Chapter 37 : Gifts of the season
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Gifts of the Season
"Mum, Dad, they're here! Welcome to Malfoy Manor!" Cory and Lily chorused loudly as they stood in the den, ready to greet their guests as the Potters emerged from the fireplace. They were wearing matching outfits of green and red; Cory had a green button-down shirt and silver slacks and a Father Christmas hat in red, Lily had a red dress with white lace and green striped stockings with black shoes. Her hair had a big green bow in it. "
"Merlin, you two! Can you yell any louder? I don't think they heard you in Australia," remarked Draco, coming into the den with Astoria right behind him. He was wearing a white shirt with a green pullover and silky black trousers and green leather dress shoes. "Whatever happened to children should be seen and not heard?"
"If you can't hear your kids, there's trouble, Draco," remarked Ginny as she stepped through the fire. "Haven't you learned that by now?" She accepted the hand he held out, smiling at him. "Happy Christmas, Draco."
He assisted her like the gentleman he'd been brought up as, smirking. "Sorry, I didn't have the benefit of living with the terror twins like you did, Ginny. Happy Christmas to you too." He led her over to a spot on the couch.
"Sev!" Lily cried.
"Alby!" yelled Cory at almost the exact same time.
Draco winced and groaned. "Enough with the twin speak, you two. It was cute for a while, but now it's getting annoying."
"Just think if you had to listen to it every day," Ginny teased.
"I'd go insane," Draco shuddered, rising and going to say hello to Severus, Harry, and Alby.
Astoria, who was wearing a beautiful sapphire dress in a Grecian style with a diamond shoulder clasp, came over to Ginny and said softly, "Happy Christmas, Ginny! I'm so glad you could come."
"Tori, that dress is simply to die for! You look smashing in it!" Ginny said admiringly. "You make me look like the milk maid down the hedgerow." She glanced at her huge belly and shook her head.
"Gin, don't be ridiculous! You look wonderful, like you barely gained any weight at all. I think I gained thirty pounds with Cory. I wish . . ." she trailed off abruptly and looked away, blinking rapidly.
Ginny's hand closed over Astoria's slender one, giving it a brief squeeze. "Tori . . . you can always try again."
Astoria turned back to her friend. "Someday, maybe I will. But right now, I have Lily, and I know I am truly blessed to have her. She's a lovely child, sweet and intuitive, a bit of an imp, but she makes me smile. Draco and Lucius just love her to pieces. You've never seen two men so . . . besotted over a child. They were bad enough over Cory!"
"I think my dad was that way when I was born. Of course, my brothers would say he's still that way," Ginny chuckled. "But then, I was always a daddy's girl."
"So was I." Astoria admitted. She turned and hugged Harry. "So . . . are you ready to be a daddy again, Harry?"
"I think so," laughed Harry. "I'll know in another . . . . four weeks? Maybe five?" He started pulling gifts from his pockets and re-sizing them. "Where shall I put these?"
"Under the tree, of course!" Draco rolled his eyes. He indicated the huge white tree.
"I knew that," Harry muttered. "Where's Lucius and Narcissa?"
"Mother's upstairs, freshening up. And I think Father's in his study, sending off a last minute correspondence by owl post." Draco replied.
The children all huddled in a knot near the big bay window that overlooked the yard. Alby turned and saw his father putting gifts beneath the tree and asked, "When do we get to open the presents?"
"Not till after we eat," Cory answered. "I'm gonna eat really fast and I don't care if I puke afterwards."
"Cory, for Merlin's sake!" Lily snorted. "If you make yourself sick you get to go to bed early and take medicine, not open presents. Just eat normally."
"Don't be so bossy, Lily," her small brother rolled his eyes at her in a dead imitation of his father.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Then stop being ridiculous, Scorpius, talking about making yourself sick on Christmas."
Cory returned the gesture. Then he said, "What do you want Father Christmas to bring you? I hope he brings me tickets to a Quidditch game."
"I hope he brings me an owl," Alby replied. "Like Honeygold."
"I hope he brings me a self-stirring cauldron," Severus answered. "How about you, Lily?"
Lily thought for a moment. "I'd like some books on charms and potions."
Severus was watching out the window as Lucifer came strutting across the lawn, still wearing his green bow. "Here he comes, the lord of all he surveys," he said, mocking the peacock.
"Lucifee!" Cory scowled. "He's even mean on Christmas. I went to give him some corn with Mum and he hissed at me."
Lily looked thoughtful. "Alby, if you can speak to birds, why can't you talk to Lucifer and ask him why he's so mean? We've never hurt him."
"But he's sure hurt us," Cory said.
Alby remembered the nasty peacock from when he had stayed here with Severus when his dad was in the hospital. He wasn't sure he wanted to encounter the bird a second time and risk getting nipped. Still, maybe things would be different now that he could speak to the peacock. "All right. I . . . guess I can try."
After a quick glance at the adults, who were deep in conversation, the four children slipped out the door and down the steps into the yard. Then they just stood and waited for the peacock to notice them.
That didn't take long, as the bird was extremely possessive of his territory. As soon as he saw the cluster of children, he turned, red eyes gleaming, and ran at them, his head lowered, hissing a warning.
Wretched brats! Get out! Out! Leave us alone!
Lily inched backwards and so did Cory. But Alby remained where he was, and Severus stayed right next to him, prepared to bonk the peacock if it tried anything. "Al, don't just stand there," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. "Say something!"
Alby stared the peacock down, then said, "Lucifer, we won't hurt you. Why are you always so . . .err . . . grouchy?"
The peacock skidded to a halt, jerking his head up. Saa! A Beast Master, are you? Why are you invading my territory with these other wretched chicks?
"We're not invading anything. I just wanted to talk to you," Alby said.
Lucifer hissed impatiently. I have no time for talking. I must patrol my territory, make sure no foxes or weasels are lurking, hoping to grab one of my hens when they sleep or eat. Ask, chick, but be quick about it.
"Umm . . .would you mind not trying to bite me or my friends when we come out here? We're not here to hurt you or your hens, we just want to play outside."
The peacock made an odd noise, sort of like laughter. Respect me and mine, little Speaker, and I shall have no need to nip you. I do not, as a rule, care for human chicks. They are noisy, annoying, and they tend to yank out our feathers and chase us for fun. Pffaa! Why do I bite, you ask? Before I lived here, I lived in a place with many more peacocks, and there I was regarded as a . . .freak because of my beautiful white plumage. We were all in a large pen, and several times a day, people came to look at us and buy us to patrol their grounds. Peacocks make very good guards. He preened and fluffed his feathers. Some of them brought their chicks with them, and the bloody nuisances would come right for me and chase me until I almost passed out from exhaustion. I had no room to run or to get away from them, nowhere to hide, and their horrible little fingers would pinch and pull at my tail feathers and try and pull them out! And their parents would stand there, watching, and laughing! I would bite and peck them but even that didn't stop them for long. Every day I endured this . . .until Mistress Cissy came and took me away and brought me here. She alone appreciated me and she gave me a flock of my own to lead and in return I protect her territory. And I will never allow any human chick to touch me again. He clicked his beak meaningfully.
Alby gave him a sad look. "I'm sorry those kids were mean to you," he said. "But not all kids are like that. I promise we won't pull your feathers out or anything like that."
And why should I trust the word of a human . . . even a Beast Master?
"I've never hurt any animal and I never will. All my friends and I want is to be able to play here without you coming after us."
Lucifer cocked his head and gave a sort of hiss. Do I frighten you then, speaker chick?
Good. I shall allow you free access here, so long as you give your word that you shall keep away from my flock and me. Chase us and you shall feel my beak.
Alby turned back to his brother and friends. "He says we need to promise to leave him and his hens alone and he'll leave us alone."
"Tell him we promise," Cory said. Lily and Severus also agreed.
Alby turned back to the peacock. "We promise."
Very well. Keep your distance. Or else. Lucifer hissed, then he wheeled about and raced back to where the rest of his flock waited.
Alby turned and said, with a slow smile, "He said he won't bite us if we leave him alone."
Lily, Severus, and Cory whooped and cheered.
"Great job, Al!" Severus clapped his little brother on the back.
"Did he say why he hates kids?" Lily asked.
Alby nodded. He told them what Lucifer had said and how the peacock didn't trust humans because of it.
They all felt a little bit sorry for the peacock, and agreed to leave the bird and his flock alone.
Severus began to tell Lily about how they had searched for buried treasure in the yard, but before he could show her where they had dug, Lucius came out and said it was time for brunch.
The four ran inside to the dining room and sat down at the table. By now it had been hours since breakfast and they were all hungry. In the middle of the table were several silver tureens with Warming Charms on them. Jinxy removed the covers and delicious smells wafted out. There were heaps of scrambled eggs, poached eggs, and eggs Benedict. There were sausage, bacon, and ham. Toast with butter and a choice of jam. Pancakes with syrup or waffles with fruit. There were crab cakes, roast beef, roasted potatoes, string beans, and a garden salad. There was a baked salmon sprinkled with pecans and rice pilaf.
The children could have lemon water, pumpkin juice or iced caramel butterbeer, the adults had a chilled white wine or fizzy fruit punch with peaches and strawberries.
Lily and Cory eagerly told how Alby had managed to make a pact with Lucifer, earning the approval of all the adults.
"So now you don't have to wring his neck and throw him in a stew, right, Dad?" Cory said innocently.
"Uh . . . yes, Cory."
"Draco!" Narcissa gasped, glaring at her son. "Did you really say that?"
"Mother, that damn peacock bit Cory, Alby, and Severus and made them bleed! What did you want me to say? The poor thing?"
"The bird has issues," Narcissa sighed. "I'm glad you made peace with him, children. It is the season, after all. Now, let's enjoy this meal."
They did. Alby happily ate pancakes and sausage, Severus had waffles, roast beef, potatoes, and string beans. Lily and Ginny both ate the salmon and crab cakes as well as rice and some waffles and fruit. Draco, Lucius, and Astoria had surf and turf—salmon and crab cakes and roast beef. Harry ate some of everything, it was all delicious.
Jinxy made sure everyone's glasses were kept full and the kids had napkins to wipe sticky faces. When everyone had enough, the elf cleared the plates and serving dishes and dessert appeared on the table. Biscuits baked by Lily and the two elder Malfoy witches were on a tray, as was a delicious chocolate torte with dark cherry chocolate ganache. There was also watermelon and lemon sorbet.
"Cissy, I don't think I can eat another bite," Harry said, pushing away his plate after eating some thumbprints and a piece of the chocolate torte. "I want to, but I just don't have any room left."
"Would you like an after dinner aperitif?" asked Lucius. "I have some fine brandy here."
Harry shook his head. "Thanks, but if I drink that, you won't be able to wake me up till tomorrow morning. Not after eating this feast."
"Draco? Astoria?" Lucius offered them a small glass each.
Both of them took one to drink with their piece of chocolate torte.
Once they had all satisfied themselves with dessert, the kids began whispering among themselves about the presents under the tree.
"You ask!" Cory whispered to his elder sister. "They'll do it for you."
"No. Mum said we weren't allowed to ask, that we had to wait." Lily shook her head.
"Aww, I don't want to wait," Alby groaned.
"Then you ask," Cory urged.
"Sevvy, you ask if we can open presents," Alby turned to Severus.
Severus sighed. Listening to them bicker was like a form of slow torture, and he was growing tired of it, so he rose and went over to where Ginny and Harry were sitting. "Are we going to open presents soon, Harry?" he looked up at his guardian with huge dark eyes, pleading silently.
Harry smiled at the boy. "Draco, is it time yet? Shall we put them out of their misery?"
Draco pretended to consider. "Well . . . maybe we ought to make them take a nap first."
"No, Dad!" Cory squealed. "We don't need naps! That's for babies!"
Lily ran up to him and climbed into his lap. "Dad, we've been waiting all day. Please can we open them now?"
Draco could never resist that particular gaze, and he nodded. "Cory, you want to play helper?"
Draco and the rest of the adults went over by the tree and sat down. Draco went by the tree and said to Cory, "All right, now when I give you a present, you bring it to the person whose name I say."
"I can do it, Dad."
Usually, the adults gave each other a gift basket for the family, and had the children buy presents for each other, unless there was something special they'd picked out for a friend.
Draco reached under the tree and withdrew a colorfully wrapped present. "This one's for Lily, Cory. From Sevvy."
Lily tore open the present eagerly, while Severus watched anxiously, hoping she would like it. He relaxed when he saw her smile.
"Oh, Sev! How beautiful!" She read the instructions on the small card attached and grinned delightedly. "That's so cool! It's almost like . . . like a telephone, only with parchment."
"What does it do, Lily?" asked Cissy.
"Uh . . . it's a twinned journal, Gran. So we can talk to each other even when we're far away. And only the person who owns the journal can read the entries. Thanks, Sev!" she jumped up and hugged Severus.
Draco continued to call out presents. Next were Ginny and Harry, who received a fine basket of premium bread, wine, cheese, chocolate, and fruit from the Malfoys.
"Oh, we can definitely use this!" Harry said upon unwrapping the basket. "Gin, we could save some of this for when the baby's born and we're too tired to cook anything."
"I agree!" she laughed, then she unwrapped a chocolate and ate it.
Cory squealed when he opened Severus' present. "A Dragon book!" he exclaimed, paging through it. "What awesome pictures!" He ran around showing everyone, until Draco handed him another present.
Lily loved the mythology book from her brother, saying she would read a story to him every night if he wanted.
Cory was excited to make his dragon skull kit which Lily had chosen for him. "Maybe it can keep Draconis company."
Draco called Severus' name, and Cory brought him a present. "This's from me." He said. "I wrapped it myself."
Severus quietly accepted the gift and opened it slowly. It was two Quidditch tickets for a match during the holiday. Severus didn't like to play Quidditch, but he did like to watch matches. "Thanks, Cory! One for me and one for a friend."
Alby got a pair of tickets also, and he asked Cory if he wanted to go.
"Sure I do!"
Severus looked curiously at Lily. "Lil, do you want to come?"
Lily nodded. "I don't mind watching a game with you."
Severus opened his gift from Lily. It was in a large box. He unwrapped the green tissue to reveal a cool art kit and a book titled Charming Spells for the Aspiring Artist. "Wow!"
"Do you like it?" Lily asked anxiously. "I figured since you like to draw, you could use a new art kit and the book teaches you how to enchant your drawings, making them move and make noise and stuff."
"It's great! I can do all kinds of things with this. Thanks, Lil." He was already thinking ahead to what new pictures he could draw and animate once he'd learned the spells.
Alby got a Marble Shooter game from Lily, he'd liked Cory's so much that she figured he needed one of his own. "Yess! Now we can play it all day, Sevvy!" he told his brother eagerly.
"Whatever, Al," Severus said, though he was not going to be playing Marble Shooter all day on Christmas.
Draco chuckled when he opened Cory's present and saw it was a biography of a Quidditch superstar. "I was going to buy this! Good thing you beat me to it, Cory." He hugged his son.
Lily gave Draco a tie with small bubbling cauldrons on it, the cauldrons moved and steam rose from them. "I love it, Lily! I guess it's true what they say, you can never have too many ties. I'll wear this one on the first day back."
"Or too many tie pins," Lucius said, his grandchildren had bought him a tie pin in the shape of a coiled snake.
Narcissa had received a very pretty hair barrette, a peacock done in jeweled enamel from Cory and Lily.
For Astoria there was a lovely locket, and inside were pictures of Cory and Lily. On the outside the word MUM was inscribed. Astoria had tears in her eyes when she opened it.
"Do you like it?" Cory asked. "It's from both of us."
"I love it, sweetie! It's perfect." Astoria said and she hugged and kissed both children. Then she put the locket on.
Once Draco and Astoria had opened their gift basket from the Potters, it contained all sorts of baking mixes and jams and sweets, plus the book from Harry, there were no more gifts left beneath the tree.
Draco stood and said, "Well, it looks like all the presents have been handed out. But . . . there's still one more thing we have to do before you can all start playing with your gifts. Lily and Severus, please come here."
When the two children were before him, he said, "It's a tradition in both our families that a godparent give a godchild a special gift on Christmas. But since you two came to us as children and not babies, you don't have godparents like the rest of our kids do. So, we all discussed it, and Harry chose me and Tori for your godparents, Severus. We returned the favor and chose Harry and Ginny for you, Lily." Draco pulled out a wrapped present from behind his back. "Here you go, Sev. Happy Christmas!"
Severus took the package, rather stunned that now he had a godfather. He had never had one the first time around, as Eileen had cut almost all ties to the wizarding world when she ran off with Tobias. "Thank you, Draco." He tore off the paper to reveal a long copper stirring rod.
"We figured you'd be needing that to brew with," said Astoria, then she hugged him.
He hugged her back, a warm feeling spreading through him. Now he had godparents and was wanted by two families and it felt so very good. It was a far cry from his former life.
Lily opened a small box, and inside was a beautiful gold charm bracelet. It had the letter L on it. "Oh! This is . . . it's beautiful! Thanks so much!" She ran and hugged Harry and then Ginny.
"We figured it would be nice for when you had to dress up for and occasion and you can add more charms. This charm has a protection spell woven into it, that'll deflect harmful magic cast at you. I enchanted it myself. You can get other charms with other spells on them," Harry said.
"It's the prettiest bracelet ever! And thanks for being my godparents." She came and sat on Harry's lap. As she leaned back against his chest, that odd connection between them flared to life, and she just lay there, peaceful, warm, and content.
Harry held the little girl who had once been his mother close, and felt his heart overflow with love for her. Just being able to hold her and talk to her was a miracle, and he didn't really care that she couldn't remember he was her son. All that mattered was that she was alive and he was able to be with her now as he couldn't before. He breathed in the scent of honey and apples and smiled. This was turning out to be a wonderful Christmas, and there was more still to come.
Later that evening:
It had snowed before the Potters arrived at the Lupin house, and Severus and Alby had built a snowman before going over to Remus and Dora's for Christmas Eve dinner. After eating a bunch of food at the Malfoy's brunch, Severus wasn't thrilled about eating a second huge feast, and resolved to eat very lightly. He didn't want to have an upset stomach on Christmas. Because the Lupin house was just down the street, about four houses separated them from the Potters, the family decided to walk there.
It was a wonderful evening to do so, the sky was clear and bright with stars, and though it was cold, it didn't have that sharp bite that made one shiver. The ground sparkled with its coating of snow, and the two boys left footprints as they raced down the sidewalk. Ginny and Harry walked more leisurely, because Ginny couldn't walk too fast.
Upon reaching Dora's warm kitchen, Ginny was happy to sit down and rest her aching feet. Alby and Severus had barely stepped into the house and said hello to the elder Lupins before the three boys were clamoring for them to come back outside and go sledding.
"We have this really big hill in the backyard, and it's wicked fun to sled down it," Teddy told them. "C'mon, you've got to try it!"
"But Teddy, we don't have any sleds," Alby said.
"You can borrow mine and Jamie's." Teddy said. "Come on, slowpokes!" He dashed outside, followed by his younger brothers and Severus and Alby.
Jamie balked a little when Teddy told him to let Alby use his sled. "But . . . then I can't use it!"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, James!" Teddy exclaimed. "Just let him borrow it for a few runs. You've been using it all day, and he's a guest, now share!"
Jamie glared at Teddy. "You're not the boss of me, Ted!"
"Says who? I'm the oldest and the one who knows more, now quit being a git and let Alby use your sled. Father Christmas' still watching in his magic snowglobe, you know. He's got time to cross your name off the Nice List if you don't behave."
Faced with that dire threat, Jamie lent Alby his sled. Then Alby, Severus, and Sirius climbed the hill and threw themselves on their stomachs on the sleds, after using their feet to push off. They slid down the hill at terrific speed, coasting over the snow like seagulls.
Severus, on Teddy's sled, was the first one down, followed by Sirius, and then Alby. His face was red from the cold above his scarf, but he was grinning. "That was fun! Let's do it again."
"And this time, I'm going to beat you, Severus!" Sirius called as they raced back up the hill.
This time they sledded down sitting up, and Sirius and Severus tied, with Alby second.
"Aww, when am I gonna win?" Alby cried.
"When I go with you," Teddy said, then he hopped on the sled with Alby for the next run.
"Can't catch me!" Sirius taunted.
"Wanna bet?" laughed Teddy. "Shall we show him, Al?"
"Yeah!" Alby squealed.
Teddy gave a hard shove with his feet and the sled flew down the hill, Alby yelling in sheer delight. The sled caught Severus and blew past him and nearly ran over Sirius before Teddy guided it away. It picked up speed and soon it had reached the bottom. "Told ya we'd win!"
"Yay!" Alby whooped, waving his little cap in the air.
"Now it's my turn. I wanna turn now, Teddy!" Jamie whined.
"Hold on. One more run," Teddy began dragging the sled up the hill.
But when they reached the top, Alby said, "I wanna sled with Sevvy now."
"Okay," Teddy grinned.
So Alby got in front of Severus and they sledded down the hill again, Alby's hair blowing into Severus' eyes. But even with that, Severus managed to beat both Teddy and Sirius down.
"I won again! Yay, Sevvy!" Alby clapped his hands happily.
"We sure did," Severus chuckled, then playfully pulled Alby's cap down over his eyes. He turned to Jamie. "Here, you have a turn now."
"Thanks!" Jamie turned to run up the hill. "Hey, Teddy! I'm going to whip your bum this time!"
"Bring it!" Teddy shouted and the three brothers raced for the bottom again, shrieking like lost souls.
Severus lost count of how many times they all sledded down the hill before being called in for supper. It was the first time he could remember having this much fun with Sirius and his brothers. "I wish . . . we didn't have to eat . . ." he panted as he stood up and brushed off the snow. "I could do this forever!"
"Me too!" Sirius said, wiping snow off his nose. "It's even more fun than sledding off the garage roof."
Severus stared at him. "Black, are you serious? You actually went sledding off the roof? Are you insane?"
"Jamie and I were bored being stuck in the house cause we were sick. We put a bunch of mattresses right below the roof, so nobody got hurt. But Moony and Mum were still mad as blazes."
"Did you get spanked?" asked Alby.
Jamie winced. "Hard too. But it was fun while it lasted."
"You're both crazy fools," Teddy said, then he plastered his little brothers' head with snow.
Vowing revenge for that little trick, they chased him inside.
"Sevvy, my boot's stuck," Alby called, trying to pull his boot off before going inside.
Severus helped him remove his boots and unzip his coat.
Alby was red-cheeked from the cold, but happy.
Dora had made a fine roasted chicken with sage and chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and buttered carrots. There was also creamed spinach and rolls. For a sweet there were apple tarts and small plum cakes, each with a Sickle or Knut baked inside.
Before the dinner, Remus stood up and made a toast. "Here's to good friends and may we all have a happy and healthy holiday! Happy Christmas!"
"Cheers!" the adults said, and they all took a swallow of their Christmas spiced wine.
After dessert, it was time to open presents. Remus had all the children sit in a circle around the tree and pass presents to each other. Severus received a basket of potion ingredients from all three boys. He thanked them and started examining what was inside.
Until Remus asked him to pass a present to Alby. Alby tore open the paper to reveal a bunch of magical animal figures that walked on command and made realistic animal noises. "Wicked! Thanks, guys!"
The Lupin boys all cheered when they received Quidditch tickets from Severus. Ironically, they would all be going to the same match that Cory had given Severus tickets for.
Alby had gotten them a large basket of all kinds of sweets, which Dora said had to be saved for tomorrow.
Harry had gotten his three godsons Quidditch jerseys with different teams.
The three boys had somehow managed to buy a Snitch signed by everyone on the Montrose Magpies.
"This is great, boys! I'm putting this right on my desk at school." Harry exclaimed.
"You'd better put a Sticking Charm on it too, just in case some kid has sticky fingers," Remus advised.
"I'll do that, because you never know," Harry agreed. He had some die hard Quidditch fanatics as his students and sometimes the temptation was too much to resist.
For Ginny there was a relaxation basket containing different bath salts, bubblebath, a sea sponge, soothing lotion, a calming potion, incense, chocolate, and some cute clothes for the baby. "Aww, this is adorable!" she cried and lifted out a cute romper with pigs on it. "Thank you, boys!"
"Mum helped pick out what to put in it." Jamie informed her.
The adults gave each other baskets as well. The Lupins received a book gift basket, with all sorts of books and periodicals. Harry and Ginny received a smoked sausage, cheese, and nut basket with a bottle of sweet wine.
After the gifts were exchanged, they sang a few Christmas carols around the piano, Remus could play quite well for an amateur.
But after the last song—Silent Night—Harry declared they had to be going. "We need to get these kids in bed so they can fall asleep before Father Christmas arrives."
"Same here," Dora said. "Good night, everyone, and may Father Christmas bring you what you desire." She hugged and kissed them all goodbye.
Then the Potters returned home. They made the boys hurry and brush their teeth and get tucked into bed.
"Now go to sleep, so Father Christmas will come," Ginny said.
Just as Severus had turned about and buried his face in the pillow, Alby whispered, "Sevvy, will Father Christmas be flying a broom, or taking a sleigh?"
"Alby, I don't know, but I think he'd take a sleigh so he could carry more. Now go to sleep, before he passes over the house and doesn't leave anything because you're awake." Severus ordered irritably. He was tired and the last thing he wanted was to discuss Father Christmas.
"But Sevvy . . ."
"Go to sleep, Albus! I mean it!" growled his brother, then he turned over and stuck the pillow over his head. Soon he was asleep, with visions of chocolate frogs and potion ingredients dancing through his head.
Albus Severus Potter squinched one eye open, winced at the bright December sunlight, and shut it again. He thought it was pretty early in the morning, and normally he liked sleeping in, but there was some reason he'd woken up, and it wasn't to use the potty. Slowly, he opened his other eye, and then he remembered. It was Christmas! He sat bolt upright in bed then.
He could hear the birds twittering outside the window, but for once he wasn't in a hurry to speak to them. He slid out of bed, went into the bathroom, and then tiptoed over to his parents room and opened the door. Both of them were sleeping, he could hear his dad's faint snores and his mum's lighter breathing.
Rats! Everybody's asleep! He thought with a sigh. He would have gone downstairs to see if Father Christmas had come, but he wanted someone else to be awake too. So he decided Severus was the one to come with him, and padded back into his room.
He jumped up on Severus' bed and shook his brother's shoulder. "Sevvy! Sevvy, wake up! It's Christmas! Father Christmas was here!"
Severus groaned and tried to ignore his brother. "Go back to sleep! It's too early to get up."
"But Sevvy . . . it's Christmas!"
"So? Lemme sleep, Al."
"But don't you wanna see all the presents?"
"I want sleep more."
"Sleep? You can do that anytime. It's Christmas, Sevvy!" Alby couldn't understand why his big brother wasn't already up and running downstairs. He poked Severus in the shoulder.
Severus lifted his head from the pillow and glared at his brother. "Right now I don't care if it's the end of the world. Now go away, you little pest! The only present I want right now is sleep." He buried his face back in the pillow.
Alby was crushed. He couldn't believe Severus didn't care that it was Christmas and was being so grouchy. Christmas was the one day of the year when Alby never wanted to sleep late and he looked forward to it all year. He was all excited and wanted someone to share in the magic with him. He'd thought his brother, of all people, would understand. He sniffled and tears ran down his face.
"Okay, Sevvy," he said in a miserable tone, his chin quivering as he suppressed a sob. He slid off the bed and went back to his own, dejectedly. He curled up on his side and cried into his pillow, all of his joy vanished.
Severus was almost asleep when the quiet sobbing invaded his drowsy state. He tried to just slip away into slumber, but his conscience was pricking him uncomfortably. He hadn't meant to make his brother cry, he was just so tired, and since a part of him knew Father Christmas wasn't real, some of the childish joy of the holiday was lost. He lay there and listened to the muffled sounds of distress, feeling guiltier by the minute. You really are a miserable bastard, Severus, ruining the kid's Christmas like that, his conscience reproved. Suddenly he couldn't take it anymore and he got out of bed and went over to Alby and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey. Come on, Al, don't cry. I shouldn't have said that, I'm sorry. I'll come and look at the tree if you want."
There was a small headshake. "No. I'll just . . . wait till Mum or Dad gets up."
Severus sighed. "Quit being stubborn, Al. I said I was sorry."
When his brother refused to look at him, Severus sighed and said, "Fine, I'm going to see what's under the tree myself." He started to get off the bed.
"Wait, Sevvy! I'm coming!" Alby said, and then he got up, wiped his tears away with a sleeve, and followed his brother downstairs.
The two boys stopped dead when they saw how the tree sparkled and shone in the sunlight coming from the big bay window. There were presents piled beneath the tree, more than Severus had ever seen growing up, but that was not what held him breathless. It was the sudden feeling of joy welling up within him—a child-like awe and peace that he could not ever remember feeling . . . except when he was very young, before his father's binges had torn apart his childhood. His mind flew back to a time long ago, when his father still was what a father should be, and how he had come down the stairs Christmas morning to find a shiny new tricycle beneath the tree, wrapped with a big velvet bow.
He recalled how excited and happy he had been—having a new bike and his dad had grinned and picked him up and set him down on it. "Now you're a big boy, Sevvy, with a bike to prove it! I'll teach you how to ride like a champ. Happy Christmas, son." And his mother had snapped their picture, a grinning dark-haired imp in blue feet pajamas and his proud father. Strange, but he had not recalled that memory in years, it was one of the few good ones he had of Tobias and the holidays. It had gotten swamped beneath all of the terrible ones, but now it had soared to the surface, as Severus recalled all the joy of the season, it descended upon him like a tidal wave, and he found himself helpless to do anything but stare at the tree.
He glanced at Alby, whose face was awe-struck and sort of stunned, and he couldn't help laughing. "What are you looking at, kid?"
"Father Christmas came, Sevvy! He really came!"
"Sure he did. Did you think he wouldn't?"
"I. . . I wasn't sure, 'cause . . . sometimes I was bad an' didn't listen to Mummy and Daddy. Like when I threw soup at Daddy."
"Al, Father Christmas knows it's impossible for a kid to be good all the time. And you were sorry for what you did, and that's what matters."
"Look at all those presents!"
"There's a lot more than I ever saw under there."
"I wish we could open 'em now. But we gotta wake up Mummy and Daddy."
"So . . . what are you waiting for? Let's get them out of bed!" Grinning impishly, Severus turned and hotfooted it up the stairs.
They burst into Ginny and Harry's bedroom like a whirlwind.
"Ready? On three, Al." Severus whispered. "One . . . two . . . three!"
They both jumped up onto the foot of the bed and began jumping up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs, "Wake up, everyone! It's Christmas!"
Ginny and Harry jerked awake and just stared at them blankly for a moment.
Then Ginny chuckled and said, "All right, you imps, we're up."
"Great Merlin, but you scared me out of ten years of my life!" Harry grumbled. "Whose brilliant idea was it to come in here and do that?"
"Mine," Severus admitted cheekily. "It worked, didn't it?"
"Brat!" Harry mock-growled. "The nerve, waking me up like that on Christmas!" Grinning, he snatched up the smirking child and tickled him until he begged for mercy. Then he set Severus down and did the same for Alby. "That'll teach you."
"Come on, Dad! Come see what Father Christmas bringed us!" Alby grabbed Harry's hand and tried to drag him out of bed.
On the other side, Severus was doing the same to Ginny. "Hurry, Ginny! We've been waiting all morning for you to get up."
Laughing, Ginny allowed herself to be pulled from her comfy nest of covers. "All right, Sevvy, calm down!" Sticking on her slippers, she followed the eager five-year-old down the hallway.
Harry didn't even bother with his slippers, he just went barefoot. But he did remember to bring the camera.
"Okay, everybody on the couch!" he ordered. "I'm going to send you one present and you have to open one at a time, so we can all see what it is. That goes for you too, Ginny."
"Yes, Harry," his wife smirked.
Harry began Summoning the presents, one for each of them. Some of the boys' presents were from Father Christmas, others from them. Ginny's presents were from her sons and husband.
Wrapping paper was torn off in a frenzy and smiles and gasps of awe and delight were recorded by Harry's Insta-Magic camera.
"Mummy, I gots a cauldron and a book from Sevvy!" Alby crowed.
"A self-stirring cauldron! I've been wanting one of these forever. How did you know?" Severus asked Ginny.
"Because it's what I would have wanted at your age." Ginny laughed. Then she opened the teapot set. "Oh, Sev! This is gorgeous! I've always wanted one of these! Now I can have tea without needing anyone to make it for me."
"I figured you'd like it," he said, flushing a little when Ginny kissed his cheek.
From Frankie he received a new easel and paints, and Rose gave him The Lost Art of Potion Making and his favorite wizarding sweet—chocolate cauldrons. Victoire sent him a fine peregrine falcon quill and a cauldron shaped inkwell. He hoped the girls liked his present of artwork he had drawn for them. Next came another book from Alby, Fantastic Spells and Creatures, plus various new clothes, the Chronicles of Narnia boxed set, a new dress robe, and special inks and quills to draw with from both Father Christmas and Harry and Ginny.
Ginny banished all the paper and waited for Harry to come and open up his presents, but Harry suddenly vanished from the room. It was then Ginny recalled the one present they had not left beneath the tree.
Harry returned a few moments later carrying a cage with a familiar owl inside. "Alby, Father Christmas left you one more gift."
Alby's eyes lit up. "My owl! He didn't forget! Honeygold, remember me? I talked to you in the owl store."
The barn owl cooed happily. Of course I do, little master! Did I not say we would be together again one day? And now, here I am!
Alby knelt and undid the latch on the cage, and let Honeygold come out and perch on his shoulder. The owl was very careful not to grip too hard and she settled there as if she had been born to be the young wizard's companion (which perhaps she had). Alby stroked her chest and said proudly, "Honeygold, meet my family. Dad, Mum, and my big brother, Sevvy."
Greetings, all! Honeygold trilled.
They all said hello, for they all could interpret the owl's soft trill without need of a translator. The look of sheer joy on Alby's face made them all smile.
Then Severus was dragging Harry over to the couch. "Now you need to open your gifts, Harry."
"Yes, sir, Colonel Snape, sir." Harry gave him a salute then sat down to unwrap his gifts. He decided to open the one from Ginny last, and started with one from Alby. "Tickets to that Quidditch game!" he cried. "Well, I guess I'll be spending the afternoon minding all of you . . . along with Draco and Remus." He had three tickets, enough for all the adult Quidditch fans.
"I didn't wanna go without you, Dad!" Alby said.
"Thank you very much, Alby." Then he went and picked up a long package wrapped in layers of Snitch paper. "Hmm . . . now what could this be? If I didn't know better, I'd think it was . . ." he tore off the paper and gasped. "The Shadowstreak 1500! Severus, you didn't!"
"I want you to have it, Harry. I know it's part of my inheritance, but it deserves somebody to ride it that knows what he's doing and can handle it with the respect it deserves. You're the only one who can do that. It belongs with you, not locked up in a vault."
Harry stared at the rare gift and felt his eyes mist over. "I . . . I don't know what to say except . . . thank you." He drew Severus on his lap and hugged him. A moment later he released him to examine the broom. "The lines on it . . . it's awesome . . ." He was smiling as widely as his son.
"I know one thing you'll need to do, Harry," Ginny said, examining the broom over his shoulder.
"Keep it out of reach of Sirius and all other children like him."
"Don't worry, I will," Harry reassured her. He set the broom aside and kissed her.
"Open my present now," she whispered.
"And you open mine."
They opened them at almost the same time.
Harry blinked at the golden foil ticket and the brochure that accompanied it. "Gin, this is a ticket to the exhibition match with Josef Wronski in Limerick! How did you get this? It's supposed to be sold out everywhere! Not even the Minister could get one!"
"I still have connections, Harry. And see, you have all weekend at the resort, including a special meeting with Josef to play a game privately. He did that as a special favor to me," Ginny said, her eyes sparkling. "I even managed to get one for Ron, as Hermione's gift to him."
"You're amazing, love! I can't wait till February 6th!" Harry hugged and kissed her.
"So are you! I'm going to love this trip to Arnica Day Spa! And this bracelet is beautiful." She held out her hand so Harry could put the ruby and gold bracelet on her.
"It's also magical. It has charms of protection and anti-theft on it. And Hermione will be going with you, since Ron was with me when I bought the trip for you and figured she'd love it too."
"Oh, she will! And I'll need some relaxation after the baby's born."
"This is the best Christmas ever!" Alby declared.
"Can't argue with that," Harry agreed. Then he rose and said, "I'm going to try this baby out." He picked up the Shadowstreak.
"Now? Harry, you haven't even had breakfast yet!"
"I'll eat later, Gin," he said. "Flying's easier on an empty stomach."
Knowing she would get nowhere by arguing, she rose and went into the kitchen to heat up the breakfast casserole and cinnamon buns she'd made last night. After she'd popped both dishes into her oven, she watched Harry from the window as he flew the Shadowstreak, with Severus in front of him, across the sky. Alby stood in the yard, watching, with Honeygold. Ginny shook her head. "Someday, baby, after you're born, I'm going to ride that skyrocket and show your dad he's not the only excellent flyer in this family."
Several hours later:
It took a bit of patience and firmness on Ginny and Harry's part to tear the boys away from their new gifts and get them ready to visit their grandparents. Alby didn't want to go without Honeygold and was on the verge of throwing a tantrum before his familiar informed him she preferred to stay at home where it was quiet. Severus was reluctant to leave his new cauldron and the new potions books he had received, but after promising him that he could brew most of the morning tomorrow, which was Boxing Day, he finally quit grumbling and making a fuss.
Delectable smells of fresh bread, butter, cinnamon, turkey, and chocolate filled the air when they stepped from the fireplace. It made Severus' tummy rumble, even though he had eaten breakfast. Molly and Arthur were waiting to greet them and Severus got hugged, kissed, and squished from Molly as she welcomed him for Christmas. "Hello, Sevvy! I have a special present for you and Alby that I need you to open right away. And you too, Ginny and Harry!" She led them into Arthur's study.
"Ten Sickles says it's a new Christmas shirt," Ginny whispered in Harry's ear.
"I'd be a fool to take that bet, because you know it is," Harry said.
Sure enough, when they unwrapped their boxes, each had brand new handmade jumper from Molly. But unlike the usual jumpers with their initials on them, these also had appliqué work. Harry got a red jumper with his initials in gold and a Snitch on one side and a stag on the other. Ginny got a yellow one with her initials in pink, with a broom on one side and a baby buggy on the other.
Alby had a marine blue jumper with his initials in red with a lion, giraffe, and owl around them. For Severus there was an emerald green jumper with his initials in silver and a delicate white doe running gracefully across the bottom and a potion vial on top.
"Put them on, children!" Molly urged. "Everyone's got theirs on."
"These are amazing, Mum!" Ginny said as she pulled hers on over her shirt. "When did you start doing appliqué like this?"
"I took a class over the summer, dear. I had a lot of fun making these!"
"Boys, what do you say to Grammy?" Harry prompted.
"Thank you, Grammy!" they said, and hugged her.
Alby grinned and said, "I have a zoo on my jumper! Coolness!"
"You do, because you're a Beast Master," Molly said, and tweaked his nose.
Severus couldn't stop staring at his new jumper. Then he looked up at Molly and asked, "How . . . how did you know about my Patronus?"
"Your mum told me all about it, and how you saved Alby and yourself from drowning down in that tunnel. That's quite an accomplishment, Severus, and so I put the doe on your jumper, as a reminder."
"Thank you," he said, surprised that Harry and Ginny would have told the Weasleys about that crazy adventure, which might have been avoided if he'd stopped Alby from going down the tunnel. "It's a really nice jumper, I like it a lot."
"You're welcome, dear! Now why don't you go and play with your cousins? Rose is here and so is Victoire."
Alby and Severus obediently went out of the study.
"And you two, come in the den and have some snacks. I made your favorite, Ginny, broccoli cheese puffs, and yours too, Harry—mini Cornish pasties."
Her daughter and son-in-law followed her from the study and went into the den, where the rest of the family had gathered.
They greeted Ron, Hermione, Charlie, Bill, Fleur, Percy and his wife, and George and Beth. Everyone was lively and joking around, sipping beer or butterbeer, and munching on the appetizers Molly had made. All of them were wearing a jumper made by her as well.
Severus and his brother found the two girls playing tea party in the back bedroom. They had a real china tea set and real tea with small powdered sugar cakes and cucumber sandwiches, milk and sugar lumps.
"Hello Rose, Victoire," Severus said.
"Hi, Sev! Hi, Alby!" they said, smiling up at them. "Come sit down and have tea and cakes."
The boys seated themselves on the pillows on the floor and helped themselves to tea and cakes and sandwiches.
"So, how is your Christmas so far?" Rose asked. "I really like the phoenix you drew for me, Sev. Mum's gonna frame it and hang it in my room. And I'm wearing the hair barrettes you gave me, Al." She turned her head and showed them the sparkly pink rhinestone roses.
"It's the best! I got an owl named Honeygold for my familiar," Alby said excitedly. "And thanks for the joke stuff, Rose and Vickie."
Rose's eyes went wide. "Really? How neat! And you're welcome. We had fun picking that stuff out."
"My dad helped," Vickie said softly. "Did you like your quill, Sev?"
"It writes great. I used it to write down some notes in my potions book. What was your favorite present?"
Vickie thought a little. She was wearing a lavender jumper with her initials in aqua and had violets and a unicorn on it. "Umm . . . I got a whole set of charms books and a practice wand from Mum and Dad. Now I can practice spells before I go to school. And I really liked the unicorn you drew for me."
"How 'bout you, Rosie?" asked Alby.
"Father Christmas brought me this tea set and Grammy taught me how to make cakes and sandwiches. What was your favorite gift, Sev?" she asked. Her jumper was pink, with her initials in cream and had a rose and a butterfly on it.
"My self-stirring cauldron," he replied. "And my journal," he added. He ate a cucumber sandwich. "These are really good."
All too soon, Molly was calling them in for dinner. By then the tea and treats were finished. Severus wasn't very hungry, and ate small portions of the roasted turkey, gravy, potatoes , stuffing, carrots, and fresh bread with butter. For a sweet were small chocolate truffles, an apple pie, and the traditional plum pudding with brandy sauce and mince pie.
Severus nibbled a small piece of mince pie, he was too full to eat anything else. As a matter of fact, he was starting to get a headache from all the noise, and felt the need to go somewhere quiet. So he slipped off to the back room and lay down on the sofa there. No one noticed he was gone, everyone was too busy talking and enjoying the food. Or so he thought.
Until he heard a soft voice say, "Do you mind if I come in here too, Severus? Or are you sick?"
"No . . . I just needed some peace and quiet." Severus replied. "My head hurts a little and I don't feel like eating any more sweets today."
"Me neither. My tummy already feels kind of sick, even though I love Grammy's cooking," Vickie murmured. She took a seat on the floor near the tea table. "It's so loud out there. It makes my head hurt too."
Severus shared an understanding look with the older girl. He understood perfectly why Victoire was often by herself. He was not used to being around so many people for so many hours on end, and after awhile it started to wear on him. He had been so used to his solitude and he disliked how loud everyone became and so he retreated here, where it was quiet and he could hear himself think.
The two children simply sat there, with only a dim lamp to light the room, reveling in the quiet. They did not speak, for there was no need to. Each was content with their own thoughts and observations. Eventually, Severus' stomach settled and so did his head, and he drifted off to sleep. Vickie too started to nod off and before she knew it, she had also fallen asleep.
Back in the den, the rest of the children and adults had gathered around the tree while Arthur handed out the rest of the presents, which were mostly for the adults, as the children had gotten their jumpers and the only other things they received were some sweets and mince pies and biscuits. Alby was sitting in Harry's lap and Rose in her mother's when Arthur handed out the sweets.
Next came the gifts for the adults, mostly baskets of fruit, nuts, and other types of food, magical pots, books, and magical recipes. But by and large the funniest gift was the one Molly and Arthur gave to Harry and Ginny. Arthur pushed a large grill into the room with a big red bow on it.
"Oh my God!" You didn't!" Ginny gasped.
"You got us a grill?" Harry said, staring at it. One thought was running through his head. "Does it talk?"
"Pick up the lid and find out," Arthur snickered.
Harry approached the grill and opened the lid.
Suddenly a woman's voice floated out, speaking in the soft drawl of a Southern lady from America. "Hiya, sugah! Are y'all ready to get cookin'? If so, just slap a steak or two on the grill heah and I'll get things started."
"Uh . . . not just yet." Harry said.
"Okay, just let me know when y'all are ready. What's your name, shug?"
"Pleased to meetcha, Harry," the grill purred.
Harry gently shut the lid, he was laughing, and so was everyone else.
"Woo-hoo, Harry!" Charlie said, convulsed with laughter. "Sounds like she's got the hots for you."
"Yeah, looks like you really light her fire!" Ron remarked, cracking up.
"Well, you know what they say, Ron. Nothing comes between a man and his grill!" George sniggered.
"And look, here's an apron for you, Harry!" Beth said, tossing him a black apron with red lettering that said Kiss the Cook with a pair of lips on it.
The whole family roared with laughter.
"Don't worry, Beth, I'll take care of it!" Ginny said, grinning.
"Aww!" her brothers chorused.
"Do you like it?" Arthur asked anxiously. "You did say you wanted one, but I couldn't find the exact same voice this time."
"That's okay, Dad." Harry reassured him. "We love it, right, Ginny?"
"Of course we do, sugah," Ginny drawled in a dead on imitation of the grill's sultry voice.
That sent everyone back into gales of laughter.
When the noise and teasing had died down, Harry looked around and noticed that Severus wasn't there. "Where's Sevvy, Alby?"
"Uh . . . I dunno. I haven't seen him since dinner."
"Or Vickie either," said Rose.
Bill looked around. "If I know my daughter, she's hiding somewhere. Maybe Sevvy's with her?"
"Let me check," said Fleur, and together she and Harry went through the house, finally coming to the back room, where they found the remains of the tea party and the two sleeping children.
Fleur smiled. "I guess we wore them out, no?"
"Yeah, looks like it," Harry said. He gently put blankets over them and murmured, "Let them sleep, they need it. I can come and fetch Sev when we're ready to leave."
"And Bill shall bring Vickie," Fleur said.
They returned to the den, and Fleur seated herself at the piano and they all gathered around and sang Christmas carols and Molly served spiced cider to the thirsty carolers.
Severus woke around the chorus to They Came Upon a Midnight Clear and emerged from the back room with his hair mussed and his jumper rumpled. He made his way to the den, and went to Ginny and hugged her about the leg.
She looked down and stroked his hair. "Hello, Sevvy. You still look tired, love."
"I am," he said, yawning.
"I'd carry you, but I don't know if I should . . . my back has been achy all day."
Harry turned to see who Ginny was talking to. "Sev, buddy! How are you doing?"
"I'm still tired."
Harry knelt and picked him up.
Severus nestled against Harry's shoulder and closed his eyes, though he wasn't really asleep.
Harry began to sing again, and Severus felt Harry's chest vibrating as he lay against him. It was extremely soothing and before he knew it, he had dozed off to the tune of Away in a Manger sung in Harry's smooth tenor.
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