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'tis the season to be simping

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Christmas really was the most wonderful time of the year… 

When he’d been unemployed.

It turned out that being a working adult around the festive period - especially in, say, a sweet shop*- was actually not all snowflakes and jingle bells.

Harry groaned as he lifted the millionth box that day, containing gumballs and candy canes and whatever else was popular with the youth nowadays. Harry breathed in slowly, relishing these last few moments alone in the cool storeroom before facing the door that led to the rest of the store, a cold feeling of dread creeping up his spine. The ruckus of the outside world had been muffled with charms, and Harry intended to get as much peace as he could before being forced out into the wilderness of screaming children and hassling parents once again.

With that final breath, inhaling the sugary fumes of whatever diabetes-induced treats lay down there in the musty room, Harry shifted the weight of the box in his hands and opened the dreaded door.

The noise hit him like a tonne of bricks, so much so that Harry physically staggered at the force of it. A small child ran by, almost knocking the box from his hands, and he struggled to contain his scowl.

Christmas may have been the most wonderful time of the year when he was seven, but at 30 years old it was no more than a bother.

Yes, Harry had often wondered what he was still doing here, in Honeydukes, wearing a stupid green apron and a stupid 'Manager' badge in the middle of stupid Christmas.

He sighed to himself, but began to stock the shelves anyway, keeping one eye on the gaggle of children standing shiftily by the Pick 'N' Mix stand. One wrong move and he'd be on them.

"Hey, Harry." A voice said, and he turned his head to see Stacy, an employee, untying her apron. She eyes the heavy box in his hands with thinly veiled glee, and Harry grit his teeth.

"Hello, Stacy." He said as cheerily as he could manage, and she popped her ever-lasting bubblegum with a *click*. "What's up?"

"I'm going on my break now." She said, still watching the box and making absolutely no indication to try help. Harry groaned inwardly, but smiled through a clenched jaw anyway. 

"Is it that time already?" A nod. Her blonde ponytail bobbed, and her lips produced yet another bubble. "Alright, well, is Ned here yet?"

Ned was the other Saturday employee, who switched with Stacy for her break. A polite but meek boy who often struggled with socialising with customers; Harry preferred him over Stacy.

"Not yet." She said nonchalantly, tucking the hideous apron under her arm. "He said he's running a little late."

Perfect. A full shop with one worker. Desperate, Harry spoke up.

"Can't you stay on shift until he gets here? The shop's packed, and I don't know if I'll be able to-"

"It's my break." Stacy cut him off, and Harry snapped his mouth shut with a glare as she walked away without another world, ponytail swishing and all.

Fucking Stacy.

Harry huffed in annoyance, setting his box down on a nearby stool to prevent the cramps from forming. A quick glance at the Pick 'N' Mix station confirmed his earlier suspicions; the kids were nowhere to be seen, and the tubs of sweets were significantly emptier. Harry rubbed a hand over his face, feeling the last few threads of patience he'd had begin to fray. He was really beginning to hate Christmas, and the shop just made things worse.

The blanketing scent of sugar and chocolate would be welcoming and nice for some, but for Harry it was suffocating, as if his lungs were clogging up with toffee and peppermint and caramel and-

"Excuse me, do you work here?"

Harry closed his eyes briefly, counting to five as he willed himself to pull his shit together. He put on his best 'I'm here to help' smile, and raised his head to look for who had spoken.

A handsome man around his age stood before him, his clasped hands clutching an empty brown paper sweet bag as if his life depended it, and his cheeks were flushed a light pink from the outside chill. His dark brown curls fell elegantly messy across his forehead, though Harry got the feeling that he hadn't left the house like that.

Harry's smile was suddenly a lot more genuine.

"Yup, I'm the temporary manager. How can I help you, sir?"

The man's shoulders slumped in relied, and Harry's eyebrows twitched upwards in amusement.

"Thank Merlin. It's a bloody jungle in this place, I thought I'd never find anyone." He said, and Harry chuckled. "I'm looking for... something. I'm not quite sure what it is yet, but my children are very fond of sweets, and I'm sure you're more than aware of the time of year," Harry nodded that he was, in fact, aware of the holiday season. "Well, I have no clue about sweets or anything else, but I just want to make my kids happy... I've been rambling over nothing, but please, can you help me?"

Normally in situations like this, Harry would simply give a list of the fastest-selling sweets in the store, give directions to where they were and send them on their way. But this man was very attractive, and Harry could admit that he wanted to spend a little more time with him than was strictly necessary.

"I understand! If you like, I can take you around the store so you can see what you think they'd like?"

Now, Harry was no fool. He saw the wedding ring on the man's finger, and how he fingered it anxiously whilst speaking. It was not at all his style to go for married men.

But it wasn't like he was doing anything, right? He was just taking him around the store to find some candy for his kids.

That was all.

It didn't matter that the overjoyed look on the man's face made his heart beat a little faster, or that he happened to notice the creases near his eyes when he smiled. Not at all, because nothing was going to happen.

"You'd be willing to do that?"

"Of course!"

"Thank you. Really, thank you."

"It's no problem, I'm happy to help!"

The man let out a small laugh of surprised disbelief, running a hand through his perfect brown curls. "Right! Well, lead the way!"

Harry smiled, kicking the box behind a nearby counter - he'd deal with it later - before starting toward the toffee section.

They spent the rest of the afternoon together.

It wasn't meant to happen, but the man had a gorgeous laugh and a beautiful face and Harry couldn't resist giving him a tour of pretty much the entire shop, with unnecessary detours and tidbits of information on candy; if the man noticed what was happening, he didn't show it.

He merely laughed at Harry's jokes, and, on one occasion, even complimented Harry's smile.

Harry had been in the middle of explaining the difference between mango and 'mango fizz' when a timid-looking young girl approached, fingering a lollipop nervously in her hands. "Excuse me, sir," She'd said to Harry, and he paused to look down at her questioningly. "Um, how much is this lollipop?"

Harry had looked down at the tiny piece of candy in her hand, and then at the empty-looking purse on her hip. In barely a second, he'd made a decision.

"Oh, that's actually a really expensive one, young miss. How much do you have?"

The girl's face fell, and she avoided eye contact. "...6 sickles and... 2 knuts."

Harry had hummed solemnly. "Yes, that's not going to be enough, I'm afraid. However," he said, and plucked a much larger lollipop from a shelf, "This one happens to be exactly 5 sickles. How lucky!" He exclaimed, discreetly removing the '4 Galleons' sticker.

The girl had smiled, and so had Harry. She took the candy from his hand happily, and gave him the change. "Wow, thank you Mister!" She'd squealed, rushing forward to engulf his leg in a hug. Harry grinned, patting her back.

"Have a nice day, little lady." He'd said, and she sprung away from him.

"Thanks, you too sir!" She'd said, then skipped off into the crowd.

Harry had turned back to the man, still smiling, only to find him staring at Harry with an odd expression on his face.

"What?" Harry had asked, and the man shook his head.

"You have a lovely smile." He'd said, and Harry felt his face grow warmer. The man had turned his head to a shelf and asked about some type of sweet, and Harry had had to pull himself together enough to give a coherent answer.

By the time they finished their tour, it was around 5 minutes before the shop closed. The man had a large paper bag filled to the brim with various sweets, and the shop had filtered out to hardly any customers. Harry brought the man over to the till slowly, reluctant to let him go.

Harry rung him up nevertheless, and gave him his receipt. The man took it just as slowly, tucking it into his pocket without making any move to leave. Harry gave his best manager smile, intending to give his usual leaving speech, when the man winced.

"What's that look for?" Harry asked, and the man scratched his neck anxiously.

"I just prefer your normal smile. That one looks so... forced." He admitted nervously, brown eyes avoiding Harry's in the most adorable way that it physically hurt.

"Noted." Harry said breathlessly, and the man nodded once. He started to turn, to leave, and in that moment it struck Harry that once the man left, they'd likely never see each other again, and Harry didn't even know his name. "Wait!" He called, and the man paused, looking at him curiously.

Harry faltered, but forced himself to power through. "I just realised I never caught your name."

The man smiled, so bright it was blinding, and Harry's heart stuttered in his chest.

"How about I tell you over hot chocolate? There's a lovely muggle café down the street I've been dying to invite someone special to."

Harry choked, coughing and spluttering and trying not to spit everywhere whilst the man looked on in concern. Harry held up a hand to say that yes, he's fine, he isn't going to die.

"I-" He wheezed. "But... What about... I thought-" Harry looked pointedly at the man's ring, and his lips parted in understanding.

"Oh, that's not a wedding ring." He said, and Harry's eyebrows flew to his hairline. "It's an inheritance ring, a family heirloom. I wear it to ward off any... brave women. I adopted my children on my own."

Harry could have facepalmed. Now that he looked closer, he could see that it was an inheritance ring. He shook his head, running a hand through his hair in stunned silence. "...Smart." He said finally, and the man shifted uncomfortably.

"Yeah.. So... Yes or no? To the café?" He asked nervously, and Harry's eyes widened; he'd forgotten that part.

"Oh! Right! Yes, of course, I'll go with you." He stuttered out, and the man's expression lifted hopefully.

"You will?"

"Yep! Totally! Let's- Let's go!" Harry said, walking excitedly around the counter and toward the door.

"Uh, Harry? You're still wearing your apron." The man pointed out, and Harry froze midstep.

"Oh, right. Yeah, I should, um, I should put that away."

He took it off and walked back to the counter, tripping on the box he'd left earlier, and cursed angrily under his breath as the man let out an illegally beautiful laugh, opening the door to the back room and tossing his apron on the hook on the back of the door.

"Hey Ned, you don't mind locking up, right? Thanks!" He called, barely waiting for an answer. He turned on his heel to face the man, who was waiting with a shy smile by the exit.

Harry sighed in contentment, and followed him out onto the snowy street.

"My name is Tom, by the way." The man said as they walked, and Harry smiled. 

"Nice to meet you, Tom."

Yes, Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year.