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Chapter 18 : Winter Holidays 1978
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Disclaimer: The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.
Winter Holidays 1978
A wild streak ran through the four animals tonight. They ran with reckless abandon, racing and chasing, hunting and playing. Wherever they went, nature became deathly silent. Owls and even crickets stopped their night songs, but this didn't bother the group.
They were reunited.
Only one month had passed since one of them went away. They'd only missed one full moon. But it had always been this way; even in school during summer holidays, the wildness within them always hated being apart, and reuniting for September's full moon was always exciting and full of fun and danger.
They still called the Shrieking Shack their once-a-month home, and they returned there on this night. Panting and out of breath, they waited as painful howls and snarls racked through the body of the werewolf, waited until he was just an exhausted, broken boy lying on the dirty floor of the old building.
"That felt good," sighed Peter after returning to his human form. "I missed that."
"We've only missed a month, Wormtail," said Sirius, and he and James wrapped their cloaks around Remus, hauled him to his feet. The latter winced, and Sirius pointed his wand at Remus's leg and muttered a spell.
It wasn't as bad as it used to be, before they were Animagi. Sometimes Remus still received a broken bone here and there, and sometimes they were all a little beat up. But mostly the self harm was gone, the biting and clawing had ended in the company of his friends.
The minor cuts and bruises they suffered in their rough play were easily healed by Lily's potions still waiting on Sirius's countertop, and it was to the empty London road outside his flat that they all Disapparated in the cold dawn.
They had lit a fire in Sirius's fireplace, and Remus was curled up and exhausted in Sirius's armchair as it snowed outside. James and Peter lounged on the couch. Sirius emerged from the kitchen with a pot of tea and several teacups. He served a cup to Remus before settling himself on the floor in front of the fire with his own.
They had tended to their wounds, and Lily's potions had been a fantastic help.
"So, Moony," said Sirius, sipping his hot tea carefully. "How's your Mum?"
Remus shrugged and winced, his shoulders feeling sore. "All right," he said, his voice hoarse. "She's getting along. She hasn't got much choice. She went back to work last week."
"How about you?" asked James carefully, stirring honey into his own tea. He avoided making eye contact with Remus, and Remus was glad of it.
He frowned and shook his head, staring carefully at Sirius's burned tea table. "I guess I'm all right as well."
"You guess," said Peter, who looked rather unhappy at Remus's apparent lack of caring. He mirrored Remus's frown and glared. "Is that all, then?"
"Shut up, Wormtail," growled Sirius.
"I don't know what else to say," said Remus tiredly. His father had done everything for him, had sacrificed so much. And at the same time, he felt almost distant and removed from the entire situation. Spending seven years in boarding school rather than having every night with his parents could be blamed for it. All he could think of anymore were the bad things; his embarrassment when his father was around his friends, of guitar playing and singing. Or of tattered, stitched robes, or the fact that they didn't make enough money to own a house with a fireplace. He felt guilty. And he felt he should have been there.
"You don't have to say anything," said Sirius firmly.
"Thank you for taking care of it for me," said Remus slowly. Nobody spoke, so he added, awkwardly, "You know. Recovering his body, and carrying his casket, and being with my mother." All the things he should have been there to do himself, he thought sourly.
James shook his head. "An honour, Moony," he protested. And then, desperate to change the subject, he asked, "How are you feeling?"
Remus shrugged and then winced again. "Better," he said simply. He didn't get as sick over his transformations as he used to, and he could thank recent advancements in Potion making for that - he could heal faster. And then there was, possibly, the fact that he didn't lose so much blood and suffer from as grave of injuries anymore thanks to his friends. Already he felt less nauseated, and Peter commented on how quickly the colour was returning to his face.
"That'll be Lily," said Remus, as he watched Sirius on the floor, Sirius carefully swirling the dregs in his teacup before turning it over on top of its saucer and pushing it away. Then he leaned back on his elbows and gazed innocently at Remus, seemingly not even realising he'd done it. It was habit for him, something he'd been forced to learn as a child, even before Hogwarts.
(The Blacks embraced all branches of magic, and reading tea leaves required no wand, so that even children could practice telling their fortune.)
Remus looked down at his own teacup with a small smile, fond, sad, all at once. Sirius was never able to fully escape them.
"She is rather cracking at Potions, isn't she?" observed James fondly, with a silly grin on his face.
Peter frowned and sought for something else to talk about, something besides the seemingly never ending praise of Lily Evans. "So now what?" he said. "Did you hear about the Dark Mark, Moony?"
Remus opened his mouth to respond. Before any noise could escape him, however, a quick knock sounded at the door. All of them glanced at the door, and then James, Peter and Remus glanced at Sirius.
"Don't everyone get up at once," Sirius grumbled, getting to his feet. Talk of Remus's father's death and the war and the Dark Mark was making him grumpy and irritable. He felt guilty and depressed and afraid all at once, and he hated it, and at the moment, he hated himself as well.
"It's your flat, mate," shrugged James, but he eyed his friend carefully as Sirius crossed the room to the door, perhaps picking up on Sirius's sudden, rotten mood. He was often concerned for his friend lately, for Sirius had seemed a bit down since they were sent to the woods after John Lupin.
Sirius peeked through a window. Regulus stood outside. He felt his heart drop to his feet at the sight of his little brother, and forgetting all that he had learned about being cautious, wrenched open the door.
"Regulus," he hissed, getting control of his emotions before Regulus could see. Despite the turmoil inside of him, he appeared cool, collected, and unhappy to see his brother. That was the way he preferred it - being around another Black always seemed to bring out the family values in him, whether he liked it or not. His face was solemn and focused.
"Sirius," responded the younger boy, almost with hesitance, and betraying nothing of what he was thinking. An uncomfortable moment passed in which each tried to stare the other down, until Regulus finally blinked and asked simply, "Can I come in?"
Sirius appeared to consider the question, how those simply words could make him feel so foolish when they came from the mouth of his brother, but finally stepped aside.
Upon entering the flat, Regulus's gaze fell on the other three Marauders sitting in the living room. "What are they doing here," he demanded darkly, narrowing his eyes.
Sirius crossed his arms. "They're my family," he said with defiance, and added challengingly, "Do you have a problem with it?"
Regulus turned and stared hard at his older brother for a moment, as if deciding whether to say something snide in response. Then, finally, "I need to talk to you," he said in a low voice, so that the others couldn't hear. "Preferably alone."
Sirius rolled his eyes, unable to hide the way the corners of his nose wrinkled in dislike, or the shape of disgust that his mouth took on. He shook his head slightly, as if to say Regulus was the most ridiculous being in the world, and heaved a sigh, irritated at being forced to accommodate his brother's wishes. He turned and led Regulus to his bedroom and slammed the door shut behind them.
Regulus looked amused, part of him seeming to enjoy this irritating effect he had on his brother. He hadn't even been trying to be bothersome, and yet apparently his very presence could do the job. It felt good, powerful, but he didn't have time to relish it.
Sirius had his hands on his hips, waiting impatiently for Regulus to speak his piece. "If you've got something to say, Regulus, say it, because I want you out."
Regulus had been looking around at his surroundings, always with his head up, but his grey eyes came to rest on Sirius's, and he stared intensely for a moment.
"Sirius," he said finally, and he suddenly looked a lot less hard than he had moments before. He glanced around again, seemingly unsure of what to say, or how to word what he wanted to. "I..." and he faltered again. He blew his breath out in frustration and ran his hand through his black hair.
That was when Sirius saw it, just there, barely peeking out from beneath a fashionably rolled up shirt sleeve.
His arm shot out quicker than lightning and clutched Regulus's wrist. He yanked his brother's arm towards himself, shoved Regulus's sleeve up. It was there. The skull, the snake.
"What is this," demanded Sirius angrily. Regulus remained silent, staring back at him without even flinching at his brother's temper. "Regulus!" snapped Sirius, waiting for a response. "You're not even out of school yet, for fuck's sake!"
Regulus's eyes narrowed and he yanked his arm away. "What do you care, anyway," he muttered, rubbing the mark. It ached, sometimes, a constant reminder of what he'd sworn his life to. He turned his back on Sirius.
Sirius struggled with what to say, not wanting to say anything that he would later be embarrassed about, and at the same time, desperate to try to save the boy in front of him. "You're my brother," he finally spat out as his excuse, his irritation at the mark still burning in his chest.
Regulus half-turned at that, watched Sirius from the corner of his eye and gave a wry smile. "We haven't been brothers for a long time now, Sirius," he said plainly, with no hint of emotion at all.
"Then what are you doing here."
Regulus shrugged. "I don't know," he sighed, keeping his voice light and casual and careless, as cool as Sirius had always been. "I guess just to see how you are."
Or to possibly ask for help, the younger Black thought to himself. But he couldn't. He'd known it the second he'd met Sirius's eyes; his pride was too strong. He turned away from Sirius and examined the wardrobe.
"Fuck, why don't you just leave them?" blurted Sirius then, suddenly, as if the question had been eating away at him. "Join the right side, Reg, it's better here. At least this side doesn't force you to carve somebody's mark into your skin. At least this side doesn't kill and..."
But he trailed away. He couldn't claim that their side didn't kill and torture. He, after all, had killed a vampire just because he misconstrued her actions. And the Ministry used Unforgivables against people like Regulus all the time.
He bit his lip and eyed Regulus, who appeared unbothered. Regulus, smoother than anything, held up his hands as if to fend off any further pressure from Sirius.
"No, no," he said easily, as if it wasn't a big deal at all. He smiled confidently, the type of smile Sirius normally would have wanted to hex off his face. "I'm too far into this."
Sirius didn't understand. "So? If you're that worried about it, Dumbledore can hide you. He can, Regulus. We're going to win this war, I feel it."
Regulus placed his hands on his hips and looked around the room again. "I hope you do," he mused, so that Sirius barely heard him. And then, "Did you buy this flat with Uncle Alphard's gold?"
"Shut up, Regulus," snapped Sirius angrily, losing patience. Why were they all so haughty, so confident and stubborn, so set in their ways? Why couldn't he just listen and get out of that nightmare? "Don't change the subject," he muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Regulus looked at him for a moment. "I'd leave if I could, Sirius," he admitted darkly. "I just... can't. I can't tell you why. I've found out about something big. Maybe you'll know soon enough." He looked suddenly desperate, and Sirius was reminded of when they were children, and he was afraid of the dark. "I have to succeed at this," he said determinedly.
Sirius glared at him for a moment. The boy could be him, they looked so much alike, although Regulus was slightly shorter. His hair was groomed in an annoying fashion. Regulus was even more haughty than he was, and it showed everywhere, from his stance to his determined grey eyes. Regulus was always smarter than he was as well.
Anger suddenly flared within Sirius; for somebody so smart, Regulus certainly made stupid choices. He looked down at his hands, noticed how hard he was clutching his wand. He didn't even remember taking it out of his pocket.
"Don't look down, Sirius, it's a sign of weakness," scolded Regulus sharply, an age old demand of their mother. Why he said it, he didn't know. But Sirius wouldn't help him. Sirius couldn't, because Regulus was too proud to let him, to confide. And now he wanted only to hurt his brother, to cut him the way he had been cut when Sirius left to live with those sodding Potters.
(Even as he spoke, he was well aware of Sirius's new brother sitting in the very next room.
There were many reasons why Regulus hated James. This was one of them.)
Sirius looked up quickly, gritted his teeth. "Get out," he said suddenly, letting go of his wand with one hand and reaching for the doorknob.
"What?" It was a mocking tone of innocence as Regulus kept up his smug facade; he didn't know why he did it. He couldn't stop. He knew he'd gotten to Sirius, and knew his family would be proud. It was always in the back of his mind, no matter what else he dealt with.
"Get out. If you won't leave the Dark Side, then you can't stay here. I should have killed you on the spot." Sirius opened the bedroom door pointedly, gestured Regulus through with his wand still in his hand. Angry sparks crackled off the end of it.
Regulus narrowed his eyes at Sirius, but stepped out the door anyway. He turned back as he walked. "One of these days, Sirius, you'll regret that."
"Shut up," Sirius snapped irritably, and he shoved Regulus's shoulder, forcing a faster pace to the front door.
Once outside, Regulus turned back, as if to say one last thing. And though he registered the pleading look on his brother's face, the one he always wore when he was about to ask for help, Sirius slammed the door closed.
All of his friends still sat in the living room, all of them watching him and looking somewhat embarrassed at witnessing something that seemed personal.
"You all right, Pads?" asked James hesitantly, for he knew what a sore subject anyone in the Black family was for his friend.
Sirius rubbed his forehead. He was tired, tired from staying up all night and running around with a werewolf, tired of thinking and worrying about the war. He was tired after seeing what Regulus was getting into, and he didn't know how to stop it.
James was looking at him expectantly.
Remus was appearing guilty, with Sirius's overturned teacup in his hand, and Peter looking over his shoulder.
And Sirius sighed. "I'm going to bed."
Sirius loved the Christmas holidays - there was a time, during his first several years at Hogwarts, when he hated it, dreaded it. Those were the years when he lived with the Blacks and he had to go home to them. Had to sit through the parties, had to watch Regulus receive the world and God and everything under the tree. He never got anything.
Ever since he'd run away from home, things had been different.
He arrived in the Potter home in the evening on Christmas Eve. The moment he stepped out of the fireplace, he was blasted with the tantalising smells of Eve Potter's cooking. He wandered into the kitchen, and a mug of hot butterbeer was already waiting for him.
There was never anything fancy going on in the Potter home during the holidays. James had told him that years before, his aunt and uncle would come over - but his aunt had passed away when he was in second year, his uncle when he was only eight. They had been even older than his mother and father.
Eve Potter was baking cakes for tomorrow. Her Christmas feasts outdid even Hogwarts', although in her old age she had to enlist the help of the family house elf for so much cooking.
"Hallo, Mipsy," smiled Sirius at the small elf. He didn't see her around often - she was exceptionally good at her job and remaining unseen, but Sirius knew she was a great help to James's elderly mother. She was a far better house elf than Kreacher ever was, but he shoved Kreacher from his mind, for thinking of Kreacher made him think of Regulus. His brother had been quite fond of the elf, after all.
"Happy Christmas, Master Sirius," Mipsy replied in a high pitched voice. And then she lowered her head and delicately placed cherries on top of a cake, hoping to be ignored.
The night was spent drinking hot butterbeer - James's parents preferred hot cocoa - and chatting. The lights were dimmed, and a few fairies hovered about the ceilings. Sirius felt warm and comfortable and at ease here, and was able to forget about the war and Voldemort for the night.
He and James only went upstairs when James's parents went to bed. They hurriedly wrapped gifts for Remus and Peter and Lily, cursing themselves for waiting until the last minute (they did every year) and sending the packages off with their owls.
They stayed up late, spoke of their fears of the war. Normally they'd spend this time of year discussing their exams and wondering what grades they'd gotten. This year they spoke of what they would give for one more detention, one more essay on Potions, one more prank on the Slytherins.
They quickly came to find that they both would have given quite a lot.
Sirius grinned at James as they spoke of the place that started it all. He'd probably be where Regulus was right now if it wasn't for that school, the Sorting Hat and his friends.
Hoggy, warty Hogwarts.
Remus was not looking forward to Christmas. It was the first holiday after his father's passing, and the house seemed silent and empty without the cheerful man around. His father had loved Christmas.
In the corner sat John Lupin's old guitar, the one the man had enjoyed playing in his spare time, especially during family gatherings over the holidays, at dinner every night, when he had his friends over. It had been the source of many laughs, much embarrassment, terrible songs.
It would never be played again.
Remus's eyebrows lowered as he stared at the battered instrument. There would be no Christmas this year. His mother had cancelled all plans with distant relatives, not being in the mood for family or celebration. Remus wasn't upset; he wasn't in the mood to deal with everyone's concerned questions either. Some of them would probably cry, for it would only really hit them that John was dead when they were at his home and he wasn't there.
No, Remus didn't mind at all. His mother was asleep in her bedroom. When she wasn't at work, she was always in her room. Depression. They didn't even have a Christmas tree up.
Remus reached for the guitar, settled it on his lap and strummed the strings a few times. Years earlier, his father had begun teaching him to play one summer. He'd learned one song only, and hadn't been able to continue the lessons because school had started again, and he was excitedly on his way back to Hogwarts. The following summer, the lessons had been forgotten, and he'd never taken it up again.
He wished, desperately, that he could remember the song his father had taught him to play. But that was five years ago.
A soft pecking at the window startled him. He could see a large pair of eyes reflecting the light as they stared in at him, and he gently replaced the guitar and went to open the window for the owl.
He recognised it as Archimedes. It was Sirius's owl, pitch black and more friendly than James's owl, Aristotle.
It carried gifts from James and Sirius. A small smile crept across Remus's face as he gently untied the small packages. These were the only gifts he received so far. His mother hadn't bothered with Christmas shopping. He didn't mind, and he didn't want for anything. But the small packages warmed his heart, for it was always nice to know somebody was thinking about him.
It was as he was feeding Archimedes a biscuit that it occurred to him then that he didn't want to spend the holidays alone. He'd spent far too much time by himself when he was away with the werewolves. He went to his old bedroom and found a piece of parchment, scribbled a note to his mother, and pulled on his battered old travelling cloak. Gently, he put the gifts into his pockets.
He had only been to James's house one time. How odd that he longed for a place that was barely familiar to him.
He stepped outside, huddling against the icy cold breeze (which was even worse than the usual winters thanks to the Dementors) and disappeared with a loud crack. It was a crack that used to echo throughout the clearing, but not anymore, for the thick cloud of mist muffled the sound.
Peter sat alone in his cottage, drumming his fingers against the table. He would rather die than return to his mother's house to spend Christmas with his family. A wave of guilt washed over him at the thought; he knew she would be disappointed if he wasn't there on Christmas morning. But he couldn't bear the thought of dealing with her or his brother any longer.
Just because she was his mother didn't mean they had to get along.
He wondered what his friends were doing for the holidays. Sirius was going to be at James's house, he thought jealously. James probably had the most fantastic Christmases ever. His parents were rich, he lived in a big house, he wanted for nothing and now for the last few years his best friend had been a part of his holidays.
And Remus was probably miserable, having a quiet, lonely Christmas with his mother. Even that, thought Peter bitterly, was something to be jealous of. At least Remus loved his mother.
As if to reinforce his thoughts about his friends, Aristotle, James's pesky owl, soared suddenly through an open window.
(He'd burned his dinner earlier, and all the windows had to be opened to allow the smoke and smell to escape.)
To his delight, Aristotle carried Christmas gifts from his friends. The owl pecked at his hands as he tried to untie them, and Peter had to resist the urge to give the animal a swat on its beak.
He looked at the tag on one of the gifts.
Merry Christmas from your friend, Padfoot.
Peter smiled. He and Sirius, perhaps, were not the greatest of friends. But Sirius had always come through when he needed it.
He wondered if Sirius and James would mind if he dropped in for Christmas. He wondered if James's parents would. He didn't think they would, going by how James had always spoken of them. It was better than going to his mother's house, anyway. He went to get his cloak.
He refused to think about what his mother would say to him when tomorrow morning came and he wasn't there.
When Peter Apparated onto the street in Godric's Hollow, Remus was already there, staring up at the large house. Remus started in fright at the loud crack, and pulled his wand out. It was at Peter's throat before Peter had even a chance to regain his balance.
"Oh," breathed Remus in relief, and his breath made little clouds in the chill air. "It's just you, Pete," he said, putting his wand away and shuddering against the cold.
"Yes, just Wormtail," said Peter irritably, dusting himself off.
"Sorry," said Remus.
"Were you invited, then?" asked Peter, ignoring the apology. He didn't think he could stand it if Remus had been invited over and he hadn't been.
"No," said Remus, shivering and looking guilty. "We aren't having Christmas this year," he admitted, trying not to sound pitiful about it.
Peter nodded. "No, I suppose your mother wouldn't really be in the spirit," he agreed. "Do you suppose they'd kill us if we knocked on the door, then?"
"That's what I was wondering," said Remus. "They might think we were Death Eaters or something."
They stared up at the large house. The Potters had gone through the trouble of decorating the outside, and holly and wreaths and garlands and fairy lights adorned the doorways and windows. Smoke chugged cheerfully from a tall fireplace. Snow drifts piled on the roof, on the window ledges, and halfway up the sides of the house. It capped the bushes and flower beds.
Snow was also up to Remus's knees, and he was experiencing the miserable feeling of cold, wet socks as he stood shaking in it.
Peter pulled out his wand and waved it, so that a large silvery rat crawled out of it and tumbled to the snow covered ground. He tried to hide his embarrassment; he wasn't the most skilled wizard, and while everyone else's Patronus erupted mightily from the owner's wand, his tumbled out haphazardly, weakly.
Remus said nothing other than, "good idea," and Peter was glad. They watched the rat scamper up the side of the house and into James's window. After a few minutes, James's messy head appeared.
"We'll be right down," he muttered at them, trying to keep his voice quiet, for his parents were asleep.
When he and Sirius appeared at the front door, they didn't appear bothered at all to see their two friends. They smiled merrily, welcomed them into the warmth and lead them up to James's bedroom.
It felt good. They talked and gossiped, played chess and Gobstones, snuck down to shake the gifts beneath the tree. James pulled out the Firewhisky he'd snuck from his father's liquor cabinet the year before, and they had a jolly time with it. They stayed up nearly all night, and were all passed out on the floor of James's bedroom by the time the sun, muffled through the Dementors' haze, appeared.
And when they finally ventured downstairs on Christmas day, James's parents were surprised, but didn't seem bothered at all to have the extra guests there. In fact, as James whispered to them while his parents were in the kitchen, they were quite tickled to have a large Christmas with many people again.
Lily sat in the living room with her family. Her grandparents were over for the holidays. Her mother had prepared a roast. They were all gathered around the tree, passing out gifts. It was the typical Evans family Christmas.
She smiled at her grandmother. They were getting so old, thought Lily, and she began to feel depressed. She knew there wouldn't be another Christmas for her grandfather. He had had a stroke five months earlier, and since then his health had steadily declined.
Her grandmother looked all right, considering her age, but tired. She was incredibly thin and frail, likely from the stress over her husband's ill health. After her grandfather passed, Lily thought her grandmother's health might drop rapidly in grief.
She sighed. It was hard to enjoy the family holiday when she was so worried about everyone dying. Voldemort wasn't such a big deal, she thought. Mother nature still took whoever she wanted all on her own.
There was a soft tapping on the window, and everyone turned. Lily recognised Aristotle, James's owl. She'd only seen the bird dozens of times over the years, delivering irritating little notes from James. She quickly got up to let the owl in.
Immediately, Lily's grandmother let out a scream. Lily wheeled around, looking panicked. She pulled her wand out of habit, ready to defend against whatever had caused her grandmother's right.
But her grandmother was staring at Aristotle.
"Lily!" scolded her mother, standing up and approaching. She waved her hands at Aristotle, trying to shoo him. "What are you thinking," said Mrs Evans under her breath when she was near her daughter. "You know your nan is afraid of birds." She tutted and shook her head, giving Lily a meaningful look. "Honestly, Lily."
The blood drained from Lily's face. "I'm sorry," she said, feeling terrible. "I completely forgot. I'll take him upstairs."
She noticed, then, that everyone's eyes had moved from the owl to the wand in her hand. Her grandparents looked uncomfortable. Their pale eyes showed apprehension, and they seemed stiff as they eyed her.
Petunia looked venomous and disgusted. Lily hastily shoved the wand in her pocket and turned, running up the stairs. Aristotle swayed on her shoulder and flapped his wings to keep his balance.
She slammed her bedroom door behind her. Aristotle hooted.
"Shut up," snapped Lily. "Do you see what you've done down there? Because they didn't find me strange enough on their own. Now what have you got."
She noticed the small package tied to the bird's leg. Calming down, she untied the box and tore it open.
Inside was a delicate golden necklace. A small charm, in the shape of a lily, was attached to it. And engraved upon the tiny flower was the letter "J". There was a note at the bottom of the box.
I wanted to get you one that had my name on it, but I wasn't sure if you would wear it. I settled for just my first initial instead, and hopefully, if we ever break up, your next boyfriend's name will also start with a J and you can still wear it.
No, I'm just joking. Merry Christmas. I love you.
Lily grinned in spite of her annoyed attitude; her irritation seemed to evaporate as she read the note again. She lifted the gold chain out and fastened it around her neck. It was completely adorable. She smiled at Aristotle, as if asking for his opinion on how it looked, and then turned to pull a small wrapped box from her desk drawer.
She had meant to give the gift to James during the Order's Christmas party, but he could have it now. She turned to Aristotle, who hooted once more and stepped carefully across her bed, keeping his distance.
"Oh, go on, then," she sighed, for he seemed nervous after she'd scolded him. "I'm sorry I became irritated with you. Now come here, I need you to deliver this gift to your owner."
It was Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
The Hog's Head Inn looked the same as it ever did. There were no merry Christmas decorations around the windows like those which adorned the Three Broomsticks down the street. The magical fairies that enjoyed this time of year kept their distance from the run down old place. The Inn looked unremarkable, half buried in the snow. That was what made it such a fantastic place to hold the Order meetings.
In the basement, however, the place was merry and warm. The bartender had done his best to make the old wooden room appealing. Wreaths and garland were strung about, hanging only by magic. Candles were lit. The Order members mingled and talked, chatting about the gifts they'd received, news about their relatives and how their holidays were going.
Marlene McKinnon took great joy in showing off photographs of her five year old daughter opening Christmas gifts from the day before. Gideon and Fabian took nearly as much joy telling the story of how their older sister reacted to the annoying, inappropriate gift they'd given one of her young sons.
Remus spoke in depth with Dumbledore, privately and off in a corner. Nobody bothered them, for it was assumed they spoke of his work with the werewolves. Both looked rather intense.
James teased Lily with mistletoe, and she laughed, for he'd often done it in the corridors of Hogwarts and received a much different response from her. She kissed him lightly, wore her new necklace with pride, and he held her close all night.
Moody was as grouchy as ever, but lightened up as he had something to drink.
The old bartender brought them butterbeer, bread, cheese. He even mingled in the basement with the Order, having a long, quiet conversation with Moody. It was the first time any of them had seen the old man away from his counter.
"The Inn is closed tonight," he'd told them in his gruff voice. And that explained why he was serving them so diligently.
"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore, laying a hand on the old man's shoulder. It was uncanny how similar the two looked with their long beards and blue eyes. Nobody had noticed before, having never actually seen the two stand together. But the bartender's beard wasn't quite as grand as the Headmaster's, and his nose was wider and not so crooked. Dumbledore lifted his goblet to the man. "I would like to formally introduce the bartender of the Hog's Head Inn as my younger brother, Aberforth."
Surprised murmurs spread through the group; Dumbledore never, ever mentioned his family or his past. It was rather odd to learn that this man who resided so close to Dumbledore all along, who'd been in on their secret of the Order the entire time, was actually a relative. But once the fact had sunk in, nobody found it unbelievable. They did look alike, after all, and they'd always found it odd that Dumbledore would hold their meetings in such a shady location. It made sense, now, and Aberforth was pulled aside and chatted with all night long.
(Some of the Order asked awkward questions about his and Dumbledore's childhood and other family. Aberforth always looked uncomfortable, and would suddenly excuse himself to pour another Order member a fresh drink, even if their first wasn't completely gone yet.)
It was good to get together just for a good time, rather than for work. Everyone enjoyed the evening. And Alastor Moody showed his softer side by pulling out an old camera and gruffly announcing that he wanted a photograph.
And so the camera was set up, and Moody hurried back to the group before it could go off. The Order of the Phoenix gathered, including the bartender, and smiled as the camera flashed.
Later that night, as people began to pull on their cloaks and leave the party, Remus pulled his friends aside. "I've got something to tell you lot," he said in a low voice.
They all gave him their full attention, and he took a deep breath before he continued with his news.
"I'm going back to the werewolves."
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