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The More Loving One

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December twenty-fifth - Tidings of Comfort and Joy
Prompt - Christmas pudding

As the minute hand twitches past midnight Harry catches Draco’s eye across the cheese board, and raises his glass.

“Merry Christmas."

Draco casts a startled glance at the clock and his heart sinks. Mrs Singh has not made it then. She seemed so keen earlier and when they told her they might be able to help her find Nisha she had gripped his mother’s arm so tightly that he suspects her pale skin has bruised. Draco is still not one hundred percent sure they have done the right thing, although he doesn’t doubt that Mrs Singh loves her daughter and is desperate to keep her safe, but then he knows an awful lot about bigoted violent husbands and the lengths to which they can go to control their families. On the other hand, so does his mother, and she seemed to think it would be fine. He is only glad that he has not mentioned the possibility to Nisha or Harry.

He is just about to suggest that they go to bed when there comes a faint knock at the shop door below him. But before he can move, Harry, who is over by the window, jumps to his feet, muttering all sort of imprecations about late night visitors and officious SODA officials.

“It’d better not be Hector about those bloody snow sculptures again.”

Draco fusses over clearing away the cheese board and tidying up the sitting room, in an effort to hide his excitement from Nisha. When, after a tense moment, Harry returns looking eager and pleased, he sighs in relief. He trusts Harry’s instincts rather better than he trusts his own.

As Nisha, half-fearfully half determined, goes down stairs, faithful Sparks at her heels, he turns to Harry, who is leaning against the kitchen door with his arms crossed.

“You don’t look awfully surprised,” Harry says, with a knowing look. “Anything you’d care to share?”

“And you’re an expert on my body language now, are you?” he returns, clearing the cheeseboard and ensuring the left-over cheeses are properly wrapped in the correct papers.

Harry wanders over to pick up a last crumb of Yorkshire Blue. “I can read you now, Draco. And I know you had something to do with Mrs Singh being downstairs at ten past twelve on Christmas morning.”

“Yes,” he says, putting the cheeses in the pantry. “Well, I rather fancied myself as a slim, much better looking Father Christmas.”

Harry follows him in. “It’s all right, Draco. I think you did the right thing.”

“Excellent,” he says, rubbing his hands and taking down a bottle of whisky, and a bunch of carrots for the reindeer. “Does that mean I get to drink Santa’s whisky? I believe it’s a rather fine Glenlivet twelve year old with a French oak finish.”

Harry takes the bottle out of his hand. “You,” he says, “Have had too much already, and so has Santa. So in the interests of health and safety I’ll be leaving out a glass of milk.”

“Spoilsport,” grumbles Draco, but he follows Harry over to the hearth and watches him set a mince pie, a plate of carrots and a glass of ice cold milk on the mantelpiece. Harry might have a point. Something is fizzing through his blood and he’s not sure if it’s happiness or wine.

Nisha finds them there, staring into the fire, when she arrives with her mother a few minutes later.

“Would you like some Christmas cake, and a cup of tea?” Harry asks, already heading to the kitchen.

Nisha’s mother nods, looking round the flat and, Draco suspects, a tiny bit jealous. And, though many people wouldn’t, he thinks he can understand the appeal of a not overly large flat above a shop, over a frigid airless mansion.

“I’ve got a job," Nisha says, eyes proud and back straight.

“I heard," her mother replies. “With Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy, and I am very very grateful to them for everything I understand they have done for you. But, Nisha, if you want to continue your education, I have my dress allowance and I could try to help you." She trails off as Nisha shakes her head.

“Thank you, but I think it would be very difficult for you to deceive father like that - and if he found out he could so easily stop the money and interfere with my life again. Anyway once the Christmas rush is over Hermione has offered me a job in her legal practice, and she says that if I’m interested she will help me get grants for training. It sounds fascinating."

Her mother nods, looking both pained and relieved. But Draco, observing from the sofa with Harry, thinks that Nisha is making the right decision in the circumstances. Nisha watches, looking pleased as Sparks creeps closer to her mother and eventually jumps up into her lap, turning circles before settling down. And Mrs Singh, to her credit, does not flinch, even though Draco dreads to think what his claws are doing to her beautifully tailored silk travelling robes.

“He manages remarkably well, given that he’s only got three legs," she says, stroking Sparks along his wiry back and down the stump of his leg.

“Someone tried to drown him - I think it was because he was missing a leg,” says Nisha, leaning over to tickle him under the chin. “I rescued him from the canal.”

“The man at the pet shop wanted to flush Oolong down the loo,” adds Draco and Harry looks at him in horror.

“Just because he’s a bit lopsided?”

Draco nods, and then seeing Nisha’s mother’s bewildered look - “Oolong is Harry’s fish,” he adds.

Our fish,” corrects Harry with a smile.

“This is delicious cake,” says Mrs Singh, carefully placing her plate on the arm of the sofa. “So moist, and the whisky flavours come through beautifully.”

“I should hope so,” Draco mutters in Harry’s ear.

-----------------------------

The evening of Christmas day sees Ron, Hermione and Rose arrive straight from the Weasleys, with an enormous care package of food that should hopefully last them until the markets open again on Monday and will certainly provide everything they could possibly need for their supper - except -

“And now, it’s time for the Christmas Pudding,” Harry announces with all due ceremony, carrying the flaming pudding over to the table. Ron groans.

“Blue. Fire!” says Rose, clapping her hands in delight.

“Only a little bit for you,” says Hermione. “I dread to think how much alcohol Harry put in it.”

“Just a small slice for me too,” says Draco, feeling his stomach ruefully. Bacon sandwiches this morning, followed by Christmas lunch - and Harry always over caters - and now Molly’s leftovers have left him heavy and replete. He hopes Harry has rather less energetic plans for the coming night.

“Delicious - I think it’s your best yet, Harry” says Hermione. “Do you think Sparks would like some if I took the nuts out?”

Hearing his name, the little dog gets up and scutters across the floor. “Probably,” says Nisha, resignedly. “He’s such a glutton that I wonder if they starved him.”

“Ouch,” says Ron, reaching a finger into his mouth and hooking out an almond. “I think I’ve broken my tooth.”

“I’m not surprised,” says Hermione. “Your sugar consumption has been alarmingly high recently.”

“No worse than yours,” Ron replies, feeling a canine with an investigative tongue.

Hermione raises an eyebrow. “Golden syrup on your Yorkshire puddings?”

“Oh, look,” says Nisha, delicately removing a silver Sickle from her mouth. “What does that mean?”

“Good luck,” says Harry, smiling at her. “For the coming year. It’s a Muggle tradition, like making a wish when you make the pudding.”

“I think I’ve already had all my good luck,” Nisha says, beaming around the coffee table.

Draco smiles to himself as he thinks about Regent’s Park and a certain medical student.

“What are you grinning about?” asks Harry, poking him in the side. Which is quite uncalled for, especially given how much he has eaten today.

“New beginnings,” he replies, taking the intrusive hand and moving it to his thigh. “Is there anything else my teeth should be worried about or have we identified all the debris?”

Harry squeezes his hand and looks around. “There’s a couple more to go -”

Sparks who has finished his own helping and has been sniffing around the other bowls on the coffee table suddenly goes rigid, a strange wheeze coming from his throat.

“Oh God,” says Hermione pushing Rose off her knee. “I was sure I got all the nuts out.”

Draco gets there so fast he doesn’t even remember moving. “He’s choking.” He pulls out his wand - “Anapneo!" - and holds his breath as the little dog heaves and heaves until, with a hacking cough, something shoots out of his mouth and flies across the room.

“Sparks!” Nisha scoops him up off the floor and holds him to her breast, tears in her eyes.

“He’s all right,” says Harry. “Look, he’s breathing fine now, thanks to Draco’s quick thinking.”

Draco finds himself with an armful of girl and dog, and exchanges an alarmed glance with Harry. The dog may be breathing fine, but he’s not.

“I’m so sorry, I was sure -” begins Hermione, as Ron starts moving furniture and looking into glasses and bowls.

“Button,” says Rosie from over by the fireplace, but before she can put it in her mouth, Ron plucks it out of her fingers. She begins to whimper.

“I’m sorry Sparks, no love for you next year,” says Harry, going over to investigate. “That was the bachelor button.”

“He’ll get plenty of love from me,” says Nisha, still cuddling Sparks although he seems eager to have another go at the leftovers.

“I wonder whose plate it was from,” says Draco, sinking down on the sofa, his heart still pounding. “I think he’s stolen one of our favours.”

“I hope it wasn’t one of our favours,” Harry, dropping down next to him and scooping up their abandoned bowls and spoons from the floor. “I’ve had enough of bachelordom.”

“It had better be mine,” says Nisha, letting Sparks jump to the floor. “Or perhaps it was from the pile of nuts Hermione took out of Sparks’ dish.”

“Or Rosie’s,” suggests Draco. “She’s a bit young for love affairs so it doesn’t really matter.” He takes a bite of the pudding, and it is really rather good - in fact so good that he suspects some of his Glenlivet twelve year French oak finish might have found its way in here too. “Ouch.”

Harry’s head whips round. “What have you got?”

He says nothing until he has carefully removed the metal favour from his mouth. He wipes it off with his napkin - and puts it on Harry’s knee. “This.”

“The ring,” Harry says, looking up at him as Ron gives a wolf whistle and Hermione breaks into applause.

Draco looks at him steadily. “One of our customers was suggesting it was about time I ‘made an honest man of you’ only the other week."

Harry picks it up and slips it on his little finger. “It’s a bit small - and purple - but it’s certainly an improvement on that Malfoy monstrosity.”

Draco doesn’t need to look away from Harry to feel Hermione’s raised eyebrow and Ron’s splutter. He reaches over and threads his fingers through Harry’s and when Harry smiles back the rest of the room fades away leaving just the two of them. As Harry strokes his thumb over his sensitive skin, he still can’t quite believe that he can actually do this, that this is really happening.

“So, tell me about this pudding tradition,” says Nisha, Pure Blood training coming to the fore once again as she sits back down, hugging Sparks to her chest. Harry blinks and Draco looks away at last - and right into Weasley’s amused eyes. Bloody hell. They’ve just been gazing at each other like lovestruck teenagers, in full view of one of the most relentless piss-takers in Britain.

“Did you get your wish?” asks Hermione, when Harry has finished explaining a rather muddled account of the history and significance of pudding favours and wishing.

“Not exactly,” says Harry, reddening. “But I think I asked for the wrong thing.”

“What did you wish for?” Draco asks, intrigued.

Harry groans before looking up at him with embarrassed eyes. “It’s going to sound very silly, but I wished that we could always be like this. All together, just like this. But especially you - I’ve always been afraid you would go somewhere and I didn’t know how I could ever stop you.”

Warmth burns through Draco’s veins, and he doesn’t think it’s the Glenlivet.

“You are the most oblivious person I have ever met, but I don't think you were that far off, actually," says Hermione, dropping a kiss on Harry’s head as she carries Rose over to see Oolong, who has been moved to the side table for the occasion.

“Look Rose, it’s a wonky fish.”

Curling into Harry’s warm side, looking from Oolong to Sparks, to their lopsided Christmas tree, Draco reflects that Harry’s preference for the not-perfect has worked out rather well in his favour.