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SIYE Time:13:51 on 23rd June 2018


The Seventh Horcrux
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-HBP
Characters:All
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Fluff
Warnings: Death, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 860
Summary: The hunt for the Horcruxes begins. Harry has to decide who to trust as he moves closer to fulfilling his destiny. Will he be able to find and destroy all the Horcruxes? And at what price? Will he be able to find the strength within himself "the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not" in order to succeed in vanquishing Voldemort? And, can he do it and still get the girl? Join Harry and his faithful friends on their quest to finally defeat a Dark Lord.
Hitcount: Story Total: 198934; Chapter Total: 7053
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.



Chapter Eighteen


Christmas with the Malfoys



Harry stood on the landing at Grimmauld Place, enjoying the holiday activity buzzing around him. It was Christmas Eve, and for this night they had all decided to leave the war and their troubles on the other side of the door. The stair railing was wrapped in evergreen with ribbons of maroon and gold plaited into the pine. It looked festive and elegant as Harry ran his hand along it, breathing in the heady scent of Christmas.


Mrs. Weasley had been in high spirits ever since Ron had awoken. Madam Pomfrey had checked him over twice and declared him fit and healthy, although his short-term memory still had some lapses. She credited Neville’s Mimbulus Mimbletonia as having a lot to do with Ron’s recovery. She said that she’d detected his awareness right below the surface on several occasions while checking his vital signs, and each time she’d placed the plant next to his pillow. Every time she’d done this, his stats had grown stronger.


Mrs. Weasley had made a huge tin of fudge and sent it over to Neville as a Christmas gift. Headquarters had been decorated as cheerfully as could be managed, and Mrs. Weasley hadn’t left the kitchen for several days as she prepared a huge Christmas Eve feast. Harry had opened accounts with several of the domestic shops in Diagon Alley, so Mrs. Weasley was able to shop at will.


Harry felt torn between happiness about Ron’s recovery and sadness that Remus wasn’t with them to celebrate. He’d only seen Tonks once since Remus had left. She’d stopped at headquarters for an Order meeting, but she’d looked tired and sad, and her hair was still mousy brown. She and Harry had commiserated over the fact that neither of them had heard a word from Remus. They each tried to make the other feel better by saying it was a good sign, and it meant that Remus was working on infiltrating Greyback’s den, but worry gnawed at both of them.


Hagrid had brought an enormous evergreen from the Hogwarts grounds, and they’d decorated it in the entrance hall. Several Order members had joined them for the Christmas Eve feast, and Harry noticed Mad-Eye Moody and Madam Pomfrey admiring the tree together. Harry smirked, suspecting that Moody’s presence at headquarters had a lot to do with Madam Pomfrey’s quick decision to stay while Ron recovered.


He could see Hagrid wearing an enormous apron full of frilly ruffles while helping Mrs. Weasley to carry platters of delectable-looking food into the formal dining room. Harry hadn’t been aware that Grimmauld Place even had a formal dining room until Mrs. Weasley had told them they’d be eating in there since there was such a big crowd. The door to the dining room was located directly opposite the kitchen, but it had always been closed, and Harry had assumed in was a broom cupboard.


The doorbell rang, and Harry moved to answer it, wondering who it could be. As far as he knew, everyone who’d been invited had already arrived. Professor McGonagall had arrived with Hagrid, and Tonks had declined the invitation. The Weasleys were all staying in the house, and none of them ever used the bell, anyway. He cautiously opened the front door, holding his wand tightly just in case, and found Percy Weasley standing there with an armload of gifts.


"Percy!" Harry said, surprised. He hadn’t seen much of Percy since they’d returned from Albania, and the prodigal Weasley son still kept a stiff distance from the Boy-Who-Lived. Harry knew that Percy and Mr. Weasley spoke frequently at the Ministry, and Percy had kept his father informed of any new decrees that might affect them all. Mrs. Weasley spoke often of Percy, but none of his siblings appeared too eager to mend fences. Harry supposed it was up to Percy to take that first step on his own.


He helped the stray Weasley brother inside, relieving some of his burden.


"Hello, Harry," Percy said stiffly, adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses. "My father mentioned that everyone would be here tonight to celebrate the Yuletide, and that I was welcome to drop by."


"Of course you are," Harry said, sharing a grin with Ginny behind Percy’s head. She’d just come out of the kitchen, and Harry could clearly read her amusement about Percy’s formal tone.


"Hi, Percy," Ginny said, walking over to the two. "Happy Christmas."


"Happy Christmas," Percy replied, leaning down to peck Ginny on the cheek. "Ah, I see Mother over by the tree. If you’ll excuse me."


Ginny nodded, and they watched him hurry toward Mrs. Weasley.


"Glad to see he loosens up for the holidays," Ginny said with a wry smirk. She was wearing a long black velvet skirt with a shimmering green blouse that that was lined with gold flecks. She’d pulled her hair back from her face with a shiny gold hairclip.


"You look very festive," Harry said, kissing her lightly.


"Thanks. It’s my Christmas present from Hermione. She let me open it early so I could wear it tonight," Ginny said, spinning around. "Do you like it?"


Harry ran his hand along the sleeve, enjoying the soft texture of the material. "I do," he said, smiling. He leaned over and whispered so only she could hear, "but I’d like it even better on the floor."


Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise and a pretty pink blush spread across her cheeks. Harry grinned cockily, feeling very bold. It wasn’t often he could make her blush anymore, and he enjoyed being the one to tease her for a change.


"Do you?" she asked, raising her eyebrow.


Harry grinned wolfishly.


"Exactly how happy a Christmas do you think you’re going to get, Mr. Potter?" she asked, walking away from him while sashaying her hips as she moved toward Ron and Hermione.


Harry gaped for a moment before shaking his head and following her. He loved their verbal sparring matches even if he didn’t ever get the best of her. He didn’t mind. Really.


Ron and Hermione sat by the fire, Ron propped comfortably in a big, overstuffed easy chair. He held a gift on his lap and was shaking the box enthusiastically. Hermione sat next to him with a fond smile playing on her lips. She appeared more relaxed than Harry had seen her in weeks, although he noticed that she kept irritably scratching her head.


"Come on, Hermione, just give me one little hint," Ron said, shaking the box again.


"No, Ron," Hermione said, giggling. "You’ll just have to wait until morning."


"Oh, he’ll never last, Hermione. He’ll do what he did when we were kids and open up all the gifts once everyone goes to sleep and wrap them back up again before morning," Ginny said, laughing.


"You knew?" Ron asked, his face dropping.


"Of course I knew," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "We all did. You never wrapped them back up very well."


"Ron, you didn’t," Hermione said, sounding scandalized while absently scratching the back of her head.


"Did Fred and George slip some itching powder in your wig, Hermione?" Ginny asked, watching the other girl fidget.


"No," Hermione said, exasperated. "It’s my own hair starting to grow back, but it’s driving me mad."


"You could always just shave it again," Ron said, tossing a piece of chocolate in his mouth.


Hermione scowled while Ginny whacked her brother on the arm. "Oh, that’s real helpful, Ron. You know, the twins might actually be useful for something. They have tons of products that make you itch, and they test all their products on themselves. I bet they’ve got some powerful anti-itch remedies stocked by now."


"Oh, Ginny, that’s a wonderful idea," Hermione said, craning her neck in search of Fred or George.


"Yeah, if you can trust anything they give you," Harry said warily.


All of their expressions sobered for a moment.


"Well, they did help me with that bruising remedy last year, and I have to do something. I’ll just have to risk it," Hermione said, shrugging.


"That’s my girl – live on the edge, Hermione," Ron said, grinning. His grin faded slowly as they all laughed, however. "Why did you need a bruising remedy?" he asked, clearly confused.


"A telescope of Fred and George’s punched me," Hermione replied easily. She was the only one who didn’t constantly get disconcerted by Ron’s frequent memory lapses. She would gently explain and move on as if nothing unusual had happened.


"Why did it punch you?" Ron asked, struggling with the memory.


"Sirius!" Ron said suddenly.


Hermione glanced nervously at Harry. "That’s right, Ron. We were worried about Harry."


Ron smiled, pleased, and Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand


Harry looked up as a sudden silence fell across the rest of the room. Slowly descending the stairs was the group of Slytherins in residence at Grimmauld Place. Narcissa Malfoy led the way, her nose held loftily in the air. Harry noticed that even Draco, Pansy and Iris were dressed in robes, while Harry, Hermione and the younger Weasleys were all dressed in Muggle attire. Only the adults wore robes.


Narcissa had Transfigured her robes into black velvet ones with a silvery thread running through them. All of the Slytherins robes appeared rather tattered and frayed, despite the Transfiguration. The Malfoys and the Parkinsons had left their wealth and the vast majority of their belongings behind when they’d gone into hiding, and their few remaining clothing items were beginning to show the strain.


"Narcissa, Anastasia," Professor McGonagall said, walking towards them. She wore her traditional black robes, but Harry noticed a tartan scarf wrapped around her neck. "How nice of you to join us. Please come in and sit down. I believe Molly is about to serve dinner."


"Thank you, Minerva," Anastasia Parkinson said graciously. "I’ve always enjoyed socializing a bit at Christmastime."


"Yes. We’ve always hosted a grand affair at Malfoy Manor each year," Narcissa said, her eyes glazing slightly with nostalgia. "And we always made certain to visit little gatherings just like this one on Boxing Day. The Malfoy family has always been known for our charity."


"Yeah, that’s always the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the name Malfoy," Harry said under his breath, but still loud enough to be heard.


Narcissa turned toward Harry, her eyes glittering dangerously. "Mr. Potter, how nice you can keep your wit as sharp as ever. You’ll need a sense of humor in the coming days."


"It’s always helps to keep laughing," Harry said, smiling tightly. "With half your guest list either already imprisoned in Azkaban or soon to be on their way there, it’s not looking bright for your future Christmas party guest list, is it?"


"I wouldn’t count on that. The Malfoys always land on their feet – most Slytherins do. Take Severus, for instance," Narcissa said, raising a finely-arched eyebrow. "He’s very good at choosing which side suits his best interests. He’s a natural survivor."


"Can I offer you a drink, Narcissa?" Professor McGonagall asked, moving to stand between Harry and Mrs. Malfoy. She shot Harry a stern look before taking the woman’s arm and steering her away from the teens.


Harry’s blood boiled. Natural survivor or not, there was no way he’d allow Snape to slip away the next time.


"I can’t believe she has the nerve to insult you about charity when she’s a guest in your home," Hermione said, seething.


"Harry," Ginny said, touching his arm, "it’s Christmas. Ignore her for tonight. Enjoy the fact that you can lavishly spend the Black family fortune while the Malfoys have no access to their funds."


Harry looked at her, startled for a moment, before a slow grin crossed his face. She was right, and that fact must be eating Narcissa alive since she’d insisted the Black fortune rightfully belonged to her. Suddenly, the party seemed much more festive. Fred and George stood nearby, taking the mickey out of Percy from what he could see, while Bill and Fleur were tucked cozily in the corner. Mr. Weasley was happily fiddling with the wireless and making the volume of Christmas carols rise and fall dramatically at random intervals.


Harry was celebrating Christmas with his friends and family, and he’d be damned if he’d let Narcissa Malfoy spoil it.


Draco moved toward the fire, Pansy and Iris draped on each arm. Iris had coiffed her hair in an elaborate knot. It appeared as if Pansy had tried to imitate the style, but it hadn’t quite worked, leaving stray tendrils to pop out in various locations.


"This is quaint," Draco drawled. "Is this usually how you celebrate Christmas, Potter? I suppose that family of yours doesn’t have any desire to see you, not that they could enter an entirely magical home such as this one, anyway."


"His cousin could if he wanted," Ron snarled without thinking. A sharp glare from Harry caused him to snap his mouth shut, his eyes wide.


"You have a magical cousin?" Iris asked. "I thought your family was Muggle." She sounded bored, as if she was only looking for a topic of conversation. Pansy, however, had narrowed her eyes shrewdly, listening intently to the conversation. Draco, too, appeared keenly interested.


"They are," Harry replied tersely, noticing that Percy had also turned toward their conversation. "Since this is my home now, I suppose I’ll have to find a way to allow Muggle access."


Harry was desperate to switch the subject the topic away from the Dursleys, and if he could infuriate Malfoy in the process, that was all the better.


"I’ve got loads of plans for this place after the war. I think there is a lot that could be done to improve Wizard/Muggle relations."


"Ooh, Harry, that’s a great idea," Hermione said, sitting up straighter. Harry wasn’t certain if she was playing along, or he’d really set her up on yet another campaign. "I have some ideas on what we could do."


"You must be joking," Malfoy said, his face growing pink. "This home has housed one of the most distinguished pureblood lines in all of Britain. My mother will never stand for it."


"Your mummy really doesn’t get a vote," Harry said cheekily.


"You’re a disgrace to your heritage," Pansy said, glaring at Ginny. "How can you lower yourself to his level?"


"The Weasleys have long been blood traitors, Pansy," Iris said in that same bored voice. "You know that."


"I’d take him and all the people in this room over you and your prejudiced, narrow-minded view any day, Pansy. You’re a cow – always have been, always will be," Ginny said, lifting her nose in the air.


"A cow?" Pansy shrieked, causing several in the room to turn and stare at them. "How dare you?"


"Oh," Ginny said, smiling sweetly. "Happy Christmas."


Pansy reached for her wand, but apparently thought better of it, perhaps remembering Ginny’s fondness for the Bat-Bogey Hex.


"Dinner is served," Mrs. Weasley said, sticking her head out of the kitchen. Harry expected this would be the longest Christmas dinner of his life.



**--**--



Harry entered the dining room with Ginny on his arm, and they both took seats at the massive table. Candles glowed softly within glass candelabras ensconced on the walls. The centerpiece on the table was an elaborate floral arrangement amidst several more glowing candles. Harry paused a moment to happily take in all the decorations. They were beautiful and festive, and he enjoyed seeing Grimmauld Place looking so nice for once. This was what Christmas was supposed to be, and he thought Sirius would be proud.


He struggled against the dark thoughts that fought to turn to the idea that this would probably be his last Christmas. He was truly happy with the progress they’d made in finding the Horcruxes, but he couldn’t help feeling that each one destroyed was yet another nail in his coffin.


He swallowed heavily, the creamy eggnog suddenly not tasting as sweet.


"Are you all right?" Ginny asked, leaning close to whisper in his ear. Her warm breath caused a shiver to run up his spine. He looked up to find her concerned brown eyes watching him intently.


"I’m all right," he replied, nodding resolutely. If it truly was to be his last Christmas, he’d better make it one worth remembering. "Happy Christmas," he said, leaning over and kissing Ginny on the cheek.


"I saw Fred and George enchanting some mistletoe earlier. If we’re lucky we can find it after dinner," Ginny said, grinning.


Harry waggled his eyebrows. "Yeah, but with my luck they enchanted it to stay away from you."


Ginny giggled. "Nah, that’s more the kind of prank they’d play on Ron."


"Who’s playing a prank on Ron?" Fred asked, taking the seat across from Ginny.


"Yeah, and how come they didn’t let us help?" asked George, seating himself across from Harry.


"And why are they bothering with Ron when Percy is here and makes a perfectly delightful target?" Fred asked, nodding toward Percy who was seated next to Mrs. Weasley.


"He only sat there because he thinks we wouldn’t dare do anything while he’s so close to Mum," George said, grumbling.


"Well, he’s right, isn’t he?" Ginny asked, raising an eyebrow at her brothers.


"Aww, come on now, Ginny. Do you really think we’d let a little thing like Mum’s temper get in the way of our pranking abilities? This is serious business," Fred said, his eyes sparkling.


"A little thing?" Ginny asked incredulously.


"Okay, so maybe a formidable thing, but still, there are always ways around it. You know the secret to Mum is to never let her build up her rant, right? Well, there are a few other little tricks we’ve learned through the years," George replied, folding his arms behind his head.


"Tricks such as knowing the moment to strike with something really good is right when she’s the most pleased with us," said Fred.


"Such as right after you gift her with a bright blue traveling cloak that she’s been fancying at Gladrags for several months," George said with a wink.


"Uh oh," Ginny said, grinning. "So, Percy can expect it right after presents, I suppose?"


Harry leaned back in his chair, grinning while he watched the siblings interact. He was eager to see what they had in store for Percy come present time. Harry wasn’t certain he’d take Mrs. Weasley’s wrath so cavalierly. She was downright scary when she was upset.


"You two certainly spend a lot of time on your little tricks, don’t you?" Iris asked, entering the dining room behind Fred and George. She was dressed in red, and her eyes were sparkling. Harry thought she looked rather festive.


Fred started, taken aback, as if it had never occurred to him that someone might not find him truly funny.


"Did you get cornered by our mistletoe?" he asked, waggling his eyebrows. "Better not let your sister know if you were standing with Malfoy."


Iris rolled her eyes. "I prefer my men a little bit…older," she said, tossing her head and taking a seat with her family.


Fred watched her, mouth agape. Giggling, Ginny leaned across the table and pushed his chin upward to close it. Fred swatted her hand away.


"Better not let Mum see that," Ginny said, chuckling.


A tinkling of laughter from the other end of the table caught Harry’s attention. He could see Pansy Parkinson giggling as Draco kept scooping up his green beans and transferring them to her plate.


Harry shook his head, feeling disconcerted seeing Draco act so…well, so normal. He didn’t like it. His ears perked up as he overheard the conversation taking place at that end of the table.


"You work at the Ministry, don’t you, young man?" Mrs. Parkinson asked, nodding at Percy. She was seated between her daughters, but Harry gave her credit for at least attempting to make conversation with the other dinner guests. As usual, Narcissa Malfoy was ignoring everyone but the Parkinsons and her son. Aside from Professor McGonagall, she rarely spoke to anyone else at headquarters.


"I do," Percy replied, sitting up straighter. His gaze briefly flickered to his father, and Harry knew he was perplexed about what the Slytherins were doing there. Obviously, Percy hadn’t been included in everything going on at headquarters.


"How is Dolores managing? I know she had quite a traumatic time during her stint at Hogwarts. It’s nice to see how well she’s done for herself. She’s always been ambitious," Mrs. Parkinson said, sipping her wine.


"Yes, some nasty business with the centaurs, wasn’t it?" Mrs. Malfoy asked, her nose held high in the air. "Dreadful creatures."


"Yes, it was," Mrs. Parkinson said. "I always thought Hogwarts allowed more leniency about certain things than they ought. I’d wanted to send Iris and Pansy to my own Durmstrang, but their father didn’t want them so far away."


"And a good thing that was, too," Iris said, her eyes filling as she dropped her fork on her plate, "or else we wouldn’t have had the time with Daddy when he was here. Excuse me." Her voice choked up on her last few words. Covering her face with her hands, Iris stood and fled the table.


Fred watched her departure, frowning.


Mrs. Parkinson stood, nodding apologetically. "If you’ll excuse me. She’s having a difficult time without her father this year."


"Of course," Professor McGonagall said, nodding understandingly.


Pansy watched her mother and sister leave the room with a hardened expression upon her face. Draco leaned over and whispered something in her ear, but she shook her head emphatically.


Harry looked back at his own plate, his appetite suddenly gone. He certainly could understand how Iris felt. She’d only lost her father a few months ago, and she’d had loads of Christmas memories with him to haunt her. Harry only had the one here with Sirius and a few with Dumbledore at school, but somehow, both their losses seemed more painful at Christmastime.


The conversation became more subdued after Iris’s abrupt departure, but gradually, the remaining guests recovered. Harry could hear Hagrid telling Bill and Fleur a story of his adventures with Madam Maxime. Fleur laughed heartily, obviously sharing Hagrid’s fondness for her former Headmistress.


At the other end of the table, Percy continued to cast curious glances at Narcissa, Draco and Pansy, but he appeared unable to catch his father’s eye.


Narcissa placed another scoop of vegetables on her plate, then daintily shifted them around without actually eating them. "Tell me, how is Dolores handling the pressure? She’s always been one to have a plan. How does she propose Wizarding society deal with the Dark Lord?" she asked, addressing Percy.


Harry snorted angrily, but he held his silence, pushing his plate away.


Percy looked uncomfortable. He kept adjusting his glasses and tugging at the collar of his robes as he shifted in his chair.


"She’s ah...she’s attempting to come up with a compromise," he said, pushing his glasses up so tightly that Harry could see a red indent on his skin.


"What does that mean, exactly?" Mr. Weasley asked, looking up sharply.


"She hasn’t done anything yet, but she’s compiling a list of compromises the Ministry would find acceptable," Percy said, his voice dropping.


"Comprises to Voldemort?" Harry asked loudly, dropping his silverware to the table with a clang and causing several other conversations to stop as they looked toward him. To their credit, none at the table save the Slytherins cringed at the name. Harry watched as Moody’s eyes narrowed with disgust as he folded his arms across his chest.


"She says his problem is with Muggles, and that he feels their influence is contaminating the wizarding population. She’s hoping to come up with some guidelines that he’ll find acceptable," Percy said, undoing the top button on his shirt collar.


"The only thing he’ll find acceptable is his word being made the ultimate authority and being able to kill anyone who stands in his way. She can’t be serious," Harry said incredulously.


"She’s very serious," Percy said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Some of the procedures she’s put in place are fantastic and a long time in coming. I think she’s capable of getting some things in order that have really been let go, but this… I’m not certain this is a good idea. She’s not listening to anyone who’s arguing against it, however. She even accused the current Head of the MLE division of treason when he voiced his concerns."


"I’m not surprised that she’s looking into ways to strike a compromise. She’s always been partial to the purebloods, despite the fact she’s only a half-blood herself," Narcissa said with a slight sneer.


"What kind of compromises does she feel are acceptable? Blocking Muggleborns from attending Hogwarts when it reopens or getting jobs at the Ministry?" Hermione asked, scowling. "More oppression and elitist attitudes, no doubt. It appears the Wizarding world can’t get enough of them."


Percy winced. "I haven’t been privy to her list," he said stiffly.


"I don’t believe this," Hermione said, fuming. "She’s deemed herself some kind of modern day Neville Chaimberlain."


The vast majority of witches and wizards at the table stared at Hermione blankly, but Harry saw Professor McGonagall nodding, a pleased expression crossing her stern features.


"Who?" Pansy asked scornfully, jabbing her mashed potatoes with her fork.


Hermione waved her hand in the air. "He was a Muggle Prime Minister who tried to peacefully negotiate with a madman. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now."


"A Muggle, you say?" asked Mr. Weasley eagerly.


"Yes," Professor McGonagall said, nodding. "Miss Granger is correct . The Muggle to whom she’s referring was called Adolph Hitler, I believe. Prime Minister Chaimberlain tried to forge a peace treaty, but it ended up in tragedy with the loss of many lives."


"Fascinating," Mr. Weasley replied.


"Oh, really now, Arthur. We’re all aware of your odd obsession with Muggles, but this really has nothing to do with them," Narcissa said disdainfully.


"There is nothing odd about my husband’s fondness for Muggles," Mrs. Weasley said, her face growing alarmingly red. "It’s called compassion. Maybe you ought to try it sometime."


Narcissa’s eyes narrowed. "Why should I have compassion for the Muggles? They mean nothing to me. Let them handle their own business."


"It’s that kind of attitude that causes all the problems," Hermione insisted. "Chaimberlain couldn’t negotiate a compromise because Hitler was uncompromising in his hatred."


"What’s madness is your assumption that Wizarding matters have any similarity to Muggle politics," Narcissa sniffed.


"I see tremendous similarities all the time," Hermione said, firing up. "In fact, Hitler bore a striking resemblance to another Dark Wizard who was terrorizing the Wizarding world at the same time. I’m certain you remember the story of Grindelwald."


"Grindelwald was a pureblood," Narcissa snapped


"Or so he said," Harry remarked lazily. "Voldemort likes to pretend he’s a pureblood, as well, but we all know he’s not."


"Don’t speak such blasphemy," Narcissa said, clutching her chest.


"It’s the truth; he’s a half-blood. His mum was a witch, but his dad was a Muggle who abandoned him before he was born," Harry replied, noticing that several Weasleys looked up in surprise by that statement.


"How do you know that, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked. "Did Dumbledore tell you?"


"Well, we talked about it, but it was Voldemort himself who told me. He went on and on about it both that night in the graveyard and when we were in the Chamber. His real name is Tom Riddle. I am Lord Voldemort is an anagram for Tom Marvolo Riddle. That’s his full name," Harry said, shrugging.


"He won’t like you spreading that story around," Draco drawled.


"Since when have I cared what he likes?" Harry asked.


Using her wand, Mrs. Weasley made all the empty dishes float into the air and begin hovering in a line towards the sink, which begun washing them with assembly-line precision. Several platters of pudding suddenly appeared on the table, with a large treacle tart placed directly in front of Harry. Harry could tell that she was upset by the jerky movements of her wand, and he felt bad for bringing talk of war to her Christmas dinner. He knew she’d worked so hard on it.


"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said, beaming at the treacle tart.


"Don’t you eat all of that in one sitting, dear," Mrs. Weasley said, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. "Errol was supposed to have delivered me another batch of vanilla extract, but he never arrived, so I could only make the one. Poor old thing, probably lying exhausted somewhere."


Draco rolled his eyes. "Is she trying to make up for your lack of mothering when you actually were six?" he asked, causing Pansy to snigger loudly.


"It’s Christmas, Malfoy. Certainly even you have heard of doing something nice for someone you care about just because you can," Harry said, scooping up a large piece of the treacle tart.


"I would have loved to have done something nice for my mother or Pansy this Christmas, Potter, but since I’m stuck here with you and cut off from all my family’s funds, it’ll be a rather meager Christmas for us all this year," Draco said, his lip curled.


"There are worse things than no presents," Harry said quietly.


He noticed Ginny look up, her piercing gaze attempting to penetrate his very soul. He quickly looked away.


"Easy for you to say. You’re spending the Black family fortune like water through a sieve," Malfoy spat.


"And I notice you’re enjoying some of that generosity, as well, Malfoy," Ginny said, nodding toward his plate that was overflowing with different puddings. "You seem quick to scoff at Harry’s spending, but I don’t notice you feeling strongly enough to make a point and go hungry."


"Of course not," Draco said, sneering. "Why should I go hungry when there’s perfectly good food here? Besides, rightfully it should all belong to me anyway."


"Oh, we’re back on this again, are we?" Ron asked, his mouth full of bread pudding.


"Shut it, Weasel. You’ve got no right to say anything about me accepting Potter’s charity since you’ve been living off it for years," Malfoy said.


"And giving it in return," Harry shot back, "seeing that it was his mum who made the treacle tart that started all this in the first place. It’s called friendship, Malfoy. You ought to try it sometime. A few real mates might do you some good."


"I’ve got mates," Draco said, puffing out his chest. "More than I need and plenty more than you’ve got."


"Oh, ho, now that’s mature," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.


"Ignore them, Draco," Pansy said, cooing. "Let’s retire upstairs and have our own Christmas Eve celebration. We don’t need the likes of them."


"Oh, that just spoiled my appetite," Ron said, pushing away his half-eaten bowl of bread pudding.


"Why don’t we all move into the drawing room," Mr. Weasley said, rising. "There’s a trio of wizards giving a performance of Christmas carols on the wireless. We can listen whilst we sip our cordials."


Harry rose and followed the others into the drawing room, noticing Mrs. Malfoy had latched onto Draco’s arm and steered him into the room with her, despite Pansy’s irritated scowl. He and Ginny had hung back slightly, and Ginny stopped him at the dining room door beneath a sprig of Fred and George’s roaming mistletoe.


"I was hoping we’d find one of those," Ginny said, grinning impishly.


"Hmm," Harry said. "This is turning into a Happy Christmas after all."


Before he could kiss her, however, Ginny placed her hands on his chest, a perplexed frown crossing her pretty face.


"Harry, what were you thinking when you said there were worse things than no presents?" she asked.


Harry shrugged, not certain where she was headed and really wanting to get back to the kissing.


"Just that I never had presents for Christmas before coming to Hogwarts, and it never really mattered all that much. I learned at a fairly young age not to expect them. What was worse was knowing there was no one to give them. D’you know what I mean?" he asked, feeling that old, familiar melancholy beginning to seep back into his thoughts.


"I think I do," Ginny said sadly, running her fingers through his hair.


"I mean, here, Malfoy might not have access to all his money, but his mum is here, and Pansy and her family, too. He’s not alone," Harry said, trying to put his thoughts into words.


Ginny watched him quietly, her fingers continuing to play with his hair. It was soothing; her presence always made him feel better.


"That mistletoe hasn’t run away yet, but we’d best make use of it before it finds another target," Ginny said, looking up at the ceiling.


Harry leaned in again and wrapped Ginny in his arms. He’d no sooner begun to deepen the kiss when the mistletoe began bellowing in a high-pitched shriek.


"Snogging! There’s snogging going on here! This is a snogging alert, all persons engaged in snogging please keep your lips to yourself."


Harry’s face turned scarlet as laughter erupted from the drawing room.


"Get on in here, Harry and Ginny," Fred shouted.


"We all know what you’re doing down there, anyway," George said.


"One of these days, I’m going to strangle those two," Harry muttered, leaning his forehead against Ginny’s.


"One of these days," Ginny said, sighing, "I’m going to help you do it. I think we could take them if we do it together."


Harry grinned against her forehead. "It’s a plan, then."


"Oh, Harrikins, Gin Gin," George shouted, poking his head out the drawing room door. "We’re all waiting."


"Harry, you’re coloring is perfect for this festive occasion. However did you manage that shade? We’ll have to bottle it and sell it for the holidays," Fred said, taking the mickey out of Harry.


"Eau de Mortification," George said.


"Does Ginny always have this effect on you, mate? Perhaps you should look into it. See a Healer, maybe. Does that color affect your entire body?" Fred asked, waggling his eyebrows.


Abashed, Harry kept his eyes fixed firmly on his feet, preferring to face Voldemort than look at either Mr. or Mrs. Weasley at that moment.


"Leave him alone," Ginny snapped, cuffing each of her brother’s on the side of the head. She lowered her voice so only Fred, George, and Harry could hear her. "Or I’ll give you a description of the exact effects on his body in minute detail."


"Oi, Ginny. That’s not funny," George said, scowling.


"What’s happened to you, squirt? You’ve lost your sense of humor," Fred said, aiming a withering look in Harry’s direction.


Ginny took Harry’s hand and led him away from the far less-exuberant twins. "One of these days," Harry said, "you’re going to push them too far and get me beat up by the whole lot of your brothers. And I haven’t even really done anything yet."


"Don’t worry, I’ll protect you," Ginny said, batting her lashes.


"My hero," Harry muttered, rolling his eyes.


"Besides, by then maybe you really will have done something worthy of getting beaten up over," she said, giggling as he choked on his drink.


Once again, Harry thought how much he enjoyed this verbal bantering with her; she could always make him smile. He briefly felt bad that he was enjoying himself while Remus was out there on his own somewhere, but he forced the guilt away. More than anyone, Remus would want Harry to enjoy his holiday and not spend it agonizing over things he couldn’t control. He owed it to Remus to make the most it.


Mr. Weasley turned on the wireless, and the conversations droned in the room as they all enjoyed the holiday cheer.


Ginny curled up next to Harry and pillowed her head on his shoulder as they listened to the music. Harry traced his hand along the gold threads of her blouse. Partially hidden by the immense Christmas tree, they had a small measure of privacy but could still hear the various conversations taking place within the room.


"Do you want your present early?" he asked quietly so that only she could hear.


Ginny sat up quickly, looking him up and down. "Do you have it with you?"


"Maybe," Harry replied, grinning. "You’ll have to search for it."


Ginny’s eyes widened. "Is that so? You’re feeling rather cheeky tonight, aren’t you, Mr. Potter? Do you think I won’t just because the rest of my family is so close?" Ginny asked.


Harry cocked his eyebrow. "Will you?"


When Ginny made a move to search his pockets, Harry laughed and pulled out the small gold box. "All right, all right. You win. You’re worse with presents than Ron," he said.


Ginny grabbed the box and shook it. "No, I’m not."


"Yes, you are," he replied, laughing as he watched her tear open the paper.


She crumpled the wrapping and tossed it at him. He ducked out of the way, and watched her closely as she unwrapped her gift, holding his breath slightly. She gasped as she opened the small velvet box. It contained a silver chain holding a circular pendant. Inside the circle rested an emerald-cut clear blue stone, appearing as if it was suspended there on its own.


"Harry," Ginny said, breathing heavily. "It’s fantastic."


"Do you like it?" he asked, feeling unreasonably nervous. He’d never picked out jewelry for anyone before.


"I love it," Ginny said, sounding awestruck. "I’ve never owned anything so beautiful. Can you put it on me?" She sat forward and lifted her hair off her neck.


Harry clasped it for her, gently pulling some strands of her hair out of the way and kissing her neck before releasing her.


"The stone is an Aquamarine. I think the blue looks like the sea. According to Merpeople legend, it’s a lucky stone that represents a love so big, it fills the entire ocean," he said, feeling his face heat as he recited the words the clerk at the jewelry store in Diagon Alley had told him. "I have the matching stone, and it’s supposed to help me find you if we’re separated."


Harry liked that part of the story best. He didn’t really believe the folklore, but he liked the stone and thought it couldn’t hurt to have a way to find her if he ever needed it.


"It’s lovely, Harry," Ginny said, looking down to admire the stone. "Where is your stone?"


"It’s in my pocket," Harry said. "I’ll have to find a place to keep it safe."


Ginny jumped up and sprinted over to the tree. She dug underneath it for a few moments before returning to him with a thin, straight box. She handed it to Harry, biting her lip.


"Open this," she said.


Harry took the gift and began tearing at the paper at one end. Growing impatient, Ginny reached in and helped him to tear the paper away.


"Do you want to do this?" Harry asked, amused.


"You take so long to unwrap your gifts," Ginny said, pulling off the last of the wrapping.


Harry lifted the box to reveal a braided rope bracelet. Its colors were red and gold and it was plaited several times over making an intricate pattern.


"Did you make this?" Harry asked, admiring the handiwork.


"Uh, huh," Ginny said, still chewing on her lip. "I wasn’t certain if you’d wear something like it."


"This must have taken you a long time," Harry said, running his fingers over the details.


"I’ve been working on it for awhile," Ginny said, nodding. "Here, look, the threads pull apart and you can keep your stone inside. That way, no one will know it’s there, but you’ll still feel its presence."


Harry removed his Aquamarine stone and tucked it inside the bracelet. Holding his wrist out to Ginny, he allowed her to secure it for him.


"Thank you, Ginny. Happy Christmas," he said, leaning over to kiss her.


"Happy Christmas, Harry," Ginny said, smiling happily. She played with necklace, admiring the way it reflected the lights from the tree.


"Was this terribly expensive?" she asked, in a small hesitant voice.


"It really wasn’t," Harry said, shaking his head. He wasn’t certain if Ginny would be as sensitive as Ron about Harry’s money. "They called it a semi-precious stone. Besides, I wanted to give it to you, Ginny. It took me a long time to find it."


She continued to look at it. "I’m glad you took the time. That makes it mean even more. I’m never going to take it off, and you keep yours on, as well. Okay?"


"Whatever you say," he said, not really listening. He tugged her closer to share another kiss, wishing the rest of the family wasn’t so near.


She curled back up beneath his arm, and Harry could swear she was almost purring. He enjoyed the time with her, snuggled together while they listened to the music and watched the twinkling of the Christmas lights, laughing at some of the others on occasion.


All too soon, midnight approached, and Percy said he had to go.


"Oh, must you leave?" Mrs. Weasley asked, disappointed. "It’s so dangerous to go out at night. Why don’t you just stay here until morning?"


"Actually, I have to work tomorrow," Percy replied. "The Ministry is keeping a skeletal staff on duty just in case. Besides, I have a waiver for the curfew."


Percy’s words had a sobering effect on everyone, reminding them all that the war was closer than anyone would like. The room was silent for a moment before Fred began singing along with the wireless to the tune of Silent Night.


George joined him, their voices surprisingly good – soulful and sad, yet full of hope at the same time, somehow. One by one, all the others in the room joined in, clasping hands and staying together through the haunting melody.


Harry’s chest filled with emotion as he held both Ginny’s and Hermione’s hands and sang carols with this rag tag group he called family. His gaze swept by Ron, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and everyone else in this room, and he knew that no matter what happened in the coming year, if he found the last Horcrux or not, if he lived or died, this same group of people would be here next year, still fighting, still struggling to go on. That, more than anything, gave him a renewed determination to move forward. Gatherings like this one must be allowed to continue. For the first time, Harry began to understand the power that Dumbledore had told him was his greatest strength. This feeling inside him was more intense than anything he’d ever experienced – more intense even that the Cruciatus – and it was something Voldemort had never known.




A/N: So, Happy Christmas in July, lol. Did you at least feel a little bit festive? Huge thanks to my beta, Sherylyn, for taking the time to edit this while on vacation – and it’s raining on her, poor thing. She said she’s decided not to hold chapters when I start killing characters off – she’s going to let me take the heat from all of you instead. I gulped audibly and called her a coward J
.


I also need to thank KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter for their continued support and encouragement. You’ve all been so great.


Special prayers and well wishes go to my good friend, MuggleMomma. I hope your "fox" heals you quickly.



Thank you so much for the nominations and votes on the Dumbledore Silver Trinket Awards. I'm very honored that you're enjoying the story, and it thrills me to see my name up there. I appreciate it very much.
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