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Thicker Than Water: Hailey Potter and the Ties That Bind by Lucy Locke
Chapter 21 : 21. Christmas Greetings
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 5

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Christmas Greetings

Hailey and Kieran slept late the following morning, so they ate breakfast alone. Harry and Luna had gone to London to finish their Christmas shopping, and Dobby was trying to do some cleaning before their guests arrived the next day. Hailey and Kieran were not too disappointed about being alone, however, because Hailey had gotten an idea for a wonderful holiday surprise for her parents.

“How do you think we can possibly pull this off,” Kieran asked Hailey skeptically through a mouthful of toast. “You’ve never so much as changed a light bulb, let alone assembled a bed.”

“How do you change a light bulb,” Hailey asked with sarcastic interest as she added some treacle to her porridge. Kieran gave her a half exasperated, half humorous glance in reply. “How difficult can a baby’s bed be to put together? I mean, my dad could do it by magic, but he’s got the Muggle tools we need! It’s just a bunch of wood and skews…”

“Screws,” Kieran corrected her. “You’re as bad as Mr. Weasley.”

“I want my parents to know that I’m excited about being a big sister,” Hailey said stubbornly, ignoring Kieran’s remark. “I was less than enthusiastic about the whole thing this summer…”

“That’s a tactful way of putting it,” Kieran muttered. Hailey threw a piece of toast at him just as Mrs. McMullen walked into the dining room.

“A Christmas card just arrived in the post,” Mrs. McMullen snarled as she handed Hailey a pretty silver envelope. “And I suggest you clean up this mess, because I’m certainly not going to…you’re 12, not 2, and you have no business throwing food! Don’t ask Dobby to pick up after you, either. He’s got enough to be getting on with, and he’s too kind to tell you no when you ask him for favors.”

“I’ll clean up, I promise,” Hailey said sheepishly as she examined the envelope. She noticed that there was no return address, and that it was addressed to the entire Potter family. The recipient address was not handwritten, but typed as though it had been written on a Muggle computer. Hailey shrugged, thinking that it was probably from Aunt Petunia, since she was the only Muggle who knew them well enough to send them a Christmas card. Maybe she was writing to say that she and Dudley couldn’t make it for Christmas dinner after all. Hailey tore open the envelope, pulled out a page of pretty red stationary, and began to read. As soon as she’d made it through the first typed line, she knew that it wasn’t written by her Aunt.

Happy Christmas from my “family” to yours, Harry Potter! There’s nothing like a holiday to make one reminisce about Christmases past, especially when you long to see those loved ones who have passed on, as I often do each and every day of the year. So many families must endure that heartache this year as a result of our most recent victory, and while I can sympathize with them, there are casualties in all wars, and I assure you I will continue with my plans (and our plans) until I have my ultimate revenge! Perhaps next year, if all goes well, the holiday table with the most empty chairs come Christmas will be yours, Harry Potter. In closing, I must say that I am looking forward to the successes that a new year brings, and I am sure that you will find yourself facing even more challenges as springtime approaches. Give Hailey my best wishes for a very Happy FINAL Christmas with her family, and tell your wife that I can’t wait to meet the new baby.

Hailey’s heart was hammering at a million miles a minute as she handed the letter to Kieran with a trembling hand; she couldn’t breathe. She knew that Harry had a lot of enemies among dark wizards, but seeing something like this in writing made her realize just how perilous Harry’s life really was. And now, not only was her father’s life at stake, but her whole family had been threatened.

“My God,” Kieran said breathlessly, his face pale as he folded the letter back up and returned it to the pretty silver envelope. “These are the letters Ron was talking about.”

“W-what,” Hailey stammered feebly. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you remember the conversation we overheard when we used those extendable ears with Mark last summer,” Kieran replied with a shiver. “Ron said something about some nasty letters that Harry had gotten before he went off with that Fleur woman to try to keep some of those PPS members from being released from prison. It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“I had forgotten,” Hailey whispered. And another thought crossed her mind, but before she said anything, Kieran nodded.

“And what happened to you in potions was no accident,” Kieran went on. “Someone was trying to kill you, and they would have done if…”

“If it weren’t for the connection we share,” Hailey finished for him. “That’s why Lupin told us not to talk to anyone else about our powers, and it explains why my dad wanted to make sure the Ministry didn’t figure anything out, either.”

“And Harry went crazy when he saw us out of bed with Argo that night we went to the kitchens,” Kieran went on as their minds worked furiously to try to make more deductions based on this new piece of information. “He was afraid of what could happen to you.”

“To us,” Hailey corrected him. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? Harry never got really mad at her unless he was worried about her safety; she should have known there was much more to his outburst over their little nighttime stroll than his fury over her choice of companions. The way he’d relented on the subject of Argo so easily the night before suddenly made more sense, too.

“We’ll talk to dad about this when he gets home, but I don’t want to tell mum anything,” Hailey said finally as she started to clean up the table. She was still shaking so badly that the plates were rattling slightly as she carried them into the kitchen. “She doesn’t need the strain, especially not in her condition,” Hailey went on when she returned to the dining room. “Anyway, I want to get to work on the baby’s room before they get back.”

Kieran nodded as he pocketed the letter and followed her upstairs. He knew that Hailey needed a distraction to calm her nerves, and that she wanted more than ever to give her parents something to be happy about in light of all the terrible things they were facing.

The room that Harry and Luna had chosen for the nursery had been Hailey’s when she was very young. It was right next door to Harry and Luna’s suite and, although it was small, the room had lots of large windows that made it very bright and cheerful. Luna had charmed the walls a pale shade of blue, but otherwise it had changed very little since Hailey had occupied it. Smiling reminiscently as she looked around, Hailey made her way over to a corner and began to sort through the pieces of the unassembled bed.

“I think this is going to be more difficult that I thought,” Hailey said irritably a half an hour later as she tried to read the instructions on assembling the baby’s cot. “I mean, how could fixing something for one little baby be such a big job?”

“It’s hard when you’ve never used Muggle tools before,” Kieran replied through gritted teeth as he finished putting together one section. “I dunno why you’re complaining when I’m the one that’s been lugging all this heavy stuff all over the room.”

“Like you said, I’ve never used Muggle tools before,” Hailey replied quickly. “And, you wanted to help, too.”

“Help is the key word, Hailey,” Kieran went on as he started on the next piece. “Help doesn’t mean doing it alone.”

Hailey started to chuck the instruction manual at him, but thought better of it when she saw how thick it was. If it hit him, it would hurt her, too.

It took them nearly three hours, but by the time Harry and Luna arrived back at Hazelwood, the cot was assembled and Hailey had decorated the bed with some blankets she’d bought for the baby herself as a Christmas gift to her mum. They were made of soft blue cotton embroidered with silver stars. Hailey was so pleased with the job they’d done that she forgot to be worried about the letter for awhile.

“It’s wonderful,” Luna said tearfully as she admired Hailey and Kieran’s work. “This is the best gift you two could’ve given u-us.” She then broke down into sobs and left the room.

“This is great,” Harry said with a large smile as he looked approvingly at them. “I’m really pleased you’ve finally come around, Hailey; your mum had been so worried about your feelings. She didn’t think you were happy about this baby at all. You have no idea how much this means to her.”

“I wasn’t really thrilled at first,” Hailey said truthfully. “But now I think it’s going to be nice to have a little brother or sister.”

“Well, you will have a brother in April,” Harry replied. “At least that’s what Healer Pye says; he’s certain it’s a boy.”

Hailey’s stomach lurched painfully as she remembered the letter (“I am sure that you will find yourself facing even more challenges as springtime approaches … tell your wife I can’t wait to meet the new baby). An odd, cold shiver passed through her as she thought of the baby. Something of her thoughts must’ve showed on her face, because Harry’s expression changed a moment later.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked, staring intently at her.

“No,” Hailey said heavily. “There’s something we need to talk to you about.”

“Can it wait until your mum has calmed down…” Harry began, but Hailey cut across him.

“No,” she repeated adamantly. “I don’t want her to know about this. We need to talk to you alone.”

“What’s going on,” Harry asked immediately as he closed the door of his study and put an imperturbable charm on it. Hailey and Kieran sat down opposite Harry’s desk as Kieran pulled the silver envelope out of his pocket.

“This was delivered after you and Luna left this morning,” Kieran said as he handed the letter to Harry. Mrs. McMullen thought it was a Christmas card, so she gave it to Hailey.”

Harry’s face turned the color of parchment as he examined the envelope. He clearly knew what kind of message it contained before he opened it, because Hailey had rarely ever seen him looking so upset. He examined the letter in perfect silence and read it through several times before he spoke.

“I don’t want either of you to mention this to anyone,” Harry said finally as he replaced the letter back in its envelope and locked it away in his desk with a wave of his wand. “I am going to talk to Kingsley about it, and The Order will investigate it, so don’t worry…”

“So I’m just supposed to forget that someone is threatening my families’ lives,” Hailey said indignantly. “How many of these letters have you gotten, anyway?”

“Who said anything about more letters,” Harry said in a horrified voice. “What are you talking about?”

“We overheard a conversation between you, Ron, and Lupin last summer,” Kieran said boldly. “We didn’t understand what it meant at the time, but once we’d read that letter, we figured that there had been more.”

“I’m going to have a little chat with Fred and George about those extendable ears,” Harry said furiously. “I’ll make sure they don’t sell one more pair to you two!”

“Maybe if you’d talk to us about what’s going on…” Hailey began, but Harry gave her a scorching look that made her stop in mid-sentence. Kieran looked on with increasing nervousness as he braced himself for yet another father-daughter row.

“You are 12 years old,” he replied, his voice shaking. “You don’t need to know what The Order are doing, or about any of my personal business.”

“I think I have a right to know if someone is trying to do me in,” Hailey replied, refusing to back down. “If I had known about this from the start, maybe I could have figured out who poisoned me.” She glared at her father and waited for him to yell at her, but he did not. Instead, he bowed his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose in a way that suggested exhaustion and worry.

“Hailey, please,” Harry said, changing tactics and speaking in a much softer tone of voice. “Don’t try to investigate this thing yourself…it’s too dangerous.” His last words were fearful and almost pleading.

“You know that I can take care of myself,” Hailey said quietly, feeling her anger abate slightly at the look on Harry’s face. “And, Kieran and I can’t die unless we both get hurt.”

“That theory may not be one hundred percent accurate,” Harry said, sounding much more normal than he had moments before. “There is always the possibility that some exception to that rule could be found. But, that’s another reason why it is so important that you keep your abilities a secret. It was sheer luck that we managed to keep the Ministry and Dolores Umbridge from pursuing the situation further, and I don’t want to give anyone another opportunity to start looking into it again.”

“We’ll be careful,” Hailey and Kieran said in unison.

“You know that I would never let anything happen to you, or your mother and the baby,” Harry said reassuringly. “I can take care of this without your help, so promise me you won’t start looking into this on your own.” He gave them both a searching look. They nodded in agreement, though Kieran knew that Hailey had her fingers crossed behind her back.

“Someone at Hogwarts is working for the PPS,” Hailey said as she fussed with the blankets on her bed. It was after midnight, and she and Kieran were supposed to have been in bed two hours before, but they were too restless to sleep. “There’s no other explanation.”

“And you’re planning on trying to find out who it is,” Kieran said in an accusatory tone. “You promised that you wouldn’t play detective.”

“I’m not going to do anything out of the way,” Hailey replied defensively. “But if I happen to stumble across something that seems significant, I’ll look into it and let my dad know if I find anything…maybe I should start paying more attention to Goyle; he is friends with Malfoy after all…

“There are three members of The Order working at Hogwarts,” Kieran argued. “If they haven’t found anything, what makes you think that we can? They have to be aware of the situation, and if we get caught wandering around after hours again, we could get expelled. Especially if you’re going after Goyle; he loves getting us into trouble. Goyle is WAY too stupid to write a letter like that…what are you smiling at?” For Hailey had just looked at him with a very self-satisfied expression.

“You said ‘we’,” Hailey said, her grin widening triumphantly. “You’re going to help me.”

“Course I am,” Kieran said dismissively. “You know I would never let you go out on your own!” He paused for a moment and gave Hailey a penetrating stare. “Don’t even think about wandering around alone at night, because if you do, I’ll know.” He scowled, and Hailey knew he was thinking about what had happened with The Malfoys when she’d left the castle by herself.

“I can take care of myself, but if you want to come along, I’ll let you,” Hailey replied. She knew that he was just trying to protect her, but his attitude annoyed her. Hailey didn’t like being told what to do, and Kieran knew perfectly well that she always did what she thought was best, no matter what anyone else said.

“I mean it, Hailey,” Kieran went on, reading her thoughts. He was feeling just as irritated with her defiance as she was with his insistence. “Don’t do anything without me.” The steely look in his grey eyes made her feel guilty in a way that no one else could. Not even Harry.

“Alright,” Hailey relented with a roll of her eyes. “I won’t do anything without you, but that doesn’t mean I’ll listen if you try to stop me.” She felt this was perfectly fair.

“Fine,” Kieran agreed.

Hailey slept badly that night; her dreams had been full of empty baby beds and unopened letters. She was still very tired the next morning when a long, slender hand jostled her gently awake.

“What is it,” Hailey grumbled groggily. She opened her eyes and saw that the sun had barely risen. She rolled over and saw Dobby standing over her bed with a large smile on his little face.

“Miss Luna says it is time to get up, Hailey,” Dobby squeaked happily. “Dobby is bringing you breakfast so you can start the day in a happy mood.” He pointed to a tray of eggs and toast that he’d placed on her bedside table. “Miss Luna says The Wheezies will be here soon, and she is needing you and Kieran downstairs in half an hour. She says to take a bath, wash your hair, and to make yourself pretty.”

“Right,” Hailey grumbled as she stretched and grabbed a piece of toast. “Why do I have to be pretty? It’s just the Weasleys coming this morning.”

“First you is taking a family photo,” Dobby said excitedly. “Mr. Demetrius Barrett is coming to take a family picture of you. Miss Luna is wanting you to wear your green dress robes to match your pretty eyes.”

Half an hour later, Hailey joined her parents and Kieran in the lounge for the photo. Hailey was not surprised to see the eccentric ensemble her mother was wearing. Luna was dressed in robes of electric blue, large silver earrings, and an odd hair ornament that appeared to be made out of blue feathers. She still looked radiant, however, and Hailey saw that Harry, who was dressed in black, was smiling avidly at her. Kieran looked very nice in his maroon robes; Hailey could tell that he was tired, but thrilled at the idea of being included in a family picture. She felt much better when she looked at him, realizing that she should be grateful to have a family. An instant later, however, the thought of that letter made her feel cold and unsettled again as she stood beside her mother for the picture.

“The four of you should gather round the fire,” the tall and thin photographer said in a pleasant baritone voice. “It’ll look nice and cozy….that’s it,” he went on as they posed near the crackling flames. Just then, they heard the sound of a muffled voice from the hearth, and the four of them jumped out of the way just in time as the flames turned emerald green.

“Happy Christmas,” Ron said as he stepped out of the fire and vanished the ashes from his robes. “Hermione and the twins won’t be here until a bit later, but…” he paused as he looked at Demetrius Barrett with dawning comprehension. “Sorry I came early, but I needed to talk to Harry before the others arrive.”

“Well, if you want, you can go and wait for me in my study. We’ll chat as soon as I’m done here,” Harry replied as they all repositioned themselves in front of the fire. The flames had returned to their normal orange-red color. Hailey glanced at Kieran, and he knew that she was planning to retrieve a pair of extendable ears as soon as they finished.

After what felt like an hour, Mr. Barrett finished the pictures and left, but not before he had asked Luna a thousand questions about the baby’s room, baby names, and making arrangements to take photos of the baby later on. Meanwhile, Harry had excused himself to go and talk to Ron, leaving Hailey and Kieran behind to be bored stupid by all the baby talk. There was no way they could try to listen in with Luna and the photographer close by. Finally, Luna saw Mr. Barrett out and she went off to join Mrs. McMullen in the kitchen. Hailey and Kieran rushed upstairs, grabbed a pair of extendable ears, and changed out of their dress robes as soon as Luna was out of sight.

“It’s no use; he must’ve charmed the door,” Hailey muttered a few minutes later as she put the flesh-colored string back into the pocket of her jeans. She and Kieran were standing outside the door to Harry’s study, where Harry was still deep in a private conversation with Ron. Unfortunately, because Harry had put an imperturbable charm on the door, they hadn’t been able to use the extendable ears to listen in. Feeling thoroughly disappointed, Hailey returned the extendable ears up to her room and grabbed a jacket. She really needed some fresh air.

“Told you,” Kieran said as he shoved his hands in his pockets and followed Hailey down the beach. “Did you really think he would give us the chance to eavesdrop after what happened yesterday?”

“It was worth a shot anyway,” Hailey said crossly as she looked for shells along the water’s edge. This was one of her favorite things to do when she was at home; it gave her time to think and relax. It was a chilly day, but the waves were soothing and calm. “I’ll bet they’re talking about that letter!”

“Probably,” Kieran replied. “But, they’re not going to discuss it with us. We weren’t supposed to see that letter in the first place, so we already know more than Harry wants us to.”

“Well, I’m,-“Hailey began.

“There you are!” Morgan said happily as she and Mark jogged down the beach to meet them. “Luna said she didn’t know where you’d gone; she wanted us to find you and tell you that Mrs. McMullen made lunch.”

“When did you get here,” Kieran asked as the four of them walked back to the house.

“Just now,” Mark replied. “Anyway,” he went on, lowering his voice to a whisper. “What’s going on with dad and Harry? Luna said they were in Harry’s study talking.”

“No idea,” Kieran said quickly, trying to keep his voice even. They couldn’t afford for Mark and Morgan to suspect they knew anything. “Your dad just showed up early this morning while we were taking pictures and said he needed to talk to Harry alone before everybody got here.”

“He’s been here all that time,” Mark said, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “We didn’t know he was coming here first thing.”

“He just told us last night he had to leave early and that he would meet us here,”
Morgan said as she kicked at the sand beneath her feet. “He was already gone when we got up this morning.”

“Do you think we should try the extendable ears if they’re still in there,” Mark asked hopefully. “I’ve got a pair in my bag.”

“We’ve already tried,” Hailey said sadly. “The door’s charmed.”

“Damn,” Mark said, looking crestfallen.

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Morgan said, looking almost as disappointed as Mark. “We shouldn’t be eavesdropping anyway.” She went on, resuming her usual rule abiding demeanor.

“Whatever,” Mark grumbled. “I’m hungry…let’s go inside.”

The four of them were surprised to see that the dining room was full of people when they went in to eat. All of the other Weasleys had arrived just in time for lunch. Bill and Charlie were sitting beside Molly and Arthur having sandwiches. Hailey was very sad to see that Mrs. Weasley looked as tired and sad as she had the last time Hailey had seen her over the summer. Ron, Neville, and Ginny listened to Fred and George talk about their most recent experiments for the Weasleys Wizard Wheezes over soup while Alicia and Franklyn were laughing at a joke Arthur-John had just told as Maria (who was still walking with a cane) looked on.

“Happy Christmas,” Morgan said cheerfully as she helped herself to a sandwich.

“The same to you,” Arthur-John replied. The others nodded in agreement, though Hailey couldn’t help but notice that Maria didn’t look happy at all. Hailey wanted to ask her what was wrong, but hesitated. Maria may have sacrificed her place on the team to keep Patrick from having to choose between her and Hailey, but she still hadn’t been very friendly to Hailey since she had replaced her as seeker.
“What’s wrong, Maria,” Morgan asked her cousin seconds later before Hailey could consider the matter any further. Maria did not respond at first; she seemed to be trying to decide on what to say as everyone watched her expectantly.

“Maybe we should have a girl talk,” Alicia said finally. “Can we go to your room, Hailey?”

“That’s fine,” Hailey said, looking curiously at Maria. “We can finish our lunch later…”

“You can go ahead and finish up Hailey,” Maria said, giving Alicia and Morgan a significant look. “We’ll just take a walk outside…we won’t be long.”

Oh, right,” Hailey said lamely, feeling rather hurt at the exclusion. “We’ll see you a bit later, then.”

The other girls got up without another word, leaving Hailey alone with the boys. Mark and Arthur-John averted their eyes from Hailey as she played with her food. She wasn’t hungry at all anymore. She glanced over at Kieran, who was looking rather upset.

“What was that all about,” Kieran said indignantly to Arthur-John and Mark as he too laid his lunch aside.

“Maria and Patrick broke up,” Arthur-John said with a shrug as he helped himself to a third sandwich. “So I guess she’s pretty upset, or whatever.”

“But that’s no reason for her to be like that to Hailey,” Mark replied, clearly annoyed at his cousin’s behavior. “It doesn’t make sense.” Franklyn nodded in agreement over his soup.

“Yeah, it does,” Hailey argued. “She gave me her spot on the team so Patrick wouldn’t feel bad about the fact that he thought I was a good seeker, and now she probably thinks it was a mistake to give up her spot on the team for a stupid boy.”
“But you’re the better player,” Kieran said bluntly. “She’s just jealous of you!”

“Thanks,” Hailey said, blushing. “But I wouldn’t be on the team if Maria hadn’t resigned, would I? Patrick was so into Maria that he didn’t want to let me on the team no matter what.”

“Yeah, but now they’ve split up, he wouldn’t care about hurting her feelings,” Franklyn replied. “And, Maria is still too injured to play, so he would have chosen you over her in the long run anyway. She was the one who resigned in the first place, so she can’t blame you either way.”

Hailey smiled wordlessly at all of them, feeling more cheerful because of their support. She and the others continued to talk about Quidditch, discussing the upcoming match against Hufflepuff at the end of January.

Hailey spent the rest of the day with the boys because she knew Maria didn’t really want to talk to her. She was feeling rather annoyed at Alicia and Morgan as well, even though she knew they weren’t to blame for Maria’s feelings. Hailey was generally more comfortable in the boys’ company anyway. The five of them played exploding snap for awhile, and when they were all brave enough, they tested out a new invention of Fred and George’s called “Sweet or Sick”, a game where the players were obligated to sample various kinds of identical looking candies that might be as harmless as a chocolate frog, or could contain things that might make the eater ill in a variety of different ways. Hailey finally bowed out of the game when she encountered a puking pastille without an antidote, which made her sick for nearly half an hour. Kieran, who was having a hard time disguising the fact that he was just as nauseated as Hailey, excused himself from the game as well.

They all got up early the next morning for an early breakfast before they opened their gifts in the lounge, which Dobby had decorated magnificently with three large red and gold Christmas trees. The room was filled with the sounds of happy chatter and ripping paper for quite some time. Hailey was very pleased with everything she received, though her favorite gift by far was a very pretty wristwatch Harry gave her. However, her mother’s gift of talking earmuffs, which supposedly let you know when your ears dropped below a certain temperature, was odd even for Luna. She and Kieran wound up giving each other the same gift; a scarf and gloves, though Hailey had given Kieran grey to match his eyes, and he had given her green for the same reason. Morgan and Mark had given her a book about famous seekers, while Alicia and Franklyn got her some Honeydukes chocolate; Arthur-John gave Hailey her very own set of “Sweet or Sick.”

Maria didn’t get Hailey a present, nor did she seem to have gifts for any of the others. Hailey was sure she had given the others their gifts ahead of time so as not to draw attention to the fact that she hadn’t gotten Hailey anything. This made Hailey regret the box of Chocolate Frogs she had for Maria, but she gave them to her anyway. Maria took them with a mumbled thank you and averted her eyes from Hailey. Hailey didn’t have much time to brood on Maria’s behavior, however, because at that precise moment, a very tearful Molly Weasley excused herself quickly from the room.

“I’ll go,” said Ginny in a quivering voice as both Hermione and Arthur started toward the door. Hermione sat back down next to a very weary looking Ron, who was staring blankly at the door his mother and sister had just walked through. Bill, Fred and George were all stoically silent as Charlie tried to comfort his ashen-faced father. Luna and Harry sat beside each other and watched the display of family grief with expressions of sad helplessness.

Hailey’s eyes met Mark’s, and she saw that he was blinking furiously as he tried to focus his attention on the blue jumper his grandmother had knitted for him. Morgan, who was also looking tearful, put a consoling arm around him. Hailey shuddered involuntarily as Percy’s dead face flashed across her mind’s eye and her heart ached for the Weasleys. She thought of all the people who had lost family members to the PPS that year, and she wondered how many more people would have to die before it was all over.

The silence was heavy and solid as they waited to see if Molly and Ginny would return. Hailey looked at her parents, and her mind wandered once again to the horrible letter (…”Give Hailey my best wishes for a very Happy FINAL Christmas with her family”). She prayed that her family would be whole and healthy for many Christmases to come.

Molly finally calmed down enough to return to the lounge and finish opening her gifts, but after a short period of time, she left the room again to go and lie down. The mood was rather somber for the rest of the afternoon, though Hailey and the boys did manage to trick Morgan into playing a game of “Sweet or Sick”. Morgan lost spectacularly when she ate a sweet that turned out to be one of Fred and George’s “smoking strawberries” which made steam furl out of the unsuspecting victim’s nose for at least an hour.

As 7:00 drew near, everyone was eagerly anticipating the Dursley’s arrival. Hailey and Mark had a wager going about how long it would take for Hailey’s grandfather to scare them into leaving. Hailey was betting on ten minutes while Mark seemed to think they’d last longer if Dudley was really hungry. Lupin and Tonks arrived an hour before dinner was set to begin, and Harry promptly ushered them into his study for another secretive sort of chat.

Harry, Lupin and Tonks returned when Mrs. McMullen called them all into the dining room at 6:30, where they had drinks and waited for their other guests to arrive. Just moments later, a strange commotion coming from the lounge caused Harry to excuse himself. He returned moments later followed by a very large man with thick blonde hair and piggish features. Hailey would have had no trouble identifying him even if he hadn’t been dressed in a Muggle t-shirt and jeans. Dudley Dursley was just as big and ugly as she had imagined he would be, though his demeanor was not one of the typical bully. He looked around at the roomful of witches and wizards with great apprehension. On the other side of him, Aunt Petunia was looking similarly nervous and out of place. Luna sat her drink aside and climbed awkwardly out of her chair to greet them.

“Happy Christmas,” Luna said genially as she ushered the two of them inside and handed them one small box each. Aunt Petunia and Dudley smiled strenuously as Harry led them to seats near the end of the table an offered them butterbeer. Most the Weasleys, meanwhile, were watching them with polite interest, but Fred and George’s faces were full of mischief, and Hailey wondered fleetingly if they had some trick up their sleeves.

“You can go ahead and open those,” Luna went on dreamily. Dudley looked at her as though he would rather throw himself out the window, but Aunt Petunia gave him an encouraging nod as she started to tear the paper on her own package. Dudley followed suit as Hailey wondered whether or not she would be able to resist the urge to laugh at whatever bizarre present her mother had for the Dursleys. The two Dursleys removed the shiny golden paper to reveal two small boxes from Honeydukes. Aunt Petunia set her box aside with a polite thank you, but Dudley looked perplexed as he scrutinized the package.

“What is this,” Dudley said rather rudely as he examined the box with trepidation.

“It’s chocolate,” Hailey blurted before she could stop herself. “It’s edible once you take it out of the box.” Mark and Kieran laughed out loud.

“Thank you, Hailey,” Harry said warningly as he started refilling their glasses of butterbeer with a wave of his wand. “Now, I think Mrs. McMullen will be along with dinner shortly. “Darling, do you know when your father is…” Harry stopped in mid-sentence as the dining room door opened to reveal one of the strangest sights any of them had ever seen.

A tall, thin man with a round face, protuberant silver eyes, and wild, wiry gray hair that stuck out at odd angles was standing in the doorway. And, if his face and hair were not enough to let anyone who set eyes on Barnabas Lovegood know that he was quite mad, the clothes he was wearing would prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. He was dressed in a red lacy blouse and a pair of jeans that he had unwisely paired with a pair of large brown galoshes and a gawdy gold hoop earring that made him look like a deranged pirate. Hailey gaped at her grandfather; she had seen him in a lot of peculiar ensembles, but this one surpassed every strange thing in the universe Hailey had ever encountered. Even the most “Muggle illiterate” wizards gathered around the Potters’ dinner table knew enough about non-magical culture to understand that Mr. Lovegood’s ensemble was not common Muggle dress. Many of the faces around them were red from the effort of hiding their silent laughter, minus Aunt Petunia and Dudley, who both looked as though they were about to faint. Luna, who was more accustomed to the odd and strange than anyone else in the room, merely rose from her chair to greet her father.

“Happy Christmas, dad,” Luna said happily as she kissed Barnabas’s cheek. He returned the greeting obligingly, but a moment later, he stared around the room at the others with a slight frown on his face.

“What happened to being undercover,” He said in a bemused sort of way as his wide eyes looked around the room. “Why are you all dressed like this?”

“What do you mean,” Harry replied, his face red with suppressed mirth. “What’s wrong with our clothes.”

Barnabas looked pointedly over at a horrified looking Aunt Petunia, and then walked over to where Harry was sitting. He bent low next to Harry’s ear in a dramatic fashion before he replied.

“We’re in the presence of Muggles,” he whispered audibly. “I thought I should try to protect myself by dressing accordingly.” At this, nearly everyone burst out laughing.

“That wasn’t necessary, dad,” Luna replied seriously. “The Dursleys know what we are, so there was no need to wear Muggle clothes.”

“Oh well,” Mr. Lovegood replied with a shrug. “Guess I went to a lot of trouble for nothing!’ He then walked over to the only empty chair at the vast table and sat down beside Aunt Petunia, who gasped.

“This lovely lady must be your aunt, Harry,” Barnabas said genially, taking Aunt Petunia’s wrinkled, bony hand in his own and kissing it. Aunt Petunia seemed to be too shocked to reply. Dudley, on the other hand, was turning purple and looking furious. Hailey wondered if her grandfather was aware that Dudley was a convicted criminal.

“Shy,” Barnabas went on, misinterpreting Aunt Petunia’s fear for bashfulness. “You’ll get over that soon enough.”

Mrs. McMullen interrupted this exchange when she and Dobby entered the room with several floating trays of rich food.

Even Aunt Petunia could not resist eating second helpings of everything. Turkey, potatoes, roast chicken, carrots, puddings, cakes…and, thanks to Hailey’s grandfather, lots of Firewhiskey. Indeed, it seemed that the only adult who wasn’t at least a little tipsy was Luna. Harry was laughing loudly at Hermione, who was wearing a fake beard she’d gotten out of one of her wizard crackers. Mark was very amused at his mother’s unusually relaxed demeanor, but Morgan looked embarrassed. Tonks was entertaining everyone with her special abilities as an Metamorphmagus by seeing how many times she could change her hair color in a minute. The most entertaining display by far, however, was on the Dursley end of the table. Aunt Petunia had initially taken the glass Barnabas had given her because she seemed too afraid of the mad old wizard to say no, but she was now well into her fourth serving of whiskey. Hailey could tell that she was becoming more comfortable with her dinner companions with every sip she took.

“To old friends,” Barnabas hiccupped as he and Aunt Petunia raised their glasses for yet another toast.

“To new ones,” Aunt Petunia slurred in reply as her son looked on with an expression of mingled horror and disgust.

“To me dearly departed wife,” Barnabas went on, taking another generous gulp. “I know she would love to be here.”

“To my dearly departed husband,” Petunia giggled. “Who would not.”

“Here, here,” Barnabas said. “Sorry for your loss, m’dear.”

“I think we should be going, mum,” Dudley said stiffly, his face red with ill-disguised anger. “It’s been a long evening, and you’re tired.”

“Nonsense, Diddy,” Aunt Petunia went on, trying and failing to suppress another giggle. “The night is young, and s-so am I.”

“Well, I’m tired,” Dudley went on, his face growing redder still. “Of conversing with weirdos and old men dressed like vagrants!”

“Oh, on come D-diddy,” Aunt Petunia went on, mincing her words as she took another drink. “Have a drink…you just got out of…”

“That’s enough, mum,” Dudley bellowed, startling everyone else into silence. “You’ve got no business here with these...these…people,” He finished weakly, giving the assortment of wizards a nervous glance. He leaned over and gave his mother an imploring look. “In case you haven’t noticed, you’re sitting next to a man dressed as a woman.”

“What’d choo say, boy,” Barnabas said, nonplussed.

“He was only trying to make us feel welcome, Diddy,” Aunt Petunia stammered. “That is a lovely blouse you’re wearing, Barney, where did you get it?”

“You c-called me Barney,” Barnabas whispered. “No one’s called me that since me wife died.”

“How sad,” Aunt Petunia said woefully.

“We’re leaving,” Dudley said forcefully, throwing his napkin aside and rising from his chair. “Say goodnight, mum.”

“Goodnight, mum,” Aunt Petunia parroted back, causing Hailey and Kieran to laugh out loud. Dudley glared at them but said nothing as he helped his mother out of her chair. Aunt Petunia did not protest further, but she gave Hailey a penetrating stare as she stood up with unstable legs and wrapped a bony arm around her large son’s shoulders.

“Hailey,” she said suddenly, looking at Hailey with a suddenly somber expression. “Could you come here, please?”

Hailey gave her aunt a perplexed look; Aunt Petunia had never spoken to her directly like this before, not even during her brief stay at Hazelwood last summer. Reluctantly, Hailey stood up and approached the older woman.

“You look so much like my sister,” she said wistfully, staggering forward and kissing Hailey on the cheek. “Thank your father for inviting us for me. He’s been better to me than I deserve, but he’s a lot like his mother, too.”

“Right,” Hailey replied lamely, not sure what to say. She had never thought about the relationship her aunt had shared with her grandmother Lily. But, they had been sisters. “I’ll do that.”

Aunt Petunia smiled sleepily in reply as Dudley half carried her from the room. She waved a cheery farewell to everyone as Luna got up to see them off. Hailey felt a surge of pity for the her aunt as she watched the dining room door close behind the three of them. The family Petunia Dursley never wanted was now the only family she had. Life was funny that way, sometimes.

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