All characters from Harry Potter's world are © JK Rowling. The incidental Lupins are mine.
This story ©2003 by Lady Narcissa. Rated 'PG'.
Author’s Note: This Christmas Story is an excerpt from a longer Marauder-era 7th-year fic that, since Order of the Phoenix arrived, no longer fits canon. I’ve modified this story to work with what we know as fact from the books. If you spot discrepancies, don’t hesitate to line up and correct me.
A cold wet nose touched Sirius’s cheek; he sat up with a start. Soft amber light from the hallway filtered through the half-open door. From beneath the warmth of his goose-down comforter, Sirius tried to move but found he couldn’t. He was pinned into place by three dogs: one on either side, one at his feet. He could see four more curled on the floor between the bed and the door. The cold wet nose belonged to Gaea, a Border collie; she licked his face happily. He struggled to move his arm from under the blanket. 'Get off, girl,' he whispered, but Gaea didn’t budge.
Sirius laughed to himself. The Lupins’ seven dogs (Gaea, Hera, Zeus, Ares, Aphrodite, Poseidon, and Leda) followed him incessantly. At the dinner table they surrounded him; they sat at his feet in the living room by the fireplace; they inevitably found a way to push open his bedroom door and sleep near him each night. These actions always brought a smile to Remus’s face; then again, he knew the secret of Sirius’s affinity with dogs. Mr and Mrs Lupin, on the other hand, tried in vain to keep the dogs from Sirius, convinced that they annoyed him despite his frequent assurances to the contrary.
Finally freeing his arm from beneath the coverlet, Sirius patted Gaea on the head. She panted happily and moved closer, eager to share the warmth radiating from his body. 'All right, girl, any closer and you’ll be making the others jealous,' he whispered with a smile. She yawned and nestled even closer to his side, but he managed to sit up. The grandfather clock in the corner showed that the moon was waning and that it was nearly 5:30—Christmas morning.
Noiselessly, Sirius slid out of bed, dressed, and opened the closet door. The gifts he’d brought for the Lupins sat undisturbed behind his school bag. Gathering them up, he carried them through the silent house and into the living room, dogs padding quietly behind him. He placed the packages—one each for Remus, his mother, and his father—under the tree, then turned to the window. The cloudy sky was lightening to a dull purple, threatening rain or perhaps snow. Sirius opened the front door and let the dogs out into the yard, but it was cold and none of the seven stayed out too long.
Sirius pointed his wand at the fireplace. Flames soon danced happily in the grate, warming the room and casting a cheery golden light about the place as the very first of the sun’s pale rays attempted a feeble peek through the clouds. He walked into the kitchen surrounded by the dogs, who waited with happy anticipation as he quietly opened cans of food and filled their bowls. Sirius sat and watched them eat eagerly, tails wagging, Hera and Leda jostling for position as usual: they were well-named.
'Goodness, you’re awake early.' Kathleen Lupin stood in the kitchen door in her dressing gown, bleary-eyed and yawning. 'Thank you for taking care of the dogs.'
'Good morning, Mrs L,' Sirius smiled, patting Ares on the back as the graceful deerhound stretched and wagged his tail. 'Happy Christmas.'
'And to you, dear.' She turned to the dogs. 'Go on, leave him be.'
Sirius laughed. 'It’s no bother with them, honestly.'
'They’re just… obsessed with you, I don’t know what it is.' She pulled Zeus aside as he licked Sirius’s hand. 'We always knew that it wasn’t as difficult for Remus when the dogs were around,' she told him, 'which is why we have them.'
If only Mrs Lupin knew just how well he understood…. 'For whatever reason they saw fit, my parents named me after the Dog Star. I figure your pack here—being the smart creatures they are—know what my name means; they’ve simply claimed me as one of theirs.' He grinned.
Mrs Lupin gave Sirius a quick glance. 'You rarely talk about them, you know.'
'There's nothing to say.' He looked down at the table, tracing a knot in its wooden surface with his fingertips.
'It must be so difficult.'
Sirius shrugged 'No one asks for a family like mine, do they. Sometimes, it’s just what happens. I’m grateful to you and Mr L—and to Remus—for letting me stay with you this Christmas.'
Mrs Lupin reached out and took Sirius’s hands in hers. 'You’re part of our family now, Sirius.' She looked into his eyes, then turned away, folding her arms. 'I always wished we could have had more children, but once Remus received the bite… well, you understand how that became impossible. It was dangerous enough with him—I couldn’t imagine bringing a baby into that situation. So even as a child he was always alone, always withdrawn. I doubted he’d be able to attend Hogwarts or any school for that matter, but then when he met you and James and Peter….' Mrs Lupin blinked a stray tear from her eyes. 'And when he speaks of his three great friends, he always has a special reverence for you. There’s something about you that steadies him, makes the bad times that much less so… I tell you, Sirius, the hardest thing on earth for a mother is to see her child in pain and not be able to do anything to comfort him—it breaks my heart, month after month. But somehow, thank God, you’re the one who can comfort him.'
Sirius looked down at the floor; this type of talk from her made him uneasy. 'Come on, Mrs L, I’ll make you a cup of tea.' He tapped his wand at the kettle which sprang to a whistling boil immediately; he poured the hot water into the teapot and let the leaves steep. They sat together at the kitchen table; he glanced over at Mrs Lupin who made no protest this time as all seven dogs gathered around Sirius. She sighed heavily.
'So,' she said tentatively, 'what it all boils down to is this: I see you as our second son, Sirius. The other child we always wished we’d had, although you didn’t come to us until recently… and we have to share you with the Potters.' She looked up at him. 'Don’t misunderstand; I’m not being selfish or jealous here. What I’m trying to do in my own way is to thank you. You mean more to all of us than you realize, and….'
'Brew’s ready, Mum,' Sirius said quietly, pouring tea into their cups, adding fresh cream and a lump of sugar the way he knew she preferred. He slid the cup across the table to her; she took it into her hands and gazed into it.
'I’ve never been keen on reading tea leaves,' she said softly, 'but I would give anything to see that my son might find happiness and solace.' She looked up at Sirius, suddenly startled. 'You called me ‘Mum’ just now—I haven’t heard that from you before.'
'Did I?' Sirius smiled slightly. 'Well then, I must have meant to.' He sipped his tea, wishing that something—anything—would break the melancholia that had settled over Mrs Lupin. 'Hang on,' he said, standing quickly, 'wait right there, Mrs L, I’ve got something to cheer you up.' He walked to the tree and retrieved the gift he’d put there for her. 'Here you go.'
Mrs Lupin studied him for a long moment, then turned her attention to the present. It was a small, rectangular bundle wrapped in purple paper decorated with a glittering moon and stars and a small group of planets circling a sun. Golden sparks trailed from the end of the ribbon as she gently tugged on it. She carefully removed the paper and set it aside; the planets resumed their orbits as she smoothed it out. A small card fluttered out: Happy solstice, happy holidays Mrs L., love & thanks from Sirius.
'You shouldn’t have,' she began, voice quavering. As she opened the box, she gasped. Twelve phials sat neatly in three rows, stoppered and labeled: twelve precious and rare essential oils. 'Oh, my dear,' she said, 'would you look at this. Frankincense, rose, galbanum, melissa, myrrh, helichrysum… Sirius Black, this is beyond lovely. Where on earth….'
Sirius shrugged. 'One for each of the twelve days; thought it might bring a smile.'
'But… these are expensive, Sirius, how did you….'
'It’s no thing,' he said earnestly. 'Money is just money; if you can’t use it to bring happiness, what’s its use. Besides, it’s my goal to spend everything my uncle gave me before I’m finished with school. Happy Christmas, Mrs L.'
Kathleen Lupin wiped tears from her eyes, then took her teacup into her hands. 'And happy Christmas to you, too, Sirius.'
Poseidon looked up from his position by Sirius’s feet. Mr Lupin stood by the kitchen door, a tired smile on his face. 'I thought I heard voices—good morning, love.' He kissed Mrs Lupin on the cheek. 'I see some enterprising soul started the fire for me.'
'That would be Sirius,' Kathleen said. 'And he’s taken care of the dogs—oh, for heaven’s sake, Aphrodite!'
The golden retriever stood on her back legs, paws on Sirius’s shoulders. He laughed, moved her away, then stood. 'I’ll leave the two of you to it. I’ve got a few things to take care of, if you don’t mind.'
'Thanks again for the lovely gift,' Kathleen said. As Sirius turned to leave, he saw her showing the package to Gabriel. Mr Lupin put a loving arm around his wife’s shoulder and gazed into her eyes, entranced.
Sirius smiled to himself. It relieved him to know that there was still—against all odds—good and true love in the world.
Christmas day at the Lupin house was normally boisterous, crowded, and full of good cheer—depending on the phase of the moon, of course. In the four years that Sirius had spent the holiday here (Christmas always with the Lupins, all other holidays with the Potters), he could only remember one time when the moon didn’t cooperate—the year he’d turned fourteen. He’d spent Christmas night listening to the horrible snarls and anguished screams floating up from the small, secure dirt cellar where Remus had spent his time as a werewolf since early childhood—a fate that Sirius, no matter how hard he tried, could not imagine. That particular night had been quite difficult; Mr Lupin sat stone-faced by the fire pretending to read while Mrs Lupin shook visibly with every scrape, every howl. Sirius, feeling very much like an intruder, noticed that the dogs didn’t seem to be particularly bothered. In fact Zeus, the largest of them all—a wild mix of shepherd, wolfhound, and something great and shaggy that no one had ever quite identified—sat just outside the cellar door, head on his paws. Occasionally he gave a small bark or low growl through the door, as if to acknowledge Remus.
At one point just after a frighteningly loud scream from the cellar, Zeus stood, paws up on the door, peering through the small barred window. Sirius watched from the top of the stairs as the wolf on the other side met Zeus, nose to nose, and ceased his pained howling. In fact, there was a glint of gratefulness and relief in his eyes; the dog somehow comforted the wolf.
That’s when Sirius decided that come what may, he'd unravel the secret to the Animagus charm. If a dog could comfort a werewolf, imagine what a human in animal form could do—he owed that much to Remus and to his family. No matter what it took—no matter how many wizarding laws he broke—he would continue to decipher the spell behind its highly regulated magic. Little had he known when first he started down this legally questionable path that James and Peter would follow him, or what animal form he'd take. Still and all, he was glad for James and Peter's company.
This Christmas, however, was different. The full moon had come and gone the week before; Remus looked rested and healthy. Friends and relatives descended on the Lupin household in great numbers—some by Floo powder, some by apparition, some making the long trek down the winding country lane on foot or broomstick—all carrying food, drink and gifts. From the youngest witch (Remus’s cousin Merrielle, only five) to great-grandfather Marcas on Kathleen’s side, all were full of good cheer, eager to celebrate. But none of the sudden appearances surprised Sirius and Remus as much as that of James Potter, who burst out of the fireplace in the midst of much merriment, carrying a sack full of gifts.
'Oi! James!' Remus smiled, 'we weren’t expecting you!'
James grinned wickedly, wiping soot from his eyeglasses. 'What, and miss the best Christmas feast in all of England?' He laughed. 'For years now I’ve been listening to Sirius go on and on about how much fun it is here this time of year; I figured it was time to find out for myself.' He caught Mrs Lupin’s eye and waved to her; she smiled back at him.
James patted Sirius on the back. 'I thank you kindly for the wonderful butterbeer,' he said with a wink.
'And Remus, I thank you kindly for the Wimbourne Wasps autographed picture—I had to fight to keep it from my cousins, they’re both keen on their beater, Bagman. He keeps smiling and winking and waving at them—quite annoying, actually.'
'He’s rather an idiot in my opinion, but no one ever said it took brains to be a Beater. And you know, you might end up playing Chaser for them someday.' Remus pushed the hair back out of his eyes, amused at James’s reaction.
'Speaking of presents.' James reached into his sack and pulled out a huge package. 'Lily took me shopping with her family—I’ll never understand how Muggles get by as well they do, especially this time of year—but we picked this out for you, Sirius. Actually, I found it and convinced her it was the right thing.' He handed the gift to Sirius with a grin. 'And we thought this for you, Remus.' He rifled through his bag and handed a smaller package to Remus.
'Which reminds me.' Sirius dodged the company, walked to the tree, and retrieved Remus’s gift.
'Come on,' Remus suggested, and the three of them walked down the hall watched by the dogs, who seemed unperturbed at the huge number of humans infesting their normally quiet household.
Remus’s room was spacious, the walls lined with bookshelves. In a marked contrast to the chaotic disarray in the room Sirius was using, things had been put away tidily and the bed made up to regulation.
'Just like at school,' chided James. 'Look at all these books. I knew you liked to read, friend, but…'
Remus smiled. 'It keeps my mind off other things when I can escape into a good book. I’ll read them all, magical or Muggle, doesn’t matter to me.'
'Good background for later on when you’re a professor. What will it be—Transfiguration? Defence Against the Dark Arts? Charms?' Sirius asked, running his fingers across the books on the nearest shelf. He smiled; all the titles were alphabetized by author. 'It’s like a bloody library in here; you must get it from your Dad.'
'I like sleeping in my own library.' Remus shrugged. 'And yes, it is my dream to teach, although I rather doubt anyone will have me. But it’s nice to think about, anyway.'
'Go on; you can do whatever you want. Not going to let a little misfortune get in your way, are you?' Sirius tossed Remus his gift, a large and bulky rectangle with the same moon and stars wrapping paper he’d used for Kathleen’s present.
Remus caught it deftly—he was much stronger than his thin frame suggested. Light glimmered in his hazel eyes and the start of a smile played across his lips as he carefully removed the wrapping paper and set it aside. The card read Follow your dreams. S.B. 'Whoa, Sirius.' He held up a briefcase with the words Professor R.J. Lupin stamped in one corner in golden letters. He couldn’t suppress a huge smile. 'Thank you, my friend.'
Sirius shrugged. 'A little shove to set you off on your chosen path.'
'Excellent gift,' James smiled. 'Wish I’d thought of it. All right, open mine, then.' He nodded toward the package lying on the bed; Remus opened it with the same studiousness he’d shown a moment earlier, folding the paper into a neat square.
'Books,' he said happily, 'Muggle books.'
'Lily took me to a fantastic bookstore in London,' James told him, 'bigger than Flourish & Blotts, even. I thought, hmm, boxed sets, Remus… now there’s a match made in heaven.'
'Complete works of Tolkien,' Remus sighed. 'First edition. How can I thank you?'
James laughed. 'Read the blasted things and tell me if they’re any good, that will work. Lily’s sister said they were rubbish, so I know they have to be decent by default.' He turned to Sirius. 'Go on, open yours, it won’t bite.'
Sirius sat on the chair. The package from James was heavy and odd-shaped, flexible. Sirius tore away the paper and tossed it to the floor. He looked at his gift and gave a low whistle. 'Merlin's Beard, James, it’s beautiful.' In his hands, he held a motorbike jacket made of soft, supple black leather. Slowly, he tried it on—a perfect fit.
'For later on, when your… er, Muggle transportation experiment is all done, I thought.' James smiled broadly. 'Lily about put the full-body bind on me when I picked it out; you know how she feels about the whole motorbike thing. She's still mad at you for keeping it in my parents' garage so you can tinker at leisure. But, in the end, she relented… as usual.' His eyes sparkled; he rubbed his hands together. 'Anyone up for some Filibuster Holiday Edition Fireworks?'
'I am,' smiled Remus. 'Outside, though—Mum will kill us if we set them off in here.' He stacked his gifts neatly by his bedside, then closed the door behind them as they walked down the hall. 'Merry Christmas, James. Merry Christmas, Sirius.'
Seven dogs followed as they opened the door, heading out into the dusk. James opened the box of fireworks and smiled.