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Chapter 13 : Small Favors and Large Tokens
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Regulus sighed, glancing out the window at the falling snow. At least there will be presents tomorrow, he thought. He had always gotten the lion’s share of them, after all.
Because of his mother’s extreme concern, he had been forced to execute the first of his ploys to win Sirius back in secret, under the guise of simply needing to use the bathroom. He requested tea throughout the day, and his faithful house elf Kreacher brought it upstairs to the tune of creaking floorboards and clattering metal. Then, whenever he needed to use the restroom, he casually stopped by Sirius’s old room.
It was all there, in a pile hidden under his bed. There was Sirius’s beloved guitar, which had been smashed and magically repaired so many times that it would forever be slightly out of tune. Regulus had to dig through his brother’s half-empty wardrobe to find it, but he had recovered the bathing suit top Sirius had stolen from his first girlfriend, right before she unceremoniously dumped him—whether it was due to this incident or an unrelated one was unknown. The messily folded leather jacket, a Christmas gift from their uncle Alphard, was a last-minute thought, unlike the key to Sirius’s motorbike. It was hidden from Orion and Walburga behind a dumpster in the alley behind their street, and Sirius had been in so much of a hurry to pack that he had apparently forgotten all about it. He would surely regret that.
Regulus’s plan had been to pack up these few precious items, along with a couple of Muggle magazines he’d run across and a Falmouth Falcons poster, and somehow get them to Sirius at James Potter’s house. He hadn’t realized how it could be done until now, as Kreacher came back into his room, bearing another tray with a full teacup.
“Mistress has suggested chamomile—” Kreacher began in a raspy tone.
“Yes, I know. Thank you, Kreacher.”
“Does Master Regulus require any more assistance? A sugared biscuit?”
“No biscuits,” Regulus said. “I need you to help me pack some things into a suitcase and send it with an owl to Sirius. He’s moved in with James Potter and his parents.”
“If Master Sirius has abandoned the House of Black—”
“Don’t argue with me, Kreacher. Just do it.” Regulus slipped out of bed, pulling an old, battered suitcase that his father once took on business trips out of his closet. With the elf’s help, he crammed Sirius’s possessions into it, and then he whispered a Shrinking Spell to reduce the size and weight of the package. He gave it to Kreacher.
“Does Master Regulus need Kreacher to retrieve anything else from Master Sirius’s old bedroom? Master Orion and the Mistress have talked about repurposing it.”
Regulus wondered what would become of it. Probably an extension of Mum’s closet. “No, this is enough. I think he got most of what he wanted at Narcissa’s party.”
Suddenly, they both turned, hearing footsteps on the ancient staircase.
“Go on, and you know not to let Mum and Dad see you with Sirius’s things,” Regulus instructed tersely. Kreacher slipped the minute case into his rags, carrying the empty tray out the door. Regulus settled into bed, giving his parents a faint smile.
“Sweetheart, how are you feeling?” Walburga cooed, her voice sickly sweet.
“My head doesn’t hurt anymore. I guess the medicine worked.”
“You still don’t remember what happened to you?” Orion asked, frowning.
“Wilkes said I fell. I think I just got tired after studying for mid-term exams.”
“That’s my boy, studying hard.” Orion beamed at him. “Lost any other memories?”
“No. I don’t think there will be any lasting damage.”
“Don’t worry, darling, you need to rest,” Walburga cut in. “But before we let you go back to your tea, Father and I have a surprise for you. It’s an early birthday present.”
Regulus sat up, interested. Given that his birthday fell about a month into the second half of term, he was never home to celebrate. Usually, Walburga would make a big deal about the occasion from afar, sending sweets and small presents the whole week preceding the event, only to cap off this performance by sending an owl with Regulus’s actual birthday gift on the big day. “What is it?” he asked, grinning.
“This should help you out with the Quidditch finals!” Orion said, presenting him with a long, skinny package. It had telltale straw twigs sticking out of one end.
Regulus unwrapped it to reveal a brand-new Nimbus Fifteen Hundred, the latest broom on the market. His initials had even been inscribed in the wood on the non-twiggy end. “But I thought this wasn’t due to be in stores until the summer.” He glanced up at his father, wondering from which clandestine associate it had come.
“That’s right. You’ll be the very first to have it. What do you think, son?”
“I love it,” Regulus replied. “Really, the others on the team will be so jealous!”
“You received a couple of things in the mail today, too,” Walburga said, placing two envelopes at the foot of his bed. “Happy sixteenth birthday, sweetheart.”
“Thanks, Mum, and you, Dad.” Regulus ran his fingers over the inscription again.
“You’re welcome. We’re so proud of you.” Walburga gently ushered her husband out of the room. “Come on, Orion, we need to let the poor thing get some more sleep.”
As soon as the door closed, Regulus grabbed the envelopes, tearing the first one open without even looking to see who had sent it. However, it wasn’t hard to identify his Head of House’s irregular script. He read the short note carefully.
I sincerely hope you are enjoying a restful holiday with your families.
Please remember to take some time to study for your O.W.L. exams.
After you return, I will be contacting each of you personally to schedule a career advising appointment with me. During this meeting, we will discuss possible options for after your tenure at Hogwarts, plan appropriate courses for your final two years, and go over what marks are necessary on your exams to enter your field of choice. I would greatly appreciate you giving this meeting some thought over the holiday.
With winter cheer,
Professor H. Slughorn
Regulus smirked, closing the note and placing it on his bedside table. He had been so preoccupied with Sirius lately that he hadn’t even begun to think about his career. He made a mental note to ask his father about it before opening the second letter. This one was written with tight, jagged letters; he was relieved that it was so short.
Here’s a birthday present for you: he wants to meet you.
I’ll look for you after the holiday.
Regulus laid back against his pillows, leaving the half-folded letter lying on his chest. He stared over it, ignoring the way it bobbed up and down with his breathing, and watched as a large owl took flight across the sky, holding a tiny package in its talons. It would be difficult to rest up over the holiday. He had far too much to think about.
Across town, warm light escaped from the windows of James’s house, challenging the hold of the bleak night outside its door. Inside, Elizabeth Potter was hunched over the sink, carefully washing and drying the dishes from dinner with her wand and trying to stave off the advances of her husband, Jonathan Potter, who was trying to get her to dance with him, by complaining about the pain in her back and knees. Upstairs, in the spare bedroom, James and his three best friends sat on his bed, eating coffee cake for dessert. A cot had been squeezed into the corner by Sirius’s things, with the promise of looking for a more suitable bed after Christmas was over.
“So Celestine really wrote your Charms essay for you?” Sirius said to Peter.
“Yes, the whole thing. It was actually pretty good. I was pleasantly surprised.”
“I told you that she put together a get-well basket for my mother, didn’t I?” Remus added. “It had these sugared bits of fruit and strawberry-filled chocolates.”
“Why didn’t you bring it? We could have shared!” Sirius exclaimed, laughing.
“No, I already gave it to her. I just put a Christmas bow on it.” Remus smirked.
“All right, you lot, I’m still a bit sore she didn’t think to give me anything,” James said, sitting up. “I’m glad you two came for dinner, but that wasn’t the real reason I wanted to talk to you,” he added, addressing Remus and Peter and glancing over at Sirius. “My dad sat me down the other night after we got off the train and told me that Dumbledore is forming some kind of secret combat society. It’s called the Order of the Phoenix. It’s meant to build up some resistance to the Muggle killings that have been happening lately. We can all officially join when we’re seventeen.”
“You sound like that’s exactly what you’ve decided to do,” Remus replied.
“That’s right. Dad thinks I’d be perfect for it, especially since I want to become an Auror after graduation. He wishes he could join, but his heart isn’t in fighting shape.”
“What about you, Sirius?” Peter asked.
“Yeah, I can’t wait. I’d sign up now if Dumbledore would allow it,” he said proudly. “Besides, I want to see Prongs regain his strength. Evans has made him too soft.”
“Shut it,” James retorted, playfully punching his friend in the shoulder.
“So, what do you think?” Sirius added, looking from Remus to Peter and back.
“How would you prepare for something like that?” Peter asked.
“They give you dueling training, I think, and test you on a whole bunch of practical skills, like how to detect hidden poisons and control a malfunctioning broomstick,” James said. “It would probably help you revise for exams,” he added to Remus.
“Sounds great,” Peter answered, beaming.
“Well, hopefully you get in. You’re not as brawny as the rest of us,” Sirius laughed.
“Remus isn’t brawny!” Peter exclaimed.
“Well, I don’t know if I even want to do it, so don’t worry about that yet,” Remus said. He looked down at his hands. “I just don’t know if I want to get involved.”
“I don’t know that there’ll be a choice, mate,” Sirius said, frowning slightly. “It’s on our doorstep already. If Hogwarts wasn’t so fortified, we might be attacked next.”
“I mean, it’s hard enough for me to try to find a job already, without having to account for other commitments…” Remus tried.
“That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard,” Sirius replied, his frown deepening.
“Well, what about the fact that I want to have a family and live a boring life?”
“Leave him alone,” James cut in. “Moony, just think about it, will you? I think a lot of people are going to join. It’s not like we’ll be alone. It could help keep you safe. Besides, don’t worry about the job. If it doesn’t work out, I can help keep you afloat.”
“Thanks,” Remus said, sighing. “Well, I guess I could see if I pass the tests. I’ll agree to do it if you three will. I don’t want to be left alone if you all change your minds.”
“We’ll stick with you,” Sirius said, clapping Remus on the back.
“Careful, mate, I just transformed five days ago,” Remus coughed.
“Boys, there’s fresh tea in the kitchen!” Elizabeth’s voice echoed up the stairs. Remus and Peter got up, heading downstairs to get a cup of tea. Elizabeth cracked open the door, smiling and extending a small package to Sirius. “This came for you, dear.”
“Thanks,” Sirius said, looking at it with raised eyebrows. “Wonder who it’s from?”
“Are you sure it isn’t for me? Maybe your girlfriend remembered me at the last minute.”
“Very funny—and she’s not my girlfriend,” Sirius said. He unwrapped the package, finding a very small suitcase inside. He reached for his wand, pointing it at the case. “Engorgio.” The case popped open as it expanded, suggesting that it had been stuffed, and Sirius found himself looking at reminders of living in his parents’ home. Under the Quidditch poster and handful of Muggle magazines, Sirius found a leather jacket he’d received last birthday from his uncle, a swimsuit top he didn’t recognize, and a broken guitar he’d had since his first year at Hogwarts. Wait—what was that in the corner, shining whenever the lantern light flickered in its direction?
“My bike,” Sirius said softly, jangling the key between his fingers. “I didn’t even think to take it. It’s still hidden in the alley behind Grimmauld Place.”
“Smashing, we can go get it when the snow melts,” James said. “But who would have sent all of this to you?”
“I don’t know. My family hates me, and Kreacher is incapable of autonomous thought—not that he would ever do me any favors anyway.” Sirius tucked the key back into the suitcase and re-arranged its contents until it closed properly. Then, he put it underneath his cot beside the other things he’d salvaged from his old room. “Listen, James, I can’t thank you enough for letting me stay here. Really.”
“It’s no trouble, Padfoot. You’ve been an honorary Potter for years as it is.”
Then, after a quick embrace, the two friends went to see what was left of the tea.
Lily woke with the dawn on Christmas morning. While many children found themselves feeling less and less excited as each Christmas brought more and more practical gifts, her holiday spirit had grown exponentially since her first year at Hogwarts, and it had yet to wane. She knew that she would have several fascinating gifts waiting for her downstairs—not under the tree, but on the windowsill, or perhaps the nearby kitchen table. She hoped this wasn’t the year her parents woke up in the middle of the night and found the kitchen window open and unlocked.
She moved softly down the wooden staircase in a pair of fluffy gold socks, looking at the table as soon as she turned the corner. A joyful smile spread across her face. There was a small assortment of packages waiting there just as she had anticipated.
“Here,” she whispered, pulling some owl treats out of a plastic baggie in her pocket and offering them to the last owl, which had apparently chosen to wait around for its payment after dropping off its gift. Knowing that Petunia would never forgive her if she left magical items lying around while Vernon was visiting, Lily scooped up the packages and took them back upstairs, spreading them out on her bed instead.
What do we have this year? Lily wondered, closing the door to her room behind her. She lit her wand to illuminate what little remained of the darkness and looked at the tag on each gift. There was a skinny, rectangular box from Ellery, a light, square one from Celestine, a large package from Remus, and a pretty silk bag from James. As intrigued as she was to see what was in the last gift, she decided to save it for last.
Ellery had purchased several of Lily’s favorite bar chocolates and wrapped them together with paper from the Sports section of the Daily Prophet. Lily smiled at the personal touch, as well as the pretty, curly yellow ribbon that adorned the box. Celestine had chosen expensive-looking burgundy wrapping paper accented with velvet fleurs-de-lis. Inside was a beautiful charm on a chain, consisting of a tiny gold lion and a small ruby crystal. Lily immediately put it on, wondering what it had cost. Remus had selected a practical gift, for which she could not fault him; his package contained a book entitled One Hundred and Fifty Tips and Tricks for Your N.E.W.T.s.
James’s present sat waiting patiently at the foot of the bed. Lily picked it up, unlacing the bag and putting her hand inside. She withdrew a beautiful jumper that appeared to be reversible; it was light gold with burgundy trim on one side and burgundy with light gold trim on the other. She smiled, knowing it was meant for game days. This gift was preferable to the Zonko items and love poems he’d given her before.
The next step in Lily’s Christmas Day process wasn’t as fun as opening gifts from her friends, but she knew it was just as important. She settled herself into the white chair in front of her white writing desk, pulling a quill and inkwell out of the drawer. Then, she neatly folded four pieces of parchment in half and wrote out four thank-you notes, one for each of the kind gift-givers. At the bottom, she guiltily wrote the thing she hated writing every year: Sorry I couldn’t afford to get a present for you. Hopefully, the fact that her notes would be received the same day would be enough.
Lily stood up. Four presents. Four thank-you notes. Wait… something is missing.
Oh. She remembered, frowning slightly, that this year she could not expect to receive a gift from Severus. Their falling out had occurred in the spring of fifth year, just weeks after he had given her a customized perfume he’d made in Slughorn’s class. The memory of the light scent of lilies, once pleasant, now made her stomach turn.
Shaking her head to clear the thought, Lily picked up her notes, folding them again to define the crease and sealing the envelopes. She wrote each person’s name on the front in neat script. Then, she headed downstairs, walking as quietly as possible.
The sun was higher in the sky now, and its light reflected brightly off the snow from the night before. The youngest Evans daughter walked outside, shielding her eyes, and moving around to the back of her house. There, four owls sat side by side on the wooden fence that encircled the neighborhood. The one on the end hooted approvingly at her appearance, causing her to smirk at it. “You already got your treat. I can’t give you more than anyone else,” she said. Then, she moved down the row, giving treats and a letter to each of the first three owls and pressing James’s letter into the grip of the final owl. She turned, watching them escape into the sky.
That was when she saw him. He couldn’t be missed, a dark form against the blindingly white snow, sitting up against the broad trunk of the tree in the center of the playground. It was where he and Lily had always met, right in the middle between Mill Town and Spinner’s End. He was holding something in his hands, but she couldn’t tell what it was from her current vantage point. Sighing, she wrapped her arms around her torso. It’s Christmas, Lily. She slowly walked toward him.
As she got closer, Severus glanced over at her, surprised. “Hi, Lily,” he said softly.
“Hey.” She looked down, now clearly able to identify the object in his hands. It was the magical rose she’d seen him holding in Hogsmeade, the one covered in chocolate that bloomed and shed its false petals at the touch of a wand. “Who’s that for?”
“You, of course,” he replied, offering her a shy smile. He handed it to her, pulling his wand out of his pocket. “Here, watch.” He demonstrated the magical effect for her. It broke her heart a little inside; the act reminded her so much of when they first met. She remembered her bargain with Regulus, and decided to try to make the best of it.
“I really like it. Thanks.”
“It’s not much, I know, but I had to get you a present for Christmas.”
“You didn’t,” Lily said, but she blushed slightly. “You woke up early too?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” he said, looking down.
She knew not to probe any further. “My sister’s fiancé is visiting,” she tried, hoping to make him laugh. “He spent twenty minutes last night complimenting my mother on her antique drapes. Then my father tried to get him to sample some beers for the stag party, and he refused, because he said it would be disrespectful to Tuney.” Lily rolled her eyes. “Her friends are all married. They know what goes on there.”
“What do you think of him?”
“I’m about as fond of him as I was when they initially got engaged.” Lily looked down at the tree he was leaning against. “Could I have the place next to you?”
“Of course.” He moved the slush out of the way, though he could do nothing for the wet ground. Lily took off her jacket, laying it down before sitting on top of it.
“Well, I don’t remember much about him, but I’m sure they deserve each other.”
“I should put that in my speech,” Lily said. “Too bad I’m not part of the wedding.”
“She didn’t invite you?” Severus looked at her. “Oh, Lily, I’m sorry.”
“She did. Mum and Dad made her. But I’m not one of her bridesmaids.” Lily kicked at the snow, laying her head back against the tree trunk. “How is school going for you?”
“I haven’t seen you at the Slug Club.”
“Slughorn didn’t invite me to join.” He looked down again. “Is it much fun?”
“It’s okay. Mostly lots of awkward social events.”
“Maybe it’s good I’m not a member.”
“Probably. I wonder if I can use revising for exams as an excuse to skip the rest.”
“You nervous about exams?”
“Sure,” Lily answered. “Aren’t you?”
“A little. McGonagall talks like we’re all going to fail.”
“I know!” Lily exclaimed, laughing despite herself. “She says that to us, too.”
They sat in silence for a moment, letting the pleasant emptiness of their conversation live on for these precious, normal seconds. The wind blew gently, knocking the snow off the swing set and spinning the merry-go-round a little. Next to Lily, Severus adjusted his position against the tree, finally turning to look at her.
“You would tell me if someone was bothering you, wouldn’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“When we were growing up here, whenever your sister or anyone else would tease you, you would tell me about it. I couldn’t do much then, but now I could at least try to defend you. I just want to know if you trust me enough to tell me those things.”
“I don’t know,” she admitted quietly. “No one is bothering me, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Well, if someone is, tell me. Please. I don’t care if it’s Potter, or someone else—”
“Severus, stop, please.” Lily tucked her hair behind her ear, meeting his dark eyes. “I miss having you as a friend, but I can’t have you in my life if you’re going to take it over. You have to learn to co-exist with the other people who are important to me. More than that, you have to be willing to let me live the way I want to live.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. That came out sounding much worse than how I meant.”
“No, it’s—” He frowned slightly. “Are you saying that you want to be friends again?”
“I’m saying that I’m willing to try.” She smiled faintly. “Like I said, I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” he replied, his expression brightening considerably. “I wish things could be how they used to be between us. I can’t think of anything I want more.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.”
“I’ve made new friends and gotten involved in things, you know, getting ready to graduate and start my life. And you’ve made new friends and a life of your own.”
“Are you asking me to get rid of my friends? I told you that I can’t do that, Lily.”
“No, I’m not,” she clarified. “I think it’s more that we need to figure out how you can fit into my life now, and how I can fit into yours. I want to try to be friends without changing anything else. You get to keep your friends, and I get to keep mine, too.”
Severus nodded. “I could do that.”
“I think we should take it slow, though,” Lily said, standing up. “So I guess I’ll see you back at school. Maybe you can join our N.E.W.T. group.” She looked at his gift for her, tapping the rose and watching it bloom with a smile. “Happy Christmas, Severus.”
Severus, to her surprise, stayed still, did not rush to her. “Happy Christmas, Lily,” he said softly. Then again, the look on his face said everything she needed to know.
Lily turned with a nod, heading back toward her house. As she discarded her boots at the door, she heard her mother call her into the kitchen for a family breakfast. She wondered briefly if she needed to go upstairs to write one more thank-you note.
No, she decided. That couldn’t have gone any better. I don’t want to say anything that might mess it up.
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