Chapter 1 : He Kept Christmas Well
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“Mum?” whispered a soft voice from behind. “Where have you been? You’ve been searching for him again, haven’t you?”
Ginny could only feebly nod her response.
“I thought as much. Let’s get you inside. It’ll be the death of you if you don’t take better care of yourself.”
Albus removed the key from his mother’s hand, opened the door to her cottage, and escorted her inside. The place was lifeless, dark, and dismal, without a trace of the holiday season. Nary could a decoration be found to enliven the home, not even a Christmas tree, the standard decorative fare of his youth’s yuletide memories.
It had been this way for eight years, ever since his father walked into the road and apperated to the Ministry for the job for which he never arrived. Ever since, the windows and curtains of his childhood home had been kept closed even on the most radiant of spring days. The musty staleness of the unkempt home was held in abeyance only by the periodic intervention of his grandmother. Now, given that the holiday season was upon them, the gloom that normally resided within had taken a turn for the ominous.
‘Merlin, you’d think the Baby Jesus was stillborn,’ thought Albus, seeing the interior’s depressive state.
Albus approached his mother from behind and removed the soaked cloak from her shoulders. He surmised that she had to have been wandering in the blustery winter weather for quite some time. Her hair was matted, knotty, and tousled, and the snow had soaked through to her underlying garments. Her skin was translucent and her eyes were as dull and lifeless as her surroundings.
He and his older brother, James, and his sister, Lilly, have moved on. On from that fateful day when his father, the most prominent wizard in the world, disappeared off the face of the earth, the day a family was shattered, the day hearts were broken. One never heals from such a loss; one only learns to cope. Well, truth be told, most learn to cope. His mother never has despite his best efforts, as well as those of his siblings and his extended family.
Albus took his mother's right hand in his own and her left shoulder in his other as he gently guided her toward the stairs that led to the master suite. "Let's go upstairs, Mum. I'll draw a hot bath for you."
Leaving his mother to soak in the bath he had drawn, Albus descended the stairs and proceeded to the kitchen to brew some tea. Returning to the parlour, he settled in front of the fireplace and started a fire. His vision blurred with his own pangs of longing. Memories of Christmases past flooded him. He could clearly recall sitting in this very spot as a youngster with James, while his father explained to them how to light the fireplace the muggle way (the magical way was indeed faster and easier). Looking away from the fireplace brought Albus no relief. Across the room was where the Potter Family Christmas Tree always stood – there in the parlour's large bay window that faced the road – there in that window that brought so much sunlight to this room in his youth – there in that dark, melancholy, empty space created by the tattered, dusty red and gold velvet curtains that were drawn across that same window. Sadly, Albus recalled one of his favourite family traditions: returning home from Hogwarts for winter holiday and walking up the road with his trunk and owl dragging behind him. The first sight that greeted him had always been the vision of the undressed Christmas tree standing in the bay window awaiting its trimming and his mother's beautiful, smiling face awaiting him on the steps. Albus could not recall the last time he saw that smile.
The sound of a whistling kettle broke him from his reverie. A short while later, Albus returned to the parlour with two cups of tea and found Ginny seated on the loveseat next to the fire. Her hair was damp and stringy. Calmly, he strode to her and handed her a cup, and settled into an armchair across the coffee table from her. Silently, he watched her sip her tea and she just as silently watched the flames dance and lick the hearth, the crackling of it filling the room, drowning out the silence. Minutes passed. His mother's expression never changed.
"Mum? I think we need to talk." Albus paused, waiting for some sign, some acknowledgment, that his mother actually heard him. "Mum? Did you hear me?"
Ginny turned and looked into her son's eyes, her heretofore-doleful expression taking on a slightly brighter appearance. However, she remained mute.
"Mum, I love you. You do know that, don't you?"
Ginny returned an almost imperceptible nod.
"Mum, please realise that what I'm about to say comes from the heart. I'm concerned about you. I think it's time you turned the page as far as Dad's concerned..."
"I'm not giving up on your father! He's still alive! I know it!" hissed Ginny, "In here! I know it!" she added, pointing to her heart. The speed at which his mother's temperament changed was startling and Albus had to make a conscious effort to appear unruffled.
"Mum, it's been eight years."
"I'm well aware of how long it has been!"
"Eight years, Mum. You need to move forward with your life. It's time. Dad's not coming back."
Ginny sighed in resignation. She knew he was right, of course. Harry was gone. He would not return.
"I'm sorry, Albus. It's just... difficult. I just can't accept the fact that he is no longer here. Particularly, you know, at this time of year. He kept Christmas well, your father. It was his favourite time of the year." Ginny rewrapped her robe tightly around her and gazed into the fire.
Albus did likewise, quietly willing the fire's warmth to fill the room. Glancing again across the room brought another memory of Christmas past. "Do you remember when Poppy Arthur brought home that muggle toy train set?" began Albus.
Ginny choked back a sob and gave her son a watery smile and a nod.
"And Dad tried to set it up under the tree, and it caught fire, and it nearly set the tree ablaze?"
Ginny chuckled at the recollection. Her conflicted emotions were on full display, with tears trickling down her cheeks, while a small warm smile graced her cracked, dry lips. "Every year, he would make some ornaments by hand, not using magic, mind you, but by using everyday things. One year – this was when you were still just a toddler and Lily was an infant – he made ornaments from some eggs he had hand-painted. They truly were beautiful, but he didn't realise he had to drain the yolks from the eggs first. Ugh! The smell! After a few days, I had to pack the three of you up to stay with your Auntie Hermione while your Dad and Uncle Ron aerated this place!"
Albus snorted. Despite being the greatest wizard of his age, his father's fascination with all things ‘muggle' had become nearly as legendary as his grandfather's. Nonetheless, his mother was right. Dad did keep Christmas well. Albus could not recall a time of the year when his father was happier. He had heard the stories of his father's youth, of course; of how his muggle relatives treated his father like dirt and of how his father never received presents or even enjoyed the holiday season until he met the Weasley family.
“I guess my favourite story, though, was when he decided he was going to cook the Christmas dinner, and he went to the muggle food market and got the frozen goose?” asked Albus.
“Hey, that goose turned out okay, though, didn’t it?”
“Sure, but Gamma and Aunt Audrey almost had heart failure when they realised he hadn’t removed the neck and giblets and other stuff from the inside before he cooked it! To this day Uncle George still has a right good laugh every time he thinks about that,” said Albus, chuckling to himself with a faraway glare.
Mother and son sat in silence for several minutes more, watching the fire and enjoying its warm, hypnotizing dance before Albus spoke again. "Er, Mum, you are going to Gamma and Poppy's this year, aren't you? They'd really like for you to come. It's been a few years."
"I don't know, Albus," replied Ginny weakly.
"Sorry, er, let me rephrase. You are going to Gamma and Poppy's this year. Come on. It's time for you to make some new holiday memories."
Albus rose, strode to where his mother sat on the loveseat, and lifted her to her feet. She resisted at first, but many a year had passed since she could physically oppose her middle child without resorting to magic. Once on her feet, she allowed Albus to escort her upstairs.
The knock at the kitchen door of the Burrow startled several of the Weasley clan from their intense discussion. Albus and Ginny could see the surprised looks of their relatives. It was as though no other visitors were expected. They patiently awaited the Weasley matriarch to come to the door.
"Albus! Ginny! I didn’t think you were coming!" cried Molly, wrapping her daughter and grandson in a motherly hug.
"Happy Christmas, Gamma!" replied Albus. For her part, Ginny gave her mother a small smile.
"Everything alright? We didn't interrupt anything, did we?" asked Albus.
"Stay in the kitchen and keep your mother in here as well, understood? We need to talk," replied Charlie sternly.
"Sure, er, no problem, Uncle Charlie," said Albus tensely.
Bill, Percy, Arthur, and Molly distracted Ginny with inordinately loud, trivial chitchat as Albus stood aside and watched Charlie walk through the door separating the kitchen from the parlour. Moments later, his Aunt Hermione strode into the kitchen with Charlie trailing. Albus' discomfiture grew exponentially when he caught a snippet of the conversation occurring on the other side of the door.
"So, you're another brother? Which one are you?"
Albus blanched and shot a nervous look in his mother's direction as Hermione approached him. Ginny had not caught that same snippet. Wrapping his aunt in a hug, he whispered in her ear, "Aunt 'Mione, is that who I think it is?"
"Yes, Albus, but I have to warn you, he's not the same."
"Hermione!" cried Ginny.
"Hi Ginny! Happy Christmas!" replied Hermione, turning away from Albus.
"And you! How have you been?"
After wrapping her sister-in-law in a hug, Hermione replied, "Great, thanks! Look, I need you and Albus to take a seat. We need to speak with you about something."
"Er, okay," replied Ginny nervously. "Er, I’m sorry. I should have let you know I was coming, but..."
"No, no, no," interjected Hermione quickly. "It's not that! We're all excited that you came. It's just... er, we've had another unexpected visitor. You see, Harry's here."
"Harry!" called Ginny as she stood and tried to force her way through her family.
"Whoa, Gin! Hold on! You can't go in there yet," said Bill as gently as he could as Charlie restrained her in his burly arms.
"Get your hands off of me, Charlie!"
"Gin! Please! You need to hear us out first," said Charlie as soothingly as possible, wrestling Ginny back into her seat. Everyone stood silently around her as Ginny glared at them and tried to regain her composure.
"Ginny, Harry's not the same person you remember. He's... he's had his memory wiped. Until a couple of days ago, he had absolutely no recollection of wizarding life... none whatsoever."
"You mean... he won't know who I am?"
"No. Not you, nor James, nor Albus,nor Lilly... well, he's in the parlour now with James and Lily, but, still, he doesn’t remember them. He has no recollection of any of us. The most recent thing he remembers, other than the life he was living in the muggle world when he was found, was of his muggle aunt and uncle and cousin."
"Who found him, Aunt 'Mione?" asked Albus.
"He was living as a farmhand in Spain. An old Spanish wizard just happened to bump into him when he was in the local town one day. The wizard didn't recognise Harry immediately. It was only when he got home did the wizard realise who he was. The old wizard then contacted the Spanish Ministry, who contacted our ministry, and some of our Aurors brought him home yesterday. He's being evaluated at St. Mungo's, but they allowed us to bring him here for the day. I guess they hope that being here with us might trigger some memories, but after dinner, we have to take him back."
“Is... is it permanent?” asked Ginny fretfully.
“No one knows, sweetheart,” replied Molly gently. “But we hope the healers will find a cure to whatever spell or potion damage caused this. We can only keep faith that some treatment will be found.”
“How is he now?” asked Albus.
“Well,” said Percy, scratching his head to come up with just the right words to describe his brother-in-law. “He seems to think that this is all some elaborate prank that his fellow farmhands have pulled over him. He keeps smiling at us disbelievingly and wagging his finger at us and saying things like ‘Just wait until I get back. Manuel’s going to regret this.’”
“The point is...” said Hermione, “Be patient with him and don’t lose hope if he doesn’t remember you or if he doesn’t take you seriously. Otherwise, you’ll just find yourself extremely frustrated.”
“I understand. Please? I just want to see him,” begged Ginny.
“Fine,” concluded Arthur. “But I want you to walk in there with the rest of us first. Just observe for a bit before approaching him. I think it will give you a better feel for how he is. Agreed?”
Ginny nodded and slowly rose from her seat at the kitchen table. The rest of her family situated themselves around her and they entered the parlour en masse.
The parlour, like the rest of the Burrow, was tastefully decorated for the holiday season, complete with the crackling, popping warmth of a fire in the hearth. Harry did appear to have changed. His hair had turned slightly lighter, and his skin had a tanned and leathery look about it. Having worked outdoors for several years did not negatively affect his appearance, but the change was noticeable nonetheless. His mannerisms were different as well; he was indeed behaving slightly out of sorts. He maintained an odd combination of a devil-may-care attitude tinged with a streak of curiosity and a touch of cynicism. He did not sit passively, but interacted with these purported strangers amiably.
Ginny and Albus stood in the entrance of the parlour and watched as Harry casually sat on the sofa and interacted with Ron, George, and his godson, Teddy. Oddly, he also seemed preoccupied with the Christmas tree, which sat in the far corner of the room. Every few moments, he gave a wary glance at the tree as though the tree might suddenly leap forth and attack him.
"So, er, Teddy, is it? Teddy, why do you dye your hair that colour?" asked Harry, staring wonderingly at the metamorphmagus’ turquoise hair.
"That's his normal colour, Harry," explained Ron.
"Very funny, Percy," replied Harry sardonically.
"Er, I'm Ron," said Ron softly with a smirk.
"Hey, Harry," called George. “What’s your favourite colour?”
Harry looked at George as though he had two heads. "Er, green, if you must know."
“And what’s your favourite animal?”
“I don’t know. A... a penguin.”
"A green penguin it is, then," said George, nodding to Teddy. Harry silently stared as Teddy scrunched up his face for a few seconds, before letting out a scream. Teddy's head had transformed into that of a penguin with a violent shade of florescent lime green feathers. George, Ron, and Teddy burst with gales of laughter at Harry's startled reaction.
"That is NOT funny, George!"
Everyone in the room froze as George turned towards the parlour’s entrance to see Ginny standing there, arms crossed over her chest and shooting ocular daggers at her brothers and adopted godson. "Uh oh," muttered George.
"Let me guess. Is this your sister, Percy?" asked Harry of Ron.
"It's, er, it's Ron," he replied softly.
The rest of the family fell mute while Ginny slowly ambled across the room to where Harry sat. Harry regarded her warily. Ginny gazed into the eyes she had loved all her life. For the briefest of moments, she saw it. A flicker of recognition flashed within his eyes, but just as quickly vanished. Her Harry was still in there somewhere, even if he did not recognise it himself.
"Happy Christmas, Harry. How've you been?" she asked flatly.
"I've been better, Percy's sister."
"I'm not just Percy's sister, Harry. I'm also your wife," said Ginny softly, but firmly. Harry regarded her for a mere instant before bursting into laughter. No one else joined him. He continued for a full minute, holding his ribs and rolling to his side on the sofa.
Harry rose to a seated position again and began wagging his finger at George, "You blew it! I can’t believe it! You were so, so close! You almost had me beginning to believe all this rubbish! Then you bring her out and have her tell me she's my wife!" No one spoke, but Ginny turned ten shades redder as Harry looked up and faced her. "So, you're my wife, huh? I certainly did well for myself, then, didn't I?" asked Harry cheekily.
"Oi! That's my sister!" shouted George, which earned him a slap across the back of his head from Angelina, followed by sniggers from some of the men in the room, including Harry.
Harry held up his hands pleadingly to George and replied, "Sorry, mate! But I think I'd remember if I married someone this pretty!" Turning to Ginny, Harry asked with a smile, "So, do you have a name, or should I just call you 'wife'?"
Ginny turned to her family, all of whom were blankly watching the scene before them. "Leave us," she said coolly.
"Are you sure..." started Hermione, but even she was cut short by the glare Ginny gave her. Silently the rest of the family left for the kitchen, save Albus.
“Albus? Go into the kitchen and bring my purse to me, please?” It was not a request.
As Albus left, Harry spoke, “Good. You seem like the serious sort. Can you please let me go home?”
But Ginny merely placed an index finger to her lips, indicating to Harry that he should remain silent. Albus returned shortly thereafter and handed Ginny’s purse to her.
"You leave, too, Albus. Please?" she added after seeing his hesitancy to leave his mother alone.
Once Albus returned to the kitchen with the rest of the family, Ginny turned back to Harry and studied him intently, while weighing her choice of words carefully. After some minutes, she approached her husband, knelt before him, and sat back on her heels, all the while maintaining her deep, unwavering gaze into his emerald green eyes.
"So, er, are you going to tell me your name?" he asked apprehensively.
Ginny did not answer, but continued to studiously regard him.
"Who are you?" asked Harry. His voice did not convey curiosity as much as bewilderment.
She rose to her knees, took his face in her hands, gazed even more deeply into his eyes, and spoke softly. "You're still in there, Harry. I know it. I saw it, ever so briefly, just for an instant. You recognised something when our eyes locked a moment ago, didn't you?"
Harry did not respond, nor did he pull away, but continued to return her steady glare. There was something comforting about the woman before him. Looking into her eyes felt like coming home after a long journey.
"Harry? I'm Ginny. I'm your wife and you are home."
Harry pulled back from the woman called ‘Ginny’ and turned again to the Christmas tree. He always loved this time of year, but he never understood why, exactly. It was not as if he had cherished memories of the season from his youth. But the tree seemed to comfort him almost as much as the woman kneeling in front of him. The ornaments and other baubles hanging from the tree seemed familiar, as did much of this place, but for the life of him he just couldn't put a finger on it.
Ginny reached into her purse and extracted the old grainy photograph. “Do you recognise the person in this picture, Harry?” she asked, handing it to him.
“Where’d you get this?” Harry demanded. His was not an angry demand, but one filled with the growing disorientation of his predicament. He stared at the picture with a furrowed brow, trying to remember where he was when it was taken. He could not have been more than twenty years old. It was summertime. He was seated under a large old oak tree next to an orchard.
“I took that picture of you the summer before we were married. The tree you’re sitting under is across the garden just beyond the kitchen door of this home. Feel free to go outside and see for yourself, if you’d like.”
Harry looked to the Christmas tree once more before turning back to Ginny. Their eyes locked once more, and another spark flashed through his mind. Ginny caught that fleeting glimpse of recognition again.
"What is it, Harry? What do you remember?" she softly pleaded.
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again before making any sound. He looked to the Christmas tree again. Ginny remained quiet and allowed the uncomfortable silence to linger.
"Eggs," he said softly.
"Yeah. You were angry with me because of eggs. I don't know why. Odd, isn’t it?"
A loving warmth and a wave of relief spread through Ginny as her lashes filled with tears, “Welcome back, Harry.”
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