When Helen was small, her mother had been renowned for the holiday gatherings she would sponsor at their house. Their home was a modest one compared to some of those their guests inhabited and yet it was to the Magnus' they would flock each year.
The house was the very picture of the season. Their rich burgundy carpeting and wooden furniture garnered a new lustre from the flickering candlelight. Mistletoe and holly hung from their stairs and the house smelled simply exquisite. It was the one time of year that Patricia Magnus would don an apron and join Mary in the kitchen, producing her yearly masterpieces that had even the mayor stopping in to celebrate.
For Helen, barely old enough to understand, it was an ordeal. Dressed carefully and tightly, she would be deposited neatly, with all her ruffles of white lace, into a sturdy chair with strict instructions not to move. Her mother knew her all too well, it seemed, and knew any movement on her daughter's part would equal dirty knees and the stripping of at least two of her all-too-cumbersome layers
It was not all bad, however. Helen remembers the kindly people who would stop and talk to her, the tiny doll in the chair, and wish her a Merry Christmas. In years to come, she would thank her mother for this, as many a prominent London scholar, scientist and politician saw the young Helen Magnus in such a state, and, as she would learn, that angelic image was both hard to shake and useful to her cause.
With her mother's passing, Christmas was an entirely different affair. Her father's best efforts turned quickly to disinterest under his clumsy management and the influential socialites, friends of her mother who had continued to attend out of duty or loyalty (to Patricia Magnus' growing daughter if not her oddity of her husband) slowly dropped away.
Helen could not help but think her mother would be appalled at the depths to which her annual Yule Dinner had plummeted. The smattering of remaining guests were all scholars – and those whose reputation did not help Gregory's own floundering name. Her father's one concession to the season, the large pine in their foyer, was plain, decorated with simple bows and a small collection of golden baubles Helen had acquired for a touch of festivity.
Helen was loathe to admit it, for fear of betraying her mother's memory, but she definitely preferred these Christmases. Old enough to converse and afforded a remarkable degree of latitude by her father, she enjoyed the opportunity to discuss her own studies with these honest and plain-spoken scholars. They were quick to realise that the young lady in their midst, though just as polite and refined as any other young lady they may make acquaintance with, had been influenced by and had blossomed under her father's interests. She was, in fact, remarkably well versed in matters of science, history, and even the politics that Gregory had never managed to navigate. This was no mere debutante and it was not uncommon for her father to feel the need to intervene, breaking up one debate or another between his daughter and some young scholar who, had she been but a few years older, would be pursuing her in earnest.
As the night went on their hearty discussions of the universe's building blocks would slowly dissipate with the easy flowing of brandy and the passing of cards. And with even her father's unorthodoxy only extending so far, Helen would retire, finding privacy and comfort in the library with a cup of tea, a book, and the gentle echoes of their merriment to keep her company. She took pleasure in the sound of her father's laughter, freer than usual with the helpful aid of the Christmas spirits - both in the glass and in his friends. Christmas was sure different now that her mother was gone - but still, she thought, snuggling deeper into her cushions, she would not exchange tonight for anything.