For the Calendar Challenge: December, 12, lights, "Remember, as far as anyone else knows, we're a nice, normal family."
The Nineteenth Year
Chapter Twelve: Christmas with the Potters
"Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live."
"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count—it's the life in your years." –Abraham Lincoln
"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." –Albert Einstein
There's something magical about Christmas. I've always thought so, even when I was a kid, growing up with the Dursleys.
No matter how far I get in life, I can't help feeling I'll never really escape that cupboard.
But Christmas is a time for family.
And yet, are the Dursleys my family?
I just couldn't decide whether or not to invite them over for Christmas Eve. Christmas day Ginny, James, Al, Lily and I would of course spend at the Burrow, with all the rest of the extended Weasley clan. There was no way I was going to invite them over for that. Arthur would probably torture them to death with questions about toasters and electricity.
"Ginny?" I asked, during dinner on December 23 (okay, so I was cutting things a bit close). "Maybe we should invite Dudley and his family over on Christmas Eve—what do you think?"
"Whatever you want, darling," she said flatly. Meaning, as I know from years of marriage, that she was against it but didn't want to say so.
"Why not?" James encouraged. "I mean, they're your family, and we never see them. Mum's family is over here all the time."
"Yeah, but don't you think they'll be wigged at the décor?" Al asked. He'd been quiet since he and James got back from Hogwarts. He gestured around Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, and I had to admit he had a point—although the kitchen, where we were, is, I personally think, one of the nicest rooms in the whole house.
"They don't like magic?" Lily asked innocently, looking up from the book she was hiding under the table.
I burst into slightly hysterical laughter.
Ginny frowned at me, and addressed Lily. "No, they don't."
"Weird," was Lily's only comment.
"They've got kids your age," I told her. "Dudley and Tammy have twins, named Dick and Dana, and a son who's about six named Jeff."
"Dick?" James asked scathingly. I sighed. I seem to be raising sarcastic children.
"Darling," Ginny said then, "why invite them over here? I really don't see what's wrong with your customary Christmas card exchange."
"James? Al?" I asked. "What do you think?"
"I don't care either way," James shrugged. "But while we're on the subject of inviting people for Christmas, I've got a…friend coming to dinner at the Burrow this year. That's okay, right?"
"Sure," I said distractedly. "Any friend of yours—"
"Great!" James enthused. "Thanks, Dad!" And, with a little nod to everyone, he left the table and bounded upstairs.
"Honestly, Dad," Al told me in the lull left by James's departure. "They'll hate coming here."
"Then we'll go there," I said, with sudden decision. It all made sense. Now all I had to do was go a couple blocks to my favorite pay phone and ask Dudley if we could come over.
Lily made a face. "Boring," she announced. Unfortunately, Ginny looked like she agreed.
Still, I was resolved. This would be great; kids playing together, all that good stuff.
At two o'clock in the morning on December 24, I woke up, sweating and sitting bolt upright in bed, because I'd realized I'd forgotten to do any Christmas shopping.
Stores on Christmas Eve…fighting a newly reincarnated Voldemort would be preferable.
As I tried to get back to sleep, I thought, this just isn't my year.
Christmas Eve shopping was just as horrible as I'd foreseen, but eventually the nightmare ended, and I had gifts for nearly everyone—I was just missing my sisters-in-law Audrey and Fleur, and I figured Ginny and I could go in on those together.
It was almost a relief to drive my family up to Dudley's house on Wisteria Walk, just a couple blocks from the house we'd both grown up in. On the way, I saw that the playground where Dudley's gang used to break all the swings, the same one we'd been walking home from the night the Dementors attacked, had been paved over into a parking lot for one of those fast-food places. I was surprised to find I felt a bit of a pang.
"Hello, hello, come on in!" cried Tammy, Dudley's wife, rather effusively. She was clearly trying to make up for the awkwardness of the situation—and Ginny's barely audible sniff didn't help.
"Harry, Merry Christmas!" Dudley said, not particularly effusively. We all crowded into the living room, where Lily and Albus were immediately and very ostentatiously fascinated by the TV. I resolved to keep an eye on them.
James, however, was all polite smiles.
Just as Dudley, Tammy and I were embarking on a somewhat stilted conversation about the weather, the economy, football, and other things a habit of paranoia and Mad-Eye Moody's voice in the back of my mind have made me keep abreast of, my aunt Petunia entered the room and uttered a small shriek.
I assumed it was the Potter invasion that set her off, until I saw that she was staring at James. Nervously, he flattened his hair—and that did it. I saw what she was seeing, what made her shriek.
"You're just like him!" Aunt Petunia whispered. She closed her eyes. "James Potter."
"Yes, that's my name," said James, nodding along. He sent a frantic glance at Ginny and me, as though begging for someone to rescue him from the crazy woman.
"She means my dad," I explained.
"Oh," James said, understanding dawning in his eyes.
Havoc seemed to be breaking out everywhere: Dick, Dana and Jeff rushed into the room then, and started having a fight with Al and Lily over the TV remote (my kids were looking at it like it was a cross between an alien artifact and the perfect gift for their Granddad Arthur). Ginny had her arms and legs crossed, and she was glowering at Aunt Petunia. Tammy seemed torn between her obligations as hostess and scolding her children (for fighting, or for getting near my kids? I was shocked to realize that I didn't know). Aunt Petunia was now staring at James in horror, while he tried not to ruffle his hair, since that seemed to set her off. Dudley was looking worried and helpless.
I wasn't sure which crisis to combat first—and then Uncle Vernon came in. The years hadn't been kind to him; he looked red and walrus-like, although, in all fairness, the rising color might have been in response to the Potter invasion—an apt description, no doubt, in his eyes.
"Uncle Vernon," I nodded, as politely as possible.
"You—" he began furiously, but before he could continue, there was a small burst of flames from the direction of the TV. All eyes turned toward Al, Lily, Dick, Dana, and Jeff. Lily was holding the blackened remains of the remote.
"OUT!" screamed Uncle Vernon. "OUT OF THIS HOUSE!"
"You twisted, pathetic old man!" cried Ginny, running to stand beside Lily. Unfortunately, she didn't have the forethought to Vanish the remote. "How dare you talk to us like that? You'd all be dead if it hadn't been for Harry! We came here because Christmas is a time for family, but you're obviously no family of ours! Come on, kids; they're not even worth it." And she stomped out, herding James, Al, and Lily before her.
I stayed to apologize, but Uncle Vernon resisted even that. I conjured a new remote control and left it unobtrusively on the bottom step of the hall staircase on my way out.
"We'll keep in touch!" Dudley called out the window at me.
I made my way back to the car, and we drove home in silence.
"Sorry, Daddy," Lily told me, once we'd reached the house.
"S'okay, honey. It wasn't your fault." I felt exhausted.
After the kids were in bed, and we were getting the house ready for Christmas, Ginny asked me, "Why did you want to go there, anyway? They'll never be our kind of people."
"Not the magic kind," I agreed. "But they're still my family. Except Uncle Vernon, thank Godric."
"They're horrible! I don't know how you can stand it! The too-neat house, the three spoiled children, that ugly hallway…and that Tammy dyes her hair, you know."
"Ginny, Dudley and Tammy were really nice to let us come on such short notice. And their kids are fine—no more spoiled than ours."
"I can't believe you're sticking up for them! They destroyed your childhood! And what do you mean, our kids are as spoiled as theirs? How could you even say that, Harry? Did you not see the way they grabbed for that remote? Obviously raised to worship tele-fission!"
Ginny sounded like she was getting ready for a long tirade, but I couldn't let her slander Tammy and the kids, who had nothing to do with the way the Dursleys raised me. And Dudley's not so bad, either. Especially now, as an adult. He's really grown up a lot since the days he and his friends used to use me as a punching bag.
Ginny and I argued it back and forth for another hour or so, until finally we decided to call truce. "I can think of better things for us to do than argue about your horrible relatives," Ginny said suggestively, and from there one thing led to another.
"Happy Christmas! Oh, happy Christmas, Harry! I loved the recipe-book, so thoughtful of you! And my, how my little Lily's grown! Have a good semester at Hogwarts, Albus? Ginny, my darling girl! James, give your Grandma a hug! And—why, who's this?"
"This is my girlfriend, Grandma Molly," said James casually, pulling his arm more tightly around the blonde's waist. "Altaira Malfoy."
That's right. My son is dating Draco's daughter. It's poetic justice, I suppose. Although, honestly, she seems like a perfectly nice girl.
I just wish he'd told me.
"Oh," said Molly, blinking. "Oh, that's—that's—"
"Excuse us, excuse us!" called Ron. "Best-scoring first semester Hogwarts student since her mother, coming through!"
He was carrying Rose on his shoulders, and Hermione and Hugo trailed closely behind. Luna'd promised to make an appearance that night, which I was looking forward to more and more.
"Ronald, this is James's girlfriend!" Molly blurted. Ron looked around, spotted Altaira, kept looking, then did a double-take.
"Isn't that the Malfoy girl?" he demanded.
"There are two of us, actually, Mr. Weasley," Altaira said sweetly. "And Happy Christmas to you, too."
Over dinner, conversation at the adult table (comprised of Molly and Arthur, all my brothers and sisters-in-law, Ginny, Luna and Rolf, Andromeda, and myself), veered around to the latest on the elf protests.
"They're right, you know," Percy said seriously. "Nothing the matter with sticking close to tradition."
"Except when it's wrong," Hermione said acerbically.
"Oh, of course, the Elf Liberation Act was a good idea, certainly," Percy went on, sounding rather patronizing. "But some things just aren't meant to be messed around with. It's as simple as that."
"Come on, Perce," said Ron quickly. "Loads of good has already come from the Elf Liberation Act."
I kept my face carefully neutral. It breaks my heart having to conceal important information from my family, but it's part of my job. As Head Auror, I was sworn to secrecy on the subject of the elf riots—and the fact that there had actually been a few casualties. I was in the process of investigating, but I'd have bet my professional career the traditionalist elves had something to do with it.
Just then, I was saved from having to avoid the issue further by the sounds of yet another quarrel from the children's table.
"You brought a Malfoy to our Christmas dinner!?!" Dominique was shrieking.
I hurried over. I didn't like the sound of this.
Sure enough, when I got there, James was standing up, shielding Altaira from Dominique with his body, and saying venomously, "Shut up about my girl, Dominique!"
"She's probably just using you—she's a Malfoy, after all," Dominique scoffed.
Altaira was inspecting her nails, looking bored. Then she pulled out a nail file and started sharpening them, rather audibly.
"Dominique," said James, looking disgusted. "Just. Shut. Up." And he turned away, hooked his arm through Altaira's, and strolled off with her before I could break up the fight.
"If I'd known we were allowed to bring our girlfriends to this—" Fred started then.
"What? You would've invited that dark-haired Slytherin girl you keep hanging out with?" Dominique asked, sneering. Dominique's sneer puts Professor Snape's to shame—and that's saying something. "When are you guys going to realize Slytherins are nothing but trouble?"
"That's enough," I started, and then I heard the unmistakable sounds of an altercation between Percy and Hermione about elf rights. Meanwhile, Angelina seemed to be scolding Roxane for something, and Molly and Fleur were glaring at one another with a certain intensity. Fleur had probably just insulted Celestina Warbeck for the twenty-second time. Every year, I swear…
"Look, everyone!" Luna cried suddenly, pointing at the sky. "It's snowing!"
And it was. I tasted a flake on my tongue, and smiled involuntarily.
Where multiple quarrels had been, now there was an awed silence.
Say what you will, Christmas is a time of magic.
The Christmas lights bobbing in the trees cast different colored glows over everything, and you could see the snowflakes reflecting in them. It was beautiful.
"Remember," I whispered to myself, among the glorious new world snow always seems to bring, "as far as anyone else knows, we're a nice, normal family."
"Ha," Albus snorted.
The fact of the matter is, as I realized in that moment, I don't know what's going to come. What's going to happen next.
But each day with my family is just such an incredible gift.
So, no matter what, in spite of uncertainty and complaints, I'm thankful for all of it.
Because it's been one hell of a year—and I can't wait to start the whole cycle again.