What do you get for someone who deserves everything in the world, but can no longer even appreciate the smile on your face? That was the dilemma that faced Neville every Christmas. He knew that his Gran thought that he shouldn’t bother; that it was enough that they both went to visit every holiday. But it wasn’t. Nothing would ever be enough.
So each year, once he arrived home from school for the Christmas break, he’d hesitantly remind his grandmother that he needed to go shopping, and though she didn’t really agree with him, they would always go.
His father was actually pretty easy to shop for. All he did was lie in bed day after day, so Neville always got him something that would make him as comfortable as possible. A new set of pajamas, socks for his feet, St. Mungo’s was very drafty, or perhaps a new blanket. The ones at the hospital were so scratchy and rough to the touch.
This year, Neville had gotten him a powder blue one that felt like down against his cheek. It was actually intended for a baby, but an enlarging charm would easily fix that problem. Bunching his blanket up in pale knotted fingers was the only movement that Neville ever saw his father make, and if that was all he could do, then he deserved to have something to grasp that would feel soft and warm to his touch. So his son had taken extra care to choose just the right one.
His mother was different. There were times when he felt that he could almost touch her. When he spoke to her, she’d look back at him, and when he held her hand, she would never pull away. It sometimes seemed as if, when he looked deep into her eyes, he could almost see something inside flicker, as if there was a hidden spark that was imprisoned behind leaden walls. For years he’d prayed that something would allow that spark to ignite once more into the flame of recognition, but nothing ever had, and now, after all this time, he was resigned to the fact that nothing ever would. But still, she was aware of the outside world in ways that his father did not appear to be, so she deserved to have something to look at that would hold her interest for as long as it was possible to be held.
Shopping for her had been difficult this year. Nothing seemed right. They went from store to store, walking all over Diagon Alley. Neville knew that his grandmother’s feet were beginning to ache with all the walking, but she didn’t complain. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t hesitate to tell him to hurry up and make a choice because she was tired and wanted to get home. But on these Christmas shopping trips, she never said a word if he took his time making his selections; instead, she’d merely ask him in a tired voice what shop they should try next.
The sky overhead was darkening to purple when they entered a small gift shop on a side alley off the main thoroughfare. By this point, Neville wasn’t holding out a lot of hope and was thinking that he might have to settle for a rose patterned dressing gown that they’d seen several shops back. One that his Gran had thought his mother would have chosen for herself back when she was still capable of such things. Yet something spurred him on. The dressing gown simply didn’t feel right.
A small silvery bell tinkled at their entrance to the shop, and a young pimply faced girl looked up from whatever she was wrapping up at the counter to smile politely in their direction.
“Merry Christmas,” she said with a snap of her gum. “Feel free to poke around and let me know if I can help you find anything. I’m always happy to help, you know.” Then she nodded to herself as if she’d done her duty, and returned her attention to the parcel she was working on.
The shop was crowded with knick-knacks, many of them in need of dusting, and the aisles were narrow and difficult to negotiate if you already had packages in your arms. Neville’s grandmother decided quickly that she’d leave the investigation of this shop to her grandson, and finding a chair by the door, she lowered herself into it with a sigh of relief.
Neville spared her only a glance and then turned and began to walk down first one crowded aisle then another. The shop seemed mostly full of dolls and glassware, with the occasional ornately framed mirror or exquisite inlaid wooden box to break the monotony. There was no doubt that it was full of beautiful things, but none of them would be right for his mother.
With a sigh, Neville was about to go back to his waiting grandmother, when something in a corner caught his eye. He wasn’t sure just what it was at first. A couple in fancy dress stood poised above an oval box made from polished wood. The man was tall while the woman was shorter and faintly plump with spun gold hair and a sweet painted smile. A lump formed in his throat as he looked at the figures, did his parents ever look like that? He thought from what he’d seen in pictures that they had, though there wasn’t the slightest resemblance anymore.
Neville looked over at the shopgirl who was sitting on a stool behind the counter swinging a foot and staring off into space as she pulled happily on her wad of gum. It seemed that her assertion that she’d be delighted to help them find something was more standard speech than heartfelt inclination.
“Excuse me,” said Neville boldly.
The girl looked around in surprise and stared at him blankly for a moment before stuffing her gum back into her mouth and getting to her feet. “Yes, can I help you?” she asked automatically.
“Yes, please,” said Neville politely. “What’s this?” He pointed to the two small figures that hovered above the wooden box.
The girl smiled and came over to stand next to him. “Oh, that’s lovely, that is,” she said with a new spark of interest. “It’s a music box. Would you like to hear it play then?”
“A music box,” said Neville thoughtfully. “Yes, I would.”
The shopgirl extracted a wand from an apron pocket and prodded the wooden oval briefly. Immediately, a sprightly waltz began to play. Neville didn’t know what the name of the tune was, but it sounded quite familiar. He was sure that he’d heard his grandmother playing it once or twice on the large old-fashioned gramophone at home.
As the music filled the shop with glorious sound, the two figures came to life and began to waltz happily together in the air over their polished oval dance floor. Neville was entranced as the last of the fading sunlight filtered through one of the shop windows and glimmered off the pale blue gown and golden hair of the dancing woman.
“Do you have to have a wand to make it work?” he asked softly. Neither of his parents had wands any longer, nor would know what to do with them if they did.
The girl shrugged. “You need a wand to start it up, but once it’s activated, you can make it start up and stop just by touching the base with your finger.” She nodded towards it. “Go ahead and try it.”
Tentatively, Neville reached out and touched the polished wood, and the music stopped. Then he touched it again, and the music began to play once more. He smiled.
“That was one of your mother and father’s favorite songs,” a soft voice stated from behind his back.
Neville turned around to find his grandmother standing there staring at the waltzing couple with moist eyes. “They used to love to dance…just like that…” Her strained voice faded away, and she turned her eyes on him for a moment before sniffling strongly, clearing her throat and squaring her shoulders determinedly. “It’s a lovely music box,” she said quietly.
Neville turned back to the waltzing figures and reached out a hand to silence the music. “Yes, it is,” he said softly and turning to the smiling shopgirl he added, “I’ll take it. I think my Mum will love it.”