A/N: Very huge thanks to Zsenya for being wonderful and
beta-reading, as well as presenting me with a N.E.W.T.
After the real, live deerstalker hat that my mother gave me, the N.E.W.T. is my
second-favorite present. J
I would also like to thank Catherine for being so generous
with her Klarions – because yes, the Klarions are Catherine’s – and letting them come out to
play with me. Catherine, you’re the best Old Wizard I know.
It was the middle of the Christmas visiting season at Mistraldol, and while Errol usually made at least an
appearance while his parents entertained, he had begged off. He’d had a bad day
yesterday. Even though today was better, he didn’t feel like seeing anyone. So
he sat in the library with a volume of children’s stories that, according to
his mother, had been one of his favorites when he was younger. He settled into
a chair, re-exploring tales that had once been his, but had since been lost.
Errol was aware of the door creaking open some time later,
but he did not move from his chair. There would be nothing threatening in Mistraldol, and Isis, reposing
comfortably at his feet, had not moved. He silently rested his book in his lap
There were whispers he could not make out – childish
whispers. Footsteps. And then a boy’s voice said quite
loudly, “There’s no one in here – why are we whispering?”
“’Cause it’s a liberry,
Ned,” lisped another voice, this one a girl’s. “You whisper in a liberry.”
“Shut it, Madeline,” said Ned imperiously. “I’ll talk if I
want – not that you can, with that lisp of yours – ” Madeline began to
Another boy’s voice intervened, “Come on, now – ”
Ned said, “You stay out of it, Jeremiah.”
“You were awful mean to her, Ned.”
There was a pause in which Errol heard more whimpers and
sniffles from Madeline. Finally, Ned said gruffly, “Sorry.”
Isis had, by this time, stood up, stretched, and come out to
investigate. Errol heard rapid footsteps. Isis came running back to Errol’s
chair, followed by a lovely little blond creature who was surely no more than
two years old.
Isis jumped in Errol’s lap. The little girl’s eyes followed
the cat’s movement and widened as they took in Errol. He smiled and held a
finger to his lips. She nodded and did the same, with a serious, rather
The matter of silence having been settled, Errol turned his
attention back to the children behind his chair. Ned and Madeline had
apparently made up, thanks to the interventions of young Jeremiah, and it was
Jeremiah who said, “Where’s Ellie?”
Ned said, “She’s prob’ly just run
off. Don’t worry about her.”
“But she’s the youngest, Ned – we’ve got to find
Ned gave an aggrieved sigh. “Okay, then, Jerry. You take
that half, and I’ll look about in this half.”
“What about me?” whined Madeline.
“You go with Jerry.”
Errol waited patiently to be discovered, as did Ellie.
Jeremiah and Madeline soon passed hand in hand into Errol’s line of sight.
Unlike Ellie, they had brown hair and looked very much alike, although Jeremiah
was obviously a little older – perhaps about seven years of age. Madeline
looked to be about five years old.
“Where could she be?” whispered Madeline.
“She couldn’t have left,” Jeremiah whispered back. “We’ll
find her. Did you ever see so many books in your life?”
“No – oh, Jerry, I do wish I could read. I’ve been
working so hard, and I just can’t do
Errol said, “It might take a bit more practice, but I’m sure
you’ll get it.”
He was amused to see the two children freeze, stricken.
Jeremiah was the first to recover. The boy said politely, “Forgive us, sir – we
didn’t know anyone else was in here.”
Madeline blurted, “Ellie!” The little girl laughed.
Errol smiled at them. “This is your sister?”
The two spoke together, “Yes, sir.”
Ned came striding around at the sound of voices. He stopped
short when he saw Errol. Blond like Ellie, he looked a very self-assured young
boy of perhaps nine. He demanded of Errol, “Who are you, and what are you doing
Isis jumped off Errol’s lap; Errol stood and bowed. “Errol Klarion at your service. I live here.”
Jeremiah poked Ned, trying to get him to step back. Ned
pressed on, “It was a pretty rotten thing, not telling us you were here.”
Errol raised an eyebrow, but only said, “I do apologize for
that, young sir. Might I ask your names?” He knew his mother had told him the
surnames of their guests, and he knew he was supposed to remember them from
somewhere, but he had forgotten to write it down. Of course, his mother had
told him yesterday – yesterday had been bad.
Madeline stepped forward. “I’m Madeline Garland, sir, and
that’s Jeremiah Garland, and – ” she pointed to the little girl by Errol’s feet
“—that’s Eleanor Garland, and that’s Ned Garland.” She indicated Ned
with distaste. “He thinks he’s special ‘cause he’s the oldest.”
Over Ned’s indignant splutters, Jeremiah began to admonish
Madeline. Ellie – or Eleanor – began to toddle after Isis, who did not look
thrilled about being chased by a small child. Errol raised his voice slightly
before the din got too unbearable and said, “Jeremiah!”
The children, in their various stages of noise, wound down
to a stop. Errol continued in a normal voice, “Jeremiah, how did the four of
you come here?”
Jeremiah blushed. “Well, sir, our parents are with your
parents, and we were s’posed to go to the playroom
after dinner, but Ned said we should go exploring, and we came in here – ”
Jeremiah shrugged helplessly. Ned looked furious.
Errol nodded. He was quite sure he’d done similar things as
a child, although he couldn’t remember doing them. “It’s quite all right,
Jeremiah. There’s no harm done.” Errol turned towards the door. “I suppose I
should take you to the playroom.”
Madeline piped up, “C’n we stay
here? I want to try and read the books!”
Ned hissed, “Mr. Klarion is busy,
Errol held up a hand. “Not at all, Mr. Garland – in fact, I
would prefer to have company tonight.” He was lying, but having company would
no doubt keep him from being miserable. “I’ve no doubt been bored when I went
visiting with my parents.” The happy, sheepish looks on the faces of the
Garland children went a long way towards pulling him out of his black mood.
“Have a look at whatever you’d like. I’ll requisition some cocoa and biscuits.”
When Errol returned with a laden tray, Ned was examining the
bookshelves with a patrician air, Ellie was chasing Isis (who was being
remarkably good-natured about it all), and Jeremiah was trying to comfort
Madeline, who was clearly frustrated about something – Errol supposed it was
about not being able to read. He set the tray down on a table, and the four
Garlands came running.
He surveyed them as they partook. It was plain to see that
he would have to find something for all of them to do. But what?
To give himself time to think – he didn’t allow himself to
think that he’d have been able to figure out something without thinking about
it four years ago – he went to the fireplace and started a fire. The room was
filled with a warm light that no lamp could truly recreate. He had – there – a
so very vague memory of sitting in this room in such light with a man – Father
– telling him –
Telling him a story.
Errol stared into the fire, thinking – what story could he
tell these children? One of the stories in his book, perhaps? No – stories
meant more when the storyteller did not look at a book.
He called, “Come sit over here.”
The Garlands somehow managed to drag over three ottomans.
Errol sat in his chair, and Ellie crawled up in his lap. He was surprised, but
The children looked at him expectantly, cocoa mustaches
Errol said, “Would you like to hear a story?”
The Garlands gave vigorous nods – even Ellie. Isis settled
down beside Jeremiah and huddled, watching Errol closely.
“What sort of story?”
“A Christmas story!” said Madeline immediately.
“With adventure,” said Ned, definite. “Nothing smarmy.”
Ellie’s only comment was, “Storeeee!”
It was Jeremiah who said unexpectedly, “Not a happy one.”
The other Garlands and Errol looked at Jeremiah, who was
sitting cross-legged on his ottoman and looking at Errol astutely. Errol,
feeling rather uncomfortable, said, “All right.”
He exhaled. An unhappy Christmas story. There had been last
Christmas, when he had had one of his bad days, and he made his mother let him
stay in the library alone all day. That was bad – but it didn’t have adventure,
which was Ned’s qualification. He didn’t remember anything much from
Christmases before that.
Maybe he could make up something, and if he forgot the
details, it wouldn’t be so bad. Yes, that was the way to go. But perhaps he
should start with something he knew, or someone he had known. That would be the
best way to make it an unhappy story.
He couldn’t face talking about Shari, and talking about her
to a bunch of children…it wasn’t a good idea. But Severus…he thought he could
Errol looked at each of the four Garlands in turn, saving
Jeremiah for last. “You asked for a story about Christmas that has adventure
and isn’t happy. I think I know one that I can tell you. It’ll be a bit long,
and perhaps frightening.” He noted that Ned looked particularly happy at that
prospect. “I believe that you are all mature enough to remember that this is
just a story.” The children nodded. Errol continued, “Ned, I think you’re the
only one who’s old enough to remember anything about Lord Voldemort.” The
children winced, and Errol was angry with himself. He should have known that he
was supposed to give the false name! “I mean He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, of
course. Do you know what his followers were called?”
“Death Eaters,” said Ned. The boy looked as though he were
repressing himself for the sake of such a sober topic, although he was eager to
Errol nodded. “Very good, Ned. And were all Death Eaters
“Are you sure?”
Ned bit his lower lip. Errol kept his face straight. “No,”
the boy said finally.
“No, they weren’t. And the one I’m going to tell you about
wasn’t really bad at all. You need to remember that.” He felt as though he was
trying to convince them of a fact that really wasn’t true – but he hadn’t seen
Severus since the night he’d had his accident. “He was a good man. Remember
that as we go through the story.”
Errol had them hanging on his every word. He settled back
into his chair and began to speak, haltingly at first, but slowly slipping into
the rhythm of the story – so much that even he didn’t know which details he
slid into the story were and weren’t true.
“It was Christmas Eve, and Sev –
Stephen – was lonely…”