Chapter 14 : Home for Christmas.
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Albus couldn’t help feeling relieved the term ended that Friday. Knowing somebody had access to his dormitory and all he owned made him uneasy and he spent the last couple of days checking obsessively that nothing had been taken and nothing had been planted on him.
If only he knew a spell that would tell him if anything had been interfered with. He knew such spells existed, but he hadn’t yet learnt to perform them.
Before he left to catch the Hogwarts Express, he checked the items in his trunk and those he was leaving behind one last time.
“Albus!” Rose admonished him. “What are doing, messing with your trunk at this time? We’re leaving in less than an hour. You don’t have time to take everything out and start packing all over again.”
He stuffed everything back in messily and closed the trunk.
“I just wanted to be sure nobody’d slipped anything into it. Or taken anything out. Somebody’s already been in here, interfering with my stuff. How do I know they won’t do it again?” He glanced around at his schoolbooks and the other items he was leaving behind. “Do you think I should take everything home?”
“No, I don’t, Albus. Honestly, you can’t possibly keep everything hidden for the next seven years.”
“I was hoping that over the holidays, I could learn a spell to protect them when we got back.”
She sighed. “The chances are whoever’s doing this is going home today anyway. I don’t think that many people are staying here. Angie’s the only one I can think of.”
He looked up. “Angie’s staying here?”
“Apparently. I saw her owling The Tales of Beedle the Bard to her sister and asked how come she wouldn’t be seeing her over the holidays and she said she was staying at school.” She shrugged. “She didn’t explain.”
He wasn’t sure whether that information should make him suspicious or if he should just feel sorry for her. He couldn’t imagine spending Christmas away from his family. Of course his father had spent practically every Christmas at Hogwarts, but then he’d only had his aunt, uncle and cousin and they really hadn’t been close.
He stifled a shiver and lifted his trunk.
“I suppose we should get going.”
“There’s a bit of time left yet. Let’s go down to the common room.”
The common room was in chaos. The first years in particular were so excited about going home that they were absolutely unable to sit still and students from all years raced around trying to find items they wanted to take home.
“Has anybody seen my jumper?”
“Who’s taken my chocolate frogs? I was saving those for the train.”
“I can’t find my mum’s Christmas present!”
Even the seventh years, normally so serious and mature, seemed to have forgotten their upcoming N.E.W.T.S. amidst the excitement of Christmas.
And finally, finally, it was time to board the train for London.
Albus could hardly sit still on the journey.
“You do realise that jumping up to look out the window every five minutes isn’t going to get us there a moment sooner,” Rose said caustically. She was sitting beside him, reading and seemed completely unexcited by the thought they’d soon be seeing their parents.
Of course he knew it, but he couldn’t help checking to see how close to home they were. The train seemed to be travelling at a snail’s pace.
After what seemed like an age, it reached London. Albus’s face was glued to the window, hoping to catch his first glimpse of his parents and Lily, as they stood on the platform waiting for him.
He wasn’t the only student doing so and as soon as the train came to a stop, they crowded out onto the platform, trying to push through the crowds to their families.
Albus finally saw his and raced towards them.
“God Almighty, Albus, I swear you’ve grown at least another three inches since you left us last September.” His mother pulled him into a tight hug.
Lily pushed her way in to join the hug.
“Tell me everthing about Hogwarts,” she demanded.
Before he could even begin his reply, James sauntered over to join them.
“Merry Christmas everybody.”
Lily lost all interest in waiting for Albus’s answer and ran to hug him.
He pushed her away.
“Not in front of everybody.”
Albus and his parents began to laugh, but Lily looked crushed.
“I’ll hug you, Lily.” Albus raced over to grab her.
He began to tickle her and she slapped his hand. The two of them squirmed, trying to tickle and push each other in the middle of the station. He hadn’t even realised how much he’d missed his sister.
“Albus and Lily Potter, stop that at once,” his mother called. “Gosh, the boys aren’t back five minutes and already we’re holding up the entire station. Come over here right now and let’s try and get home without any further incident.”
“Considering James has barely opened his mouth yet, I’d be utterly amazed if that happened,” their father said.
“Hey, I’m the only one behaving and I still get criticised.” James was incredulous.
“I know you of old,” his father said.
Albus and Lily joined the rest of their family and the family crowded into their car to complete the journey.
Their father piled their trunks and their owls’ cages into the boot.
“It was hard enough getting all James’s stuff packed,” he said. “And this year, we’ve twice as much.”
Finally, everything was packed and James and Albus competed to tell their news as they drove across London.
“And then we won the match. My first match for Gryffindor. It was so brilliant. Brian even said I was a fantastic Keeper.”
“Derek wants me to come and visit him at home sometime next summer and he says he’ll teach me to play computer games.”
Their mother sighed.
“Can we avoid worrying about the summer until we at least get Christmas out of the way? Please!”
“Can I get a new broom for Christmas, now that I’m on the team? My old one is absolutely ancient and I’m sure I’d play ten times better if I’d a Golden Arrow. Can I please?”
Their parents exchanged glances. Golden Arrows, while not absolute top of the range, were expensive.
“Well, I got a Firebolt when I was your age,” their father began. “And that was an international standard broom, so I suppose a Golden Arrow isn’t that unreasonable. What do you think, Ginny?”
“Well, if you do get it, you won’t be getting anything else. Not from us, anyway. Is that OK with you?”
James nodded. “It’s all I want, Mum and Dad. Please. I promise I’ll take good care of it and I won’t ask you for another broom for years and years.”
“We’ll have to talk about it,” their father said.
“If James is getting a new broom, can I get that Healer’s set, with the dolls you really have to diagnose?” Lily asked.
“We’ll see,” their mother said. “We’ll all go to Diagon Alley tomorrow and try and get the Christmas shopping completed.”
“Great,” said Albus. “I haven’t done any at all yet, because we’re not allowed into Hogsmeade.”
“Ever heard of owl order?” James teased.
“At least your brother doesn’t have to be nagged repeatedly to buy presents,” their mother said. “I don’t suppose you’ve done any either and you were allowed into Hogsmeade this year.”
“Ah, that’d be telling.” James grinned.
They reached home and Albus rushed up to his room. It had new curtains and a new bedspread. He ran downstairs again.
“Wow, Mum. I’ve just seen my room. Thanks.”
She smiled. “I saw those and thought you’d like them. Got some from your brother too, but I don’t suppose he’ll even notice.”
She rolled her eyes and they both laughed.
Lily raced into the room.
“Can we make biscuits, now that James and Albus are home? You’ll help, won’t you, Albus?”
Their mother grinned and got out the dough. The biscuits were made magically, but Albus and Lily always decorated them by hand.
“Where’s Dad?” Albus asked.
Their father always helped with the biscuits. He’d once told them that when he’d been a child growing up they’d never had homemade biscuits and his cousin ate all the biscuits they bought, so he rarely got any.
When they’d heard that, both Albus and Lily had immediately offered him half their biscuits.
“He’s just getting the tree ready,” their mother said. “I’m sure you’ll want to help decorate that too.”
For a moment, they forgot about the biscuits and raced into the sitting room, where their father was struggling with a seven-foot tree.
“Wow,” Lily whispered.
“Dad, we’re about to make biscuits. Well, Mum is making them now, but we’re going to decorate them in a while. Do you want to help?”
“Do I want to help?” His tone was jovial. “Of course I do. I’ll be out as soon as I have this monster up and once we’ve the biscuits done, we’ll come back in here and start decorating this.”
“I’ll get the decorations while we’re waiting for Mum to finish,” Albus announced.
“I’ll help you.”
Lily ran after him and together, they carried in the decorations, before hurrying out to the kitchen to decorate the biscuits.
James entered the kitchen as they were working on them and snatched a biscuit out of Albus’s hand to eat it.
“Really, Albus, you’re not still ‘cooking with mother’, are you? Don’t you know cooking is a girl’s job?”
“It is not.” Lily placed her hands on her hips. “Mum says there’s no such thing as girls’ jobs and boys’ jobs, that everybody should know how to do any job they’re able to. And so does Aunt Hermione. So there!”
“Yeah, but Mum and Aunt Hermione are both - get this – girls.”
James reached out to tickle his sister and she pushed him away, knocking over a plate of biscuits as she did so.
Their mother reached for her wand and sent them flying back onto the table just before they hit the ground.
“James and Lily Potter, be careful. I have enough to do over the next couple of days without clearing up biscuits from the floor.”
“Sorry Mum,” they both said.
“It was my fault,” James continued.
“What’s this about only girls being allowed decorate biscuits anyway?” their father asked. “I like preparing biscuits for Christmas and I’m pretty sure I’m still male.”
“Oh, don’t start them off again, Harry!”
“Don’t worry, Gin. I’ll tidy up any mess they make.”
“You always say that, but somehow it’s always me who ends up doing most of the work.”
But she was smiling as she said it.
Once the biscuits were finished and James had pinched another couple, it was time to decorate the tree. James had apparently decided he was now too mature to take part in the task and flopped down on the couch, watching them and surreptitiously causing items to float out of their grasp, until their mother snatched his wand from him.
“You’re not seventeen yet, you know. Do you want to be expelled from Hogwarts?”
He shrugged. “They’re not going to know unless you tell them.”
“Exactly how badly do you want that Golden Arrow?”
James sat up properly. “Sorry Mum. I won’t do any more magic, I promise.”
She smiled grimly. “Just to be sure, you can have your wand back at the end of the holidays and not before.”
He sighed but didn’t argue.
It was great to be home, Albus thought.
The following morning, their mother took down the Floo Powder and the family Flooed to the Leaky Cauldron, then stepped out into Diagon Alley.
The street was beautiful at Christmas. Lanterns lined both sides of the street, lighting it up and magical snow, that was neither cold nor wet, fell from the sky, covering the pavements. Fairies fluttered in the lamplight and witches and wizards, dressed in their warmest cloaks hurried up and down, laden down with parcels.
“Let’s go to the Quidditch Supplies store,” James said immediately. “I want to choose my broom.”
“No,” whined Lily. “Let’s go to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.”
“We’ll split up,” their mother said. “Harry, will you take James to choose his broom and I’ll take these two to Weasleys’.”
“YES!” Lily jumped up and down excitedly.
Albus stifled his disappointment. He’d wanted to go to Flourish and Blotts, to see if he could get James a book on Quidditch tactics. Still, Weasleys’ was always worth seeing too.
Being so close to Christmas and with Hogwarts on holiday, the shop was packed and they had to push their way inside.
“Ah, my favourite niece and nephew,” George said. “Where’s James?”
“He and Harry have gone to the Quidditch Supplies store.”
“Oh, of course. I must congratulate him on making the team. As for you, young man, what are you doing in Ravenclaw? Percy and Hermione have filled this family’s quota of geniuses. We don’t need anybody else getting an abnormal number of O.W.L.S., thank you very much.”
Their mother scowled. “Leave him alone, George. Just because you couldn’t even complete your education.”
“It’s not doing me too much harm, though, is it? I can hardly keep up with the orders here. Now, Lily, I know you’ll appreciate these.”
He showed them a pile of notepaper.
“What’s special about them?” she asked excitedly.
“We call them Unnoticeable Notes. If you write a name at the top, then only that person will be able to read it. The page will look completely blank to anybody else.”
Albus waited until Lily and their mother had moved on before grabbing two sets. One would do for Lily’s Christmas present. George was right. She’d love it. And he wanted a set for himself too. It could come in very handy for passing messages to Rose.
Actually - he changed his mind – he’d get a third set and give it to Rose for Christmas.
He grabbed a third set and hurried to the counter to buy them, along with self-inking quills for Teddy and his mother, both of whom had to do a lot of writing at work.
When he got back, Lily was pleading for a pygmy puff.
“Oh, all right,” their mother said. “But you have to take proper care of her now. She may be little, but she’s still a living thing.”
“I promise,” Lily said.
Once they’d made their purchases, they headed to Flourish and Blotts, where Albus bought a copy of How to Succeed at Quidditch: Tips from International Stars for James and a book on Muggle sports for his grandfather.
Now, all he had to get was a Celestina Warbeck record for his grandmother and something for his father.
He really wanted to get his father something he’d love, but the perfect present was hard to find. He saw things he’d like, but nothing that was really right for him.
“Your father will love whatever you get him,” his mother reassured him.
But he didn’t want his father to love it just because he’d given it to him. He wanted him to love it because of what it was.
And finally, he found it. A small shop he’d never noticed before had a tiny model of Hogwarts in the window. His father always said how happy he’d been when he’d started Hogwarts and Albus knew he’d never forgotten what the school meant to him.
Without even stopping to tell his mum where he was going, he raced inside.
“How much is that model of Hogwarts?”
“Ah, the paperweight. Seventeen Sickels.”
Albus carefully counted up his money. He’d nineteen Sickles and twenty Knuts.
“I’ll take it.”
The shopkeeper wrapped it and Albus smiled as he left the shop.
“All done now?” his mother asked.
James and Lily had already finished their shopping, so they returned to the Leaky Cauldron for mugs of Butterbeer before returning home.
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