She had gotten used to carrying heavy things without the help of magic. When living under the same roof as Tobias Snape, she had learned to do that quickly.
But carrying heavy things without the help of magic when you were nearly nine months pregnant was an entirely different story.
Eileen Meghan Prince-Snape waddled down the small staircase, a large box in hands. When she reached the sitting room, she practically fell to the floor. Panting, she gave the menacing box a triumphant smirk.
"I managed without using my wand at all," she declared proudly to no one.
Eileen opened up the box to reveal Christmas lights and some round ornaments. Humming contently to herself, she began stringing up the lights. It was Christmas Eve, and the 'spirit of the holidays' was catching up to her. She could not recall feeling this satisfied in a long while, but things were about to change.
As she finished draping the (Muggle-made) lights across the tree, she paused for a moment and dropped onto the couch. Eileen rubbed her stomach, smiling.
"You're going to change everything," she whispered. "Tobias will not feel as threatened by my magic abilities with you around. Life will be easier on all of us."
How she wished she could completely believe the words she said to her unborn child. Would a young person relax Tobias' frayed nerves? Or merely agitate them more?
Eileen pushed herself off the couch and knelt beside the box again. Amidst the shinning circular ornaments, there were some others as well. She delicately reached into the box and pulled one out.
She smiled faintly. It was the small bride and groom that had adorned the top of her and Tobias' wedding cake several years ago. The figures were roughly carved, and the paint was chipped in places, but she cradled it lovingly anyway. She gazed into the miniature faces that were supposed to resemble hers and her husband's. There, of course, wasn't much resemblance. But there was something about those little figures that Eileen felt should also still be present in their models: happiness.
She dug into the bottom of the box and pulled out a hook. She tried fruitlessly for several minutes to fasten the blasted object onto the wooden bride and groom, then with a rather unattractive grunt magicked the hook on. She hung it on one of the branches carefully. Her painted brown eyes and delicate pink smile beamed at her.
Eileen resumed her hunt through the box, hanging the more average ornaments across the branches. To her delight she located another that was not the average decoration. It was the figure of a baby, wrapped tightly in a blanket. Tobias' father had fashioned it for them shortly after hearing the news of Eileen's pregnancy. She fixed the object in a more noticeable spot on the tree, then stepped back to admire the affect. As she gazed at the figurine, she felt renewed hope surge in her. Maybe they would truly be alright. Maybe they would truly be a real family.
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly – fa la la la la, la la la la…."
Eileen cocked her head to listen. There must be carolers outside.
"'Tis the jolly to be in season…"
She cringed, suddenly recognizing the deep voice that carried the trace of a drunken slur.
"Dum dum da da la, la la da da…."
And sure enough, none other than Tobias Snape barged through the front door, still doing his own version of a carol.
"Don we apparel now our gay – tra fa la, la la da – ah, whatever the hell it is." He trooped into the living room and fell onto the couch, squinting at her blearily.
"Hello, Tobias," she ventured timidly, unsure whether he was in one of his 'moods'; as she had termed it. "Merry Christmas Eve."
"You too," Tobias mumbled wearily.
Thank Merlin, Eileen thought, watching him. Must truly be an early Christmas miracle that, though he's surely drunk, he's not angered. Yet, at least.
"I was just decorating the tree," Eileen went on carefully. "Would you like to help?"
She knew better than to press the issue, so she simply dove her hands back into the box. She came up with another ornament and smiled sadly. She stood and tottered over to the sofa, seating herself next to Tobias.
"Look," she said, holding it out to him. "Remember this?"
Familiarity stirred in his bloodshot eyes. He nodded. "Yep. My dad made it after my mum passed away."
"Yes," she said, rather surprised that he recognized the item. It was a delicate wooden piece, formed into the shape of a rose, with careful red paint-strokes. They had been Liana Snape's favorite.
Tobias took the object from her, studying it carefully for a few moments. Eileen watched him, fascinated at how calmed he had suddenly become. In those several quiet moments, she saw the man she had married: gentle, thoughtful, observant. Granted, he also possessed a sarcastic wit and a bite to his temper, but she loved all those qualities. She treasured the moments when that man returned, though those moments had been decreasing steadily all the time. Pressures of work, the influence of alcohol, fear of his wife's powers…they had all reduced him to the raging and abusive person that frequently stormed through the house.
"You gonna hang it up or what?"
His demand snapped her out of her thoughts. Tobias looked at her expectantly. "Hang it up. On the tree."
"Yes, of course," she said, taking the object back from him and fixing it among the branches.
"Oh, got somethin' else for the tree," Tobias grunted, digging something out of his pocket. "From work. They gave one to every bloody idiot who works there."
He held it up for her inspection. The adornment reeked of cheapness. It was a simple red sphere, with words stamped on in faded white ink: Jones & Mitchell Construction.
"It's – " Eileen began.
"Horrid," Tobias finished for her. He shut his eyes. "I'm goin' to get a promotion before the baby's born if it's the last damn thing I do…"
She wobbled towards him and kissed his cheek lightly. "You do wonderful where you are. We'll be fine, promotion or no."
He smiled blearily, then rubbed his eyes. "I'm gonna turn in. You comin'?"
"In a minute," she said, hanging the embellishment on a branch. Tobias lumbered to his feet and staggered towards their bedroom, continuing his caroling.
"Said the night lamb to the little wind: 'do you smell what I hear?..."
Eileen stepped back and stood, staring at the tree. Something was missing.
She glanced nervously around to make sure Tobias was truly gone from the room. Then she silently summoned something from the attic.
A tiny object whizzed down the steps, straight into her palm. She opened her hand and gazed at the familiar item. Every member of the Prince family owned one, a tradition that had been going on for as long as she could remember, perhaps farther. The ornament was a glittering gold crown, poking slight fun at the family's surname. Attached at an angle was a wand that sporadically would emit tiny sparks.
She had not pulled out the object in years. It represented two things Tobias hated: her family, and magic.
With another wary look around the room, she moved towards the tree and slipped the garnish on. She stuck it far into the tree, so it would not be outwardly visible. She stepped back to see if it was noticeable. It was not. If you looked very closely, you could see the little lights shooting out from the wand. Tobias would assume it was something with the electricity.
Eileen rubbed her stomach gently, watching the faint flickering sparks. "It will be alright," she whispered to her unborn child, speaking as much to him/her as she was to herself. "It will be alright."