There's a Christmas pudding in his cupboard.
It was made by warm hands with strong fingers, kneading into the mix and chopping quickly as she had in Potions. With drunken giggles as half the brandy bottle went into the pudding and the other half to their laughing eyes, it was made over the course of a lazy Saturday spent half-naked. A hand-written recipe was followed with determined eyes and a firm set to her mouth.
It's the apricots, she had whispered. Spice the apricots first.
He'd just smiled and watched her move through their kitchen making magic.
It was made before.
And now, he supposes, it is after.
He frowns at the congealed lump of brandy and apricots and spices.
And then closes the cupboard.
He finds the pudding again days later, when he's finally spent an hour not thinking of her for the first time in weeks.
It's a brown sludge that she guaranteed would taste wonderful. She guaranteed it would keep until Christmas. She guaranteed her grandmother's recipe was the best.
There are guarantees and there are promises. One of those is something you can break.
She makes guarantees. He makes the other.
He finally removes the pudding from his cupboard the next day. He hovers the entire dish over the bin, pausing only to wonder if she would ask about it at Christmas.
Maybe he should eat it himself. Clean the dish until it is just crumbles and memories, and then when she comes by to take the pudding to her holiday party, just leave the empty dish on his doorstep.
He hovers the pudding back to his kitchen counter and stares at it.
Would she come by for it?
He keeps it there.
He doesn't use his kitchen often. In fact, the only memories he has of being in it are of her, dancing to the music she'd play while baking or tossing the salad. The day he'd kissed down her stomach to her knickers, pressing her back on the island as his birthday cake had risen in the oven. The way they'd fought over something as asinine as Ron Weasley's wedding invitation, conveniently arriving on their three-month anniversary.
But now as the brown nut pudding sits on the stove, teasing him, he finds himself in his kitchen for small tasks like opening his letters, taking off his boots, buttoning his coat in the mornings.
It's the last thing he sees before he leaves for work and the first thing his eyes land on as he tosses his keys in the dish she bought for keys, coins, and lost buttons. She'd gathered up his clutter, and stowed it into tight spaces, leaving only tidy and presentable things. She'd organized the drawers, filed all the letters, and left no countertop cluttered, and even when she left he followed the instructions she'd laid down about how to be a human worth having.
Only now it is a hollow routine, with no end goal.
He hires a decorator to come by and put up wreaths and holly and other baubles that mark the season. Not that he plans on having anyone by.
When he arrives home he finds the Christmas pudding in the center of the kitchen island with a sprig of holly on top. It's all he can see, despite the fir tree in his sitting room and the two unnamed stockings above his fireplace.
He moves the pudding back to the cupboard, shutting the door on it.
It's the kind of neighborhood that has carolers. Grown men and women going door-to-door in perfect harmony in their knit scarves and mittens. He has a habit of turning down the lamps when he gets home, and almost casts a Muggle-Repellant spell, but then he thinks of her and how she'd argue with him every time he treated the Muggles as anything other than equals.
She had wanted a place in a Muggle neighborhood. They hadn't even been together six weeks before he'd started looking for a place she would agree to move into. She'd shared her wishes and childhood memories on Sunday morning tangled in his crisp sheets with toast crumbs poking their skin, telling him about the yard her parents had for their pets, the third bedroom with just books and dictionaries, the kitchen with the island counter.
He'd gotten all of it for her, depositing her wishes into her lap with a house key. That was three years ago.
So it still isn't clear to him why her question surprised him. Why, after three years of praying at her altar and heaving with loss when she left the room, the idea of forever soured his wine and choked his air. He could blame his insatiable father or his apathetic mother or even the Dark Lord, if he pleased, but truly it was the idea that this was all just a moment — a piece of her life that she could shed at will and shiver off like a dream in the morning mists.
That was why the question scared him, truly.
Should we talk about getting married?
By December 24th, there is still a pudding in his cupboard. He leans in and sniffs. Still pungent with alcohol, but it doesn't seem to be rotting after four weeks. He'd learned from her that cooking held a magic all its own.
Her parents are having Christmas at theirs. He knows, because he'd been invited four weeks ago.
But she hasn't come by for the pudding.
He bundles up, wraps the dish, and before he can consider his decisions he's Apparated to the neighborhood she's in now. (He's not supposed to know these details, but he does.) Her little flat is on the third floor, and even though he's sure it's temporary, his stomach turns knowing that it doesn't have a yard for pets or a room just for books and dictionaries.
He should just place the dish on her mat and leave. He shouldn't ring the bell. And he shouldn't wait, listening to footsteps inside.
She's smiling brightly when she pulls open the door — is she expecting company? — before it slips off her face like oil.
Not a question, or an accusation. Just a fact.
His chest hurts to see her staring at him like an unwelcome surprise.
"I have your pudding," he says. And it sounds ridiculous. It sounds like an excuse. It's not. If only he could explain how her presence in his house had been eradicated except for this fucking pudding, or how he could only think of her firm hands crafting the dish whenever he opened his cabinets.
She looks down, and her brows lift. "Oh. I'd quite forgotten about it."
Ice water runs through his veins. The month of hoping she'd left it on purpose. The weeks reminding him of her. The impossibility of forgetting while this pudding remained in his house.
She reaches out for it, and before he can rejoice in their fingers brushing, a male voice calls from inside, "Where do you keep your towels, love?"
A chill spreads over his chest and shoulders as she steps back, stammering an answer to the man who'd replaced him.
She's moved on. And he's still returning her things. Three years gone in a matter of weeks. And he thinks of how long he waited for her, accepting small touches and hidden kisses for months before she'd given herself to him.
And there was a man using her shower after only a month.
Draco releases the dish into her hands, a sharp jerk of his arms as though burned, and bolts down the stairs and into the winter chill.
It's a hazy Christmas morning after last night's bender. He'd finished all his Firewhisky, stumbled to the Muggle store for cheap bourbon, and drank himself into a coma.
His skull is pounding, an incessant rattle that bangs a strange rhythm into his head. Hearing the pounding from outside himself, he lifts his head from the pillow, drags himself from bed, stumbles down the stairs, and swallows a Hangover Potion on the way to the front door.
When he wrenches it open, his eyes have to clear for a moment before he'll believe she's standing there.
"Why?" she demands, a fire behind her eyes that he's missed. "Why come by?"
The potion's effects clear his mind, but he still can't form an answer for her.
"That was my cousin Michael, by the way," she hisses. "There was no need to be so dramatic."
She rolls her eyes the same way, as if he is terribly dense, and she can't even fathom the reasons she loves him.
But at least the bloke at her apartment last night is not a threat. The weight that has been sinking deep into his chest since last night lessens. Before he can dissect his elation, she bursts out.
"What were you doing there? And on Christmas Eve!"
He frowns at her. "You're here. On Christmas Day."
"Draco," she scolds him, like she used to whenever he misbehaved or scowled at someone in public. "Why did you bring by that pudding?"
He drinks her in like water in the desert and says, "You didn't come by for it."
And it's the wrong thing to say, because her face softens and it's like she can see everything — every moment from the past four weeks.
"You told me this relationship was going nowhere," she says softly.
"I did not. I said I wasn't ready to get married yet—"
"Not yet. Ever. You said ever—"
"Well, then I misspoke." He shrugs dramatically, knowing in his heart he hadn't said "yet," but it's what he meant.
She stares at him with wide eyes, and he takes a moment to do the same. A trim to her hair, a different gloss on her lips, and hollow circles under her eyes are the only indication that time has passed. She looks as she did the day she took her things and disappeared.
"You can't tease me like this." There are tears in her eyes as she says, "You can't say it's 'yet' and then in another three years say it's 'never.'"
All he hears is another three years, and it burns in his cold chest like a spark against flint. But then he hears — it doesn't have to be three years.
It can be forever.
"Set the date." The words tumble from his lips.
She blinks at him, before quickly looking down to their feet. "No, don't jump to it. I didn't mean an ultimatum—"
"Spring?" he says, his breath lost in the madness. "Summer? Next Christmas?"
Her face scrunches in that way it does before she cries. "Draco, don't. I don't need you to make plans, I only needed you to tell me that you want a future with me."
He steps to her, crossing the threshold. He cups her cheek, brushing back the one tear that slipped through her iron defenses. "I do."
Her eyes up on him, brimming and widening at his choice of words.
"I do too," she whispers back.
Like two misshapen pieces that only fit together, he presses his lips to her cheek, her brow, her nose, her lips. She kisses him back, sliding her arms around his shoulders.
How he missed kissing her in the snow — with the chill and the moisture and only the two of them aching to be closer under their layers.
She pulls back abruptly. "Oh!" Digging into her jacket pocket, she pulls out a tissue wrapped around something. "I brought you a piece."
The fucking pudding mocks him from where it lies innocently in her palm. And he almost chucks it into the snow.
"My father says it's delicious," she says. "Just like gran's."
"Of course." He pushes back her hair and kisses her temple, whispering into her ear. "It's the spiced apricots."
She smiles up at him, and he steps aside to welcome her back into their home.