'Twas the Night Before...
Tonks had apparated to the coordinates Wesley had given her only to find herself staring at a wrought iron fence in the middle of a forest. The sun was just sinking past the tree line and she could hear an early owl hooting in the distance. She was just about to retreat back home and floo Wesley for better directions, when the stone gargoyle on the gate post spoke. “Please state your name and business.”
“Um, Nymphadora Tonks, here to see Wesley.”
“You are expected. Please wait while we send someone to fetch you.”
“Well, alright, but you do know its freezing out here? I’d hate to freeze to death waiting. Wouldn’t it be faster to just let me in?” She pleaded with the gargoyle.
No response. Well then, clearly the rock had been charmed with a pre-recorded message and was not a real gargoyle. Of course, short of being the Queen, no one could afford a real gargoyle security system. She heard the steady plod of hooves coming down the drive. As it approached, she was slightly startled to see a horseless carriage, just like the sort they had at Hogwarts. Bloody hell, Wesley never told her his family could afford thestrals. Her mother had warned her about boys with hyphenated names, but she had thought it was a joke.
Unlike the Hogwarts carts, this one had a driver, who hopped down from the bench. “Gregor, if you would be so kind, please open the gate for our lovely visitor.” He winked at Tonks before turning his attention to the stone gatepost.
“Tsk, tsk! Say the magic words.” The gargoyle taunted.
“All hail the Holyhead Harpies.” The driver muttered.
“That’s my boy.” The gargoyle grinned as the gate swung open. “I don’t suppose you managed to catch their last game?”
“That I did. The Cannons didn’t stand a chance.”
“Will you stop back and fill me in?”
“I can do one better, ol’ chap. I’ve liberated the sports section from Master Wyndham-Pryce’s paper. Just make
sure I don’t regret it, eh?” The driver offered the gargoyle the paper then helped Nymphadora into the carriage.
“No worries, chap ever vigilant, that’s me.”
“Indeed. Happy Holidays, Gregor!”
“And to you, my dear friend.” The gargoyle was already flipping pages as the iron gates swung shut. Bloody hell,
thought Tonks, it was a real gargoyle after all.
“Dreadfully sorry about that, miss.”
“Pardon?” Tonks turned her attention from the stately drive lined with fir trees to the driver.
“Gregor’s got a bit of a thing for the Harpies’ Keeper, but can’t actually catch the games without deserting his post. I probably shouldn’t encourage him, but what Master Wyndham-Pryce doesn’t know, won’t hurt him.” The driver said
with careful casualness.
“I see.” Tonks pulled her hat further down her head to stop the winter wind from blowing her hair about.
“Ahem, I hope you do.”
“So have you worked for the Wyndham-Pryce’s long?”
“All my life, miss.”
“That must be nice.” Tonks glanced down at the skirt her mother had insisted she wear. Maybe it was a good thing she didn’t wear the blue jeans she had planned on.
“If you say so, miss.” Although he wouldn’t admit it, the driver was amused by the novelty of one of his passengers actually conversing with him.
“What are Wesley’s parents like?”
There was a pregnant pause as the driver chose his words. “I would say mostly harmless.”
“But not completely harmless?” Tonks gulped.
“The master’s profession can get to be a bit peculiar, you see.”
“I thought Wesley said he was an antique dealer.”
“Oh, aye, antiques. You could call them that.” His ominous tone made it seem like he was describing her uncle Lucius Malfoy, not her boyfriend’s family. “Well here we are, miss, watch your step.”
The driver helped her down and led her to the front hallway where a butler was waiting to take her coat. “The family is waiting in the sitting room. Please follow me.”
“Lead on MacDuff.” Tonks gestured forward. She didn’t understand what would trigger the butler’s coughing fit, but it took them a moment before they could actually leave the hallway.
As her shoes clicked across the marble flooring, Tonks was beginning to doubt the wisdom of agreeing to do Christmas Eve dinner at Wesley’s house. Her doubts evaporated at the sight of Wesley’s smile when she entered the room. “’Dora, so glad you could make it. Mother, Father, may I introduce Nymphadora Tonks.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Tonks’ toe caught on the oriental rug as she attempted a curtsy. If it weren’t for Wesley’s quick hand to help her up, she would have landed face down in a heap.
“Charmed, I’m sure.” Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce watched the scene with modest alarm.
“Tonks, now where have I heard that name before?” Mr. Wyndham-Pryce mused over his aperitif.
“Perhaps at breakfast when I informed you that Wesley was bringing his friend over for dinner?”
“No, that’s not it.” Mr. Wyndham-Pryce ignored his wife’s barb. “I know. Are you related to the Tonks of Brightwell?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Really? You don’t know the Brightwell branch of the Tonks? Too bad. Ol’ Archibald Tonks was quite a character. Are you sure you’re not related?”
“I’ve never met an Archibald Tonks of Brightwell. Sorry.” Tonks shot a nervous glance at Wesley who shot her an equally nervous smile back. There was an awkward lull in the conversation as Tonks looked to Wesley for help and Wesley tried to avoid meeting anyone’s eyes.
It was Wesley’s mother who got them out of the lull. “Didn’t Andromeda Black data a man named Tonks back in the day?”
“That would be my parents.” Tonks mumbled.
“Wasn’t Tonks a muggle or some such nonsense? I seem to remember a scandal there.” Mr. Wyndham-Pryce frowned in thought, ignoring the effect his words had on his guest.
“Nonsense. Dumbledore wouldn’t let in pure muggles, even in Hufflepuff. Her father clearly must be a wizard. He probably just had a squib relation; you know how rumors go. So dear, you’re Andromeda’s daughter? How is she?”
“She’s doing well.” Tonks nearly missed her cue, she was so caught up watching the bickering between Wesley’s parents almost as though it were a tennis match.
“That’s lovely. I was friends with her sister when we were at Hogwarts. Say, how is Bella?”
In Azkaban for multiple counts of murder, Tonks thought. “Just fine, last I heard.” Tonks wondered why, if she was truly a metamorphmagus who could hold any shape for days, her cheeks already hurt from smiling so much.
They were saved from another awkward lull in the conversation when the butler announced that dinner was served. As Wesley led Tonks by the arm, he leaned over to whisper in her ear, “You’re looking lovely this evening, my dear.”
“So are you.” Tonks whispered back, although honestly he looked like he was still in school dress. Instead of Ravenclaw blue and silver, his tie was a dark forest green, the only sign from any of the Wyndham-Pryces that they were celebrating Christmas and not a funeral.
“I should probably have warned you.” They passed the professionally designed Christmas tree, sparkling with all white ornaments.
“My parents are a bit…” Wesley struggled to find the right word.
“Right, just a bit.” Tonks mentally filled in “eerily reminiscent of my Malfoy relatives.”
They had made it through the soup and salad courses, but the conversation took an ill turn when the topic of the British Museum came up over the main course. “So, Nymphadora, do you have any plans for the rest of your holidays?” Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce tried to draw their guest into the conversation.
“My family is planning a trip to the British Museum at the end of the week. They’ve redecorated the Egyptian wing, or so I’ve heard.”
“Bah, why would you want to go there? They never display any of the really interesting items. It’s all washing pots and doormats. Of course, who could blame them with all those muggles running around.” Mr. Wyndham-Pryce asserted.
“What do muggles have to do with it?” Tonks challenged, ignoring the wince coming from her boyfriend across the table.
“Well, it’s rather obvious. Muggles wander around mumbling aloud curse words with no knowledge at all of what they’re invoking. Do you have any idea how many muggle-induced magical accidents occur on a daily basis? It’s a wonder they haven’t blown the planet up!”
“I’m sure it’s not near as large a number as the number of magical accidents caused by wizards. Besides, everyone knows if muggles were to blow up the world they’d use nuclear weapons.” Tonks shot back.
“You give them too much credit; they have no idea what they’re doing. The Council, I mean Ministry, had to intervene in three muggle-induced near-apocalypses just last year alone.”
“Maybe there wouldn’t have been a problem if you had just educated the muggles instead of assuming they were too stupid to handle the truth.”
“Nonsense! If you let the muggles know about magic, the next thing you know they’ll be wandering around with sticks in their hand, thinking they can be wizards too, if they just work hard enough.”
“Well, at least they’d be better prepared for vampires.” Wesley muttered.
“Wesley Wyndham-Pryce! You will respect your father… even if his diatribe is completely inappropriate for mixed company, not to mention incorrect.” Wesley’s parents exchanged an icy stare across the table.
“Dear, if you had any idea of what you speak, I might be offended. However, I don’t suppose you interact much with muggles at you Witches Auxiliary functions.”
“Careful, darling, Nymphadora here may get the impression you don’t let me out of the house except for society functions.” From the chill in her forced laugh, Nymphadora got more than just an impression that was the case.
“I implied nothing of the sort. I simply stated that you have no basis to speak of muggles and the troubles they cause. I, on the other hand, have first hand experience dealing with the muggle problem. Education is not the answer.”
“With an attitude like that, it’s a wonder you didn’t nominate he-who-must-not-be-named for Minister.” Tonks interrupted the couple’s argument.
The hush that fell across the table made Tonks reconsider the wisdom of abandoning the “smile and nod” strategy her mother had proposed. Finally, Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce spoke up. “On that note, who’s up for some dessert?”
“Sounds lovely, dear, and what are we having for tonight?” Mr. Wyndham-Pryce asked with such charm as though he hadn’t just been accused of being a death eater.
“I though best to stick with tradition, so Gaston has made some Christmas pudding.”
“Did he use the brandy-based recipe?”
“I believe so. The cognac recipe just didn’t flame up properly last year.”
As Wesley’s parents chattered on, Tonks leaned across the table to whisper “Wes, I think I should probably visit the loo. I need to die of embarrassment now.”
“Oh come now, it wasn’t that bad. Everyone’s recovered beautifully.” Tonks shot Wesley a look of doom. “Fine. The water closet is at the end of the hall on the left. Do you want me to walk you there?” He offered, knowing that if Tonks left the table, he didn’t want to be left along with his parents.
“No, I’ll be fine.”
“Alright, but why don’t you wait a min…” Tonks pushed her chair back, straight into the butler carrying the pudding flambé. Tonks thought she had recovered well, until Wesley yelped, “Merlin, Tonks! Your hair is on fire!”
“Eep! Where, where?” Tonks tried to turn around to see the lit ends she could smell.
“Here!” Wesley picked up his glass and through the contents at Tonks. Instead of extinguishing the sparks, the flames flared up. It was at that point that Wesley remembered he had been served wine rather than the traditional milk, because his father decided he might be old enough to handle it. At this rate, he’d be 30 before his next glass.
“Oh heavens, the curtains are on fire!” Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce slipped her wand from her sleeve. “Extinguo!” She pointed first at the curtains then at Tonks.
The unfortunate thing about the extinguo spell was that it went more for a blunt force attack than fine tuning. Tonks, the curtains, and the Christmas pudding were drenched in water. “Oh dear.” Wesley muttered, trying not to stare at Tonks in her wet white blouse.
“Well, at least the cold water will help get the wine stain out. I’m not sure anything will help my drapes.” Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce examined the singed edge.
“Excuse me. I need to powder my nose.” Tonks got out before running out of the room.
“Well, son, she seems like a nice young lady.” Mr. Wyndham-Pryce said from his place at the head of the table. “I just don’t know what she sees in you.”
“Thank you so much, father.” From his years of practice, Wesley was able to cover the sarcasm rather well.
“Well, if there’s no pudding, I declare that the end of Christmas Eve dinner. I’ll be in my study if anyone needs me. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”