Chapter 7 : Christmas Cracker
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Al was third off the train and the first person to say hello as Lucy smiled at me jovially and Dominique barrelled past us – a set of aunts and uncles and cousins – with Fred in tow as he stepped off after Al.
As ever, I was torn between sulking at the unfairness of everything and greeting him excitedly.
Well, he had written a fair few letters. I decided to let him off the ignoring and get new gossip instead.
"Hiya, Alby. How's school been?"
"Well, not too bad. We're worked too hard as second-years," he complained as Rose came up behind him and snorted.
"Lay off, Al," she cajoled, hugging me, "it's really not that huge a workload. We're hardly suffering James-style with organisation, are we?"
We all laughed at that, but the air was promptly squeezed out of me as James squashed me into a bear hug from behind and dug his fingers into my ribs. "Oi, did I hear my name?" he growled.
Hugo lifted an eyebrow. "Well, I didn't say 'idiot'..."
James promptly dropped me and dove for Hugo instead. I caught myself neatly, and laughed along with Rose and Al as we jumped out of the way of the pair rolling on the ground.
"Oi, you lot! Come on!" Uncle Ron bellowed, gesticulating madly for us to follow him and the other parents off the platform. With lots of eye-rolls and sheepish smiles, we did. Goodness knew that Uncle Ron would haul us across Kings Cross himself if we didn't follow with enough speed.
“It’s a real shame that you’ve got off school so late this year… I mean, it’s Sunday the 23rd for goodness’ sake!” Mum’s voice drifted from the front seat, engaging Rose and Al in half-interested nodding as they made small talk. Hugo and I had been shoved in the back of the large Ministry car, with the three Hogwartians in the middle row and somehow, all the parents in the front.
Uncle Ron had offered to drive at first, but when we nearly crashed for the second time, Dad insisted we pull over and that he should drive instead.
James was fidgeting, obviously bored, so I poked him in the back of the head to get him to turn around.
“Oi, big bro, what’ve you been up to then?” I asked, leaning forwards.
He scowled good-naturedly. “Not much, just the usual… a bit of pranking, mostly mucking about. Just general Hogwarts stuff, I s’pose.”
Well, it was statements like that which just infuriated me. ‘Just general Hogwarts stuff’, like we were supposed to know what it was like there! I hated being left behind, I really did, but I was trying to put it to use and stay positive.
It was times like this one when I really just wanted to sock James in the mouth. Instead, I relieved my angry feelings by viciously tugging at a chunk of his hair as he turned back around with a passive expression on his face.
It worked quite well, actually; it wasn’t really complain-worthy, yet was extremely effective in the way of venting anger. On the other hand, it didn’t work so well, because James whipped around with a roar worthy of a stung bull.
“Oi, what the - ” he swore here, meriting an angry admonishment from the front seat, “ – was that for, Lily?”
I glared and kicked the back of his seat. “For being an arrogant, unsociable fathead.”
James half-rose out of his seat and lunged for my hair, but I ducked, only to have my ear grabbed instead. James twisted it, pulling me forwards, so I started to shriek at him. Hugo was elbowing the both of us, pulling James off me, and hitting both Rose and Al in the process, and I could hear all the parents shouting from the front seats while we scrapped.
It was inevitable, really, that as Aunt Hermione shot a spell forcing us apart, Dad lost concentration for just a smidge too long and swerved horribly into the next lane over. Angry motorists from the other motorway lanes honked madly at us, and Dad swore as he yanked the steering wheel back to its proper position.
Mum turned around to yell and James and I, but I didn’t listen as I strained against the invisible bonds that were tying me to my seat a little painfully. James was shouting at me about ‘stupid abusive behaviour’ and ‘idiot little sisters who didn’t understand’.
Of course, I yelled back.
“Of course I’m being abusive, you’re an idiotic prat who can never be bothered to take an interest in anything!” James was trying to shout over the top of me, but I ploughed on, and Aunt Hermione started screaming at us too.
Hugo shoved his hand over my mouth, but I was so angry at James and his prattish behaviour that I bit it and tried to spit at James. Unfortunately, I never managed it, because at that point, the car gave a nasty jolt and bang, and we were thrown forwards as a heavy vehicle slammed us from behind.
“This is all your fault, Lily,” James hissed at me, as we stood on the slip-road at the side of the motorway. Albus, who was standing between us, shot both of us a poisonous glare. I stared ahead grumpily by way of reply, pressing the bandage to my forehead harder.
In all fairness, it was my fault for the fight, but not my fault that I was provoked. But I was pretty certain that I would receive absolutely no Christmas presents if I said anything more, so kept stum. It was really difficult, but I was determined to be the bigger person and keep up this wiser perspective.
Rose and Hugo were making faces at us very maturely, because our families had been separated for the questioning that the police were going through, and the Granger-Weasleys were being done first. There seemed to be a high amount of Confunding being done furtively by Dad, though, and Aunt Hermione looked grim.
The fact that James and I hadn’t already made up was worrying. Though we were quick to fight, we were also quick to make up, but it seemed like we were both extremely angry this time. Christmas Eve Eve and I was refusing to talk to him; it was sad, really, but not sad enough to merit an apology yet. His dismissal still stung, and I wouldn’t yet back down.
Originally, paramedics had arrived on the scene aswell, and given me stitches and bandages for my head, where it had got cut on the car. Mum had confunded them all once they had finished my forehead stitching, and so they had all driven off with mildly confused expressions on their faces. She hated it, I could tell.
It didn’t take too long before we were let go. It was largely sped up by Uncle Ron slipping away while we were being questioned, and ‘editing’ any bumps on our car and the large lorry which had rammed us by accident. I think he must have had to ‘edit’ the memory anyone who’d seen the tremendous dent in our car and scratched paintwork on the lorry, though.
Eventually, when all the officials had left, all the parents banded together and gave the five of us The Lecture at the side of the motorway, while we stood to attention stiffly in front of them. James was still holding tissue to his cut lip and sending occasional glares my way, but he didn’t bring up the issue again as we climbed into the car and silently drove the rest of the way to Godric’s Hollow.
I would have much preferred Apparating for its speed, but our parents didn’t like to take us Side-Along for some reason, and we obviously couldn’t Apparate ourselves.
When we eventually reached our homes, Mum and Dad left my brothers to lug their trunks down the lane and into the house. I followed after the parents, debating whether or not I could make a mad dash for the treehouse or not. I reckoned so; after all, there would now be the stale sort of period where the boys got unpacked and Mum and Dad did odd jobs. I didn’t really have anything to do except stew in annoyance if I stayed in the house, so blowing away the cobwebs seemed like a good plan.
Whilst everyone headed to their work stations, I walked through the kitchen and slid open the back door, letting myself into the back garden. As the back hedge through the orchard trees came into view, I started into a faster walk, building up speed so that I sprung over the fence nicely and landed hard on the other side. Then I ran and ran, enjoying the feeling pent-up emotions draining away in the biting wind and physical exertion.
It seemed far too early when I reached our copse. But I quickly performed the Rite of Entrance on the Pathway Tree, and headed in amongst the skeletal trees.
I didn’t like our wood in winter. It was so empty and lifeless, even though there were a few pine trees mixed in; everything was stiff and silent, with a thin dusting of frost and dew. There was something magical about it, but there was also something more sinister.
For now, I didn’t really mind that. It seemed natural and right for the moment, and it was matching my emotions.
I slowly paced through the dry undergrowth, rambling around the edge of the copse before circling in towards the treehouse with my arms outstretched and face turned to the sky. The clouds were fat and milky; we might get some snow later!
I grinned in the anticipation, closing my eyes while I imagined all the snowball fights we would have and the snowmen we would build. And it was because I was enjoying the silence so much that I noticed it.
A subtle shuffling echo of leaves to my right, as I stepped forward.
I froze. There was a stillness inside the tiny wood as there always was, so no breeze had done that. Ned and her kneazle-kittens were happily roaming the more swampy corner of the copse, as they always did. And this tree… I looked it up and down, but couldn’t see anything suspicious straight away. I was pretty certain that Hugo and I had never used it before.
I dismissed the paranoia and moved on, expecting more silence but for cracking twigs underfoot. But there it was again; a hollow shuffling, as more leaves disappeared to the right, at the base of the tree.
In a flash, I was crouched among the trees’ roots, brushing aside the crumbling lining of dead leaves and diving down to the exact spot where they disappeared.
I shoved my hand down the gap and wiggled it about. From what I could tell, the hollow under the trees’ roots was pretty big, and… full of strangely-shaped packages.
A thought occurred to me, as I pulled out my wiggling hand so I could put my face to the gap instead. Was this something to do with the weird feeling to the wood? After all, Hugo and I had noticed the subtle shift right back at the start of September, but then the Finnigans had gotten into the woods and we had tried to run after them…
It was like a light bulb had lit up over my head.
The Finnigans had been secretly infiltrating our woods.
My Christmas morning started very early - in fact, it started earlier than everyone else's, so I decided to wake my family all up as a little extra Christmas present.
First James, because though he had become more of an angry teenage brother, he was the one I could count on to be just as up for wreaking havoc as I was.
I was right. After leaping on his bed with a loud squeal and some casual punches, James sat up and swore for a bit until he realised that we could now wake up everyone else - which, of course, cheered him right up as well as me.
Next, it was Al. We both crept up to his door and slipped inside, muffling explosive giggles behind our hands, before sneaking to either end of Al's bed. Unfortunately, just as we were preparing to grab him and haul him out of bed, I spotted a bucket of water appear over James' head and start to slowly tip.
I lunged forwards, but James was jumping towards me too, and with comic timing we clashed heads painfully in the centre as the two buckets tipped over above us and drenched us with icy water. I was shrieking, and James was groaning loudly, and in the middle of it all, Al sat up and punched us both.
"You know, I didn't think that the spell would actually be needed... Or work," he declared through our clamour. "Ha, serves you right for trying to wake me!"
"Bloody Slytherin," I mumbled, flipping my hair to squeeze out, but making sure my words weren't heard by Al as he could still be quite touchy about the subject.
"Anyway, I'm up now; anything we're going to do next?"
"Go wake up Mum and Dad?" I asked hopefully. Al had developed a new sense of sensibility and responsibility of late, and I much preferred my old Al.
Fortunately, he just grinned and offered his arm out in a 'lead the way' gesture.
Unfortunately, by the time we managed to all three sneak inside Mum and Dad's room, they were sitting up in bed with cups of tea and tired expressions on their faces.
"Oi, why are you up?" James demanded, flopping on the floor with an annoyed expression on his features.
Dad raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, you lot made quite the ruckus next door, you know. Incidentally, nice job on the illegal spellwork, Albus."
Al gave a proud grin. "Thanks! Even Rose couldn't do that one."
Rose wasn't that great at spellwork, potions was more her thing, but I didn't feel like pointing that out right now.
“Hey, can we go downstairs for the presents now?” I asked; the Christmas excitement was evident in my voice and I was still bouncing up and down with a stolen blanket from Mum and Dad’s bed wrapped around me. “Please please pleeeeease?”
Everyone laughed, and then James jokingly jumped up and down flapping his arms, going ‘please please pleeeeease’ too. Between us, we managed to get Mum and Dad out of bed and ambling downstairs. Being admittedly a little over-excited, I was leaping around when they arrived downstairs, my dressing gown repeatedly slopping off my shoulder in a most annoying manner. Of course, they then all had to take their time in getting more tea, and turning on some lights, and getting everyone sat down comfortably before anything happened.
First, us three siblings got to open our stockings. Mine was mostly stocked with an impressive amount of sweets and less harmful Wheezes’ products, and the boys were both similar, though they had slightly more explosive joke products which I felt a little jealous of until I remembered that I had much worse products upstairs in my sack.
Then we had to go round in a circle, opening one from each person separately. Dad said it took away the true meaning of Christmas otherwise, which I suppose was true. I couldn’t stop wriggling the whole time, though – it was all so exciting and I couldn’t wait to see what I’d got!
I thought I’d done a pretty good job on the presents for everyone else. For James, I’d bought a mini set of quidditch players that flew around as you told them to as a joint present with Al (it was too expensive by itself and we’d both wanted to get it for him when we saw it back in the summer). Then I’d bought Al a set of mini dragons too. They were both so pleased they decided to pitch the dragons against the quidditch players straight away.
For Mum, I’d bought the most gorgeous quill ever. It was a shimmery blue and green peacock’s feather, and the colours shifted slowly in the light. Mum was lost for words, I think, when she saw it, which meant that I had bought something good.
Dad had been hardest to buy for; but then, he always is. The few things that normal people would get their dads are generally of no use to my dad, who has everything he wants because money isn’t really an object.
Of course, he says that this is no reason to buy five holiday homes, much to everyone’s disappointment.
In the end, I had bought him some slippers. They were fairly simple, but Mum thought they were comfy enough, and just had a couple of simple charms on so that they didn’t wear down or make your feet too hot. Dad seemed pretty happy with them, anyway – they might not have held much sentimental value, but he was probably just glad I thought more about it than James, who got him some Skiving Snackboxes.
Al at least thought to get Dad an assorted box of his favourite Honeydukes’, which was better than some Wheezes product that was pretty much irrelevant. He had to pretend to have gone deaf when Mum asked him how he had managed to get to Honeydukes, though, as Hogsmeade is off-limits to second-years.
She was just kidding around anyway, because everyone knows that once Teddy had finished Hogwarts with the Marauders’ Map (that Dad had given him), he handed it on to Al. It was only fair, considering James had the Invisibility Cloak… I pushed down the sudden anxieties that rose up in my head, compartmenting them for another time, when Christmas didn’t deserve priority as it did now.
Al had also bought me a huge bag of Honeydukes’ best, with something of everything in it. James had bought me some new toys for Bertie (my pet Pygmy Puff) and Ned (the mummy-kneazle in our wood, from whom Hugo and I had bred lots and lots of little kittens… though we had then been made to give them away). It was a surprisingly thoughtful present from James, and I was touched.
Mum and Dad’s presents for us three had been kept under wraps; most years, we each had a vague idea of what we might get. But now, none of us knew, and all of us were jumping up and down as Mum went out of the living room to Summon them from their hiding place.
She and Dad were grinning, the three presents held behind their backs, and suddenly pulled them out from behind their backs and cried “Merry Christmas!”
The packages were long and thin, a bit crooked, and much chunkier at one end. Straight away, we knew what they were, and everything else fell into place.
“YOU GOT ME A PROPER BROOMSTICK?!” I shrieked, jumping and shouting and trying to unwrap and grinning madly all at once. Everyone was laughing, but as we managed to get through the festive paper to the handles, we all became solemn at the sight of the shining silver lettering inlaid across the polished wooden handle.
“The Storm-Surfer,” Al read out, his voice hushed. I would have used that tone, too – these three broomsticks (one adult, two teenage size) seemed so other-worldly and amazing.
My first broom… well, my first proper racing broom. The fact that Mum and Dad had gone against their own rules for us, and Hogwarts rules, didn’t really register. We were just staring at this gorgeous broom, with its beautiful shining mahogany handle, its perfectly-formed tail-twigs, the perfect charms on it so that when you dropped it, it hung in the air at the perfect height.
Unfortunately, our open-mouthed staring was interrupted by Dad saying, “You can’t try them out until after breakfast, ok?”
Well, it certainly snapped us out of the reverie. “Da-ad!” we all groaned, but Mum just grinned and walked off with him.
Our Christmas was looking fabulous already – and we hadn’t even met the rest of the family at The Burrow yet!
A/N: Christmas in February? And an entire chapter of filler-fluff (well, except for one bit)? I know, it’s crazy, especially as I don’t even had the “I wrote this before Christmas and never got it out because I was frantically updating my twenty other WIPs” excuse. I wrote this last week - maybe it's because all this snow hype was getting to me!
Ah well. I hope you liked this; the next chapter was meant to be in the same upload as this, but it hit 6k sooo it’s being put up as Christmas Cracker Pt. 2 :)
On its way: more revelations! More show-downs! More feisty!Lily! More dirt on the Finnigans! More fluffy-hilarious snowballing incidents! More quidditch! And more pranks! :)
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