"I don't think it'll be that terrible, Dad," Albus folded the letter from Auror Rothgaite and set it on the rough crate that doubled as a coffee table in his flat. "I mean, it's pretty bad when the Minister for Magic has to make a direct order... And Rothgaite isn't wrong. You haven't been on a proper holiday in years."
Harry stabbed his spoon into the container of chicken tikka. "That's not true. We just spent Easter in Brighton."
Albus laughed and balanced a plate on his stomach as he slouched back into the sofa cushions. "No. The family spent Easter in Brighton. You were there for half of Friday and three-quarters of Saturday before something came up at work." He raised his eyebrows at his father. "One overnight stay doesn't count as a whole holiday."
Harry blew on the spicy curry and spooned it into his mouth so that he didn't have to respond to what his son said. Easter had been a bit of a shit show, of course. A new batch of green aurors had finally finished their training but their first weekend alone had not been without mishap. The owl had come in the middle of lunch at one of Hermione's favourite little cafes next to the pier, dropping its letter on Harry's quiche before taking off. He'd done his best to ignore it for the rest of the afternoon, but couldn't stop himself from reading shortly after tea. And then he'd packed and left.
Ginny, of course, had been angry. But having the same tired argument again was beyond either of their energies.
"Everyone's just disappointed, Harry. You never spend time with them anymore," she'd said in her letter. "At least try for Christmas this year. Don't promise you're going to be there if you're not."
And that was the crux of it, he'd figured. The breakdown in their relationship had come from all the broken promises. Every time he'd made plans, something had come up and he couldn't just let anyone else handle the problem. Not when he knew how to fix it right away. Not when someone else could get hurt if he didn't step in. So they'd grown apart. And eventually the divorce papers had followed. He didn't hate Ginny for it. He didn't resent her. They were still nice to each other. But it just didn't work anymore and they were both so tired.
No one had even really been surprised in the end.
"So where will you go?" Albus asked, scraping the last of his rice into his mouth. "Rose sent over a whole bunch of holiday brochures from the little travel place next to where she works."
"You told Rose?" Harry looked at the half eaten food in front of him and held out the plate to Albus, no longer having much of an appetite.
Albus winced. "Well.... I told Scorpius. Scorpius tells Rose everything."
In all fairness, Harry shouldn't have been surprised. Those three had been friends throughout their years at Hogwarts despite the family histories. Rose first, by way of her and Scorpius both ending up in Ravenclaw together and not long after that Albus had joined into the friendship simply because he and Rose were thick as thieves. And later when the relationship between Albus and Scorpius developed into something more, Harry hadn't really given it much of a thought one way or the other. His son was still his son and Malfoy's boy didn't seem that terrible. Love was love and all that.
"So where are you going to go?" Albus held out a brightly coloured brochure for California. "I hear the theme parks and surfing are pretty amazing."
Harry grimaced slightly at the idea of crowded parks and loud tourists. "Yeah... I don't think that's the sort of thing I'd be up for."
"Mmmky, well it looks like there's loads of options from all over the world," Albus spoke with a spoon dangling from his mouth, his words a bit muffled by the food in his mouth. He looked over at Harry and a grin started to appear as he pulled the spoon from his lips. The expression reminded Harry of Ginny's wicked smiles right when she was about to suggest something completely insane.
"What are you thinking... " Harry said slowly.
Albus snatched up all the brochures, setting his plate aside. "I'm going to pick for you. You're going to show up at the portkey office and I'm going to hand you a ticket. And you're not going to get a chance to come up with any sort of excuse for saying no."
Opening his mouth, Harry was about to protest. But watching his son shuffle through the papers, he decided that perhaps that was the key. Albus was right. He would come up with some reason or another as to why he shouldn't go to this place or that and in the end, he'd probably spend all three weeks of his ministry-mandated vacation sitting in his house and staring at the wall.
"Alright," he said, waving his hand at the brochures. "I just have one condition." Albus paused and looked over. Harry held up one finger. "Just one. Please don't make me go to a theme park."
"It's the Arctic Circle, Albus," Harry had said incredulously, looking at the information page that his son had handed over with the tattered wallet that was to be his portkey.
"With an enormous bed and views of the northern lights and no ministry obligations for miles and miles," Albus had grinned. "You'll love it."
"It's the Arctic--" Harry didn't even get to finish the sentence before the Portkey had hurled him away.
Tapping his card against the door's lock, Harry slipped inside what the person at the main office had called one of their best glass igloos. Though calling it an igloo was a bit of an exaggeration since only half of the walls and roof were glass. The rest was similar to a regular cabin. He dropped his bag on the floor and looked at the bed. In the far corner of the room a fire already blazed in the stove and it took Harry a moment to realize that the fire was electric and the rippling yellows and oranges were just an illusion despite the heat that the machine blew out across the floor.
With a sigh, Harry shrugged off the hastily transfigured winter coat and kicked off his shoes, leaving both at the door. He sank onto the bed which wasn't uncomfortable and flopped backwards. Taking out his wand, he summoned the papers that Albus had given him before the portkey had activated with a list of the hotel's activities and amenities. He laughed a little at the sharp underline of the words 'dog sled' and the scribbled 'I dare you' written above.
Maybe later, he thought and turned on his side to stare at the rippling fake fire.
Later turned into a few hours and it was his stomach gurgling and protesting the lack of food that pulled him out of sleep. Harry blinked at the darkness and glanced at the windows overhead, frowning a little at the obviously thick cloud cover. He sat up and looked at his watch before pointing his wand at the boots near the door and casting a few spells on them to keep them dry. He then fixed the spells on his coat before heading out into the cold and toward the main building to find the hotel's restaurant.
He had to admit, though, as he was seated at a small table by himself that it was rather nice to be in a place where no one knew who he was or the things that he'd done.
"And you don't think the cloud cover is going to lift until at least Saturday?" a distinctly British voice spoke behind him as Harry pushed away his empty plate as the waitress answered the question in the affirmative.
Harry turned to look. Mostly out of habit because he wanted to know who was around him, but also because of all the voices he expected to hear in the middle of Arctic Circle Finland (though it really wasn't the middle, only just over the circle), a British voice was not one of them. His mouth opened in surprise and he snapped his head back to face his plate. The face that belonged to the voice speaking behind him was one that he knew.
A chair scraped and he heard her take a heavy seat, the exhale of breath giving off the disappointment more than her word had just done.
"Are you done with everything, Mister Potter?" the waitress came up to his table and Harry tried to shush her, but didn't manage in time.
He turned and offered a half smile. "Hey, Parvati."
"What on earth..." she got from her seat and gathered up her glass and rolled utensils, moving to his table without so much as an invitation. She waited a moment and Harry eventually gestured to the free chair. "Are you on a mission?" she said with an alarmingly loud whisper that wasn't really a whisper.
"Holiday," he said.
Parvati's eyebrows shot up and she was unable to hold back a burst of laughter. "Harry Potter taking a holiday? I didn't think that was possible." She waved her hand, bangles rattling around her wrist. "It's no secret that you barely take time off, Harry. Don't look so surprised."
Fiddling with the napkin across his knee, Harry shot a look toward the waitress. However, instead of bringing the bill, the young woman merely came by and refilled his glass of water before scurrying off. He was torn. He wanted to just throw down a bunch of Euro and leave, but he was sure that Parvati still worked for Witch Weekly and the last thing he wanted was some pitying article about his lonely holiday as a middle-aged single man. But before he could say anything about keeping this chance meeting off the record, a notebook and quill appeared in front of his face.
"If holding onto them makes you feel better, you can go right ahead," she offered. "I was only here to see the lights and write a piece about Astronomy and how it affects our relationships."
"How did you..."
She smiled. "You keep looking around to see which exit is closer." She pointed. "That one, by the by. If you want to take off, I'm not going to stop you. I also have no interest in making an article out of your private holiday." She leaned forward and whispered in that voice that was nowhere close to being a whisper. "You're not all that much of a news story anymore, Harry."
He blinked and wasn't sure if the feeling inside of him was relief or disappointment. His eyes focused first on the notebook she was still holding out to him and then back to her face, which seemed to have this impish sort of expression as if she was daring him to be upset over being 'old news'. He reached out and pushed away the quill and book, sitting back in his chair.
"If you say you have no interest... then I believe you," he said.
Harry laughed, shaking his head. "We're tourists too, Parvati."
She lifted her glass of beer to her lips and took a long drink, finger raised before setting it aside. "Not like that. I followed all the rules and was perfectly naked the whole time. At least until I was dressed at the end, of course."
Coughing a little, Harry felt a flush creep up his neck and he thumped his chest just a little before looking out across the dining room. "And the sauna thing is part of your astronomy article?" he asked wryly.
"Of course not," Parvati grinned. "But the magazine is paying me to be here, so I'm going to take full advantage of everything that is being offered and it's my last night so hopefully the skies will cooperate. Though I might have to go outside if I'm going to see anything. My window doesn't really face the right way."
Harry took a sip of his drink, hiding the slight frown that somehow managed to pull at his lips. He didn't know why, but the idea of being left completely alone after Saturday felt odd. Almost every meal had somehow managed to involve a conversation with Parvati. Whether she was coming or going to some sort of outing or just sitting in the dining room and scribbling in her notebook. It was nice to have someone to converse with where the conversation didn't involve assignments or dark wizards or what paperwork hadn't been completed.
"I have a view of the lake if you wanted to come by and watch the lights from there," he found himself saying. He hadn't even realised he was going to make the offer until the words were out.
Her face brightened exponentially, dark eyes sparkling. "Really? Because that would be amazing. I tried to get one of the glass igloos from the start, but they were all booked up."
They decided on a time and Parvati headed off to take part in one of the reindeer tours around the resort's outer boundaries. Harry returned to his cabin and picked up a few things that were strewn about the room. It wasn't until he was looking at himself in the mirror, considering that a proper shave might be in order, that he realized he was possibly thinking of this as a date. He hadn't even asked her if she was single, not that she'd mentioned anyone at home or children of her own. But he hadn't even asked. They'd talked about work and they'd talked about his kids and she'd mentioned her nieces and nephews through Padma.
Giving his face a scrub with a cloth, Harry flicked off the light over the sink and returned to the main room. He gave one last look around the room, satisfied that at least it was tidy and then decided to head back out.
It was dark when he returned, mesh bags dangling from his elbow, and Parvati was just approaching his cabin ahead of him. Harry called out and held up his hand before she knocked and then slipped past her so he could unlock the door himself. She gave him a look, eyes pausing on the shopping before stepping into the warm little room.
"Where on earth did you go?" she asked, unwinding her scarf and hanging it on a hook.
"Rovaniemi," said Harry. "I figured it would be more fun to watch the lights with snacks." He pulled a few bags of crisps from the mesh sack and dropped them on the sofa.
"Those will go... quite terribly with the wine I brought," she said with a chuckle, holding out the bottle.
Harry took the bottle and looked at it and then looked at her. She looked nice, but then she had always looked nice whenever they met up. Suddenly he felt thirty years younger and as awkward as he had at the Yule Ball. Only this time he didn't have complicated dancing or stiff dress robes to hide behind. Clearing his throat, he took the wine and briefly hesitated because he wasn't sure where he'd find a wine opener. It lasted only a moment before he sheepishly reached for his wand and vanished the cork stopper. Grabbing the two water glasses by the ice bucket, Harry filled each with wine and handed one over to her.
"You don't do this very often," Parvati remarked, sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked up under herself.
"Go on holiday? No, not really. Probably why I had to be ordered by the Minister for Magic." Harry wrinkled his nose and plopped down beside her, sweeping the bags of crisps onto the floor to avoid them being crushed. He reached out and pressed a button built into the side table. The light overhead went out and the only thing that illuminated the space was the flickering oranges of the electric fire. "I imagine Hermione had a lot of fun making that decree."
"Imagine having to order your best friend to take time off..." Parvati said with a chuckle before looking at him. "But that isn't what I meant. I was referring to inviting a woman back to your place."
Harry sucked in a breath and was grateful that he hadn't yet taken a sip of his drink or he probably would have ended up sputtering and coughing with wine going all over his front. He glanced over at Parvati and her smile had almost turned into what he would consider a cheshire cat type of grin. She was teasing him. He thought that maybe he should be upset about that, but couldn't help but return the grin.
"Considering how long I've been out of the game and the fact that the last time I asked you to do something with me turned out pretty awful, I think I'm doing alright." He turned slightly on the sofa and faced her. "You're here aren't you?"
"I came for the light show," Parvati flipped her braid over her shoulder.
"With wine," Harry said, lifting his glass. He then gestured with the same glass toward the curved window wall and roof. "And you haven't really been watching."
She set down her glass, untouched. "Oh yes I have," she replied, looking at him.
Harry was going to ask what she meant by that. But he didn't need the explanation because the expression on her face and the smile pulling at her lips was telling enough. Part of him wanted to ask for how long, but he held back because he found that he didn't want extensive conversation. A gorgeous woman, so much more than just pretty, was sitting across from him and the suggestive tone in her voice caused a thrill to go up his spine.
"I don't think I want to watch the lights anymore," he said.
Parvati moved closer. "It's not as if they'll only last for a little bit," she said, her voice low. "We do have all night."
"Bold of you to assume that."
A throaty laugh and she reached out to walk her fingers along the buttons of his shirt. "You the sort who falls asleep straight after?"
"No," Harry said, catching her wrist and tugging her until she fell against him. "Bold of you to assume that I won't be distracted by other activities all night."
"I suppose," Parvati said, looking up at him with wide eyes rimmed with dark lashes. "That you might have to make it up to me by letting me stay another night." She winked and then leaned close to kiss his neck, just below his ear. "For my research. Of course."
"I'm sure that I could probably manage that. So long as we don't get even more distracted."
He turned his head and caught her mouth in a kiss. Overhead the skies flickered with the soft blues and greens of the aurora borealis.
It took at least three nights before Harry actually truly watched them.