For Fire the Canon's Fanfic Tournaments: December. Write about Christmas.

Warning: Metaphors abound!

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The lights twinkle. The outline of the tree is visible from the street. From the street, the house looks just like any other. From the street, the Christmas spirit is visible. From the street, they look happy.

There's so much that isn't visible from the street.

Only inside the house is it evident that Aberforth has cried himself to sleep every night for a week. Only inside is it evident that Albus won't allow himself to cry — won't allow himself to feel anything at all. Only inside is it evident that something is undeniably missing.

It's the first Christmas without her. It's the first Christmas since she died.

Albus and Aberforth are tiptoeing around each other. Aberforth is trying desperately not to lash out at the brother whom he blames. Albus is trying not to face the brother who reminds him of his guilt. They're playing an evasion game, both wondering why they bother to inhabit the same house at all, both knowing that, if anything, family is now more important than it ever was. Knowing that their father went to Azkaban for family, that their mother died for family. That they've fought tooth and nail for her, to keep their family together. That to abandon that now would be the highest form of betrayal.

But it hurts. Facing each other, it hurts. The wounds are raw and aching, less than four months old. They blame each other. Aberforth feels like Albus could have stopped it, and Albus feels like Aberforth should have been there.

There's a chasm between them that they cannot cross. They're going through the motions, nothing more, nothing less. Aberforth put up the tree. Albus strung lights on the porch. They don't speak; they don't talk. They dance around each other in carefully choreographed steps, oh-so-cautious never to touch.

The house is full of kerosene — one little spark and it will all go up in flames.

Christmas isn't Christmas without their mother. Christmas isn't Christmas without Ariana.

This isn't Christmas. It's a sick parody, a nightmare. A mimicry, a play. They've become actors in their own lives. They pretend to be happy, pretend to be content. Pretend not to feel angry, guilty, anguished. Pretend to smile. It's a pretty façade. It's almost believable. Close enough, though, the fracture lines are visible.

The fracture lines are already there. One little impact, and all the pieces will come tumbling down.