Christmas is undoubtedly my favorite holiday. It’s always been a really big deal in my family and I can’t deny just how much I love it. It’s that one day where family and friends can gather together to exchange gifts and celebrate feelings of warmth and cheer. I sound like a sap when I say it, but it’s true. I love Christmas. I always have and I always will.
When I was younger, I, like most children, loved the receiving part of the holiday. I woke up every morning, bright and early and practically dragged my parents – with the help of Al and Lily, of course – from bed so we could open presents together. That was a special tradition we’ve always had. Many other family will open gifts separately, or maybe in small groups, but we’ve always gathered together to open them all, one at a time.
I used to always look forward to getting new, cool things. Every year, I would compose this giant wish list in my head, speculating about all the really cool things I might possibly get. Believe me, a lot of it was really far-fetched, but I could always just imagine the limitless possibilities of a gift. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the true joy of Christmas.
I’ve found that I really like giving gifts. The shopping, now that I could do without, but the actual act of watching someone open a present you specifically picked for them is unlike anything else. I’ve been given a lot of things in my life – not just gifts – and to be able to give something to others really is remarkable.
Selene stayed up in the guest room – which we’d actually taken to calling “Selene’s room” about two years ago – for the rest of the day. Mum had insisted that we let her have time to herself, and had brought her meals to her, rather than making her join the rest of us. I’ve said it before, but Selene reminds me a lot of my mum and Lily. They all have a tough, temperamental exterior. Mum and Lily probably both got it from growing up with older brothers. And, of course, they have the famous Wealsey temper. But Selene got hers from a very different source.
Although she’s more like Mum in behavior and personality, she’s much more similar to my dad when it comes to her childhood and upbringing. Even before they knew she was a witch, Selene’s parents weren’t exactly what you’d call nurturing. Though she doesn’t really talk about it, I get the sense that Selene was neglected a lot as a child. Her clothes are never in the best condition, many of her supplies are second-hand, and when I’d first met her on the train she’d had a bit of an unhealthy look to her.
Things had improved over the years. My parents try to help her out as best they can, though they have a tough time convincing Selene to accept it. She’s a stubborn one. Really, it’s not that surprising that people at school are a bit scared of her. She really doesn’t give off any vibes that make her seem friendly or approachable. People have trouble getting past the sharp sarcasm and violent temper. It’s a shame, really. They don’t realize how witty and loyal she is.
That night, when everyone had gone to bed, I snuck out of my room and knocked softly on Selene’s door. I’m sure Mum was expecting me to do this, seeing as that woman knows all, but I didn’t meet any resistance in my covert operation. You know, the one to quietly walk down the hall to the bedroom of the girl that I’d already gotten pregnant. It’s a lot more secretive than it sounds. I even rolled like a ninja or secret agent or something. People should call me James Bond instead of James Potter.
Selene opened the door, an expectant look on her face. It seems I’ve become predictable. It’s time to go to the spy academy, I guess. Actually, are there even schools for spies? I mean, they’d have to learn all that sneakiness and espionage from somewhere. Unless they’re born that way or something. I should look into that.
“Are you going to come in, or just stand there staring blankly like a gormless fool?” Selene asked dryly. See, there’s that sharp sarcasm I was talking about.
“I’ll come in,” I whispered, glancing over my shoulder to see if I’d somehow roused Mum from her sleep. No signs of the enemy detected. Because I’m an awesome spy. “However, I don’t make any promises as to being a fool or not.”
She snorted. What a lovely, ladylike sound. “You got that right,” she muttered.
Another stab of sarcasm. I’m surprised I’m not full of perforations and holes by now. I’d look like Swiss cheese. I like cheese. I think dairy might be my favorite food group. Except maybe milk. Milk is a poor choice. Spies don’t drink milk.
“I’ve missed your biting remarks and terrible blows to my self-esteem, Lee,” I told her, closing the door behind me. Selene flopped down onto her bed and I joined her. Except I did it with more dignity. Spies have to be dignified.
“You make me sound like such a delightful person,” she said, throwing her right leg over my left, so that we were now lying with our legs in an every other pattern. We always lie down like this. We have since we were twelve.
I could feel Selene fidgeting nervously next to me. It nearly made me smile. Selene is almost never nervous – she has almost unshakeable Gryffindor courage – but when she does, she become extremely restless. I reached over and covered her hand with mine.
“Breathe. Relax. Think of happy thoughts. I’m not going to try and eat you or something,” I told her. She hit me in the stomach.
“You’re the biggest idiot in the world, you know,” she told me.
I sighed. “Yeah. I know. At this point, I’ve just accepted it as one of the basic facts of life.”
“Basic facts of life?”
“Yeah, the facts of life. Things like the sky is blue; the sun rises in the east; snakes can’t blink; James Potter is an idiot. Basic knowledge.”
“Since when has snakes lacking the ability to blink been common knowledge?” Selene asked.
I looked at her petulantly. “You know, nice people would have assured me that people don’t think of me as an idiot. They wouldn’t have questioned my logic and damaged my feelings of self-worth even further.”
“But if I said that, then I’d be a liar. And you don’t want that, now do you?” She grinned.
I faked a glare. “Hurtful, Leena.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of building people up instead of tearing them down?”
“Oh, man up, Potter.” She punched me in the arm. “Stop being such a pansy. It’s not attractive.”
Now that’s just too far. “Hey, I happen to be very attractive.”
“If you say so,” Selene said with a smirk. She’s just trying to rile me up. But, as an expert spy, I know how to keep my cool when in the presence of the enemy. Therefore I shall stay calm and collected. Like a spy.
“If you’re trying to get me to prove it, your tactics won’t work. I need to be romanced first,” I told her smoothly. Smooth like a spy.
Selene choked back a laugh. “I’m not trying to do anything, James. I’ve already seen you naked.”
Oh yeah. Right. She has. And I’ve seen her naked. And now we’re lying on a bed together. Alone.
I think she came to that realization too, because we both went quiet. Our previous humorous banter faded away.
Hello, awkwardness. I’ve missed you. Did you get a haircut? It looks nice.
“How are you?” I asked eventually. The question was woefully inadequate and a very odd jump from our previous topic of conversation. Well, no, I suppose it was kind of related. I was asking her, in a rather vague manner, how she was doing with the whole pregnancy thing after we had accidently broached the topic of us having sex. Which, after all, is the reason she’s pregnant in the first place. So I was completely wrong, the topics are totally connected.
Do you see that reasoning? I’m a beast. I bet all the best spies have reasoning skills like that.
“I’m…” Selene paused and I knew she was stopping herself from the “fine” she wanted to say as a reflex. “I’ve been better. I, well, um, Madam Pomfrey is a bit worried.”
“Why?” I asked, panic settling in instantly. Is Selene going to die? She’s going to die, isn’t she? This is all my fault. I don’t deserve to be a spy.
“She’s just a little concerned, since I haven’t gained enough weight for how far along I am. She says I’m too stressed and it’s having a negative effect on my health. Which, in turn, could potentially compromise the baby’s health. It’s fine right now, but if things don’t change…”
“I thought that I read that when a pregnant woman is in really good physical condition, it takes longer for things to start to… show and stuff.”
“That’s true,” Selene said, “but I’m four moths along now. I’ve gained weight, yeah, but not enough. And, well, Madam Pomfrey says that because I’m so young and not exactly robust, that there could be… complications for both me and the child if things don’t improve. She says I just have to stop getting so stressed and then things should get better.”
“Why are you so stressed?” I asked her. I’d take care of whoever or whatever it was. And I’d do it covertly. Like a spy.
Selene turned her head to stare at me, the “James Potter is an idiot” look on her face. “I’ll give you three guesses,” she deadpanned.
And here comes the guilt. “Right. Stupid question.”
She sighed. “It’s not your fault, James. Well, no, that’s a lie. It’s not completely your fault. I mean first of all, there is that whole two to tango thing. And then I pretty much brought all the additional stress on myself for being such a stubborn bint and ignoring you for so long. Not the best idea I’ve had, I’ll tell you that.”
“It wasn’t much fun for me, either. For some mad reason, I found myself missing all the insults.”
Selene laughed. “You keep me sane. I know I probably don’t really say it enough, but I really don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for you. I’m not the… nicest person in the world and the whole making friends thing wasn’t really a lesson I learned very well. So thank you, James. For everything. And I’m sorry.”
I mulled over her words for a moment. It’s not often that you hear Selene sound so vulnerable like this. I reckon I might even be the only person to ever hear it, with the possible exceptions of Lily or my mum. Even though I know they’re there, sometimes it is nice to be reminded that Selene’s emotional range does expand beyond either being stoic or being angry.
“Have I ever told you why I wanted to be friends with you?” I asked. “After we first met on the train?”
“No,” Selene said in a low voice, probably wondering where I was going with this.
“You were the first person, outside of my family and their close friends, to ever treat me normal. I mean, I know you didn’t really know who I was at first, but even after you knew everything, nothing changed,” I told her.
Selene shifted slightly so that she was lying a bit closer to me. “Who would have thought, huh? Someone who just wants to be treated like a normal person. There are so many people out there who want nothing more than to be seen as great, looked up to. But those who are… just want to blend in. And despite the fact that everyone says they would do anything for you all, the one thing you and your dad and your whole family want is the one thing they won’t give you.”
“Why were you like that, anyways?” I asked. “You didn’t pester me at all. You were just sweet and kind and accepting.” I paused, thinking about what I’d just said. “Hey, what happened to all that? When I first met you, you were the nicest person ever. And we both know that’s not the case now.”
Selene jabbed my in the side with her elbow, but I knew without looking that she was smiling. “Want to know a secret?”
“Ooh, secret! Tell me, tell me!” Look at me. I’ve managed to uncover a secret. I am such a spy.
“That day on the train, when we met… I was high.”
Selene continued to stare up at the ceiling. “Yeah. On the way to the train, my parents were smoking marijuana. And I ended up inhaling it, too. Apparently, it, as my parents say, ‘makes me mellow’ and I was nice or some rubbish like that.”
I didn’t know what to say. Seriously, I have no idea how to react to that. I made my first friend at Hogwarts while she was drugged up on marijuana. Merlin, her parents are so messed up. In light of her confession, everything felt tense. So I did the thing I do best. Make a stupid comment. “If it makes you nice, then maybe you should smoke marijuana more often."
Selene let out a very un-feminine snort and started laughing. I grinned as tears streamed from her eyes, her laughter hysterical. This was just like earlier this morning, when I told my parents about her pregnancy. Sometimes life gets so crazy and complicated that all you can do is laugh.
We fell into a companionable silence after that. I looked down at our still overlapped legs. I don’t think I really realized until now just how much I had missed this. Missed Selene. And it wasn’t just because I fancy her. Selene is undoubtedly my best friend. She has been since we were eleven. And that will always be more important than a silly crush.
“Can you promise me something?” Selene said after a while.
“Anything for you, Lee. You know that.” And I really did mean that.
“Whatever happens with my… our child… promise me that he or she will have a good life. I want this kid to have a good childhood. One they can look back on with fondness and nostalgia. I don’t want the good part of their life to have to wait until they can finally leave home. Can you promise me that?”
My hand found hers and I gave it a squeeze. This is why you should give people a chance, not judge them or avoid them because they seem kind of unpleasant. Because there is always more to a person than what you see at first glance. “Anything for you, Lee.”
“Someone take a picture. This is just too funny.”
“You could almost think it’s sweet if it weren’t so hilarious.”
“Priceless. Absolutely priceless.”
“Seriously. Take a picture. Do you know where the camera is, Mum?”
“James will be so mad.”
“Oh, please. We all know that Selene’s the one to be afraid of. James couldn’t hurt a fly.”
“You’re not the one who had him jump on your back because he wanted you to say you love him.”
“He has always been rather exuberant."
“That’s an understatement, Dad.”
“I got the camera!”
“Quick, take a picture!”
There was a flash and I groaned. It felt like someone was trying to puncture my lung on something. There was something sharp jabbing into my side and no feeling in my left leg. And there was something tickling my neck and face. Needless to say, I was rather confused.
I opened my eyes and, for a second, I wasn’t sure where I was. This certainly wasn’t Hogwarts, but it wasn’t my room either. Actually, it looks like…
Selene’s room. Duh. I must have fallen asleep here last night. Looking to my side, I saw the source of my discomfort. Selene and I were lying on the bed, our limbs tangled up. You know how people talk about when a guy and girl fall asleep on the same bed and then they magically wake up next to each other, cuddling and spooning and being rather adorable (or so girls say) just in general? It’s a big fat load of lies.
The reality is that you will end up in a jumbled mess of body parts that is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Selene’s leg was still draped over mine, but since it’d been there since last night, all the feeling in my leg had faded away. Her elbow was digging viciously into my side in a nearly successful attempt to impale me. Does she sharpen those, or what? Elbows should not be that pointy. Her head was resting on my shoulder, and that would have been rather cute if it weren’t for the fact that her hair was stuck in my mouth. It may smell delightfully of coconuts, but it definitely doesn’t taste like them.
In her defense, Selene probably wasn’t too comfortable, either. She was curled up in an awkward sort of fetal position with half her body hanging off the bed. And somehow, during the night, her arm had found its way under me and I was lying on top of it. It was probably even worse off than my leg was. Plus, I’m breathing on her neck. And I usually get really embarrassing morning breath. So there you go.
My family was gathered around the bed, watching us with almost smug amusement. Apparently, other people’s pain is funny. Thanks, family, I love you too. Mum was currently holding a camera and they all wore identical grins. I am so getting the mickey taken out of me for this.
“Morning, James,” Lily said, a devious glint in her eyes. I can practically see the devil horns and the raging inferno of the fires of hell. I should be afraid. Oh, so very afraid.
“Lils,” I acknowledged warily. “Al. Mum and Dad. Greetings and salutations and all that whatnot. What brings you here this fine, cheerful morning?”
“Comfortable?” Mum asked, disregarding my greeting. That’s rather rude, if I do say so myself. Mum should be ashamed. She’s not really setting a good example for us children.
“I can’t say this is the most ideal situation,” I replied easily, trying to ignore the fact that Selene’s hair was still stuck in my mouth. It wasn’t working.
Dad’s lip twitched. “Would you like to tell us what you’re doing here, James?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Clearly Selene and I are trying to make a human pretzel. So far our attempts have been unsuccessful, but I’m sure with a bit more practice, we’ll have it down in no time.”
They’re giving me “The Look” again. Why am I always getting that look? I should probably start thinking through my words in my head before I say them. Things might work out a bit better for me if I did. After all, spies need to know what to say and what to keep quiet. Maybe I can learn about that at spy academy.
“Who is talking while I am sleeping?” Selene groaned, rolling over. On top of me. This just got a whole lot more awkward. Plus her knee is in a place where I’d very much rather her knee not be.
My family started to snicker, clearly enjoying my discomfort. Gits. “Er, Selene? Leena? Do you think you could… uh, get off me? Please? This really isn’t fun for me right now.”
“Shut up,” she told me, burrowing her nose into my neck. It tickled.
This was not really going the way I wanted. “Lee, I really, really, really need you to get off me. Right now.”
She lifted her head and looked at me blearily. Then she blinked. “Why am I on you?”
“I don’t know, but can you please get off? There is currently pressure where pressure should not be.”
She moved off me pretty quickly after that. Then she looked around, noticing the presence of my family for the first time. She can be slow in the morning sometimes.
We all just looked at each other for a moment. Selene was rumpling her hair nervously – hey, that’s my thing! My parents and siblings continued to just stare at us, grinning like idiots. And me… I tried to blend in with the background. Like a spy.
There was an unexpected knock on the door the day before Christmas. Lily and I were playing Exploding Snap in the sitting room when it happened. Selene was having some sort of pregnancy, woman talk with Mum. Hauling myself off the floor where I sat, I swiftly crossed the room and opened the door. For the second time in less than a week, I unexpectedly saw one of my friends standing on my doorstep. This time it was Nick.
“Hey, mate,” I greeted him, bemused. “What are you doing here?”
“Can Mr. Sprinkles stay here for a while?” he asked. Okay then, Nick, just jump right into it. No need to say “hello” or anything. Who needs common courtesy anyway?
“I’m sorry, what was that? I think I may have misheard you.” My hearing must be going. There’s no way Nick would turn up at my house and ask me to take his pet platypus. Right?
“I’ve been keeping him in my room, but my mum’s starting to get suspicious. Could I keep him here until we go back to Hogwarts?” Nick asked earnestly.
I guess he would. I honestly have no idea what to say to this. “Wait… your mum doesn’t know you’re keeping a platypus as a pet?”
“Of course not,” he told me, looking at me as though the notion was utterly preposterous. Well he showed me. “I can’t tell her. I can’t really tell anyone, really. But since you already know, I figured it would be okay. You just can’t tell your parents or anyone else.”
That doesn’t sound suspicious or anything. “Nick, it’s not illegal to have a platypus, is it?”
“I’m not really sure. Better safe than sorry, eh?” Nick said.
That is not at all reassuring. “I am not going to keep your potentially illegal platypus at my house.”
There are a lot of things in life that I never thought I’d say. I think that last one just might be on the top of that list. All I want is just one semi-normal person in my life. Is that so much to ask?
“What’s going on?” Lily asked, coming up from behind me. Her eyes trained on the arm that Nick was holding behind his back. “What are you hiding?”
“My platypus,” Nick replied promptly. “Want to see him?”
Lily squealed at the sight of the platypus – I refuse to call him Mr. Sprinkles – and I just scratched my head. Didn’t Nick just say it was a secret? Oh wait, I think he already told Lily. Wait, why does everyone always tell her stuff? And when did my life stop making sense?
“He’s so cute!” Lily cried, staring at the monotreme that was sitting in the large tank. I examined it for a moment. “Cute” really isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I look at a platypus. I suppose it is kind of cool, but I don’t really see why Lily was fawning over it like that. Maybe she and Nick have some sort of disease. It’s probably called platypilia or some nonsense like that.
“So James, will you keep him? Please?” Nick said, turning his attention back to me.
Damn. Now he’s giving me puppy dog eyes. No one does puppy dogs better than Nick. It’s his innocence that does you in, I think. Stay strong, James. Don’t give in.
“I’ll keep him!” Lily piped up excitedly. “He’s just the most adorable platypus I’ve ever seen.”
“How many platypuses – platypi? – have you seen, Lillers?” Seriously, what is the plural of platypus?
“Shut up, James, no one asked you,” she replied, waving my question off. That was not nice. She’s getting one less present at Christmas.
“You can leave your platypus with me until school starts again,” Lily assured Nick. “I’ll take good care of him.”
“Thanks, Lily.” Nick grinned at the duck-beaver thing he was holding. “Hear that Mr. Sprinkles? Say hello to your new, temporary home!”
“Mr. Sprinkles? What a cute name!” Lily said, reaching out to take the tank from Nick.
“What? No it’s not. What is wrong with you people?” I spluttered. Really, who names a platypus Mr. Sprinkles? Who names anything Mr. Sprinkles?
By this point, I was just being ignored by both Nick and Lily. They were both too busy having their little bonding moment over their mutual creepy love for… the plural word for platypus. And hey… I don’t like the way Nick is smiling at Lily. Or the way she’s tucking her hair behind her ear like that. They aren’t flirting are they? That’s just gross. Nick’s my mate and Lily’s my baby sister. What?
Distantly, I could hear Selene and my mum leaving the kitchen. “If you want to keep that platypus a secret, I suggest you bring it to your room now, Lils. Mum’s coming.”
“Right!” she said. “Thanks, James. Don’t worry Nick, Mr. Sprinkles will be okay here.”
He nodded gratefully. “Thanks Lily.” Then he turned back to the platypus. “Say bye to Daddy, Mr. Sprinkles,” he cooed.
And this is where I lose my faith in humanity. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. I’ll just go be a spy on Mars.
And another chapters out! Sorry this took a while, I got caught up in finishing Finding Faith and starting some of my new stories. Still, I’d love to hear what you thought of the chapter. Did you enjoy the return of Mr. Sprinkles?
Disclaimer: The line "Milk was a poor choice" is from the movie Anchorman (courtesey of Adam McKay) and James Bond was created by Ian Fleming.