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Chapter 18 : The Phoenix and the Turtle
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 17|
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-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
‘Look faster,’ I said, tossing a morose-looking shrunken head over my shoulder. ‘I have to be home by five.’
‘When I said that I’d pay you back, I didn’t think it would be through hard labour!’ said J.D., examining a hooded black cloak.
What Fancy New J.D. meant to say is that when I paid his bail and collected him from the Ministry for Magic (after intense questioning by authorities about his alleged assault on Lewd Wig), he misinterpreted his enlistment as my shopping buddy for Christmas spirit.
J.D. threw the hooded cloak over his head and raised his arms in a semi-menacing manner. ‘Boo, I’m the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come! Repent, repent!’
I pulled the cloak off of him and tossed it back onto the pile. ‘Who’s the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?’
He shrugged. ‘Dunno. Every Christmas Eve my dad chases me and Kate ‘round the house and threatens to show us our grim futures.’
‘Oh,’ I said flatly.
‘Yeah. I s’pose it’s the reason me and Kate are so…unpleasant. Or at least one of the reasons.’
‘Get back to rummaging or I’ll bring you straight back to the Ministry,’ I threatened. ‘Fancy spending Christmas Eve in your cosy holding cell with Micah?’
My dad, who had arranged for J.D.’s release, had not been able to sway the authorities on the issue of Micah. (So technically, I didn’t pay J.D.’s bail, but it was the only thing in my blackmail arsenal. And I couldn’t go shopping all by myself…if you haven’t noticed already, for all intents and purposes I am a girl. We don’t go anywhere by ourselves.)
Even the legendary Harry Potter, who, I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, is my father, could not convince the Ministry’s top interrogators that Micah Horowitz is not a menace to society. You see, since Micah’s top running speed is far superior to J.D.’s, he managed to reach Lewd Wig first during their little game of Tag Bullrush during the Battle of the Bands. Who knew that groping at the jogging suit of the richest man in the Wizarding music industry was grounds for a full Wizengamot trial?
While Aunt Hermione spent Christmas Eve Day with her newest client, Micah Horowitz, J.D. and I scoured the mountains of knickknacks and miscellaneous junk offered for sale at Giraffe-Neck MacDougal’s Frugal Antiques.
‘Aren’t you not allowed in Knockturn Alley?’ asked J.D.
‘What my mum doesn’t know can’t hurt me,’ I replied. ‘Plus, this is sort of my last resort, as it’s the only shop in Wizarding Britain open on Christmas Eve Day.’
‘I’ll spare you the lengthy lecture on how stupid it is to wait until the last minute to buy your girlfriend a Christmas gift,’ said J.D., ‘and skip right to the one where I remind you that Tegan is the least materialistic girl in the entire world. You could give her a bag of toenail clippings and she’d feign almost convincing gratitude.’
‘But I’m a terribly materialistic boy,’ I said. ‘I care what I give her. And you’re wrong: If I gave her toenail clippings, Tegan would be sick and ask that next time, I forgo the toenails and get her disinfectant.’
J.D. grumbled something very rude and went back to sorting through the junk. When I picked up a bottle of Jacopo S. Tripe’s Powder of Dragon Scales (High in Potency and in Fibre!), I felt a cold, bony hand rest on my shoulder.
I turned ‘round and saw a very tall man staring down at me. Well, he wasn’t tall in the traditional sense, as his shoulders were a normal height from the ground but his neck was extraordinarily long and thick. Compared to that substantial neck, he was sort of a pinhead, with a set of beady eyes to match.
‘What’re you doing so deep in Knockturn Alley, lads?’ asked Giraffe-Neck MacDougal, his voice so hoarse that I wanted to offer him a throat lozenge. Sadly, I did not have any on me.
J.D. pointed at me. ‘He told me we were going out for ice cream!’
‘It was a fairly transparent ruse!’ I shot back. ‘Who eats ice cream in December?’
‘Smart people, that’s who!’ said J.D. ‘It’s already cold, so it doesn’t melt!’
‘He’s right, you know,’ Giraffe-Neck MacDougal said to me. ‘It’s cheaper too. Ice cream in the summer is one sticky, expensive mess.’
With a scowl, I said, ‘I’m looking an object that is so perfect that my girlfriend will fall irrevocably in love with me.’
‘What sort of “something” exactly?’ asked Giraffe-Neck.
‘Toenail clippings,’ said J.D.
I shot him a dirty look. ‘Something pretty, but not too flashy. It should mean something, have some sort of significance.’
Giraffe-Neck MacDougal thought for a moment or two. ‘I think I have the perfect gift.’
He hobbled past the rows of antiques (which were, on the whole, of less than excellent quality) and behind the wooden counter at the back of the shop. I skipped after him and J.D. followed, though not without a dramatic rolling of his eyes.
Giraffe-Neck pulled a cigar box from below the counter and carefully opened it. Inside, there was a single ring, set with a square emerald.
The shopkeeper motioned for me to pick up the ring to examine it, which I did. The ring itself was grey in colour, and there was next to no ornamentation on the band. The stone, which I’d thought to be a small emerald, was indeed green but from a sort of rock I could not identify. A roughly carved C (or was it simply a caret?) decorated the stone.
J.D. snatched the ring from my grasp. ‘Giraffe-Neck MacDougal, this is literally a piece of refuse!’
I grabbed it back. ‘I’m not done looking at it!’
‘That, boy, is an invaluable artefact!’ said Giraffe-Neck.
‘J.S., this “artefact” is made of iron!’ said J.D. ‘And that thing masquerading as a precious stone is a pebble! It’s painted green or something!’
‘The historical value of this ring is unparalleled with almost everything still in existence!’ said Giraffe-Neck. ‘This, lads, is the ring of Slytherin.’
‘I thought my uncle destroyed that,’ I said.
‘Slytherin’s locket,’ said J.D. ‘Mr Weasley destroyed Slytherin’s locket. And excuse me, Mr MacDougal, but if Slytherin had a ring to match his necklace, wouldn’t we have heard about it in History of Magic?’
‘Wrong Slytherin,’ said Giraffe-Neck, rasping. ‘Yes, Salazar’s locket turned out to be trouble, but this is the ring of Cody Slytherin.’
‘Cody Slytherin?’ J.D. snapped.
‘Of course,’ said Giraffe-Neck coolly. ‘He was Salazar’s younger brother and he crafted that heirloom himself. Look, I’ll tell you the story, since not everyone’s heard of Cody Slytherin.
‘Over one thousand years ago, in the vast landgraviate of Leuchtenberg, there lived a family of great nobility and prestige. Landgraf Slytherin was most pleased when his wife bore him a son, and the boy was called Salazar, and he would grow to be a bright, obedient son. But several years later the Landgräfin Slytherin bore another child, who was blond and stupid and probably a bastard. This son was called Cody.’
Intrigue! I thought, grinning at J.D.
‘Cody?’ J.D. asked aloud. ‘Salazar Slytherin had a younger brother called Cody?’
‘Yes. Now shut up,’ said Giraffe-Neck.
‘The Slytherins held great favour with the emperor, but when Salazar and Cody were still children, tragedy befell their family. A terrible disease spread throughout the land and killed most of their peasants. With no one to till the soil and harvest the crops, Landgraf Slytherin’s many tracts of land were no longer lucrative, and the family was forced to either abandon their homeland or get real jobs.
‘And so, Landgraf Slytherin made a deal with the English king to exchange his old manor for a disease-free one in the east of England. The landgraf became a count and his wife a countess, and the children were quickly assimilated into their new culture. With their new legion of peasants to till the soil and harvest the crops, the Slytherin family quickly regained their former wealth.
‘While Muggles had been forced to the farthest regions of the continental emperor’s lands, the king of the unified England, himself a mudblood, allowed the magical and non-magical peoples of his kingdom to co-habitate and he bid his dukes, earls, and other noblemen to enforce this policy. (Hundreds of years before the witch hunts, wizards and Muggles lived alongside one another, you see.) However, in the empire in which Count Slytherin’s Leuchtenberg was located, it was thought that Muggles were the source of all the evil in this world. Famine, freedom of thought, hangnails—even the disease that had driven the Slytherins to rainy England was the fault of Muggles.’
‘How does that follow?’ said J.D. testily. ‘Wouldn’t a wizard have an easier job of controlling a famine or disease than a Muggle? We’re the ones who can do magic, yeah? And what’s so wrong with freedom of thought?’
‘You’re too young to understand,’ said Giraffe-Neck in his soft, fragile voice.
‘Unable to brainwash his new peasants with this rhetoric at the behest of the king, Count Slytherin made certain that his sons’ tutors, whom he imported from Leuchtenberg, taught them only the truth about Muggles. Salazar, the elder son, excelled in every subject: Logic, Grammar, Alchemy, Dark Arts, History of Muggle Corruption…the standard course of study for a noble wizard. According to the laws of primogeniture, Salazar was due to inherit his father’s entire estate and noble title, and there was no doubt that he would one day make a fine Count Slytherin.
‘Cody, however, proved to be a burden. He bit every tutor his father sent to educate him, and soon there was no learned man in all the land who would agree to teach Cody. When his younger son came of the appropriate age, Count Slytherin sought a knight to take Cody as his page. This was customary for the second son of a nobleman at the time, to train him for knighthood. However, word of Cody Slytherin’s sharp, pointy teeth had spread far and wide and no magical knight would agree to employ Cody. That is, except for Sir Godric Gryffindor.’
I gasped and tugged at J.D.’s sleeve. He frowned and shook me off.
‘Sir Godric, a tall and burly man with a personality to match, diagnosed Cody with Squibism early in his apprenticeship,’ said Giraffe-Neck MacDougal. ‘He shared the king’s view on Muggles and decided to allow Cody to remain in his service. Knowing that Count Slytherin would most likely kill his younger son if he realised he was a Squib, Sir Godric felt a moral obligation to protect Cody. And so, the young knight—who was almost the same age as Cody’s elder brother—attempted to train the younger Slytherin for combat.
‘During his horseback riding lessons, Cody bit the horse. During his sword-fighting lessons, Cody bit Sir Godric’s squire. There was nothing in the world that Cody loved more than biting, and after five years, Sir Godric wondered if his generosity towards Cody had been a mistake. Seeking an audience with the count, he discovered that the old man had died and Salazar had taken his place.
‘It was then that Count Salazar and Sir Godric first met and became friends. United by their common hobbies, lyric poetry and tribal warfare, they debated what they ought to do with Cody. Unaware of his brother’s Squibishness, as he would be until they day that he died, Salazar suggested that he join a monastery, a fate reserved for only the third sons of noblemen. Godric reluctantly agreed.’
‘What’s a monastery?’ I interrupted.
‘It’s something to do with Muggle religion,’ said J.D. ‘It’s in a book of my dad’s.’
‘But sorcerers were not yet excluded from western religion,’ said Giraffe-Neck, trying to get back on subject. ‘Did you know that the majority of the Popes Leo were wizards? Well, except for the one that was a witch, but that’s a story for another day.’
‘Y’know what I don’t understand?’ said J.D. ‘Muggles who blow each other up cos of religion. They don’t even realise that most of their religions preach love and kindness and all the same morals, and loads of the monotheistic ones believe in the same God! Fine, they call Him by different names, but is that really a justifiable reason to hate one another? In the north of Ireland they’ve got the same messiah, the same holidays, and the same holy book, albeit with minor syntactical inconsistencies, and they still hate each other! Why do Muggles focus on the stupid differences in religion instead of the overwhelming similarities? “Love thy neighbour” my ass.’
‘Yes, you’re very smart, now step down from your soapbox,’ said Giraffe-Neck. ‘So Cody was banished to a monastery—’
‘I still don’t understand what a monastery is,’ I said.
‘It’s a place where you’re expected to shut your gob,’ said J.D. ‘And I think we can deduce that it isn’t as much fun as being a landgraf or knight.’
‘Anyways,’ Giraffe-Neck said with a dramatic wheeze, ‘Cody spent his life in a tiny monastery on a tiny island off the coast of Scotland until the end of his days. They knocked out all his teeth to break his biting habit and he never saw Count Salazar or Sir Godric again. Those two, of course, went on to great things and remained the best of friends.’
‘What about the great schism?’ asked J.D. ‘When Salazar left his little friend Basil locked up in Hogwarts?’
‘What about the ring?’ I piped up. ‘Cody’s ring?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Giraffe-Neck. ‘Whilst at the monastery, Cody developed a love for carving and metalwork. This was after they took away his teeth, you see, so he couldn’t physically speak anymore or chew anything but gruel. And let’s remember that Cody remained illiterate, so he couldn’t help with the massive transcription project the other monks were so keen on finishing.
‘After developing fairly proficient metalworking skills, Cody recalled the beautiful locket his father, and eventually his brother, had worn all the time. It was crafted from the purest silver in the shape of an oval, and set with flawless emeralds arranged in the shape of the letter S. This locket was the most valuable heirloom of the Slytherin family and it would be passed down through the generations for a thousand years until…well, you know.
‘But Salazar was the first-born son and he therefore inherited the locket that Cody treasured so very much. The younger Slytherin scoured the island where he led his monastic life for silver as fine as that of the locket, and emeralds as flawless as those in the locket. He would make his own keepsake to remember the family that he’d been expelled so unceremoniously from!’
J.D. grabbed the ring from my hands once more. ‘Iron! Pebble! And it’s not even a locket!’
Giraffe-Neck MacDougal snatched the ring from J.D. ‘It just needs a bit of polishing! And if you’d stop interrupting me, I’d tell you that Cody couldn’t find enough silver or emeralds on that remote island for a locket, so he opted for a ring instead.’
‘So that’s why there’s a C carved in it?’ I asked. ‘For Cody?’
‘Yes,’ said Giraffe-Neck solemnly. ‘For Saint Cody Slytherin, who’s all but been lost to history. Do not forget him, lads.’
I bowed my head in respect for a moment, then looked up at J.D.
‘You can’t seriously consider buying this piece of crap?’ he demanded. ‘It’s a load of tosh! Giraffe-Neck MacDougal probably made the thing himself!’
‘I did no such thing!’ insisted Giraffe-Neck, who was beginning to cough vigorously. ‘I’m a respectable businessman, I am! Why, I’ll include a certificate of authenticity! Just let me go draw it up.’
‘It’s a ring, J.S.,’ J.D. continued. ‘The only times you ever give a woman a ring are for an engagement, wedding, and however many anniversaries it takes to placate her.’
That was the saddest thing I’d ever heard in my entire life. Or at least in the course of that day. So far.
Well, at least he was starting to sound like my old J.Dizzle again.
‘How about a pre-engagement?’ Giraffe-Neck suggested.
‘Pardon?’ I said.
‘You know, a pre-engagement,’ the slightly disfigured old man said. ‘To say that one day, you intend to want to marry the girl. You do love her, right?’
‘With all my heart!’ I exclaimed.
‘You’re the single most gullible person on the planet,’ said J.D.
‘So pre-propose to her!’ said Giraffe-Neck. ‘Why, I was pre-engaged once. Beautiful young girl—nose like an elephant’s, but beautiful otherwise. Eventually gave back my pre-engagement ring, though. “Ebenezer!” she said. “I can’t marry a man who’s already married to his work!”’
‘That’s so sad,’ I said.
‘Ebenezer?’ said J.D.
‘I’m old,’ said Ebenezer MacDougal flatly.
‘J.S.!’ J.D. turned to me. ‘You can’t seriously be thinking of buying Tegan a pre-engagement ring! First of all, there’s no such thing, and secondly, you haven’t even told her you love her yet!’
‘Why not multitask?’ suggested Giraffe-Neck.
‘Why not be reasonable?’ J.D. spat.
‘Don’t let love pass you by, lad!’ said Giraffe-Neck. ‘You’ve got to trap it while you still can! Look what’s happened to me!’
‘If you give Tegan that wretched thing, she will turn you down!’ said J.D. ‘You haven’t even been dating for three months!’
‘It’ll be three months next week!’ I shouted. ‘And what do you know about love, anyways? What have you got for all your brooding and aloofness? Nothing! Your stupid plan to win back Rosie isn’t working, if you haven’t noticed! And what’s the longest relationship you’ve ever been in, two seconds? Who are you to tell me about love, J.D.?’
The air in the antiques shop suddenly became very heavy, as if it’d changed from gaseous to solid form without warning. J.D., whose fists were clenched, did not move a muscle, but instead imposed a long, hateful stare on me. I wanted to look away cos his vengeful stares were always so horrible, and this was the worst by far, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even open my mouth to apologise, even though I desperately wanted to…but I had meant those things, those awful things that I’d said. I didn’t mean to say them aloud, of course, but they’d been trapped in my subconscious for quite some time and had chosen this, of all moments, to make themselves known.
At the end of my internal soliloquy, as if on cue, J.D. spun ‘round and headed straight for the door. He exited the shop without a word, just a slam of the door, and I found myself alone with Giraffe-Neck MacDougal.
‘Will you be taking the ring, lad?’ he asked.
I didn’t answer him for an entire minute. ‘Yeah. I think I will.’
‘Excellent!’ said Giraffe-Neck, taking out a small velvet box and placing Cody’s ring inside. ‘That will be fifty galleons, please.’
I raised an eyebrow. ‘You can’t be serious. It’s a piece of twisted iron and a painted rock.’
He mulled it over. ‘Very well, then. Would you like it gift-wrapped?’
Giraffe-Neck gave a flick of his wand and the small black box was covered with faded green paper. A thin red ribbon tied itself around it all.
‘That will be ten galleons, sir,’ he said cheerfully.
‘I thought we agreed on two.’
Reluctantly, I shelled the coins out of my pocket and handed them to Giraffe-Neck MacDougal. He, in turn, handed me the wrapped box.
‘Do you have a connection to the Floo Network, perchance?’ I asked. J.D. could find his own way home.
‘There’s a fireplace to your left, lad,’ said Giraffe-Neck. ‘Jar of powder’s on the mantle. And have a Happy Christmas.’
I smiled faintly as I walked towards the fireplace. Grabbing a handful of Floo Powder and holding tightly to my parcel, I shouted, ‘Orchard House!’ and disappeared in a quick billow of smoke.
Orchard House is where me and my family live, you see. It’s kind of an ordinary name, I suppose, but we’re kind of an ordinary family. I mean, my mum, my dad, my brother and my sister are all boring on their own, but everything is always much more exciting at Christmastime. That’s when all my other relatives come to our house and everyone is a bit psychotic. My Granny Weasley used to do all of the cooking when we had Christmas at her house, but my mum’s inherited her zeal now that she’s too old and grandmotherly for the cooking. The pies are always delicious, at any rate.
Did I not make that clear? We always celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. It’s so everyone can celebrate real Christmas with their other families: the Delacours, the Van der Voorts, the Johnsons, the Grangers. We don’t have another family, cos Dad’s parents are dead, but we don’t mind. Christmas Eve with the Weasleys is enough Christmas for anyone.
Anyways, Orchard House is our cosy little residence surrounded by apple trees. I had to share a bedroom with Albus until I was fourteen, when my parents let me move into the attic. Mum says that cohabitation builds character and strengthens brotherly bonds, but me and Al have as much in common as Dad and Uncle Dudley do.
I hope Uncle Dudley’s family isn’t coming to Christmas. They’ve only come to a Weasley holiday spectacular once, and Freddie and I did a thorough job of permanently scarring (emotionally and physically, though the latter was unintentional) my cousins, Belinda and Hubert.
Not to say that Dad and Uncle Dudley don’t get on well…they’re just very polite and cordial to one another. And that’s the rapport between me and Albus.
Floo travel always tickles my tummy, so I giggled as I materialised in the kitchen fireplace at Orchard House. I double-checked that Tegan’s gift was still in the pocket of my robes, and proceeded to wipe the thin layer of soot off of myself. We were meeting for lunch on Boxing Day and I figured that I’d give the ring to her then. I also had second thoughts about the pre-engagement business—it was a fairly stupid idea, considering that she’d probably say no and if she didn’t, her father would probably defenestrate me. But I could surely give her the ring as a proclamation of my love…once she heard of my true feelings and the tragic historical significance of Cody Slytherin’s ring, how could she not be swept up in the romanticism of it all and realise that she’s madly in love with me too?
When I stepped out of the fireplace and into the kitchen proper, the delicious scent of apples and cinnamon wafting up my nasal passages, who did I spy but Tegan Llewellyn, swishing her wand and peeling apples at my kitchen table?
She grinned at me as my mum scurried over from the oven to flatten my untidy hair, spitting into her palm and running it over my untameable locks.
‘Where’ve you been?’ Mum demanded, her deep brown eyes the exact same hue as mine. ‘What took you so long? And why is your jaw hanging open like that?’
‘Tegan!’ I said, voice squeaking.
‘Don’t dodge the question,’ said Mum. ‘You know your Uncle George? Imagine growing up with two of him. Don’t think you can outsmart me, James. And Tegan’s parents are out of the country so I couldn’t very well let her spend Christmas alone.’
‘Separate countries,’ said Tegan, giving a flick of her wand to begin chopping the skinned apples. ‘Eleni’s in Monaco but Rhys is in Japan on business. I’m sure he would have brought me with him, but he left before I arrived home from school and I suspect he forgot that I was coming.’
‘So when I received Tegan’s weekly letter this morning, I couldn’t not invite her to spend Christmas Eve with us,’ said Mum. ‘Now, where have you been, exactly?’
‘Weekly letters?’ I asked. ‘You two regularly correspond?’
‘Of course,’ said Mum, going over to stand by Tegan. ‘Do pay better attention, James; this has been going on for quite a few years now. And I’ll ask you this only once more, or you’ll forfeit your pie privileges for this evening: Where in the name of Albus Dumbledore have you been all afternoon?’
For a moment, I felt like there was something caught in my throat. Side by side, there was something eerily similar about Tegan and my mum. It wasn’t necessarily a physical similarity: Tegan was tall, Mum was short; Mum was stout, Tegan was thin; Tegan was somewhere between blonde and brunette, Mum had distinctly red hair. But beyond any shadow of a doubt, I saw a parallel between the two of them: the I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile of a woman who likes Quidditch and isn’t afraid to run ‘round with the boys.
It was a conspiracy. No other explanation.
‘I was with J.D.,’ I said quickly. ‘We went out for ice cream and lost track of time.’
Tegan returned her attention to the apples, and Mum narrowed her eyes at me. ‘Ice cream,’ she said sceptically. ‘On Christmas Eve?’
‘We went to a Muggle ice cream parlour,’ I answered. ‘It’s traditional for Muggles to have ice cream for Christmas Eve.’
Before Mum could continue with the interrogation, Dad meandered into the kitchen, his eyes tired behind his glasses and his hair slightly more untidy than mine.
‘Nice to see you again, Tegan,’ he said, smiling warmly. ‘There you are, James. Where’ve you been all afternoon?’
‘Having a Christmas Eve ice cream with J.D.,’ Mum answered. ‘It’s typical for Muggles.’
Dad squinted at me before speaking again. ‘Oh…things have certainly changed since my time as a Muggle.’
‘J.D. says thank you for putting in a good word for him at the Ministry,’ I piped up.
‘Of course,’ said Dad, taking at seat at the table while Tegan levitated the apple slices into a large bowl. ‘I know what it’s like to be caught up in the inevitable malfunctionings of a judicial system. Your aunt should have an update on Micah’s situation when she arrives with Ron, Rose, and Hugo at any moment.’
‘You’d better go and get dressed, James,’ said Mum, checking something on the hob. ‘I’ve tied both of your shoes to the bed so they won’t wander off again.’
I threw my arms around her on my way out the door. ‘I love you, Mummy!’
‘I know, dear,’ she replied. I could tell that she was smiling by the sound of her voice.
I dashed down the corridor and up two flights of stairs, quick like a fast bunny. Ohmigodohmigodohmigod Tegan’s here!
What had originally been a quiet Christmas Eve with the Weasley clan (as quiet as those ever are, that is) had quickly escalated into mine and Tegan’s first family function as a bona fide couple. Although we would surely have many family functions to attend in our long and blissful life together, this first Christmas was certainly the most important. It had to be the very best Christmas of Tegan’s life, or she might not love me. (Though Christmas with the Richelieu-Llewellyns was probably never a barrel of laughs.) But I couldn’t take any chances—Tegan would have to meet and love everyone in my eccentric family or else she would surely break up with me. If this Christmas Eve was not the funnest, most romantic evening of her life, I could compose a requiem for my future happiness.
I selected my outfit and dressed in a matter of minutes. I tied my shoes as I ran to the trapdoor (which is no easy task), and descended the ladder from the attic to the first floor. I slid down the banister from the first to the ground floor and nearly collided with Tegan, who was waiting at the foot of the staircase.
‘Wow,’ she said, looking me up and down. ‘Did they let you out of the ball early, Prince Swanky?’
I grinned, knowing that that was Tegan Language for “I am impressed by your attire. Let’s go make a baby.”
‘I’ll have you know that my father was married in this suit,’ I said, patting down my hair. ‘Well, the trousers and the shirt and the waistcoat and the bowtie. I bought the tailcoat and top hat when the Muggle down the street, Mr Marley, died. I don’t quite like my dad’s old dress robes; they’re so turn of the millennium. Plus, this hat is the shiznit.’
I took it off my head and showed her how the tall part popped in and out. Pop, pop!
‘Do I feel underdressed,’ said Tegan, glancing down at her red jumper.
‘You look beautiful,’ I said very seriously. Sure, I looked better, but I usually had the advantage over Tegan when it came to couture. It’s one reason why we complement each other so well.
I offered her my arm and she took it, and so we strolled back to the kitchen. The picture would’ve been complete if only I had a cane and monocle.
‘Where’s Snuffles?’ asked Tegan.
‘He’s in the library,’ I answered. ‘Uncle Percy is allergic to dogs, so we have to keep him locked up.’
She looked compassionate. ‘To be honest, I’m terrified of meeting your family.’
‘What d’you mean?’ I said. ‘You get on eerily well with my mum and dad, and you already know Lily and Al.’
‘I mean everyone else,’ she said. ‘You’ve got quite a large family, James, and I’ve only met a small percentage of them. Plus, considering the bad luck I seem to have with my own family, the entire institution is a source of some anxiety for me.’
I patted her arm. ‘Tegs, they’re going to love you. Worry not, m’dear.’
We headed into the kitchen (Albus and Lily had shown up some time before) and discovered Granny Weasley and Mum in an intense argument over the boiling of potatoes.
‘Mum, you may not waltz into my home and order me around!’ said my mum. ‘I am not a child!’
‘I was simply making a suggestion!’ Granny Weasley exclaimed. ‘I happen to know a thing or two about potatoes!’
‘Molly, look, it’s the children,’ Dad said, artfully changing the subject.
Granny’s expression immediately changed from one of fury to that of joy. ‘James, Al, Lily!’ she cried, opening her arms as if to demand a hug.
We all knew the drill and promptly ran into her arms. Granny Weasley has a surprisingly long wingspan for an old lady, and it can accommodate all three of us kids.
‘Granny!’ said Lily, ever the sycophant.
‘Hi Granny Weasley!’ I said. ‘Did you Apparate over without any problem?’
‘Hello Lily, James, and Albus,’ she said, winking at the middle Potter child as she released all three of us. ‘And I’m afraid that I’m in no shape to Apparate anymore—Granddad borrowed a car and I daresay it made his year.’
‘Say hello to your grandfather, kids,’ said Mum.
‘Hello Granddad Weasley,’ me, Lily, and Al said to the wrinkled, bespectacled old man sitting where Tegan had prepared the apples.
‘What?’ he croaked, hard of hearing.
‘The children are saying hello!’ Granny Weasley shouted. ‘Arthur, did you forget to take the essence of babel fish that Healer Fezziwig gave you?’
‘What?’ said Granddad Weasley, affirmatively answering the query.
‘The man is impossible,’ said Granny. ‘Only wants to use a hearing aid! But is it covered by the Wizarding Health Service? Why, of course not! It’s a bloody Muggle contraption!’
‘Mum, I think there’s someone here you’ll want to meet,’ said my mum, motioning to Tegan (who had shrunk back to the doorway).
I grabbed her hand and led her over to Granny Weasley. ‘Granny, this is my girlfriend, Tegan Llewellyn. Tegan, this is my grandmother, Molly Weasley.’
‘Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mrs Weasley,’ said Tegan, holding her hand out to shake.
Granny took one evaluative look at Tegan before she grabbed her in an enveloping hug. ‘It’s Molly, dear!’ she exclaimed. ‘My, what a pretty face you have! Too skinny, though—you’ll feed her up, won’t you Ginny? No one should be this thin at Christmastime!’
‘Of course, Mum,’ placated Mum. She glanced at me and nodded towards Granddad Weasley.
Prying Tegan from Granny’s grasp, I brought her over to my grandfather. ‘Granddad, this is my girlfriend, Tegan!’ I shouted.
‘What?’ he replied.
‘Tegan!’ I repeated. ‘This is Tegan!’
‘Tea? It’s nearly dinnertime!’ said Granddad.
Granny scurried over. ‘James got himself a girlfriend!’ she shrieked. ‘Say hello!’
‘Oh, hello,’ said Granddad Weasley. ‘I’m Arthur. My babel fish potion tastes like rotten fish wrapped in newspaper.’
‘Hold your nose while you swallow it!’ said Granny, aghast. ‘How complicated is that?’
It was a welcome interruption when Uncle Ron announced his arrival from the foyer.
‘We’re in the kitchen!’ yelled Granny. ‘They’ve given the house elf the night off, so you’ll have to show yourselves in!’
‘You have a house elf?’ Tegan whispered to me.
‘Nope,’ I said. ‘Granny is nearly always sarcastic with Uncle Ron. Plus Aunt Hermione would Avada Kedavra us or something. She’s an advocate for house elf rights.’
So then Uncle Ron, Aunt Hermione, Rose, and Hugo joined us in the kitchen, which was nearing full capacity.
‘James,’ said Aunt Hermione as Hugo stood next to Al and Rose stood beside Lily, ‘I’ve just come from where they’re holding your friend Micah. Lewd Wig, apparently, has another stalker—I mean, a real stalker—and they’re trying to blame Micah. He wasn’t even born when this man allegedly began stalking Lewd Wig! But, Micah has a large nose, which fits the profile. Don’t worry, I’ll have all charges dropped by the end of this week, but Micah told me to give you these.’
She handed me a stack of flyers that said:
Hi, I’m Micah Horowitz, and I’m being wrongfully detained by the Ministry for Magic. We’re organising a rally outside Vice-Chancellor DeJure’s house at midday on 31st December, and anyone who wants to fight the Man is invited. Also, I’d really appreciate it if you made a donation to my legal defence fund at the address below, by Muggle or owl post.
Micah’s home address in Durham was listed, followed by a caricature of him peeking between the iron bars of a jail cell.
‘Oh, would you like some too?’ Aunt Hermione asked Tegan, handing her the rest of Micah’s flyers.
‘Aunt Hermione, Uncle Ron, this is my girlfriend, Tegan,’ I said.
‘Oh, hello!’ said Aunt Hermione, pulling Tegan into a quick and awkward hug. ‘I should have realised, I’ve heard all about you from Rose and Hugo!’
‘Mum!’ Rose whined. ‘You’re so embarrassing.’
‘Chin up, Rosie,’ said Uncle Ron in that tone parents use to annoy their kids. ‘You’ve been irritable since you arrived home and since you won’t tell us why, at least make an effort to be pleasant tonight.
‘Nice to meet you,’ he said as he shook Tegan’s hand. ‘We’d more or less given up on James here.’
My face went red as Tegan grinned at me.
‘Why don’t you kids go to the sitting room?’ Mum suggested. ‘Finish trimming the tree. I can’t cook with all of you in here.’
‘Let me boil the potatoes!’ said Granny Weasley as Al, Hugo, Rose, Lily, Tegan, and I exited.
‘No!’ Mum’s voice resonated.
‘What?’ piped Granddad Weasley.
My cousins and siblings ran down the corridor, but Tegan and I slowed our pace. I entwined my hand with hers.
‘Aw, they love the ugly duckling of their family,’ she said, pinching my cheek.
I smiled as I swatted her arm away. ‘It’s interesting that none of my relatives have much faith in my courtship skills.’
‘I think the mere fact that you use words like “courtship” may indicate why,’ said Tegan.
I began to turn into the sitting room, but Tegan stopped short. I realised why when I saw who was standing at the front door.
‘Professor Longbottom!’ said Tegan, taken aback. ‘Er…Mrs Longbottom. Dobby.’
‘Can I take your coats?’ I said cordially.
Neville, whose grim eye patch matched his normally gruff expression, smiled widely. ‘Pleasure to see you again, James, Tegan.’
‘It’s so nice to meet you,’ said Hannah to Tegan. ‘James, you’re such a dear.’
The three Longbottoms took off their coats and handed them to me, and I proceeded to stash them in the coat closet.
‘Mum and Dad and everyone are in the kitchen,’ I said to Neville and Hannah. ‘Dobby, Lily and Hugo are in the sitting room there.’
‘Nice tailcoat,’ Dobby snickered as his parents headed to the kitchen.
‘Thank you,’ I said, haughty.
‘Are you…related…to the Weasleys, Dobby?’ Tegan inquired as the three of us meandered into the sitting room.
‘No, of course not,’ said Dobby. ‘We sometimes come to the Potters’ for Christmas Eve. Gran Augusta is gone now, and we visit my dad’s parents Christmas Day—they’re at St Mungo’s, not at all well—and we visit Mum’s parents Christmas Night. Oh, James, I don’t know if your mum got the message, but the Scamanders can’t make it this year. They’re on a safari or something.’
‘Yeah, Mum knows,’ I said, inwardly grateful that Snorky Scamander couldn’t ruin my Christmas Eve this year.
‘And Hagrid’s not coming, either,’ said Dobby. ‘He’s fallen ill or something, so he’s staying at school.’
In the sitting room, Rose, Lily, and Hugo watched Al levitate baubles onto the branches of the tree. Albus is usually the one to do most of the actual work in our family. It’s one reason why he’s such a bitter fifteen-year-old, but Dad reckons that he’ll get over this phase by his sixteenth birthday. It’s like clockwork with the men in our family: For three hundred and sixty-five days, I was as perky as Fancy New J.D., though markedly perkier than J.Dizzle.
I hope J.Dizzle comes back soon. His tantrum at Giraffe-Neck MacDougal’s was a good sign.
Tegan smiled faintly at my siblings and cousins. ‘Hi everyone! Happy Christmas!’
‘Oh yeah, Happy Christmas…the vile consumerism, destruction of millions of fir trees, the figgy pudding,’ Al grumbled. ‘My absolute favourite holiday. There’s absolutely nothing sickening about Christmas, no there is not.’
See! Isn’t that something J.Dizzle would have said? I dunno, maybe Insufferable Fifteen-Year-Old Syndrome runs in his family too. Only he had it ‘til he was seventeen. What’s it called, when someone’s stuck in a perpetual state of prickish adolescence? Arrested development or something?
Maybe J.D. grew out of it. Sigh.
‘You’re thinking about J.D., aren’t you?’ Rosie asked me. ‘I know that look anywhere. I used to get that look. Used to.’
‘What are you talking about? You still get it, Rose,’ said Albus. ‘Quit kidding yourself. You’re not over him.’
‘Al, it’s best to leave meddling with someone else’s psyche to a medical professional,’ said Dobby.
‘You’re not a bloody medical professional!’ Al cried. ‘You’re a thirteen-year-old boy with a clipboard!’
‘I’ve just turned fourteen, I’ll have you know!’ said Dobby.
‘Hi Tegan,’ Lily said with a big grin. ‘Enjoying Christmas so far?’
‘Er,’ said Tegan, ‘shouldn’t we do something? Albus is starting to pull Dobby’s hair.’
Lily swatted the air nonchalantly. ‘No, it’s best to let them work out their issues. Dobby’s a very brilliant analyst/therapist and before the night’s over, he’ll have Al all sorted out. Now you two are just the most adorable couple I’ve ever seen!’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
‘Simply precious. Something out of a romance novel,’ Lily continued.
‘We strive for…preciousness,’ said Tegan with a hint of distaste.
‘I wonder what your children will look like,’ mused Lily. ‘Tall and thin, great noses, but you both have rather murky eyes. Like mud or rust…well, Tegan’s are like that green sort of rust. Do you know what I mean? But tall, malnourished-looking children with great noses and rust-coloured eyes and I don’t even know what hair colour! You’ve got the genes for just about anything!’
During the course of Lily’s monologue, Dobby had grabbed Al’s glasses and put them on. He ran around the room in a most taunting fashion.
‘Your family’s kind of mental,’ Tegan whispered to me. ‘Of course my family’s mental too, but in a much more malicious way. Yours is a nice kind of mental.’
‘But very well-intentioned,’ I replied, smirking. ‘They do care, even if they’ve got odd ways of showing it.’
And then came the barrage of relatives, like a mass breakout from Azkaban: Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey and Octo, Molly, and Lucy; Uncle Bill and Tante Fleur and Louis (who just graduated Hogwarts) and Madeleine; Teddy Lupin and Victoire (who haven’t eloped, as far as I can tell); Uncle George and Aunt Angelina and Freddie (yay!) and Roxanne; Teddy’s grandmother Andromeda (who needs to address her passive-aggressive tendencies, Dobby says); and Uncle Charlie (who’s not married and therefore vexes Granny Weasley).
And yes, I got a number of compliments on my attire.
‘Wow,’ said Tegan when the sitting room had filled with kids and the adults had migrated to the kitchen. ‘I didn’t know that half of those people existed…Molly and Lucy, they’re at Hogwarts? And Roxanne too?’
‘I haven’t mentioned them?’ I said. ‘Hmm…in my defence, you’d think Freddie would’ve mentioned his own sister at some point over the past six years. But she’s twelve, so who really cares, yeah? Molly and Lucy…I dunno how old they are. They’re short, though.’
‘And why are they just…nice…to me?’ she asked. ‘They don’t even know me. Hell, in my family, you distrust a newcomer first and ask questions later. Why does everyone already like me?’
I shrugged. ‘That’s de facto Weasley behaviour. Trust first and ask questions later.’
‘Oi, turtle doves!’ Freddie shouted. ‘Aunt Ginny says that dinner is ready!’
And ready it was! Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, parsnips, and roast potatoes for us and carrots and sherry and a mince pie for Father Christmas. Mum usually roasts a goose for Christmas Day, and if you don’t know, goose tastes really gross. No one likes to eat it (even Dad has trouble pretending that it’s delicious) so the five of us Potters usually eat leftover turkey on Christmas Day too.
I think you’re supposed to eat Christmas pudding on the 25th as well, but we never do on Christmas Eve. Dessert is quite obviously the highlight of any meal, and it’s silly to ruin it with stuff no one likes. I mean, maybe some people out there like Christmas pudding, but the Weasleys don’t. We prefer the crusted desserts.
There is one overwhelming reason I know Tegan is my soul mate, and I discovered it during the dessert course: She loves apple pie. I always knew that she loved pie, of course, but it’s especially significant that she loves apple pie. We Weasleys eat apple pie on every major holiday. Why should Americans have dibs on apple pie? I live in a fricking orchard!
Anyways, Tegan ate four slices of pie and impressed nearly everyone in my family, except Tante Fleur, who is anorexic and made a pfuit! noise. (We pushed together every table in the house and squeezed just about everyone into the dining room.) We had other varieties of pie at the table: mince pie, custard tart, rhubarb pie, treacle tart. But Tegan went straight for the apple, which is my very favourite type of pie.
If that isn’t true love, then I don’t know what is.
The pie thing got me thinking about Cody Slytherin’s ring. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that I should give it to Tegan and at least proclaim my love. I could do it during the traditional Weasley Christmas Eve Exchanging of the Gifts (not Father Christmas gifts, but the gifts we give each other). It would be so romantic with everyone watching!
The pre-engagement thing was a less brilliant plan, I thought. It’s the sort of thing I would normally discuss with my mum…but she’d either be mad at me or let it slip to Tegan. Dad’s not the romantic sort at all, plus it would take forever to explain the concept of a pre-engagement to him and he still wouldn’t understand. Freddie would think I was insane, I wasn’t speaking to J.D. and I couldn’t write to him in time.
All us kids went to the sitting room after dinner, while our dads washed dishes and our mums put the extra food in the icebox. I just about chewed all my nails off as I sat on the sofa, wedged between Tegan and Freddie. I barely heard the shouts of Dobby’s attempted psychoanalysis of Albus and Madeleine’s scream when she realised that her nail polish had chipped.
Tegan poked me. ‘You look like a zombie. A zombie with a taste for human fingernails.’
I laughed, but it sort of came out like a bark. ‘Ha! Ha!’
‘I wonder if zombies are real,’ said Tegan. ‘I mean, vampires are real and werewolves are real, so why not zombies? Freddie,’ she reached over and shoved him, ‘are zombies real?’
‘I dunno,’ said Freddie. ‘Not to sound rude, but how the hell would I know?’
‘Teddy Lupin!’ she called as our Defence teacher entered the sitting room. ‘Are there such things as zombies?’
Apparently he thought he was an adult now, cos he’d helped the men with the Scourgifying of the dishes. ‘They prefer the term “mortality-challenged,”’ said Teddy Lupin, grabbing Dobby by his collar and stopping Al from ripping Dobby’s throat out. ‘What we have in Britain are revenants, which are more like vampires than Haitian zombies. What’s particularly interesting is that—’
But I stopped listening, as I usually did when Teddy Lupin went all educational. Tegan smelled really, really good—not like citrus, as she usually did, but like cinnamon. So I just sat there and smelled her while Victoire wheeled Andromeda into the room and Uncle Ron assisted Granddad Weasley.
‘What?’ said Granddad.
‘We’re opening gifts soon!’ said Uncle Ron, helping him into a high-backed armchair. ‘Stay right there!’
When all the rest of the adults trickled into the room, Mum yelled at us kids to get off the ruddy furniture so that the people who cooked our dinner and washed our dishes could have someplace to sit. I gingerly crouched to the floor, afraid that I’d wrinkle my tailcoat.
‘Now you look like a zombie who’s about to be sick,’ said Tegan, feeling my forehead with the back of her hand. ‘Or a revenant. Whatever.’
Then the children rushed to the tree and their gifts beneath it, like an irate herd of bulls charging along a Spanish street. Since Tegan wouldn’t be receiving any gifts (that she knew of!), I chivalrously abstained from opening any of mine. (To be fair, no one knew that she was coming until that day, and Granny Weasley apologised a dozen times, citing that were this not the case, she would have brought something for Tegan. Then she chastised my mum for not having the decency to tell her about our very special guest and Mum shouted at her and Granddad Weasley said ‘What?’ a few more times.)
Generally speaking, most Weasleys are crap at gift-giving. There were six encyclopaedias, two bottles of ink, three toothbrushes and twelve pairs of socks exchanged that Christmas Eve, among other mediocre items. It’s not that we don’t put any thought into the gifts we select; we’re just terrible at knowing what sort of gift the other person would like to receive. Fortunately, Father Christmas always does damage control the next day and fixes everything. Of course he’s managed to make a career out of gift-giving, he’s ace! Some people subscribe to the ludicrous theory that the entire Father Christmas phenomenon is a conspiracy, but they’re just people who don’t have the magic inside them.
You know what is a conspiracy? When your mum and your girlfriend are in cahoots.
‘Hey James,’ said Tegan, running over to the Christmas tree, ‘you’ll at least open my gift, won’t you?’
It wasn’t exactly wrapped, but she held a small cage with a bow on it. Inside was a…
‘Pygmy puff!’ I exclaimed as she handed me the cage and sat back down beside me.
‘Yeah,’ said Tegan, grinning. ‘I know you miss Snuffles when you’re away at school, and your uncle George told me that you had a pygmy puff when you were younger—’
I let the pink little thing out of its cage and it flew up onto my shoulder. ‘Betsy!’ I cried. ‘And I’m going to call this little girl Betsy II!’
Betsy gurgled and nuzzled my ear, and everyone let out a group “Awww!”
Tegan looked so pleased that she found the absolute perfect gift that I went “Awww!” too, but it was only in my head.
I love you, I thought. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have found you.
‘I have something for you too, Tegan,’ I said, my mouth suddenly dry. I tried to pull Betsy off my shoulder but she’d somehow suctioned herself to my tailcoat, and I certainly couldn’t have taken it off then! So I reached into my pocket for the ring box and kneeled on one leg, and Betsy, gargling or cooing or whatever sound it is that pygmy puffs make, securely fastened to my shoulder.
‘What,’ said Tegan in a cold, flat voice.
‘What?’ chirped Granddad Weasley.
‘Could you please stand up?’ I requested of Tegan. ‘It works better when you stand up.’
She reluctantly got up off the floor and peered down at me, her arms crossed.
‘Are you shitting me?’ I thought I heard my brother say from across the room.
‘May I have your attention, everyone!’ I said.
The air in the sitting room suddenly became very heavy, as if waiting on what I said next. Or maybe it was the collective holding of breath by four Potters, twenty-one Weasleys, three Longbottoms, one Lupin, and one Tonks.
Betsy was breathing fine, by the way.
‘I love you, Tegan Llewellyn,’ I said very seriously, opening the box and revealing Cody Slytherin’s ring.
And then thirty people collectively sighed of relief.
‘Really?’ Tegan said, her voice strangely high. Her eyes were wide too.
Knowing that that was the best opening I was going to get, I said, ‘I have something I’d like to ask you.’
Thirty people held their breaths again. Maybe it was thirty-two, cos Tegan pursed her lips really tight and Betsy had stopped gurgling.
Does a pygmy puff qualify as a person? I think it should.
‘Tegan Llewellyn,’ I said, feeling more sure of myself than I ever had, ‘will you one day do me the honour of considering marrying me?’
A/N: Before anyone yells at me…I wrote the beginning of this story before JKR revealed the Weasley family tree and got very little right, but you all know that. And after much thought, I’ve sort of combined JKR’s family tree with my own…it’s almost better this way, since there’s more people and it’s more confusing, and it contributes to the tone. And yes, that’s the excuse I’m sticking with.
And cliffhangers are evil, but I don’t write them very often. I’ve had this chapter planned for a very long time, so I prefer the term “gamechanger” to “jumping the shark.”
And I can hardly verbalize how grateful I am to everyone who’s reviewed. “Thank you” seems way too callous, but thank you. =)
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