by Draeconin

For story details and disclaimer, please see chapter one.

Chapter Twenty-Four

"My gods, Draco! You're huge!"

"Nobody asked your bloody opinion, Weasley," Draco growled. "Shut it!"

"Draco!" Harry remonstrated.

"Well, what do you expect, Harry?" Draco demanded irritatedly. "I'm pregnant - more than half-way along - it's your fault, and your bloody best friend - whom I've never been fond of, by the way - is making insulting remarks!"

Harry was quiet while he absorbed that short speech. "You know, you're right." Looking at Ron, who had been smirking, and who was now looking mildly apprehensive, he said, "That really was rather a personal remark, Ron. Perhaps an apology is in order?"

It was Draco's turn to smirk.

Ron's face reddened, and for a moment he looked as though he might refuse. Then he deflated and turned to the pregnant young man. "Sorry to have commented... Draco." He looked as though he'd just had his mouth washed out with soap.

Draco wasn't happy with the apology. The redhead hadn't taken back the sentiment, he had only apologised for having said it. But he realised it was probably the best he would get. He put it down to lack of breeding, and dropped the subject. That didn't mean he forgave the youngest Weasley male, however.

"Well?" he asked, exasperatedly. "Aren't you going to offer us a seat, and refreshments?"

"Ronald Billious Weasley!" came Molly Weasley's voice, as she entered the room. "Don't you dare tell me you've forgotten the manners I took so long to knock into your head!"

"I knew there had to be a reason for it," Draco muttered irreverently, under his breath. "Too many hits to the head!"

Harry elbowed him, but was thinking 'Billious'? and trying hard not to laugh.

Draco glared at his husband. "What was that for?"

"Don't you two be quarrelling, now," Molly injected, saving Harry from having to answer. "Come on into the lounge. Everyone's here. We're just getting ready to decorate the tree."

Her apologetic tone for that last sentence was explained as they stepped into the large common area. In one corner stood a Muggle store-bought 'Christmas tree'; all tin, wire branches and plastic needles. Arthur's doing, no doubt. Nobody else seemed especially pleased or impressed, although they were trying to put a good face on it.

"Oh, bloody hell!" Draco exclaimed, upon seeing it. "Arthur Weasley; I knew you were barmy for Muggle things, but this is going just too bloody far!"

Arthur's face flushed in irritation. "Listen here..." Nobody found out what he would have said next, as Draco interrupted.

"No, you listen! Yule is about renewing the hope for life; bringing the sun back! That - parody of a tree has nothing to do with either hope or life!"

Mister Weasley found he couldn't very well argue the fact, especially after he discovered everyone in the room looking at him with hope in their eyes that different arrangements would be made. But he wouldn't go down without a fight. "I suppose you believe that killing a tree is better?" he sneered.

Draco was on firm ground, and confidently replied. "Of course not; that wouldn't be in the proper spirit, either. But cutting a bough or two each from several trees does no lasting harm. Drape them in appropriate places in the room, and use your decorations on them!" he said triumphantly.

Arthur was entranced by the elegant solution (having, apparently, forgotten that the 'Christmas' tree was a relatively new custom, having only been introduced in the late 1800's), albeit a bit disappointed that his precious Muggle 'tree' had been so ill received by family and friends alike. Nobody had said anything, but though he'd tried to ignore it, he'd noticed the all-too-frequent unhappy looks aimed at his artificial tree since he'd dragged it out of the box and started putting it together.

Mister Weasley wasn't the only one pleased with Draco's suggestion, and soon most of the males in the room had made their way to the mud room, bundled up, and gone off to find saws, hatchets, and trees from which to harvest limbs.

Harry and Draco, since they'd just arrived (and in Draco's case, because of his 'delicate condition'), were deemed exempt; they were left to lounge by the fire, sipping mulled, spiced cider, and chat with the women, when those worthies weren't busy in the kitchen. Ginny was the exception. She'd insisted that the menfolk wouldn't get it right unless she were there to keep an eye on them.

It wasn't but a couple of hours later before everyone was back, arms laden with evergreen boughs.

Yule with the Weasley's was, as always, an affair of seemingly chaotic confusion. But it was full of fun and laughter, and everything got done, as miraculous as that seemed, albeit not without a few pranks being pulled by the twins.

There was a little tension at first as everyone tried to adjust to Draco's presence, but eventually it eased up, although it never quite entirely went away. Part of that was due to Draco's penchant for sarcasm when he was ill-at-ease, and little comments that, while quite unintended as such, made it appear he considered himself above everyone there. Of course he did, but he didn't mean to task anyone else with that attitude, and he managed to charm his way out of most of those incidents - usually by passing it off as hormonal surges due to his pregnancy. Those who knew him knew better, but they could see he was trying, so didn't take the micky out of him too often.

Finally the sun set, and it was Yule.*

"Presents!" gleefully shouted the twins, George and Fred, simultaneously.

"After the celebration, boys. You know that!" their father remonstrated with them.

They adjourned to the study which, for this night only, had been bespelled to three times its normal size. There they found a simple wooden altar laden with the foods of the season; root vegetables, grains, apples, and a joint of beef. A small bottle of wine and a largish goblet also graced the altar-top. Unlike the Muggle version of this and other seasonal celebrations, there were no mystic symbols, no special clothing, and no arcane music. They had retrieved a few coals from the fireplace and put them into an earth-filled pot, and upon which Arthur now threw a small amount of mixed resins and dry herbs. These gave off a light, pleasing scent that had those present feeling relaxed and at ease.

Arthur acted as the celebrant, assisted by his wife. He poured some wine into the goblet, and Molly gave from it a sip to each person present. "We are met in peace," Arthur intoned formally, when the last person had supped, and the last of the wine poured upon the ground as tribute to the gods.

He then turned to the altar and proceeded to thank his gods for the last year's bounty, the sacrifice of the Summer King, and their fervent wishes and prayers that the sun come back and bring life for yet another year. Although Arthur had his private doubts that the gods had much, if anything, to do with the seasons and the workings of the universe, he had no doubts about their existence, having met one once, and he had no desire to incur their displeasure by ignoring these rituals.

When the short ritual was over, and a bit of each of the foodstuffs had been sacrificed to the fire, they retired to the lounge.

"Presents now?" the twins again asked in unison.

"How do they do that?" Draco quietly whispered to Harry.

Harry just grinned and shrugged, having long ago given up on trying to figure out that particular puzzle.

"Since you two are so eager," Mister Weasley stated, "you can act the Yule elves."

Fred and George pouted at him. It wasn't that they were unwilling, but that they would be unable to open their own gifts until everyone else had theirs. Still, sooner begun, sooner done, so they set to with a will, and soon everyone had a small pile of packages in front of them.

The usual Molly Weasley jumpers made their appearance, including one for Draco. He put a brave face upon it though, and thanked the kindly woman with grace, and as much sincerity as he could muster for the forest-green article. In deference to Draco's more refined tastes Molly had made the finely stitched silver 'D' quite small by her usual standards, and moved it from the centre of the chest, towards the left shoulder; the same for Harry's, which was in the same colours.

The twins gave everyone an assortment of pranks from their shop. Books, jewellery, clothing, and various other things rounded out the gifts given and received.

Later, everyone was surprised when Molly slipped a finely-chopped Canary Cream into the Waldorf salad. There was immediate confusion as everyone immediately accused 'Gred' and 'Forge' of the prank, while they vociferously protested their innocence. There was so little of the confection in the salad per person that nobody had a complete transformation, but the feathers tickled. No one thought to notice that both of the twins had also broken out in feathers. And Molly had a grand laugh at everyone's expense, especially upon seeing the looks of astonishment on everyone's faces after she confessed to the prank.

"The twins had to get it from somewhere, didn't they?" she crowed.

By the end of their stay Draco had become almost comfortable with the family, and they with him. But finally it was time to go spend a few days with Draco's mother.

The trip to Switzerland was uneventful, as was the sleigh ride to the chalet. From the outside it was only slightly more impressive than the others in the area, but indoors it very much lived up to the usual ostentatious Malfoy standards. Although not as coldly gracious as the manor, the rare woods, fur rugs and fine art still screamed 'wealth'.

Set high in the foothills it, in itself, was a work of art. And the view out the lounge windows was breathtaking. A thick coat of fresh snow covered everything in sight. The boughs of the various sorts of evergreen trees drooped beneath its weight but stood strong; a fitting symbol of the boys' own lives, had they only thought of it.

Narcissa's greeting was anything but cold, however. In fact it stopped just short of effusive. Once divested of their out-of-doors garments and seated in front of the cheerily blazing fireplace with hot chocolate laced with cinnamon and rum, she demanded, and received, a thorough account of their lives since her last visit, and even unbent enough to laugh at the retelling of the Weasley twins' antics, and Molly's prank.

Supper was a gourmet's delight. Brioche was in a linen-lined basket in the middle of the table. The meal started with a shrimp bisque, served with a delicate white wine, followed by lime sorbet to cleanse the palate, and then the main course - a wienerschnitzel that was larger than the plate served with lemon wedges, an asparagus and wild mushroom ragout, wild rice, and a fine riesling. A small caesar salad rounded out the meal, followed by a rich, full-bodied dessert coffee made from freshly roasted and ground beans.

"Next year when Draco isn't with child, we'll have a nice Napoleon brandy as well," Narcissa commented, making Draco's cheeks pink up. He was going to protest, but she ignored his reaction and rode over whatever he might have been going to say. "And now, perhaps, we should adjourn to the sitting room and open gifts?"

Harry could see Draco's frustration, but it only amused him. He rather wished he had a mother to torment him gently, like that. And he was in no doubt whatsoever that Narcissa had deliberately poked at her son; he'd seen the sparkle in her eyes as she'd said it.

Most of the presents from Narcissa were baby related of course, including a very finely made and wonderfully carved Swiss cradle, but there were some very thoughtful personal items as well; and both young men were appropriately, and verbally, thankful.

Harry had pondered and worried long and hard over his gift for his mother-in-law. His worries were put to rest at the look of genuine pleasure upon her face as she first unwrapped, and then studied the miniature. It was a silver swan, finely detailed down to the last etched feather, and enchanted to fly and even stay afloat should it be put to swimming; and so beautiful and graceful that it was hard to tear one's eyes from it. The legs had been cleverly crafted so that it could walk about, but could also act as a cloak pin, or brooch.

"I hope you like it," Harry said to her ingenuously, although he could plainly see she did. "It reminded me of you."

The compliment brought a glow of pleasure to her eyes; not because of the compliment itself, as she had heard many of those in her life, but because she could tell he meant it. Most compliments she had received were because she was 'Mrs. Lucius Malfoy', and the person uttering it had hoped to ingratiate him- or herself, and by doing so, reap some benefit. Harry wanted nothing of her but, perhaps, her blessing of his relationship with her son.

Finally Harry and Draco brought out their special presents to each other.

Harry gave Draco his present to him, first. It was another miniature; this one a dragon, and done with the same impeccable attention to detail. Yes, it was a bit predictable, but Harry had been at a loss. His husband had been, after all, über-riche. Trying to find something new and interesting for the boy who'd had everything had turned out to be more than he could handle.

"It's enspelled to protect you as well," Harry told him. "It'll breathe fire, and the legs transform into mini-stilettos when needed."

He turned again to his mother-in-law. "Yours too, Mrs. Malfoy, it-"

"Narcissa, dear," she interrupted, correcting him.

Harry took it graciously. "Narcissa. I'm sorry. But while the swan won't breathe fire, it will sound a rather loud alarm while its attacking the danger. And, if necessary, it can act as a portkey. You'll have to set a password to activate it, but it will take you to Hogwarts' gates. The castle's warded against portkeys to get into it, or I'd have had it set for Dumbledore's office."

Narcissa looked quite pleased, with that. "That was quite thoughtful of you, although I'm not so sure that any area outside the castle would be safe for a portkey destination."

At her son's and son-in-law's quizzical looks, she said, "If the castle were besieged, for example. I rather expect that You-Know-Who has the school as one of his prime targets - wouldn't you think?"

Harry nodded. "I hadn't thought of that," he admitted. "I'm sure you can have it reset for another destination, then."

He continued to look pensive.

"Harry?" Draco asked, concerned. "What is it?"

"Your mother's right," Harry replied. "With Dumbledore and me there, and his history with Hogwarts... I'm sure he'll attack it sometime or other. He's made small forays, but they've all failed. An all-out attack, though..." He looked Draco in the eyes. "I don't want you going back there."

"Don't be silly, Harry! Of course I'm going back! We still have NEWTs to take," Draco said dismissively.

Harry shook his head, stubbornly. "It's not just you now, Draco. There's the baby, too."

"You're not going back there alone." Draco's tone brooked no argument.

"You know that I have to be there!" Harry replied, forgetting, in his worry, that their bond wouldn't let them separate.

Draco nodded. "Yes, I do."

"But... !" Harry looked to Narcissa, seeking support.

"Draco, love, be reasonable," she started.

'Bad. Very bad,' Harry thought, his heart sinking. 'That's the best way to ensure he won't be reasonable.' Draco didn't interrupt his mother, but Harry could see his jaw setting stubbornly. He'd continue to let Mrs. Malfoy talk, on the off-chance that it would do any good, but he already knew that he'd lost this particular battle. Any argument forceful enough to let him win it now would likely damage their relationship.

"You know that..." She kept talking, trying to persuade her son to stay somewhere safe. Harry listened and watched his husband; watched the polite, but completely closed expression on his face.

When she was finished, Harry said, "You're going to go back, aren't you?"

Draco looked at him levelly. "If that's where you're going to be, then yes. We have a bond limit, remember?"

Harry grimaced at his memory slip, sighed, then gave Narcissa a wry grin. "It was a good try, Mrs. - Narcissa. Thank you."

"Now," Draco said decisively, "if the two of you are quite through, may I give Harry my gift?" He didn't wait for a reply as he reached down beside his chair, then handed Harry a silver-wrapped package tied with a green and gold ribbon.

"What? No red?" Harry quipped, seeing three of their House colours on the box.

Draco smirked. "Well, go on! Open it!" he said, grinning.

When he had, he understood Draco's grin. There, in perfect miniature replica, was a tiny phoenix in red and black, with green eyes. It immediately flew up and perched on his shoulder, trilling all the while.

"It's beautiful!" Harry exclaimed.

"It's almost indestructible," Draco said with quiet pride. "And it becomes a flying ball of flame if you're threatened."

Harry grinned. "Great minds think alike, eh?"

"You wish," Draco replied flippantly, echoing one of Harry's frequent rejoinders. They both laughed, while Narcissa looked on, a strange look on her face. Harry noticed.

"Narcissa? Is something wrong?"

"No, Harry. I was just..." She took a deep breath, and straightened her posture. "My little boy is a man, and has chosen a very good life partner for himself," she announced, a little unnecessarily. "I was recalling him as a small child," she admitted. "Nostalgia. The refuge of the aged, and hopeless."

"Nonsense, mother!" Draco reproved her. "You are by no means hopeless!" He had a look of deviltry in his eyes as he deliberately said nothing about her being agéd.

"I can still enchant a switch to spank you, you know," she replied with fake indignation.

"Mother! In my condition?" he replied, an equally fake look of shock on his face.

"Why not?" Harry replied, joining the fun. "I do it all the time!"

Immediately, Narcissa's demeanour grew serious. "You take switches to him?" Her voice was low, and dangerous.

"Of course not!" Harry replied indignantly. "I use my hand! It's more fun for both of us, that way."

"Harry!" Draco's voice was shocked that he'd share that with his mother, and his face was beet red. The admission had left Harry's face flushed as well, but he was enjoying the shock he'd caused.

Narcissa's hand was covering her mouth; in shock, or to hide her amusement, he couldn't quite tell, but if the sparkle in her eyes was any indication, he wasn't in trouble. He thought he'd judged her correctly, and was feeling a bit smug about it.

"As a proper British witch," she finally replied, "I cannot, of course, condone that behaviour." Her voice was just a bit distant, but her next words made Draco's blush even brighter. "Do be careful of his condition, won't you?"

With that stamp of approval, Harry's grin widened. "Of course, Mother," the means of address falling easily from his lips for the first time.

Draco hit him.


* Days used to be counted from sunset to sunset in this part of the world, and the wizarding world has kept this tradition for holidays - at least, in this story.


Please Review