A Very Muggle Christmas
Mary could not quite speak at first as she experienced trouble believing her own ears. Was that old hag assuming that Sirius was a groom? And what - even though to wizard standards Sirius was quite the opposite - if he was just a poor stable boy?
Personally Mary could not care less about old-fashioned social standards, but inappropriate prejudice and the arrogance of the elite made her blood boil. Aunt Muriel was staring straight at her, clearly waiting to see if she had struck a nerve. Well, she sure did.
Mary suddenly felt a strong desire to hit that ugly posh face which was so nastily smirking at her. She desperately clenched her fists at her side to prevent her hands from reaching for aunt Muriels ghastly-looking hat and adding a big dirty rat to the thing, stuff it all the way over her face and push her aunt straight into the stinking dungheap next to the barn.
Instead, she continued to glare at aunt Muriel while desperately trying to steady her breathing, but her eyes must have been shooting daggers by now. Her aunt however did not seem intimidated at all. Quite the contrary, since she merely pursed her dark red lips and shot Mary an interrogating look: "Well?" she inquired.
Mary's eyes glinted dangerously and her mouth had become so thin that she managed a perfect imitation of an annoyed Professor McGonagall. She continued grinding her teeth for another moment while trying to get a grip on herself before angrily stuttering: "You… You vile… Ignorant stupid-"
"Well!" Sirius intervened right on time. "As much as I appreciate the compliment of being referred to as a groom - especially since before today I had no riding experience at all– I feel obliged to tell you that I'm neither a stable boy nor have anything to do with horses. I am her classmate, we go to school together."
Aunt Muriel frowned. "So then you're just a mere schoolboy?"
Mary noticed that Sirius was also about to lose his patience. However, he managed to smile politely as he said: "Yes, just a schoolboy. Of course, if you prefer me turning back into that groom after all, I see no problem in having to switch to a different career."
Her aunt was just opening her mouth to retort when uncle Carl finally decided to step in. "Now now my dear, that's quite enough. You have had your say for now. Come my darling, it's cold and I could really use a whiskey or two. Or perhaps an entire bottle," he added as an afterthought while taking his wife's arm and guiding her towards the house.
Mary was still shooting imaginary daggers at Muriels back. When the couple had disappeared through the front door and the door was closing behind them, she muttered darkly: "Let me jinx her. A nice and simple bat-bogey hex will serve her right…"
Sirius snorted, looking amused. "I won't contradict the fact your aunt is a complete tart, but-," he burst out laughing when he spotted the furious look in Mary's eyes. "Oh love, why are you letting her get to you like that?"
"Because I don't care if she's mean to me, she's been like that as long as I can remember. But she should have treated you with a little more respect!"
He reached for her hand. "But can't you see it?"
"She's jealous! Of your beauty and youth, your talent and Merlin knows what else. It's so obvious it might as well be written on her forehead in bright green letters."
She shot him an incredulous look. "Aunt Muriel – jealous, at me? I wish."
Mary grabbed Victoriosa by the reins and started walking back to the barn. Sirius followed with Zorro, not quite ready to give up on making his point. When he had tied his horse to the pole in the stable, he looked over and said: "So if it's not jealousy, then why does she hate you so much?"
Mary walked over to Zorro and helped Sirius to pulling off the bridle and replacing it with a halter. "Because I exist," she said simply.
"Exist?" Sirius frowned, stepping back so that she could untie Zorro's saddle for him.
"Hu-hum," Mary nodded as she placed the saddle on a stable door before turning back and thoughtfully caressing Zorro's manes for a second. "I suppose you never wondered how old my parents were when they had me."
"Not really, no. Why?"
"My dad was twenty-two, my mum only twenty."
He gave her a blank stare and she smiled. "I know that's a normal age to have children in our world, but in Muggle society, twenty is considered to be remarkably young. Not that my parents meant to get pregnant so soon… I was a little accident."
"According to my dad: the most blessed accident of his life," Mary grinned. "Of course," she continued more seriously as she started to untangle Zorro's tail with a brush, "mum had to drop out of med school because of the pregnancy. And although she still studied to become a nurse after I was born and has always been happy at her job, it is not quite up to my aunts standards."
"Wait, so she blames you for having your mother drop out of med school?"
"Among other things, but yes, that's why she looks at me like I'm an insect that has to be squashed. Jenna on the other hand is seven years younger and her birth was planned, so my aunt she likes her. Although I feel it's doubtful that woman is capable of actually liking another person other than herself."
Sirius crossed his arms, leaned back against the stable door and cocked his head from one side to the other while pretending to ponder over Mary's explanation. "Nope, still not feeling much better about aunt Muriel."
Mary huffed while grabbing Zorro's rein and taking him back to his box. When she had returned and started to take care of Victoriosa, she shot Sirius an amused look around the horse's head. "You better. I feel I should curse you the minute you start believing she's not an evil Banshee after all."
He laughed. "Oh, don't count on that."
"Anyway, there is one thing I forgot to mention to you before. It's tradition for my family to dress up at Christmas but obviously, dressing up Muggle-style does not mean wearing dress robes. I take it you did not bring a suit?"
"I didn't know I had to. Frankly, I'm not sure I even know what a suit looks like."
This time it was Mary who laughed. "No worries, I think we'll able to resolve that issue, if I can just…" She stepped back and eyed him from head to toe. "Yes, it'll be fine."
When Mary grabbed Victoriosa's rein and was about to pull the horse along, Sirius stopped the horse by gently placing his hand on its nose and shot her a questioning look. "What is going to be fine?" he asked suspiciously.
She sniggered and, while leaning forward, whispered: "Show Sirius, not tell."
Luckily for Sirius's curious state of mind, he would find out about Mary's plan soon enough. After they had put back the bridles and saddles, they hurried back to the main house. When they were heading up the stairs, he obviously expected to go to Mary's bedroom but instead, she walked up to a large closet in her parent's bedroom.
She opened the door and started to look through her father's clothes until she found what she was looking for: the black suit her father had been wearing at his wedding. She placed the suit on the bed and dove back into the closet, only to resurface with a grey shirt and a light blue tie.
"Now," Mary said as she put all the clothes in line on the bed, "I think you're roughly the same size as my father when he was younger. I'm sure he won't mind if you borrow this suit for tonight."
Sirius stared at the clothes. "Is there any particular reason why this tie is blue?"
"No," Mary said, smiling at him. "But that colour will make your eyes look fiercely grey. Right, I should get dressed myself, so just change into the suit and I'll be back to check on you later."
She turned to leave the room when Sirius asked: "Wait, what are you going to wear?"
"A dress of course. What else?"
Sirius - already looking forward to seeing her agin - grinned appreciatively. "Well hurry up then, I can't wait."
After taking a shower and washing her hair, Mary slid into a tight but elegant black cocktail dress. She put on some make up and used magic to fix her hair into a high bun with the exact right amount of locks falling out to achieve a nonchalant feel. She sprayed on some perfume as a finishing touch and stepped into a pair of high heels. After shooting a final look in the mirror, she decided she was ready to go.
When she got back to her parents bedroom, she found Sirius having an aggressive fight with his tie. He was already wearing the trousers and the shirt of the suit and was currently trying to tie the thing around his neck, but he was failing miserably.
Mary leaned sideways against the doorpost and witnessed his struggle with an amused look on her face; she could not help falling in love with him even more.
She always had a soft spot for men in suits and thought it made them look extremely hot. But when Sirius was nearly choking himself in another attempt to knot his tie, she decided it was time to come to the rescue. "Everything alright there?" she asked innocently.
Sirius turned around and, trying to loosen the choking tie from his neck, shot her an annoyed look. "This… bloody thing won't… come off," he panted. tugging at the tie, only resulting in it strengthening its grip even more.
"Hang on," Mary said. "It's easy once you know how to do it," she stated calmly as she pulled off the tie. "Look, I'll show you."
But Sirius didn't seem to be paying much attention when she was showing him how to knot the tie properly. He pulled her close and whispered in her ear: "How do you expect me to focus on that when you look this stunning?"
Mary blushed but remained focused on knotting his tie all the same. "And now you'll hold the front of the knot loose with your finger, pass the wide end down through the loop and-"
Her explanation was interrupted by a fierce kiss. "Sirius!" she giggled while pulling away. "You have to stay focused, because I won't be showing you this again."
Sirius laughed and kissed her again. With his lips locked against hers, he muttered: "You can show me how it's done when we're locked like this."
She giggled. "Now I can't see what I'm doing."
He finally decided to let go so Mary could finish knotting his tie. "There," she said while giving it a final gentle tug.
Sirius admired himself in the mirror for a moment. "Hmmm, not bad."
"Like I said, I hope you've been paying attention," she said and loosened the tie in one movement.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
"You have to try again. It's the only way you'll learn."
"Honestly, when will I ever be wearing a muggle tie again?"
Mary shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe one day you'll thank me for this. I'll see you downstairs in just a bit," she said cheerfully and walked out of the room, leaving a bewildered Sirius behind.
Mary was still chuckling to herself as she frolicked down the stairs and walked to the living room. Most of their Christmas guests had already arrived. She waved at the neighbors Joe and Judy who were talking to her mother near the fireplace, flat-out ignored aunt Muriel and uncle Carl and headed straight to the opposite, home to a couple of comfortable arm chairs.
Jenna – wearing her perfect lilac dress – was currently begging their father to put on some music. When Mr. Woods showed her a Beatles record, Jenna asked for one particular song. "Please daddy, please, Mary loves that song too!" she said.
"Which song?" Mary asked curiously.
"Eight days a week," her father replied with an amused look on his face, because that actually was Mary's favorite Beatles song. She and Jenna had been listening to it repeatedly over the last years and never had become bored with it.
"Well… I haven't heard it for a while now, so I guess it would be fun to play it again."
"Fine," he said with a sigh and searched for the right number on the record. As soon as the song started, Jenna jumped up from her seat and pulled Mary to the middle of the room. Soon both of them were dancing and singing together loudly:
Ooh I need your love babe
Guess you know it's true
Hope you need my love babe
Just like I need you
Hold me, love me, hold me, love me
Ain't got nothin' but love girl, eight days a week
Eight days a week, I love you.
Eight days a week is not enough to show I care
Love you ev'ry day girl
Always on my mind
One thing I can say girl
Love you all the time
By that time Jenna took her hand and started to turn pirouettes. Mary looked up and saw Sirius had finally arrived and was animatedly talking to her father. His tie looked alright; actually, it looked more than alright: it was perfect.
When Jenna had let go and continued to dance on her own, Mary walked to Sirius and casually slid her arm through his. "You really did that all by yourself?" she asked, giving his tie an inspecting look.
"Yes, with a little help from my wand."
Mary rolled her eyes. "I should have known…"
Sirius chuckled. "Well, at least it looks good now, doesn't it? Anyway, this is very cool music.
"Oh that. It's the Beatles."
"I know them, silly! I'm always wondering when people will realize Ringo Starr is a wizard."
Mary laughed. "I'd be surprised if even the other Beatles know that. But seriously, if you like this music you should talk to Brice. She's had a crush on Paul McCartney for ages."
Before Sirius could reply, Mary's mother announced Christmas dinner was about to commence. He had never been at a Muggle Christmas-party before, but it turned out not to be that different from his world. People ate and drank a lot while talking and listening to chamber music. And with the exception of the ever grumpy-looking aunt Muriel, the other guests were nice enough.
He did not even seem to mind that Mary wasn't spending that much time sitting next to him, because she was constantly helping her mother to prepare and serve the food.
Once dinner was over, Sirius and Mary joined the other guests around the fireplace and listened to some funny hospital anecdotes from Mr. Woods and his colleague – also a Muggle doctor - Joe. It was nice and warm in the house and Mary felt very happy and safe as she snuggled up to Sirius and enjoyed her steaming mug of Irish coffee.
Something remarkable suddenly caught her attention. A large barn owl was sitting on the window sill and tapped his beak against the glass repeatedly in an impatient manner. Because everyone else was talking loudly, they hadn't noticed any of this yet.
Mary nudged Sirius and cocked her head in the direction of the window. He followed her gaze and frowned. "What's Rufus doing here?"
"Prongs's new owl. I think I'd better go and have a look. Are you coming?"
Mary nodded and got up from her seat. After politely excusing themselves to the other guests, they walked to the kitchen and stepped outside. Rufus hooted softly and stretched his talon so Sirius could take off the note.
He quickly skimmed the owl and snorted. "Pfff… James had me worried there for a moment, but all he and Lily are asking is if we can bring a few records to Hogwarts. Apparently the band still hasn't been confirmed. Oh, and they're wishing us a Merry Christmas, again."
"Well, write back that we'll bring the records and wish them a Happy Christmas from us in return, again."
Sirius quickly scribbled down a reply on the back of James's note. As soon as he had attached the letter to Rufus's leg, the owl flew off and disappeared into the dark sky. "So now what?" Mary asked, shivering slightly in the cold wind. "Should we go back to my family?"
"Actually I was thinking… We could give each other our presents tonight, somewhere where we can be alone?"
"Alright," Mary smiled. "But we really should step inside first, it's bloody freezing out here."
"I'll go first," she said once they were back inside and Sirius had closed the window. She opened a kitchen cabinet in the left corner and pulled out a tiny package. "I thought it would be better to hide it from Jenna," she elaborated when Sirius looked surprised. "My dear little sister is always chasing after Christmas presents and this happens to be a magical one, so…"
Sirius took her present and sat down on a kitchen chair. He unwrapped it carefully and when he realized she had given him a magnificent penknife, his jaw dropped.
"Mare," he said slowly, admiring the gift as he turned the knife around in his fingers. "This must have cost you a fortune. I love it, though."
"It's not an ordinary penknife," Mary explained as she sat down on the opposite chair. "Look, it has these special attachments to unlock literally every lock or knot you encounter."
"But there's something you should know: the woman from Diagon Alley told me you can only pass on the knife to someone else when that person is in more need of this than you."
He shot her a look. "But I have no intention in giving it away. What makes you say that?"
Mary laughed. "I'm not talking about now, but perhaps… some day in the future, you'll meet someone who really needs a knife like this one. However, should you give it away to someone who has no real use for it, the knife will self-destruct."
"Right," Sirius nodded thoughtfully while carefully putting the knife in his pocket. "Thanks Mare," he said before leaning in to giver her a kiss. "Now it's my turn."
He reached in the pocket of his suit, got out a tiny jewel box and placed it on the table before her. Mary picked up the box a little hesitantly - to Sirius's amusement, she must be dreading this could be an engagement ring - but when she was opening it, she gasped.
Inside there was a beautiful necklace with a tiny shimmering diamond dangling from it. "Wow Sirius, I don't even know what to say. It's beautiful…"
"It'll be even more stunning when you're wearing it," he said, standing up to pick up the necklace. When he was carefully putting on the necklace and his fingers gently grazed her neck, Mary practically swooned. "There," Sirius said when he finished putting it on.
Mary got up from her chair and walked over to the tall mirror in the hallway. She admired the necklace from different angles until Sirius suddenly appeared behind her.
"I love it, thank you so much," she said happily, finally turning around to kiss him. "Looks like this Christmas really is going to be the happiest time of my life."
~*~ End of Chapter *~