The Best Christmas
“In my experience, there are very few people who really want charity. That being said, I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t truly appreciated charity when it was genuinely needed, and caringly given.”
General (ret.) Jigme Dorji Wengshuk
Harriet returned to Hogwarts in a daze. She was lucky enough to find Honeydukes still very full with students, who were distracted enough by the various candies, for Harriet to slip back into the cellar and the trap-door. Her legs moved on auto-pilot as she headed back down the tunnel.
Her mind was whirling with everything that she had overheard. Sirius Black was her godfather. That explained so much. In Black’s deluded mind, he must take it to mean he was also her guardian. That’s why he was trying to kidnap her, in his mind, he must figure he had the right to.
She felt sickened inside, both with herself and with everything she had overheard. She should have stayed, should have turned Fred down. She should have gone back to the tower with Kieran.
Harriet stumbled on the edge of a rug as the word stabbed her at random once more. She caught herself on the wall but just stayed leaning against it. She couldn’t bring herself to take another step. Had Aunt Marge been right? Was she a freak, just like Black? It had only ever been a fleeting fancy hadn’t it? She’d only ever acted on it once. But look what happened then.
There was a soft tapping noise behind her, though it did not register in Harriet’s mind at first. It wasn’t until the noise stopped that Harriet became aware that there was someone else in the corridor with her. She slowly turned and her heart sank when she saw who it was. It was Kieran, and he looked livid. She had never seen that look on his face before, and it felt like there was a hot knife in her stomach and someone was twisting it.
She felt her knees begin to shake first, then her arms. She felt just as helpless and vulnerable as she had when Aunt Marge was attacking her. Kieran opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. His face softened and his eyebrows lost their tightness.
“Harriet…? What happened?”
Harriet didn’t respond. Her body moved on its own. She sprang towards him and gripped him tight around the chest. Every emotion she’d felt that day came flying out of her as she began sobbing into his shoulder. Kieran seemed taken aback at this and just stood there for at least a minute before he slowly put his arms around her too.
“Harriet…? Come on, tell me, what happened…?” he asked again.
Harriet shook her head. She couldn’t respond yet. She had to let it all out first. She felt as though each tear was carrying some of the dirtiness out of her.
There was the sound of voices approaching from down the corridor. Kieran checked the door to the nearest classroom and found it unlocked. He awkwardly backed inside, Harriet hadn’t yet let go of him, and closed the door.
"There,” Kieran said hugging her again. “What’s wrong?”
Harriet sobbed a few more times before they finally subsided. “I’m a freak,” she said. She didn’t know why that was the first thing to come out of her mouth, but it was.
“W-What?” Kieran spluttered, taken aback.
He sat her down on the carpet in the middle of the room and grunted as he awkwardly lowered himself down too. Harriet sniffed taking off her glasses and wiping her eyes on her coat sleeve.
“Why would you call yourself that?” Kieran asked reaching up to wipe Harriet’s eyes for her.
“You know the night my aunt attacked me and Professor Howe and Doctor Watkins brought me to Scott’s…?” she asked nervously.
“Of course,” Kieran replied.
“I never told you why she… why I had to leave.”
Kieran remained silent. Harriet could feel his eyes on her. She took a deep breath.
“I was… she… she’d been horrible to me all week—well she always is—but finally she started talking about my parents.”
Harriet paused to take a deep breath and turned her gaze to the ceiling, still unable, or unwilling, to look at Kieran. Kieran remained silent. Harriet wasn’t sure he was even breathing.
“And… the last night she was just awful and I just couldn’t take anymore, and I wanted to feel good, so I… earlier in the summer I stole some clothesline from my aunt and uncle’s shed and I…”
Harriet trailed off again. Why was it so hard to tell him? It was only Kieran, no one else was there. Kieran who was always there for her, who’d stopped being angry with her (though she felt she didn’t deserve it) the moment he had seen how upset she was.
This pause, however, spurred Kieran to speech. “Oh god, Harriet, you didn’t?!” he exclaimed, horror in his voice. To her great surprise, Kieran actually clutched her tighter.
“D-didn’t what?” Harriet asked. She knew she hadn’t given Kieran near enough information for him to have deduced what she’d really done.
“Try to… you know?” he flushed looking awkward.
Harriet blinked. “What?”
“Try to… you know… hurt… yourself… with the…?”
Dawning comprehension swept over Harriet. “Oh! No, oh no nothing like that!” she said insistently.
“Oh thank god,” Kieran said flopping back on the floor, breathing heavily in relief.
“No, no of course not,” Harriet said feeling a bit nettled. “How could you think I would do that?”
Kieran flushed sitting up again. “Sorry, just… well you have had a hard go of things, and… I guess I just worry a lot anyway…” he admitted.
Harriet bumped his shoulder with hers. “Well take that one off your list then, okay?”
Kieran nodded. “Okay. Sorry, go on…”
Harriet sighed. There was no going back now. “So, I took it… just… a silly thing… and so after the attack I wanted to feel… good… so I took it out and I sorta… tied myself up… with it…” Harriet said haltingly as she tried to both find the right words and actually say words at all.
Harriet closed her eyes, waiting for Kieran to respond, and yet terrified of what his response would be. It took him a torturously long time to reply.
“Why would that make you feel good?” he asked.
“I don’t know!” Harriet exclaimed. “It just does! It was just this little kid fantasy I got after reading those Nancy Drew books Hermione got me… Hermione said I reminded her of Nancy and in the books Nancy’s always getting in trouble like getting caught while investigating and tied up but this last time was different… it felt different…”
Kieran didn’t say anything or even move the entire time Harriet explained. She wanted to look at him, or stop to give him time to process it, but now that she’d started, it was really much easier to just keep looking at her knees and plough onwards.
“Well, I don’t know if it felt different, it was the only time I ever did it… it just didn’t feel like I expected it to… it felt great… but then I accidently knocked over the lamp next to my bed and it woke up my uncle and Aunt Marge… I got my hands out and the gag off but I didn’t have time to get my legs loose before they came in. Aunt Marge figured out what was going on and she… she…” Harriet swallowed. “She called me a freak… and a whore just like my mother… and she hit me…”
“Oh Harriet,” Kieran finally said and hugged her tight. “You’re not a freak. And your mother was not… one of those,” he said, clearly so offended by the word he wouldn’t use it.
“Yes I am!” Harriet declared, trying and failing to wriggle out of his grasp. “Professor McGonagall just said so!”
“What?!” Kieran spluttered in shock.
She told Kieran about all that had happened after Fred had called her into the classroom. About the Marauder’s Map, the tunnel into the Honeydukes cellar, how upset with her Scott, Hermione and Marcus had been, about how foolish she’d felt, and finally about being trapped in the Three Broomsticks with Professor McGonagall, Flitwick, Hagrid and Cornelius Fudge only feet away from them.
“So there I was… stuck under the table and they started talking about Sirius Black and they said he… he wasn’t just the best-man at my parents’ wedding… he—he was my godfather,” Harriet went on, pausing to take a breath. “And not only that… not only did he betray my parents by becoming a Voldemort supporter… Kieran, he was the one who told Voldemort where they were! How to find them so Voldemort could kill them… so he could kill me!”
Kieran hugged Harriet even tighter. He didn’t speak, just held her tight. Slowly, Harriet brought herself to hug him back.
“But, how does that make you a freak?” Kieran asked, finally breaking the silence.
“Because of something else Professor McGonagall said,” Harriet sniffed. “Apparently there were rumours back then… about how Sirius was like me…”
“Well more he likes… doing the tying part… but it’s not just that, Riddle knew too…” Harriet admitted. She had never told Kieran about the dreams Riddle had invaded, or perhaps created, Harriet was never sure. “Riddle got in my head, said he knew I liked it… he’d ambush me in dreams… then the last one I was tied to a chair and gagged and blindfolded and he was walking around me, telling me things…”
Harriet trailed off again taking deep breaths. She’d never told anyone about that dream either. Harriet didn’t know why, but she decided not to tell him that when Riddle pulled off the blindfold, she’d wanted it to be Kieran taking it off instead.
Kieran stroked her hair. “You’re still not a freak…” he said soothingly. “You’re your own person and you like that for your own reasons. You’d never murder anyone, or hurt anyone. Well, maybe Pansy and Pixie someday…”
Harriet gave an involuntary snort of laughter. Kieran smiled, reassured. Harriet brushed back her fringe from her eyes. “Promise…?”
Kieran smiled. “Promise,” he said.
“Is it okay if I still think that for a while until it sinks in that I’m not…?”
“But it’s all… it’s everything… he’s my godfather… my father trusted him more than anything and it’s his fault my parents are dead, why I have this scar, why I had to grow up with my aunt and uncle…”
“I know, Harriet,” Kieran said. “But it has nothing to do with you. Well, with who you are. Having even a vague similarity to him doesn’t make you truly like him in character.”
Harriet nodded. “Thanks… is it okay if it takes me a day or two for that to sink in too…?”
Kieran laughed louder.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Of course not.”
“Not a soul?”
“Not a soul.”
“Not even Scott?”
“Not even Scott.”
* * * *
Slowly, but deliberately, Sirius Black strode forward down a long corridor. It was black, with pillars in the shape of serpents lining the path. The carpet was the deep red of freshly spilled blood. Black smirked at the sight of it before turning his eyes upon a great throne. It was shrouded in shadow, as was the figure sitting in it. Black reached the foot of the stairs leading to the throne and knelt low.
“I have done it, my Lord. The Potters have made me their secret keeper. I am ready!” Black said; his voice trembling with excitement, his lips curled in a manic, victorious grin.
The figure in the throne rose though remained only a silhouette. Then the eyes became visible, but not by any external light. They glowed on their own; red and wild. And then the figure began to laugh, a high, cold laugh.
Harriet sat bolt upright. Just a nightmare, she thought, panting heavily clutching her heart, just a stupid nightmare. But it wasn’t stupid. It was terrifying.
Harriet spread the curtains of her four-poster wide enough to see the window. It was still dark outside. She looked at her watch. It was only three thirty in the morning. She flopped back on her pillow, staring at the bed’s canopy, listening to Ronnie’s slow, deep breathing.
She hadn’t spoken to anyone else after her talk with Kieran. She couldn’t help the feeling that to talk with any of her friends, who had been there, would put all those memories back in her head. So instead, she had gone to dinner, ate in silence with everyone else, and from there went straight to bed.
Her talk with Kieran had done her a lot of good, but clearly hadn’t healed all the wounds. Harriet wasn’t sure anything ever would. How could anything heal a wound like that? Harriet kept picturing her parents’ faces as she had seen them in the Mirror of Erised two years ago. Only two years ago, Harriet thought trying to decide whether that felt like ages ago, or no time at all.
She rolled over on her side and hugged her pillow tight. It was then a strange resentment began to well up inside her. Why hadn’t anyone ever told her? Not even Hagrid or Professor Dumbledore. Not even Kieran or Scott’s parents had wanted her to know. Even Doctor Watkins had been against her knowing. Only Professor Howe seemed to think it was better that Harriet knew. Why? What did he know that they didn’t?
Harriet thought of Hagrid again. She wanted to be angry with him, but somehow the thought of that big bushy head and the way his whole face lit up when he smiled wouldn’t let her. Of course Hagrid wouldn’t have told her. Hagrid loved everyone and everything; he probably would have thought Harriet would be too hurt by that information. But why hadn’t Professor Dumbledore?
Harriet shook her head. It was too much to think about right now. She sat up and got a glass of water from her bedside table. It was then something caught her eye. It was the photo-album Hagrid had given her after her encounter with Voldemort and Quirrell: a collection of photographs of her parents. Hagrid had written to her parents’ old friends for them. Harriet wondered how many may have come from Kieran’s parents.
She opened the book and flipped through a few of the pages. Every page was full of her parents laughing and looking happy. Harriet tried to imagine how her mother’s face would have looked, terrified and pleading for Lord Voldemort to spare Harriet’s life. She stopped trying very quickly.
Finally Harriet stopped turning pages and felt her heart leap into her throat. She had just come across the picture of her parents’ wedding day. There they were, laughing and smiling. And there, right next to them, was the man who could only be young Sirius Black. She’d had a picture of Black all along, of a young Sirius Black either before he turned spy, or had already become one, laughing with her parents and looking just as happy as they were.
Had she never been told he was their best man, Harriet would have never recognized the young man in this picture as Black. In her mind Harriet could not make the connection between the man in this photograph, and the man in all the wanted posters. His cheeks were full and his skin was clear with a slight tan. His hair was long and looked silky smooth. His eyes twinkled as though nothing made him happier than standing there next to Harriet’s parents. Harriet was reminded of young Tom Riddle, how handsome he had been despite how evil he already was, as well as how disfigured he was to become. I guess looks aren’t everything, she thought bitterly.
Harriet sighed closing the album and putting it back on her bedside table. She lay down and stared at it for a while when suddenly she sat back up again and grabbed it from the table. She flipped it back open to the photograph and pulled it out. She put it on the table so the third of it containing Sirius Black was hanging over the edge. She pressed down hard on the part with her parents and gripped the part with Black in her other hand. She took a deep breath and prepared to rip.
She stopped. She didn’t know why she stopped, but she did. It wasn’t the picture’s fault that Black was in it. Nor was it her parents’. She slipped the photograph back into the album and rolled back over to try and fall back to sleep.
When Harriet awoke again it was already very bright outside. The only sound she could hear was the ticking of her alarm clock. It was almost eerily quiet. So quiet she almost felt nervous as she finally pulled back the curtains of her bed. There was no one else in the room. Everyone’s beds had been neatly made, with the exception of Ronnie’s, which was still a dishevelled mess of blankets and pillows. This sight put the first smile on Harriet’s face since she’d run into her friends in Honeydukes the day before.
Harriet slid out of bed and got dressed. She made her way down to the common room and paused as the room came into view. The reason for the quiet became apparent at once. The room was full of people but they were all crowded around the floor in front of the fireplace. It was a mix of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin Americans, all gathered around the fireplace watching it intently.
Harriet blinked and made her way over. She pushed through the crowd a bit and saw they were not watching the fireplace at all. Instead, they were watching Ronnie who was locked in an intense wizard’s chess match with Kelly Werner, the Ravenclaw American who had challenged Ronnie to a wizard’s chess match the previous Christmas holiday break. The two girls were locked in concentration, staring at the pieces and obviously planning their next moves.
Harriet didn’t want to interrupt, so she backed out of the group and looked around for her other friends. She spotted Hermione at a table in the corner, stacks of books and parchment covering the entire surface. Harriet made her way over.
“Oh Harriet,” Hermione said looking concerned. “You look awful.”
“Meh,” Harriet mumbled sinking into a chair beside her. “Where’s everyone else?”
“Kieran and Marcus have gone to find Scott; he wasn’t at breakfast. Dora’s giving Emma and Professor Sinistra’s daughter, Nanette, a ‘proper’ tour of the school,” Hermione explained sounding disapproving. Harriet took this to mean Dora was most likely showing them secret passages and the Room of Requirement.
Harriet jumped but smiled as Crookshanks hopped into her lap and she scratched him behind his big scruffy ears as he purred.
“You know, if… if you want to talk about…”
“I don’t… honestly…” Harriet said as she stroked the cat’s fluffy fur. “I talked a lot of it out with Kieran. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” Hermione asked, solicitously. “I can only imagine how upset you must have been, that’s why we didn’t try and talk to you about it last night; we thought you probably needed some space…”
“Yeah, thanks. I did,” Harriet said.
Hermione smiled, looking encouraged. “I admire that about you, you know?”
“What?” Harriet asked.
“How strong you are, I can’t imagine how I would have taken learning something like that,” Hermione said. “I mean, you remember how I was first year after just being away from my parents for a not even a week…”
Hermione flushed returning her attention to her Arithmancy book. Harriet smiled uncomfortably as Crookshanks hopped down off her lap and made his way to one of the couches.
“What time is it?” she asked.
Hermione looked at her watch. “Almost time for lunch. Are you hungry?”
Harriet shrugged. She wasn’t particularly hungry, but she did feel like taking a walk.
“If we head out now we can see where the boys are and maybe find Dora too by the time lunch starts,” Hermione added.
Harriet nodded and glanced at the fireplace. “Though Ronnie seems a bit involved.”
Hermione actually smiled. “Yeah, the match has been going on about two hours. They’re probably pretty close by now.”
They rose and made their way back over to the fireplace.
“Hey, Ronnie,” Harriet said but Ronnie held up a hand. She held it there a full minute before finally making a move and looking up.
“We’re gonna head down to lunch now,” Harriet said.
“Okay, I’ll meet you down there; don’t think we have too much longer.”
“Nope,” Kelly said with a grin as she took one of Ronnie’s knights. Ronnie scowled. However, the game did not last much longer than a few more seconds as at that moment Crookshanks, probably attracted by the moving pieces, pounced on the board. All of the pieces cried out in terror and fled as the cat batted at them all playfully.
“CROOKSHANKS!” Ronnie cried out in anger. Harriet, however, fell back into a chair laughing.
Ten minutes later, Harriet, Ronnie and Hermione reached Ravenclaw Tower and Hermione knocked on the door to the Ravenclaw common room.
“Who makes it, has no need of it. Who buys it, has no use of it. Who uses it can neither see nor feel it. What is it?”
Hermione grimaced. “A… coffin…” she said in a hollow voice.
“Correct,” the knocker said and the door swung open.
“That was a bit ominous,” Ronnie muttered as they stepped inside. The room was devoid of people.
“Maybe they already went down?” Harriet asked.
“Hello?” Ronnie called.
There was the sound of a door opening and closing up the stairs to the boys’ dormitories and Marcus came down. He was looking both confused and worried.
“Everything alright?” Hermione asked.
“Um, I think so…” Marcus replied.
“What’s up?” Harriet asked.
“Uh, think you gotta see…”
They followed Marcus up the stairs and into the third-year boys’ dormitory. Scott had put a chalkboard in the middle of the room. On it was chalked:
What is his game?
When did he turn and why?
Dumbledore’s spy knew You-Know-Who was after Harriet’s parents, but not that Black was also a spy?
Talk to Professor Lupin.
Why did he wait a week to tell You-Know-Who?
Who was Dumbledore’s spy? (know it’s someone at Hogwarts)
Behaviour at Halloween?
If his aim is kidnap, why is he being so bold?
Why was he quiet for so long?
Unrelated note: what is Kinney up to?
Related note: what was the point of blowing up a whole street to kill one person?
Seriously why did he turn?! And if so, WHEN?!
Sent to Azkaban without trial (That dangerous or something to hide?)
Harriet stared at the board. What was Scott playing at? She looked down to see that Scott was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his face in his hands while Kieran looked up at them concerned from where he sat next to Scott. Instantly, Harriet could tell Scott had not slept all night. He was still wearing the same clothes as yesterday.
“Scott?” Hermione asked, cautiously as she knelt beside him.
Scott didn’t answer right away.
“I can’t figure it out,” he said finally though he didn’t remove his face from his hands. “Why can’t I figure it out? Something about this whole thing is wrong and I can’t put my finger on it! Why after so many years being friends with someone like James Potter would he just turn! Unless he was always a spy in which case why would You-Know-Who have recruited someone so young?! What would have been the point?! It makes no sense! Neither explanation!”
There followed a moment of silence as everyone looked around awkwardly.
“Scott… you need a break,” Hermione said awkwardly. “You’ve been at this way too long. Come on now, let’s get you some lunch and then it’s straight to bed for you.”
“And then he’s supposedly on the run trying to hide yet he calls attention to himself as ridiculously as possible!” Scott exclaimed as if Hermione had not spoken. “‘Right better ditch my motorbike because it’s too easy to track, but oh no, here’s an old friend who’s apparently nowhere near as powerful as I am, better explode the whole street to make sure I get him then stand there laughing!’” he went on, his voice going all deep with a sing-song tone. “It just makes no sense!”
Hermione grimaced. “Come on, Scott, please. We can figure this out later after you’ve had some food and rest.”
He sighed and let his hands fall into his lap. “Yeah… you’re right…”
Hermione and Marcus helped Scott to his feet and he turned around. His eyes were puffy and bloodshot.
“Sorry,” Scott muttered, more to Harriet than anyone else. “I know it’s not stuff you wanna hear after yesterday I just… I don’t like not knowing… and something’s wrong about this… very wrong… and I’m going to find out what.”
In spite of herself, Harriet nodded. “It’s… okay… just… don’t kill yourself…”
The boys took Scott to the bathroom and got him cleaned up. He did look a bit better and they all made their way down to lunch. Dora and Emma were already there.
“Wow, you look like hell,” Dora said as Scott sat down.
Scott responded with a grumble as he grabbed a sandwich without even looking at what kind it was and eating it rapidly. Dora turned her gaze on Harriet. Her look softened. She opened her mouth as though about to say something but thought better of it. Harriet glanced up at the staff table. There was Professor Lupin, chatting quietly with Professor McGonagall.
Suddenly, something clicked in Harriet’s head that had not clicked before. Professor Lupin had been friends with her father, and so had Mr Dusk. How had she not put it all together before? Why hadn’t Professor Lupin ever said anything? More than that, they had all been the same circle of friends: Lupin, Dusk, Black, Pettigrew, and her father. She remembered Mr Dusk saying how Professor Lupin never went to visit him. Maybe Mr Dusk reminded him of what had happened, and it was too painful to remember?
Harriet then remembered Hagrid and looked for him, but he wasn’t there. “Wonder where Hagrid is?” she asked.
“Dunno,” Ronnie said with a full mouth. She swallowed before continuing. “He wasn’t at breakfast either.”
“Should we go check on him?” Harriet asked.
“I thought Professor Stratton said we’re not allowed out?” Hermione said.
“That was after dinner,” Dora said. “It’s only noon now, plenty of time left.”
They returned to their common rooms to fetch their coats and met back up in the Entrance Hall, with the exception of Scott who had agreed to go back to bed and get sleep. They looked out and saw that there was smoke coming from Hagrid’s chimney. They trudged out into the snow, Marcus in the lead melting the snow in front of them with a flame-charm.
Marcus knocked but there was no answer.
“Hope he didn’t leave the fire unattended,” Kieran said worried, taking in Hagrid’s wooden hut.
“Well I hear something,” Marcus said. “Is that Fang?” he muttered putting his ear to the door.
Ronnie went on tip-toe to peer in the window. “He’s in there; he’s slumped over the table.”
“Hagrid, please let us in,” Harriet called through the door, thumping on it hard.
They heard the tell-tale heavy footsteps of Hagrid coming to the door. The door opened and Harriet knew at once that something was very wrong. Hagrid’s face was red and his eyes were puffy with great tears streaming down into his beard.
“Yeh’ve heard?” Hagrid wailed and leaned down on them all embracing the whole group at once. They all grunted as they were crushed together by Hagrid’s massive, powerful arms, until he finally let go of them all. They guided him back into the cabin where they helped him down into his chair and he slumped over the table once more, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Hagrid, what happened?” Hermione asked patting his massive arm.
Hagrid reached forward and shoved two opened letters across the table towards them. Harriet picked it up. It was marked as being from the school governors. She read it aloud:
Dear Mr Hagrid,
Further to our inquiry into the attack by a hippogriff on a student in your class, we have accepted the assurances of Professor Dumbledore that you bear no responsibility for the regrettable incident. Furthermore, we have accepted Professor Dumbledore’s case in the defence of the inclusion of a student in the teaching of the class and that the student in question played no part in the incident.
However, we do uphold the complaint that hippogriffs were not an appropriate subject for a Care of Magical Creatures lesson of that age level and will ask that they be reserved as a subject matter for OWL study at the earliest.
Yours in Fellowship
There followed the list of the school governors, Dora’s father at the top of the list.
“Isn’t… isn’t that a good thing?” Ronnie asked.
Hagrid sobbed louder still and pointed to the other letter. Harriet picked it up and saw this one came from the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. Harriet felt a strong sense of foreboding as she read.
Dear Mr Hagrid,
We have received an official complaint concerning an attack by a hippogriff on a student in your class. Given the extent of the reported injuries, we have decided to investigate this case further. Please present yourself and the hippogriff in question to our offices in London on 20 April. In the meantime the hippogriff is to be tethered and isolated at all times.
“That rat,” Marcus growled. “Sure the school governors didn’t give you what you wanted so you went over their heads, didn’t you?”
"Typical,” Dora grumbled. “I wrote to Dad and told him everything that happened. How Malfoy wasn’t listening when you said to never insult hippogriffs and how he then said something really mean to it.”
“I know,” Hagrid sobbed. “Thank’e for that, Dora…”
“Well, okay so they’re having a hearing?” Ronnie said. “And you said Buckbeak’s not bad. If the governors listened to reason I’m sure the committee will.”
“You don’t know them!” Hagrid wailed. “They’ve got it in fer interestin’ creatures!”
At that moment there was a gagging sound in the corner. Everyone turned to see Buckbeak curled up there, apparently choking on a bone of whatever he was eating. He managed to spit the bone out before resuming chomping on the mass of flesh.
“Couldn’ leave him outside in the snow, all alone at Christmas!”
Harriet and her friends all gave each other looks. On the one hand, Buckbeak certainly wasn’t all that horrible by Hagrid’s usual standards. In fact, compared to Fluffy or Aragog, he was downright adorable. However, Harriet had to admit that for all Buckbeak was concerned, laying there munching, it might as well be Easter.
“Couldn’t you have invited Epeius in too, Hagrid?” Marcus asked.
Harriet thought Marcus had a point, though she’d almost forgotten about the talking horse, Epeius, with everything else that had been going on that year.
“Nah,” Hagrid said. “He’s a wild ‘orse, gets stressed when ‘e’s shut inside. An’ e’s survived way harsher winters than ‘is back ‘ome an all. Besides, ‘e’s stayin’ with Lee and the Jackson’s in ‘ogsmeade for the ‘olidays.”
There followed an awkward silence.
“You just need to work hard to come up with a good case, Hagrid,” Hermione said trying to sound encouraging. “If we all work on it I’m sure we can prove Buckbeak’s safe.”
“It won’t make no difference!” Hagrid said. “Them Disposal monsters are all in Lucius Malfoy’s pocket. Got ‘em scared of ‘im just like ‘e had the other gov’nors scared ‘o him last year!”
“Well, at least he doesn’t have the governors in his pocket anymore, right Hagrid?” Dora asked sounding anxious. “Otherwise they might have sacked you too.”
“You’re right, Dora,” Hagrid said. “An’ I thank yeh and yer dad fer that.”
Dora flushed but smiled.
“Can’t anyone help, Hagrid? What about Professor Dumbledore?” Hermione asked.
Hagrid sniffed. “He’s done more than enough for me already, and he’s got enough on his plate as it is, what with Sirius Black and that Kinney monster runnin’ round, tryin’ ter keep the D’menters outta the castle.”
Harriet grimaced. There was a small part of her that was still resentful of the fact Hagrid had kept the truth of how close Sirius Black had been to her family, but it was nothing at the moment compared to how concerned she was for Hagrid. She had never seen him so miserable and scared before.
“Oh Hagrid, you can’t lose hope,” she said hugging his massive arm. “Hermione’s right, we just need to think up a good strong defence.”
There was a whistling sound and everyone turned around to see that Ronnie had been boiling Hagrid’s large kettle. She hefted it over to the table and fetched some cups for everyone. After a few more minutes of everyone giving him reassurances and a couple cups of tea, Hagrid finally looked calmed down.
“Yer right,” he said “Gotta pull meself together if I want ter win the case. Jus’ not been meself lately, what with Beaky’s case an’ no one likin’ me classes.”
“We do like them!” Hermione said, a little too quickly to be believable.
“Yeah, we love them!” Ronnie said, though Harriet noted she had her fingers crossed behind her back.
“How’re the flubberworms?” Kieran asked.
“Dead… too much lettuce,” Hagrid said miserably.
“Oh how dreadful,” Dora said, trying not to laugh.
Hagrid shuddered. “Though of jus’, letting Beaky go… make ‘im fly away, but ‘ow do yeh explain ter a hippogriff it’s gotter go inta hidin’? An’ I’m scared a breakin’ the law…” Hagrid hung his head. “I don’ t never wanna go back ter Azkaban…”
“Is it really that awful there, Hagrid?” Hermione asked timidly, as though she didn’t actually want to know the answer.
“It’s the worst place in the world,” Hagrid said. “Feel like I’m back there ev’r’time I gotta pass the D’menters at the gate headin’ to er from Hogsmeade.”
Hagrid took a deep breath and went on. “Ya got nothin’ ter do but sit there and rethink all the most ‘orrible things to ‘appen to yeh in yer life. Kep’ thinkin’ about the day meh dad died, the day I got expelled from Hogwarts, the day I let Norbert got, poor little ‘Ermione and the others lyin’ up in the ‘Ospital Wing and knowing ever’one thought I did it…”
“We didn’t think you’d done it!” Harriet said defiantly.
“And neither did Dumbledore,” Marcus chimed in.
Hagrid sniffed. “Thanks you lot, just dunno what I’m gonna do… scared ter go up against the committee, ‘specially with Lucius Malfoy there ta bully them all…”
“How can he get away with that?” Marcus snarled. “Completely undermining our system.”
“He’s a former Death Eater,” Dora growled. “Of course he wants to undermine the system.”
“Yeah, ‘former,’” Ronnie muttered.
“And you got off in the end, and fully restored,” Hermione cut in again trying to lighten the mood. “You got a new wand and everything!”
Hagrid managed a little smile. “Yeah, can never thank you lot enough… though wouldn’t ‘ave ‘appened if the D’menters had their way… wonder if that’s why they affect me more… ‘cause I ‘got away,’” Hagrid said.
“But, you were innocent,” Harriet said aghast.
“Think that matters ter a D’menter? They don’t care; don’t give a damn over who’s guilty er innercent. All ‘at matters ter them is having a few hundred humans stuck there on that island ter leech the happiness out of…”
“How can they keep that place open,” Marcus said sounding even more indignant. “It’s inhuman!”
“Well, let’s try for one thing at a time,” Hermione said. “Our most pressing matter is Buckbeak’s case, and if we want to get as much good material as we can we should start right away.”
And so after another cup of tea each and more assurances of help to Hagrid, they returned to the castle. On the one hand, Harriet’s mind was finally taken off what she’d overheard the night before. On the other, she was worried about Hagrid and what was going to happen to Buckbeak.
On yet another hand, Harriet was reminded of an even more pressing matter the moment they re-entered the school. The first person they saw was Rachel who was walking back up the stairs toward Gryffindor Tower alone. Harriet felt her lips tighten at the sight. She remembered Christmas the previous year and vowed one thing: no matter what was going on in her own life, this year Rachel would not go without presents again.
* * * *
As the first week of the holidays passed, Harriet still had plenty to occupy her mind. First and foremost was trying to find anything to help Hagrid with his case. Second was doing discrete owl order shopping for the rest of her friends. Fortunately, the second was going quite well. Unfortunately, the former was not so successful. Every disposal of dangerous creatures case seemed to end with the creature being put to death, with the sole exception of a manticore in 1296 who was only spared because it was too dangerous for even the executioner to get near.
As for Christmas, Harriet first concentrated on something for Rachel. After a day’s thought, she came on a conclusion, but it would involve everyone. Her idea came from remembering Rachel’s own first day as a Hogwarts student, the way Rachel had been so excited for her uniform, just like Harriet had on her own first day. How Rachel had also remarked, just as Harriet had felt, that they were the nicest clothes she had ever had.
Harriet got her friends together and they all planned it out. They would each get her a different item for a whole outfit, so everyone could afford to pitch in. They decided on this because it would give Rachel more presents to open instead of just one from all of them.
Leafing through the fall/winter catalogue from Dusk til Dawn, Harriet picked out a pink skirt with belt, while Hermione picked out a nice make-up set. Ronnie picked out a magenta hairband and a white pair of socks with embroidered Hogwarts’ School Crests on the cuffs. Dora meanwhile selected a tan purse. In the end the girls decided it would be easier to assign the boys items to get to help coordinate the outfit properly. They settled on Kieran getting her a crème-coloured jumper, Marcus a white shirt with Peter Pan collar and finally Scott got her a pair of brown oxford shoes.
Satisfied with this, Harriet turned her attention to gifts for the rest of her friends. She already had Kieran’s present, so she made a list and tried tackle everyone else’s presents alphabetically. Harriet remembered how Dora was a big Quidditch fan, and had apparently done better in her Seeker try-out than Malfoy had the previous year, though as Malfoy’s father purchased brand new Nimbus Two-Thousand Ones for the team, Malfoy got the position instead.
Harriet also remembered how much Dora had coveted the Firebolt at Quality Quidditch Supplies back in Diagon Alley, and so picked out a working model Firebolt to give her. For Hermione, Harriet felt a bit cheeky, but ordered her a copy of a book called Technical Rules and Regulations of Lacrosse. She still hadn’t told Ronnie, but perhaps she could at least nudge Hermione into being more open about her new passion.
For Marcus and Scott, Harriet went out on a limb. She felt a little lazy, but as Marcus liked adventure stories and Scott liked mysteries, Harriet got each of them a boxed set of a series of books called The Hardy Boys which sounded like her Nancy Drew books but for boys, and she thought it would give them both something to read and talk about together.
For Ronnie, Harriet decided on a new regulation size football for her to practice with until summer when she would resume her summer league.
As Christmas drew nearer, and with her gift orders sent off with Hedwig, Harriet felt much of her tensions and worries ebbing away. The castle was gloriously decorated for the occasion. The suits of armour glowed with inner light and sang their usual disjointed Christmas carols. Holly and tinsel streamers lined the walls and ceilings for the corridors. It seemed as though every doorway had a piece of mistletoe hanging from it. Hagrid could be seen working hard hauling in the twelve massive Christmas trees for the Great Hall which Professor Flitwick and Sinistra decorated beautifully with charmed icicles that didn’t melt and tasted of peppermint when picked off the tree and sucked.
The best thing to Harriet’s mind was the sounds that filled the halls. It wasn’t just the suits of armour singing Christmas carols they didn’t know all the words to. It was the sounds of laughter from the thirty or so American students who remained. They seemed thrilled to have the run of the school to themselves once more. Their cheer was infectious and Harriet and her friends found themselves joining in singing along with the suits of armour, playing chess and gobstones matches, supervised trips into the grounds for making snowmen and having snowball fights. Harriet was pleased to see that even the older Ravenclaw girl, Peyton, once so austere, was beginning to loosen up as well and joined in almost all of the fun and games.
Finally, Christmas day arrived. Harriet took a long time falling asleep the night before, anxious to see both what her friends thought of their gifts, and what she got in return. It was just after four in the morning when Harriet woke up. Too excited not to peek, Harriet stuck her head out through the curtains at the foot of her four-poster bed.
Her face split into a wide grin as she saw the pile of presents sitting on Rachel’s trunk. So everything had arrived on time after all. Harriet sighed with relief before looking down at her own trunk.
There was the pile of presents there as well. Harriet bit her lip and grinned as she looked through them. Sure enough there were presents from Dora, Hermione, Kieran, Marcus, Ronnie, and Scott. There was another lumpy package that Harriet knew at once was from Mrs Weasley, and by its softness it was clearly another jumper. There was also a small present wrapped in blue paper, with no name written on it.
It was the final present that made Harriet audibly gasp. It was a long, thin package with a noticeable bulge at one end. Harriet knew what it was in an instant. It was a new broomstick. Someone had sent her another broomstick as a present. Her mind began to whirl wondering who it could be from. There was no chance of it being the Dursleys, and all her other friends had sent her gifts already. Maybe they had all pitched in to get her a replacement like they had done for Rachel’s outfit?
Then her mind drifted wider. What if it was Professor Lupin? No, that wasn’t likely. If Professor Lupin could afford a broomstick, he could surely afford new robes. Then she thought of Mr Dusk. It didn’t seem much more likely, but maybe he had also heard about Harriet’s broom being smashed and decided to make up for lost Christmases too?
Wanting to be sure to open this present last, Harriet set it back down on the trunk and quietly piled all her other presents on top of it. She barely suppressed a giggle of excitement as she climbed back under her covers. For the first time this year she had something to look forward too. Harriet grinned, hugged her pillow tight and fell back to sleep.
* * * *
There was a flump noise as something landed on Harriet’s bed so hard it actually bounced her a couple inches into the air.
“ACK!” Harriet shrieked, flailing a bit. She composed herself and found herself nose to nose with Ronnie who was grinning ear to ear.
“Merry Christmas!” Ronnie said.
Harriet rubbed her eyes and put on her glasses, smiling. “Merry Christmas!” She replied and climbed out of bed excitedly after Ronnie.
“Wow, that is way too much chipper for me this early,” Dora said.
“Even at Christmas? Harriet asked, smiling.
“Well, maybe not,” Dora laughed. “Get dressed and get your stuff down to the common room, we’re all opening them up together.”
She was sitting on Hermione’s bed petting Crookshanks. The ginger cat did not look particularly happy, with a string of tinsel tied around his neck and a bow on the end of his bottle-brush tail. Dora was already dressed while Hermione was dressing. Ronnie was still in her oversized tee-shirt.
“Merry Christmas, everyone,” Rachel said from behind her curtains. Harriet heard her groan as if stretching and she pulled back her curtains.
“Merry Christmas,” Harriet said, beaming.
Rachel slid out of bed and at first walked past her trunk without noticing the pile of gifts. Then she paused and slowly turned to look.
“W-what…? What-whose are these…?” she asked and bent down picking one up and examining it. “It… doesn’t say who it’s from?”
“Really?” Dora asked crossing over. Her ignorance sounded quite convincing, and Harriet remembered how well Dora had pretended to be Hermione the previous Christmas.
“I… I wonder if it’s like a charity thing or something…?” Rachel asked inspecting another.
“Hmmmm, could be… though sometimes people just like giving others presents and don’t really want recognition for it, they just like doing something nice for someone else,” Dora said and gave Harriet a little wink.
Harriet furrowed her brow. Was Dora talking about just Rachel’s presents, or was that also an allusion to Harriet’s new broomstick? Fortunately, either way Dora meant the wink, Rachel was too engrossed in her pile of mysterious gifts to notice.
Harriet slid out of bed and dressed quickly. She did her best to gather up her own gifts, keeping the broomstick on the bottom, and made her way downstairs with the others. The common room was empty and the fire was burning in the fireplace.
“Shall we go wake the boys?” Harriet asked putting her presents down.
“Scott’s already waking them,” Dora said dumping her gifts next to Harriet’s.
Harriet looked around the otherwise empty common room. “Wonder where everyone else is?” she asked. “I know more stayed…”
Rachel shrugged. “Erica’s probably off with her friends in Hufflepuff. I know Katy Tyler’s in Hogsmeade with her parents, and some of her friends like Alex and Sarah went to stay with her… and some like Cassidy and Tory are probably visiting their friends in other houses too.”
“And Emma said something after breakfast about taking a friend a present but… no idea who that could be… maybe Nanette…” Dora said thoughtfully. “But you’d think she’d be here…”
At that moment the boys finally came down the stairs, looking groggy but cheerful, their presents in hand. Everyone made a circle on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Kieran smiled around at everyone. “Okay, who first?”
“Rachel,” Dora said with no hesitation.
Rachel raised her eyebrows. “Me?”
“Yes, I quite agree,” Hermione said.
Rachel looked sceptical but picked up one of the presents and opened it. It turned out to be the item Ronnie ordered.
“Oh wow…” Rachel said. “I just wish I knew who they were from…” she went on, inspecting the hairband and the socks. “Ohmigosh, they have little Hogwarts’ crests on them too! Too cute!” she squealed and promptly put them on. Across from her in the circle, Ronnie was blushing so brightly Harriet was sure she was going to give it away.
The next present turned out to be Dora’s. “A purse… someone gave me a purse…?” she asked.
“Well… purses are nice…” Dora said sounding worried that Rachel was disappointed.
“They are, I’ve just… never owned a purse before… a-and makeup?” Rachel said, now opening Hermione’s. “My parents would have never allowed me to have makeup.”
Hermione looked worried too, but Rachel actually giggled and clutched it to her chest. “Oh I so have to find out where these came from! Okay, ummm, next present is… oh wow,” she said lifting up the jumper from Kieran. “This is so cute too, and it’s even in my size!”
“Must have been a lucky guess, that,” Kieran said, his eyes twinkling.
“Yeah…” Rachel muttered looking at it thoughtfully. “That… would be a lucky guess… Oh jeez, shoes too?!” she exclaimed. “Okay that’s… that’s seriously too much… they’re so nice too, no one should have spent so much on me!”
“Guess whoever it was knows you better than you know yourself then,” Scott said sagely.
Rachel blushed brighter trying on the shoes. “This is… this is just…” she trailed off, her lip starting to wobble. “This is just too much…”
“Well don’t get too blubbery yet,” Ronnie said. “There’s still a few more there, isn’t there?”
Rachel nodded, this time opening Harriet’s present.
“Wow…” she said holding it up. “It’s like a whole outfit, piece by piece isn’t… it…” Rachel trailed off once more, clearly beginning to put the puzzle together in her mind. Harriet bit her tongue as Rachel finally opened Marcus’ present.
“Ohmigosh… it is…” she said laying out the shirt, jumper and skirt. She sat staring at it, her lip wobbling as she then took off the hairband, and then looking at the purse, as if counting. She then looked up and her eyes moved around the group, hovering on everyone in turn. Harriet could tell she had worked it out in her mind, and she couldn’t be happier that Rachel had.
“You guys…” Rachel said, her voice very quiet, her eyes full of tears as she tried not to cry. “Oh you guys… you didn’t have to—”
“Of course we didn’t have to,” Dora interjected. “But you definitely do deserve it.”
Rachel broke down entirely. She crossed the circle on her knees and flung her arms around Dora’s neck, then moving on to Harriet, Ronnie, Marcus, Kieran, Scott, and finally Hermione.
“O-okay… so what came from who…?” Rachel asked, trying to get her voice back under control.
“I got the skirt,” Harriet said right away.
“The purse,” Dora said.
“The shirt,” Marcus beamed.
“The hairband and socks,” said Ronnie.
“The make-up,” said Hermione.
“The jumper,” said Kieran.
“And the shoes,” Scott said.
Rachel made another pass around the group, giving them all even tighter hugs. “I… I don’t know what to say,” she said dabbing her eyes. “I feel so horrible because I couldn’t really afford to get people anything and I didn’t really expect—”
“Oh please don’t feel bad,” Hermione said. “You’re our friend and we wanted to make sure you knew how much we appreciate you and think you deserve nice things.”
Rachel nodded and looked as though she was going to break down again. “I’m just… I’m gonna go—”
“Please,” Kieran said smiling.
Rachel nodded and gathered up the presents and quickly ran up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories to try on the outfit.
“That so made my year, I think,” Dora said watching.
“Me too,” Kieran beamed before turning his attention back to the group. “In the meantime, who’s next?”
Marcus scratched his chin thoughtfully. “How about we go around and everyone open their present from, say… Dora first?” he suggested. “Go alphabetically?”
“Sounds good to me!” Dora said enthusiastically. “In that case, Harriet opens first.”
Harriet smiled and sorted through her gifts for Dora’s present. It was very soft to the touch. Harriet opened the wrapping and smiled as she pulled out a long scarf that felt like silk but looked as though it was knitted from silver.
“I got it to go with your new coat,” Dora said. “And it’s waterproofed and charmed so the knot won’t come undone unless you want it to, so it should be good for Quidditch too.”
“Wow, thanks Dora!” Harriet said leaning over to give her a hug and promptly put on the scarf. It was very warm and soft, and she couldn’t help snuggling her face down in it as well, pulling it up to just under her nose. She then noticed Marcus giving her a funny look and promptly pulled it down, trying not to blush.
Next was Hermione, who Dora had given a subscription to the popular scholarly journal, Transfiguration Today. After Hermione was Kieran. Dora had given him a special spike to screw into the bottom of his shillelagh.
“Thought it might come in handy when it gets icy outside or if you’re ever out, you know, in the woods or something,” Dora said. Harriet saw her shoot a glance at Scott and knew she had probed Scott for gift ideas.
Dora had given Marcus a pair of fine dragon-hide gloves for when he practiced his fire-charms. She gave Ronnie a book entitled Witches and Wizards in Muggle Sport, which chronicled various magical figures who had gone on to take prominent roles in Muggle sports around the world. She had also given Scott a book, this one Theories on Time and Space.
“Okay, now everyone open your presents from me!” Harriet said excitedly as Scott finished thanking Dora for his gift.
She sat feeling her heart swell with each gift. Dora loved the model of the Firebolt, letting it zoom about the room freely. Hermione flushed when she opened Harriet’s present.
“Lacrosse?” Ronnie asked. “Weren’t you talking about that when Marcus put up his Muggle Sports initiative flyer?”
“Uh, y-yes,” Hermione said simply. “Thank you Harriet,” she said looking both touched and scandalized that Harriet had been so brazen in giving her a gift focusing on something she was trying to keep quiet.
Kieran in turn loved his magical healing books. Ronnie was delighted by her new football (her old one at home was getting a bit the worse for wear) while Marcus and Scott both looked excited at their Hardy Boys box sets.
Next it was time for everyone to open Hermione’s presents. There was a laugh as it turned out Hermione had given Dora a scarf very similar to Harriet’s. Harriet had expected to receive a book but instead found something even more useful: a pair of flying goggles to go over her glasses, which came with an Impervius charm already set on them. With Kieran, Hermione had followed in Dora’s footsteps and gave Kieran a leather grip to fasten onto his shillelagh for a softer and yet tighter hold. Harriet was now under the suspicion that Scott had made the rounds giving everyone ideas.
To Marcus, Hermione gave a book titled Intermediate Fire Charms, Curses and Counter-Curses, while she gave Ronnie a work-out regimen that she herself had planned to help Ronnie keep in proper shape for football while she was away at school. Ronnie seemed sceptical of Hermione’s expertise in that field, but seemed eager to give it a try. Finally, to Scott she gave a book called Guide to Master Falconry.
Kieran gave Dora a subscription to Quidditch Quarterly. Harriet loved her gift, a Holyhead Harpies hoodie that looked very soft and comfortable. She put it on at once.
He gave Hermione a cat care kit for Crookshanks, a book about the Tottenham Hotspurs football team to Marcus, and a t-shirt for the Nottingham Forest football club for Ronnie, her favourite team. Finally to Scott he gave a wand-care kit which caused Scott’s lips to twitch as though trying not to laugh.
Marcus had a more universal gift. He and his dad had given everyone smoked ham from their farm. Ronnie gave Dora a copy of Quidditch Through the Ages, while she gave Harriet the biography of Gwenog Jones, captain of the Holyhead Harpies. No one was quite sure how to take her gift to Hermione, which was a bell to put on Crookshanks collar. Harriet was sure it had more to do with keeping Crookshanks away from Scabbers than anything else.
For Kieran, the shillelagh modifications theme continued, as Ronnie gave him a compass to put on the top of his shillelagh. Harriet was starting to pick up the theme, perhaps talking with Scott this summer had given him the idea to help Kieran get out and about and join in Scott’s adventures even more, helping them both have more fun together.
To Marcus, Ronnie had saved up to give him a hoodie in the Hotspurs colours and to Scott she gave a book, Ancient Runes of Egypt. Harriet was mildly impressed that Ronnie had looked around enough to pick out that particular book.
Scott had followed in Marcus’ line of thinking and gave everyone almost the same gift, a wand-care kit made by his cousin Jess. Harriet now understood why Scott had found Kieran’s gift so amusing, and both of them had a good laugh over the coincidence. There was one exception in Scott’s gifts, his gift to Hermione. Instead of a wand kit, he gave her a knitting kit instead.
“I remembered you studying the knits in the hat I gave you last year, so I thought you might like to try it out,” he said smiling.
Hermione merely responded by giving him a tight hug.
Now that all their presents to each other were opened, everyone turned to their remaining gifts from friends and family back home. True to form, Mrs Weasley had given everyone personalized jumpers. Easily the worst present was to Marcus, who received a letter and a box of pills from his mother. Judging by the look on Marcus’ face, the letter was not to his liking, and Harriet’s suspicion over who Marcus’ boggart had been was confirmed.
Harriet’s little mystery box present turned out to be a silver bracelet of interlocked snitches. She read the note attached, still uncertain who it could be from.
This is only the prototype, but it’s supposed to turn red when someone around you is lying. The accuracy is still touchy, as everyone around you in school may lie about something. Hopefully you find it useful. Please fill out the included comments card with any suggestions and send it to the return OOBox.
Your Secret Santa
Harriet smiled putting it on. Heh, maybe this’ll show people like Fudge whenever they try and lie when I’m around, Harriet thought.
Fred and George came through for Ronnie and had bought her a new pair of football cleats. She also received a new pair of shin-guards, but no note came with that one.
“Probably from Dad,” Ronnie said. “He’s forgetful like that.”
“What’s that behind you, Harriet?” Dora asked, spotting the broomstick.
“Oh this, right,” Harriet said picking it up.
“That’s a broomstick, that is!” Ronnie said excitedly. “Open it, open it! Is there a note?”
“Um, no, no note,” Harriet said inspecting it. She ripped off the packaging at the end and gasped.
She couldn’t move. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be. Through the tear in the packaging was a single word, laid in gold into the polished, ash handle: Firebolt.