Hestia had almost backed out of Christmas this year.
As horrid as it seemed to the casual observer, Hestia didn't want to be with her parents tonight. She wanted to be with Bill and Charlie, whose father was still in the hospital. She wanted to be with Sirius, who she knew needed the company. She would have preferred the company of anyone in the Order, really.
Hestia believed that her parents were truly good people. They had questionable political ideas, but most of them were in their two daughters' best interests. Hestia had been born during the war, and Megan just before it had ended; Phyllis and Glynn Jones had hated raising Hestia not to go outside for too long without supervision, a stark contrast to their childhoods of Mum and Dad not even seeing them until dinner, and had rejoiced in Megan - just a year old when the war finally ended - being able to have that very freedom. Fudge had been a beacon of hope for them from the start; they took his optimism as hope, believed he would steer them away from another war. And now, they had to believe he was telling the truth, because they couldn't bring themselves to fear again.
Despite knowing this, Hestia was still frustrated. How could they believe all of those things about Harry and Dumbledore? And how could they even consider inviting the Fudge family over on Christmas Day? They knew who it might offend or upset, but did it anyway. Hestia couldn't respect that.
"The Diggorys aren't coming," her mother had reasoned. "We'll have room."
"Did Mr. Diggory say he wasn't coming before or after you told them Fudge was invited?"
Hestia had rolled her eyes. "Mum, what if they believe Dumbledore?"
"That's partly why I had hoped they'd come. The man took advantage of them in a time of weakness! It would be so comforting if they could hear for themselves that-"
She was interrupted by Megan, who burst out laughing at the kitchen table.
"Sorry," Megan gasped, folding a piece of parchment. "Susan Bones wrote something funny."
Hestia had given her sister a sideways glance.
The two sisters had not discussed Fudge, not Dumbledore, over the summer holiday; Megan, who'd fancied Cedric in a casual way and considered him a mentor, had appeared too devastated by his death to have an opinion either way. She left to stay with friends two weeks into the holidays, re-merging in August less teary but still quiet.
Nothing compared, however, to the Megan who had come home to them for Christmas. Hestia's normally cheerful sister was caustic and aloof, snapping at her parents no matter what they said, and being evasive about school, answering most questions with "yes," "no," or "mmm."
"Have you made any new friends?"
"That's lovely! Tell me about them."
"Do you like Professor Umbridge?"
Hestia had tried to get something more out of her sister several times, but the fifteen-year-old wouldn't budge. Therefore, when Hestia knocked on Megan's door, she didn't expect a reply; after a fraction of a minute, Hestia helped herself to the door and walked in. Megan was on her bed, fiddling with a coin.
Megan looked up. "Oh, it's you. I thought you were Mum."
"You really shouldn't be shrugging her off, y'know. It's Christmas."
"Yeah, and I really wish she'd let me stay with my friends."
Hestia closed the door and sat on Megan's bed. "Is this about Cedric?"
"Is it Umbridge? I've heard she's... difficult."
"You wouldn't understand."
Hestia wished she could tell Megan that she did understand, that You-Know-Who really was back, and that there were people trying to stop him. But while she suspected Megan knew just that, she couldn't know for sure. Maybe her sister was just going through teenage rebellion. Still, Hestia knew better than to just casually assume it was only hormones.
"So what's up with you, then? Is it a boy?"
Megan paused, and then surprisingly enough, her face brightened. "Yeah. A boy. Don't tell Mum and Dad."
Finally, they were getting somewhere. "I won't. What's this boy like?"
"Well... we call him D.A. I really fancy him, but I can't tell anyone we're dating. I don't even know if I should be seeing him, because Mum and Dad wouldn't approve."
"Why not?" Hestia asked.
Megan hesitated. "He's just a little rough, y'know? I don't think our parents would like the way he talks, or the stuff he wants to do with me."
Hestia raised her eyebrows, and Megan's face reddened. "Not like that! It's just - he's not afraid to break a few rules here and there. But they're mostly Umbridge's stupid rules-"
"It's okay," Hestia told her.
"Megan! Hestia! The Tonkses are here!"
"We'll talk more about this later," Hestia said, standing up.
Megan shook her head. "I've told you everything."
"Come on. Everyone's starting to show."
"Staring at a coin?"
Megan shrugged. "Coins are entertaining. This girl I know, Luna, told me she solved a puzzle in a coin once."
Hestia pulled Megan's arm until she slid off the bed.
"For chrissakes, fine," Megan snapped, rubbing her knees.
Phyllis was downstairs with Tonks and her parents, who didn't look very comfortable.
Hestia and Tonks had been in the same year and House at Hogwarts, and subsequently became fast friends, spending most of their time together even when they weren't in school. Their parents soon became close friends as well, already knowing one another from school as it were. It wasn't so unusual for one family to be at the other's home Christmas Eve or Day.
But this year was different; Andromeda and Ted were all too aware of whose side Phyllis and Glynn were on, and Phyllis and Glynn knew whom Andromeda and Ted probably believed. Andromeda had never been fond of Dumbledore the way many witches and wizards were, but she'd never liked Fudge either. The couples had clearly decided friendship took precedence over other things, even (maybe especially) during times like these, but it didn't make it any less awkward, especially with Hestia being in the Order.
"It's good to see you," Andromeda said evenly.
"Likewise," Phyllis returned. "I'm sorry you couldn't come last night. You were with family, I trust?"
Andromeda nodded. "Yes. A relative of... Ted's, who has recently emerged. Then we went to Ted's Mum's for dinner."
"Indeed. Have Fudge and his family arrived?"
"No, but they should be here soon. I hope that isn't a problem."
"It certainly isn't."
"Megan, how's school?" Tonks asked loudly while giving her mother a sad glance.
"Mmm," Megan mumbled.
"Answer her question," Phyllis reproached.
Tonks shook her head. "It's okay, I should've known better, I used to hate when people would ask me that. I knew I was supposed to say I loved doing homework and writing exams, right, Megan?"
Megan laughed. "Exactly. Sort of."
Hestia had hoped the tension would be cut once more people arrived, but it only made it worse, especially as one of Concetta and Cornelius's children, Stella, had joined them.
Stella was a sanctimonious woman who believed she exemplified perfection. Hestia knew this was probably because she, like her father, used her status to get by. She'd gone to wizarding school in Italy, where Hestia imagined her "connections" back home were probably exaggerated immensely.
"So I have news," Stella said as she sat across from Tonks and Hestia. "I'm engaged!"
"Good for you," Hestia said.
"Yeah, Roger proposed to me underneath a rainbow. I said, 'oh sweetheart, a rainbow,' and then I said, 'what if you proposed to me under it?' He looked at me, coughed, and said that's exactly,/i> what he was going to do! Isn't that romantic?"
"Poor man," Tonks muttered, and then added, "you almost ruined it!" when Stella looked quizzical.
Stella giggled. "Yeah, I did. Silly me. I'm just not sure how I'll ever find time to plan my huge wedding, what with all the people who depend on me at work."
"I'm sure you'll find the time," Hestia said.
"I can always have our housekeeper plan it for me. I think she retired, but I'm sure she'd be willing to come back for me!"
"Yes, because you're very special," Tonks quipped.
Stella waved her hand. "Don't say that!"
She looked at Hestia. "So when are you getting married?"
"Weren't you seeing someone?"
"Yeah, but we broke up."
"Oh... well, you'll find the love of your life in no time," Stella said in a sugary voice, patting Hestia's hand.
"I wasn't worried," Hestia replied.
"You shouldn't be! Men are a pain. Of course, love does complete you. And as you get older, there's fewer single men, although there's always divorcees. That isn't even taking into account your clock!" Stella looked at Hestia's stomach knowingly. "But you're better off being single for now."
Hestia decided she might as well play along. "Oh, but I want a man. I often wake up in the middle of the night sobbing my eyes out, dreaming of music that I cannot touch..."
Not missing the sarcasm, Stella turned to Tonks. "How about you?"
"Well, I don't know about engaged," Tonks said, "but... I suppose you could say there's someone."
"Tell me more!" Stella squealed.
"Yeah, Tonks," Hestia said with a mischievous smile. "Every detail."
"I can't - oh," Tonks said, understanding. "All right, but I really shouldn't be talking about it. He's older."
Stella's eyes widened. "A lot older?"
"Oh yes, and very well educated. He's from an old wizarding family, see, but he doesn't talk about it. That's just how mysterious he is."
"What's his name?"
Tonks leaned in. "Bond. James Bond."
Hestia had to clamp her mouth shut to keep from laughing. Stella, being oblivious to the joke as she was decidedly unfamiliar with Muggle things, reeked of envy.
"But you can't tell anyone his name," Tonks added. "Okay?"
Stella nodded earnestly.
"Stella! Family picture!" Concetta called. Stella hurried away, and Tonks and Hestia burst into giggles.
"You have to tell Remus he's James Bond now," Hestia said.
Tonks grinned. "I will."
"Have you told anyone else yet? For real, I mean."
Tonks shook her head. "Just my parents, you, Bill and Charlie, and Sirius. We want to keep it quiet, for now. But I really think it's going somewhere."
"That's why you should tell everyone!"
"No, it isn't the right time."
"When will there be a right time?"
Tonks began to respond, but was interrupted with by the announcement that dinner was ready.
Hestia sat down between Megan and Tonks, observing the guests who sat before them. Her grandparents, Aldwyn and Helga Jones. Her father's elder brother, Owen, who had a Bible on his lap. Great Grandmother Gwenillian sat next to him, holding an earpiece. Amelia Bones, another friend of the family. And, of course, the Fudges and the Tonkses.
Before they ate, Fudge stood up to speak.
"I just want to say," he began, "that I appreciate the hospitality tonight. It is a pleasure to dine with such wonderful, loyal friends. I am grateful for my beautiful wife and children."
Stella and Concetta beamed.
"I am also glad that in this great time of trial, we have come together as one. Some people prefer to fear-monger even as the holidays commence, but we know better. We must hold our heads high no matter what."
"Here, here!" Glynn agreed, and everyone toasted. Andromeda looked as though she could smell something foul, and Megan was cutting into her lamb very hard. Hestia slipped her wine slowly.
"I really have had enough of the rumours," Concetta said sadly.
"Mrs. Fudge," Hestia interrupted, "could you please pass the salt?"
"Of course, dear. As I was saying, people just want to start trouble! Some parents have even complained about Dolores. Megan, dear - what do you think of Professor Umbridge?"
All eyes were on Megan now.
"I think you're putting a lot of pressure on her," Amelia said fairly.
"Oh, but I ask as a friend! Megan knows that!"
"As a friend?" Megan asked.
"Yes. An Auntie, even. Think of me as your Auntie Connie."
Hestia held her breath.
"Well," Megan began, "I think she's worked very hard to make changes at Hogwarts, so it's very different from the school Dumbledore ran. Doesn't always make school fun, but it serves the Ministry's best interests, doesn't it?"
"Exactly. See? Some people understand. Others, well... they're as mad as Dumbledore. I fear he's brainwashed the population."
"I would hate to see anyone brainwashed," Andromeda said bitterly.
"I'm afraid that's already happened," Concetta told her sadly.
"Oh, no," Megan gasped, with the slightest hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"Well, no need to worry about that," Fudge said. "Had I mentioned we purchased a vacation home?"
"It must be nice, being so happy while Cedric's still dead," Megan blurted.
"Miss Jones!" Fudge exclaimed. "Surely you don't feel I haven't acknowledged the young man's death?"
Megan's face went red. "Of course - I know you have - I don't feel well."
With that, she dashed from the table up the stairs.
"Cedric's death hit her hard," Phyllis explained. "I'll go-"
"No, Mum, leave it to Tonks and me," Hestia said.
Hestia knew exactly where to find Megan, and it wasn't in her room. She'd gone to the attic, a secret hiding place of theirs at one time.
Hestia shut the door, and Tonks turned on the light. Megan was leaning on the wall, staring at the coin once again, clearly on the verge of - something. Was it tears? Anger? Throwing up? Or all of those things?
"You really need to tell me what that coin is," Hestia said.
"It's nothing," Megan lied.
Megan sighed exasperatedly. "Is nothing sacred anymore?"
"Some things are," Tonks said. "Can you trust us?"
"I don't know," Megan said, and Hestia closed her eyes.
What the hell had happened to her family?
"This is getting boring," Tonks announced. "It's clear you two are on the same side, so out with it."
"I know the truth," Hestia told Megan. "That he's back."
"I'm glad someone in this family has brains. But I still can't tell you what the coin is."
"Why? Is it something Umbridge is making you carry?"
"No, if Umbridge knew what it was, I'd probably be expelled and Mum and Dad could lose their jobs. Or worse."
Hestia's heart sank. "What?"
Megan sighed. "Don't be mad..."
"I make no promises..."
"It's awful at Hogwarts, Hestia. Umbridge doesn't teach us how to fight Dark Magic, she just teaches us to kiss the Ministry's arse. And then there's all my Housemates, my friends, saying Cedric just died in a freak accident. But Harry - Harry Potter - has started a resistance group, he's teaching us defense and everything, and, well, I joined."
"You're part of that?" Hestia gasped. "Are you mad?"
"You know about it?"
"Of course I know about it, Siri - a friend told me, but I had no idea you were part of it! I don't know whether to be proud or horrified."
"You know what's maddening? Neither do I."
Hestia imagined her sister being led away by Umbridge, or worse, Death Eaters, with a shudder. But then she thought back to Megan's quick saves, how she'd disparaged Umbridge right under Fudge's nose and gotten away with it... she wasn't a little girl anymore, but a smart, strong talented young woman who could hold her own.
"Just keep at it," Hestia said firmly. "Don't do anything stupid. If anything happens to you, I'll kill you."
"And you might not want to fiddle with that coin so much. If I noticed, so will Mum and Dad."
Hestia and Tonks exchanged a look, both of them wondering if Hestia should divulge her own secret. Tonks nodded, and Hestia lowered her voice.
"The thing is, Megan... I've a secret of my own. Tonks and I are also part of a resistance group, one that his been fighting You-Know-Who and his followers for several months. They fought last time, too."
Megan's eyes widened. "Are you out of your mind?"
Hestia didn't answer, and Megan grabbed Hestia's shoulders. "Hestia, you can't. Do you want to be killed like Cedric? I don't know what I'd do if it happened to you!"
"If I didn't fight, it still could," Hestia pointed out.
Megan's face had a greenish hue now.
"But it's not going to," Hestia added quickly. "It's going to be okay. If I have to accept what you're doing, you have to accept what I'm doing, and we both have to accept that we'll get through this. Understood?"
Megan shuddered. "I hate that we can't tell Mum and Dad."
"We will be able to soon, Fudge can't lie for much longer. Trust me."
"I hope you're right. And then I'm going to tell all the fake Hufflepuffs where they can shove it."
"For now," Hestia said, "we'll just... stick this out together."
"Right," Megan said.
There was a long, pregnant pause.
"We should go back downstairs," Tonks said. "It'll look strange if we're all huddled up here."
Megan looked at the door darkly. "I hate Fudge."
"So do we, but we've got to pretend to like him," Tonks insisted. "I know it isn't fair, but what more can we do? If you keep this up, he will figure out you're upset about something other than Cedric."
"I don't want Mum and Dad to get into trouble," Megan admitted. "As much as I wish they'd twist their heads back on."
Hestia stood up, took Megan's hands, and helped her stand up. It suddenly occurred to her how much Megan had grown.
The trio descended to the bottom of the stairs just in time to see the Fudge family Disapparating. Glynn and Phyllis looked disappointed and mildly annoyed.
"Where'd they hurry off to?" Megan asked.
"Apparently," Phyllis said icily, "they were also invited to the Malfoy's."
"I thought Lucius was just a business associate," Glynn added. "How can they enjoy the company of that filthy family?"
"So it's okay for Fudge to take money from the Malfoys, but not dine with them?" Megan asked.
"That's different," Glynn said, but he didn't sound sure.
Phyllis had drawn her attention to Megan. "Are you better now, sweetheart?"
Megan shook her head. "I'm scared."
"You know," Ted interjected, "when I was a teenager, not long before the war officially started, Death Eaters started a fire in my town. Shops I grew up with burnt to the ground. A small boy almost died. My whole world changed after that."
Megan looked up at him with a knowing look on her face.
"It's not the same as losing Cedric, I know. The fact of the matter is, one thing can never be the same as another. But I was your age, and I understand. There was nothing you could have done."
"Easier said than believed," Megan whispered.
Tonks cleared her throat. "Let's carol."
"Carol. Our robes won't bother the Muggles, they'll assume we're going for a traditional look, though we'd best ditch the hats."
"Yeah, let's do that!" Megan said.
Hestia couldn't believe her ears. "Since when do you want to carol?"
"It's not boring. If it's not boring, I'm all for it."
But Megan's lips were twitching, and Hestia saw a small girl with pigtails who used to wake her up every Christmas morning because Father Christmas had come.
"I think that's a fabulous idea," Phyllis concurred, doubtlessly seeing the same thing Hestia had.
Even Andromeda, who was as stoic as stoicism got, was smiling.
They finished their meal hastily, resuming small talk, though this time it was less forced. Owen read from the Wizard's Bible, which some took to heart more than others.
The family - blood and extended - made their way towards the main street of Helga's Valley. Helga's Valley was hardly like Hogsmeade - much like the Hufflepuff Common Room, it was small and quaint, with only a handful of homes and shops, many of which they shared with Muggles, who didn't know about the Potions in the pharmacy or that some of the brooms in the hardware store could fly. The holidays had drawn more visitors than usual, which made for a perfect opportunity to carol.
"Page two," Owen instructed. Everyone was to share a songbook; Phyllis quickly gestured for Andromeda to share hers. They began to sing.
Here we come a-wassaling
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen
Love and joy come to you...
The singing did not stop there, nor did their choir - while some of their guests left, other neighbours and passersby stopped to join them. Hestia could not help but notice that her parents, Andromeda and Ted had stayed close together. They seemed to be enjoying one another's company, for all their recent disagreements.
Hestia looked around the small village, dimly lit from lamp posts, lights and homes. She took in everyone singing as though nothing was out of the ordinary, Megan retaining some of her innocence, singing with no concern for who might laugh at her lack of tone.
Would this last? Perhaps not - in the grand scheme of things, Hestia knew they'd simply put ointment on a serious wound. But it was ointment nonetheless; it would soften the burn, soothe feelings, and ultimately hasten recovery. When her parents acknowledged the truth, and Hestia knew it would happen, they still had people who would love and forgive.
Hestia also knew that coming Christmases would be trying; she wasn't naive. But was there any use in dwelling? What was the use in trying to convince people the right way to react? Maybe it was better to savor these moments, the moments she had taken for granted before, the moments with people who... Hestia didn't let herself finish the thought.
When it got too cold to continue, everyone went their separate ways cheerfully. Hestia hugged Tonks and her parents, promising she would see them soon and telling them to wish Remus and "Snuffles" a very Happy Christmas. The Jones family returned to their now-quiet house.
Hestia wandered to the couch, and Megan joined her. She land her head in Hestia's lap, and Hestia tousled her hair while their parents prepared desert and peppermint cocoa.
"It really will be okay, you know," Hestia told her.
"I don't know that, and neither do you. But thanks."
"I know we're the most brilliant sisters in Hufflepuff history."
"But we are. We're both in resistance groups, after all."
Megan's girlish grin reappeared. "Yes, we are."
Nothing else needed saying.