Chapter 14 : Christmas
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The Joker and Her
The next week followed smoothly. Douglas scheduled for his best friend Stanley Meadowes, a Head Auror, to come over for Boxing Day lunch, and so Brienne counted down the few days that were to come before she got answers. In the meantime, she helped her father embellish the house with Christmassy decorations, including the ceiling-high Christmas tree, with the glowing baubles which constantly changed colour and size, to the wooden angel figure sitting at the top which winked at them or fixed her hair whenever she was sure they were paying attention. Douglas even allowed Brienne to bewitch the decorations for her own room, so long as he wasn’t using his wand at the same time, so the Ministry didn’t detect the use of underage magic.
The snow that fell every morning came in dainty, powdery gusts, and the ice on the ground made it so they could only leave their house by Side-Along Apparition or by Floo Powder, as not to alarm any nosy Muggles with melting charms. But they didn’t often need to leave the house. The company they received from one another was really all they needed in the days coming up to Christmas. Douglas would leave, occasionally, but always returned within the hour, sagging with shopping bags, having warned Brienne to have her wand in her hand the entire time he was gone.
On the evening before Christmas morning, she sent out Serge (after a muttered disagreement with her father over the fact that Brienne had never acquired an owl for herself) with her package and letter for Fred and George. She watched the stormy grey owl sweep into the distance, thinking of and missing her friends. Brienne had had to send her gifts for Angelina and Paisley a couple of days earlier, as they lived at Hogwarts and Edinburgh respectively, and she hadn’t thought that the owl could stand to travel the four lengths of the country in one night. Serge returned that morning bearing two small packages wrapped in brown paper and a couple of small folded pages of parchment from her girlfriends; Brienne had put them at the foot of the Christmas tree ready for the next day.
Brienne awoke on Christmas morning with the sky still dark outside, and for the first time in days, snow wasn’t falling as she got out of bed and slid her pair of blue slippers on. She brushed her hair, made her bed, and made a quick trip to the bathroom before venturing downstairs.
The living room was warmly lit with some lamps. Her father was awake, sitting in the puffy brown armchair, drinking a cup of coffee and reading The Daily Prophet. He looked up when Brienne came in, and his face split open in a smile.
“Merry Christmas, darling!” Her father announced, getting up and gesturing to a breakfast tray that he had prepared on the living room table. Brienne smiled, and hugged her father. “Merry Christmas, Dad.”
Her father had prepared a breakfast of soft, warm scones and buttery croissants; small bowls of butter, jam, marmalade, chocolate spread, and clotted cream, and jugs of orange juice and spiced milk sat alongside them. It was their traditional breakfast. Her father gestured to the table, smiled and then sat down. He was clearly starving but had waited for his daughter to wake.
“You do know that this is the only reason I came home for the holidays,” Brienne joked, and her father laughed.
They sat and ate and chatted until crumbs were all that was left on the tray, Brienne secretly thinking that those that had stayed behind at Hogwarts couldn’t possibly have had a better Christmas breakfast. The sun had now fully risen, and the overcast sky reflected brilliantly off of the bright snow. It dripped and hung from tree branches, and the roofs of the opposing buildings were blanketed in white.
They then moved to the Christmas tree, where they slumped to the floor and exchanged gifts. Brienne had gotten her father a new tie from Hogsmeade, which had a different colour and pattern for every day of the year; as soon as he unwrapped it he put it on crookedly, and the tie flashed ‘Merry Christmas!’ in gold lettering as they heard a distinctive tapping on the window.
It was Serge, along with two other owls, who all had messages dangling from their feet. Douglas let them in; Serge carried a gift from Fred and George, and the other owls had short messages from Douglas’ colleagues and friends from the Ministry. As her father read and chuckled at the Christmas cards, Brienne ripped open the present to reveal a small wooden box, big enough to fit in the palm of her hand. Initially, she thought that it was intended to carry small pieces of jewellery, but then opened it to reveal a tiny chunk of chocolate. Pleasantly surprised that the gift wasn’t just a storage item, Brienne popped the small chocolate-covered strawberry mousse into her mouth and closed the box in her hand. She let the chocolate melt in her mouth as she opened one of the two notes that accompanied the gift.
Merry Christmas, Frenchy! I hope you like your present, I wanted to get you some pyjamas (because George was thinking that you could be naked at any point, and he couldn’t have that) but we decided on an Ever-Replenishing Chocolate Box because Christmas simply doesn’t nourish you enough. Oh, and it senses what kind of chocolate you want. I really wouldn’t recommend an onion-flavoured one. Just saying.
George sends his love (because he looooves you) and I send my...like. Have a good Christmas; try not to get too fat.
Brienne laughed several times while reading Fred’s message, and picked up the gift box again only to find it now contained a small triangular shard of white chocolate. She ate it as her father settled into his armchair to reply to the messages he had received. More pleased than before with her gift – now knowing that it replenished itself with the exact kind of chocolate that she silently wished for -- she picked up the second note:
Merry Christmas! I dread to think what Fred’s letter said; can I please just say that I haven’t been saying your name in my sleep. Put some Veritaserum in him. Or not. Or -- maybe -- I have, and I had a nightmare about when you snogged me the other day.
Ah, I kid, I kid. It wasn’t that bad. And I admit I probably had something to do with it, being gorgeous and all. And I leaned in. Yeah, perhaps that was a snog too far. I’ll stop; I can hear you saying “Shut up, George.”
Have a great Christmas, and I look forward to seeing you back at Hogwarts. But not so I can snog you. Shut up, George. Now I’m saying it.
P.S. You know the Memory modifying spell? Yeah, throw this in the bin. Then use it.
Contrary to the last letter, Brienne was almost completely silent whilst reading George’s note. It felt like her heart was vibrating, it was beating so hard. She couldn’t really count the emotions that were running through her. The kiss was intentional? Then a stream of surprised swear words (in both French and English) flitted through her head. What did this mean? Should she reply? What happens now? Is this normal friendly banter? Some of what George had put was so confusing and ridiculous it made her burst into a fit of laughter. What – what – was all that about?
Her fingers shook slightly as she set aside the message with Fred’s and their gift, and picked up another package. She couldn’t dwell on this; that would be counterproductive. She took a couple of deep breaths, and felt a warm glow settle in and around her chest cavity. Regardless of what on Earth George was talking about, he was nonetheless adorable.
She then opened Angelina’s and Paisley’s gifts – Angelina bought her a new set of soft bright red gloves, a scarf and a woollen hat, top of the range from Hogsmeade, and Paisley bought her ‘Proven Reasons why Divination is Pointless and Clearly Wrong,’ by Alyssa Gilsig, the title of which made Brienne laugh louder than anything else she had seen that morning.
By the time that she had opened the last few of her gifts, which included a Wand Care Kit from her paternal relatives, and a couple of interesting potions books from her favourite – and only maternal – cousin, her father had finished up his letters and had gotten dressed in his green checked jumper and chinos. He re-entered the living room and chuckled at the sight of Brienne, still in her pyjamas, sitting on the floor and surrounded by presents and shredded-up wrapping paper. He had a long, thin box in his hands, covered in silver paper.
“You look about six years old,” he muttered, turning the box around in his hands anxiously.
Brienne was compulsively opening and closing her Ever-Replenishing Chocolate Box, trying whatever odd flavour combinations she could think up in her mind. She grinned up at her father. “I feel it.”
Douglas got down onto the floor with Brienne, and the unexpectedly grave look on his face made Brienne forget about her other gifts, and her attention shifted to the mysterious parcel in his hands. He wrapped one arm tenderly around her, and held the box halfway towards her, as if offering it.
“I’ve got another present for you, but this, I think, is more important.”
“What is it?” Brienne asked in a very small voice.
He cleared his throat. “It’s...well, open it.”
Brienne gently took the box and shook it gently -- it didn’t make any noise, and she reasoned that whatever was inside was tightly packed in. She gently lifted the lid, and she heard a clatter as she dropped the Chocolate Box on the floor.
“I know, sweetheart.” Douglas sounded choked up. “It’s only right that you should have it.”
They both fell silent as Brienne lifted a long, juniper wand from the box, which was clearly the original box from the wandmakers, wrapped up in silver paper. She gripped the wand in her hand as if testing it for herself, but then put it gently down,
“Wasn’t she...buried...with it?” Brienne asked, more stunned than upset.
“They, er...they had to examine it as part of the investigation,” Douglas explained. “They had to know what your mother was doing in the days before.”
Brienne grimaced; the idea of her mother’s wand being “examined” gave her much the same feeling as the idea of her mother’s body being probed. She tried to think back to the wake, whether she had noticed that Zéphyrine had not been buried with her wand. She felt dismayed -- it was bad luck to the next of kin if a witch or wizard isn’t buried with their wand, everyone knows that.
As if he had read her mind, Brienne’s father squeezed her shoulder and said, “You know they had to, Petal. If it gets us any closer to knowing what happened to her, then you know it was worth it.”
He had a point. Brienne calmed at his words, and lifted the wand up to her face. She kissed the handle, and pink bubbles began to bloom from the tip. Brienne didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but her father laughed, and clapped her shoulder.
“It remembers you. Always a good back up for you, in case.”
Brienne smiled, and wrapped the wand back up in the box, as if it were made of crystal. A back up? She couldn’t consider using any other wand than her own. But this one held many memories for her; she had never seen it out of either her mother’s hand or sticking out of her pocket.
Trying to gloss over the moment, she put the box containing her mother’s wand with the Chocolate Box and her other gifts, and threw away all of the used wrapping paper. Her father started on the dinner, and Brienne occupied her time by checking out her new Wand Care Kit, and before long her wand was shiny, scratch-free and good as new. She thought of buffing up her mother’s wand, but the idea of wiping away any evidence of her mother was unthinkable, if a little irrational as she suspected the investigators had probably done so already.
The hours passed, and by midday, Brienne was dressed and helping her father with the dinner. There wasn’t much help to be given, as Douglas had taken to enchanting all of the vegetables and meat to prepare themselves; at one point the plucked turkey danced a tango around the kitchen with the small chicken that would accompany it, leaving the two of them in stitches of laughter. Serge was perched on the door handle, watching over the proceedings with increased levels of disapproval. Brienne made some cranberry sauce, and set the extended table in the dining room with a table cloth and place settings.
By four ‘o’clock, dinner was served, and the table was displayed with the juicy roasted turkey and chicken, balls of stuffing, Yorkshire puddings, tureens of buttered peas, carrots, sprouts, crispy roast potatoes and parsnips, chipolatas, and a gravy boat full of delicious, thick gravy, all made to perfection. It was, as it was every year, scrumptious, and Brienne had purposefully not eaten since receiving her Chocolate Box in order to eat as much of the dinner as possible. She ate and ate, past the point that she was full, until she was satisfied that she had eaten enough of everything. Her father kept up with her, although with less gusto. At the climax of their efforts, the turkey and chicken had been stripped of half of their meat, and all of the vegetables were gone save for a few potatoes. Brienne was slumped back in her seat, feeling much the same way as after Halloween dinner at Hogwarts, though much more full up and bloated. Her father loosened his belt by a couple of notches, and Brienne unbuttoned her trousers to let her swollen stomach expand comfortably. They let their food settle for ten minutes before hefting the leftovers into the pantry and dumping the plates and platters into the sink.
They stayed up late, listening to the radio and drinking from bottles of non-alcoholic Butterbeer. When the clock struck ten and the radio fizzled out, Brienne heaved herself up and bid her father goodnight.
“Hold on.” Douglas got up and set his bottle down. “I’ve got another gift for you.”
Brienne couldn’t understand why he had decided to show her this at bedtime, but she followed as Douglas led the way up the stairs, through the trapdoor in the ceiling and into the attic, where Serge was kept.
The attic was small but dark and draughty, which was perfect conditions for their owl. Serge was sitting on his perch, staring into the corner with utmost contempt, and lazily closed his eyes when Douglas went over to scratch his head.
“I dashed out yesterday after you sent gifts to your friends,” Douglas said, pointing over to the same corner that Serge had been staring at. “It’s only right that you have an owl for yourself.”
He went into the corner and returned with a small owl perched on his forearm. The bird was small, definitely a baby, and was about the size of an ostrich egg. He had feathers of inky black and stormy grey and his eyes were a dark amber colour, staring and flashing at them with wide-eyed interest. Brienne gasped as the owl turned its gaze towards her and flapped its wings, and she was just about to resign herself to the fact that this would be yet another animal that averted itself from her when the owl pushed off from her father’s arm and settled nicely on her shoulder. Brienne froze, waiting for the owl to bite her ear or try to rip some of her hair out, but it didn’t.
“He’s newborn, only a few months old,” Douglas said, “Most of the older owls were bought for presents, so I could only get you a young one. I hope that’s all right.”
“That’s...wow. Thank you.” Brienne didn’t know what to say. She stared at her new owl and laughed quietly, amazed at his gentle nature. Almost simultaneously, it began to lean on Brienne’s head, as if for comfort.
“He likes you,” Douglas commented, his hands in his pockets. “For Merlin’s sake, don’t let it get too attached to you straight away, or he’ll think you’re his mother.”
But it seemed too late for that; the small owl immediately nipped Brienne’s ear affectionately and she stroked his feathers. He preened and twitched.
They set her new owl down next to Serge, who hopped a few inches away, disgusted. The new owl ruffled his feathers and closed his eyes. Brienne hugged her father. “Thank you, Dad. He’s lovely.”
“I thought if I got a younger one then you’ll bond easier. Cleverer owls can sense your anxiety, you know.”
Brienne snorted. “Right.”
They stayed in the attic for a while, Serge flying a couple of laps around the attic as if trying to attract their attention away from his new companion. The new owl only had eyes for Brienne, and would hop slightly on the wooden beam in excitement as she scratched and stroked his smooth, dark feathers. He seemed to adore Brienne, and she was quickly beginning to return the feeling.
“You’ve got to decide on a name for him,” Douglas muttered as he released Serge outside to stretch his wings. “You don’t want him to answer to ‘the owl.’”
Brienne’s lips widened into a grin. “How about Nyx?”
“Nyx. N-Y-X. It’s the name of the Greek titan of the night. Because of his feathers.”
“They are a pretty colour. Bedtime?”
“Yeah, I’m exhausted. Goodnight, Nyx!”
They took the newly-named Nyx over to the window, where he took flight in the direction that Serge had gone.
“Where did you learn all about Greek Gods and things like that then?” Douglas asked as they ventured down to the first floor.
“I had a lesson at Beauxbatons about ancient magical deities. It was part of the Ancient Magic syllabus.”
“Ah.” Douglas stretched his arms towards the ceiling and groaned.
“Goodnight, Dad.” Brienne smiled. “Merry Christmas.”
Douglas smiled and gathered his daughter in a tight hug. “Merry Christmas, darling.”
It lasted slightly longer than their normal hugs, and Brienne knew that he must be slightly pleased to have his daughter back. She, personally, was torn.
They went to bed, and Brienne thought of owls, and wands, and Aurors, and messages from red-headed boys, before drifting into a blissful, dreamless sleep.
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