Back for Christmas
Wendelin the Weird
Thanks to my awesome and utterly splendiferous betas, Lauren and Birgit for their suggestions and catches.
This one is for Moonette who first suggested I submit this as a 'regular fic' when I wrote it for the "All We Want For Christmas" filks and drabbles thread. You rock!
They're a piss-poor bunch of people to hang around these days. I swear it was cheerier in Azkaban. But I know what the matter with them is, and I can set it right. There's an old Johnny I know out in Oxford who can get me a batch of the potion, and everything else I need is right here in my pocket.
I think I'll do it at Christmas. Christmas, of all times, should be cheery.
They'd gathered for their traditional Christmas eve dinner at Rosmerta's, in her cosy little place just off the Three Broomsticks. It was something of a tradition for Rosmerta to decorate the place in wildly different ways every year, but this time it was a meticulous replication of last year. Little gremlins decorated the cornices again, blowing spit-bubbles at passing guests. The eggnog was in the rudely shaped flask, just like the year before. The tree had again been charmed to give a bit of a twirl every few seconds, the ornaments all clanging. But all the clanging in the world couldn't mask the flat silence in the room - definitely new this year.
Half the people that were usually there hadn't even shown up. Aberforth Dumbledore was pacing restlessly up and down the room; the ceaseless whine of his humming was beginning to get on Rosmerta's nerves. Hagrid, who had just called for his fifth tankard of eggnog, was by himself at the window getting steadily drunker and - most unusually for him - quieter as he did so. Over by the fire, Flitwick, Vector, Sprout and McGonagall were trying bravely to make conversation.
"Filius, would you be so kind as to make the fire burn brighter, man?" Vector was saying.
Flitwick wiggled his wand in a vague sort of way, charming the fire so that it was now impossible to look directly at the hearth without hurting one's eyes. Vector seemed taken aback.
"Don't mention it," Flitwick squeaked, without looking at her. He was completely engrossed in his shoes.
There was a long silence. Then Minerva cleared her throat. "How're the crying chrysanthemums doing, Pomona?" she asked in her severe voice.
"I just took in a fresh delivery. The previous batch all died out. The second-years like them."
The silence deepened. Rosmerta sighed and began to gather up fresh goblets in a tray, briefly considering whether she ought to drop the pretense of eggnog and just bring out the hard liquor. If ever a party needed more alcohol, this was it.
This potion tastes like Doxy droppings. Merlin, after this, they're going to owe me.
Well, here we go, then. Nice beard, this.
Three resounding knocks sounded on the door just as Rosmerta began to pass out the goblets. Everyone in the room jumped. Three loud knocks - that was Albus's way of announcing himself. What sort of joke was this - had somebody thought it would be funny to imitate Dumbledore's knock?
Aberforth whirled around. "Whoever you are, you're the deadest man walking," he growled. Before he had finished speaking, Hagrid was already halfway across the room. Rosmerta flicked her wand at the door to get it to open, stood with her hands on her hips. Hostess she may be, but she certainly wasn't going to dignify this guest's distasteful entrace with a polite greeting.
But then the door swung open, and everyone's goblets - and jaws - went crashing to the floor.
Albus Dumbledore stood framed by the doorway, the wind blowing impressively through his Father Christmas robes. Albus Dumbledore, back from the dead.
"Ho ho ho," he said, walking into the room and shutting the door behind him. "Brrrr. What a wind, eh, Rosmerta?"
For a few moments, it was as if all the air in the room had disappeared. Sprout was still standing rooted to the spot with Vector, and Hagrid was backing away towards the window shaking his head violently, his eyes round with something beyond shock. Minerva was the first to recover, the first to whip out her wand. "Stupefy!"
Albus ducked, uncharacteristically ungraceful, crying, "Hey!" Within the next moment, Flitwick had Confunded him.
Rosmerta took advantage of Albus's confusion. "Expelliarmus!" she said quickly, and Albus's wand was in her hand. Albus's wand? She shook her head, utterly thrown. Who was this man?
Minerva went striding up to this man... this apparition... her wand pointed right at his heart. "Who are you?" she spat through gritted teeth. There was a cold fury in every line on her face.
"Wh-what?" Albus said, visibly trying to pull himself together. "Is this any way to greet jolly old Father Christmas when he comes a-calling, Minerva?"
Minerva moved so quickly that the apparition yelped, and in the blink of an eye, she had him against the wall with a vice-like grip on his neck in spite of his height. Albus's achingly familiar half-moon glasses clattered to the floor, and he was now struggling for breath.
"Uh-gah... Let me go!"
"Tell me who you are, you Death Eater scum," Minerva said through clenched teeth, her grip tightening around Albus's neck, making him steadily bluer.
"Aah, all right, all right, leggo!" cried Albus, abruptly sounding rather cockney. "It's only me, don't worry, I'm not a Death Eater!"
Minerva frowned. "Dung?"
"Tha's right, you old bat," he said, pushing her away now that she had relaxed her grip. "Merlin, you lot 'ave some sense of humour!"
"Sense of- MUNDUNGUS FLETCHER!" Rosmerta sputtered, her hands still shaking from shock. "I swear one of these days...."
"Wait, Rosmerta," Minerva said coldly. Her eyes - and wand - had never left Dung. "We need to make sure. Tell us, Dung, what was it you did to make Albus Dumbledore furious with you two years ago?"
"I - uh - took a break on my shif' watching 'Arry Potter?"
"And what did Albus say to you on that occasion?"
"'E said 'e wanted to kill me." Dung gulped. "Meant it, too. I could tell."
"And how on earth did you do this?" Vector demanded. "Polyjuice?"
Dung nodded, too busy massaging his bruised neck to speak. It looked very, very strange seeing Albus do that.
"My God, man, what did you do, snip off a toenail from his body?" said Vector.
Hagrid, who had just sunk weakly into a chair, roared at this. "I'll get yer, yer rotten scumbag -"
Albus - Dung - shrank away, trying to hide behind the tall form of Aberforth. "Oi, 'old on to yerself, I jus' 'appened upon a coupla 'airs, tha's all."
Aberforth shook himself violently free of Dung, and took a few steps away from him. "What do you mean, you happened upon a couple of his hairs?"
Albus looked vaguely shifty. "I didn't do anything gross. It was all before 'e died, a long while before that."
Minerva sighed and turned away, but Rosmerta couldn't tear her eyes away from Albus. It was silly to feel this way, she knew, because it was only Dung, but somehow, the gathering felt ... complete ... with him in the room, decked up in ruby red Father Christmas robes like he always did.
"Albus would have laughed," she said suddenly, the words slipping unbidden out of her lips.
Dung looked at her, his expression comically grateful. "I know 'e would've. But you lot... you're dull." He tromped across the room and sat down heavily by the fire. "Rosmerta, you got any eggnog?"
Rosmerta floated a goblet over to him. "It's our first Christmas without Albus, Dung, do you expect us to do the spring dances?"
Albus - Dung - shrugged. "Christmas cheer wouldn' 'urt. Besides, Dumbledore always pulled pranks just as bad."
Minerva and Rosmerta looked at each other. "Well," Minerva said slowly, "there's something to that."
Flitwick's expression was thoughtful. "There was that time he challenged Snape to a game of Strip Gobstones."
A chill went up Rosmerta's spine at the mention of the traitor's name, but she shook it off. Around her, she could see her friends doing the same. She forced herself to think of him, of the times - admittedly few times - she had seen him with her friends, his colleagues, partaking of their celebration of whatever occasion. It was easier than she had expected, especially when she thought of that Christmas when Snape had been beaten to near-nakedness by Albus's dexterity at Gobstones...
Across the room, Hagrid snorted. Smiling a little now, Flitwick continued, "Compared to that, I suppose Dung's stunt is ... quite tame."
"Yeah, yeah," said Dung eagerly.
"Remember when he brought a troll as his companion to dinner here?" Minerva said.
Aberforth laughed. "He said he was still learning to speak Troll, and invited it along without meaning to."
"There was that time he dressed up as Mother Christmas," said Sprout softly, "just so we couldn't say he was sexist, being Father Christmas all the time."
Everyone laughed, remembering Albus Dumbledore in glittering red women's robes.
"I remember his first year teaching at Hogwarts," Aberforth said, "and it was just the two of us on Christmas eve." He looked down his beard, and continued with a hint of plaintiveness in his voice, "Albus transfigured himself into a goat for me."
Everyone roared and snorted eggnog up their nostrils. Hagrid fell of his chair laughing, and it set everyone off even more. When they had recovered, they told more Outrageous Albus stories, taking turns and laughing till they cried. Someone charmed the Christmas tree to hang upside down from the chandelier, like Albus had once done, and soon they were bewitching all of the decorations, each vying to outdo the other to make the strangest things happen.
The hour passed quickly, and no one noticed as Albus faded away again, leaving only Dung in his place.