Ragnor was dead to begin with. There was no doubt whatsoever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the High Warlock, the Shadowhunters, the undertaker, and the chief medical officer. Magnus signed it: and Magnus’ name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Ragnor was as dead as a doornail.
It was at this time of year, when the cold hit New York like a bludgeon and Magnus felt that he would never be warm again, that he missed his miserable friend the most. Ragnor had despised any extremes of temperature, and to not be able to hear his incessant complaints about how it was ‘so bloody cold’ made Christmas feel emptier than ever before.
He waited at the corner of 4th Avenue, his breath fogging before his face and looked to the sky. Snow was trying to fall, but the heat of the city was keeping it at bay for now. It didn’t look like the promised white Christmas would come this year.
There was a surge of people from the subway station as the rush hour crowds returned home. Magnus scanned the crowd, looking for the familiar faces of the ones he was waiting for. It was with a jolt of bittersweet affection that he found them - Clary, Jace, Simon, Raphael, Catarina, Isabelle, Luke and Jocelyn. They spoke with an easy camaraderie, festive hats on their heads and tinsel wrapped around their necks.
Sloping behind them was the one person Magnus most looked forward to seeing though. Alec Lightwood had foregone the traditional santa hat, though it seemed that Isabelle had forced him to wear a somewhat festive Christmas jumper under his usual black jacket. Small robins danced merrily in lines across his chest where Magnus was sure Alec’s arms would cross self-consciously if anyone were to comment on them.
“Seasons greetings! Happy Yuletide! Long Live the Capitalist Holiday Demon that is Santa Claus!” Magnus greeted them, forcing his melancholy down and putting a bright smile on his face.
When Alec’s eyes met his he saw the ill-disguised joy in them. Magnus couldn’t help but feel excited that he put it there. He walked towards them, accepting hugs and kisses and Isabelle fussing with his hair, before he linked his arm through his boyfriend’s and kissed him on the cheek.
“And Merry Christmas to you too Alec,” he said quietly.
“You didn’t have to meet us at the station. We could have walked,” Alec protested, though he seemed happy enough to have Magnus’ hand on his arm. Magnus shrugged.
“I felt like a walk,” he said. Alec gave him a look, one that clearly said he didn’t believe for one minute that Magnus had felt like exercise in the cold, but he said nothing. Magnus was grateful for the reprieve, though he knew that he would have to answer questions later about what had got him in a funk.
“So, where’s the party?” Isabelle asked. “I’ve been telling Clary all day about how your Christmas parties are world-famous!”
Magnus turned to her and smiled, waggling his fingers in a pretense of doing magic.
“This year is to be the most magical yet, I promise you. It will be so magical, in fact, that I decided to forego the party altogether and just have a quiet gathering of my closest friends,” Magnus said. Isabelle shared a look with Raphael, who shrugged his shoulders.
“Wait so there isn’t a party?” Simon asked. He adjusted the strap of his backpack. “But I brought a set list so I could take over DJing.”
“A fate from which I am sure we are all glad we can be spared,” Magnus replied, starting to walk away. He didn’t get far. Alec, whose arm was still linked with his own, didn’t move.
“Magnus… What’s going on?” he asked. Magnus stubbornly tried to keep pulling on Alec’s arm but the Shadowhunter was immovable. With a sigh, Magnus turned around and looked anywhere except at Alec’s face.
“I just don’t feel like a party this year,” he said. Alec disentangled his arm and Magnus felt the loss of warmth immediately.
“I can respect that. It doesn’t have to be a big deal,” Luke interjected. Magnus was grateful there was at least one among them who would not push the issue, though he doubted the younger shadowhunters would be the same.
“It’s Christmas Eve! It’s meant to be one of Magnus’ big parties!” Isabelle protested. “And after the year that we’ve had, we deserve to have a chance to let our hair down! Come on Magnus, we can help you prepare for it if you want?”
“There will be no party this year,” Magus said, an air of finality to his voice. “Out of respect for Ragnor.”
Magnus had never thought that New York could sound oppressively silent, but in that moment he was certain that the whole city made no sound at all. He could feel their eyes on him, filled with pity. He turned away.
“Well, this took a somber turn pretty quickly. We didn’t even get to the spiked eggnog for it all to get morbid,” Raphael said with a sigh. Magnus looked at him, but he could see the years weighing on Raphael’s face behind the sarcastic quips. Simon was looking between the two of them awkwardly, as though he didn’t know what to say to make it better but he wanted to try.
Magnus was glad that Simon was lost for words for once.
“I’m sorry. Sometimes I am not the perpetual fun dispenser,” Magnus said, and though the words were cutting, his tone just sounded tired. Alec’s hand found his own, gloveless and cold.
“No one wants you to be, Magnus. If this is what you want, then this is what we’ll do. No one can have any objections to that,” he said, and he glared at them all as though he intended to take on any of them who would try.
“Sorry, I… I didn’t think about that,” Isabelle said, putting her hands in her pockets and looking slightly more ashamed. Magnus shrugged his shoulders.
“Come. I’ve decorated the apartment but I don’t trust the Chairman to watch the dinner with any degree of competency,” he said. They all fell into line behind him, slightly less jovial than before. Magnus tried not to feel guilty for it, but it ate away at him anyway.
His apartment had been vaguely decorated for Christmas. Compared to his usual fare, it was tame, but there was still a large Christmas tree and tinsel strewn around almost every surface. At some point while he had been out, it seemed Chairman Meow had taken a liking to the glittering wreath that Magnus had hung by the fireplace and hooked it down to play with. It lay in tinselly shreds all over his carpet. He waved a hand impatiently, sending it straight to the garbage.
“Make yourselves at home,” Magnus said, peeling off his winter layers to reveal his sweater underneath. Alec raised an eyebrow at the hyper jolly snowman dancing with a cane across it but said nothing, taking Magnus’ coat from him to go and hang it up.
It was so naturally domestic that it momentarily stole Magnus’ breath away. Alec came by more often than not, even staying sometimes for days at a time, but Magnus had never really thought Alec saw it as his home before. Now, he watched as Alec gathered everyone’s coats and hung them carefully on the coat rack before padding into the kitchen to gather wine glasses for everyone.
“What’s for dinner then?” Simon asked, flinging himself onto the couch. Raphael sat down far more gracefully beside him, his arm thrown casually behind Simon’s head. Another relationship that was becoming surprisingly comfortable much to Magnus’ surprise. He wasn’t sure how they put up with each other without killing each other, but he was glad that Raphael had found some measure of peace in whatever companionship he had found in Simon.
“Oh, the usual. Breath of frog, eye of newt, baked toadstools,” Magnus replied flippantly. Alec returned with a tray, precariously balancing glasses of red wine and what was no doubt two glasses of blood for the vampires. Magnus took his own with a small smile, his heart swelling when Alec returned it.
“Sounds delicious. I envy you, Clary, I really do,” Simon replied, grinning at the redhead who seemed to be locked in a staring contest with Jace. Their relationship was… rocky. Magnus wasn’t sure what he’d do if he found out he was unexpected related to Alec, but he was pretty sure that whatever was going on between the two of them was still far from familial.
“Sorry, what did you say Simon?”
Alec gave Magnus a sideways look as he continued to hand out the wine to everyone and then, taking one for himself, he stepped back.
“Martha Stewart here has cooked a ham and gravy and all the usual trimmings,” Alec reassured the others. Magnus sniffed.
“I resent the implication I’ve ever been in prison,” he said. Jace broke his eye contact with Clary to laugh.
“I’m more surprised you’ve managed to stay out of it,” he said. Magnus rolled his eyes and raised his glass instead.
“Well, I guess we should start this small gathering with a toast. I want to wish you all a-”
The doorbell rang.
Magnus turned to look at it and then set his wineglass down.
“I guess I’ll be right back. Hold those thoughts,” he said.
He walked to the door and opened it. For a moment his heart leapt with the impossible ideal that it might be Ragnor, not truly dead, not really, back for Christmas. Instead the door opened to reveal an unexpected Doona. Though he had kept in touch with nir, he hadn’t considered them friends. Not enough to invite to Christmas at any case.
“Ah, Doona. This is a surprise,” he said. Doona smiled at him, sweeping long blond hair over nir shoulder. For once, Doona wasn’t wearing a glamor and nir proud fairy antlers rose high above nir head. In the spirit of the season, they were decorated with mistletoe and bits of holly.
“May I come in?” Doona asked. Magnus felt a chill go down his spine.
“Well, we both remember what happened last time I said no,” he said, before standing aside to allow her to come in. Doona gave him a small smile.
“Indeed we do, though I am glad that you do not hold it against me, Bane,” ne said and patted his cheek. Magnus sighed and followed nir into the main room where everyone was waiting. Upon seeing nir, the reaction ranged from a curious arch of a brow to angry glowering to smiles. Magnus sighed. He’d just wanted a quiet Christmas.
“Why are you here, Doona?” he asked. Doona went to stand in front of the fire. All eyes in the room followed nir.
“Straight to the point, aren’t you Magnus? No Yuletide greeting?” ne asked. Magnus shook his head.
“Last time you visited me around year’s end I was cursed for a year. Forgive me, I’m not feeling particularly welcoming,” he said. Doona laughed, a light tinkling sound and spread nir arms wide.
“I am the knocker,” ne said. Magnus picked up his wine and drained it in a single motion. No one else spoke.
“Yes, well, quite. Now care to explain what that means?” he asked. Doona shrugged.
“I was told you’d read Dickens,” ne said. “So you’d understand the reference.”
“You mean… like the door knocker? The one that Scrooge thinks looks like Marley?” Simon pitched in. Magnus raised an eyebrow at him and he folded his arms defensively. “What? I like the Muppets.”
“Precisely. I am an omen apparently, and I was sent here by someone who wants to give you a Christmas gift,” Doona explained. Magnus went cold. Alec was by his side instantly, threading their fingers together as though clasped hands would help.
“Again? Really? You’re going to curse me again?” Magnus asked. Doona shook nir head.
“Nothing so dramatic,” ne reassured him. “It is a gift, Magnus, though as with all fairy magic, it will have it’s dangers.”
“What do I get and at what cost?” he asked. “Because I really have no interest in fairy bargains. I never did but I especially don’t now.”
“I have honestly got no desire to make a bargain with you either, which is why this is a gift and not a curse,” Doona tried to reassure him.
“I didn’t know that fairies made that distinction,” Alec pointed out. Doona smiled at him.
“I know you do not trust me, Alec, and I don’t blame you. After everything John did, and with no closure, I fully understand why you would not want me here. But trust me when I say, this is something that Bane himself has wished for,” she said. Magnus squeezed Alec’s hand.
“Spit it out then,” he said. Doona nodded nir head.
“If you agree, you will get the chance to see Ragnor Fell one last time,” Doona said. Magnus’ breath stilled in his lungs.
“What? That’s impossible. Ragnor’s dead,” Luke cut in. Magnus looked down at the floor so that he would not have to see the faces of anyone else in the room.
“Yes, and he will remain dead. That is not the offer,” Doona replied.
“There is no magic in the world that could bring Ragnor back,” Catarina interjected. “You can’t cure death, even temporarily.”
“Marley. Ragnor would be Marley in this scenario…” Simon said, his voice sounding muted. “Which makes Magnus Scrooge. Not really a good fit there.”
“This is not like the fairytale curse. It is not meant to teach Magnus a lesson, merely to give him the opportunity to see his friend again,” Doona responded patiently.
“Yet there’s a catch, isn’t there?” Raphael asked. “There always is.”
“You would enter the realm of the fairies and play out three Christmas tales for their amusement,” Doona explained. “Though as all those tales have happy endings, you should not be too worried. I wouldn’t have come to you without checking first.”
“Why do the fairies care?” Alec asked. “They’ve hardly been Magnus’ biggest fans.”
“I don’t know the motives of the Unseelie Court anymore than you, but if I had to guess, I would say that it is simply because they are bored at this time of year. All this Christian mythology hardly inspires them to celebrate,” Doona replied. “Or maybe there’s some deep, political meaning I can’t understand. All I know is that I was to make you this offer and that I was assured it would be completely safe.”
“Raising a spirit from the afterlife doesn’t sound safe,” Luke commented. “And I want no part in it.”
“Magnus, you aren’t considering this are you?” Jace’s golden eyes were narrowed, Magnus realised he had said nothing since the offer was made and cleared his throat.
“I am,” he said, surprising even himself with his own honesty. “I did not get a chance to say goodbye and… I would like to.”
“That is insane! Alec, talk him out of it!” Jace snapped. Clary scowled at him.
“What’s so stupid about wanting to see your friend one more time? Especially one you’ve known for so long?” she said. Magnus rubbed at his forehead.
“If Magnus wants to do it, well, I disapprove but I’m not going to run away from it either. It’s his decision and, if it gets us into trouble, I’ll just have to stick around to get him out of it as usual,” Alec replied. Magnus’ mouth fell open a little. He had expected that Alec would respect his parabatai’s wishes and scold him, but when he saw Alec’s expression he knew that his boyfriend had considered more than just the immediate dangers of the deal.
“Don’t you remember? Last time you and Alec nearly died!” Jace snapped. Simon timidly raised his hand.
“I actually did die, remember?” he said, though Magnus wasn’t sure if even he knew the point he was making. Beside him Raphael shifted, matching Magnus’ eyes with his own dark ones.
“We will definitely meet Ragnor?” he asked. Doona nodded. “Then I will stay with Magnus as well. I want to say goodbye.”
“Wait, you’re not serious are you?” Simon asked, then sighed. “No, no, of course you are. Fine, I’ll stay too.”
Raphael’s self-satisfied smirk made Magnus let out a small huff of laughter.
“So, myself, Alec and Simon will agree to it,” he said. Clary took a step forward.
“Me too,” she said. Isabelle took a place by her side and widened her eyes at Jace who remained stubbornly glaring at Magnus.
“No, I’m sorry. I am on Jace’s side on this. Nothing good comes from necromancy,” Luke said. Beside him, Jocelyn was swirling wine in her glass. She had been uncharacteristically silent the whole time.
“I will not stay. Unseelie magic sounds like the opposite of a good time to me. Stay safe, Clary,” she said. Magnus watched the two of them take their coats. Jace stubbornly didn’t move for a long moment before he finally stalked over to the door and wrenched it open, leaving without a word.
“For the life of me, I don’t know what you see in that boy,” Magnus commented. Clary flushed and looked away.
“Careful Magnus,” Alec said softly. “Touchy subject right now.”
“I’ll go after him,” Clary began but Luke held up his hand.
“No need. We’ll find him and… talk to him. I guess?” he said with a shrug. “If you two could only talk out your issues-”
“Let’s save that for after Christmas,” Jocelyn said, putting a hand on his arm with a smile. “Or maybe, just never? Like, we never need to speak about it to Clary or Jace as it’s probably difficult enough as it is without their parents getting all involved?”
“Your mom is the coolest,” Simon said. Jocelyn smiled at him and then went over to kiss Magnus’ cheek.
“Take care of everyone. If it all goes wrong and there are no happy endings all round, I will hunt you down and make you wish that you had breathed your last breath centuries ago,” she said, patting him on the head and then sweeping her hair over her shoulder as she walked away. Luke shrugged.
“Ditto,” he said, before shaking Simon’s hand, giving Raphael a wary nod, and following after her.
“Then we are all agreed now?” Doona checked.
“All agreed,” he said. Doona clicked nir fingers.
Magnus expected something to happen immediately, to feel the cloying magic of a curse wrap around him, but instead he felt nothing. Doona began to walk to the door.
“Have a nice night everyone,” ne said, before letting nirself out.
“Was that a prank?” Raphael asked. “Because that was one way to ruin Christmas for everyone.”
“No, something changed. Didn’t you feel it?” Clary asked. Alec rolled his eyes.
“I think you’re imagining things,” he said. Clary picked up her glass of wine and downed it with such skill that Magnus had to admit he was impressed.
“Well, she said it was like Dickens…” Simon trailed off.
“So we just sit around and-”
“The dinner!” Magnus suddenly remembered. He dashed into the kitchen in time to see smoke was pouring from the oven. Whatever was left of his Christmas ham was now ashen and black.
The smoke detector began to bleep insistently. Magnus grabbed a towel and started to fan the smoke, opening the windows and letting in the chill air. He coughed as he opened the oven and took in the remains of what had been supposed to be a relaxed Christmas dinner.
“Well, I see you haven’t become much more skilled in the culinary arts since I last saw you.”
The final beep seemed to echo around the apartment. Magnus turned and, sat at his table, strangely incorporeal, was Ragnor. Magnus froze, staring at his friend with wide eyes.
Catarina and Alec, who had come to help him, were frozen in the doorway.
“Ragnor… Is it really you?” Magnus asked. Ragnor gave him a waifish grin.
“Ask me not who I am, but who I was,” he said, with the air of quotation about him. Magnus scowled.
“Just answer the question,” he said. Ragnor laughed.
“It is I, your partner in-”
“It’s definitely him. Though he’s not quite quoting it right,” Catarina said, stepping inside the kitchen. She put her hand on Ragnor’s shoulder, but it passed through without connecting.
“What are you?” she asked, snatching her hand back. Ragnor seemed to ruminate on the question for a moment.
“I would say I am a memory of sorts. Created from parts of my magic that the fairies found scattered around my homes,” he said after a moment. “I am aware of what happened to me, that I died, but I do not think I am truly… Ragnor’s soul as you’d understand it.”
“A true ghost then,” Alec said softly. “No more real than looking at a photograph.”
“Should have known it was a trick,” Magnus said with a sigh. Ragnor looked offended.
“You’ll take what you’re given. And for this one night of fairy time, you have a chance to pass on something to the only part of me that is left in this world,” he sniffed. “I suggest that you use that time wisely.”
“What’s going on in there?” Isabelle called from the lounge. “We can order takeout if we need to!”
“Ragnor came,” Alec called back. There was a scrambling sound and then Raphael was pushing past him at the door.
The vampire stood there for a moment, taking in Ragnor’s appearance, before he reached out. His hand past through the mist that made up Ragnor’s form, but Raphael didn’t seem to mind. Instead he smiled, a small genuine smile that Magnus had only ever seen him give Ragnor and Simon.
“It’s good to see you, old friend,” he said. Ragnor inclined his head.
“And it is good to see you too,” he replied. “Now, why don’t you order your takeout and we can retire to the lounge and we can have a little catch up…”
And so it was that forty-five minutes later, they were all sat on the floor of Magnus’ apartment with Chinese takeout boxes spread between them. The fire roared merrily in the grate and Ragnor’s laugh filled the air when Simon shared a story about something Raphael had done.
Magnus couldn’t help but forget that his friend was dead, that it was not a permanent solution at all, when they were all together like this again. Alec leaned against his side, the stem of a glass of wine threaded between his fingers, as he listened intently as the others spoke. Catarina smiled without pain for the first time in months, no longer like she felt guilty for living while he friend was dead.
But even so, Magnus knew that it would come to an end.
“I have missed you, my little cabbage. I did not realise how much your friendship meant to me until it was no longer there,” Magnus said. Ragnor looked at him and Magnus thought that his transparent eyes seemed to have an extra glimmer to them.
“I would not have left you, Magnus. Especially not when I knew you needed me. But even when you have all the time in the world, sometimes it is just not quite enough,” Ragnor said, and with that he glanced at his watch.
“The clock will soon strike midnight. When it does, you will pay the cost of this short amount of time. You will be visited by three ghosts,” Ragnor said. Simon groaned.
“Not a tired, old Christmas Carol story. Please, can’t we have something more inventive?” he asked. Ragnor rolled his eyes.
“It will be nothing so straight-forward, I assure you,” he promised. “You must entertain the Unseelies by living out the stories they cast you in. After each one, I will return to you for a short time until the sun rises on Christmas morning.”
Magnus swallowed hard but nodded his head.
“Look to see me no more, friend,” Ragnor said softly. “After this night, you must let me go.”
“I-” Magnus began, but out of nowhere a clock started to chime. Magnus looked around the room, but couldn’t find the source of the sound. When he turned back to where Ragnor had been, he found that the warlock was gone.
“So here comes the Ghost of Christmas Past then,” Simon said. “I hope to God it’s not Camille.”
“You are not the only one,” Magnus conceded. Alec set down his glass and took Magnus’ hand. For a moment there was only the ringing of the chime, then there was the sound of scrabbling against the window before it smashed open.
The man that rolled in was dark-haired and nimble. He was dressed in clothes that Magnus recognised as Victorian. His chest tightened when the man, no more than seventeen, straightened. He dusted the glass off his clothes with a roguish grin.
His eyes were a bright, startling blue.
“Magnus,” he said, holding out his hand. “It’s good to see you again. Haven’t seen you since Jem and Tessa’s wedding… Well, kind of.”
“Magnus, who is this?” Clary asked, her brows drawn together in a knot. The man swept into a low bow, before finally glancing up at her with his debonair smile still in place.
“The name’s Will Herondale, and I’m here to take you on a journey to Christmas past.”