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Away in a Manger by WitnesstoitAll
Chapter 1: No Crib for His Bed
This is written for PPP’s “The Christmas Carol” challenge. The situation belongs to me based loosely around the Christmas carol, Away in a Manger, Lyrics written by John McFarland.
Away in a manger, No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head
Hugo Weasley sighed and turned over on his rickety cot which creaked loudly in the silent night. He winced at the sound it made, hoping that it did not wake the others who slept in the small room. A cool, though oddly humid, breeze blew in threw the open doorway lightly ruffling his thick red curls. The air was colder than he had expected, and a shiver ran through his sun burnt body. He pulled the thin linen sheet up around his chin and stared up into the dark recesses of the cement ceiling.
It was December twenty-fourth. This thought struck a hard discord in his mind. At home, his mum and dad would be lovingly bickering as they hung the enchanted ornaments on the tree and lamented over the holiday dishes to be prepared in the morning. Even after all these years, his dad did not trust his mum’s cooking, and Hugo couldn’t blame him. Yes, Christmas dinner and the placement of the ornaments on the tree had always been the perfect spring board to start his parents’ holiday arguments, arguments that often reminded Hugo of two small bickering children. Memories of past quarrels filled Hugo’s vision, and his heart filled with longing to be at home with them.
Back home, Hugo imagined that Rose would be fretting over every detail of each plan for Christmas day; she had always been a tad high strung. Hugo smiled in the darkness, surrounded by people, yet still alone. If he were there with her, she would confide her nerves of visiting her fiancé’s parents to him. This would be Rose and Scorpius’ first Christmas together since their engagement, and Hugo knew that they came from two very different ends of the wizarding world. He kicked himself for not being there for her now. If her were, he’d comfort her and then, together, the two siblings would decorate the sugar biscuits, a tradition that had stayed with them from their childhood and served as the cure all for any holiday strife.
Holiday strife, the Weasley household was a hallmark for it. If Hugo were home, he would remain nonchalant and grounded amidst the growing, holiday-induced tension. He had always been the reasonable member of his family. He would communicate his confidence in his mother’s sub par cooking, privately share in his father’s frustration with the women of the household, and soothe his sister’s rampant nerves over every approaching situation. As Hugo stared up into the dark and foreign night, he wondered how his family would manage without him.
His rampant thoughts were now out of his control. They flew into his mind as the sand of the desert outside the door flew into the air when the breeze blew. If Hugo were home, he would be sitting in front of a warm fire place at the Potter’s and sipping Fire Whiskey with his father while Teddy, James, Al, and Uncle Harry discussed the current quidditch standings, work, politics, and the women in their lives. The windows would be coated with a thick layer of fog as warm air from inside the house collided with the cold night air outside. The sound of his mother’s voice, as well as Aunt Ginny’s, Rose’s, and Lily’s would carry into the den from the kitchen, punctuated by high pitched laughter. He could only imagine what they must be discussing and even from thousands of kilometres away, it made him shudder. Growing up next door to Uncle Harry’s family no Christmas Eve was ever complete without this late night gathering. Unwanted, salty tears welled up under Hugo’s lower eyelid.
Roughly swallowing back a lump that had risen in his throat, Hugo pushed these nostalgic thoughts from his mind. He chided himself, regardless of how much he thought about his Christmas Eve traditions, he knew he would not be home for the holidays this year. He was thousands of kilometres from home in the middle of a small Palestinian town. No, this year Hugo would not be celebrating Christmas with the family.
Last June, without waiting to see the results of his NEWTs much to his mother’s dismay, Hugo had bid his family farewell and left to see the world. He had always fancied his uncle’s tales of the old wizarding tradition. Besides, he had reasoned, he knew that he had at least attained eight O’s on his exams. He had shrugged this confidence off and merely assured his family that he did not care how he had preformed, he wanted to see the world and to immerse himself in foreign wizarding cultures.
This was exactly what he had done. The day after he had boarded the Hogwarts Express for the final time, he had arrived in Barcelona to begin his great adventure. In the past six months, he had lived in numerous countries and peddled housing off of a diverse population of people. He was lucky to have been taken in by this family upon arriving in Palestine. His journey around the world was not exactly what one could call well-funded, and he had been grateful when the warm Arab family had welcomed him into their three room home with open arms. Asad, the father, oversaw the town’s only magical inn. Hajar, the mother, remained at home to cook, clean, and tend to the family’s four small children whom loved Hugo and his pale, freckly skin and flaming red hair.
Since arriving in Palestine, Hugo had been remarkably busy. The culture of the Palestinian magical world was fascinating, and he had spent his days browsing the town’s shops and establishments. He hadn’t yet had a down moment to think of home. However, on this particular evening, Hugo had never been more homesick. He sighed, blowing out a breath of cool night air, and squeezed his eyes shut tightly. He had wanted this grand adventure and he knew that life, holiday included would come and go while he was away. He just needed to pull himself together now. He needed to stop thinking about the holidays.
Christmas in the Weasley household was always a huge celebration. All of his uncles, aunts, cousins, his cousins’ significant others, and friends of the family traditionally congregated at the burrow for a late afternoon meal. No one in the world could match his grandmum’s cooking, and dinner was a holiday in and of itself. In such a large family, no one was expected to buy a gift for everyone. Rather, each member of the family pulled the name of another from a hat. After dinner, they would all reveal who they each had been assigned the task of gifting and exchange their presents with one another. They would all sit and shout over one another, the din in the burrow would be horrendous and wonderful all at the same time. The little ones would run around in excitement while the big ones attempted to catch one another in compromising situations, and someone was always bound to be caught someone else snogging someone somewhere they shouldn’t be.
Stop. Hugo roughly commanded himself. He needed to stop thinking about home. He was eighteen years old – a grown wizard. He shouldn’t be getting choked up over the holidays while on the greatest adventure of his life. Hugo sat up on the edge of the cot and rubbed his eyes. Rising from the nearly ground-level bedding, he ran his fingers through his unruly mop of hair, straitened his slept-in robe, and pulled a sweatshirt over his head. He pulled his sterling silver pocket watch, a gift from his dad on his seventeenth birthday, from his pocket and opened it. 10:25pm – it was not too late to pay Asad a visit at the front desk of the inn; some company was exactly what Hugo needed.
Stretching his lanky legs, Hugo made his way to the open door and out into the cool, desert night air. He made his way up the dirt lane that connected Asad’s residence to the rest of the town. Within the limits of the tiny magical community, Hugo noticed, the streets became increasingly busier. Although no one was celebrating the holidays, the town was quite lively. The presence of other people warmed Hugo’s heart and he didn’t feel quite as alone in the streets of the town as he had lying on his cot. A small smile cracked through is chapped lips as he continued towards the open doorway of Asad’s inn.
The inside of the quaint inn was warm compared to the chilly night air. Asad was standing behind the desk pouring over the scant guest record. A large clock ticked on the wall behind the counter, and an enchanted broom was clearing the sand that the wind had carried in throughout the day from the otherwise pristine lobby. Hugo cleared his throat and approached the desk.
“Good Evening.” At Hugo’s voice, Asad looked up. Knowing only limited English, he was usually a man of few words. He pursed his lips together and gave Hugo a curt nod. After residing in Asad’s home for over a week, Hugo knew that this was a sign of warm welcome and settled into a large, strait-backed chair near the open doorway.
A group of weary looking traveller entered the inn’s lobby, with them came a new trail of sand for the broom to sweep. Hugo watched as Asad readily logged them into his record book and showed them to their room for the evening. Even in the short time he had spent with the hospitable Arabic family, Hugo knew how much Asad appreciated his guests. The inn’s business was rather slow and money was always scarce in his home. When he had first walked through Asad’s door, Hugo fought back an overriding sense of guilt about his family’s economic state in England as compared to this lovely Palestinian family’s, and his own family wasn’t exactly wealthy.
These thoughts swirled around in Hugo’s mind as Asad returned to the lobby and resumed his scrutinizing of the record book. Hugo sat in peaceful silence listening to the scratching of Asad’s quill. He felt his eyelids growing heavy, but resisted closing them. Finally, against their owner’s most valiant efforts, Hugo’s eyelids fell shut.
Hugo stirred slightly as a beautiful voice reached his ears. He felt the corners of his mouth pull upwards. Cara Finnegan. Her round rosy cheeks framed by thick blonde waves and her clear grey eyes filled Hugo’s vision. She raised a slender, pale hand and stroked his stubbly cheek. He imagined the words coming out of her mouth, confessing her ever-secret love for him. There was something wrong with this scene. The voice, though beautiful, was wrong, and the words were not right.
Hugo was roused from his brief sleep and realised that Cara was nowhere in site. He was still in Palestine sitting in the lobby of Asad’s inn. Hugo quickly rubbed the sleep from his eyes and searched for the source of the beautiful voice. There, at the lobby desk was a young woman. She was of a slight build and dressed in a plain tawny robe. She had a dark blue head scarf loosely draped over her head. Hugo could not see her face from where he sat and resorted to listening to their conversation.
Although he tried, Hugo could not make out any of the conversation. The few words of Arabic that he had acquired since arriving in Palestine were of little avail to him. By the tone of the conversation, the young woman was exceedingly distressed. Asad was quickly growing angry with her request. As Hugo watched, the tender, lion-of-a-man came out from behind the desk and sternly grabbed the young woman by the shoulders. Asad spun her around and led her to the doorway where he threw her from the inn into the streets.
Hugo was shocked; when Asad had spun her around, he had noticed that the woman was extremely pregnant. He was far from an expert, but he’d guess that that she nearing the end of the pregnancy. Hugo assumed that the woman was merely seeking shelter for the evening just as the first guests he watched enter the inn were. He did not understand Asad’s uncharacteristic behaviour. Rising from the chair, Hugo approached Asad who was once again behind the desk.
“What was that?” Hugo inquired with slightly more vehemence than he intended. He implored Asad’s expressionless face and awaited a response. Asad looked up and Hugo and met his eyes before turning his attention back to his work. “What was that?” He repeated, this time he did not try to mask his distaste. He felt a small pool of rage beginning to boil within his stomach.
This time Asad responded with a singular Arabic word. It was a word that Hugo knew, a word he had heard thrown around in the bars in town – harlot. The blatant prejudice that Asad had shown the young pregnant woman astounded Hugo. Without thinking, he turned on the spot and promptly left the warm confines of the lobby.
Back on the bustling street, Hugo hurriedly searched the crowd for signs of the dark blue head scarf. He did not know why, but it was important that he find the girl. Perhaps he would apologise for Asad’s behaviour. His heart was beating in his ears as he realised that she was nowhere to be found.
Hugo began to walk down the street hoping to run into her amongst the crowd. With each step he took, the despair within his chest expanded exponentially. His head was buzzing and he considered turning around and returning to his cot in Asad’s home. After all, it was late, he had nothing to personally apologise for, and he did not even know the young woman he was vainly searching for.
Hugo came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the busy street and slowly ran a hand threw his tussled hair. He turned around and began walking back in the direction he had come from when he stopped again. It was Christmas Eve. He couldn’t abandon the young woman to spending the holiday pregnant and alone on the chilly streets, especially after the scene he had witnessed back at Asad’s inn. He blinked and turned his head skyward.
For a brief moment, Hugo could not move. The night sky above the Palestinian street was breath taking. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t taken a moment to soak in the night sky since arriving in the small town. The moon was nowhere to be seen. Lighting the sky in its place were thousands of tiny glittering stars. They looked like a cup of diamond chips tossed out on a deep-blue sheet. One large diamond twinkled brighter than the rest against the expansive sky. The large star off set the dark blue backdrop, and brought a strange bubble of emotions up Hugo’s throat.
He brought his attention back to the crowded street that his feet were standing on. His gaze followed his terrestrially bound attention and was again filled by dark blue. The dark blue head scarf was resting low against a wall of a building across the street. Hugo quickly hurried between the passing pedestrians towards the dark blue head scarf. He paid no attention to the dirty looks and rough elbows he received while in route. His focus was only on the young woman.
Slightly out of breath and wind blown, Hugo reached the young woman’s side. Hugo was rather surprised. She appeared to be no older than he. He took a moment to soak in the scene in front of him. She sat on the sandy ground and leant back against the cement block of the building behind her. He eyes were held tightly shut, and the path of recently cried tears remained on her prominent cheekbones. Several tendrils of dark wavy hair escaped from her scarf. Her hands rested stiffly on either side of her large, swollen abdomen, and her legs were pulled up as close to her body as she could manage. Even in her apparent discomfort and delicate condition, Hugo couldn’t help but be slightly taken aback by her inherent beauty.
“Excuse me miss,” Hugo’s voice was gentle; he attempted English in the hope that the girl would understand – if she didn’t, he was going to be of little help to her. “Miss, are you alright?” The young woman did not answer and so Hugo continued talking through his unsettled nerves. “My name is Hugo Weasley. I’m sorry if you don’t speak English, but I don’t speak Arabic well. What’s your name, eh?”
Several moments passed. The young woman’s posture relaxed a bit and she opened her eyes. They were a deep chocolate brown. Hugo earnestly stared at her face and wished that she would give some sign of comprehension. She blinked several times as though she were sizing up the situation.
“Miriam,” She said slowly. Her hesitant voice was heavily accented and melodic to Hugo’s foreign ears. “I do speak some English, but I am not Arabic. I am Hebrew.” Hugo thanked Merlin that she spoke English – he knew no words of Hebrew at all. Miriam sat and gazed back at Hugo, apprehension etched on her face.
“Miriam,” the foreign name felt strange on Hugo’s tongue. “Are you alright?” Without waiting for a response Hugo continued on, “I saw what happened back down the street at the Inn. I just wanted to apologise for Asad’s behaviour. It was out of line and I just wanted to make sure that you were well and, er, well to see if you needed anything.”
“I am well. I am sorry to bother you.” Miriam’s eyes fell from Hugo’s strange pale face. “Do not worry about that man. No inn will provide a room for me.” Some sort of strange tremor ran through her body. Her eyes clamped shut and her hands grabbed her belly.
Hugo rushed to her side and knelt down beside Miriam. His eyes stared at her with great concern and his hand instinctually reached out for her shoulder. Just before he made contact, he caught himself and paused. Slowly his hand dropped back to his side. Miriam slowly opened her eyes again and appeared quite startled by Hugo’s proximity to her. Her hands still remain clutched over her unborn child.
Hugo very much doubted that Miriam was as well as she claimed. He did not know much about pregnancy, being close to the youngest cousin in a large family, but he began to suspect that the girl was in labor.
“Miriam, I think that we need to take you somewhere.” Hugo’s voice was shaking. He wanted to take Miriam back to Hajar; she would know what to do if this girl was in labor. Miriam’s eyes looked fearful. “I know somewhere we can go. Come with me.” Hugo extended his hand out towards her and waited her response.
No response came. Miriam sat and stared at Hugo with a torn expression. She pulled herself up into a more erect sitting position and pursed her lips in thought.
“Why?” It was not a question that Hugo was expecting. His eyes must have conveyed his confusion because she continued. “Why do you care for my problems? You know what the man at the inn said is true. I am unwed.” Her eyes were intent on staring at the sandy ground. She only looked up when she felt Hugo’s hand encircle her wrist. Gently, he pulled her to her feet.
“Come on, follow me.” Hugo did not answer her question; truthfully, he did not know the answer himself, it just felt right. Instead began to slowly lead her down the bustling street towards Hajar and Asad’s home. Progress was slow and Hugo cursed the fact that patience was not a Gryffindor value.
Miriam’s contractions became more frequent and severe as they reached the edge of the town. Their destination was less than a kilometre away, only a few other homes separated them from their destination, but Hugo doubted that they would make it in time. He wracked his brain for solutions and earnestly wished that just for a moment, he were actually as clever as everyone had told him he was. Hopelessness overwhelmed Hugo. He turned his head to the sky for the second time that evening. The same large diamond-star still twinkled. It was all Hugo needed to see and it warmed his heart. He looked down at the exhausted and fragile girl lying on the sandy, desert ground trying her hardest not to cry out.
Looking towards the nearest home, he spotted a small stable in the back yard and knew that this lean-to would have to suffice. Again, Hugo lifted Miriam to her feet and half drug her over the short distance between themselves and their new impromptu destination. The home’s windows were dark, and Hugo earnestly hoped they would not be caught breaking into the stable. The former head-boy in him still shirked away from rule breaking.
The stable was warmed by the bodies of the large dairy cow and three sheep that considered the rickety establishment their home. In the corner stall, there was a soft layer of relatively fresh hay laid over the floor onto which Hugo gently laid Miriam. He sat down next to her. The fact that Hugo was going to have to deliver this child was slowly sinking into his brain as his nerves rose. Miriam cried out again, and Hugo called upon all the bravery of Godric himself. If his father could walk next to his uncle in the great battle against Voldemort, Hugo could do this.
The next hour or so was a blur of tears, cries, sweat, blood, soft whispers and encouraging words. Hugo lost awareness of the actual events and of the passage of time that were taking place in the small stable. All he knew was that the sound of an infant’s cry that broke through his dream-like trance within the tiny stall was the most brilliant sound he had ever heard.
Hugo did not know how much time had passed since he had first heard the tiny babe’s cries. He was seated against the back wall of the stall. Miriam, exhausted from her efforts, was leaned back sleeping against his chest. Hugo draped an arm comfortably around her shoulders and allowed his head to lean against the top of her head. The newborn was lying in a manger lined with some hay from the floor. He was wrapped in Hugo’s Chudley Cannon sweat shirt and was sleeping contentedly.
Hugo gently pulled his watch from his robe pocket. It was four o’clock in the morning. It was Christmas day.
He could not believe the series of events that had brought him to his moment in time. Only six hours ago, he was lying on his cot in Asad’s and Hajar’s home wallowing in his own nostalgia. He had been sad that he was missing the Christmas festivities with his family and lonely in the great expanse of Palestine. Now he was sitting with a new mother and her son in a stable. If only his family could see how he had spent his first holiday away from home.
While Hugo had been drowning in his loneliness, Miriam had been walking the streets, completely alone and unwelcome in the culture. While Hugo had been regretting his inability to decorate biscuits and drink with his family, Miriam had been preparing to bring a child into the world on her own. Hugo thanked whatever powers had brought them together. Through this strange twist of fate, he had learned that Christmas was about more than heartfelt traditions, good food, and family. This evening was what Christmas was about. It was about giving yourself freely to others, about aiding the cast aside members of society, and about never expecting anything in return. The events in this stable were Christmas, the love of strangers, the peace around them now and the new life lying soundly asleep in the manger. That was Christmas. Hugo smiled wearily
“Happy Christmas, Miriam.” He whispered as his head fell to his chest and sleep consumed him.
This time when he dreamt it was not of his beloved family so far away, or of the cakes and tarts they would be enjoying as they toasted the holiday season. Instead he dreamt of a small boy, born in a stable, who had been given the possibility of a fulfilling life, and of the mother who loved him.
Well that was my potter-iffic take on the traditional Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger.” I hope you have a happy Christmas and holiday season. Help me to have a happy holiday and leave a review!