Twenty-fifth of December – Step Inside
“Come out, you little bugger,” Harry mutters, dropping to his hands and knees in pursuit of Sparks, who has disappeared under his bed after leading him a merry chase around the flat with one of Rose’s Christmas boots in his mouth.
Sparks lets out a muffled bark and Rose’s delighted laughter drifts to Harry’s ears from the living room as he flattens himself to the floor and winces when the hard boards press mercilessly against his full stomach. He has, as is tradition, eaten far too much today. There had been the breakfast bacon sandwiches, the spicy nibbles Nisha had made to go with the bucks fizz, the soup and the turkey and the mountains of delicious peripheral items, followed by the Christmas pudding and the mints and more chocolate than anyone should eat in one day... Harry groans and stares hopelessly at Sparks, who chomps happily on Rose’s boot and wags his tail, clearly unaffected by the vast amount of food that he, too, has put away.
Then, of course, Hermione and Ron had turned up in the early evening, flushed and weary and laden with gifts and leftovers, just as they do every year, and, just as he does every year, Harry had looked at the neatly-wrapped plates of Molly’s festive fare, announced that he was far too full, and ended up eating a large amount of it anyway. There is still plenty left; Molly’s Christmas delivery always keeps Harry and Draco going until the new year, and Harry is pretty sure they aren’t the only ones to receive the festive food parcels.
“The turkey she buys is massive,” Harry tells Sparks, giving up and flopping onto his side. “You could probably crawl right inside it. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Sparks blinks in the near-darkness and shuffles out from under the bed. With a small sneeze, he drops the slightly-chewed boot at Harry’s side and sprawls out next to him, tail thumping against the floor and little jumper dotted with dust from under the bed.
“Thank you,” Harry says gravely, taking possession of the boot before the little dog can change his mind and resume the game.
“Dog?” Rose says, voice full of confusion.
Harry gazes at the half-closed door and attempts to motivate himself to get up. It’s been a rather spectacular Christmas so far—a pretty perfect day, in fact—but his energy levels are dipping and all he really wants to do is fall into bed and allow sleep to claim him. Preferably with Draco at his side, though right now, he would happily settle for the floor and a Sparks-pillow. His eyes are heavy, his limbs warm and leaden, and as he glances hazily at the little set of vials on his bedside, he smiles.
Slowly and with some effort, he rolls onto his knees and hauls himself up onto the edge of the bed, setting down the boot and picking up the small wooden rack containing his favourite Christmas present from Draco. Draco has, as always, managed to collect an astonishing array of odd and wonderful gifts for him, but, for some reason, this one is special. It is so special that he has hidden it away in his bedroom, not wanting to share it, even with Ron and Hermione. Perhaps it’s because the gift is just too thoughtful somehow, or perhaps it’s because the very concept of it makes him feel idiotic for failing to notice what Draco has clearly been trying to tell him for years.
Harry smiles, fingertips tracing each vial in turn, smooth, cool glass and neat paper labels, each inscribed with words in Draco’s small, spiky handwriting.
A vial filled with shimmering pale green liquid—for cool, refreshing sleep.
A pearly white potion that clings to the glass in glimmering beads—for a restful mind.
A clear, sea blue tincture—for the energy to continue.
A vial of deep, swirling red—for fortitude.
An opalescent, pale blue liquid—for beautiful dreams.
Harry stares at the vials, fingers tightening around them as though Draco might suddenly appear and announce that he is taking them back. He lets out a long, careful breath. That isn’t going to happen. It isn’t going to happen because Draco loves him and has spent hours researching and creating these potions for him. The label is right there, looped around the wooden rack:
I hope you can find some peace of mind.
“You know, I made those when you seemed to be having a lot of horrible dreams and restless nights... you’ve slept rather well recently,” Draco says, and Harry looks up to see him standing in the doorway.
Harry flushes. “I don’t care. I love them.”
Draco smiles slowly, and, for a moment, the whole world drops away. The voices from the living room fade to nothing, and he is barely even aware of the fact that Sparks has jumped onto the bed and is attempting to reclaim Rose’s boot.
“Don’t even think about it,” Draco says suddenly, crossing the floor in two long strides and snatching the boot away from the little dog. “Come on,” he adds, nudging Harry’s knee. “You don’t want to miss this.”
Intrigued, Harry hauls himself to his feet and follows Draco out into the living room. Sparks’s claws click on the floorboards as he, too, comes out to rejoin the others.
“Hang on... is this the same bloke you were talking about earlier?” Ron is saying, frowning and balancing his mug on the arm of the sofa.
Nisha shakes her head. “No, there were two completely different groups having the same argument. One was a mixed group, this one was all men.”
Hermione laughs and Rose reaches up to grab at her swinging curls. “No, Rose, Mummy needs those. So what did he say then?”
“He was going to go in and flirt with Harry,” Nisha says. “According to him, if Harry flirted back, that meant he was available.”
Ron snorts. “Yeah, because Harry’s so brilliant at knowing when someone’s flirting with him.”
“I am here, you know,” Harry points out, crossing his arms and attempting to look disparaging.
“Ron’s right, though,” Draco says, looking far more amused than Harry thinks he should. “You are useless. At least in that area.”
Nisha laughs, and she and Hermione exchange glances. Ron turns slightly pink.
“Any more, Nisha?” he asks hopefully.
“Plenty,” she says, smiling as Sparks bounds up beside her and buries his nose in her hair as though they have been separated for days rather than minutes. “Lots and lots of teenage girls talking about how gorgeous Harry was or how mysterious and brooding Draco was...” she laughs. “But the middle-aged ladies were the funniest. You know, the mums.”
Harry buries his own embarrassment in the delight of seeing Draco squirm as they take up their seats on the sofa opposite Nisha.
“I’m not sure I want to know,” Draco says, hunting around for his cup of tea. When he fails to find it, he steals Harry’s instead.
“You were the one who didn’t want me to miss this,” Harry points out gleefully. “And she’s right, we always get loads of women old enough to be our mothers wandering around the shop in little groups. Half the time they don’t even buy anything.”
“Ah, but you don’t get to hear what they say on the way out,” Nisha says. “You never heard ‘Did you see his wand, Belinda?’—‘I’d love to see his wand, Mary!’ or ‘what I wouldn’t do to that Draco Malfoy!’ or ‘I bet they’re at it day and night... they’ve probably done it right there on that counter!’” she declares, throwing herself into the role of the lustful older lady with some relish.
Hermione and Ron are helpless with laughter as she continues, and, when he hears the immortal phrase, ‘I’d spank the lovely little bottom right off that young man’, Harry can’t help but join them. It does rather help that the lovely young man in question is Draco rather than himself.
“You are, of course, making all of this up,” Draco says to Nisha, attempting to grimace and laugh at the same time.
“Not even a little bit,” Nisha says. “The best thing was when so many of them turned up at the auction. I don’t think a single one of them remembered me, but I remembered them.” She laughs. “That man in the red cloak who nearly won the broomstick? Oh, Harry, he fancied you rotten.”
“Well, who doesn’t?” Hermione teases.
Ron turns to look at her, horrified, and she grins. Kissing him on the cheek, she stretches out, dangling her hand into Oolong’s bowl and attempting to entice him to nibble at her fingertips.
“Not me,” Nisha says, amused. “Sorry, Harry.”
Harry lets out a dramatic sigh. “I’ll live.”
“I like redheads,” she says, and Ron glances at her, startled. “My friend from back home... he looks a bit like you, actually, but with brown eyes. He’s very handsome.”
Ron smiles, seeming to puff up slightly as he leans forward to pick up a chunk of leftover turkey from one of the plates. “I’m sure he is,” he says, dropping the entire piece into his mouth and seeming to swallow it whole.
Hermione sighs. “Do you think you’ll be able to get in touch with him now that you’ve seen your mother?”
Nisha chews her lip thoughtfully, pulling her feet up underneath her and coiling her long hair around her forearm. Everything about her is just that little bit shinier today, Harry thinks, and he can’t help but compare this healthy, contented young woman with the shivering, terrified girl of four weeks ago. Her hair is glossy, she has put on weight, and every day there is just a little bit more confidence than the day before. She is growing, and he feels inexplicably and helplessly proud of her.
“I don’t know,” Nisha says at last. “I thought it was all a big secret, you know, the way I felt, but it turns out she knew all along. She said Manny came to find her after I ran away... she said he was asking about me.”
“I’m sure he misses you,” Hermione says gently.
Nisha’s dark eyes glow with a fragile sort of hope that makes Harry’s heart twist in his chest. “After tonight, all things are possible,” she says, almost in a whisper. “That’s what Mum said just before she left. I hope that’s true.”
Draco laces his fingers through Harry’s. “It is,” he says firmly.
For long moments, the room is silent. Harry grips Draco’s hand tightly and allows the feeling of quiet warmth to wash over him as he watches his friends exchanging bright, genuine smiles. Ron puts his arm around Hermione and kisses Rose on the top of the head. Nisha hugs her knees and beams at them.
“Dog!” Rose declares, clapping her hands. “Want dog yes!”
Sparks barks lustily and leaps from the sofa, skidding across the floor and coming to a stop at Rose’s feet. As he and Rose are praised extravagantly for their feat of communication, Harry collects the empty teacups and takes the tray into the kitchen. After a moment, Nisha follows him, ducking out of the living room just as a rather heated discussion stirs into life behind her.
“Ron, it must have been you!” Hermione insists.
“When would I have done it?” he demands, apparently wounded.
“Well, it wasn’t me,” Draco says, and Harry doesn’t believe him. He has no idea what crime has been committed in his absence, but he is willing to bet that Draco has had something to do with it.
“What’s going on?” he asks.
Nisha glances at the door with an amused smile. “Someone put Moutho Burno in Hermione’s tea when she wasn’t looking.”
“Draco,” Harry says wearily.
Nisha shakes her head. “No, I’m afraid it was me. But I thought it was Draco’s cup,” she admits.
Harry grins. “Brilliant. They’ll be arguing for hours.”
“Probably. Listen, Harry... I just wanted to say it again... thank you for being so nice to my mother,” Nisha says, fiddling with the edges of her sleeves. “I gave her a present, you know,” she adds before Harry can once again reassure her that being nice to her mother had been no trouble at all. “Do you think that’s really stupid?”
“Of course not.” The kettle whistles and Harry turns away to pour the tea. “What did you get her?”
“Remember the stall with the cloak pins? As soon as Hermione gave me that money for looking after Rose, I went back and...” Nisha laughs guiltily. “Just in case.”
Harry turns around, catching her embarrassed little cringe. “It is never stupid to hope, I promise you.”
Nisha smiles. “She loves cloak pins. She’s got a whole collection of them.”
“Perhaps you did it yourself,” Draco says loudly. “Has anyone considered that?”
“Aha!” Ron cries, and Hermione groans.
“Why would I put horrible hot sauce in my own cup of tea?”
Nisha wrinkles her nose and stares at the door for a moment before turning back to Harry, eyes suddenly bright with secret joy. Slowly, she pushes up her sleeve and shows him a multicoloured bracelet made from strands of what appears to be embroidery floss.
“Me and Mum used to make these for each other when I was really little—before my brothers and my sister were born,” she explains, turning the little bracelet on her wrist. “It’s a friendship bracelet. Whenever we fell out, one of us would make one to show the other that we were sorry. It means... she wants to be friends again,” Nisha says, eyes bright with tears.
Harry’s eyes sting as though in sympathy. He has no idea what to say, so he says nothing, just steps across the kitchen and hugs her tightly. She hugs back, strong hands gripping his jumper fabric and soft hair brushing his face.
“Hermione, put that down,” Ron says warily, and Harry and Nisha pull apart.
“Tea,” Harry says, quickly reassembling the tray.
“Good idea,” Nisha agrees, holding open the door and then following him into the fray.
Two hours later, Ron, Hermione and Rose step into the fireplace and leave for home, having consumed a healthy portion of leftovers, drunk multiple pots of tea, and thoroughly embarrassed Harry and Draco by telling them all the things Molly and Arthur have said about them in their absence. They are still bickering as they disappear into the green flames, both refusing to believe Nisha’s confession regarding the hot sauce and both still convinced that the other had been to blame.
“Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of a domestic spat,” Draco says, stretching and getting to his feet. “Now, who fancies a walk?”
Nisha grimaces, shifting position on the sofa just enough to let Sparks roll over in his sleep. “No, thanks. I don’t think I can even move. Why did I eat that turkey sandwich?”
“Because Draco makes the best leftover sandwiches in the world?” Harry suggests.
“You only want me for my sandwiches,” Draco says sulkily, putting on his coat and trying to hide a smile as he selects one of his new scarves to wear.
“Don’t worry, Draco, Sparks and I want you for your brain,” Nisha promises, yawning widely.
Harry scrambles to his feet and shrugs into his coat. “Good luck with that,” he mutters, grinning at Draco’s mumbled ‘bugger off’ and following him out onto the staircase.
They step out of the shop into a cold, silent world of softly falling snowflakes and coloured lights glimmering in the darkness. The whole street smells of cooking and winter and contentment and Harry breathes it in deeply. At his side, Draco rubs his gloved hands together and looks up and down the cobbled street.
“Anywhere you like,” Harry says easily, and when Draco starts walking, he follows, quickly falling into step beside him.
Draco grins. “Anywhere?”
Harry glances at him. “Within reason. I’m still very, very full.”
“We’d better make it your bedroom tonight, then... just in case you come to a complete standstill.” Draco pauses, head tilted on one side. “Our bedroom?” he muses, seemingly to himself.
“If you like,” Harry says, hiding a smile in the collar of his coat. “Why mine?”
“It’s bigger,” Draco says simply.
Harry frowns and wipes a snowflake from his glasses. “Draco... they are exactly the same.”
“No, yours is six inches larger in both directions,” Draco says.
“And you know this how?”
“I measured before we moved in, of course,” Draco says, glancing at Harry as though this should be self-evident.
Harry shakes his head. After a moment, though, he frowns. “Why did you let me have the bigger room?”
Draco says nothing, suddenly becoming very interested in making sure that the ends of his scarf are exactly aligned against his coat. His serious expression—eyebrows drawn down, eyes narrowed, mouth pressed thin—is so earnest that Harry can’t help but smile. Maybe he will never know just how long this man has been everything to him; all he can really do is ensure that he is never again so fucking stupid.
In the interests of avoiding such a fate, he stops, pulls Draco to him and kisses him, sliding his fingers over cold skin and soft hair, gasping when Draco smiles against his mouth and drags him closer. The snow falls around them, landing silently on coats and scarves and eyelashes, Draco’s gloved fingers are rough and warm against his face, and somewhere nearby, someone is trying not to laugh.
Slowly, they step apart, and Harry spots their spectator without too much trouble. Standing outside the Leaky Cauldron, just ten feet or so away from them, is Jean. She beams at them and exhales a long plume of fragrant smoke from an elaborately decorated meerschaum pipe.
“Hello, boys,” she says, sounding amused. “Merry Christmas.”
“Hello, Jean,” Draco says, sweeping his hair from his eyes and attempting to regain his composure. Harry just flushes and offers her a sheepish smile.
“Bit cold out for a walk, isn’t it?” the old lady says, puffing away on her pipe.
“That’s a little bit rich coming from the woman who is standing in the snow without a coat on,” Draco says, indicating her thin blouse and pleated skirt.
“Just getting some fresh air,” she says, and when their eyes stray to her pipe, she laughs. “Well, some peace, maybe. Mr Borteg’s at the piano, you see.”
“I thought he was pretty good,” Harry says, puzzled. He has heard Mr Borteg play several times before and has always regarded him as some kind of virtuoso.
“Oh, he is,” Jean says, “but I can’t say the same for the rest of the rabble.” She pushes the door open with her shoulder, allowing the loud, tuneless singing of the Leaky’s customers to seep out onto the street.
“I’ve heard worse,” Draco says. “You wouldn’t believe the noises this one makes in his sleep.”
“Is that right, love?” Jean says calmly, blowing her smoke straight up into the cold air. “I suppose you’d better come in, then.”
With that, she turns and walks back into the pub, leaving the door flapping behind her. Harry and Draco glance at the warm, lively interior of the Leaky and then at each other.
“What do you think?” Harry asks.
“I think it’s Christmas, and as such, it is time to sing,” Draco says gravely, and, without another word, he threads his fingers through Harry’s and pulls him inside.