Thanks again to my beta reader, Suburban House Elf - Happy New Year, everyone!
A GIFT AT CHRISTMAS
Chapter One - To Have And To Hold
It was Christmas Eve, and Harry was alone in the boys' dormitory hastily packing his school bag for a trip. It shouldn't have taken much effort to pack what he would need to take with him to The Burrow, but he had put it off until the last minute and now he was in a rush. He was stuffing his bag with warm clothes and small Christmas gifts, all the while scanning the room to see if he was forgetting anything important. This year he would be spending Christmas with the Weasleys, and he couldn't imagine a better way to spend it. He knew that anything he might forget to bring they could fix him up with, like a towel or a toothbrush or an extra pair of socks. And he was so anxious to get down the stairs to the Entrance Hall where they were waiting for him that it was hard to think of the little things. But it was Christmas Eve and he was going to be at The Burrow for a couple of weeks, and that was all that mattered.
He was in such a hurry that he almost missed the scratching sound on the windowsill beside his bed. He turned around as he was hoisting his bag to his shoulder just in time to see Hedwig sitting outside on the ledge, her wide eyes practically the only things visible against the background of falling snow. As if to reinforce the need for him to open the window, she raised her left leg to reveal a small parcel tied to it, and blinked her brown eyes importantly.
"Hedwig!" exclaimed Harry as he rushed to the window. He pried it open with effort and she flew into the room past him, landing with a couple of hops on his bed. She keeled over onto his comforter with a thump and breathed a "hoo" that sounded more like a wheezy sigh. Her leg was still stuck out at an angle, seemingly frozen in mid-air. Harry scraped the window closed, but not before a puff of cold air and snowflakes had a chance to blow in. "Hedwig, where have you been?" Harry demanded, wondering who could be sending him something at the last minute. Hedwig turned her head and gave him an incredulous look. "Okay, okay, but I've got to hurry." He began untying the parcel from her upraised leg. "I really don't have time for this. They're waiting for me downstairs." Harry hastily stuffed the package in his bag and slung the strap over his shoulder. He extended his arm to Hedwig, but she turned her face away with a swivel of her feathery head.
"I'm sorry, Hedwig. You can stay here if you want. I'll be at The Burrow if you need me. And Pig will be there too –"
At the mention of Pigwidgeon's name and with a flap of her wings to right herself, Hedwig took flight and circled the room once before coming to light on Harry's arm. She was not going to be left behind if Ron's hyperactive little barnstormer of an owl was going to be on call while Harry was away. She hopped onto his shoulder, giving his earlobe a reproachful nip. Together they exited the dormitory and the portrait hole and descended the stairs to where Ron, Ginny and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were waiting.
It wasn't until later that night, after everyone had gone to bed and Ron was snoring soundly that Harry had a chance to open the package. Safely hidden under the blankets in the bed across the room from Ron, he held out his wand and whispered, "Lumos!" The tip of his wand glowed with a warm blue light. He set the wand beside him and took the package into his hands from under his pillow, inspecting it slowly. It had no name or return address written anywhere on the outside and was tied with twine. Harry slipped the rough string off and lifted the folded corners of the flat little bundle. There was a plain, unmarked envelope inside, which Harry tore open and he took out a piece of notepaper folded in half. He opened the notepaper, which was covered with writing on both sides, revealing the thin, angular cursive of his Aunt Petunia. Tucked inside the notepaper was a small square of folded white tissue paper. He carefully opened it, taking pains not to tear it, feeling something small and hard inside. As he peeled back the last layer of paper, a fine gold locket on a slender chain slipped out onto his lap. Harry lifted the delicate chain and dangled the locket in front of his eyes. The locket was in the shape of a heart with tiny flowers carved on the front. He pried it open gently, hardly daring to breathe. Inside was a picture of his parents, their tiny happy faces smiling up at him. He set the open locket on the bed in front of him as his parents began to wave at him. He quickly picked up the note from his Aunt Petunia, anxious for an explanation. The letter began without a greeting.
"This locket belonged to my sister –"
Harry gasped. Was it really true, he wondered? He peered over the top of the letter at the picture of his parents who smiled and waved again.
"- and your Uncle Vernon doesn't know I'm sending it to you. Ever since you viciously attacked his sister, Marge, and she had to be treated by those creatures from your world to undo what you did to her and deflate her, he has wanted to rid the house of all your belongings and insisted any family mementos had to go as well. He didn't want there to be any evidence of your things left while you were gone. Whatever he didn't burn in the fireplace he buried in a box in the backyard –"
Harry did a quick inventory to see if he could think of anything important they may have destroyed. He had a mental picture of the contents in the box in the backyard becoming damp and moldy. Anything that he really loved of any value he always took to Hogwarts, so he didn't think the damage could be too bad.
"- all except for this locket. My parents gave each of us a locket when we became engaged. She was wearing hers at her wedding ceremony. She was also wearing it the day she died. It's the only thing I asked the funeral parlor director to give me. She may have been a freak, but she was my sister."
"I am sending this to you to get it out of my house. I didn't want Vernon to put it in the fire, but I didn't want it anywhere near the house either so I hid it to keep him from burying it. I have worked very hard all of my life to separate myself from my sister and her filthy friends. I have been careful that Vernon should have the perfect home and the perfect life without any interference from the perverted abilities that she so freely flaunted. My house will always be spotless, my husband will be successful and well respected, and my family will be shielded from any unpleasantness thanks to my hard work alone and without the attributes of the lifestyle she willingly chose. And your cousin Dudley will never, ever have to be troubled the way I was. I will do my best to see to that. He has grown up in a nice, normal home, and will continue to do so."
Harry actually pitied his aunt for a moment that she had no clue how un-normal Dudley and his home really were.
"And nothing you or the horrible headmaster of that institution you call a school will ever be able to do anything to spoil my home or my family the way my sister spoiled mine."
The letter ended there abruptly, without so much as a "Cordially" or a "Truly Yours" or "Sod Off". Harry flipped the notepaper over again to be sure there wasn't more to it, inspecting the brown parcel paper it came in, too. So, this locket had belonged to his mum. He gently closed the locket case with a snap and wrapped his fingers over it, gripping it tightly in his fist. This had been his mum's, he thought over and over to himself, and now he was holding it in his hand. She was actually wearing it when she died; the night Voldemort killed her while she was trying to save him. It had once touched her and hung around her neck, and now it was touching him as he held it in his hand. With a flick of his wand he extinguished the light and lay back on his pillow, pushing the blankets away from his face. He clutched the locket for a long time, not feeling the least bit sleepy. The Dursleys had never given him anything remotely resembling a gift before, not anything of value, anyway. Besides Dudley's old clothes and the rubbish they usually sent him for Christmas, this was the first thing he had ever received from them that actually meant anything. And even at that it hadn't been sent as a gift, but as an alternative to being burned in the fireplace or buried in a box. But that didn't matter. It was here, and it was his. Finally, when his eyes became too heavy to hold open any longer, even with the excitement of Christmas in the morning and being at Ron's house, he drifted almost unwillingly off to sleep. He had reached under his pillow to place it there, but kept it clutched in his fist instead and fell asleep with his hand under his head all night, not wanting to let go of it.
To be continued . . ..