Chapter Fourteen: Welcome Home
Thank you, as usual, for your kind invitation to Christmas Eve at Havenwood. The holidays wouldn't be the same without all the Potters and Weasleys running around. If I may be of any help, please don't hesitate to owl me.
P.S. Sirius has insisted on putting his reply on the back of my parchment. Hope you can read it.
As requested by no one, I have prepared my traditional five-star masterpiece Sirius' Surprise Spinach Soufflé. Before we sup, I would appreciate if you inform the children that I added special Hippogriff brains just for them.
I must say I'm overwhelmed at your persistence in extending kindness to Finnigan and myself. I would hate to disappoint the children, so I accept your invitation to stay at Havenwood this holiday. I assume Harry has several wards in place and it's quite safe. If you're quite sure that it is okay for Finnigan to stay at Havenwood--until my arrival on the day before Christmas Eve—we can leave the day after Christmas holiday. We don't want to intrude on your household, so you can understand that we wouldn't want to stay for the entirety of the school holidays.
I don't mean to intrude on your menu (it's always wonderful) but I was hoping you wouldn't be offended if I brought some puffed rice treats for Laura. She's simply crazy about them lately for some reason. I'm planning to come over early to help you with and your mum with the baking. My parents would stop by again for Christmas this year but they finally decided to take a romantic ski holiday and we're just going to Apparate to them on Christmas morning with Laura. I suspect they find the entire family a little… overwhelming? However, my dad said to tell you that he'll sorely miss your sugar-free cranberry sauce that you concocted just for him last year. Mum said that Dad will probably also miss whatever sort of joke toothbrush Fred and George decided to invent for him this year. Although, he wasn't too fond of the exploding one…I wonder why?
Whatever Hermione is saying Laura is going to eat, don't worry about it and ignore her. Trust me. The only people things interested would be the lawn gnomes.
I'll explain later...
P.S. Can you make those little midget sausage thingies that we had with the little plastic swords we had one year? And maybe deviled eggs? Mum always made the yellow stuff look like the shape of a Christmas tree, remember?
It wasn't often that Harry had the wireless on in his office. He didn't like to work to music or the news channel--the voices were distracting.
Today, however, was a special occasion. He was subject to a session of wizarding legislation—and his attention was mostly on his work, to prevent it from putting him to sleep. Harry rifled through the files of the three newest suspects of the Burkston robbery case as Murphy Hayseed lobbied for a change in Ministry ID badges. Apparently the sharp edges were prone to snagging on robes and causing much discomfort for everyone involved. Most importantly, the legislation pointed out that the Hungarian Ministry not only managed to get ID badges with rounded corners, they were not as shiny and unpleasant as the current badges. "Flash and trash!" said Murphy—whom Harry presumed was about eight hundred years old from the sound of him—in a fit of passionate disgust before having to blow his nose like a foghorn.
that was a live feed from WSPAN," an announcer who was equally dull
and ancient (but without nasal congestion) interrupted the foghorn.
"We will return after with our weather and news
briefs."And just when Cecil Caraway was saying
there would be more snow tonight, someone knocked on Harry's door and
entered. A witch with a long blonde braid down her back grinned
cheerfully at Harry.
"Tonks?" he smiled at her hopefully. It had to be her. There were few people who would burst into his office.
Tonks nodded in the affirmative and tossed a folder on his desk.
with your hair?" he asked, knowing it was better just to be
brazen with her.
"You expected turquoise?" she smirked at him.
"That's usually on a Thursday."
"If you really want to know," Tonks grinned mischievously. "I'm going on a blind date and I wanted to find out if blondes really do ha--,"
"Got it," Harry said, stopping the explanation as quickly as he could. "And why are you in the building?"
you a few more leads on that robbery case and I wanted to request an
appeal to the Goblin Council to have a little peek-a-boo in Mr.
"You've got probable cause?"
"You know it," Tonks replied cheerfully. "It's all on that nasty paperwork I had to write up for you."
he looked over the paperwork, he absentmindedly noticed Tonks
twirling her wand between her fingers impatiently. "This is good
stuff," he said, getting an itch to go search the vault himself.
Tonks' wand zipped from her fingers, bounced off the wall and let out a stream of pink flames. Harry had ducked in time and covered his head with his hands.
Tonks hastily retrieved her dripping wand from Harry's coffee cup and swatted at a few spare fires on top of Harry's desk. "Erm. Sorry. It's a bit fickle these days after I tried to use this new polish…."
got both buttocks?" Harry said making sure his eyebrows, most of
the hair on his head, and both of his ears were still
"Cheers," grinned Tonks.
"And this ought to be a great lead," Harry signed the parchment. "I want to know when you--"
stopped talking and turned up the wireless.
"And those who are welcoming any Hogwartsians home, our Scotland station reports that the Hogwarts Express has departed and will be arriving on schedule."
Harry snapped off the wireless.
"Chloe's coming home," he said, trying not to smile stupidly.
The Hogwarts Express lurched forward and gave a final blast of its whistle as it pulled from Hogsmeade station. Aidan Malfoy's stomach also lurched and he squinted through the falling snow to snatch a last glance at Hogwarts' tallest towers.
The holidays. Aidan had been looking forward to them as much as he looked forward to a flying lesson with Oliver and landing a giant, gloppy mud hole.
He had been lucky to find a compartment to himself. Even behind his closed compartment door, Aidan could very clearly hear screaming, laughing, loud tramping up and down the corridors. As long as he was by himself, he could spend the hours on the train reviewing his Transfiguration notes and reading the assigned Defense Against the Dark Arts material
Aidan was certain that Chloe Potter wouldn't be studying during the holidays and this would give him an easy point boost if they had a quiz when they returned to school. Chloe Potter and her friend Meghan were probably doing something stupid in their compartment anyway, like singing Christmas carols. Disgusting.
His mother had owled him a few days ago, ordering him to come home for the holidays. Aidan hadn't seen a letter from her in months and he was surprised to see that he was still permitted in Malfoy Manor.
Not that the Malfoy Manor holiday agenda was ever bursting with activities and Christmas cheer…. There was a tree decorated by the house elves with the same silver ornaments and silver ribbon every year, some wreaths, and that was really it, aside from the pile of presents in front of the tree. Aidan didn't hold high hopes that there were gifts under the tree for him this year since his family probably considered him dead for being sorted in Gryffindor house. A smirk of pride traced Aidan's lips ever so briefly and then melted away as quickly as it had appeared. Maybe they had invited him home for his own wake. Maybe he had to sign an agreement agreeing to a name change.
And maybe not. Maybe he had been ordered home because of his annual visit to the Raveneaux hospital. His mother was probably required to take him to visit his father at least once a year. Aidan didn't think much about the visits. They were, after all, only a few hours and only one day a year.
While the train sped along the icy track and through the swirling snow, he thought about all of this. He reached across to the next seat for a carefully wrapped parcel, untied it, and took extra care not to bend it.
On special, crisp parchment, he had made a drawing of the dragon constellation, Draconis. Aidan had always liked the stars, and since it was his father's namesake, he had made a large picture of it in the night sky and charmed it to glimmer slightly. He reckoned his father would accept it as a fair Christmas present and might want to keep it.
His mother, on the other hand, was much harder to give a gift. Aidan didn't care to speak to her much and if she wanted something, she usually bought it for herself. Nevertheless, she was his mother, and he had found Transfiguration class particularly useful in obtaining her gift….
They spent an entire week on moonstones and Professor Lupin not only taught them how to transfigure pebbles into moonstones (after explaining they had nothing to do with the moon aside from being colored similarly sometimes), he assigned a research essay. Aidan thought he would dislike the project, but he did find it mildly entertaining that some of the more dense witches and wizards used to believe that moonstones would grant wishes. Aidan was sure to add a segment in his essay about the drunken wizard in Surrey that used his stone to try to make himself fly and chucked himself off a cliff.
Professor Lupin allowed them to keep their Transfigured moonstones after he had given marks for the work and Aidan was ready to put his moonstone (a pearly silver color) straight in the rubbish bin after class and move on to the next assignment.
But he saw Chloe Potter's moonstone when he glanced over at her desk and frowned at the difference between her stone and his. He had been given top marks for his stone, which, in fact, had all the properties of a moonstone and he knew Chloe had received the same marks for her stone. But her stone was different. It had several colors rather than one and the luster was much more appealing.
He watched her stone for the rest of class, almost distracted, and wondering what she had done differently. Was it because she was a girl and the spell worked better? Was it more powerful magic? Aidan doubted that….
He finally concluded just before class was dismissed, that it might have been the chemical differences between their two pebbles.
And when everyone was hurrying to stuff books in satchels and talking about lunch, Aidan left Professor Lupin's classroom with Chloe Potter's moonstone hot in his palm and his own on her desk. The switch had been easy and he didn't plan to be around if Chloe noticed. Aidan reckoned that Chloe would probably be a tattletale.
Aidan stared at the drops of moisture outside his window. They clung and quivered to the glass and Aidan watched them for a while before pulling a pendant from his robe and looking at the rainbow moonstone swinging from it. The chain and pendant he had transfigured to put the moonstone in was pretty nice in his opinion and it he wondered if his mother would appreciate it.
Aidan jumped and clutched the pendant out of view when his compartment door slid open and a familiar head of ashy, light brown hair poked in.
"Hey, Aidan," Finnigan Bell said, smiling at him and shutting the door.
"Hello," Aidan said, swiftly pocketing the moonstone pendant.
"You're at the end, all by yourself?" Finn asked, looking around his compartment, his gray eyes stopping to look at the constellation drawing on the seat for a few seconds.
"You're standing right there. That's not by myself, you realize."
"I meant before I came in," Finn corrected himself.
"I reckoned my imaginary friends would come around sooner or later," Aidan thoughtfully. "But then I remembered I didn't have any of those either." He looked up and raised his eyebrows at Finn and both boys started laughing and Finnigan took the seat across from him.
"That's really good," Finnigan said pointing at Aidan's constellation drawing. "I remember that constellation from Astronomy. Draconis, right?"
"Christmas gift," Aidan shrugged. "It's something for the butler. Nothing special." The lie slipped out of his mouth much easier than the truth would have and Finnigan didn't need to know how much extra work the constellation had been.
"That's why I came down before we got to the station," Finnigan said rustling around the book satchel he had carried in. "To wish you a Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas," Aidan responded dully.
"You know, most people like Christmas…how come you don't?"
"Most people don't like me," Aidan remarked in a more pleasant tone. "Like Chloe Potter and Meghan Weasley."
Finn gave him a look that was possibly the most irritated expression that Aidan had ever seen on his normally cheerful face. "Chloe and Meghan would like you if they knew you."
"Remind me to tell Potter that the next time she gets the lower score on the Potions exam…again. I'm sure she'll want to make friends right aw—"
"I think it's both of your faults and maybe some day, I won't have to hear the same argument from two people." Finn gave his bag a violent shake and continued to fish around it.
Aidan decided would be good to change the subject and said, "Is it true you're spending the holidays with them?" He knew very well that Finn was, as Meghan Weasley had a knack for screaming things within earshot of the entire school.
"Yes," Finnigan said absentmindedly.
"Did you know that they say he's probably a more powerful wizard than Albus Dumbledore." Aidan shrugged. "But who's going to prove it?"
"Who's Albus Dumbledore?" Finn frowned. "Was this homework?"
"Then who are you talking about?"
"The supposed most powerful wizard."
Finn's shoulders sank in his frustration. "Aidan, I hate when you talk in code."
"Well, you ought to know him," Aidan smiled and stretched his arms above his head.
"I don't know anyone," Finnigan scoffed. "Why are you being rude?"
"Harry Potter, Finn."
"Chloe didn't mention anything like that," Finnigan replied shortly. "And I don't think they talk about that stuff."
"What, talking about warding off a trillion Dementors isn't what they talk about at tea?"
"Dementor?" Finnigan furrowed his brow again. "Was that homework? I read everything."
"Whatever," Aidan shrugged. Then he repressed a sinister smile. "Do you suppose you'll make it back?"
"What!" Finn looked up immediately from his bag. "What are you talking about?"
"You know," Aidan said, leaning forward on the maroon train seat. "You might get lost in all the children. You're lucky you don't have red hair. I saw a picture once in the paper. If you saw all those kids, you'd think it was some sort of kid farm."
Finnigan pulled a package from his bag and thrust it forcefully at Aidan.
Aidan was surprised to see the maroon and gold Christmas present in his hand, but continued his teasing. "And you know what else?"
Finnigan rolled his eyes and crossed his arms as he sat back. "What, Aidan?"
"I've heard that some people smother to death from all the love." He grinned to himself as he lifted the top of the box.
Underneath a few sheets of tissue paper, Aidan uncovered a small piece of dark polished wood that looked like the end of a stamp. He turned it over in his hand to look at the bottom and saw that it wasn't a stamp for an inkpad at all. The bottom of it was polished brass and the figure of a lion's profile was etched into the metal. In the tissue paper, Aidan found several slim sticks of gold and crimson wax along with another stamp with a crest with a G etched on it. Mollified at receiving such a nice gift, he looked up slowly at Finnigan who was watching him, practically on the edge of his seat.
"I thought you might want some… you know, Gryffindor stuff," Finnigan babbled quickly. "I didn't know what else you wouldn't have and I thought it was a really nice thing for letters and I ordered it from a catalogue, but if you don't like it I can return it really easily and I won't mind at all…."
Aidan ran his thumb over the lion profile and answered with a very quiet, "Thank you."
"You like it?" Finn sounded genuinely surprised and relieved.
"Yeah," Aidan said, finally finding his proper voice again. "It's really cool. I doubt my family is going to give me things with Gryffindor on it for Christmas and it's better than my other wax sealer."
"Happy Christmas then," Finnigan grinned and then looked out the window of the compartment door. "I should really get back. Chloe and Meghan are going to wonder where I went…."
"Happy Christmas," Aidan said quickly as Finnigan left the compartment and waved through the window.
The compartment was quiet again and Aidan was left alone with the rhythmic clacking of the wheels and he felt like slime on a slug's back for not thinking to get Finn a Christmas present. He set the wax sealing kit on the seat beside him and reached for his Transfiguration book. He probably shouldn't have teased Finn about staying with the Potters. He didn't have another way to stay in the Wizarding world. Aidan snorted at the idea of inviting someone to Malfoy Manor. Something probably would smother Finn and it certainly wouldn't be love.
Before putting his quill to his parchment, he thought a moment of what it would be like to be with all the people in Finn's compartment. Probably awful. Loud. Doing something stupid like eating too many sweets. It was better here in the back of the train….
When Harry arrived home early from work, arms laden with bags and boxes from the market, Ginny told him that James was in the living room and went back to arranging Christmas garland on the banisters.
He dumped the armful of bags from the market on the table and peeked at James and through the gap in the kitchen door. Oh. This again.
James was going through the family albums again. This was such a normal occurrence in their household that Ginny had to put extra-strong binding charms on the book and spells to prevent the pages from getting dirty. The books that didn't have James' picture in them were looked through the least and he preferred the books of the more recent years.
James would sit by himself for hours and point at the different people in the pictures and quietly narrate the action and the names of the people involved. Harry and Ginny didn't discourage his behavior, especially since he was born into such a large family and Harry especially didn't discourage it, because it often kept James quiet for at least an hour, two if he was lucky.
However, with the addition of Shoebox in James' life, the ritual had definitely made an interesting change. James would somehow—Harry wasn't quite sure how he managed it—make Shoebox sit with him and listen to him talk about each and every photograph in the book. Harry had once felt sorry for Shoebox about the fourth time he saw James do this, thinking that the dog probably felt the way most people did about seeing another person's cruise photos. Then, as he set the broom to sweeping the kitchen floor as he ate his sandwich, he remembered that Shoebox had winkled…tinkled…twinkled…or whatever Ginny and James called it…on the couch leg a few days ago and didn't feel the least bit sorry for him.
"And…and…that's me when they brought me home from the hospital. I was the cutest baby at the hospital and when I got home, they had already made a room for me with all the toys I wanted when I was born."
James forced Shoebox's head in the general direction of the picture and paused for a few seconds before continuing.
"And there's me again. I was the best baby in the family because everyone else has red hair and I'm the only one with black hair except for Daddy an' no one thinks that he's cute like me because he's an old grown-up."
Shoebox yawned. Harry continued to listen with horror growing. Had Ginny had some sort of funny business with Lockhart that he didn't know about? James went through every picture, informing Shoebox exactly, how he, James Albus Potter was the handsomenest, funniest, cutest, and bestest of his family.
Could your child have too much confidence? Harry wondered. Would he have to just knock James down a few notches in the family pecking order? Shoebox's body was limp, he had dozed off in between James' toddler years and his second Christmas.
Harry shook his head at the scene and went back to putting away the rest of the groceries. He doubted that this would be the last trip to the market today. They were having thirty or more people over for Christmas Eve. His family was getting to be the size of a town militia. Percy was really going to have to start exerting some self-control.
And Harry despised shopping for groceries. People usually started following him around or the more intense housewives would nick things out of his grocery basket to take home as…well, Harry didn't know exactly what they did with his green beans or toothpaste, but he was sure that it made the shopping trip three times longer.
Ginny was calling him from the entryway. Harry popped a few grapes in his mouth and went to see what she wanted.
"Need some help?" he asked when he saw her struggling with an end of a paper banner that read, 'Welcome Home, Chloe and Finnigan!'
"I reckoned we could get it up faster together," she pushed the stray hairs out of her face. "And I've still got to go get changed out of these messy clothes and get James into some robes that don't have macaroni and cheese on the front."
"But then he wouldn't be realistic," Harry grinned and they magicked the sign to stay up on the banister that overlooked the first floor entryway.
Ginny didn't seem to think he was funny and only looked more flustered. "They'll be here any minute and Percy said he'd drop them off directly at Havenwood for us. And I doubt Chloe wants to show one of her school friends that her mum goes around looking like she doesn't brush her hair and…."
"I'll take care of James then," Harry said kissing her cheek. "Mostly because it looks like I don't brush my hair any time."
There was a shriek from the general vicinity of the kitchen that sounded something like, "Birthday cake!"
"I'm on it," Harry groaned. "Go do your thing."
Harry walked in on James perched on a kitchen chair, his face inches away from the large frosted cake that he had brought home from the bakery. The other grocery bags had already been rummaged through as there were carrots and potatoes on the floor…. Shoebox was taking advantage of James' extreme interest in the cake and gobbling the corner closest to his snout as quickly as he could. James poked some of his fingers through the center of the cake curiously.
"Chocolate!" he exclaimed to Shoebox who was snorting greedily.
Harry had considered counting to ten before he spoke, but when he was on two; James had stuck three fingers in the cake.
"JAMES!" Harry shouted. "Get down NOW!"
Shoebox acted first. He squirmed out of James' grasp and high-tailed it to the farthest corner under the kitchen table. Harry presumed he would find somewhere to throw up it all later. Like his slipper. Or on a Christmas present.
"Birthday cake, Daddy!" James hid his fingers behind him and looked up at Harry with big eyes. "I wanted to see what kind it was."
"The cake says, 'Welcome Home Chloe and Finnigan,'" Harry said with his arms crossed. "Your sister is going to be very sad you spoiled her cake. You know your birthday isn't for several days now."
James smeared the icing on his finger down the front of his robes and looked genuinely apologetic like Harry thought he would. James would be upset if it was something that had belonged to Chloe.
"Come on," Harry sighed. "You can apologize later, but you need to change robes before they get here." He noted that the cake now read, 'Wel—o—Ho—Chlo—an—innig—.' Great.
"No." James planted his heels in the ground. "I like these robes. I want to wear these ones. Chloe likes these because they have blue stripes."
"They're dirty," Harry said. "They have things all down the front."
"It's only a little spot," whined James. "I want THESE robes."
James' little spot consisted of what looked like cheese from his lunch, something red like fruit punch, a suspicious neon green stain and now a great deal of cake icing. And, Harry winced, there was definitely something orange in his hair.
"No," Harry said shortly. "How about we wash them and you can wear them after supper or tomorrow?"
James stuck out his lower lip and stamped his foot. "I WANT THESE ROBES! NOW!"
Harry knew this was coming. Ginny always said that children could be reasoned with in a firm manner. It was at this moment that he wished he could show her exactly how reasonable their children were.
"You may pick out something new that you like until then."
James was taking a big breath to continue his fit, but he never got the chance.
The front door slammed and a familiar voice was heard from the entryway.
"MUM? DADDY? We're here!"
James bolted out of the kitchen while shrieking, "CHLOE!"
Harry followed and saw James collide into Chloe, giving her a big hug. She was laughing and dancing around with him. "Jamesy! You're so BIG!"
Harry was grinning widely when Chloe turned to him and her face lit up. She had to have grown nearly two inches when he had seen her last and her hair was much longer.
"Daddy!" Chloe squealed and gave him a crushing hug. "I'm so happy to be home!"
"Welcome home!" he laughed. "We're happy too!"
Ginny, who looked nothing but ecstatic, was hurrying down the stairs, arms stretched towards Chloe. Harry saw that her hair was down and brushed smoothly now. She hugged and kissed Chloe repeatedly and apologized for the house not being exactly ready. He also noticed with a smile that Ginny had accidentally left a hair curler in the back of her hair. Oh well.
Chloe had to kiss and hug James again as he shoved his way in again, but she stopped and looked at him funnily. "How come you smell odd, Jamesy?"
James stopped hopping around and looked very anxious. "I was going to change my robes before you came! Honest I was, Chloe—"
"—Chloe, you haven't introduced your guest!" Ginny said.
And Harry, in the excitement, had neglected to notice the small boy with feathery brown hair standing uncomfortably by the school trunks. He was fiddling shyly with the hem of his robe sleeve and trying to smile.
"Fi-fi-Finnigan Bell," he stuttered towards Harry and Ginny. "I'm pleased to meet everyone."
"Who is that?" James said loudly, yanking on Harry's robes, looking most offended. "We were only supposed to get Chloe back. We don't have another BOY."
"We decided to get a cleaner boy," Chloe retorted. "Unless you change your robes, then he can just be my friend that is visiting."
James gave Finnigan an untrusting look and ran upstairs to change his robes.
"Welcome!" Ginny said to Finnigan. "It's so nice to meet you finally. Please, make yourself as comfortable as you can. If you need anything, just ask."
"Thank you," Finnigan mumbled, blushing.
"He's so much quieter than our children," said Harry with an admiring look at Finnigan. "You didn't pick this up from him at all, Chloe?"
"Nope!" Chloe smirked. "Come on, Finn, let's put our trunks upstairs. I'll show you your room!"
And when they had started upstairs with their trunks, James had dashed from his room in only his Quidditch underoos and stood at the landing shouting, "Chloe, I forgot! I accidentally broked your cake and I didn't mean to!"
Chloe merely laughed. Finnigan, eyes wide, looked back at Harry and Ginny.
Ginny sighed and laid her forehead on Harry's shoulder and Harry put his arm around her.
Yes. Things were back to normal at Havenwood.
Aidan wasn't told much about his father's condition. The one thing that he could be sure of though was that his father never changed rooms. In fact, year after year, the names on the doors of the rooms on the seventh floor didn't change. His father had a corner all to himself—two rooms connected to each other to give him a bedroom and a sitting room. Aidan often wondered to himself that if his father improved with the medication that he was taking that he might switch to a smaller, more temporary room.
His mother never came with him on these visits. He was flooed directly to Raveneaux and there was always someone there to show him the right direction. When he had been younger, six, seven, and eight, there was always someone that walked with him to visit his father and stood quietly in the corner the entire time. Since his father didn't acknowledge that this was anything strange or even acted like the person was there, Aidan copied him and never spoke to them—except once. He asked who exactly he was and why he followed him since he knew the way.
The man only broke the silence for a second. "Auror."
And the next year the escort was absent and never showed up again.
His father's room was silent and dim as when he walked in. A small cart with a tray and plastic cover was in the corner, looking very out of place from the other items in the room. His father had gotten permission to have his favorite belongings brought to his room as a reward for good behavior, and that included a lot of his old furniture and even clothing.
"Father," he said into the silence.
His only answer was the ticking of a small clock on the wall. Aidan watched the pendulum swing back and forth, an engraved M etched onto its surface.
This year would be different. He had things to tell his father. It wouldn't be hours of listening to his father go on and on about how it was his job to uphold the family honor. Aidan could ask his father about his own schooling and tell him all what he was doing at Hogwarts. He was top of his year and just as good at Potions as he used to hear his father was good at. Aidan wanted to give his father a reason to come home and set things right in the manor.
And, with a glance at the parchment laying next to him, still unwrinkled, he would hopefully be impressed with an example of Aidan's magic. If mother wouldn't listen to a word he said, he could definitely have some say in the family if his father came back.
Aidan turned sharply on the couch. There was a crackling sound that sounded that it was produced by something magical. A thin blue line was making its way around his father's bedroom door and after it was gone, Aidan could hear muffled voices. His father wasn't alone.
Someone soundproofed the door. If there was any spell that Aidan could recognize on the spot, it was a soundproofing spell. All of his relatives did that spell practically every time they went into a room.
The door opened and a young red-headed nurse with a ponytail walked out. She smoothed her robes and smiled at Aidan as if he was some sort of adorable puppy in a shop window. "Your father said to say he would be right out, Aidan. Wait right here, okay?"
Did he look like he was just going to take off running for no reason? Aidan disliked her right down to her last freckle and was not sorry to see her leave immediately.
His father strolled out of his bedroom, carefully buttoning up the long row of black buttons up the front of his robe. He nodded at Aidan, who could feel himself still scowling.
"That was Nurse Lane, Aidan. She was just administering a physical exam, nothing to worry about." He examined the contents underneath the plastic tray. "She also brings lunch."
Aidan wondered if his father knew just because he was eleven-years old didn't exactly make him an idiot.
The two Malfoys sized each other up for a moment. Aidan's father always looked exactly the same, he could never tell a difference in his age. He was dressed just as he always had. The only thing different in his appearance were the black bands that his father had on his wrists all the time and a plastic I.D. bracelet. Aidan, who had a very good memory, knew that the bracelet read "Malfoy, Draco L. Rm. 734 Level IV N.M.P." Aidan had learned what they were when he was five. They blocked any magical powers that his father might have the ability to do. Raveneaux said it was for his father's safety, but Aidan was certain that the bands were the one thing that made his father extremely unhappy.
"You've grown. How old are you, Aidan?"
"Eleven. I'm at Hogwarts now."
His father's eyebrows lifted sharply. "Eleven!"
Aidan didn't wait for the questions. He had plenty to say after half a term of not saying hardly anything.
"And on the twenty-sixth, that's a two and a six, it's my fifth birthday, Finnigan."
Finnigan was trying very very hard to pay attention to James, but he had been going on about his birthday for a few hours, not to mention days now.
"We know, James," Chloe said in a bored tone. "And you're going to get presents and ice cream and have a cake, right?"
"And Finnigan is going to come," James added with a quick skip around the table that they were playing Gobstones at. "Because I want him to be at my birthday party instead of Hogwarts. Do you remember the day, Finnigan Bell?"
"The twenty-sixth," Finn said faithfully, trying to decide the next Gobstone move. James opened his mouth to correct him, so he quickly added, "that's a two and a six."
"I made a list," James offered. "Of things I wanted for my birthday because I'm going to be five and Laura can't tell me that she's bigger than me anymore."
Chloe groaned. "Finn isn't going to get you a present! You don't ask guests for gifts, it's rude!"
"It's my birthday," James insisted. "You get presents, duh!"
"It is his birthday," Finn admitted.
"And Laura is bigger than you, no matter if you're five or not," Chloe added.
"Uh-uh," James challenged. "Not if we are the same number. Duh, Chloe."
"When did you start saying duh?" Chloe asked. "It sounds just awful…."
"Right now, duh!" James said, making yet another circle around them.
"And Laura has been five for longer than you will be, so that makes her older," Chloe sighed.
James wasn't listening. "And I want four books. All picture ones because I don't have to read words until I go to school. And I want red rain boots, a dog whistle for Shoebox and my own ice cream store."
"Mum and Daddy aren't going to buy you an ice cream store," Chloe said flatly. "Don't be ridiculous."
"It's my birthday, duh," James informed her.
"Don't be mad if you don't get one…."
"You're just mad because you didn't think to ask for one," James concluded.
Finn mentally added the "duh" at the end of the sentence for him.
"I'll be sure and remind mum when we go out Christmas shopping tomorrow," Chloe said.
"My mum is coming tomorrow, "Finnigan informed James, hoping to change the subject.
"Because we asked her to," Chloe answered. "She's a guest so you've got to be polite to her."
"I'm polite," James protested.
"Sure you are," Chloe nodded. "But you've got to be extra polite because we want Mrs. Linter to have a nice time at our house."
"Does she want to have Shoebox sleep in her room?"
"No," answered Chloe quickly. "But if she has a nice time, maybe Finnigan will be able to stay in the wizarding world with us next year at school."
"You're a Muggle?" James gaped. "A real one?"
"No," Finn shrugged. "Sorry. My mum just doesn't like the wizarding world much."
"That's bad," James informed him.
Chloe nodded. "Mum and Daddy are trying to fix it. So, you've got to be extra nice."
"Mummy can fix anything," James told Finnigan seriously. "She likes you, duh."
Chloe pulled James onto her lap and hugged him.
Aidan was busy telling his father about his marks in his classes, his favorite projects, and what he planned to do by the end of the year when he was interrupted abruptly by his father.
"Enough about that, Aidan," he said massaging his wrist above the blocking band. "I want to hear about something else…."
Aidan waited quietly for him to ask him a question but his father simply stared at him with a strange look in his eyes for several minutes. Aidan felt the skin on his back prickle uncomfortably.
"Can I trust you?" His father was glaring at him sternly. "Can I trust my own son?"
"Yes," Aidan wondered what could possibly have prompted his father to ask this. When had he ever been untrustworthy?
"You're the only one I can depend on, Aidan."
Aidan was startled. His father never said things like this. "What can I do, Father?"
His father smiled slowly. "I knew you were a good boy. Listen to me closely. There's a passage way underneath the hearth of the common room fireplace that leads directly outside the castle. Have you managed to find it yet?"
Aidan's palms were damp. "No. No, Sir."
"What?" His father was incredulous. "Everyone in Slytherin knows that passageway by at least the first week of school. Are you some sort of idiot?"
"I'm not an idiot," Aidan muttered darkly.
"Well, now you know where it is, so you can use it. Maybe if you'll do something else more valuable with your time besides lessons your housemates will show you more important things…."
A lump was now in Aidan's throat and the back of his eyes stung. His father thought all of his marks were useless?
"And you can get to working for this family," Draco continued.
"I'm not in Slytherin house." Aidan looked right in his father's eyes when he said it, hoping with every ounce of hope that it would hurt him.
"What did you say?" hissed his father, brows knitting together.
"I'm in Gryffindor," Aidan said, feeling resentment bubble up and the lump in his throat disappeared. "If you would write letters to me you might know that." Good. Perhaps he would yell and pay attention to him.
But instead of yelling his father leapt from his chair and gave Aidan a stinging slap across the face and shoved him roughly. "Don't you speak to me that way!"
Aidan backed away quickly and banged against the wall. His heart pounded and his face was throbbing.
"My own son, is another traitor, sorted into Gryffindor!" His father was coming quickly toward him again and Aidan was certain that he was going to hit him again. "You FILTH! Disgusting!"
"GET AWAY!" Aidan shouted as loudly as he could. He yanked his wand out of his robes and pointed it at his father, his hands shook roughly and his fingers felt rubbery. "I'll hex you!"
His father halted, obviously surprised to see his son with a wand in hand. "How did you…."
"I didn't ask to be sorted into Gryffindor!" Aidan shouted, trying catch his breath. "It's not my fault that you aren't happy about it! Don't touch me!"
His father raised his eyebrows, suddenly calm. "Sit down, Aidan. I apologize. If you don't stop shouting, someone is going to come in here. I misunderstood what you told me."
Aidan gripped his wand even more tightly so that his fingernails were digging painfully in his palms. His father had never apologized to him.
"Sit," his father repeated in a firmer tone of voice.
Aidan sat as far away as possible from his father.
"Now," his father smiled almost peacefully, "my son. It isn't a problem of you being sorted into the wrong house. We'll send away some paperwork to get it changed on all your records and even adjust marks that you might not have agreed with some of your professors on."
"The school won't change my house, I asked them at the beginning of the year," Aidan replied shortly.
"The school isn't involved in any of this now," his father waved the thought away. "It's just a small issue that will be resolved by the time you finish your seventh year. Easily forgiven, Aidan. We can certainly overlook this, son."
Aidan's face throbbed and he felt something twinge in his stomach. What if he didn't…. But then his father smiled warmly at him, something that Aidan had only seen a handful of times in his lifetime and he wondered what his father wanted him to do.
"You're a brave young man," his father nodded towards his wand, still pointed at him. "Willing to attack your own father? I see qualities in you that can be turned into something that will help this family…powerful magic that can help me get better, Aidan."
Aidan swallowed. "But there are healers here…."
His father shook his head and frowned at him. "They're not nearly as powerful as you could be, Aidan. They have the wrong ideas of magic here…and you, we have a special magical bond. The healers will change their minds about letting me go home if we can convince them…."
Aidan felt the twinge in his stomach twist into a knot. He wanted his father to be home very badly…but…this didn't sound….
"Vita Recordatio," his father prompted him. "It's the first spell that will help me, Aidan. You have a wand. It will free me…. You got it past them…Vita Recordatio."
"What does it do?" Aidan asked. "I'm not supposed to do magic outsi—"
"Say it!" his father shouted. "Do you want to prove yourself to me or not!"
Aidan's fingers were going numb from gripping his wand so tightly. "I…."
"You're afraid," his father hissed at him. "You've been left to your worthless mother and her other idiot relatives that you're barely my son as it is. No one in this family can trust you, Aidan…they will hate you even more now."
Aidan's jaw clenched. "No," he said, and the knot in his stomach loosened. "I won't." He was being lied to. Nothing in the family would change. And Aidan hated him for it. Aidan hated them all.
"You will do as you're told! It is your obligation to this family!"
In one swift movement, Aidan yanked down the constellation that he had drawn for his father off the wall and left the room before his father could reach him.
He didn't need them. He didn't need their money. He didn't need anyone.
That night, when Finn was in the Potters' guest bedroom, working through some Transfiguration problems that Professor Lupin had given him for extra credit, he heard a soft rapping at his bedroom door.
He hopped out of bed and opened the door. Mrs. Potter was waiting in a long nightgown and dressing robe. Her long red hair was twisted into a braid that looked similar to how Chloe did her hair sometimes. Finn was ashamed. Had he been up too late?
"I was going to go to bed," he said, hoping to explain quickly. "But I really got into this homework that—"
"You're doing homework?"
Finn was relieved. She wasn't mad at all. She sounded as though she thought the idea of homework was funny.
"That's impressive, Finnigan. I mean, especially two days before Christmas. I think Chloe's choosing to read a new book of fairy tales, rather than tackle—"
"Transfiguration," he finished for her.
"Even more of an undertaking!"
Finn smiled shyly and tugged on a piece of his hair. "Well…I…Chloe's a much better student than I am and she can have a holiday from all of it, I think…."
"May I come in?" Mrs. Potter asked.
Finnigan nodded. "Oh yes, ma'am. It's your room, really…I'm sorry if I'm in the way of anything that you have to get done…."
Finnigan liked her easy smile and she was much more relaxed than he ever saw his mum. Perhaps his mum would be like that if his father hadn't died. "I just wanted to give you some mail that an owl delivered for you. I thought you might want it right away if it was something important."
"Oh…thank you," Finn replied, "I just don't really get much mail, so I don't think it will be really important…."
Mrs. Potter looked down at his notes. "Do you really like school?"
"I do," Finnigan said quickly. "It's just that…." He shut his mouth quickly. Chloe's mum didn't want to hear him whine about how hard school was sometimes.
"It's just what?"
"It's not important."
"Sounds like it is…."
"It's just that I wish I didn't have to work so hard in all my classes to barely pass anything," he blurted. "Why won't my magic work like anyone else's? I study so much and I can't get even the easiest stuff done."
He took a deep breath and stared hard at his Transfiguration book. He couldn't even think about getting upset in front of Mrs. Potter. How embarrassing….
"I think your professors notice that, Finn," she said quietly. "You're an extraordinary boy and when your magic comes to you—and it will—you'll be prepared for it and I think everything that you've made yourself learn will work as you want it to."
"What if it doesn't?" he said, desperately hoping that she would know someone that this had happened to. "I'll be so behind…and if it never comes…I'll just have to go back and be a Muggle…no one will want to speak to me again."
"Do you really think that Chloe and Meghan would stop being your friend because you moved back to the Muggle world?"
"I don't know," Finn said gloomily.
"I don't think you could keep Meghan from beating down your door," Mrs. Potter laughed. "But, I don't think that's going to happen…I think that your hard work is going to pay off."
"That'd be good," he sighed, not knowing what else to say.
"Night," she said, shutting his door behind her.
He reached d for the parchment in front of him. His eyes widened when he spotted the deep maroon seal of a Gryffindor lion. He couldn't have written him a letter. He pulled it open as quickly as he could without ripping the parchment.
We sacked the butler. You can have this if you want it.
Aidan W. Malfoy
Finnigan unrolled the constellation drawing.
Later, he composed a letter in reply to Aidan.
Thanks very much for the constellation and letter. I am having a very nice time at the Potters and even though you said Mr. Potter was the most powerful wizard in the world, he is very cool. I think you might like him—he's like most everyone else and even walks around with holes in his socks. I am trying to do Transfiguration and it is still awful, wish you were here to tell me how hopeless I am.
A/N: Thank you so much for your patience. I'm so happy that the chapter is up. It was a busy and tough year for me, so I appreciate those who have stuck by me for this long. You are the best. A million thank yous. I hope this chapter and future ones meet (and hopefully exceed) your expectations. This one was really a beast for me.
You may visit Chloe's Bookshelf, a website devoted to story discussion, artwork, notes and cut scenes, and a general good time. We'd love to have you! (http/ thanks to my betas Dr. Cornelius and Jill.
Thanks to Professor Davies—who was in the right place at the very right time and saved my opening Harry scene from being lost in cyberspace.
And much love to the Chloe's Bookshelf members who were always sweet in the absence of a chapter and NEVER gave up on me. They're also nice enough to let me participate in some of their discussions. ;-)
Thank you so much for reading. We'll get to some Christmas and cheerfulness in the next chapter.
Yours very truly,