent, musical version of the classic, but Severus refused to even consider it. The older adaptation had been a favorite of his mother's, and he was feeling uncharacteristically nostalgic that evening. It certainly had something to do with his father's estate and Spinner's End bringing the ghosts of his past to the forefront, but, if asked, Severus would have blamed it on "a bit of underdone potato".(1)

Harry gathered up their empty wineglasses as the film credits rolled up the television screen. He carried the glasses and the empty wine bottle to the kitchen sink. Quickly rinsing out the wine bottle, he placed it in their recycling bin and turned his attention to the dirty dishes in the sink. Since Severus thought eating directly from take away containers to be uncouth, there were also a few plates, bowls and silverware from the earlier meal.

Harry began to hand wash a wineglass as Severus joined him at the sink. The older man wrapped his arms around Harry's torso and rested his chin on the shorter man's shoulder.

"We do own a dishwasher, you know."

"I know," Harry sighed. It was an old argument, because Harry rarely, if ever, used the dishwasher. He did not think it cleaned the dishes properly and had deemed it a useless extravagance years before. "There are only a few dishes, and by the time I properly rinse them, I may as well just wash them."

Not wanting to risk an argument over something so inconsequential, Severus remained silent and let Harry be Harry. His partner had many housekeeping quirks that drove Severus absolutely mad, and he blamed it all on Harry being raised by his obsessive-compulsive Aunt Petunia. You could, literally, eat off that woman's kitchen floor.

"It looks like the snow may be letting up," Severus commented as Harry rinsed soap bubbles from the sink. "I know how disappointed you are that didn't get to see Teddy tonight. If they get the roads cleared by morning..."

"It's not going to happen, Sev...And I've already spoken with Andromeda about rescheduling something for the New Year." Harry leaned back against his lover. "The SUV is garaged in the alley. It will take the snow plows at least a day or two to clear all the primary and secondary streets. The snow will most likely melt on its own before the crews eventually get around to clearing alleys."

"You are probably right. I am sorry that you won't get to spend Christmas with your little boy, though."

"True...but I won't have to spend it with Lucius either."

"Brat," Severus laughed. "Lucius is not that bad."

"Pompous."

"True."

"Arrogant."

"Also true."

"And condescending...don't forget condescending."

"You are never going to forgive him for referring to Once Upon A Crime as a quaint little hobby, are you?"

"Not bloody likely," Harry replied. "If I didn't like Narcissa and Draco so much, I'd never set foot in Malfoy Manor, Teddy or not. The man puts my teeth on edge."

"You do know how to hold onto a grudge, don't you?" Severus teased.

"Says the man who's been in open battle with my godfather for nearly thirty years," Harry shot back, the humor evident in his tone.

"I'll wave the white flag just as soon as Black does."

"Like that's happening anytime soon. At least my life has gotten quieter since he moved to Jamaica." Harry pulled Severus in for a kiss. He grasped Severus' hand and pulled him toward their bed. "Enough about our adversaries...It's time for you to make love to me."

*~*~*~*~*~*
Fresh from a quick, post sex shower, Harry pulled on his sleep pants and slipped into bed beside Severus, who was towel drying his hair. From a distance, they could hear church bells pealing out the midnight hour, welcoming in Christmas Day.

Harry shared a toothpaste-fresh kiss with Severus, before reaching over to turn off the bedside lamp. Soft ambient light bled in through the large arched windows, and he could see that the skies had finally cleared.

"Happy Christmas, Sev," Harry whispered to his sleepy companion.

"You as well, my love," Severus replied as he rolled onto his side and dropped off asleep.

"Perhaps," Harry thought, "today hadn't been hell after all."

*~*~*~*~*~*

 

(1) Slightly edited Ebenezer Scrooge quotes from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol