It was the best Christmas holiday ever. Mary could not believe how much fun she and Sirius were having away from Hogwarts. The only ‘but’ was the ever obnoxious expression of aunt Muriel; uncle Carl on the other turned out to be alright when he was on his own. Luckily, they two of them would be leaving on Boxing Day.
That morning a cheerful Mary woke up at the break of dawn. Her aunt would be leaving the estate this very day. She realized it was still far too early to get up, so she stretched out lazy and snuggled up to Sirius again, who appeared to be fast asleep.
Mary carefully turned onto her other side so that she could face him without waking him up. She quite adored watching her boyfriend while sleeping. She smiled to herself and gently stroked his cheek. He groaned softly and stirred a bit, but did not open his eyes.
Mary continued to gently caress his face while thinking about how she had gotten used to be sleeping together. It would be weird to spend the night alone again once they were back at Hogwarts. Not that it had to be that way… Of course she could join Sirius and the other guys in their dormitory, but - for obvious reasons – that prospect didn’t really appeal to her.
Still, Mary knew there was another way. Every boy in Hogwarts was told it is impossible for them to enter the girl’s dormitories. And, in most cases, they were right. Whenever a boy had the nerve to set foot on those steps, a loud and wailing claxon would resound before the staircase turned into a massive slide of stone, sending him and everyone else on the stairs down to the very bottom.
There was one way around this magical ‘chastity belt’, though. Few people at Hogwarts knew about it. In fact, none of the Gryffindor boys had a clue and truth of it was most girls did not know either. Mary had often wondered the Professors were aware of the fact there was a massive flaw in their perfect system.
Truth to be told, she would not have known either if she hadn’t become close friends with Brice. The great-great grandmother of her friend discovered the solution by accident when she and her boyfriend were kissing each other goodnight at the bottom of the stairs.
They were holding hands while they kissed and when Brice’s relative stepped backwards onto the first step, he – unaware of what he was doing - followed. And instead of the resounding claxon and transfiguring stairs, nothing actually happened.
Apparently, as long as the boy and girl are holding hands, they could go up to her dormitory together after all. None one knew why, though. Mary, Brice and Lily had discussed the reason a few times.
Perhaps Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff weren’t as strict about the common room rules after all or maybe they appreciated a good prank themselves, who knew? Fact of the matter was that she and Sirius could continue sharing a bed after Christmas, and at Hogwarts nonetheless! However, Mary still had not made up her mind about this.
A few hours later, when they had showered and were getting dressed, Mary couldn’t stop singing and humming a variety of Christmas songs. Sirius watched all of this with an amused look on his face. By the time she had started to hum Sleigh Ride, he asked curiously: “What’s going on with you?”
Mary, who had started brushing her long hair in front of the mirror, turned back and sang in a clear voice: “Come on, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you…”
Sirius arched an eyebrow and she rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, it’s that funny Muggle Christmas song. You’ve been hearing it on the radio for days!”
“It’s not the song that is making me wonder what is up with you.”
“Aunt Muriel, of course!”
His eyes widened in mock shock. “Merlin’s beard, Mary! What did you do to her?”
Mary snorted and chucked a hairpin at his face. “Nothing, you prat! I’m just happy the old bat is going home today. And that means-” she said slowly, “-that this house, this estate, the very air surrounding us is going to be aunt Muriel-free in less than... an hour! And that is making me a very happy girl,” she finished before giving Sirius a kiss and walking towards the door. “You coming?”
Sirius narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re not planning on getting back at her, are you? Do anything magical, I mean?”
“Of course not! What makes you think I would?”
“Because I know how your mind works. Jinxing Muriel would be the perfect payback for her treating you like crap all those years. Yet I’m not so sure the Ministry would appreciate you hexing an innocent Muggle into oblivion, simply because “she’s a right old hag”.”
She shrugged. “I’d be lying if I said that I was never tempted, but I’m beyond revenge now. She’s leaving the house, that’s good enough for me.”
Sirius chuckled and followed Mary downstaurs to get some breakfast. “It’s not that I wouldn’t support pranking your aunt, on the contrary, but I don’t think it’s possible without violating the law.”
When they got to the kitchen, they happened to be just in time for breakfast. Everyone else was already sitting at the table. While they were eating freshly baked bread, eggs, bacon and fresh fruit, aunt Muriel was trying to convince Mary’s father to sell off all the horses and rebuild the stable into a guesthouse.
Mr. Woods, polite as ever, said kindly: “I’m afraid that is never going to happen, Muriel, not as long as I live. I love my horses, they’re a big part of this family.”
Muriel pursed her lips. “But they’re so big and dangerous, and they smell.”
Mary huffed. “Horses do not smell! That eau de cologne you insist putting on in fatal quantities, now that smells.”
“Mary...” Mr. Woods said warningly.
She cringed slightly under her father’s stern look, wrinkled her nose and stared down at her plate while muttering: “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Aunt Muriel stared at her for a moment before continuing her lamentation. “As I said, horses smell and they’re unhygienic. And they frighten me a lot. In fact, I think I almost despise horses as much as I hate dogs.”
Jenna snorted. “Dogs?! How can you be afraid of dogs, aunty Muriel?”
The normally so stern-looking woman gave Jenna a rare smile. “Well, not all dogs of course. As long as they’re small and clean, I don’t mind. But those large, hairy, neglected “things”… They make me want to scream and run away.”
Mary shot Sirius a sideways look that was a mixture of annoyance and disbelief. He remained quiet, but did give her a quick wink before finishing his coffee with twinkling eyes and a mischievous grin on his face. She shot him another - more questioning - look, but he still refused to say something.
When breakfast ended, it was time for Muriel and Carl to leave. Mrs. Woods ordered Mary and Jenna to take the luggage to uncle Carl’s car. Once they had carried the suitcases to and placed them into the back of the car, their parents were already saying goodbye to their guests.
Mrs. Woods called Mary and Jenna so that they could also wish their relatives a safe journey home. When her mother realized that Sirius wasn’t with them, she gestured her eldest daughter: “Mary, where is Sirius?”
“I asked if he could chop more wood for me,” Mr. Woods replied.
“Please go and get him, Mary. I don’t think he would want to miss out on saying goodbye to our guests,” her mother said.
“Alright,” Mary nodded, relieved to get away from them for a moment. She turned around and ran around the corner towards the garden shed, but her boyfriend wasn’t anywhere to be found. Her eyes darted around the garden for a moment before she cried: “Sirius!”
“In here,” his voice came from inside the garden shed.
“They’re leaving. Mum asked me to come and get you.”
“Tell them I’ll be there in a sec. I need to finish chopping this log first.”
“Sure,” Mary said and she calmly walked back to the gathering at the front door.
But Sirius decided not to join them after all. At least… Not in human form. Right when Mary was about to kiss uncle Carl goodbye, a large scruffy black dog came storming towards them from around the corner.
As soon as aunt Muriel spotted the wild-looking animal, she screamed out in horror and jumped behind her husband. “What is that beast doing here? Carl! Carl, please keep that monster away from me!”
Her husband tried to chase Sirius the dog away by flapping his umbrella, but this seemed to have quite the opposite effect and only seemed to excite the animal even more. He barked loudly and excitedly wagged his tail while jumping around the couple, completely ignoring the Woods family.
Mary, who knew exactly what was happening, witnessed the spectacle open-mouthed. Jenna had doubled over and was roaring with laughter while both her parents were watching the spectacle with bemused looks on their faces.
Aunt Muriel seemed absolutely terrified and, all dignity forgotten, was screaming like a little girl. She kept smacking uncle Carl with her purse while shouting: “Don’t just stand there! Do something!”
When Sirius the dog finally managed to dodge uncle Carl’s umbrella and was able to get to aunt Muriel, she screamed even louder and chose to make a run for it. She quickly snatched the umbrella from Carl, chucked it at Sirius and sprinted - her precious long robes dragging behind her in the muddy snow - to their car, slamming the door shut behind her.
Uncle Carl coughed and calmly picked up the umbrella from the ground, tilted his hat as he gave the Woods family a final nod and quietly walked to his car, kindly patting the dog on his head on the way.
As the car drove off, Sirius the dog barked loudly for the last time and, as he ran back towards the garden, disappeared from view as soon as he had showed up. The stunned Woods family, with the exception of Jenna, who was still laughing hysterically, waved at their relatives as they watched them drive off the estate.
All that could be heard for a moment was a hooting owl up in the trees and horses neighing in the stable. Then, mrs. Woods gave a quiet snort. “Oh dear…”
Her mother might never say so aloud, but Mary knew that, deep down inside, Pat Woods did not think all that much of aunt Muriel either.
Mr. Woods could not help but laugh either. Mary’s mother giggled and right when Mary was about to burst out laughing herself, Sirius - this time in human form - came running towards them. He paused and started at their laughing faces in astonishment. “What did I miss? Where are uncle Carl and aunt Muriel?”
After another minute of hysterical laughing, Mary’s father finally managed to control himself. “You just missed them, son, I’m sorry. We got some eh… assistance from a rather tall dog.”
Sirius faked a surprised look. “Right…” he said thoughtfully. “Was that a black, sort of scruffy-looking dog?”
“Yes!” Jenna cried. “Did you see it?”
“It passed me on the way over here and disappeared into the woods. Rather frightful animal if you ask me… That is if you don’t like dogs,” he added with twinkling eyes.
Mrs. Woods stifled another snort. “Well, now that the peace has returned, who wants to bake some cookies?”
“Me!” Jenna exclaimed happily. While she and Mr. Woods followed her mother back into the house and Sirius was about to do the same thing, Mary stopped him by reaching for his hand. “And I suppose this wasn’t illegal?”
He chuckled. “As long as the Ministry doesn’t know… Besides, this was just too good to be true. Now, I feel like learning how Muggles bake cookies.” He gave a grinning Mary another wink and pulled her back into the house.
Before they knew it, December 30th was upon them. Today they would be heading back to Hogwarts. The Express left at 9 AM, so they had to get up pretty early.
Mary was impatient to show Sirius the dress robes her mother made for their New Year’s Eve party, but she decided to keep it from him before the actual night. She carefully put the outfit on the bottom of her trunk, right next to her father’s records she was bringing along for the party.
After breakfast it was time for them to say goodbye to Mary’s mother, since Jenna would be accompanying them to King’s Cross station. After Mrs. Woods gave Mary a close hug and told her to be careful, she turned to Sirius and hugged him close. “Take care of yourself and remember, you’re part of our family now. Don’t ever forget that,” she said kindly.
Sirius smiled. “Thank you for everything, Pat. I’ve truly had a wonderful time.”
They got in the car and Mr. Woods drove off in the direction of London. When they arrived at King’s Cross, he, Jenna, Sirius and Mary headed to the numerous barrier on platform 9 and 10 together. Jenna was very excited about this, considering she would be passing the very same barrier for the first time in September.
Mr. Woods gave Mary a kiss on the cheek. “I expect to see you again with top grades and a Hogwarts degree,” he threatened jokingly. “Just be careful,” he added more seriously as he gave her a tight hug.
He shook hands with Sirius. “Till we meet again.” he said with a friendly nod.
“Goodbye sir,” Sirius said. “Oh, and I’ve magically chopped enough wood to get you through the entire Winter,” he added as an afterthought.
“Thank you!” Mr. Woods beamed at Sirius like he had just won the lottery.
Mary had just said her goodbyes to Jenna when Sirius kneeled down so he could kiss her little sister on her cheek (she blushed). “Promise me that you won’t color any more dresses,” he said, shooting her a fake stern look.
“I’m going to miss you,” Jenna pouted. “When will we see you again?”
Sirius looked up at Mary and she shrugged. “Graduation, I reckon.”
“See, we will see you again at our graduation, at Hogwarts.” Jenna’s face lit up as she heard the magic word. “I’m counting the days already!” she said happily and stepped back so he and Mary could go to platform 9 3/4. They waved back at Mr. Woods and Jenna one last time before walking through the barrier together.
They spotted Brice and Peter at once, since the two of them were chatting right in front of the last carriage of the Express. “Hullo!” Brice said cheerfully as she hugged Mary while Sirius said hello to Peter. “Did you have a good Christmas?”
“It was fine. Although our Christmas tree was infested by a Bowtruckle and it took us two days to figure out that was the thing throwing twigs at us, and then another to get rid of it. Speedy little suckers. Anyway, did you bring along enough records?”
“Yeah. Beatles, Stones, Jackson 5 and mum insisted on including an Abba record as well.”
Brice pulled a face. “Abba? Yuck.”
Mary grinned. “Not my favorite type of music either. Look, there’s Remus,” she said and waved when she saw he had just appeared on the platform.
“Oh, right,” Brice said nervously while trying to fix her hair, which looked a little frizzy in the damp weather. “Hi Remus,” she said awkwardly.
“Hey,” he replied quietly.
Mary lifted an eyebrow while witnessing this particular awkward greeting. After the five of them had boarded the Express and made their way to an empty compartment, she made sure she was sitting between Brice and Sirius. “So,” she said confidentially as she leaned over to Brice. “Did you hear anything from Timothy?”
Brice snorted. “Merlin no! Do you want to know what he gave to me?”
“Oh, yes! I forgot about his Christmas gift. What was it?”
“A bottle of ink.”
“Yep. Honestly…” Brice said, shaking her head as if she still couldn’t believe it herself. She looked up and noticed the beautiful necklace around Mary’s neck. “That’s gorgeous. Is that from…?”
“Sirius,” Mary beamed.
“Now that’s what I call a present,” Brice said as she admired the necklace. “Wow, is that a real diamond?”
Mary, still beaming, nodded and looked over at Sirius, who was telling Remus and Peter how he had transformed into a dog to chase aunt Muriel off the estate. They were all roaring with laughter when he gave a perfect imitation of her aunt screaming and running away, flapping her arms around her like a mad woman.
“Of course,” Mary intervened, smiling at him, “this act was illegal and could have gotten him in some real trouble.”
Remus snorted. “How, I wonder? No one besides us know he’s an Animagus.”
“Exactly,” Sirius said confidently as he let himself fall back to the bench between her and Brice. “Besides,” he said, turning sideways to look at Mary, “you wanted to jinx her and what good would that have done?”
She shrugged. “There was only one moment I truly wanted to hex that bloody hag. Which, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t extremely satisfying to see my “beloved” aunt getting chased off my parent’s property.”
“I wish I could have been there,” Peter said sniggering while wiping a tear from his eye.
“Well Pete,” Mary said as she helped herself to a Sugarquill. “If you’ll be really nice to me and can get me a Pensieve, I might just let you borrow the memory.”
The guys spent the last part of their journey to Hogwarts playing a game of wizard’s chess while the girls gossiped about who was taking who to the Ball.
As soon as they had jumped out of the train, they spotted James who was waiting for them at the end of the platform. He was holding a large bucket and waved to greet them. “What’ve you got there, Prongs?” Sirius asked curiously as he walked a little ahead of the others.
“Red meat,” James replied as he placed down the bucket in front of them. “How was your Christmas, mate?”
“It was great,” Sirius replied as he peeked into the bucket. “Why are you carrying large chops of meat?”
“What do you mean pieces of meat?” Brice asked when she and the others had reached Sirius and James.
“Well, it’s food,” James replied.
Mary shot a look in the bloody-looking bucket and shuddered. “Food for who?”
“Jackie,” James replied.
“Who’s Jack-” Peter started asking before his question was interrupted by a bright light and a loud roar coming from one of the meadows surrounding the train station.
Sirius stared at James for a moment before something seemed to click. “Are you saying… D’you mean that Jackie is…”
“Jackie,” James grinned proudly, “is a dragon.”
~*~ End of Chapter ~*~