The Sugar Quill
Author: Fab4Mum (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Gift At Christmas  Chapter: Chapter Two: In Sickness And In Health
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(A/N – There are three things I wanted to mention: 1. Thanks to my beta reader, Suburban House Elf. I trust your judgment, and your attention to detail is greatly appreciated; 2. Apologies extended to the Beatles for shamelessly stealing a line from the beginning of their movie, "Help!" and placing it in the scene where Harry is trying to wake Ron; 3. I love the way C. S. Lewis writes about food, among many other things, and how he makes it sound so yummy, so I wanted to take a shot at it myself. Excuse me now while I go get a cookie.)

A GIFT AT CHRISTMAS

Chapter Two – In Sickness And In Health

Christmas Day at The Burrow dawned clear, cold and early. Harry awoke feeling preoccupied as he heard voices calling "Happy Christmas" and the sound of the twins pounding on bedroom doors to roust everyone up. There was a stack of presents at the foot of each of their beds, and in a flash Ron had thrown back his blankets and propelled himself over the small mound of gifts in an effort to get to the door first. Harry bolted from his bed and was at Ron's heels as they both reached the door, jostling each other and laughing as they jockeyed to be the first one out.

The day began with a hearty breakfast around the table in the kitchen, with everyone still in their pajamas and dressing gowns. Harry fit right in, with everyone else's hair looking as rumpled and uncombed as his own. The kitchen was warm with a heavenly baking scent and the thick aroma of bacon and toast. Molly Weasley had definitely outdone herself, and Harry marveled that there was great wealth here in this house in the midst of meager means. Fresh baked bread for toast and scones and butter with marmalade and platters of eggs and bacon and sausage covered the table. There was tea with plenty of milk and sugar and hot chocolate, too. And then there were Christmas cookies and ginger snaps and cinnamon buns in baskets lined with linen napkins sitting on the drain board and kitchen counters. The fragrances of cinnamon, ginger and pine surrounded them as they opened gifts in the parlor, where there was a warm fire crackling in the grate. There was a small tree on a tabletop decorated with tinsel, paper chains, red bows, small wooden toys that traded places with each other by Apparating from branch to branch, and candles that seemed to float on the tips of the needles. Afterwards Mr. Weasley played the piano and they all gathered round and sang carols and a chorus of "God Rest Ye Merry, Hippogriffs", making up silly verses as they went along, which Harry felt Sirius would have approved of.

When the parlor had been properly littered with Christmas wrappings all undone and strewn about and everyone had had their fill of breakfast feasting and carol singing, they either drifted off to read new books or play new games. Mrs. Weasley returned to the kitchen to begin preparing Christmas dinner. Harry wondered where he was going to find room for more, being sufficiently stuffed from breakfast, but he figured he would be ready when the time came. Harry was glad to be engulfed in the bustle of it all because it helped hide the fact that he didn't feel all there. He truly loved being with the Weasleys and being treated like a member of the family, and he was glad they had invited him to come stay with them for the holidays. But his mind was upstairs with the little package he had re-wrapped and placed in his bag when Ron wasn't around. He kept thinking about it, completely amazed that it had come to be in his possession, and he felt anxious to return to Ron's room to check on it, which he did from time to time. He wanted to hold it and make sure it was really real and really his.

Later that evening, after Ron and Harry had finished their last game of Exploding Snap and each of them had battled their way (with differing degrees of success) through a wizard chess tournament with George, Fred and Ginny, they headed up to Ron's room. Molly appeared from the kitchen and approached Harry at the foot of the stairs. “Harry dear,” she called after him. Harry turned as Ron headed up the stairs. She had a look of earnestness in her eyes as she placed a motherly hand on his shoulder. “Harry, I just wanted to tell you how lovely it is to have you here with us for the holidays. I’m so glad you could come. You’re welcome here any time, you know. Christmas just isn’t the same now, without – “ She paused and bit her lower lip. “Well, you know, there’s always been nine of us, and now with only six, and Bill not being able to get away from Gringotts until later, and Charlie in Bulgaria, and Percy – “ Harry hadn't heard her mention Percy in months. Her eyes were moist with emotion, and she dabbed at them with the corner of her apron. Harry thought that six for Christmas was more than plenty, let alone nine, but upon seeing Molly so upset he leaned over and planted a quick kiss on her cheek, which he thought was the least he could do. Molly blushed and covered the spot on her face with her hand, exclaiming softly.

“Now you’ve done it,” moaned Ron from the top of the stairs. “There’ll be no living with her for a week.”

Harry shrugged his shoulders as he slowly climbed the steps. “I dunno,” he muttered, “she seemed to sort of need it.” Almost immediately, he had a strange sensation of guilt creep over him, weighing him down, so that his steps slowed even more. “Don’t worry Mum, I didn’t mean it,” he whispered. “I did it for Mrs. Weasley, but she’ll never take your place.”

He had never spoken out loud to his mum in a conversational way like that before. He’d never even thought about doing it, but the words just sort of tumbled out of him instinctively, and it felt reassuring somehow to treat her like she was close by and could hear him. He reached the top of the stairs and saw Ron standing on the landing, looking amused.

“Did you say something?” Ron asked.

“No – no, I was just thinking out loud. It’s nothing,” Harry said dismissively.

“Well, keep your thoughts inside your head from now on, mate,” Ron said as he continued up the next flight of stairs, two at a time. “Most people only do that when they’ve gone barmy.”

Harry was awakened in the middle of the night by a soft buzzing sound. He lifted his head and gazed groggily over at Ron, who was sound asleep. "Ron!" he called in a hoarse whisper. "Ron – " He leaned out of bed as far as he could without falling and tugged on Ron's blanket.

"Wha – " Ron stirred in his sleep, but was less than half-conscious.

"Ron! Is that you buzzing?" Harry asked. "Ron!" He pulled on the blanket again, but to no avail.

"No tap dancing, no tap dancing . . . " Ron whimpered, and rolled over to face the wall.

Harry settled back onto his pillow, but the buzzing persisted. The more awake Harry became, the more it sounded as if the noise was coming from inside his school bag. He pulled the bag up onto his bed and opened it, digging into the contents to find the offending source. As he reached in further, he realized that it was coming from the package from Aunt Petunia. He held the brown paper parcel in his hand as it vibrated with a delicate hum. He opened the tissue paper where he had re-wrapped the locket and held it in his open palm. All at once the vibrating stopped. Harry picked up the locket between his thumb and forefinger, and began to rub the flower design on the front, tracing the etched design with his thumb. He felt soothed and at peace, and was oddly grateful to his Aunt Petunia for deciding to send it to him. However, the moment he placed it back in the tissue paper and folded it to return it to his bag, it began to hum again. Puzzled, Harry shook it, tapped it, and even whispered "Ssh!" at it, but it continued to make noise. He unwrapped it and picked it up to take a closer look at it, and at once the humming stopped. Bewildered, Harry stuffed the paper minus its contents back into his bag, lowered the bag onto the floor, and then lay on his bed, dangling the chain above him. "How can I keep you from making that noise so I can get back to sleep?" he whispered. "You didn't hum last night," he added, and placed the locket under his pillow. He let go of it and arranged the pillow on top of it, then slowly lowered his head onto the pillow, wary lest the buzzing should start again. He lay there for a minute or two waiting, and when it had been silent for quite awhile, he felt confident he'd found the solution. He knew the basic warnings and precautions regarding inanimate objects that don't quite behave the way they should in the wizarding world, but for now he was relieved that he had succeeded in quieting it, and eventually he drifted off to sleep.

In the morning as he was dressing for breakfast, Harry wrestled with the idea of what to do with the locket. He wasn't keen on anyone else knowing about it, not just yet. He had one thing he wanted to check on when he got back to Hogwarts, just to feel sure that it was what Petunia had said it was. It was nobody else's business but his own that he had it, as far as he was concerned. It was a guilty pleasure, and a link to his mum that made him feel secretive and serious. He decided it was better, for now, not to tell anyone about it, and he couldn't risk anyone coming in to Ron's room and hearing it make its noise and discovering it, so he stuffed it into his jeans pocket just to be safe and headed down the stairs.

As the days at The Burrow went by, Harry couldn't help noticing that people were looking at him a little differently, especially Ginny and Ron. Over the past several weeks at school he and Ginny had grown closer, discussing Quidditch, their classes and even what career paths they should choose after Hogwarts. Harry had felt conflicted, for the most part because he was having a hard time deciding what Ginny should be – a friend or more than a friend? On the one hand, he thought, she was the only student at Hogwarts, other than himself, who really knew what it was like to have survived an encounter with Voldemort. On the other hand, it was nice to watch the way her nose crinkled when she laughed at his jokes, and sometimes he had liked to hope this meant she was flirting with him. But at The Burrow, Harry was keeping a nervous distance from Ginny, partly because her parents were close by and partly because he was becoming annoyed with her need for his attention. Now that he had his mum's necklace, Ginny's presence seemed a betrayal and he began to feel pressured and irritated. He definitely avoided the mistletoe hanging in the kitchen archway like the plague whenever she was around. Her face when she looked at Harry lately was full of hurt and concern.

Ron, on the other hand, only noticed that Harry seemed preoccupied and unfocused. He commented that Harry was much easier to defeat these days when they played wizard chess. "You're not even trying to beat me," he complained one day after a particularly short game. "It's almost not fair. Not that I mind, of course. But it's almost like you're letting me win. It's pathetic, really. What's with you?" Harry shrugged it off and made some remark about pressures at school. Ron sulked and gave Harry a skeptical glare.

Harry continued to feel Ron's watchful concern at different times throughout the week, which only added to his growing discomfort. Whenever he felt this unease, he would reach into his pocket for his mum's necklace, which he now carried with him everywhere he went. He found that if he held it tightly, sometimes squeezing it so hard that he could feel the chain digging into his skin, it brought him comfort, like a security blanket for a troubled toddler.

During the afternoons they would bundle up and head outside to the field behind The Burrow taking turns on each other's brooms, as there weren't enough to go around, to keep up their Quidditch skills. It was fine weather for flying, with clear skies and cold air that stung their faces as they soared around makeshift goals, hurling Quaffles at one another. But Harry found that he tired of this activity quickly, and was becoming sloppy with his dives and catches. He was growing restless with the holidays and was anxious to return to Hogwarts. By this time Bill had arrived from London, so their Quidditch playing became even more spirited, and they came down hard on Harry if he made a wrong move or appeared too sluggish while making a play.

"Come on, Harry!" Fred yelled exasperatedly after Harry had allowed the Quaffle to streak past him.

"Halloooo, Harry Potter, anybody home?" George called as he flew past Harry, cuffing him on the back of the head.

"Come off it you two, Harry's fine, he's just a little off, aren't you, Harry?" Ron called hopefully. Harry waved and smiled a half-hearted smile from his position twenty feet up in the air, but he felt disconnected. He didn't like the fact that only a week before he could hardly wait to get to The Burrow, and now he felt like he was marking time until it was time to leave.

On New Year's Eve, everyone gathered round in the kitchen and celebrated together at midnight. They sang a rousing rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" while Mr. Weasley played the piano, and afterwards they toasted the New Year with mugs of hot cider. Bill held his mug high and led them all with, "Here's to the best mum and dad anyone could have, and the best man on the job at the Ministry as well!"

"Here, here!" they all said, and a few of them said, "Cheers!" as they clinked each other's mugs.

"Here's to the best shop on Diagon Alley and to a prosperous New Year!" offered Fred.

"Here, here!"

"Cheers!"

Clink. Arthur's enthusiasm over Fred's toast was more noticeable than Molly's.

"Here's to Gryffindor winning the Quidditch Cup!" said Ginny.

"And the House Cup!" added Ron.

"Here, here!"

"Cheers!"

Clink.

"Here's to family, and being together at the holidays," said Molly, as she looked around the circle meaningfully at each member, the last one being Harry. She gave him a warm smile.

"Here, here!"

"Cheers!"

Clink.

Finally, Arthur cleared his throat and raised his mug. "Here's to the speedy capture and demise of You-Know-Who, and a swift resolution to the war." He paused and set his face with a hopeful expression. "May this circle be unbroken as we stand together next New Year's."

The room was silent for a moment before Harry said, "To Dumbledore."

Bill said, "And Charlie."

They raised their mugs, but Molly stopped them with an upraised hand. "And Percy," she added softly.

The mood changed considerably. Arthur was the first one to tap mugs in the center of the circle. Ron seemed almost reluctant to join in.

"Here, here."

Clink.

Bill took a gulp of his cider and set his mug down on the kitchen table. "Well then," he said, rubbing his hands together eagerly, "how about a little music?" He approached the piano, slid onto the stool and began to play what sounded like a cross between ragtime and heavy metal. His playing style was to pound the piano boisterously, and he began to sing a limerick song of rather questionable lyrics:

"There was a young lady from Hogsmeade – "

Molly gasped and grabbed Bill's ear above the dragon-tooth earring between her thumb and forefinger, giving it a tug. "BILL WEASLEY, WHERE DID YOU EVER LEARN A SONG LIKE THAT, NOT IN THIS HOUSE YOU DON'T!" she shrieked, lacking only the appearance of a little red Howler envelope with steam rising out of it.

"OW OW OW OW!" Bill cried as he recoiled from the tweaking. "Okay Mum, okay! Let's see, what's something a little more appropriate – " He began to play and sing a less offensive tune, and George, Fred and Ginny stood behind him to join in. Harry yawned, stretched and headed for the stairs. He turned before the first step and waved towards Ron, signaling goodnight. Ginny followed and called to him from the bottom of the stairs.

"Harry – "

He turned and looked down at her.

"Are you – won't you stay a little longer? Maybe we'll play a game, or – "

He shook his head. "No, thanks, I'm tired. I think I'll just turn in."

"Harry?" Her voice was almost pleading. She seemed to flinch at the annoyed look he gave her.

"Are you alright? You – you don't seem very happy lately."

"No, I'm fine. I'm just tired, that's all." Harry turned and continued up the stairs, leaving Ginny standing there looking up at him. "She's mad," he thought, "I'm the happiest I've been in a long time. I've finally got something of my mum's, haven't I?" He wound his way up the landings and flights of stairs until he reached Ron's room. He closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the gold chain and carried it to the bed, placing it under his pillow. "I'm trying as hard as I can, mum. I'm trying to be happy, but they just don't get it."

After breakfast the next morning, Ginny found Harry sitting outside on the front steps bundled in a sweater and wool scarf. She sat down next to him and they were silent for a while, watching their breath evaporate in the frosty air.

"You're ready to go back, aren't you?" she asked suddenly. He looked at her, startled.

"Yeah, I guess. That is, not to be mean or anything, you've all been great – "

"That's okay, I could tell."

Harry felt a little unnerved by her understanding. He stood to go back inside.

"Wait, Harry - would you like to go for a walk?" Ginny rose to her feet and beckoned him down the path.

"No, I – " Harry started an excuse, and then saw the look on Ginny's face. "Oh well, mum, what could it hurt?" he thought. "Alright," he said, "but not too far." He followed Ginny down the stone walkway and through the rickety wooden gate to the dirt road that wound past Mr. Weasley's shed. They walked for a bit without saying anything, their hands stuffed in their pockets.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Ginny said after awhile.

"Talk about what?" Harry asked.

"About why you're so anxious to leave. About why you're not having a good time."

"Who said I wasn't having a good time?" Harry said defensively.

"Well, you're not, are you? You don't seem to want to do much. You're fussed with everybody about everything. And you hardly talk to me at all. Not that I really want anything from you. I just hate seeing you looking so sad."

Harry felt totally exposed. "I don't want to talk about it. There's nothing to talk about. Really. And I'm not sad. I just have a lot on my mind lately. And if I'm making you sad, maybe you should find someone happy to talk to. Maybe you should just leave me alone." The words had no sooner slipped out of Harry's mouth than Ginny's eyes brimmed with tears.

"Well, if that's the way you want it, fine!" she stammered.

"That IS the way I want it!" Harry said, his voice rising.

"FINE!" she yelled back, and turned on her heels, racing back up the path towards the house.

"FINE!" Harry shouted to her retreating figure. He reached down and picked up a stone and hurled it as far as he could down the road. "Fine," he thought, "she got me out here on this walk, and now she's run off and I'm freezing. Help me, Mum. I don't seem to be able to do anything right where Ginny is concerned."

There was an uncomfortable silence between Harry and Ginny that lasted all the rest of the holiday and even after they had returned to Hogwarts. Ron tried to broach the subject once or twice, but was met with avid resistance from Harry. When Harry was finally back inside Hogwarts Castle, he seemed to be able to breathe easier, and he could immerse himself in the crowd of fellow students without feeling like his moods were constantly being watched and scrutinized.

On his first night back, after lights were out and he was sure his dormitory mates were sleeping soundly, he slipped out onto the cold floor, tiptoed to the trunk at the foot of his bed and lifted the heavy lid as noiselessly as possible. He removed the photo album Hagrid had given him at the end of his first year and crept back into bed, pulling the curtains of his canopy all the way around him. He removed his wand from under his blankets and whispered, "Lumos!" By the glow of the blue wand-light, he turned the pages of the album past various pictures of his parents, until he came to the one he was looking for. There on the page in front of him was his parents' wedding picture. It was a group photo, with his mum and dad and the other three Marauders and several of their friends, all in their wedding clothes. He squinted and looked closely at the picture, but couldn't quite see the thing he was looking for well enough. He took his wand in his hand and pressed the tip to where his mother's neck was in the photograph, and whispered "Magnify." The picture blurred and swirled and the images expanded outward and then contracted back again, retaining their larger size. There was one lone area that had been transformed the most, and that was the portion displaying Lily's shoulders. Draped around Lily's neck Harry could barely make out a necklace of some sort. He tapped the photo again and said "Magnify" once more, and there enlarged before him was the image of the locket. Harry reached under his pillow and pulled out the same locket from where he had hidden it earlier, placing them side-by-side on the album page. "It's true, it's true!" he whispered so softly that his lips were barely moving. He felt a lump rise in his throat, so he squeezed the locket hard. The lump slowly faded, but he continued clutching the little gold heart. He quickly opened the curtains and replaced the album in the trunk, listening for any signs of stirring from the other beds. He slid underneath the blankets and slipped the locket back into place, giving it one last look before he rested his pillow on top of it. "Good night, mum," he thought. "Everything's going to be okay now."

//
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