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Little Gifts Unspoken

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No.  He scowls thoughtfully at the bright new tome she’s plucked from the bookstore stack for his inspection.  It won’t do at all.  He traces a long finger over his lips, thinking about all the grim terror that is waiting in the portions of this book that must surely accompany an embossed promise of ‘5th edition’.  He doesn’t trust to new editions.  Not for something this important.

He has a better idea, anyway.

There’s not much left in the old steamer trunk, which is a mercy, perhaps.  Its sides have not held up over-well to the passage of years.  He’d envied his peers their gleaming wooden and metal luggage, the kind that could stand up to a strong levitation charm.  But, like him, it’s no longer under those sorts of pressures, and it’s still a perfectly serviceable hideaway for little scraps of memory.

She hasn’t come up to the attic with him.  She has a peculiar, remarkable sensitivity, a way of knowing when to be scarce.  And when not to be, like that time she’d found him up here, face pressed into a bundle of old cloth, shaking and unable to cry until the press of her slim arms across his sternum had loosened the horrible tightening ache in his chest. 

Those scraps of cloth aren’t here anymore, of course. He is still quietly amazed at how she has taken all of those disparate pieces of his childhood and transformed them into a thing of beauty.  More than anything -- more than the tree they always seem to haul in during a snowstorm, more than the fairy lights that glitter at the windows, more than the scent of browning butter harmonizing with vanilla and spice – more than all of these, it is the Christmas quilt that she drapes across the end of their bed every year that defines this time for him.  When he can’t sleep nights, he will lay there listening to her gentle breathing and trail his fingers across the fabric, journeying again through all the dark places that nonetheless encompass and enclose instances of simple happiness.

He leans into the trunk, and sorts aside the few folios of paper that represent his transcripts and accomplishments.  He should do something better with these, he agrees with her.  But it can wait a while yet.  There’s a more important thing to retrieve just now.  His fingers find it lurking beneath old journals and daybooks before he even sets eyes upon its familiar, worn bindings.  The feel of its coverboards sparks a cascade of remembered agony, when he clutched this book to his chest like a shield against the dark beyond his cold dormitory bed, against the unending isolation of those last few years of school, against the bright burning pain of a stinging brand.

Holding it to his torso now, it seems so much smaller than it used to.  Little wonder it was insufficient armor as he grew. 

He rests his face down upon the page ends, breathing in the faintly acrid-sweet, comforting smell of old paper.  The vaguely uneven edges of the hand-cut pages scratch gently against his cheek, a little caress from this oldest friend.  His fingertips make involuntary circles along the old gouge on the back cover – so many, many times he’d idly mapped the edge of this blemish as he’d carefully turned the pages to drink in their magic!

When he is able to actually open it, he finds inside the bookmark he’d made.  It hasn’t got any tassels, or charms, nor any of the ironic little quotations he enjoys gilt across it.  It is just a simple piece of cardboard, cut in the right shape, and wrapped around with green and silver paper that is fixed in place with a yellowing bit of sellotape. The silver foil has rubbed away in places, and even in the dim light he can see where his younger self left slight fingerprints whose oil has decayed some of the green ink.  

A gift wrapped in paper was something new.  In a year filled with change and new things that intermittently overwhelmed and terrified him, the paper was something glorious.  Always before, she’d wrapped his little gifts in pieces of salvaged fabric.  Greens and tartan plaids were common enough, but the bright tones of this paper were almost fantastical, a gleaming wonder beneath the sharp evergreen branches. 

He’d tried his best to pick the tape off cleanly, to open it without tearing the edges; he’d been largely successful.  He can just make out, yes, here at the corner, where a few of those rips are.  He’d fashioned this bookmark from the remainder he’d had to cut away from the paper, which he’d carefully reused for that first present he’d ever bought, purchased with a meager handful of little coins spread across the counter of a Hogsmeade shop.  He actually has that little ceramic pestle, now.  It lives on the far corner of his desk.  The paper, of course, didn’t come back to him.  Perhaps it travelled on, somewhere. 

He wistfully returns the bookmark to the trunk, tucking it into one of the pulp paperbacks that are arranged in two neat layers along the trunk’s bottom.   

He thinks he will try to find some giftwrap in a similar pattern.  The symmetry of the gesture appeals to him.  It’s a shame that he doesn’t still have the bow.  He remembers it as such an exquisite thing, opening like a blossom.  He’d kept it in a drawer for years, beneath a glass bowl pilfered from the kitchen to keep the dust off its emerald silk.  He’d eventually given it to Evans, along with the little silver chain that he’d never seen her wear.

He shakes himself free of these thoughts as if brushing away clinging cobwebs.  The motion reminds him that his knees don’t particularly enjoy hard wooden floors, and he decisively swings the lid of the trunk closed.  He’s not going to breathe life into some ghosts, not anymore.

He shows her the book, hesitantly.  It’s a battered up old thing that looks even more worse-for-wear in the bright kitchen.  But he needn’t have worried: her face lights up with pure delight; she understands this instantly, and he’s charmed by her all over again, a sensation that never ceases to be utterly heart-stopping.  And so he explains, without many details, about the paper and the bow.  She smiles up with her eyes, and he’d have a hard time breathing properly if he weren’t being pulled along to the study where she’s constructed an elaborate assembly line of paper and parcels.  He laughs at the extravagance of it all, and kisses her to interrupt the tears that are threatening to give him away.

And of course she has a brilliant idea for the bow.  He isn’t sure what she’s about when she dashes off to pull bins from the storage cupboard, but it’s only minutes before he’s enlightened.  She charges back triumphantly, brandishing a long length of the forest-green velvet she’d used to trim the quilt.

He places the wrapped gift reverently beneath their tree, and silently admires the way in which it has once again become a little scrap of perfect joy.