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Chapter 2 : The Perfect Tree
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I ran to the back door and pulled on my shoes. Matt was right behind me and the two of us ran out onto the deck. I absolutely love our backyard, it's my favorite part about our monstrosity of a house. There's a circular pool along with a spa on one side and the rest is covered in all types of plants. There's a stone wall around the entire property, which makes it very private. I like how the nearest neighbor is a mile away, so at night it's pitch black. Every once and a while I'll sneak out of the house after everyone has gone to bed and sleep outside, watching the stars. Mum would positively flip out if she ever found out that I did that. Anything that remotely resembles camping scares the living daylights out of her now.
The best part of the backyard is the bush that surrounds the back and one side of the yard. I love exploring that bush (another thing I do that Mum would freak out about). I wish the wall wasn't blocking it, but I can climb it in about thirty seconds. It's only a six foot wall.
I leaped across the yard, jumping over various bushes and flower beds until I reached the wall. Matt was about halfway towards the wall and he was trying to copy my jumping. He tripped over a bush and landed on top of it. I winced and hoped Mum didn't see it. Matt stood up and ran the rest of the way to the wall, dodging the remaining bushes instead of trying to jump over them.
"You all right?" I asked him, grabbing his arms and examining them. Only a few minor scratches.
"Yeah," Matt panted. "I'm fine."
"Good," I grinned at him. He was a lot tougher than Mum made him out to be. I turned back to the deck and saw Dad and Richard coming down the steps. "Hurry up you two!" I shouted at them.
"We're coming!" Richard shouted back, "We're not all spring chickens!"
Matt and I laughed at his Muggle expression and waited for the two men to make their way over to the wall. They were sure taking their time. I sighed, "Let's just start without them," I suggested.
Matt nodded and I turned around and faced the wall. It was made of random pieces of rock that jutted out in many places, which made it much easier to climb. I grabbed hold of one of the larger pieces and started climbing. I've been climbing this wall since I was five and it's only gotten easier as I've gotten taller. The wall is only about three quarters of a foot taller than me now. I hoisted myself up onto the ledge and noticed that Dad and Richard were still walking towards the bush. The ledge of the wall is about three feet wide, which makes it extremely easy to get into the bush. All I have to do is jump.
Matt, however, is just barely four feet tall and can't climb the wall very well. I think this is mostly due to him not doing it very often. Mum would never let him. Instead of having him try and climb it and probably fall off, earning me a stern lecture from Mum, I lay down on the ledge and held my hand down over the side.
"Grab my hand," I told him. He did and I managed to pull him up.
"Amy Marie, what do you think you're doing?!" Dad shouted as I pulled Matt up onto the ledge.
"Getting into the bush," I replied simply.
"Just use the gate!" Dad shook his head.
Oh, right, the gate. There is a gate that leads into the bush, but that wouldn't have been nearly as fun. I turned to Matt. "Wait here while I jump." I walked to the other edge and jumped into the bush. "Now you jump. I'll catch you." Matt jumped off the ledge and into my arms.
At the same time, Dad started shouting even louder. "Amy Marie Eckerton! I said to use the gate! How many times has your mother told you not to jump off that ledge? And don't even get me started on letting your brother do it as well!"
I had been expecting this. Dad isn't nearly as strict as Mum, but this sort of thing does set him off, too. His threshold for danger is higher than Mum's, but climbing stone walls and jumping off the other side is one of the things he gets upset about. Especially when it involves Matt.
"Amy..." Dad sighed and shook his head as he and Richard walked through the gate. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Let me find the perfect tree," I grinned.
"You'd better hope your mother didn't see that."
"Julie needs to calm down a bit," Richard commented, "She's much too strict with these two."
"She has her reasons," Dad reminded him.
"Maybe. But when I was Matt's age, I was riding my bike through town all by myself and climbing over plenty of fences. My mum didn't even know where I was half the time."
I smirked as I listened to their conversation. Richard loved reminiscing about 'the old days'. We started walking through the bush, keeping our eyes out for the perfect tree.
"You lived in a different world, Richard," Dad pointed out.
"I know, but how different can childhood really be if you're a wizard?" Richard shook his head.
"You know I'm not just talking about the magic," Dad said quietly.
"I know," Richard replied, "All I'm saying is that he's still a kid and needs to have fun. Julie ought to loosen up a bit."
I agreed with Richard. Mum did need to loosen up. Of course, try telling her that. Dad and Richard didn't say anything else on that topic. Instead they started looking at trees, which was fine by me. After all, that's what we went there for.
The bush was full of all kinds of trees. There were also shrubs and bushes and flowers and other plant life. Pine trees were hard to come by, but there were some, due to the fact that there was a nearby pine tree plantation. Finding a Christmas tree was always an interesting endeavor since it was often difficult to locate pine trees. Plus there were the animals. None of them were particularly dangerous, although I have seen the occasional red belly black snake. Mostly there are just kangaroos, koalas, deer, rabbits, and other sorts of harmless creatures.
Most of the trees in the bush were too big for even our living room. We must have been walking around for close to an hour before we started to see some appropriate sized trees.
"How about this one?" Richard pointed to a tree that was about eleven feet.
"Too crooked," I pointed to the top of the tree, where the top most branches were leaning over.
"This one?" Dad pointed to another one.
I walked over and inspected the needles. "The needles are too brown."
I couldn't believe that Dad and Richard would want to settle for the first trees we found. They kept suggesting every tree that was around twelve feet, even though they looked awful. I rejected each one and continued to walk deeper into the bush, searching for the perfect tree.
I looked at each one carefully, examining the branches, the needles, and the trunk. Most of them were disappointing. I had thought we would have been able to find a better tree in the bush than at the tree farm, but maybe not. Then I spotted a cluster of trees a couple meters away and ran towards them. They looked much better than the ones we had seen earlier. I turned around only to see that Dad, Richard, and Matt were no longer behind me. I sighed loudly and started to tap my foot waiting for them. I wasn't worried about being alone in the bush. It didn't scare me at all. I was just anxious for them to look at the trees. Eventually I gave up waiting and started to look at them by myself.
After a few minutes I found what looked to be the perfect tree. The trunk was absolutely straight, the needles moist and bright green, and the branches fell into the perfect triangle shape. I stood next to it, imagining what it would look like in our living room, when my family finally caught up with me.
"Listen, Amy, we've either got to get one now or just go to the tree farm," Dad sighed. He was carrying Matt, who was yawning. "We've been out here all afternoon and he's pretty tired."
I checked my watch and was surprised to find that it was almost six o'clock. We had been out for a long time. "I want this one," I gestured to my newly found tree.
"Good," Dad smiled in relief. "It looks great to me."
"Me, too," Richard walked around the tree, "I must say this one is much better than the other ones we've been suggesting."
"Amy is always the one to find the perfect tree," Dad grinned as he set Matt down on the ground and pulled out his wand. "You two go on the other side and catch it."
I ran to the opposite side of the tree with Richard and the two of us held out our hands to catch the tree. Dad muttered a spell and the tree came crashing down in between Richard and I. It looked a whole lot bigger now that it was chopped down.
"Er," I looked at the tree and then at Dad, "How are we going to get it home?"
"Hmm," Dad stared at the tree, "Well, Apparition would be best, but I can't Apparate all three of you plus the tree."
"It's easier when Mum comes," I commented.
"You know," Richard began, "There are ways of getting trees home without magic. Us Muggles do it all the time."
Dad and I looked at each other and we both shrugged. Usually when we bought a tree at the tree farm, Dad would pay for it and then he'd drag it off to some remote part of the farm and we'd all Apparate. But Mum was usually with us, so she'd Apparate with one of us and Dad would take the other and the tree. "Want to elaborate on that?" Dad asked.
Richard laughed, "When Julie and I would get the tree when she was little, we would bring a rope and tie it to the tree and we'd drag it home."
"A rope?" Dad thought for a moment, "That's actually a really good idea." He flicked his wand and conjured a rope.
Richard laughed even harder, "Of course, we would bring our rope from home."
"None of us thought of it earlier," Dad replied, "And sometimes magic just works best." He took the rope and tied it to the stump of the tree, right behind the lowest branches. "Here, Amy, you and Richard will have to drag it home," he handed me the end of the rope.
"You know this is going to get the tree all dirty on one side," I commented as I grabbed hold of the rope. "Why don't you just levitate it?"
"I have to carry your brother home," Dad explained.
"Oh," I muttered.
"We'll have to try and get home quickly," Dad announced as he gazed at the sky, "It's almost dark."
I nodded and started pulling the tree. It was a lot harder than it looked. Dad conjured another rope, attached it near mine, and handed the end to Richard. Dad swung Matt up into his arms and the four of us set off through the woods.
"What color do you want me to do the lights this year?" Dad asked. We always had a specific color scheme for the tree.
"Hmm," I thought, "How about red and gold?" I've always liked those colors, but we have never done a tree in them before. "And Mum can use the gold tinsel."
"Good idea," Dad smiled, "Those are good colors."
We continued talking about how to decorate the tree as we walked through the bush. The sun was almost set all the way and the bush was dark. Dad lit his wand and held it out in front of us. My arms were starting to ache due to pulling the tree, but I didn't care. It was the perfect tree for our house and it would be well worth the soreness that would result from taking it home. Eventually, we reached the edge of the bush and I dropped the rope and leaned against the wall. "Wow," I panted, "That thing is heavy."
"Just a bit further," Richard pulled the tree over to the gate.
"And you're going through the gate this time," Dad said sternly.
"I know, I know."
Dad opened the gate with his wand and Richard and I pulled the tree through. Dad followed with Matt and we started the trek up to the house. There was no way I could run this time. I looked to the sky and saw the stars coming out. They are so beautiful. The nearly full moon was rising as well. I instinctively turned around and looked at Dad and Matt. My brother had his head buried in Dad's shoulder and I could see him shaking. He really wasn't supposed to be outside at night the couple of days before the moon was full. The pull of the moon caused him to ache all over and get terrible headaches. He probably had one now, which meant Mum would yell at all three of us when we got back in. I could deal with it, though. Nothing was going to stop me from enjoying this tree.
Mum and Cinda were at the door when we finally pulled the tree up onto the deck. Mum threw the door open and I could see the relief on her face. "There you are!" she shouted, "I thought you'd be back before dark!"
"We tried," I said, "But we had to go deeper into the bush to find a tree than I thought we would."
Mum looked at me sternly but didn't say anything. She ushered us all inside and into the living room. There was a plate of freshly baked biscuits sitting on the coffee table, along with mugs of hot chocolate. Mum had pulled a couple chairs and a book case out of one of the corners and covered the floor with towels.
"Walter..." Mum sighed as she took Matt from Dad's arms, "You know he can't be out after dark."
"Honey, he's fine," Dad assured her, "A few minutes isn't going to matter that much. We weren't expecting to be out that long."
"I know you weren't," Mum snapped, "Amy had to find the perfect tree."
"Well, we found the tree before dark. We just couldn't Apparate home because you decided not to come! Dad can't Apparate three people and a tree! If you'd been there, we would've Apparated home before dark," I interrupted.
"Amy, don't," Mum replied as she set Matt down on the couch.
"Julie, he's fine. No harm done. Don't ruin the evening. It's Christmas Eve, let's just forget it and decorate the tree," Dad wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm sorry," Mum muttered, pulling away from Dad. She left the room and returned a few moments later with a potion. "Matt honey," she gently shook him awake.
"Mum?" Matt yawned, "My head hurts."
"I know, here drink this," Mum handed him the potion and he drank it. "There."
"We found the best tree, though," he grinned, "Amy found it. She's the best at finding trees."
Mum turned and smiled at me and then gave my brother a big hug. "Yes, it really is a beautiful tree. Now let's decorate it."
The evening became much more cheerful after that. I had been expecting Mum to yell a bit more, but was very happy she didn't. Instead, she just sat with Matt on the couch while Dad levitated the tree into the house and set it up. He cleaned it up and then charmed the red and gold lights onto it. Mum summoned the tinsel and ornament boxes and laced the tree with gold tinsel. After that the fun really began. Matt's potion kicked in and the two of us rifled through all the ornaments, planning the best way to organize them on the tree. Usually we can't fit all our ornaments on the tree because we have so many. This year, however, the tree was so tall that all of them fit on. Matt and I decided to make the tree look like the earth and sky by putting all the animal and people ornaments towards the bottom and the stars, planets, and moons at the top. We stuck the ones that didn't fit into either category wherever they fit. Once all the ornaments were on, Dad put the star on the top with his wand and it was complete.
"This looks absolutely beautiful," Mum smiled and gave me a hug, "Amy, the tree really is perfect. Thank you for finding it."
"No problem," I grinned back.
"Time for bed, I think," Mum announced, "It's really late."
We all left the living room at the same time, admiring the tree as we went. Mum picked Matt, who had fallen asleep, up and took him up to his room. I said good night to all of them and headed to my own room. I put my pajamas on and climbed into bed, but couldn't fall asleep. I was too excited about Christmas. It was my favorite holiday and always had been.
Christmases when I was little were much different than they are now. We used to go to a couple parties every Christmas, both magical and Muggle. We never had Christmas dinner at our house. Unless of course we were holding our own Christmas party. The last party we ever hosted was on Christmas two years ago, only a few days before Matt was bitten. I was twelve and was positively sick of getting dressed up and behaving myself at fancy functions. I remember having a fight with Mum over what I should wear at the party. I wanted to wear jeans and a t-shirt, but Mum wasn't having it. I grudgingly wore the pale blue dress robes she had bought me and greeted guests like a polite child. We haven't hosted another party since, although we have been to a couple. Not in a long time, though. I think the last one we went to was right after third term had ended my second year. It was a magical one and dreadfully boring. It was also right before a full moon and Matt fell asleep during it. A couple of people asked about him, but Mum assured them nothing was wrong. Of course, that was when my parents decided to just stop going to the fancy occasions at all.
Christmas Eve, on the other hand, was always like it was now. We never went to any sort of party on Christmas Eve. It was always a time for family and was spent getting the tree and decorating it. My grandparents always came and usually accompanied us to get the tree. That's what I really enjoyed about the holiday.
I sighed and turned over to face the window. It was a wonderful cloudless night and it would be perfect for stargazing. I always had trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve, probably due to excitement. I decided to do what I always did when I couldn't sleep. Go out onto my balcony and watch the stars.
That was another great thing about my room, the balcony. Matt doesn't have one in his room. Luckily the latch to mine was relatively quiet and my parents never found out that I did this. I grabbed a pillow and crept out onto the balcony. The night sky was even better from the balcony than from my room. The stars twinkled down on me and the moon's rays showered me with light. That was one problem with an almost full moon, the light. A new moon was perfect for star gazing, since there would be no light to obstruct the stars.
I lay down and stared up at the sky while listening to the sounds of the night. Bugs chirping in the grass, owls hooting, water trickling in the yard, the occasional car driving along the nearby road. It was all very soothing to me and I eventually drifted off to sleep.
A/N: Thanks to my sister and beta, Dancer_of_Starlight! Thanks as well to XXEveryinchXX and Dilys Derwent for their reviews!
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