A/N Another fic written as a Christmas present, this time for Margaret 67. Thanks to Elsielann for the inital beta work.
Harry trudged along Oxford Street, his coat pulled tight against the wind, weaving his way through the hoards of shoppers. Christmas Eve was both the worst and the best time to be in the West End. It never ceased to amaze him why people left things to the last minute, but there was something in the challenge of trying to buy all your presents on the one day. Everyone who tried it had to be mad, but in the brightly illuminated evening Harry felt a kinship with the bustling crowds.
And up until three hours ago things were going well. In his coat pockets were the shrunken presents for Remus, Tonks, Hermione and all the Weasleys except for Percy who was still estranged from his family and more worryingly, Ginny. There had been other people on his Christmas list but he had been wise enough to take care of them back in October when he’d been in Diagon Alley.
He was starting to get worried about Ginny’s present. He was so determined that what he bought would be so perfect for her, that nothing had been good enough. When he started, he had been sure that buying a present for her would be the easiest thing in the world. She was the person he knew the most about and even if he didn’t, buying for girls was easy, wasn’t it? You just had to buy pretty things or things that smelled nice, or that looked good or sparkled or shone. But as he stared forlornly at the rows of perfumes on the counter he began to wonder why he’d ever thought it would be this easy.
“Can I help you, Sir?” asked a sing song voice belonging to a young woman with orange skin and too much makeup. Cheap as chips, thought Harry.
“Is this all you have?” asked Harry indicating the rows of bottles in front of him.
“I think Sir will find that our range of perfumes is the most comprehensive in London including several that are exclusive to this store.” He was tempted to say that that must be because no one else wanted them, but he knew that the remark would be lost on the best that Canvey Island could offer. As it was, the woman’s indignation at his suggestion that their display may be lacking in some way was obvious.
“What I mean,” replied Harry, trying his best not to take his frustration out on her, “is do you have anything that actually smells nice, you know natural, not like it’s artificial.”
“If Sir knew anything about parfum then he would know …”
Harry tuned her out knowing that she had nothing useful to say to him. Whatever natural beauty lurked under the fake tan, make up and painted nails had long been forgotten and in Harry’s eyes that disqualified her from being able to comment. Her idea of what was beautiful, what was alluring and what was sensual would be so far removed from his, that she might have been trying to sell shampoo and conditioner to Snape.
Ignoring the assistant’s glare for wasting her time he wandered out of the shop and a few doors further down the road he went into another. Looking around he was a bit more hopeful as the women inside looked like they knew that makeup was made to enhance rather than smother beauty, but even here he was disappointed. Give the girl her due; she tried hard but once again he left empty-handed and vowed to never test another perfume again.
He looked at his watch and was shocked to find that it was nearly a quarter to eight. That still gave him an hour or so of shopping if he still had the energy, but by now he’d given up. His feet were sore, he smelled like a tart’s boudoir and all he wanted to do was slump into a comfy chair and enjoy some peace and quiet. And if he was lucky, Ginny would only hex him into next week for his failure rather than next month.
Despite the lateness of the hour, the crowds of shoppers on Oxford Street showed no sign of abating. The pavements were just as packed as earlier and he was forced to concentrate as he headed towards Tottenham Court Road tube. He’d had a few collisions earlier, including one very poor attempt to steal his wallet, and he was anxious to avoid any more.
As he walked and weaved he wondered how he was going to explain the empty spot under the Christmas tree to Ginny; that he’d spent four hours looking for something and found nothing? She wouldn’t be interested in how he had looked forward to the thrill of the race against time and how he’d hoped to find the perfect present for her. No; all she’d want to know is why he left it all to the last minute. And his friends would be no help; he could imagine the lecture from Hermione as she told him how she’d done everything by September and Ron would shrug his shoulders and confess he’d done his at the same time. Anything for a quiet life, eh Ron?
He became so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the crowd and collided with a tall bespectacled young man. The man and his bags went flying and Harry immediately scrambled around trying to help the unlucky man retrieve his shopping. As he caught sight of the red hair, he froze.
“Percy?” He stared at the red head in amazement. What was Percy Weasley doing on Oxford Street?
“Ah… hello, Harry. Are you keeping well?”
Percy rose to his feet brushing the dirt and rubbish from his robes. Harry thought he took longer than was necessary but he realised that Percy was trying to work out what to say.
“Let me help you, Percy,” said Harry picking up some of shopping that had spilled out onto the pavement and putting it back into the carriers. A subtle summoning charm saved one piece from being kicked under a Routemaster and a wordless shield charm saved more than few items from being crushed underfoot.
“No, that’s quite alright; I can manage, thank you very much.”
Harry could sense that the former Head Boy was more than a little nervous but he soon recovered his composure. “And you shouldn’t do magic in front of Muggles,” he admonished, reminding Harry of the confident young man he had known patrolling the corridors at Hogwarts.
“It’s no trouble, Percy, honestly.“ He really did want to help, but Percy had other ideas.
“I said I am alright!”
Percy grabbed at one of the bags that Harry was holding but Harry wasn’t giving up.
“No really, Percy.”
“Will you leave my bags alone?“ the estranged Weasley shouted, causing those around them to stop and stare. Their altercation had attracted the attention of the local constabulary and soon a bored looking policeman joined in their discussion.
“Is this gentleman harassing you, Sir?” the Constable asked Percy.
Harry stared at the other wizard wondering what he was going to say. Whilst he hadn’t exactly been a Death Eater, Percy’s pro-Ministry stance in all matters had often helped rather than hindered the Order. Harry’s shopping trip was already a disaster without a night in the cells adding insult to injury.
After short pause, during which Harry contemplated stunning the Muggle and running, Percy spoke.
“It’s okay, Officer; my friend and I were having an argument. Just the stress of last minute Christmas shopping, that’s all. Nothing to worry about.”
The officer stared at Percy and gave his clothes the once over. Although London was home to many styles of dress, wizarding robes were just a bit too much for this footsore member of the Met. “I suppose it takes all sorts,” he muttered under his breath.
“If you and your, erm, friend want to take your argument home with you and leave the rest of us to continue our shopping in peace, then we’ll say no more about it.” He stared at the two wizards with a look of contempt that Harry hadn’t seen since he’d left Privet Drive.
“Everything ok?” asked his partner. Harry’s eyes shifted from the middle-aged man to the young Asian woman who had just arrived.
“No everything’s fine, Insi. Just a couple of shirt-lifters having an argument, nothing serious, just a bit of handbags.”
The WPC shook her head and rounded on her partner. “You really are a dinosaur, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean, dinosaur? Are you having a pop or something?”
Harry left the younger officer to remonstrate with her partner and walked down the busy street with Percy.
“So what brings you to shop amongst the Muggles, Percy?” Harry could guess. The world wasn’t the friendliest place for those who hadn’t been supporting the Order and the Ministry was in turmoil following the vote of ‘No Confidence’ in Rufus Scrimgeour.
“I’m actually Christmas shopping, Harry,” replied Percy, ignoring the implied question. “I know, you’re wondering who for?”
“Well, the thought did cross my mind.”
“If you must know, I’m shopping for everyone… I mean all the family.”
“And which family would that be?” Harry asked, knowing that Percy hadn’t spoken to his parents and siblings unless required to do so by work.
“My own. Mum, Dad, Bill, Charlie … you know that red-haired bunch you seem to have an affinity for.” There was an attempt at humour in the remark but the words were tinged with sadness.
“Are you planning to go there tomorrow?” Harry asked tentatively. “I didn’t know you’d been invited.”
“I haven’t,” replied Percy forlornly. “But it’s something I started to do last year. After Bill was attacked, I started to realise that someone in my family could die and I would have to stand at their graveside full of bitter regrets. I think my family have rather given up on me, but where there’s life there’s hope.”
He’d never known Percy to be very open about his feelings, but something about the way he spoke gave Harry the impression that he was pleased to have someone to confide in.
“I know your mum and dad miss you, and Ginny does too,” he said, trying to cheer him up.
“I’m surprised any of them miss me. Anyway,” Percy replied, suddenly all business-like again, “I can’t stand around chatting all day I have to get these home.”
“Actually, Percy,” he said placing his hand on his arm, “I need your help.”
“What is it, Harry?” came the surprisingly flippant reply, “Need lessons in how to annoy those closest to you?”
Harry chortled. Percy’s sense of humour may not be as obvious as the twins’, but underneath that officious exterior was a very dry sense of humour waiting to get out.
“Actually, no. I can’t find the present I want for Ginny. I’ve looked everywhere and I just can’t find it.”
“Well,” came the reply in familiar Head Boy tones, “Oxford Street isn’t exactly the place to find things for a witch, is it, Harry?” He put his arm around Harry’s shoulder in a brotherly gesture. “Come on, Potter, and I’ll show you where to go.”
Percy led Harry down one of the small side streets and after taking a quick look around, walked behind a load of rubbish skips. Two soft ‘pops’ later the pair had Apparated away to continue their shopping.
Christmas always started slowly at The Burrow. Despite the need to prepare a huge family meal for her family and friends, Molly Weasley always enjoyed her Christmas morning lie in. She could hear the clatter of pots and pans as Arthur prepared breakfast for the slowly emerging family and friends. No presents would be opened until everyone was there, and that included both Harry and Hermione. Hermione was expected with her parents at around ten. Harry had been expected on Christmas Eve, but he had not arrived and with Hedwig nowhere to be seen either, Molly wondered where he was.
Ginny had risen early that morning and, after grabbing a few quick slices of toast, had gone for a walk. Things would get very hectic, very quickly and she needed some time on her own to gather her thoughts.
With the defeat of Voldemort, Ginny had looked forward to being reunited with Harry. Her sixth year had been a struggle for her; word from Harry and the others had been scarce, and she had found herself alternatively worried for him and angry at the lack of contact.
Now they were back together, but the intensity that had marked their relationship before had gone. He told her that he loved her but sometimes she wondered. Perhaps he was just more relaxed without the prophecy hanging over his head. Or perhaps as he now knew that she would always wait for him, he was taking her for granted.
She had watched jealously as Ron and Hermione returned, brandishing an engagement ring and acting like they were joined at the hip. In contrast, Harry was almost apologetic about their relationship. Did he really love her? She was waiting to see what he had bought her for Christmas; whether he’d put a lot of effort into it or if he’d left it to the last minute.
She wandered back into the house and was immediately snared by her mum to help with the preparations for the meal. As the two of them worked around the kitchen sending charms to and fro, Ginny waited for the inevitable interrogation from her mother.
“Any news from Harry, dear?” asked her mother, trying but failing to sound casual as the chipolatas danced into a baking tray.
“No,” she snapped, sending a bowl of sprouts whizzing past a very startled Bill.
“Oh,” said her mother, caught unawares by the forcefulness of her reply. She was going to add ‘never mind’ but she knew that her daughter hated being patronised even at the best of times, and this was far from that.
As the morning progressed and more and more family members were dragged into the preparations, she had to fend off more and more questions from people wondering where Harry was. When Charlie learned that Ginny’s language could be as colourful and as forceful as anything he’d heard in the Dragon Reserve, the questions stopped. Ginny’s peace was short lived as she had to endure the sound of whispered conversations of which she was almost certainly the subject.
Damn you, Harry Potter. You’ve walked out of my life once before, do you have to do it again in so public a fashion?
Mid-day came and went and Harry still hadn’t appeared. Molly pushed on with the preparations keeping Ginny as involved as she could, anxious not to allow her time to dwell on Harry’s absence. However, the tasks she gave Ginny to do were routine and the spell work uncomplicated and so she had plenty of time to brood. By the time they began to send everything to the table she’d moved from anger to sorrow. If he arrives I’ll just be polite. I won’t hex him to death, not in front of everyone that is. But next year the tree may sport a set of flesh coloured baubles.
Everyone took their places at the table and tried to ignore the very obvious empty seat next to Ginny. Her mother had tried to manoeuvre each person so that someone was sitting next to Ginny, but even Hermione was too caught up fussing over Ron to catch on. Percy would have noticed, Molly thought, looking up at the clock. It had been a long time since she’d seen Percy's hand on the clock move. It had been stuck on lost ever since he’d sided with the Ministry against Harry, even after Dumbledore’s death.
She nudged Arthur to move next to their youngest, but Ginny stopped him.
“It’s okay, Dad, I can cope,” she said with a typical show of bravado. “Gives me a bit more elbow room and one less person to complain how unladylike I am when I eat.”
The people began to pass the food around and soon the table was alive with the buzz of conversation. Fred and George had supplied crackers and everybody laughed at the transformations that occurred as each one was pulled. Just as Bill turned a very deep shade of purple and began to spout random lines of love poetry, the hands on the Weasley clock began to move. Molly looked up and to her amazement the hand representing Percy had moved from ‘Lost’ to ‘Travelling’.
She looked hopefully at the rest of her family.
“Good news, Mum,“ said Fred a big smile on his face.
“Yeah,” continued George, “the bugger’s finally on his way to hell where he belongs.”
“George Weasley!” yelled their mum. But before she could continue Ginny interrupted.
“You know, you two could grow up a bit. Percy has paid a high price for the choices he made. Anyone would think he was a Death Eater the way you two go on.”
“As good as,” replied Fred.
“Or as bad as,” continued his brother. The two gave each other high fives and laughed at their own cleverness.
“There are too many empty seats around this table as it is,” continued Ginny.
“Ah… wads a madder? Ickle Ginnykins missing her harrypoos?”
Before she could reply the back door opened and a mountain of presents floated into the kitchen followed by two individuals, their identity hidden behind the presents.
“Sorry I’m late,” said a voice she recognised as Harry’s, “but I had a few problems finding the right present for someone so I had to ask for help.”
Harry cast another charm so that the presents made their way over to the tree, revealing himself and a very sheepish looking Percy Weasley.
“Erm… Happy Christmas?” ventured Percy, obviously unsure of his reception.
Ginny pulled her wand out and sent two quick stunners towards the twins before they could move or say anything. Her mum was the first to reach Percy, closely followed by her father. Ginny jumped up and joined her parents in hugging their bewildered prodigal.
After a few moments she left her parents to continue the hug and she turned towards Harry, all trace of her earlier anger and resentment gone. He was holding out a small box wrapped in holly-patterned paper.
“Happy Christmas, Ginny,“ he said, a smile on his face.
She ignored the present in his hand and hugged him tightly. Relaxing her grip, she kissed him. “This,” she exclaimed, pointing to her parents who were still hugging Percy, “is the perfect gift.”