‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author. Everything belongs to JKR except for Welkin’s Wondrous Menagerie, which is Catherine’s, and Madam Meredith’s Bric-a-Brac Emporium, which is mine. Although she can have that too if she wants it.
Remus Lupin brushed a light dusting of snow from his shoulders as he hurried up the steps to Gringotts’ imposing main entrance. He shivered slightly as he pushed his way through the huge, burnished bronze doors into the marble-floored entrance hall. The old woollen cloak that Sirius had lent him was a thick one, but the weather had been bitterly cold since the end of November and it had begun to snow in earnest just that morning.
A much better day to be at home in front of the fire with a good book, he thought longingly.
In fact there were probably only two people who could have persuaded him to leave the house that morning under any circumstances. The first of those, Albus Dumbledore, had Floo’d him three days ago to ask that he help Molly look after the monstrous regiment of Weasleys that had recently descended on 12 Grimmauld Place. Remus had accepted gladly, largely because he was very fond of the younger Weasleys after a year as their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. However, he’d also been highly relieved to take a short break from lurking on street corners in all weathers, tailing suspected Death Eaters. And now here he was, back out in the cold and wet, thanks to the irrepressible enthusiasm of the second person he had never been able to refuse.
Remus sighed. Removing his cloak, he passed through the inner silver doors, taking great care not to touch them. After looking around for a moment, he strode off down the huge banking hall towards the desk marked ‘Withdrawals – Wizards, Witches and other Magical Beings’, his echoing footsteps blending into the general hubbub of day to day business at the Wizarding bank.
There was a short queue when he reached the counter, which was held up for some time by an eccentric-looking wizard in bright green robes. The wizard insisted there was only one possible explanation for his dwindling bank balance. Remus overheard him explaining politely that the entire contents of his vault must have been Transfigured into Fork-Tailed Purple Couchcrabs, which as everybody knew were completely invisible but could give you a pretty nasty nip if you sat down too quickly. After a small scuffle the eccentric wizard was led away by a group of security goblins, one of them growling “Please come quietly Mr. Lovegood, or I will have to introduce you to our delinquent accounts department.”
The next few transactions were simpler, and finally Remus stood directly in front of the withdrawals desk. The goblin behind it regarded him impassively for a moment, and then said, “State your business, Mr. Lupin”. Remus stared back coolly. The Gringotts goblins’ devotion to finance was legendary, but their consequent ability to put a name to every one of their customers was still a little unnerving. Remus was also aware that if the clerk knew who he was then the goblin must also know what he was. Luckily Gringotts had never been fussy about their customers. Being addressed by a werewolf would be all in a day’s work here, and unlikely to cause a commotion. If I were able to work and had any money of my own then I might come in here more often, he thought wearily.
Remus pushed the thought away, as he drew a folded piece of parchment from his pocket. “I have a letter of instruction for you from a…colleague of mine”, he said, passing the document over the counter.
The goblin inspected the imposing black wax seal affixed to the front of the parchment and whispered a few words in Gobbledegook. The seal broke, and the goblin unfolded the letter and began to read. Thank Merlin we found that seal, thought Remus. It was clearly a rather unpleasant Dark Object and Sirius had thrown it straight into the bin with a disgusted snort when they had unearthed it from the front room cabinet in August. Luckily, Remus had discovered it again yesterday evening tucked away in Kreacher’s den, where the house elf seemed to have been using it as a paperweight. Of course there are other ways to access his vault, Remus acknowledged, but they all take careful planning, and are not a lot of good to a man struck with a spontaneous urge to go shopping on Christmas Eve.
As the goblin continued to read the letter, Remus’ thoughts drifted back to the previous evening and the reason for his visit to the bank.
* * * * *
“Oh, come on Moony, please! It’ll be fun.”
Remus continued reading the paper, in an attempt to ignore the man sitting opposite him. It didn’t work. “No Sirius, absolutely not,” he said wearily, looking up. “You know it’s far too dangerous after Lucius saw you at Kings Cross. A huge black dog slinking into Flourish and Blotts is definitely going to call attention to itself.” Remus could tell by Sirius’ expression that his logical arguments were having no impact whatsoever. He decided to battle onwards regardless. “Anyway, how in Merlin’s name are you going to make it clear what you want? You’ll just end up drooling all over the books.”
“Padfoot can be very communicative when he wants to be.” Sirius was grinning broadly now, clearly enjoying the exchange. “And - if you come with me we won’t have that problem.”
“Have you gone deaf?” Remus said through slightly gritted teeth. “I have already clearly stated that I am not going to Diagon Alley tomorrow and neither are you.”
“Moony, please. How can we have all these people in the house for Christmas and not have presents for them? Please lovely, charming, kind, wonderful Moony?”
Remus looked at his friend across the kitchen table and rolled his eyes. Sirius was trying out ‘that’ look – the one with the big droopy doggy eyes that Remus had always been completely undone by – the one that Remus hadn’t seen since…before everything. Before Azkaban’s dementors had worn down the young man he had known into the man who sat before him now. Before Lord Voldemort had destroyed everyone who mattered to Remus… or so he had thought. It struck him that maybe this was a spark of the old Sirius. Perhaps Padfoot was finally beginning to come to terms with those dreadful years, as far as that was possible with Wormtail still on the loose. Maybe this was a better idea than he had first thought. “And maybe this is a sign the two of you can finally take up where you left off,” a small voice in the back of Remus’ head pointed out quietly.
He examined that thought for a few seconds and acknowledged that, yes, he did hope for that. Although in his saner moments he knew it was impossible. He and Sirius were different men from the ones who had been separated by James & Lily’s deaths. They had both seen and suffered too much, without the other to witness and understand. There was a mountain unsaid between them that could never be articulated. Although they had taken some tentative steps since that night in the Shrieking Shack, their relationship would never be the same as it once was. Nevertheless, it was good to see Padfoot so enthusiastic about something instead of pacing the floor and blasting stray pieces of furniture when he thought Remus wasn’t looking. Perhaps there was a way to help Sirius do this without putting his life in danger.
“OK, OK, Padfoot!” Remus capitulated. “Just stop pulling that awful face at me will you? You are still definitely not going – it’s too dangerous. But as long as you promise to help Hermione with the lunch tomorrow I’ll do your Christmas shopping for you. Will that do?”
“I s’pose it’ll have to,” Sirius grumbled. “If you’re not going to fall for my soppy face then there are no weapons left to win you over to my cause. Let’s see then… we need a list…” Sirius Summoned a quill and some parchment, pulled his chair up next to Remus and began scribbling down what appeared to be a never-ending list of names. “Harry obviously – I had asked Albus to help me get something for him, but now you’re so kindly doing my errands you can do it – Ron, and Hermione, Molly, Arthur, Ginny, Fred, George, Albus, Minerva, Tonks, Moody –”
“Are you sure you need to include absolutely everyone that knows you’re not a dangerous criminal?” Remus asked with a smile. “At this rate I won’t be back from Diagon Alley until New Years’ Eve.” Sirius paused for a moment, raised his head and looked sharply at Remus. His light mood seemed to be evaporating rapidly and he looked as though he was urgently repelling a number of extremely unpleasant thoughts in an effort to regain his good humour. Sirius looked back down at the table.
“Fourteen years, Moony,” he said softly. “Harry and I have spent Christmas apart for the last fourteen years. Hell, for twelve of those years he didn’t even know I existed. And with our dear friend Voldemort on the march who knows when we’re going to be able to do it again? Can you blame me if my natural inclination is to go a bit over the top?”
It was Remus’ turn to look away. Sirius still retained the capacity to wrong-foot him at the most unexpected moments. Of all people, Remus should have remembered that an extremely complex personality lay underneath the face Sirius presented to the world. He supposed he was a little out of practice. A small, pointed silence lay between them until Remus spoke again.
“Sorry, Padfoot. I wasn’t thinking. Let’s get back to that list shall we? What do you want me to get for Harry?”
“That’s easy.” Sirius stood up and began rifling about in a pile of newspaper by the fireplace. “I read something interesting in the Daily Prophet the other day – I’m surprised they can fit anything useful in that rag what with all the nonsense they keep printing about me – anyway, I found just the thing for him.” Sirius’ rifling intensified, until he found the paper he was looking for. “I’ve got it here somewhere… now, what was it… ah, here it is: Practical Defensive Magic and its Use Against the Dark Arts. It’s a whole set of books with moving diagrams. Should be pretty useful for those illegal Defence lessons he’s been giving.”
Remus smiled. He had never seen Sirius so proud of Harry as the night when they learned he was breaking at least half of Hogwarts’ new rules by teaching Defence to his peers. Remus entertained a brief mental picture of Neville Longbottom producing a toad as his Patronus and then turned back to the list.
“OK, write that down next to Harry’s name then. Now let’s see, what about Ron?”
* * * * *
“Everything seems to be in order, Mr. Lupin. Would you follow Griphook please?” Remus broke from his reverie and politely asked the goblin to repeat himself.
“As I said Mr. Lupin, everything seems to be in order. Griphook, take Mr. Lupin to the vaults.” The werewolf and the goblin crossed the banking hall together, heading for the family vault of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
* * * * *
Some time later Remus sat in the window of Florean Fortescue’s, surrounded by packages and feeling extremely smug. He was busy devouring his second Wizarding Winter Warmer, a small treat to compensate for traipsing around doing Sirius’ bidding for the last three hours. The “Triple W” was a special Christmas creation of Florean’s, a huge bowl of ice cream charmed to burn with gold flames that warmed the mouth as it was eaten and to sing Christmas carols in a high squeaky voice until the bowl was completely empty. It also packed quite a wallop, which Remus strongly suspected was due to a liberal application of Ogden’s Firewhisky. He scooped up another spoonful as his dessert burst into song.
“Deck the halls with elves and fairies,
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Not too large and not too hairy,
Fa la la la la, la la la la!”
From where he was sitting, Remus could see hundreds of witches and wizards hurrying up and down Diagon Alley, wrapped up against the cold. Most were heavily laden with boxes and packages, and seemingly intent on adding even more to their burdens before they went home. The Alley’s shopkeepers had excelled themselves this year and every window was lit with a magical glow in the thin December daylight. Madam Malkin had arranged a particularly spectacular display involving headless mannequins parading up and down in a variety of seasonal fashions. Remus had nearly bought a robe covered in glowing holly sprigs and a rather odd picture of a stag with a flashing red nose as Sirius’ present for Dumbledore. In the end he had decided to play it safe, and had settled on five pairs of Exploding Socks in a variety of eye-watering colours.
A middle-aged woman in a scarlet cloak passed close by the window, hurrying after two very excited children. They look so happy, Remus thought. He hadn’t said so to Sirius the previous evening, but it had been a long time since he had celebrated Christmas with anything other than a cup of tea and his few remaining books. He too was looking forward to the unfamiliar pleasure of a house full of friends and family enjoying themselves. Family? He had been so sure that he had none, but Sirius’ return had made him less sure about a lot of things, mostly things that were too difficult to think about.
Remus turned back to his shopping list with a small sigh. On the left-hand side was a scrawled list in Sirius’ writing, bold and sprawling and almost totally illegible. How he passed his N.E.W.T.s I will never know, Remus thought. He had spent at least half an hour wondering why Molly might want a ‘Crark Beak’, whatever that was. It wasn’t until he had been halfway down the Alley to enquire at Welkin’s Wondrous Menagerie that he had remembered Sirius mentioning getting her a cookbook. On the right hand side of the parchment, in Remus’ neater script, was a satisfactory collection of notes indicating that he had finally managed to get everything Sirius had asked for. Hag’s teeth! Remus thought with irritation, I’ve found everything Sirius asked for. What about my own shopping?
He cast his eyes down to the bottom of the list, where he had added a single name, accompanied by a solitary, very large question mark. What on earth was he going to get Sirius for Christmas? Remus pushed back his chair and hurriedly paid his bill. The remains of his ice cream continued to squeak about “merry Hippogriffs” as he headed back out into the crowd.
An hour later Remus was feeling decidedly less smug. He had revisited almost every shop in the Alley and had come up empty-handed. Of course it didn’t help that his entire worldly wealth amounted to four Galleons, three Sickles and a few Knuts. He was beginning to wish that there really were such things as Fork-Tailed Purple Couchcrabs, and that if he searched his pockets carefully he might find a few that could be Transfigured back into gold - but he knew there was no point searching again. That was it, and it was just going to have to do. Not for the first time that day Remus cursed the anti-werewolf legislation that had left him in this impoverished state.
Hoping that inspiration might strike him out of thin air, Remus looked up and down the Alley for what felt like the hundredth time. He narrowed his eyes slightly as his gaze settled on a dusty shop window and a bright yellow sign that read ‘Madam Meredith’s Bric-a-Brac Emporium’. Underneath, in smaller letters, the sign continued ‘Curios of Distinction for the Discerning Wizard. Whatever You Require, You Will Find It at Madam Meredith’s’. Remus had heard of this place, although he had never set foot in it. ‘Bric-a-Brac Emporium’ was a fancy euphemism for a junk shop usually only frequented by the disreputable or those down on their luck. I probably fit fairly well into both those categories these days, he thought with faint amusement. He pushed open the door and stepped into the gloomy interior.
Once Remus’ eyes got used to the dimmer light, he realised that ‘Whatever You Require’ had possibly not been that much of an exaggeration. The shop was a large one, with passages and steps leading off in all directions, but every square inch was stacked from floor to ceiling with ancient looking objects. Broomsticks with most of their twigs missing, dented cauldrons of every size, a stuffed Kneazle wearing an extremely annoyed expression, huge piles of dusty books, some with their covers torn off, two boxes full of rags, one of which was twitching as though something very angry was hidden inside, an enchanted bedpan and a pair of Omnioculars with only one lens. And that was just in one corner. Almost everything seemed broken or worn. But maybe there’s something for Sirius here somewhere, Remus thought. He raised a hand in greeting to Madam Meredith, a short witch with black hair who was vigorously stuffing something back into a sturdy-looking cage, and wandered off to explore.
Some time later, Remus rounded a corner and stopped at the sight of an extremely ugly statue wearing an outlandish hat. He had definitely browsed through this part of the Emporium once already. Five minutes longer, that’s all I can stand, he thought. Five more minutes before I give up, go back to Flourish and Blotts for a copy of Magical Me and pass it off as ironic. He set off again in what he hoped was a new direction, descending a small flight of steps into a yet another dusty room lined with shelves.
On entrance Remus sidestepped a coat rack that had taken a fancy to his borrowed cloak, and came to a halt as he caught sight of something on a distant shelf. What in the name of Salazar was that doing here? He had seen one before of course, but then his father had always been fond of Muggle artefacts. How had something like that made its way to Diagon Alley? It must be enchanted he thought. Perhaps someone has decided to dispose of it quietly rather than risk getting into trouble with the Ministry. Remus approached the object with caution, and tapped it gently with his wand. Then he stood back and watched, a slow smile creeping across his face. It was perfect. Yes, it was battered and torn in places, and the charms badly needed patching and realigning, but he was fairly sure he could mend it with a couple of hours’ work. Best of all it was only four Galleons. He tapped the object again, swept it up under one arm and walked back to the front counter, whistling tunelessly as he went.
* * * * *
Remus wandered down the main staircase at 12 Grimmauld Place, laden with Sirius’ shopping. It had taken him longer than expected to get his own purchase into working order but it had been worth the effort. It was now lying on his dressing table, neatly wrapped and ready for the next day. He was fairly sure Sirius would appreciate it, which would make it all worth the effort. He walked through the hall, casting a malevolent glare at Mrs. Black’s portrait, kicked open the kitchen door and was immediately enveloped in a storm of silver and gold, holly branches, tinsel and glass baubles. Sirius sat at the epicentre of the chaos, cutting a huge sheet of silver paper into streamers using muttered Severing Charms, and humming merrily away under his breath.
“Ah, Moony!” Sirius greeted him with a beaming grin. “How come it’s taken you so long? Did you get everything? Another half hour and I was going to send Dung along to Florean Fortescue’s and have him hex you until you stopped stuffing your face and came home.” Remus ignored Sirius’ disconcertingly accurate jibe and composed his features into what he hoped was a stern glare, although he could feel the corners of his mouth creeping up slightly, undoubtedly spoiling the effect.
“I see you’ve been entertaining yourself in my absence, Padfoot.” Remus gingerly poked a pile of tinsel with his foot and stepped back smartly as it began to coil itself round a table leg. “Exactly what do you call this strange activity that you’re currently engaged in?”
“I’m putting up the Christmas decorations, Remus. What does it look like?” Sirius turned back to the pile of silver paper in his lap as Remus picked his way over some large holly branches and set his parcels down on the table. Remus then seated himself in a nearby chair and surveyed the full glory of what he was sure had once been the kitchen. “ I don’t want to be discouraging,” he said, “ but I thought we’d already decorated the other day.”
“Finishing touches,” said Sirius, airily. “Highly important finishing touches. So…let’s see it then,” he demanded.
“See what?” Remus was confused. He was tired, and now was a bad time for Sirius to demonstrate his consummate ability to jump from one conversational topic to another with scant regard for a connection between the two.
“The shopping, you idiot.” Sirius looked mildly affronted. “Honestly Moony, what’s the matter with you? You know, the shopping that’s taken you all day to do?”
“One thing at a time, Sirius.” Remus said mildly. “Besides, there’s not room to swing a Puffskein in here let alone unpack all these bags. We’ve only got a few hours before everyone will be arriving for dinner, which I might remind you is our responsibility this evening as everyone else is up at St. Mungo’s. So, let’s sort out your ‘finishing touches’, clear up a bit in here and then I’ll show you what I bought.”
“Ever the orderly mind, Remus. Do you actually know the meaning of the word ‘spontaneous’?” After a sharp look from his friend Sirius stood up, still grumbling, and grabbed an armful of holly from the kitchen floor. “Come on then,” he said briskly. “If you insist on disturbing my creative processes, let’s get on with it. You make a start with that lot.” Remus scooped up the bundle of paper that Sirius had indicated and headed back out into the hallway, shaking his head.
* * * * *
Remus returned to the kitchen for another armful of streamers. He caught sight of one of Sirius’ creations lying on the table and picked it up carefully. “You’re going to have to do that again you know,” he said, peering at it closely.
“Why, what’s wrong with it?” Sirius gave the object a cursory glance and went back to persuading the tinsel to drape itself around the chandelier.
Remus turned the thing over in his hands, frowning. “Well, I know that your family was a little Dark on occasions… but I still think this is still a bit much.”
Sirius took the object from him, stared at it for a moment and then handed it back. “What are you talking about? Looks fine to me.”
“Sirius, just what did you Transfigure to make this? I thought you said the wreath for the front door was going to look like holly and ivy?”
“That does look like holly and ivy.”
“Well maybe it does, but it’s also got large fangs and is sort of…furry.”
Sirius gave the tinsel one final prod, and threw Remus an irritated look. “The only thing I have Transfigured in the recent past is myself into a big black dog, Moony. Is it any wonder that the wreath has come out a bit hairy? Surely if we hang it at the top of the door no one will notice?”
Remus took another look at the wreath. It was at least two feet in diameter, and was growling at him softly. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said shortly. “Minerva’s coming this evening and she’ll have a fit if she sees work that shoddy from one of her star pupils. And I am certainly not going to pretend that I did it. Do it again.”
“Aw Remus, do I really have to?” Sirius was looking at him hopefully now, but Remus ignored it. “Don’t you think the fangs are kind of fetching? All right, all right – point your wand somewhere else. I’m doing it again, you slave driver.” Sirius grabbed the offending object and carried it off to the end of the room. The wreath was now trying its best to bite its captor, Remus noted. Sirius trapped the snarling decoration under the coalscuttle and drew his wand. The wreath squirmed around, trying to escape, and managed to bury its teeth in Sirius’s hand.
“Glad to see you’ve got it all under control,” Remus said serenely, and headed back out with another pile of streamers.
It was half an hour later. Remus had just finished a complicated spell from A Compendium of Christmas Charms and was scowling deeply at its results. “Sirius…”
“Now what? Can’t you manage a simple… Godric, Remus! What in the name of Merlin’s beard is that?” The two men stared at the amorphous white blob that had appeared in a corner of the room.
“Well, it’s meant to be the magical snow you asked for, but I think I may have cast the charm incorrectly.” Remus had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed at this statement. Sirius just stared at the blob.
“It looks more like magical mutant blancmange. It’s much too wobbly for snow. And it’s still growing. Were you planning on doing something about that before it fills the whole kitchen?”
“Well Padfoot, if you’re so worried about it why don’t you do the honours and banish the menacing mutant blancmange to outer darkness?”
“Oh, OK then. REDUC–”
There was a large, squelchy explosion. The kitchen then fell silent, save for the persistent dripping noise of gloop falling from the ceiling.
“Mmf, blergh... Yes?” Remus cleared his eyes. Sirius was covered from head to toe in the results of his attempt at blancmange banishing, and was trying to remove a particularly large blob from his hair.
“Are you OK?” Sirius asked sheepishly. He surveyed the carnage for a moment. “On reflection that was probably not one of my better ideas, was it?”
“Well, unless you call using a curse that’s designed to blow holes in solid objects on a wobbling white mass a good idea, then no, I’d say that it probably wasn’t.” Remus finished wiping the mess from his robes and looked around the kitchen. Sirius’ curse had been a good strong one, and the blancmange was now evenly distributed over every available surface. “Any thoughts on how we deal with the results of your handiwork?” he asked lightly.
“Don’t try and blame this mess on me,” Sirius growled. “I wasn’t the one who conjured the blancmange was I?” Remus simply grinned at his friend. If you ignore the fact that everything’s covered in gloop, this is really quite funny, he thought. Sirius scowled for a moment and then grinned back. A proper, carefree grin, Remus noticed. A grin without a dark past lurking behind it. A large sticky blob fell from the ceiling onto Remus’ shoulder, and reminded him of the task at hand.
“I think we should save allocating the blame until later, Sirius. Moody and Tonks will be back in a couple of hours. Do you remember that cleaning charm Molly taught you?”
Sirius looked indignant. “Given that she’s made me apply it to almost every pair of curtains in this entire house while you’ve been gallivanting around fighting evil, yes, I think I should be able to dredge it up from the back of my memory.”
“Come on then.”
The two men raised their wands and spoke in unison. “SCOURGIFY!”
* * * * *
Remus sank down in the armchair next to the fireplace and passed a hand slowly over his eyes. He was absolutely worn out. It had been a long, long day but finally the decorations were up, everyone’s presents were wrapped, Sirius seemed to have exhausted his enthusiasm for all things festive, and they had even managed to start cooking the evening meal. There was just enough time for a few moments’ rest before everyone started arriving and the peace and quiet was shattered. In fact it was altogether too quiet in the kitchen, Remus realised suddenly. Where was Padfoot? A minute ago he’d been clattering about at the stove but now he had disappeared. Trust him to make himself scarce when there’s real work to be done, Remus thought. He was wearily pulling himself out of the chair to stir the soup when Sirius came back into the room, holding something awkwardly behind his back. He had a strange look on his face that Remus couldn’t immediately identify. He almost looks nervous, he thought curiously.
“Is something wrong, Sirius? You look very odd – are you feeling all right? And what have you got behind your back?” Remus tried to peer around for a closer look, but his friend shifted position, keeping whatever it was out of sight. Sirius cleared his throat and began to speak.
“Well, the thing is…I…er… well its probably going to be hectic tomorrow and, well, I didn’t know if you’d mind in front of everyone, and…er… I know its still Christmas Eve but…” Sirius stopped for a moment, frowning, and rubbed his temple in what looked like a fruitless attempt to construct a cogent sentence. He took a deep breath, pulled out a small package wrapped in crimson paper and gold ribbon, and held it out to Remus. “I got this for you, Moony. Hope you like it. Merry Christmas.”
Remus took the proffered parcel with a murmured thank you, and began to unwrap it following an encouraging nod from his friend. Beneath the outer wrapping and the layers of tissue paper he found a book. A very special book. A rare, hand bound edition of a Muggle masterpiece that his mother had read to him when he was a child. A copy of the book that she had given him nearly twenty years ago on the day he left Hogwarts. A copy of the book he had been forced to sell along with almost all of his library in order to feed himself during the desperate years. His fingers traced the gold letters embossed into the cover as he opened the thick pages to the beginning of the first chapter.
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...’ The faint scents of leather, ink and parchment reached him as he half read, half remembered the familiar words. He shook his head imperceptibly. How could a Muggle who had been dead for well over one hundred years so neatly encapsulate the world Remus now found himself in? And how had Sirius known that out of all his books this was the one he had most regretted parting with?
“It’s perfect, Padfoot,” Remus said quietly. “I don’t know what to say. It’s just…perfect. How did you..?”
“Well, I heard you talking to Minerva the other day about how you missed the library at Hogwarts.” A fleeting smile passed across Sirius’ face. “That got me thinking about all those books you used to have at home, and how few I’d seen when I was staying with you.” He spoke more soberly now. “And then I remembered one you’d been welded to the summer after we left school, and how Prongs and I couldn’t even get you to come out for a Butterbeer with us, you were so engrossed in it.” Remus smiled at the memory. “Couldn’t remember what it was called of course”, Sirius continued, “just the first few words. Dumbledore knew though – he got Madam Pince to track down this copy as a ‘special project’ for N.E.W.T. Muggle Studies I think. I’m glad you like it.”
Remus closed the book carefully and set it down on the table. The open generosity and resourcefulness that had gone into finding his present was so like the Sirius he remembered that it was difficult to keep his feelings from showing on his face. Then he remembered what was on his dressing table.
“Wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.” He ran from the room and returned a few moments later, slightly out of breath. He was clutching a large parcel wrapped in a rather more sombre silver and blue. Dispensing with any preliminaries, Remus thrust it straight into Sirius’ arms.
“Merry Christmas, Padfoot. You’d better like it because I’m not taking it back. Come on, I want to see you open it.”
Sirius needed no further encouragement. He made short work of the wrapping paper, ripping it off in huge chunks, a small crease in his forehead the only indication that the odd shape of the parcel was puzzling him. Sirius continued to frown as he uncovered his present – a delicately coloured Muggle globe, set on a plain wooden stand.
“Moony, it’s…great.” Remus could see Sirius was trying to work out why he might want a globe. “It’s just like the one from your dad’s library. How did you get hold of it with Arthur out of action?”
“Don’t look so puzzled - you haven’t seen the best bit yet. And I’d prefer it if you didn’t mention this to Arthur, as it’s been slightly modified. Here, let me show you.” Remus spun the globe slowly, picked a spot in North Africa and tapped it gently with his wand. Almost immediately the air in the kitchen became warmer as though they were outside on a summer’s day rather than in the bowels of a dusty, wintry house. A faint breeze began to blow, bringing with it the smells of cumin, turmeric and paprika, roasting meat and mint tea. Remus’ sensitive nose could also detect signs of great industry – the metallic smell of a nearby forge, the vats of dye filled with rainbows of cloth, and behind it all the slightly sharp, rancid odour of the distant tannery. An insistent chatter rose around them and a great crowd of people suddenly became visible, threading through rows and rows of closely packed undercover market stalls. The stalls were crammed to overflowing with cloth, ceramics, brass teapots, zellij tabletops, live chickens and strange looking vegetables.
The charms are quite subtle, Remus thought. If you look closely you can see we’re still in Grimmauld Place but with Morocco layered gently over the top. It’s really rather restful. Sirius, he noted, was gazing about in fascination, a broad grin developing as he took everything in.
“Modified is a bit of an understatement, Remus. Where is this place? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“We’re in the souk in Marrakech – the Muggle souk that is. The Wizarding souk is Unplottable.”
“It’s amazing! But what are we seeing exactly?” Sirius reached out to touch a nearby carpet, but drew his hand back when it passed straight through the image, leaving a shimmering trail in its wake. “Does the globe act as some kind of long-range viewing device? Extended Foe Glass charms maybe?”
“No, I think it’s more like a Pensieve,” Remus replied, “although the images don’t seem to be just one person’s thoughts, more like a collective memory. They look pretty extensive too, although I haven’t had much of a chance to test them. You can certainly walk quite a long way here before the edges start to go fuzzy.”
“And can I go anywhere with it?” Sirius’ eager grin was now so big it was threatening to split his face in half.
“I think so.” Remus allowed himself a small, self-satisfied smile. “I patched the charms this afternoon so it should be working perfectly.”
“I’ve said it before but, honestly, you are a bloody genius. I think this is the best thing anyone has ever given me. What on earth made you think of it?”
Remus tapped the globe again. The images flickered once and then disappeared, leaving them standing back in the kitchen, complete with the winter chill and the smell of gently simmering beef stew. Why had it seemed so perfect to him, even in its original battered state? He looked at the man standing in front of him, the scars of Azkaban still clearly etched into his face, and knew the answer.
“I thought it might help you feel…free.” Remus was now gazing fixedly at an ugly vase on the mantelpiece, behind Sirius’ left ear. “You spent twelve years in that terrible place until you managed to escape, but in some ways you’re still there aren’t you?”
Remus’ voice was low and uncertain, but he kept going. “Until Dumbledore has your name cleared you have to skulk around here in what amounts to just another prison. I can see how much you hate it and how impatient you are, we all can. I know it’s hard, but Albus will sort this out somehow, and until he does… I thought you could use the globe to get away from here sometimes.”
Remus waited for Sirius to say something. When no response came, he finally looked up. Sirius’ expression was unreadable, but his pale blue eyes were glittering and he certainly wasn’t smiling any more. I’ve gone too far, he thought. He braced himself for the inevitable outburst of temper, and so was completely astonished when instead Sirius closed the gap between them and he found himself caught up in a rough embrace. All his muscles tensed with the shock of it, but after a few moments instinct and long forgotten memories took over. He gently slipped his arms round Sirius’ waist and hesitantly let his head rest on the waiting shoulder. Don’t read too much into this, he counselled himself. He’s always been impetuous in the extreme. Don’t get too… Sirius pulled him closer, interrupting his thoughts.
“God Moony, I’ve missed you.”
The words were simple and almost inaudible but the effect they had on Remus was explosive. Every buried feeling, every memory he had kept locked up for years seemed to burst into his mind simultaneously, and he could not have held back the flood of joy they brought with them even if he had wanted to. “Padfoot,” he whispered hoarsely. There was nothing more he could say. The Wolf was howling too loudly inside his head, celebrating the longed for return of his pack brother. He smells the same, thought Remus shakily. So long apart, and he still smells the same.
The sounds of the doorbell and of Kreacher grumbling his way up the hall registered with them both at the same moment. As they broke apart, Remus felt a fleeting sensation on his forehead, which he belatedly realised was the touch of Sirius’ lips. His beleaguered brain attempted to process this new wonder as he listened to Moody and Tonks needling each other as they approached the kitchen.
“Chill out, Mad-Eye, it was only a joke. You do remember what those are, don’t you?”
“I fail to see why you find it funny to creep up behind me with Lucius Malfoy’s face on, idiot girl. I could have done you a serious injury.” Moody trailed off as he entered the kitchen and finally noticed the effect of all Sirius’ additional Christmas preparations.
“Galloping gargoyles, Lupin! What have you been letting that fool of a Black get up to now? Have you tested this tinsel for jinxes? Can’t be too careful you know, even if it is Christmas. How many times do I have to tell you? Constant vigilance, Lupin, constant vigilance!”
Remus turned back to stirring the soup as Alastor grumbled on in the background, the memory of Sirius’ kiss forming a tiny, glowing point of happiness deep within him.
A loud bang in the hallway, swiftly followed by shrieks of “MUD BLOODS! HALF-BREEDS! BESMIRCHING THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS!” announced that another member of the Order had just arrived and had knocked over the umbrella stand. Remus exchanged a brief grin with Sirius and abandoned the soup, the two men striding shoulder to shoulder into the hallway, wands held in front of them, ready for battle.
Maybe our relationship will never be the same, he thought, but it looks like we both want to try to make something out of it. Something more cautious and hesitant certainly, but maybe something wiser and stronger. And that has to be the best Christmas present of all.
- Thank you to Adele for her patient beta-ing, and for many helpful comments. If it weren’t for her I’d have happy socks and Girly!Sirius. Both best avoided, we thought. And thank you to Jo Wickaninnish, my SQ beta, for her sharp eye for detail and rapid turnaround time.
- Thank you very much to Catherine for allowing me to borrow Welkin’s Wondrous Menagerie from her equally wondrous Substance of Shadows universe.
- The title of this fic and the first line of the summary are taken from the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore.
- The book that Sirius gives Remus for Christmas is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
- Oh, and I think Alastor may have been reading a little too much Tolkein as he is beginning to sound slightly like another powerful, rather grumpy wizard from Lord of the Rings.