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Chapter Eight
Christmas Eve Night

The Lupin household was comfortably warm, heated by the crackling fire blazing in the fireplace. The mantle was decked with three stockings, hand knit by Mrs. Lupin when her son was nothing more than an infant. Each stocking bore a design for their owner. Mrs. Lupin’s stocking was embellished with reindeer flying through the air, their antlers tall and proud, and their hooves a shimmering black. Mr. Lupin’s held a scene of a wintry forest, the tree tops were glazed with soft snow, the stars glowing in the dark sky. Remus’s stocking shared the theme of the wintry forest, but, unlike his father’s, it also bore several animals. There were deer, owls, and in the very distance was a tiny, almost indistinguishable, wolf howling at the full moon. After Remus was attacked by a werewolf, Mrs. Lupin considered pulling out the stitches of that animal, but decided against it, and Remus never noticed it anyway.

The front door of the cabin opened and the winter wind brought in flakes of snow, as well as two bone chilled men and one freezing boy. Mr. Lupin and his father, John, burst through the door, back first, dragging one end of a freshly fallen tree while Remus brought up the rear, holding the prickly branches steady in his gloved hands. Once Remus was fully inside and had kicked the door shut, the three wheeled around on the spot, trying to find the perfect location for the Christmas tree. There were many places, as the living room was not at all cluttered. The only problem was that the tree was big, they were lucky to have gotten it through the front door.

“Over there,” Mr. Lupin said, nodding his head towards the spacious corner next to the fireplace. They heaved the tree over and carefully balanced it on its trunk and stepped back slowly, ready to catch the tree should it fall. When they were certain that the tree was not about to topple, Mr. Lupin called his wife and mother into the room. Mrs. Lupin and her mother in law, Gabriella, entered the room, each holding towels in their hands.

“Well, that took long enough,” Mrs. Lupin said, smiling.

“Blame Dad,” Remus said, coming out from behind the tree and joining his mother and grandmother. He stooped down and scratched his dog, Dommie, who was resting at Mrs. Lupin’s feet, behind the ear. “Not one tree was perfect enough.”

“We got one down while he wasn’t looking,” John Lupin said, pulling out his wand and whirling it in between his fingers.

“I still say that was unfair, I was going to find one,” Harry complained playfully. “So,” he went on, turning to his wife and mother. “What have you ladies been up to?”

“Cooking for tomorrow,” Mrs. Lupin replied. “What do you say to a Chocolate Frog cake, Remus?”

“I say that sounds good,” Remus said happily. His mother, who was not a witch, had developed a love of wizard sweets and began putting them in anything she could. On Easter she would give Remus an egg filled with Muggle jelly beans and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, making it even more difficult to tell which beans were the disgusting ones. On Christmas she usually made her speciality - Chocolate Frog cake. It was a simple chocolate cake, made with twice the usual amount of chocolate, and top off with Chocolate Frogs. There were very few people who had a chocolate capacity that large, and Remus was one of them.

“Anna, do you really think that’s good for him?” Gabriella Lupin asked.

“He only eats it twice a year,” Mrs. Lupin replied patiently. Her mother in law was constantly questioning her about how she raised her son. “His birthday and Christmas. And he won’t even get it on his birthday, he’ll be at school.”

Gabriella said nothing; she merely shrugged her shoulders and spoke to her son. “Will we be decorating the tree tonight?” Harry nodded. “Maybe I should go and get some eggnog from the store, later?”

“Eggnog? What about the butterbeer?” Harry asked. His mother, like his wife, was a Muggle. Unlike his wife, Anna, Gabriella was still more partial to doing things the Muggle way, and that included having eggnog over butterbeer.

“I’ll Apparate to Hogsmeade and get some,” John volunteered.

“Can I come?” Remus asked eagerly. He had been to Hogsmeade a rare few times in his life and he loved it at Christmastime. The village reminded him of a Christmas card he had seen when he was at a Muggle card shop with his mother. He had already gone the week before, but he wouldn’t mind going again. He knew that it was possible for one person to Apparate with another, but he couldn’t recall the name for it.

“No, Remus,” John replied hesitantly. “It won’t take very long, anyway.”

“Oh,” Remus said, looking put out. “Okay.”

“Remus, why don’t you come and help me in the kitchen?” Anna offered hurriedly.

Remus shook his head. “No… I think I’ll just go and finish wrapping those presents for my friends.” He stepped away from his mother and disappeared up the stairs that led to his loft bedroom.

“Dad,” Harry said, rounding on his father, “was that necessary?”

“Was what necessary?”

“You couldn’t have just let him go with you?”

“It’s cold out, he’ll get a fever.”

“If you were really worried about him getting sick you wouldn’t have let him come with us, looking for a tree for three hours in knee deep snow.”

“Harry, I don’t see what you’re getting upset about.”

Harry said nothing at first. He opened his mouth quite a few times, as if he had something he was bursting to say. “Sometimes I wonder about you and Mum.”

“And what do you wonder about us, Harry?” Gabriella asked, walking forward, wringing the towel in her hands.

“Why you never bothered getting to know your grandson. He’s not stupid, he can see he makes you nervous and that’s not his fault.”

“You know we don’t do it on purpose,” John said quietly. It was partially true. Gabriella was a Muggle and naturally she would be frightened of a werewolf, even if it was her own grandson. John had grown up with wizards and the prejudices against them were something that he had seen all the time. It wasn’t easy to just forget them. That still didn’t excuse them from knowing as little as possible about Remus.

“You can’t keep saying that, Dad. He’s your grandson and I would like for you to actually get to know him. That’s not so much to ask.”

Sirius sat in his room, bored out of his skull. He could hear the faint voices of his relatives and his parents’ friends coming from the floors below, but he paid no mind to them. They were talking about all of their favourite subjects – purebloods, werewolf desegregation, purebloods, “those retched Mudbloods,” and, of course, purebloods. He instead listened to the incessant grumbling of his stomach. It wasn’t easy this year to trick Regulus into getting him food, but Sirius had given it his best shot. He had first asked nicely, attempting politeness, but that proved fruitless. He had then threatened to hex his little brother until he had tentacles rather than eyes. Regulus was not in a generous mood, nor was he going to be frightened into submission.

So Sirius resigned himself to the fact that he would be sitting up in his room, alone, on Christmas Eve, as he usually did. This time, however, he would not have the private feast he usually had, unless he wanted to subject himself to the hideous guests that were his relatives and acquaintances. He had been forced into greeting them, a ritual he always detested. He thought that there was nothing more gruesome than kissing the cheek of his aunts and cousins. He had been spared any actual conversation, and had gone straight to the bathroom to give his mouth a good scrub. He knew he was being childish, but he didn’t think he could eat any food after having placed his lips on his relatives.

First there was his cousin Bellatrix. She was a good nine years older than him and as unpleasant as they come. She was a diehard pureblood, believing that any witch or wizard with even a drop of Muggle blood in them were unfit to learn any form of magic. She was set to be married the following year to a man name Rodolphus Lestrange. He was just as bad as she was. The perfect match, Sirius thought bitterly. The only benefit of their marriage was that Bellatrix would be moving out of London into Hogsmeade. He would not be in close proximity to her over the holidays; he almost burst out cheering when he heard this bit of news. Bellatrix was the best example of what living in the Black Family could do to someone, the influences it could have. Despite how much he hated his cousin, he did believe that if she had been born into any other family, she would not hold the beliefs she held.

Then there was Narcissa, she was only five years older than he was. She was a sixth year at Hogwarts, in Slytherin, but he hardly ever spoke to her. He made sure of this. Whenever he saw her in the hallway, which was few and far between, he would casually lead his friends in another direction, claiming that it was a shortcut. He had to admit that she wasn’t as bad as her sister was, but she still held firm to Bellatrix’s ideals. She was more than likely to follow in the family footsteps, or she would at least marry someone who would. Sirius had very limited knowledge on the subject, but he did know that Narcissa was seeing a boy by the name of Lucius Malfoy. He was in Slytherin’s sixth year class as well. Another perfect match. Sirius had yet to encounter this boy, and he very much intended to keep it that way.

Bellatrix and Narcissa had another sister, Andromeda, Sirius’s favourite cousin. She was seven years older than he was and a year out of Hogwarts. Sirius liked Andromeda because she didn’t buy into the idea that being a Black made her royalty. In fact, she loved anything to do with Muggles, which was a key factor into her marrying Muggleborn, Ted Tonks. As it went with anyone who seriously violated the family code, she was blasted off the family tree in the drawing room. Where her name should have been, linked with her sister, was a charred black spot. Sirius thought that this was something to be admired; he would love to get blasted off. Because of this, Andromeda was not present at the party.

Even if Andromeda had been at the party, Sirius would not have risked going down. He had been skilfully avoiding his mother ever since the confrontation on the platform. If it wasn’t enough that her own son had been Sorted into Gryffindor (a fact, according to Regulus, had sent her into cardiac arrest), he actually consorted with those filthy blood traitors. He winced when he thought of what had taken place that day. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Remus during that whole arguement; he could only imagine what his friend thought of him now. He wouldn’t blame Remus if he hated him. And James too, he had been labeled a blood traitor when he wasn’t anything of the sort. James was not a traitor for not indulging himself in the values of the pureblood extremists.

The door to his bedroom opened and a black haired boy of ten walked in. Regulus Black shut the door behind him and looked at his brother.

“Mother says you have to come downstairs,” he said quietly.

“No, I don’t feel like it,” Sirius replied defiantly, still sitting in his spot.

“Father says so too.”

“Oh, well, if Father says so, maybe I should.”

“Sirius, I don’t want to hear them yelling at you again, so why don’t you just come down?”

“You just don’t want your precious ears hurting again.”

“Mother made your favourite –”

“Not intentionally.”

“-and she wants you downstairs.”

“I wouldn’t go down there for all the treacle tart in the world.”

“Mother said if you don’t come down she’ll come up.”

Sirius heaved a sigh and, for the first time, actually looked at his brother. “What are they talking about downstairs?”

“The usual, except now they’re on about what happened to Professor Flitwick’s sister.”

Sirius’s interest peaked instantly. “Do they know what happened?”

“They have an idea. Some group of people – I don’t know what their names are – and their… leader, I think… they did it. Used the Killing Curse on her.”

“Do you know why they picked her?”

“Bellatrix says she heard that Flitwick’s sister was working… against them or something. I can’t remember.”

“So that’s why she died, then?” Regulus nodded. Sirius sat silently, thoughtful, looking up at a knot in the ceiling. “What do our parents think about that?”

“I think they think it’s for the best that she’s gone. Look, I just came up here to get you, so can you come down now?”

Sirius, unsure of why he was actually listening to the request of his brother, got up and absentmindedly followed Regulus out of his bedroom. So Professor Flitwick’s sister had died because she disagreed with a group of people and their overlord. He didn’t know exactly who these people were, or what their beliefs might be, but he knew that that was no reason to die. As he walked down the two flights of stairs and into the kitchen, he could only hope that his Charms professor was okay.

The smell of fresh turkey, vegetables, bread, and potatoes filled the Potter mansion, drifting up to James’s bedroom, where he was busy putting the finishing touches on the gifts for Peter, Sirius and Remus. His mother would be calling him down soon to help her and Willie set the table and he wanted to send the gifts off that night, as it was Christmas Eve. He was glad that the family owl, Brownie, was a swift and reliable flier, she could get anywhere in a heartbeat. He gripped a strip of Spellotape with his teeth and ripped it out off the roll. He was in the process of wrapping Sirius’s gift – a Puddlemere United t-shirt. He was sure Sirius would like it, they were his favourite team.

When he had finished wrapping Sirius’s present he set it on his bureau, next to Brownie’s cage. Earlier in the morning he had gone up to his parents’ room and retrieved the owl and her cage so he could use her when he needed to. He pulled out a leather-bound photo album from under his bed and placed it in his lap. It was a spare one his parents had bought ages ago and had never used, which was typical of them. When James showed it to them, they let him have it. He knew that Remus had tons of photos. Remus was skilled with a camera, but he never had anywhere to keep them. James had seen a stack of them topple out of Remus’s trunk one morning in November. He could use the album more than his parents, and it was charmed to expand whenever the pages ran out. James grinned to himself and began wrapping it.

He placed Remus’s gift on top of Sirius’s and went for the third one under his bed. Peter was a difficult person to buy for; James had never really noticed any specific interests of Peter, because he was interested in everything. In school, Peter loved every subject, even the ones he wasn’t good in. He didn’t have a single Quidditch team that he favoured; he liked them all because he just loved watching the game. He didn’t have one favourite sweet, he had numerous. James had spent almost an hour and a half thinking of a present for Peter. In the end, he had come up with a portrait of the Quidditch Pitch they used whenever the World Cup was hosted in England. It was a realistic painting, capturing every aspect of the field, from its high stands to every blade of grass on the ground.

James placed Peter’s gift on top of Remus’s just as his mother called him downstairs. He latched the gifts to Brownie and brought her over to the window. He wished her good luck and sent her flying off into the winter night. He hurried down the stairs and saw his mother standing in the kitchen, Willie at her side. Mrs. Potter was holding a tray with a fat, golden turkey resting on top of it, garnished with green leaves. Willie was carrying a basket filled to the brim with warm rolls. The trays of vegetables and potatoes floated alongside Mrs. Potter. She jerked her head at the counter and James saw the pile of dishes and silverware that needed to be brought into the dining room. He retrieved them and followed his mother and Willie into the dining room, which was decked out in its Christmas best. A green table cloth coated the normally bare wooden table, there was holly draped over the chandelier, casting a greenish sparkle whenever the crystals on the chandelier caught both the light and the holly. The Christmas tree stood a little way behind the table, decorated with shiny baubles and fairy lights.

Mr. Potter was standing at the table, making his favourite drink. Ever since James could remember, on Christmas Eve his father always made a drink mixed with eggnog and butterbeer. James and his mother found it revolting, but Mr. Potter always insisted that it was delicious. Mr. Potter looked up and smiled when he saw the three enter the room. He cleared a spot in the centre of the table for the turkey, the vegetables, potatoes, and bread basket, and moved into the next room to see if anything else had to be brought in. James placed the dishes in their respective places, resting the silverware next to them.

“Did you finish wrapping your friends’ presents, James?” Mrs. Potter asked conversationally. James nodded. “What did you get them?”

“I got Sirius a Quidditch shirt, Remus a photo album, and Peter a painting of the World Cup Quidditch Pitch.”

“I’m sure they’ll like them.”

“Yeah, I know Sirius and Peter love Quidditch and Remus loves taking pictures.”

“Did you send Brownie off with them yet?”

“Yeah.” He stooped down as he dropped a knife with a clatter. When he reappeared from under the table, he asked, “will they get them by tomorrow?”

“Brownie hasn’t yet failed delivering a package on time.”

James nodded mutely. Once the table was set and the food placed, the three Potters took their seats. Willie scurried over and took her seat besides James. Mr. Potter was quiet, mulling over what he wanted to say. It was tradition in the Potter family for the “man of the house” to say something important.

“Charles?” Mrs. Potter said, looking questioningly at her husband.

“I’m thinking, Hannah,” he replied, staring down at his hands. After another moment’s silence, Mr. Potter blew some air out of his mouth and looked up at his family. “To another year almost gone,” he said. “A year of change, and next year will bring more change, some good and some bad. But tonight is not a night to think about such things. Tonight is a night to focus on happiness, new beginnings in our lives that will bring good. We should all be grateful for whatever good has and will come our way.”

Mr. Potter raised his glass towards his wife, his son, and to Willie. “May we all find happiness next year, no matter what might happen.”

Later that night James found himself thinking about what his father had said; it wasn’t very different than what he usually said. This year, though, James detected something he had never heard before – a twinge of fear in his father’s voice. Whenever his father delivered his traditional Christmas Eve speech he would sound optimistic, smiling, his eyes twinkling with the lights on the Christmas tree. This year his father had only managed a small tired smile, and his eyes lacked the light of the tree. His father feared what was coming their way, but James didn’t know what it was. What he did know was that whatever it was, it was bad.

The Pettigrew household was quiet, the only sounds alive were the nightly creaks of the house that made it seem like an invisible person was moving about. The family had gotten to sleep fairly late, having stayed up to have a nice dinner and then sit by the fire, the only source of light beside the Christmas tree. Mr. and Mrs. Pettigrew were just falling asleep, having snuck back into the living room to put Peter’s gifts under the tree. They were considerably surprised to see a beautiful barn owl hovering outside the window, a package tied to its leg. When Mr. Pettigrew unlatched the window they saw that the owl was delivering a present to Peter from his friend James.

Once John and Maggie Pettigrew were sound asleep again Peter awoke from his dull dreams. He always had a difficult time sleeping on Christmas Eve, the thoughts of the next day always kept him tossing and turning, unable to be lulled away to sleep for a good hour and a half. When he was finally asleep he didn’t even have the luxury of good dreams to keep him sleeping. Peter’s eyes fluttered open and darted around his darkened room. He sighed in annoyance, glancing at the luminous alarm clock on his nightstand, it read, to his dismay, two in the morning. That was another thing, whenever he woke up he usually had three hours until daybreak and he hated lying awake in the dark.

Resigning himself to the fact that he would not be able to fall back asleep, Peter swung his legs over the side of his bed, pulling off his blankets as he did so. His bare feet touched the cold wooden floor, causing him to shiver. He yanked on a pair of socks that were balled up in the corner and silently crept out of his room and down the stairs. The living room was almost pitch-black, the fire having gone out a long time ago. The only source of light came from the single lamppost outside the house; it cast a luminous orange glow against the walls. Needing more light, Peter lit the Christmas tree, blinking against the bright and colourful bulbs.

He sat down in front of the Christmas tree and picked up the various packages. He was old enough now to realise that there was no such thing as Father Christmas, but he always appreciated that his parents still kept up the act of sneaking downstairs to put his presents out. It still allowed him to feel pleasantly surprised the next morning when he saw the faint outlines of packages resting at the trunk of the tree. As he shook a small, square box his eyes fell on the gift Sirius had given him on the train. Sirius had instructed him not to open it until Christmas and, technically, it was Christmas. It was a medium sized box, and the wrapping paper was decorated with snitches on a red background.

Peter moved over, into the orange light so he could read whatever message his friend had left for him. He silently tore the paper apart, unfolding the ends and breaking the tape. When the paper was fully removed he was met with a solid black box. There were golden hinges on it and Peter saw that the lid was inscribed with his own name in fancy, curvy letters. He grinned and opened the box. Inside he found a figurine of a lion and, unless his eyes were cheating him, it was eating a snake. Peter had to bite back a laugh, typical Sirius. He removed the lion and a small, folded piece of parchment toppled out along with it. Curious, Peter picked it up and unfolded it.

Happy Christmas, Peter!
And don’t worry; the Sorting Hat tried the same thing with me.
Your friend,

Peter raised his eyebrows at the letter; the Sorting Hat had tried putting Sirius in Slytherin as well? More importantly, how had Sirius know that had happened to Peter? Maybe he just assumed by the look on his face as he sat on the stool at the Sorting Ceremony. It made Peter feel better, though, to know that someone else had been in the same dilemma as he was. There was just one nagging thought at the back of his mind, almost everyone in Sirius’s family had been in Slytherin, it was only natural for the Sorting Hat to assume that he wanted the same. Peter, on the other hand, no one in his family had ever been in that house before. What if he did belong there?

No, don’t think about that now. It’s Christmas, you’re supposed to be happy. Peter set Sirius’s gift aside and saw another one that was clearly not from his parents. It was a fairly flat, rectangular gift; he couldn’t imagine what could possibly be inside. He saw on the labeled tacked onto the red and gold wrapping paper that it was from James. His interest increasing, Peter tore the paper off as quietly as he could, so as to not wake his parents. He set the torn paper on the floor behind him and picked up the present. It was an extremely detailed portrait of England’s Quidditch World Cup pitch.

Peter smiled, admiring the workmanship of it. He could see every blade of grass, every number on the backs of every player in the air. He wondered where James had gotten it and hoped that it didn’t cost very much. He hadn’t had a very big supply of money and wasn’t able to buy the presents he had wanted to buy for his friends. Then he remembered that James’s parents were very wealthy, money probably wasn’t a problem. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a lot of money at his dispense. He turned the portrait over and saw that James had taped a message onto the back of the frame. He ripped the message off and scanned it.

Merry Christmas, Peter!
You were impossible to think of a present for, so I got you this painting when I saw it in some shop in Diagon Alley. I know you love Quidditch, so hopefully you like it.
Your friend,

He set the portrait next to the lion figurine and then he eyes spotted the package he had seen his father bring in earlier when he went out to retrieve the post from the snow, where the owl had dropped it. It didn’t have the fancy wrapping that the others had, but was simply covered with coarse brown paper. He saw in the upper left hand corner of the package Remus’s neat handwriting - a present from Remus. He unwrapped it and a note fell into his hands. Unlike the first two times he had opened his gifts, he read the message first.

Happy Christmas, Peter!
I’m really bad at thinking of presents for people, so if you don’t like it I don’t blame you at all. I went to Hogsmeade with my mum last week and saw it in Dervish and Banges. Maybe you’ll find it useful.
Your friend,

He saw that Remus had gotten him a Sneakoscope. He couldn’t understand why Remus thought he needed one; he didn’t know anyone untrustworthy and that was what these devices were used for. Then again, Remus had admitted that he was bad at picking out gifts. Peter shrugged; maybe he would find some use for it. He set it next to James’s present and lay back on the cold wooden floor. He couldn’t help but be happy at this moment; he had never gotten any Christmas presents from anyone outside his immediate family. He had also never given any gifts to anyone outside his immediate family. But now he had three friends who he felt he liked enough to spend painstaking hours thinking over what to get for them and fretting over if they would like it or not.

And that, to Peter, was the best present he could have – friends he cared so much about.

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