Chapter 15 : Christmas
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"Come in, come in! Harry, dear! Hermione, Ron, how lovely to see you again! Graínne, darling, isn’t that dress a little short?"
"Hi Mom, I’m fine, how are you?" Graínne snapped, slinging her cloak onto the hall tree. She took cloaks from her friends. The weather had turned bitter, and the hallways of the castle were icy.
The guest flat had a parlor, a kitchen, a lovely bedroom and bathroom. It was comfortably furnished for entertaining, and very charming. The Camerons seemed right at home.
"Hallo," Rory called, stripping off his oven mitts as he entered. He gave Graínne a kiss on the cheek and shook everyone else’s hand. "You look lovely, lassie. Come in, then! Ron, will you find some music for dinner? Ladies, if you will arrange the table, and if Harry will help me in the kitchen, we’ll be ready to eat in no time."
Harry followed Mr. Cameron out to the kitchen, his stomach full of dread. However, Mr. Cameron did not appear interested in cross-examination, but in how well Harry was able to arrange food on platters (at which Harry excelled because he had been trained by Petunia Dursley). He was amiable and pleasant. Harry liked him very much, now that he wasn’t so forbidding and scary.
The dinner was a success. It was Christmas Eve, and the Camerons expected to be busy the following day, so they were having their party now. This suited Graínne, who wanted to spend the day with her friends. After the meal, they played parlor games and sang carols, and Mr. and Mrs. Cameron sent them back to Gryffindor tower a little after ten.
They stayed up playing Exploding Snap, and then Hermione cleared her throat.
"I want to announce that I’m studying to be an Animagus," she said importantly.
"I really think the long-haired tiger-stripe suits you best," Graínne answered.
Ron and Harry missed the significance of this comment, but Hermione didn’t. "How do you know?" she demanded, astonished.
"It’s a long story. Tell us, why have you decided to?"
She looked a little put out. "It’s a very handy thing to be able to do, isn’t it. And if we become Aurors together, think how helpful it would be."
"You’ve always been good at Transfiguration," Ron agreed. "Is it hard?"
"Not as hard as you might think. I think we could all do it. And I think we could manage to have it down by the end of the year."
"What would you turn into, Harry?" Ron asked, the idea starting to gel.
He shrugged. "I don’t know. Haven’t thought about it. What about you?"
"Well, for it to be really useful as an Auror, it would have to be a common sort of animal, wouldn’t it, like a dog or a cat."
"My mom turns into a sparrow," Graínne told him. "That’s useful for spying, but not for strength. She can’t even carry a parchment when she’s transfigured."
"Sirius and Dad turned into big animals, so they could control Lupin," said Harry thoughtfully, and for the first time, the thought didn’t choke him.
"Dogs are very useful in the country, but in the city where there are leash laws, it’s a bit harder," Hermione agreed. "I chose a cat because they can go about alone in either place."
"I’d be a ginger tabby, except I’d probably end up a Persian, too. I’d rather be sleek than shaggy. I’ve been considering a mouse and pigeon as well." Graínne stretched her legs out across Harry’s. "Cat seems the likeliest, though."
"I was thinking dog," Ron argued.
"What, are you calling me a dog?" she demanded, joking.
"No!" He looked horrified, then realized she was joking. "I meant for me."
"Maybe I should work on a stag, like my dad," said Harry. "I can’t see it as handy, though, since I don’t have a werewolf friend to protect. A dog would be more useful, career wise."
"Or a hawk," said Graínne, watching him. "Something that eats snakes, maybe. Isn’t there a raptor that eats snakes?"
"Eagle, isn’t it?" he answered casually.
"I really don’t remember. It would be cool, thought, wouldn’t it, if we all became Animagi? Like the Marauders." She looked around at them expectantly.
"Half of them are dead, and one is a traitor," said Harry, a little tightly.
"But that’s not us," Ron answered. "None of us is a little snot-rag like Wormtail."
"But we could very well end up like Sirius and James," Hermione pointed out.
"Wasn’t this your idea?" Ron demanded.
"I’m just saying," she answered. "It’s good to talk about all the angles, because then no one is surprised if the worst comes. I don’t know what we’ll be facing before the end of Voldemort, but it would be good to be prepared."
"Would we register, or be secret?" Harry asked, more to get her talking again than for real information. He’d been thinking about it already, despite what he said to Ron. The fact was, he had no idea what animal he really wanted to be.
"Maybe secret at first," said Ron, almost as reluctant to comply with the rules as he was to get in trouble for failure to comply.
"Won’t work," said Graínne flatly.
"Because one of the things Dumbledore has asked me to do here is report secret Animagi."
"How do you do that?" Ron asked, interestedly.
"I can see them."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.
"Well, like you’ve been trying on different kinds of cats, figuring out which one feels the most natural. I know you wanted to be the Siamese, but it was too hard to maintain. When an Animagus is in human form, I can see aspects of the animal into which they transfigure. My mother has these cute little brown wings. I was six before I realized that not everyone’s mother had wings. And when they are animals, I can tell they’re not real animals. I can even tell who they are. Like that story you told me about Crookshanks, H, being able to tell Scabbers wasn’t a real rat. McGonagall does a nice tabby. There are a few Slytherins who are working on animals. Malfoy is trying to become a dragon, the fool, but I think he’s going to have to settle for a worm."
Ron gave a snort of laughter.
"But how do you see them?" Hermione demanded.
"I’m a Discerner. I was born that way."
"So if we become Animagi, you’d have to report us?" Ron asked.
"Um, yeah. Eventually."
Harry laughed suddenly. "Eventually? After what, getting caught?"
"There are only three known Discerners alive right now," Graínne answered, grinning at his laughter. "One in China, one in Africa, and me. The Chinese wench is a Darker witch who sells her services to the highest bidder. She’s pretty lean, though. Most legally questionable people are interested in hiring Animagi, not detecting them. The African guy is getting pretty old, but he’s doing the best. He works for his country, but he also works for other countries, and travels a lot. And I’m underage, so I’ve only worked for the MRA so far. I’m on call here, but no one’s thought to look at Animagi yet. I don’t think there are many who are active with the Death Eaters. It’s kind of a bigger commitment than most illicit Animagi are willing to make, becoming a Death Eater."
"So you could see Wormtail, even if he was a rat?" Harry clarified.
"Yeah. I’d be freaked about the rat to begin with, but if he had a human face, that would definitely get my attention." She shrugged. "But getting back to the original question, which was do we want to study it, I’m voting yes."
"I’m game," said Ron.
"Yeah, okay," said Harry after a moment. "If I can. Dad and Sirius were brilliant, and they had to help Wormtail a lot. I reckon if Hermione and Graínne help me, I can manage it eventually."
Ron laughed. "Same here, mate."
Graínne sat up and looked at the pile of presents at her feet. "Dag," she said blankly.
"What did you expect?" asked Hermione, shrugging into her dressing gown.
"A Christmas tree. That’s how we do it at home."
"This is how we do it here. The house elves deliver the presents. Oh look, Mum’s sent me a new book!"
Graínne began unwrapping. Her parents had sent new clothes, a new family photograph, a book of defensive spells, earrings. Her brothers had sent candy and toys. Hermione had given her three pairs of the thick boot socks she loved. Ron’s fancy quills and Harry’s silver inkpots came wrapped together, and the enameled hair combs from Harry she had saved for last. They got dressed and met up with Ginny, and hurried over to the boys’ dormitories, where they found the boys eating Every Flavor Beans and throwing a toy Quaffle back and forth between their beds. They weren’t dressed yet, and scrambled for dressing gowns when the girls appeared.
Harry greeted her with a grin, and kissed her warmly. "Thanks," he said quietly, referring to the wizard music player and collection of recordings she’d given him.
"You didn’t open this one," she said, bringing one out from her robes.
He chuckled. It was a picture of them together in their Quidditch robes, arms around each other, smiling happily at each other and at Harry. It was framed in red with a golden Gryffindor Lion in the lower left corner.
"This is great," he said, deeply pleased. "It’ll be good to have it this summer."
"I thought about doing a portrait, but I thought maybe your hoggish cousin wouldn’t believe I was really your girlfriend if you weren’t in the picture."
"I probably wouldn’t show it to him, anyway."
"You never can tell. Besides, I like the idea of us together." She settled herself cross-legged on the end of his bed. "What’s Christmas breakfast like here?"
"Have we ever been to one?" Harry asked, looking around at the others.
"Yeah, a few. It tends to be cereal," Ron answered, trying to wrestle his new Chudley Cannons tee shirt away from Hermione. Ginny was a great hindrance. "Because dinner and tea are so big."
"Well, I’m starving. Hurry up. Ladies, let the boy get dressed. We’ll meet you downstairs," she added, flashing a smile at Harry.
They came down in their new Weasley sweaters, Ron with a nice chocolate brown for once, rather than the usual maroon, and Harry a black one with little red stripes at collar and cuffs. Ginny’s was a deep, rich golden yellow. Hermione had one this year for the first time, a lovely blue heather. Graínne claimed to be envious, but she looked pretty in her dark red turtleneck sweater from her brother David.
"As soon as Mum gets to know you, you’ll be getting mince pies and Easter eggs and sweaters," Ron told her.
"I never got one before," Hermione pointed out. "A sweater, I mean. You have to be family to get a sweater, G, don’t let him fool you. I had to go out with Ron to get one. I wonder if that veelah girl, what’s her name? Fleur Delacour. I wonder if she gets one."
"Nah, I don’t think so. Mum doesn’t like her much. And frankly, Bill’s only serious about her when she’s in the room," said Ginny.
"There’s not many of us here," said Graínne, looking around the Great Hall. The tables had only been set at the top third, nearest the dais where the head table was placed.
"Only hard-core students stay over breaks," Harry said with a shrug. "And those who would rather not go home."
Breakfast was cheery, if short and simple. Afterwards they went out and had a snowball fight on the grounds, and built a snow family, and slid on the ice around the edge of the lake. Then everyone had to change clothes because they were soaked, and it was time for dinner.
Christmas dinner was a fabulous affair, with crackers full of wonderful prizes, and every sort of mouth-watering traditional food, as well as the personal favorites of everyone present. Since there were only two dozen people still in the school, Dumbledore had arranged one long table for everyone, students and teachers alike. Harry made sure he was at the opposite end of the table from Snape, but he tried not to sit too close to Dumbledore, either.
In the middle of the meal, Graínne left her seat and went over by Snape. Harry couldn’t see what she was up to, and definitely couldn’t hear, but a loud bang indicated that she had pulled a wizarding cracker with him, followed shortly by a second, and he was astonished to see Snape give a grunt of a laugh, looking surprised at himself afterwards.
A few moments later she was back in her seat.
"What was that about?" he asked quietly.
"Well, I had a feeling I needed to go pull that particular cracker with Snape. And it was filled with sugar mice, a dozen of them, which made him laugh for some reason. He said he didn’t like sweets much, but those were his favorite when he was a kid, and he hadn’t had them for years."
"I wonder what made him laugh about it."
"Don’t know. It’s weird to have something in common with him, though. I’m glad I went down there. He hadn’t been asked to pull a cracker with anyone. He pulled the one from his plate with me, and it turned out to be silver earrings, look." She showed him a pair of pretty wire hoops with tiny silver unicorns depending from them. "He said he hadn’t worn an earring in years, so I had better take those, unicorns weren’t his thing. They are very much mine. So I gave him all the sugar mice."
"What is it about you, that you can be nice, even to berks like Snape?"
"Well, I don’t know about that," she contradicted. "He might be a berk, but he’s not exactly the enemy, is he. Here, try this filet mignon, it’s the best thing on the table."
"Snape wore an earring?"
"Weird, huh. Maybe you should get a pierced ear," she teased, holding up the hoop to his left ear. "You’d look pretty rad."
"Is that a good thing?"
"I don’t know. I’d probably have to beat the girls off you with a stick."
"My uncle would kick me out of the house. He thinks it’s nancy."
"My dad would give you a bad time about it, too. My older brothers still hide theirs around him. Only Willie and Davie still wear them, Bart says he’s outgrown it, and Charlie never got his done. Says it’s dumb. But coming from Charlie, that’s not saying much. He has no concept." She shook herself. "How’d we get on this subject? Charlie gives me the creeps."
He wondered why her brother gave her the creeps, but it never came up again. Harry was grateful not to be reminded of the previous Christmas, one of the last times he had seen Sirius, the only time he had ever seen him very happy. And Mr. Weasley had been attacked by the snake, and Harry had thought he’d been possessed by Voldemort. This year was completely different.
That afternoon, they began reading up on Animagi. The Christmas Tea was a welcome distraction, because by then they were all feeling like the task was a little beyond their reach.
"I’ve been thinking," said Harry as they walked along toward the Great Hall. "Professor Lupin said it took those guys the better part of three years to learn this stuff. And he said Sirius and Dad were the cleverest students in the school, and it still took that long. I don’t see how any of us is going to get this down, except Hermione."
"I object," said Graínne mildly. "Look, anyone who can do a Protean Charm is a cinch for Animagus, yes, but the Patronus Charm is stiff magic, too, and you can do a Patronus at will, now. Lots of grown wizards never learn Patronus, or Apparation, either. And they started younger."
"Erg, that makes me the Wormtail of the group," said Ron with a groan. "Graínne Apparates, Hermione can do anything, Harry can make a Patronus."
"Nonsense, you made a Patronus last year in the D.A.," said Hermione dismissively.
"Oh, I’d forgotten that. But wasn’t there some doubt that any of us could do it under pressure? So doesn’t that mean we can’t really do it?"
"No, not at all. If you can perform the spell at all, you can perform the spell. But this is our chance, guys," Graínne said urgently. "It might be hard to get it done by the end of the year, but next year is out of the question with N.E.W.T.s. This is the only time we have."
"What about McGonagall? She already knows I’m working on it," said Hermione, dropping her voice low as they entered the Hall.
"Okay, so maybe we can’t do it secretly after all, but we also don’t have to make a big production out of it. I’m sure with Dumbledore’s influence, the Ministry of Magic can keep it quiet."
"Well, we can try," said Harry, forcing himself to look positive.
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