Chapter Thirty-Five: Early Christmas

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly, tralalala, la la la!" It was the morning of the last day of term and six discordant voices, with varying levels of enthusiasm and tone rang out across the airwaves, or whatever magical radios ran on. Tom and Daniel had decided to start off with a traditional Christmas Carol, despite Dawn saying they should research magical ones. Henry had pointed out that pretty much their entire audience, six small children, all were from a mundane background, so no one would complain. Dawn didn't like that at all, Zoe thought it was because she was disappointed to appear on such a minor radio station. If she was going to cement her status as a philanthropist, she wasn't going to make much progress on this show. Even more surprising was the fact that Jody was actually singing, Zoe had expected lip synching instead, and was touched by the effort. Even if Jody was only doing it for her, rather than the Christmas spirit. "Good morning and welcome to Tom and Daniel in the morning!" announced Daniel.

"Did you really need to say morning twice?" asked Dawn, "It sounded redundant. Couldn't you have said Merry Christmas or something?"

"But it's not Christmas. That's reserved for the actual day."

"Unless time travel is involved," added Tom helpfully.

"I'm going to travel back and time and stop you from ever thinking this was a good idea," complained Jody.

"That's what you'd do with time travel?" drawled Henry, "so unimaginative."

"Well, I mean after I stopped you from being born."

"Ouch, that hurts. There are children listening Jody."

"Who cares? I never pretended to be a role model. They can listen to Dawn if they want that."

"Really?" Dawn's eyes shone, "that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me! I'm a role model!"

"That's Dawn showing how to accept a compliment," said Zoe, "humble gratitude. You can learn a lot from that."

"I think I'm going to be sick," groaned Jody.

"So I am," muttered Tom.

"Tom!?" demanded Dawn, looking incredibly hurt.

"No, not about you. I drank some orange juice. That citrus really disagrees with me."

"And it's bad for your teeth," added Dawn. "Brush twice daily!"

"Dawn Kersey, the only person in the world capable of making Christmas boring," drawled Jody.

"Shush Jody," said Dawn primly, "now, for all our magical viewers, we do know some of your carols, because we love and respect all cultures." It was kind of disturbing how quickly Dawn appropriated and took control of the show, Tom and Daniel were powerless to stop her. "Everyone sing now! Deck the ever expanding walls with branches from Yggdrasil! tralalala, la la la! Tis the season to mix vampire blood with holly!"

"Apologies to any vampires listening," said Tom, interrupting. "We don't actually advocate harvesting your blood."

"Cough, Professor Strix, Cough," said Daniel.

"Did you seriously say 'cough' instead of doing it?" asked Henry, "I'm surrounded by imbeciles."

"Henry!" complained Zoe, "it's nearly Christmas!"

"I don't care how seasonal their stupidity is."

"Stop it!" said Dawn, "be serious please. We have a very serious announcement to make."

"You said serious twice," said Daniel. "I got in trouble for using the same word twice. You should have used grave or something."

"You'll be in a grave in a minute," growled Jody, "this is bad enough without you baiting her."

"I don't rise to bait," said Dawn proudly, sticking her nose in the air. Her demeanour swiftly changed when everyone else burst out laughing. "Well indeed! You're all filth dogs! The lot of you!"

"Filth dogs? Don't you mean filthy dogs?" asked Tom.

"No, filth dogs. Dogs made of filth. That's what you are. Laughing at serious statements like that!"

"Third time you've used serious," said Henry, stirring the pot. "Don't you know any other words? Lucky I bought you a thesaurus from Christmas."

"You better not have! I already own three!"

"Shouldn't we get back to the, a synonym of serious, matter?" asked Daniel.

"Oh, solemn?" tried Zoe, "for the synonym? No wait, that sounds sad. Severe?"

"Ugh! Can you be serious!?" demanded Dawn.

"There it is again…" said Henry.

"I know other words! Just stop it! Okay, Tom has something to say."

"I do? Oh yeah, I remember now. Ahem. By now, if the rumour mill is anywhere near as effective as I believe, you will have heard various things about the events of Saturday night involving us. I can say, a sad number of them are true. I say sad, because what we did was not right or sensible behaviour for children or anyone else for that matter. All six of us, absent from any influence of authority figures or anyone else who would counsel us to stop, attended a dangerous midnight meeting on Saturday night. Like all foolish plans, it backfired and we were attacked and seriously hurt. It was sheer chance that we escaped even that lightly, because the consequences could have been far worse. We refused to cooperate with security, we lied to our student rep and we put ourselves in danger. All for pride. We were arrogant and self-assured and it nearly cost us.

Already you may be hearing that we won that night, and think us heroes for our triumph. You are wrong. Perhaps we are heroes, but even heroes can be wrong. And heroes are not the best role models. Sensible people who stay home and call the authorities are to be your role models. That we survived does not change how foolhardy it was, it should have never been allowed to occur at all. Children can be just as intelligent as adults, more so even, but sometimes we lack wisdom. Our decision to face a madman was not wise, or particularly sane. You will respect discussions on sanity more coming from me, because I have grappled with the concept more than many. We made a mistake. Do not emulate us." There was a long silence after his words, the silence afforded to a hero fallen. It was hard to hear those words, harder still to say them. Hard for Dawn to write them, hard for her to get Tom to agree to say them. Because she knew they were right, but it still hurt. She hadn't been sensible. She'd put pride before everything else, and if it hadn't been for Zoe things would have been a lot worse.

"However," said Tom, "there is a share of blame that goes out to more than just us. Just as you heard rumours about Saturday night, you heard rumours about us before then. Many of you spread them further until the whole school knew about them. Those rumours were the work of Robert Beel, and influential Offensive Magic student who has since been punished. He is not someone whose work you should have been doing. By spreading his words, and believing them, you struck the first blow against us. I think all of you understand just how important reputation is, and when yours is trashed, you will try anything to fix it. We cannot blame everything on rumours, but they made some of us more desperate to end this. Convinced us that if this had ended quietly, no one would know the truth about us.

"Daniel Valgat is not a violent animal, he would never deliberately hurt anyone, his only act of violence was an accident. I…I am not insane or dangerous, I am misguided perhaps, and confused, but not mad. Henry and Jody do not hate everyone; they can be quite kind when the situation arises. They are not dangerous to anyone who does not deserve it. Dawn Kersey is not a princess, nor did she rob anyone of the top rank of our graduating class. Zoe Barker is harmless, whatever you heard about Saturday, she did not master the dark arts and defeat Robert Beel through wickedness. Thank you for listening, we hope you hear and understand every word." Pressing the right button, for perhaps once in his life, Daniel cued some canned applause.

"Thank you Tom, for those insightful words," he said once the applause died down. "I'm sure our audience took them all to heart. Oh, we're getting a caller. Who's this?" he asked, answering.

"Professor Strix," said the woman, sounding very unamused. "I'd like to teach a lesson of my own. Please check your facts before you announce things on radio. Lest you want to look foolish."

"The vampire thing?" asked Tom, "but you drink blood?"

"As does a certain breed of bat, does that make them immortal bloodsuckers? A man once survived being stuck in a cave for weeks by drinking the blood of bats. Was he a vampire? No. Please do not scare children with your tales. I can assure, my class is perfectly safe. And if you're listening, Victor, please do not protest outside my office again, at least not during the daylight hours. I don't have the energy to deal with it then. And finally, whatever the song might suggest, blood of vampires is not an alchemical ingredient. If Professor Venenum tells you otherwise, he is tricking you. Goodbye."

"Wow," said Daniel, "our first professor caller! This show is hitting the big times. Wait, we're getting another caller. I wish this thing had caller ID."

"This, well this is a very hard call for me to make," the voice was familiar but the tone wasn't. It was the crazy old lady, who had called all but one episode of the show, but this time she wasn't yelling or deranged. "What you said was very true, so I suspect you were being forced to say it by someone who isn't so morally ambiguous as you. But that you complied and said it at all speaks somewhat well of you. I'd have thought people like you would damn the consequences and scream defiance. You conceded however, and made me realise something. Please don't interrupt. I need to say this. Your information wasn't entirely correct, the rumours about you didn't come solely from Robert Beel, I consider myself a traditionalist and formed my negative opinion of you on my own. I did, in my own circle, spread these opinions. I did not realise I was contributing to a larger scheme against you. It was not my intention to do Robert Beel's work."

"Make no mistake, most of you I despise, and I couldn't care less about what scuffles you get into. But if my actions in some way led to Zoe being in danger, that poor girl, then I am sorry. For that only. So in penance, I will offer you a small amount of help, my word to anyone listening. Zoe Barker defeated Robert Beel because she was true and good, while he was wicked and corrupt. It was the way the of universe for her to triumph over him. She would never resort to the dark arts, she alone in that demonic hexagon is pure. Tom Callis, while lucid now, was driven insane by demonic torture in the pits of hell. Henry Gallor and Jody Winter are demons. Wicked immortals. Daniel Valgat is a fool, blind and insolent. Dawn Kersey is a thief and arrogant beyond belief. I have no idea what coercion they use to keep Zoe in their ranks. But she did not use dark magic that night. Only Robert Beel did, and he was punished for it. If you not take the word of these maniacs that she is innocent, I offer you mine."

"I did not call solely to insult you however, there is one more admission I must make. I had heard of this Robert Beel before, a prodigy in violent arts so they say, but I had not spent much thought on him. Until I heard about Saturday night. I realised, his name, in the crass manner that children use, could also be Bob. Bob Beel. Or Beel Bob in some cultures. Notice now, if we add two letters we have BeelzeBob. And that is only one letter removed from the demonic lord himself, Beelzebub!" Tom gave them all insufferable looks at this, practically screaming 'I told you so!' Henry thought that if he was Tom, he wouldn't advertise that he thought the same way as this lady. Right after claiming not to be crazy. Was this lady just confused as well? He didn't think so. That level of vitriol stemmed from madness. It had to. "So, I offer you the closest thing you will ever get to a compliment from me. On that, you were the lesser evil."

"Make no mistake, both factions that night represented demonic influence. But between Beelzebub and some minor hell spawn only seven hundred years old, there is no contest. We should be pleased that this lesser evil triumphed. Even more pleased that they only did so through the purity of Zoe. They will owe her now, and perhaps will be bound to be kinder in future. The demonic lord's human avatar was banished from the school after the battle. He will return, the forces of hell always do, but in time for Christmas good, or as close to it as we'll get, has triumphed. Heed me well!"

"Is that all?" inquired Daniel, he was the only one capable of speech that was even close to polite at the moment. Dawn's blood was boiling over all this praise for Zoe. Tom was muttering frankly to himself about demons. Jody, Henry and Zoe were stifling laughter. This was more than dramatic enough for the Christmas play, and they hadn't even started yet. Not to mention that someone else had picked up Tom's insane idea and ran with it on radio. It was all too much.

"Not quite, you young fool. Right before me, a she-devil rang up. I say to her this, back foul creature! You shall feast on our blood no more!"

"I didn't think people on meds like yours could give blood anyway," said Henry.

"You shut up demon! Nothing wrong with my blood!"

"Wait, we're getting another caller," said Daniel, "can I have two at the same time?" he pressed a button.

"Professor Strix again," she said. "Just to confirm. There is something wrong with her blood. I don't want it."

"You devil spawn!" screeched the old lady. That was more like it. "Silence, foul creature!"

"Children listen to this show," snapped the professor, "If no one else will say it, I will. There was no arch fiend in this school on Saturday night. This woman is deranged. Do not listen to her. I'm a professor, you can trust me."

"You profess to be a liar!"

"Me? A liar? What an interesting conceit. From a woman who seeks to terrify children with stories of hell. You are insane or you are depraved. Pick one."

"I will not have truck with you demon! Avaunt!"

"Avaunt yourself."

"You're using reverse psychology on me aren't you? Like that snake shaman Wright. You think I'll do the opposite of what you say. So you want me to stay to be mocked? Well I won't! Good day!" The line went dead and Daniel lead a rousing applause.

"Thank you Professor Strix, for you timely intervention. We here at the Tom and Daniel Morning Show would like to award you our greatest honour. Professor of the day! Congratulations."

"That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me," she said solemnly and no one was quite sure if she was joking or not. "Thank you. I've never been anyone's favourite professor. But it was my pleasure. Someone had to get rid of her. Study for my class or all your nightmares will come true. Goodbye." That line went dead too.

"Study for your class or all our nightmares will come true?" scoffed Dawn, "as if we need threats to do our homework."

"Speak for yourself," said Jody. "I work solely because of threats, and only creative ones. A teacher once said they were going to hang me by the turn ups of my jeans until the blood ran to my eyes and they burst. I figured that was worth a couple of lousy answers."

"Jody! That's totally inappropriate!"

"I know; he shouldn't have threatened me."

"No! Your attitude to work!"

"Work has an attitude towards me. It keeps demanding my attention like an entitled brat."

"Are we applying human qualities to the abstract concept of work now?" asked Henry, "because if so, this show got really cerebral really fast."

"Anthropomorphism," said Zoe, "the applying human qualities. That the word for it."

"I can word too Zoe!" snapped Dawn, not even trying to make sense in her rage.

"Let's just move right along," said Tom, "to an important announcement. I fought Beelzebub and won! That reminds me of a song. I fought the law and the law won! Breaking rocks under the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won!"

"Ugh! Stop maiming music!" said Dawn. "Can't you destroy something I don't enjoy? Like Jody's company?"

"Okay, before a brawl breaks out," said Daniel, "let's move on. Today we have a very special Christmas themed play for all of you, written by Tom Callis. The same playwright who brought you the tale of the time travelling vampire murderer. Let me introduce our cast. Henry Gallor, playing Santa Claus!" Henry just barely stopped himself from swearing, Tom had refused to show them the script until they were to read it for the show. It was thrust in front of him now, way too late. They were going to have him play Father Christmas? How could they top that insanity? "Jody Winter, playing, Mrs Claus!" Henry nearly passed out, that was how they'd top that. Jody's reaction was worse, her face turned into a sort of maniacal grimace and her fists kept clenching and unclenching. "Dawn Kersey as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer! You know, the red hair."

"That's typecasting!" wailed Dawn.

"Too bad, you can't change the artist's vision. Tom Callis, the man himself, as the Head Elf!"

"People are always saying I'm not human," reasoned Tom.

"Me, Daniel Valgat, as the Abominable Snowman! Don't worry kids, he's good in this one. And finally, Zoe Barker as the queen of the nice list, the kindest child in the world! Tom, title us!"

"Thank you, presented by Tom Callis Entertainment, A Callis Corporation, is the premiere of my latest hit, Carol Hard with a Vengeance!"

"This is going to be hell," groaned Jody, and for once, Dawn agreed with her. That was a Christmas miracle in itself.

Scene Break Here

"That was humiliating," said Jody as they stepped out of the elevator outside their apartment. "I don't know who I want to kill more. Tom for writing it, Henry for persuading me to join in, Zoe for guilting me into agreeing or Daniel for being Daniel."

"You don't want to kill Dawn?" asked Tom, "wow, those Christmas movies really are accurate."

"Can it Tom," muttered Jody, "if my rep ever recovers from this it'll be a cold day in hell."

"Look on the bright side, if that happens, Beelzebub will be a little chilly," joked Henry.

"You don't really want to kill me do you?" asked Zoe nervously.

"No," sighed Jody, "I just wish I wasn't such a nice person." Daniel let out one startled bark of laughter at this, just one, because the glare she sent him was so powerful his hand involuntary snapped over his mouth and his throat closed up. "That's what I thought."

"I don't get why we were all playing single characters and Tom was playing like fifty different people in the end," complained Dawn, "it was inconsistent. That's what it was." Because if Dawn was going to appear in dramatic abominations, they should at least be consistent.

"I thought you'd be offended if I cast any of you as the villains. And there were plenty of villains in a Die Hard/Christmas movie crossover. Is that right? Technically Die Hard was already a Christmas movie."

"You didn't want to offend us!?" demanded Dawn, her voice rising to a high pitched squeak at the end. Of all the reasons to make your play inconsistent, he chose other people's feelings? And he even failed at that! "You cast me as a reindeer! Solely because I have red hair! That's discrimination."

"Don't you dare complain, I was Henry's freaking wife!" snarled Jody.

"Actually you were Santa's wife," pointed out Daniel, "it's called actor/character separation. Look it up."

"It's called death! You won't need to look it up because you'll be experiencing it! Let me make this even clearer to you. I had to participate in a romance subplot, designed for children, and written by Tom freaking Callis! If there is anything worse than that in this world Beelzebub can steal my soda and call me Sally!"

"Sally?" asked Zoe.

"What? It's a stupid name. Besides, the worst part was the soda stealing."

"Okay then," said Zoe, "whatever you say. Can we not stand around outside arguing? We spread Christmas joy to children! Can't you be happy for one moment."

"Are they offering lobotomies for free?" asked Henry.

"I don't think so?"

"Then no, I can't be happy about this."

"Come on Henry! It's our last day at school before the holidays. We won't see each other for ages. We shouldn't fight on our last day. Remember our plans when we all got up early this morning? We were going to exchange our presents before breakfast. Cheer up."

"Before breakfast?" said Dawn, arching an eyebrow, "I never agreed to that. Healthy nutrition is more important than presents. In my house we always eat breakfast before unwrapping gifts."

"That's a Christmas tradition though," said Henry, "it's not really Christmas today. We're just celebrating early because we'll spend actual Christmas with our families. Call it, End of Term in December Day. You can start new traditions, ground breaking stuff." Henry apparently knew the right thing to say, inventing anything, even holiday traditions appealed to Dawn. They could brainstorm, vote democratically, make a fancy poster, all that cool stuff.

"Maybe," she said, trying to appear unconvinced, "but we should change the holiday name. Acronyms are always popular. What about ETD Day? Or ETDD and we cut the day out?"

"How about we go inside and open the freaking presents or I cut your tongue out?" snapped Jody, shoving the door open and stepping inside. The sound that followed was surprisingly very UnChristmas like, a loud bang, a scream and then Jody swearing profusely. Everyone shared a panicked look, theories dancing in their heads ranging from a final attack by Robert Beel, to the actual resurgence of Beelzebub and Jody being put on the naughty list for lacking Christmas spirit. What they found when they dashed in was something else entirely.

Opening the door had triggered some sort of spell, that was ideally supposed to make snowflakes gently fall from the ceiling. Whoever had cast it had been a little overzealous, because upon stepping inside, an entire flurry of snow, a miniature avalanche, had been dumped on Jody's head. She was on the ground now, half buried in a pile of snow that was realistic right down to the freezing temperature. Only now was the snow falling properly, flakes falling down and settling in their hair or on their clothes.

And that wasn't the only difference. The entire room had been set up with Christmas directions. Tinsel, streamers, banners, holly wreaths and all decked the walls. And most prominently in the centre of the room stood a towering Christmas tree, the ceiling above it had been raised in order to accommodate the behemoth. It was decorated lavishly with ornaments a mundane could only dream off, glittering jewels, a star made of diamond, leaves coated in gold and silver, Christmas baubles that displayed images like miniature TV screens, showing wintry scenes and happy families. Beneath this Christmas spectacle, all their wrapped presents had been moved from their rooms to sit there, waiting to be opened.

"Surprise!" beamed Heidi, standing before the tree in her Christmas hat. "Geez, you guys took ages to come inside! I was waiting for ages. I thought, even the elevators wouldn't bother you on the last day of term. But you're here now! Merry Christmas! Oh Jody, are you okay?"

"Do I look okay!?" spat Jody.

"Yes?" said Heidi, and then giggled, "I thought Daniel was playing the abominable snow man!"

"She's going to die," said Jody, heaving herself upright, "she's going to freaking die."

"And a merry Christmas to you too!" said Heidi, "I won't keep you long. I just cooked up this Christmas surprise for you. I heard you guys were going to celebrate today, great idea by the way. One for your friends and another for your family! Two Christmases! Now I promise I didn't look at my presents. Send me those on real Christmas okay? The student post has a delay for Christmas so you can post them before you leave. That's all! I'll see you at the Christmas Lunch okay. Bye!" She popped out of existence. Probably just to be annoying, but Jody liked to think she was running scared.

"Presents!" cried Tom, running forward and diving to the ground before the tree. Like a commando he started crawling under the branches, his arms reaching out for the nearest present.

"Stop!" said Dawn, "we're going to do this in an organised fashion. This is the first ETD Day and it won't descend into anarchy. Cards first!" She pointed at the coffee table which was now covered in Christmas cards.

"Aw," said Tom, crawling back, "this always happens to me. You want to rip open birthday presents but you've always got to read the card first. Now it's happening on Christmas too."

"We, well, I, put a lot of effort into those cards!" said Dawn firmly. "Now I want this to go in an organised fashion. Approach one at a time, take only the cards addressed to you. And read quietly. After we'll finish we'll have a formal thanking ceremony. Any questions?" Everyone shared a brief look, an idea passing simultaneously between them.

"Just one," said Jody, "how fast can you move?"

"What_?" All five of them dove for the table, even Zoe caught up in the fun, sweeping Dawn aside and grabbing cards at random. "You utter beasts!" howled Dawn, "that's not how you do it!"

"Ooh, I got one from Tom to Dawn," announced Henry, "it's all very good. I like the part where he goes on a psychotic ramble and insinuates that she dyes her hair red with blood."

"I get distracted," said Tom with a shrug, "and just Merry Christmas is boring. Besides, yours isn't any better. 'Dear Jody, I can almost tolerate you.' What kind of opening is that?"

"The rest of the letter is very heartfelt," said Henry, "trust me, keep reading. What's this? To Zoe from Daniel, 'to the scariest librarian I know, do comics count as books? Because I might have stolen some from the library as a kid. I can't remember. Please don't be mad at me.' And look, there's a huge drawing of Zoe as a monster chasing a man so helpfully labelled as 'book thief' down. Very artistic."

"None of you are taking this seriously!" screeched Dawn, "that's not how you write cards!"

"This one's more like a riddle," said Zoe, holding up a card from Jody to Henry, "Dear Henry, by the time you read this it will already be too late to stop me.' What does that mean?"

"This," said Jody, punching Henry hard on the arm.

"Hey! It's Christmas! Nearly, anyway."

"I know, that's why I didn't punch in you in the face."

"You complete clowns!" No one was really listening to Dawn at this juncture. "Stop at once!"

"But I just got a really good one," said Daniel, "To Dawn from Zoe, 'sorry for being so perfect. I can't help it. Yours sincerely, Perfect Zoe.'"


"It was a joke! The rest of the message is really nice!"

"Alright!" said Dawn, throwing her hands up. "You've all made your point. Forget the cards. You're all cretins who can't write anyway. Presents it is. In an orderly_ oh who I am I kidding, just fight over them like savages." ETD Day was already a disaster she decided. A dedicated present roster wouldn't change that.

"Ooh, can I get the presents and hand them out?" asked Tom, "that's my favourite job. Every Christmas I crawl under the tree and grab presents. And then I read the name out and hand them over. It's so fun!"

"Okay," sniffed Dawn, slightly mollified by this semblance of token order. "That's sounds like a good idea. But don't get all of one person's presents out one after the other. Put in some variation. Otherwise it's boring."

"Yes Rudolph," joked Henry, bowing, "we acknowledge your superior Christmas knowledge."

"Shut it Santa," snapped Dawn, "Or I'll give you and Jody couples therapy." There was a moment of startled silence at this before everyone started absolutely howling with laughter. "You all think I'm funny! I knew it!"

"That really is a Christmas miracle," drawled Henry when he recovered, "we've been saying that a lot lately. I blame the air at Harbridge. The dean probably cast a spell to make improbable things happen around Christmas."

"Me being funny is not improbable!" snapped Dawn.

"Presents Tom!" said Zoe hurriedly, before they could devolve into another argument. Funny as messing with the Christmas cards had been, they didn't need another eardrum explosion from Dawn.

"On my way," Tom dove back under the tree and rummaged around under there. "Hmm, which present looks the awesomest?" he mused, "this one is addressed to three people! That's got to be good!" He pulled out the aforementioned present and waved it in the air triumphantly. "First present, it's going to be a good one. I can tell. To Jody, Dawn and Zoe, From Daniel. Who wants to open it?"

"Me!" said Dawn, "you all owe me for ruining my card ceremony!"

"Fine," said Jody, "depending on what the present is, I might need my hands free anyway." Tom handed the box over to Dawn and rubbed his hands excitedly. You'd think he was several years younger than he actually was. Apparently Christmas was still magical in the Callis household. Probably because they had always literally believed in magic. He should have known better than to get too excited though, Dawn was one of those people who opened their presents painstakingly slowly. Determined to do as little harm to the wrapping paper as possible. Slowly she pried the edges of the paper up to reveal a plain cardboard box underneath.

"A box!" yelled Tom, "what an awesome present! Um, is that it?"

"It had better damn not be," growled Jody.

"Be patient," said Dawn, "I'm sure it's good," she found the tabs of the box and gently lifted them open. If it had been a movie, some magical light would have shone forth from inside and illuminated her face. This wasn't a movie, and the only thing that changed was Dawn's expression, so fast Tom was reminded of the time he accidentally sat on the remote. There was confusion, swiftly followed by realisation, disbelief, disappointment and anger. She turned the box upside down and out fell three eyelash curlers.

"Tada!" said Daniel, "now all three of you can curl your eyelashes! That'll solve the question forever and I can finally tell if curling your eyelashes is pointless or not."

"You idiot!" screamed Dawn.

"He's going to die!" howled Jody.

Zoe couldn't stop laughing.

"What?" said Daniel, "was I supposed to buy some for Tom and Henry too? I already sent some to Andrielle and Professor Strix and Professor Honey and Professor Perdot. The woman at the shop said it was the most she'd ever sold at once."

"You sent that rubbish to professors!?" screeched Dawn. "This is humiliating!"

"That's it," said Jody, standing up and stalking towards Daniel, "any last words?"

"Merry Christmas?" At first they thought it was a meaningless platitude, or a last minute plea for mercy, but it actually turned out to be a passphrase, activating a spell. There was a flash of light and the eyelash curlers transformed. Jody's into a wicked looking knife, Dawn's into a collection of small metal animals including a dog and a pig and Zoe's into a small music box. "Got you!"

"You…" Dawn was speechless, "what's this supposed to mean?" she held a silver dog.

"I figured you liked animals. You're always calling your friends after them," Daniel shrugged. "They're cool huh?"

"I don't even," Dawn shook her head, "thank you," she said finally. "It's better than an eyelash curler."

"Let me get this straight," said Jody, picking up her new knife, "you played a joke on us? And that's supposed to make me less likely to kill you?"

"Um, yes?"

Jody heaved a sigh. "I don't know why I bother. Okay, you can live. Funny boy. But only because this knife looks all demonic and stuff."

Zoe opened her music box and a quiet tune immediately started playing, inside a Christmas tree rotated and changed colours with every turn. "It's beautiful! Thanks Daniel."

"No worries. It's useful too. The song is magic. It helps you focus. Seriously, try reading with it playing and you won't get distracted. It's supposed to help people study when its noisy and stuff."

"So you didn't really send that junk to professors?" asked Dawn.

"What? No way! Who sends presents to professors? That's creepy." He saw Dawn's expression and surprisingly instantly surmised that she had done so. "Uh I mean, creepily awesome!"

"Next present!" called Tom enthusiastically, seemingly unmoved by that whole drama. "Ooh! One for me! To Tom, from Dawn."

"Hmm, rectangular and heavy," said Henry, "I wonder what those could be."

"Shush!" said Dawn.

"A dvd?" guessed Daniel.

"When is a dvd heavy? Or that thick?" asked Henry.

"When you get a tonne of special features," said Daniel. "Or a box set."

"Let's find out!" said Tom, ripping the paper off to reveal, to no one's surprise but perhaps Daniel's, some books. "Wow! A Thousand Common Conspiracy Theories and Why They Aren't True. The Complete Guide to Social Behaviour. Breaking Bad Habits."

"I checked, they have a section on how to stop drinking blood," said Dawn. "I think it's for vampires, but it might help you."

"This is just what I needed! Thanks Dawn! Professor Wright was going to send me to therapy for this stuff. I didn't know you just read books about it!"

"Oh, well if Professor Wright thinks you need therapy, I totally agree with him," said Dawn hastily, "but the books will help!"

"Cool, maybe if the book tells me how to stop talking to myself I'll save myself some therapy as well. But anyway, next present. To Jody, From Henry." He handed her the spherical package with a grin, "wow, you almost never see round presents!"

"Yes, weird," said Jody, looking suspicious, she shook it next to her ear but it didn't make a noise. "Alright, but if this is a ball of rubber bands or something I'll strangle you with them." She ripped the paper off quickly and shivered when her hand came into contact with something cold. "What?" she held up what looked to be to all intents and purposes a common snowball.

"A never melting snowball," said Henry, "so you can have a snowball fight all year round. It returns to your hand after travelling a certain distance too. So you never run out of ammo. Do you like it?" He looked kind of nervous all of sudden. Gift buying was new to him too after all.

"I love it!" said Jody, "think how many windows I can smash with this! And if anyone sees me and says it was a snowball no one will believe them because I can do it in summer!"

"Slightly disturbing but I'll take it," said Henry. "Glad you like it. I had fun with our snowball fight so I remembered. Want to play again later today?"

"You're on. I still hadn't killed you during the last one. Killed you permanently anyway."

"Next present!" cheered Tom, diving back under. "Another one for me! To Tom, from Zoe. Is this the one I bought for myself but was supposed to pretend was from you? No wait, I forgot to do that. It must actually be from you. The other one I put Henry's name on instead because he helped me catch a sea monster. Sorry, forget I mentioned it." He tore through the wrapping and gasped, Zoe had gotten him a beautiful statue of a family of Barn Owls. She couldn't have possibly known how much family meant to him right now, but he was touched all the same. "It's amazing! I can't believe it! They blink and everything! How did you know I liked owls?"

"You dress as one every night?" said Zoe. "It was kind of obvious."

"Oh yeah. I forgot. Thanks!"

"You're welcome. It was a really cute store too. I'll have to go back sometime."

"Alright, another present!" Tom rummaged under the tree once more, and keeping in mind the need for variety, produced a present for Henry. "Ah, To Henry from Dawn," it was pretty much the exact same shape as Dawn's previous gift to him, but that still wasn't enough of a clue for some people. "What could this be?" he wondered. Henry rolled his eyes, not even bothering to indulge this rampant silliness. Daniel was another story.

"A video game?" he tried, "sometimes, when you get special editions and stuff they give you huge cases."

"Daniel, as if they sell video games here," sighed Henry, taking the present off Tom. "Now Dawn, do you want me to pretend to be surprised by what's in here?"

"Just open it," she said.

"Fine, fine. I did ask," he ripped the paper open to reveal yet another stack of books. "Let's see, The Big Book of Hobbies?"

"I still haven't forgiven you entirely for lying about that hobby thing," said Dawn severely, "you will choose a hobby. By the end of the holidays, or there'll be trouble."

"I guess fashion is out of the question?" Dawn just glared at him, yep, she wouldn't buy that one twice. "Okay, next we have, The Successful Student: A Study Guide."

"You'll need it if you're going to keep up with our study group," said Dawn. "You're not used to rigorous academic work."

"You have to read a book on how to study?" asked Henry, "I always thought it was pretty straightforward. Whatever. Last book, are you kidding? Magical Romance?"

"For your date with mystery girl," giggled Dawn, "I haven't forgotten that either."

"What is wrong with you!? I'm not going!"

"Actually you are," said Daniel, "by appearing on the show you signed a legally binding contract. Tom has lawyers."

"They specialise in supernatural cases," said Tom enthusiastically, "witchcraft, curses, demonic possession, spell backfires. All the good stuff."

"Only in Stonemoor," groaned Henry, "well I have better lawyers and I'm not doing it. Drop it."

"Like you dropped a gigantic lie on me?" asked Dawn.

"I lied to you so therefore I have to go on a date with a random?"


"Have you switched brains with Tom?"

"I don't think so," said Tom when Dawn didn't deign to answer, "I don't feel smarter." Dawn beamed at him. "Alright, come on, more presents! Wow, this is really rare one, To Henry, from Jody." He held up a small rectangular package. "Any guesses?"

"A book!" tried Daniel.

"Now you guess a book?" demanded Dawn, "as if Jody would buy a book!"

"Yeah," said Jody, "I'd much rather send him a film of you being murdered."

"That doesn't even make sense," said Dawn, "I'm obviously still alive."

"Time travel," said Jody.

"You've been hanging around Tom and Daniel too long," said Zoe with a grin.

"Have not!"

"Can I just open this?" asked Henry, "and see whatever insult is in here?"

"Jody could have bought a nice present," said Zoe hopefully.

"Yeah, and pigs could fly," scoffed Daniel, but then quickly backpedalled when Jody glared at him, "which could totally happen! Magic and all." Henry rolled his eyes and tore the paper off. For once today, Daniel was right, it was actually a book this time. Dawn's jaw dropped so low you could have sworn it was unhinged. Jody in a bookstore!? You couldn't read about it! "Hmm, The Rebellious Teen's Guide to Independence," said Henry. "Thanks Jody."

"What!?" shrieked Dawn. Of course she was in the dark about the significance of this gift. To her, Jody buying a book and it being about disobeying your parents was bad enough. She didn't look any deeper. But despite being an outwardly shallow gift, Jody was reminding Henry that he didn't have to be like his father. That he could be his own man, independent of his control.

"It's a good book," said Jody, "I was going to buy you a copy Dawn, but I figured you'd probably burn it."

"I'd never burn a book!" insisted Dawn, "I'd just lock it in a safe and forget the combination!"

"Yeah, so much better. Of course, the book isn't as good as being taught by me, but I can't baby you all the time Henry. So it'll have to do. If you have any questions, ask me. I can happily say I've won worst child of the year since I was born."

"I'll say," muttered Dawn. "I can't believe they sell rubbish like that."

"It's a university," said Zoe, "many people are leaving home for the first time and starting their own lives. It makes sense I guess to sell that."

"It does not make sense! I should ask the Dean to ban it."

"Shame you've already written your Christmas Card to him," said Henry, "you could have mentioned it there." Dawn frowned but didn't say anything. It really was a good idea.

"Alright another present, who hasn't had one yet? Daniel! I'll grab one for you," said Tom, heading back under the tree. "Oh, here's mine. I hope you like it. To Daniel, from Tom," he said rather unnecessarily, handing the odd shaped parcel over to Daniel. "Careful with that, the guy I bought it off said it wouldn't destroy space and time if you drop it, but you never know."

"Relax, I've seen heaps of bomb disposals in movies," said Daniel calmly, looking over the package. "Just one question? Where are the wires? And should I cut the red or the blue one?"

"It's not a bomb," said Dawn, "right?"

"Of course not, they only sell those to adults," complained Tom. "I don't know why, since Jody blew up an entire classroom in her first alchemy lesson. Clearly children can use them too."

"That's rather the reason they aren't sold," said Dawn patiently. "Open it up Daniel." The boy looked around for a moment, as if expecting a pair of pliers to manifest, before warily opening the present. It turned out his concern was unwarranted, all the package contained was a weird looking video camera.

"Cool huh," said Tom, "it's a magical video camera. There's a store here that mixes magic with technology. Barely anyone goes there so I got a good bargain. Unlimited memory, can hover still wherever you let go of it so it's always steady. Voice controlled. High definition. I figured now that we had lightsabres you'd want to make some badass movies."

"Now you've been hanging around Jody too long," said Zoe, smiling.

"What can I say," said Jody, "people gravitate to me."

"Mostly angry mobs," said Henry.

"That's the way I like it. Means I'm making a good impression."

"Next one!" announced Tom, "oh, a double present. To Tom and Daniel, from Dawn. It's small? Is it a Swiss Army Knife?"

"As if I'd give out knives. I'm not that irresponsible."

"Okay, I prefer the Atlantis Army Knife anyway, it has a scuba attachment." Tom took one end of the small present and offered the other to Daniel. "You pull that end and it'll rip the paper open. That way we both open it."

"Cool! Like a Christmas Cracker!" He and Tom both heaved on either end of the wrapping paper and there was brief tearing sound before a small white box fell out and hit the floor with a soft thud. Daniel bent over and picked it up, carefully opening it. Inside were two silver pens. "A pen?"

"It's called the Perfect Pen," said Dawn, "automatically corrects spelling, punctuation and grammar. Now mages don't care about that in essays, which is silly. But I do. And I don't want people in my study group writing like children. I'll be helping you, but if you miss anything and I'm not there, that'll do the trick. With any luck you'll be able to graduate to a normal pen in a couple of months."

"Wow, that's uh, thoughtful," said Daniel. "Thanks."

"Yeah thanks," said Tom, more enthusiastically. "I always wondered why the government ignored my letters. Probably bad spelling. This'll fix it."

"Tom, do you think you can grab Dawn's special present next?" asked Zoe. "It should be easy to find."

"Okay, cool," said Tom, digging around until he produced a very thin rectangular package. Definitely not a book. Not even a DVD. "Here you go Dawn. To Dawn, from Everyone."

"You all got me a gift together?" breathed Dawn, eyes shining. "That's so nice! Let me see," she opened it up to reveal what looked like an ordinary Christmas card. "Huh? A card? All the cards should be on the table."

"This is a special card," said Zoe, "we thought it would mean more to you than the others. Read it."

"Okay," said Dawn dubiously, opening and beginning to read what was clearly Zoe's handwriting. The contents were about as unexpected as you could imagine considering Jody had had a hand in them, but it was a thank you note. Though she might not always get along with Dawn, Zoe knew she bore the brunt of the group's annoying behaviour, so she deserved some recognition. Getting the others on board had been harder, but it was Christmas, nearly anyway. They could chalk it up to another miracle.

Dear Dawn,

We understand that sometimes it can be very hard for someone as organised and efficient as you to live with us. Though we don't show it often, we really appreciate your efforts to make this group excel. We might not always agree, or be as serious as you like, but we understand that you're only trying to help. So this is both an apology for the last few weeks and a thank you letter. You are a helpful, caring person and we love you for it.

Yours Truly,

Zoe: If anyone is perfect here it's you. Thanks so much Dawn!

Tom: Though they didn't let me finish, your hair won the contest we held. Don't tell anyone though. Oh, and thanks for letting me be your sidekick. It was a blast.

Jody: Yes, I'm putting my name to this. Don't mention it. Seriously, don't mention it.

Daniel: Looking forward to being in your study group, I've already thought up several names for our awesome party. Study group is just a cover for adventures right? Thanks for letting me be your second sidekick. Keep an eye out for a new mystery alright?

Henry: Okay, I'll even admit it in writing, you're smarter, harder working and less morally ambiguous than I am. Merry Christmas Dawn, you deserve it!

Dawn lowered the card, tears sparkling in her eyes. "Oh my god, that's beautiful, thank you so much! You even got Jody to put her name on it! I can't believe this! Um, Tom, can the next present wait a minute? I've got a speech to make. I'd like to make a toast. And we don't need champagne this time. Let's all raise our imaginary glasses to Harbridge. Ever since coming here, for the first time in my life I've had friends, mystery and excitement. None of this would have been possible without this is place. To Magic! For bringing me here and making my life so much better. Thanks for a great end to the year and hopes for an even better next one. If someone ever asks me what magic is, I'll only have one answer for them. Magic is something or other. Cheers!"

"Cheers!" And that was the end of that. An implacable enemy defeated, lessons learned and friendships forged. All in all, a good week so to speak. And really, only the beginning. But that of course, is for another time. Because even the narrator is something or other. By that I mean mysterious and inscrutable. What were you thinking? Goodbye.

Authors Note: Thanks for making it to the end of this monster, if you've stuck with it this long I'm really grateful. But now for the important part, how bad (or good I guess) was the ending? Only one person really knew it was coming so does it seem way too abrupt to everyone else? I've only had person read the ending so far and they thought that while it was a good sequel hook it wasn't a horribly abrupt cliff-hanger. Does that measure up? I know a lot of things were left unsaid and unfinished by this ending, were there too many loose ends? Was this a good natural stopping point? I'm never confident with endings, as they've always been the worst part of any good book, having them come to an end. I'd like to think this is a better ending than I've managed in the past, but far from perfect. Anyway, thanks again for your support and sharing this journey with me. And to anyone celebrating it when this goes up, Happy Australia Day!