It was snowing in Diagon Alley. A gentle, steady fall that had already coated the cobbled street with an inch-thick layer of crisp, white snow, which reflected the cheery yellow light cast by the shop windows bedecked with Christmas decorations.
The air was redolent with the smell of roasting chestnuts, and the pavements were thronged with last minute Christmas shoppers: happy faces alight with enjoyment of the festive season. Half way down the street, a barrel organ was playing.
To the casual observer, Harry Potter also appeared to be simply enjoying the holiday atmosphere whilst he shopped for gifts for his nearest and dearest. A more careful scrutiny, however, would reveal that Harry looked on edge. His body appeared tense, and his eyes darted hither and thither, obviously searching for something...or someone.
Harry was looking for someone, with a determination that this year he was going to catch his quarry.
If Harry’s sources had come through with correct information, then sometime today Lucius Malfoy was going to be on these streets, and Harry was determined to find out exactly what the man was up to.
Harry had walked up and down Diagon Alley three times, before a sudden glimpse of white-blond hair caused his heart to jump and his breath to catch. He pressed himself back against a nearby wall, trying desperately to blend in with the brick work, and wishing that he had brought his invisibility cloak with him.
His eyes keenly sought out that tell-tale hair, and the man to whom it belonged...who was sauntering along Diagon Alley as if he hadn’t a care in the world, pausing every now and then to gaze into shop windows. Lucius spent so long looking at the display in Jems and Carbuncles Jewellers, that Harry began to edge along the wall to a point where he could cross the road and get closer, just to see what it was that had taken the elder Malfoy’s eye. But then Lucius suddenly turned and, with a quick look around that had Harry shrinking down behind a rather plump wizard, began to walk rapidly down Diagon Alley towards Nocturn Alley.
Harry grinned. This year, this year, he was going to catch Lucius. He was going to catch the man in the very act. He scuttled along the street, keeping Lucius in his sights, but keeping far enough back that he would have a chance of concealment if Lucius should chance to look around.
Lucius slowed again, and Harry ducked into a convenient shop doorway, much to the disgruntlement of an elderly witch who was struggling out of the shop with an armful of gifts.
“Do get out of the way,” she scolded, loudly and clearly. Several passersby looked around, and Harry, his face crimson, slunk back out of the doorway. By the time the witch had shouldered her way past him, tutting loudly about the “youth of today”, and Harry had turned his attention back to his quarry, Lucius had disappeared.
Harry cursed fluidly – earning him scandalised and disapproving looks from several people in his vicinity. Harry ignored them. His mission was too important to worry about whether he had offended anyone. He heaved a sigh, and cast an unhopeful eye up and down the street, sure that his prey would have made his escape by now...and was staggered to see Lucius not ten yards away, gazing into the window of Ink and Quills Stationery shop.
Harry froze, hardly daring to breathe, and amazed at his luck at finding Lucius before the man had had a chance to slip off and do anything out of sight of Harry’s scrutiny.
An hour later, and Harry’s enthusiasm was starting to wane. He had trailed Lucius at a discrete distance as the man wandered, seemingly aimlessly, along Diagon Alley, first in one direction, and then the other. Pausing to minutely examine numerous window displays, including those of A Stitch in Time Sewing shop (which had Harry bemused, and wondering if the shop was a front for something else), Artique Art Gallery, Humbugs Sweet Emporium, Madam Malkin’s, the new broomstick shop “Whizzzz” (at which point Harry was so close to Lucius he could almost have touched him, and, it has to be said, where Harry was so engrossed in the display himself, that he only just noticed when Lucius moved off), but every time, to Harry’s chagrin, Lucius had passed on, never entering any of the shops to further his interest.
And then, just as Harry had decided that someone must have tipped Lucius off that he was being followed, the older wizard set off at a purposeful rate towards Nocturn Alley, Harry an eager shadow.
But it was not a shop that Lucius finally entered, it was a hostelry, going by the somewhat dubious name of The Lamb and Slaughter. Harry had heard various tales of the insalubrious goings on at The Lamb, but there had never been anything concrete that the Auror department could pin on the landlord, Ronaldo Biggs.
He dithered for a few moments, undecided about entering the dark doorway that led into the pub, and then the thought that Lucius might be transacting some sort of business in there, prompted Harry to cross the gloomy lane, and edge himself around the door into the pub, every sense on high alert.
The pub was more pleasant that Harry had expected. It was a tad gloomy, with blackened oak beams crossing the low ceiling, but a fire glowed warmly in a big inglenook fireplace, and there were cosy seating alcoves around the edge of the room, adding to the various small tables which were set about the centre of the floor. The place was decorated with the full Christmas trimmings of tinsel, fairy lights, baubles, holly...and the obligatory bunch of mistletoe (hopefully free of nargles) by the bar.
The next thing Harry noticed was Draco Malfoy, perched on a bar stool with a firewhiskey in his hand. He turned to Harry without a flicker of surprise, and smirked.
“Father said you would fall for it,” he said smugly
Harry frowned. “Fall for what?” he demanded. “And where is your father?”
Draco raised his eyebrows. “My father? Now, why would you think my father was here?”
“Because I just saw him come in,” Harry replied.
“Are you sure?” Draco said nonchalantly. At the same time he tapped a finger on the bar.
Harry’s eye was caught by the motion, and his gaze was drawn to a small phial on the bar. The label on it plainly read “Polyjuice”. The light slowly began to dawn.
“You!” he said in a scandalised tone.
Draco began to laugh. “Indeed. Come off it, Harry, did you honestly think you could outsmart a Malfoy?”
“You mean,” Harry spluttered, “That I’ve just spent all that time following you about, while...while you father...”
“Slipped off and bought your Christmas present,” Draco finished smugly.
“Really, Harry,” came a voice from the door of the pub, “You need to get up an awful lot earlier to get the better of me! I think you need to reconcile yourself to having a “surprise” for a Christmas present,” Lucius said, as he advanced into the pub.
Harry stuck out his bottom lip. “But I hate surprises!”
Lucius smiled the smile that turned Harry’s knees to water. “I don’t think you’ll hate this surprise,” he said in a seductive voice, before pulling Harry under the bunch of mistletoe, and bending to kiss him.
Draco made gagging noises. “Get a room!”
“What an excellent suggestion,” Lucius agreed, catching Harry to him and apparating.
Draco smiled to himself. It had been eight years now that his father and Harry had been together, and every Christmas Harry had tried to find out what his gift from Lucius would be...and every year the Malfoys had thwarted him. Draco picked up the little bottle that had contained the polyjuice potion, so carefully brewed by Severus Snape. The stuff had been vile, but it had been worth it to see the look on Harry’s face when it dawned on him that yet again he would have to wait until Christmas Day to find out what his gift from Lucius would be.
Draco raised the glass of whiskey to himself, and grinned.