On a Holiday Night
"Hey Anthony! Anthony! Oi -- Goldstein!"
Anthony looked up from his chair near the window, where he had two open books, a parchment scroll and an inkwell balanced on his lap. "Say what?"
"Come on, you'll be late for the feast."
"Oh," said Anthony. "Oh, I'm not going." He gestured to his books. "I thought I'd do a general potions crib, tonight. But have a good time."
"Potions crib? But it's Christmas!"
Exactly, Anthony thought to himself. It's not my holiday and not my feast. But he simply smiled thinly and turned back to his work, ignoring his housemates' remonstrations until they would give up and leave without him. The essential components of any potion of the mind were… dried pennyroyal, unicorn hair, tentacula venom, lacewings, and… and… tarantula legs? No. Wolfsbane? He reached for Potions: Theory and Fundamentals.
"Merry Christmas, Anthony." He looked up at Luna Lovegood. "Merry Christmas," she repeated, thrusting a card at him. Anthony stared at it. Luna? Giving him a Christmas card? "Don't worry," she said. "It might be paper, and not parchment, but I checked it for Javanese Pixie droppings before I used it."
"Oh, you know," said Luna. "They're nonnative and quite the pest. They live in paper and their urine makes it go all brown and flaky."
"Oh," said Anthony.
"Aren't you going to open it?"
Anthony carefully broke the seal and unfolded the card, half-expecting an explosion.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, he read. But his anticipations were not disappointed, as the card began to sing.
Good wizards all rejoi-oi-oice,
With wands and souls and voi-oi-oice!
Give ye heed to what we say:
News! News! Jesus Christ was born today!
Quickly, he shut it, but to no avail.
Dementors all before Him flee,
The ultimate Patronus, He;
Christ is born today-ay;
Christ is born today!
"You don't like that one?" Luna offered, "Here." She took the card and opened it again.
God rest ye merry hippogriffs
Let nothing you dismay,
But know that Christ Our Saviour
Was born upon this day,
The paper now bore the music and words to 'God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs.' Luna began to sing along with the card, which changed from playing the melody to harmonizing with her.
To save us all, wizards and beasts,
When we shall go astray
Oh, magical tidings of joy, tidings of joy,
Oh, magical tidings of joy.
"You see?" She said, as the card began the second verse. "It can do twenty or so different ones."
"But how do you make it stop?" Anthony asked.
"Stop?" Luna said. "Don't you like it?"
"Er…" said Anthony, "it's very nice, and brilliant magic. But I'm not a Christian. I don't celebrate Christmas."
"Oh. I'm sorry, then." Luna tapped the card three times, and it quieted. "There you are."
"Would you like it back?" Anthony said, holding the paper out.
"Oh, no, you keep it. Perhaps you can give it to someone." Luna turned away. "You'd better hurry up and finish that if you don't want to be late to the feast," she said.
"I'm not going to the feast." But she had already passed through the tapestry-door and out of the Ravenclaw Common Room.
Anthony sighed. It had been the same thing all day. This morning, Terry Boot had given him the oddest look when he had put all of his presents aside unopened. It would already be the third night of Hanukkah that night: he could have opened the two he would have opened the last two nights, had all presents not been held until and distributed on Christmas morning. But he had suddenly not wanted to give in to the gentile holiday. It wasn't that Hanukkah was important at all -- it wasn't -- but watching the preparations of the last few days, he had become determined to acknowledge Christmas as little as possible. . Every other year, he had been at home, had not had to deal either with the isolation or the oppressively omnipresent gentile holiday. But this year, Mum and Dad and Benjamin were going to visit his older sister at her Muggle-Magical Kibbutz in Israel, and they wouldn't be back home until the holidays were already over. It was just a day like any other for a Jewish boy alone at school for the winter holidays who had forgotten his menorah. To show how ordinary it was, he would get through two O.W.L. practice papers this evening!
It was almost sundown when he finished the first paused to stretch before checking it against the answers. At home, he would have been fighting with Benjamin over who would light the candles tonight. But on to more important things. He sorted through the pile at his feet to find the answer scroll. Good… Good… Mostly good, but why hadn't he thought of analyzing stirring speeds in greater depth on that question? Good… no. Not good. Had they misprinted the question, then? No. It was clear that both sheets were asking about the non-antidotal uses of a bezoar. But he was sure that neither Professor Snape nor any of his books had ever said anything about using bezoars to make Un-neutralizable Nostrums, while that seemed to make up the greater part of the key's answer. And what was Thrym's Law?
Potions: Theory and Fundamentals barely mentioned bezoars, and then only in conjunction with antidotes and as an example of a Multipurpose Alchemical. Preparing for the Potions O.W.L. had a brief entry on Thrym's Law: 'First formulated by Eugenius Thrym in his De Sorbitionibus (1252) and confirmed by Flamel in the 16th century, Thrym's Law states the relationship between elements of a potion that would ordinarily be at odds with the function of the potion, for example, Antimony in the Draught of Peace. The understanding of this law was a tremendous breakthrough for modern Potion-making, as it allowed wizards to go beyond the simple combinations of like and logically conjunctive ingredients that had marked Ancient and Medieval Potions.' Which was barely any help at all. What he needed was a statement of Thrym's Law. Techniques and Theories of Advanced Potions Making was no better. Perhaps if he could find De Sorbitionibus -- he had been wanting to try the Translation Charm that Professor Flitwick had mentioned just before the holidays began… but with the library closed for Christmas, where… Carefully gathering his books and papers into his schoolbag, he set out for Professor Snape's office.
It was one of the advantages of the holidays, he had found, that the professors were almost always around and even more frequently willing to offer extra help. He and Zenobia Glendower had gotten an hour and a half tutorial on advanced Vanishing techniques from Professor McGonagall the other day, and Professor Flitwick had given him some excellent tips for wand-movement drills when he had gone to him with a question about controlled Cheering Charms. Professor Snape, it was true, was somewhat less good-natured about such things, but Anthony felt that he had a very fair question. Of course, he thought gloomily as he passed a row of suits of armor who were singing carols much like the ones Luna had bewitched into her card, it was very unlikely -- no, it was just about impossible, that Professor Snape would be in his office. But he had been staring at the neatly-printed sign on the notice board all day: "The Library will be CLOSED 25 December. Merry Christmas." And if he couldn't find the Potions Master tonight, he would try again tomorrow. But Professor Snape was often absent from the Great Hall while school was in session, and it was possible, just possible, that he would be busy with some project of his own tonight, some project even more important than the Christmas feast.
He was in luck, he thought, as he rounded the last dungeon corridor to see a thin shaft of light coming from under Professor Snape's ajar door. He approached, ready to knock, rehearsing what he planned to say. 'I'm sorry to bother you, Professor, but I came across something that wasn't familiar at all and that I couldn't find in any of my books, and I was wondering if you could explain it, please.' But before his knuckles hit the door, he was stopped by the sound of other words.
"Baruch ata Adonai, eluhainu melech ha-olam…"
Anthony froze, surprised and amazed. Was Professor Snape… Professor Snape was… But--
"Who is it?" A cold voice snapped. The door opened. "Oh. What do you want, Goldstein?"
But-- "Snape isn't a Jewish name," blurted Anthony before he could stop himself. "That is, I mean, sir, I--"
"Snapowitz," said the Potions Master softly, as though he was bored with the telling. "Changed when my grandparents emigrated."
"Then… then," Anthony mumbled, still not sure he could believe his eyes or ears, "Then you're a Jew…"
"Evidently, Goldstein." The professor's voice was impatient, now. "But may I assume that you had another reason for disturbing me tonight?"
Anthony barely attended to his words. He wasn't alone. There was someone else in Hogwarts like him; someone else from the same traditions. He had visions of keeping the High Holy Days together, the Passover Seder -- for surely Professor Snape knew of Jewish wizards in Hogsmeade. Perhaps the Potions Master could even direct him to a rabbi with whom to study the Talmud. Even a month ago, Anthony would never have thought himself so invested in his religious traditions. But this week of constant Christmas had made him all that much more aware of who he was, he thought. "Professor, I--"
But Snape was scrutinizing him, and he seemed angry. "It means nothing, Goldstein, nothing!" His voice was suddenly harsh. "No more than that tree in the Great Hall has true meaning."
"But sir, you… all alone … still…"
"It's easy, to light a few candles and say the words, Goldstein," the professor sneered, gesturing towards the comfortingly familiar menorah on the mantle. "Very easy. To sit through services on occasion, to abstain from certain foods, and then to call oneself a member of the Chosen People, universally kin to one another-- I would expect even a child like you to be less naive."
"Professor -- I don't understand."
"Following the Jewish tradition does not predicate virtue, Goldstein," Professor Snape said, his eyes flashing blackly. "It does not predicate goodness any more than going faithfully to Mass does. And you're a fool if you think otherwise!
"But surely, sir, surely there must be some reason it's gone on for so long, religion?"
"Of that I have no idea," Snape said. "And I am not, despite all your premature assumptions to the contrary, interested in the question."
There was silence for a moment, while Anthony tried to remember what he had originally come for. "Sir," he said, feeling like the world's most stupidly brave Gryffindor, "there is a reason why you keep practicing Judaism, though. There must be. It must mean something." Snape said nothing, but looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Even if it's just… just a way to remind yourself that you have something to compare with all this… this gentile stuff." Not most gracefully put, but Anthony thought it might be effective. Could he have touched something in the bitterness that surrounded the Potions Master?
"A pretty speech, Goldstein. Now kindly leave me in peace." Snape made as if to turn away.
"But professor--" Without thinking, Anthony put out his hand to touch the man's left arm. Reacting with strange delay, Snape intook his breath sharply in what was almost a gasp. He shook himself loose, rubbing the forearm, and Anthony could no longer see anger, but surprise, and perhaps fear in his eyes. "I'm sorry, professor," he said quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt--"
"Never mind, Goldstein." Snape cut him off. "But I really cannot entertain you further tonight." He strode to the mantle and cupped his hand behind the flames.
He was going to blow them out, Anthony realized. "No!" he shouted, without really thinking. "You can't do that! Sir."
Snape turned. "My patience is already gone, Goldstein. I am going out tonight, and I have no reason to tempt the fireproofing charms on my walls. Now go!"
"Sir," Anthony said, wondering if perhaps he shouldn't request to be resorted into Gryffindor if he left Snape's office alive, "Might I take it? I'd be very careful, I swear, and I'd bring it back straight tomorrow."
The professor simply looked at him. "Very well," he said impatiently, "but I warn you, Goldstein, if anything untoward happens, I shall know, and I shall take measures."
"Yes, sir, of course." Anthony felt a little triumphant, not to mention amazed that Professor Snape had agreed. There was something there, something that understood and cared. Snape carefully lifted the candelabra down and handed it to him. "Thank you sir. And -- Happy Hanukkah!"
"I shall not warn you to leave again, Goldstein."
Anthony walked slowly down the corridor, taking pains not to jostle the candles or breath except over his shoulder. He would go to the library tomorrow; tonight, it was a holiday. He did not look back, and so did not see the Potions Master standing in his doorway, watching the candle-glow bobble and waiting until it disappeared into the darkness before closing and locking his door.