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When I woke up the next morning, it took me a few moments to get my bearings. As soon as I took my first breath of air, my senses were overwhelmed with one of the best smells in the entire world: home. I laid in bed for a long while, the patchwork quilt I’d had since I was six years old pulled up to my chin and eyes glued to the slanted ceiling above me. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the gold clock that you see in all those Muggle films on my bedside table and groaned. It was only nine in the morning, it was early enough for me to go back to sleep and I was tired enough to do just that.

Snuggling down deeper into my comfortable bed, I turned over onto my side and immediately flipped back over. Rufus was lying on the other side of the mattress, his hairy body stretched out as though he were a human being. I wouldn’t have minded it so much if his breath didn’t smell so vile and if there wasn’t drool on my favourite pillow case. Unfortunately, it looked like he was waking up from his deep slumber.

The mattress moved around underneath me and soon, Rufus was looming above my head, his pink tongue hanging sideways out of his mouth and horrific breath clogging my nostrils. I gagged, moving to push his head away, but the dog dodged my hand with the expertise of a boxer. Stupid, adorable mutt.

Narrowing my eyes at his cocked head, I groaned, “Go away, Rufus; go bother Aunt Eliza.”

Instead of listening to me, his tongue started to lap at every available space on my face. I made a noise of protest, trying my hardest to swat him away, but Rufus remained where he was, licking my face as though it was going out of style.

“Rufus!” I exclaimed, my annoyance peeking. His ears pricked up and he nudged my shoulder before turning his head toward my open bedroom door. . .funny, I always shut my bedroom door when I went to sleep; it was a pet peeve of mine.

I sent him a questioning look and he moved his huge head back and forth, gesturing from me to the door. My eyebrows probably disappeared into my hairline, that’s how surprised I was. Scooting into a sitting position, I stared at Rufus. “Are you trying to tell me something?” I asked cautiously.

Rufus barked softly and I swear to Merlin, he nodded his head. I bit back a startled gasp, wondering if Rufus was really an Animagus that just so happened to be my aunt’s lover that she was hiding from magical authorities. Although I wasn’t entirely sure why he would be hanging out in my room if he was Eliza’s lover. . .oh vey, this was getting ridiculous.

Rolling my eyes to myself, I flopped back down onto my bed. “Whatever, I’m going back to bed,” I said, fluffing up my pillows and snuggling back down.

I felt Rufus’s snout nudging my lower back and I squirmed. Damn, I hated being so ticklish. It was one of the worst traits to possess, I tell you. I tried my hardest to ignore his constant licks of my face and his occasional growl of discontent as I wouldn’t abide to what he was suggesting. But after fifteen minutes of unsuccessful attempts to fall back asleep, I sat up and tossed the blankets aside.

“All right, all right!” I exclaimed, harassed. “I’m up!” I stood up to emphasize my point, staring down at Rufus, who was laying on my bed with his huge head on his extremely hairy paws. He barked in what I assumed was triumphant and pushed himself into a sitting position. “Are you happy now?” I asked. His ears perked up and once again, he cocked his head to the side, his thick pink tongue hanging out of his mouth as he panted. “Urgh!” I ground out, throwing my hands up in the air. “Why the bloody hell am I explaining myself to a dog?!”

Wrenching open my bedroom door, I stomped down the hall and into the bathroom, shutting the door behind me before Rufus could follow me in. I swear, that dog had become my stalker in a matter of minutes. Aunt Eliza claimed that he had just taken a liking to me since I was a kind, caring spirit, but something told me he knew about the stash of biscuits I had in my sock drawer and was just waiting until my back was turned to get them. You know that old saying: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer? That’s what Rufus was doing to me.

I finished cleaning up as quickly as possible, all but sprinting to my room so that Rufus couldn’t slither in before I had a chance to shut the door. As soon as I did, I went straight for my wardrobe.

Outside of my bedroom door, I could hear Rufus scratching at the wood pitifully. If he hadn’t have woken me up so early, I would’ve left him in. Although I have to admit, I know he’s just a dog, but he’s a male dog and it would still be creepy if he watched me get pick out all my clothes and get dressed. You know what I mean? All right, so maybe not, but still, I was paranoid about that sort of thing if you couldn’t already tell.

With a soft sigh, I picked out an outfit that would be comfortable, yet looked somewhat presentable. It wasn’t very often that I got to go to Diagon Alley and even though it was just a marketplace, I felt the need to dress a little bit nicer than flannel pajama bottoms and stained tee shirts. I would have worn my Puddlemere United jumper, but I had worn it to sleep and it reeked of dog. Thanks, Rufus, yet another thing you’ve done for me that I appreciate. In the end, I selected a deep red long sleeved shirt and a pair of dark denim trousers with flared legs. Apparently, this sort of style of jeans was very popular with the Muggle crowd and since Aunt Eliza insisted we travel to Diagon Alley “the Muggle way - just for old times’ sake”, I thought it would be best if I didn’t wear any robes.

I normally wasn’t one to care about how I looked, but for some reason, I gravitated toward the full length mirror propped up in the corner of my room to study my reflection. I know that I am capable of some rather strange behaviour, but for me, this was beyond odd. My hair was still damp from my shower and hung limp around my face; I could already see the tangles forming and inwardly let out a groan.

There was a soft knock at my door and without a word, it opened. I knew that it could only be one person, unless of course a murderer had snuck into our house and killed Aunt Eliza in cold blood in the kitchen. But I could see her sparkling red shoes in the reflection of my mirror and held back a smile. Merlin, it was so good to be back in her company where everything was less chaotic, save for my aunt’s personality.

“Breakfast is ready when you want it,” Aunt Eliza said as she started to make my bed.

“I’m not all that hungry,” I replied, tugging at the waistband of my trousers; they were unnaturally tight. I turned sideways and inspected my reflection, the frown between my brows becoming more pronounced as I noticed my bum was a little bit rounder than I remembered it being. Frowning, I added, “Maybe I should skip eating all together.”

Aunt Eliza laughed as she set my old stuffed duck, who was named Mr. Quackiedoodle, on the top of the patchwork quilt. “Oh, Ella,” she chuckled. “You’re being silly. Of course you’ve got to eat.”

“True,” I consented. “But maybe not as much.” I tugged at my waistband again, sighing. “And not as often.”

Over my shoulder, I saw Aunt Eliza roll her eyes in her very exaggerated manner. “I don’t know why you’re complaining, Eleanor. You’ve barely any hips and good Merlin, that chest of yours.”

I whipped around, my eyes wide and mouth hanging open. “What’s wrong with my chest?!”

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Aunt Eliza responded evenly as she smoothed out any wrinkles in the blankets. “It could just a bit more. . .,” she trailed off suggestively and raised a blonde eyebrow at me.

Immediately, I flushed and folded my arms over my chest subconsciously. Aunt Eliza came toward me, her arms extended out in front of her as though she was planning on giving me a hug, but I backed away before she could get her arms around me in a sympathetic hug.

“Oh Ella.”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “I’m locking my door from here on out.”

She made a pouty face at me, sticking out her bottom lip in an over-exaggerated way that only worked on really desperate fathers and half crazed mothers. “You don’t mean that.”

“Yes I do,” I shot back, feigning a look of utmost offence by upturning my nose and squaring my shoulders. “You just insulted my breasts, of apparent lack thereof. That’s seriously degrading to a girl my age.”

Aunt Eliza pushed my arms down away from my chest and ruffled my hair affectionately. I turned away from my mirror, deciding that it would be best not to scrutinize my reflection any further than I already had, which was definitely out of character for me.

Rufus leapt off my bed when my aunt patted her leg and motioned for him to come to her. Damn dog, of course he would listen to her. She’d probably put him up to waking me this morning, now that I thought about it. I glared after the pair of them and headed back toward my wardrobe, pulling my sock drawer open and withdrawing a pair of woollen socks.

Once I put on my shoes, I hurried down the stairs, jumping the last three steps and nearly spraining my ankle in the process. I bit back a cry of pain and a slur of curses as colours flashed behind my eyelids. Limping my way into the kitchen, I used the countertop to hold myself up while I waited for Aunt Eliza to chose which shoes she wanted to wear; she kept her shoes by the door.

“You know,” she began conversationally as she selected the orange and lime green trainers and sat down in a chair to put them on her feet. “If you haven’t been successful in leaping down the stairs without hurting your ankle, why d’you keep doing it?”

I stared at her, momentarily amazed by how she knew that I had just jumped the last of the steps and nearly broke my leg in the process. Then I shook my head to myself, remembering that this was Aunt Eliza that I was talking about and there was no counting the ways she obtained all the information she held in her head.

X - - X

When Aunt Eliza had told me her intentions to travel to Diagon Alley via Muggle transportation methods, I didn’t think that people would stare at her this much. I mean, there are easily hundreds of odd people in the city, especially a city as vast and diverse as London, marching to the beat of their own drums, most of which had much odder tempos than Aunt Eliza‘s. But Merlin, people were staring at her as though she had a huge tattoo of some naughty word inscribed across her forehead. I had half the mind to leap up from my seat and sock a few people in the face when they started whispering behind their hands, their eyes clearly fixed on my aunt.

“Don’t bother, Ella,” Aunt Eliza had whispered quietly as she covered my balled fist with her hand, her tone of voice suggesting that she was used to this sort of behaviour from others. I had to bit down hard on my tongue to keep from objecting.

Not too long after that, our stop came up and we left the bus, me limping down the stairs and hobbling into the street as Aunt Eliza said goodbye to the driver. I couldn’t but let a slow smile spread across my face as I saw the familiar, beaten up sign of the Leaky Cauldron swinging back and forth on the rusty hinges. I hadn’t been to the pub since earlier that summer and I was craving some of their chips. I might not like much else on their menu and I wouldn’t stay the night there even if you paid me, but their chips were the best in London. I know, it’s a pretty bold statement to make, but it’s the truth. Honestly.

“We’ll get a bite to eat once we’ve finished our shopping, okay?” Aunt Eliza said as she came up beside me, patting me on the shoulder; my gaze was fixated on the sign as though it were some sort of holy sign.

I smiled in response and she offered me her arm through which I looped my arm, and we walked toward the Leaky Cauldron together. I held the door open for her and bowed low; she laughed and flounced through the door like she owned the dank, but oddly humble pub. I followed her inside, my senses overwhelmed by the mixed scents; it was a peculiar mixture of greasy food, heavy smoke, and oddly enough, cheese.

As we walked through the pub, several people nodded in Aunt Eliza’s direction. A few times, she stopped to make pleasant conversation with those who greeted her and one or two of them were vaguely familiar to me. Like any person with manners, I nodded my head in greeting, shook their hands and answered the occasional question that was thrown my way. After a few minutes, though, Aunt Eliza seemed to remember that we were here to complete our Christmas shopping and that we need to get a move on with things.

Once we were outdoors again, I pulled my coat closer to my body and waited for Aunt Eliza to tap her wand against the brick that I could never seem to remember. Another smile pulled at my lips as the stones slowly slid back into place, folding into one another, and revealed an archway for us to walk through.

As soon as we stepped into the stone street, Aunt Eliza slapped her hand to her forehead, her face screwing up.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, mildly alarmed.

“I just remembered that I needed to withdraw some more money from my vault so I’ll have enough for your gift,” she replied, sighing softly. “Would you like to come or would you prefer to stay here?”

I considered it for a moment and shrugged my shoulders. “I’ll wait here. You won’t be long, will you?”

“I shouldn’t be, dear,” Aunt Eliza said, already walking in the other direction. I didn’t even have time to wave goodbye before she was out of sight, weaving in and out through the throngs of witches and wizards who were getting their last minute shopping done.

Exhaling lightly, I looked around for place to sit and within moments, I found a perfectly cosy bench that was close enough to the cobblestone lane to observe the passers-by and far away enough for my toes not to get trampled on. The metal was a bit chilly, but my body soon adjusted and I sat there for several minutes, humming to myself. I was on the second verse of the song I had made up when a street vendor came sidling up to me, his cart just metres behind him.

“’ould ye fancy buyin’ an am’let?” the vendor asked, his words choppy and hard to hear over the hustle and bustle of the street. At the doubtful look I gave his cart, he added, “They ‘ard off ‘vil spirits, miss.”

“Um,” I mumbled, bringing my hand up to my lips to chew at my nail nervously; I was never good at telling people no, a trait in which I have displayed many a time. My eyes found the vendor again, an older man with a hunch in his back and three of his teeth missing. His robes were fading and torn in some places. “Sure.”

The vendor smiled widely at me and brought out a collection of very pretty looking amulets. “’hich woul’ ye like, miss?”

I surveyed the lot of them and after a few moments of searching, my gaze found a beautiful blue stone strung upon a very fine, pretty silver chain. I pointed to it. “I’ll take that one, please.”

“Ye have goo’ taste, ma’am,” the vendor said as he unclasped the necklace from the display stand and placed it in a small, brown bag. “’hat’ll be t’ree Sickles,” he said as he handed the bag to me and extended his hand, palm up and open.

I dropped the money into his hand and once again, the vendor smiled at me. I really wished that he wouldn’t smile, it was starting to creep me out a little bit.

I tried to smile as kindly as possible back at him, but I could only feel the left side of my mouth twitching, which probably meant I looked as though I were having a stroke. Stowing the bag in the pocket of my coat, I said to the man, “Happy Christmas!”

“’appy Christmas,” he parroted back to me, giving me a farewell wave.

I returned to my seat on the bench, waiting for Aunt Eliza to come back with her money purse heavy with coins. She didn’t return until nearly a half hour later and by that point in time, I was in a somewhat foul mood, having had to wait outside in the cold all this time.

When I expressed this to her, she simply laughed. “You could’ve gone inside another store if you were so cold, dear.”

“But that’s not the point!” I returned, folding my arms over my chest moodily as we fell into step beside one another.

“I’m sorry, Ella,” Aunt Eliza began. “But it’s not my fault those damn goblins were taking so long to get to all the customers.”

Though my aunt was usually very tolerant of most magical creatures, she did not favour goblins all too much as she saw them as strictly greedy creatures that would do whatever was necessary to obtain things that they wanted. She also disliked them because one had tried to steal back one of her family’s heirlooms that was apparently made by goblins.

“Oh all right,” I sighed as I pushed open the Apothecary door. “You’re forgiven.”

We were in and out of the store within moments, seeing as how, for once in her life, Aunt Eliza had walked into a store knowing what she needed instead of browsing for hours on end. She plucked the items she needed off the shelf and waltzed over to the counter, where she conversed with the witch behind the counter as she passed over her Galleons.

As we passed by the Quidditch Shop, I couldn’t help but take a peek through the window. I felt like a very small child, my face pressed against the foggy pane as I gazed at the window display, which consisted of some fancy new broom and other Quidditch items that I had no idea existed.

“I need to go inside,” I said quite suddenly.

Behind me, Aunt Eliza frowned. “Since when have you liked Quidditch?”

“It’s not for me, Aunt Eliza,” I responded as I yanked the door open and walked inside, a small bell tinkling overhead and announcing our arrival. My aunt followed me inside, a look of pure perplexity written clearly across her face.

“If it’s not for you,” she muttered, momentarily distracted by the rack of Quidditch jumpers, which were on clearance. “Then who is it for?”

“I have yet to buy a Christmas present for my friend, James,” I replied as I started to walk through the aisles, my brows pinching together more fiercely after each shelf I inspected.

“Well, do you know what you want to get him?”

I shook my head and immediately tucked the strands of hair behind my ear that had escaped. “No, I have no idea about all this Quidditch stuff,” I said, rolling my eyes to myself as I picked up a pair of Keeper‘s gloves. “You know that I don’t.” I set the gloves back down on the shelf and let my eyes roam over the many products in stock. “But if it helps, James is the captain of the Gryffindor team; he’s a Chaser.”

Aunt Eliza inhaled a sharp intake of breath. I whirled around to make sure she was all right and saw that her eyes were open wide, her mouth the shape of a perfect ‘O’. “H-he plays Chaser. . .and he’s the captain?”

I nodded. “Yeah. . .why are you so surprised?”

“Why aren’t you dating him!?” she shouted, causing several heads to swivel in our direction.

Colour rose to my cheeks and I felt very hot around the collar. I pulled at the scarf coiled tightly around my neck and answered, “He’s dating my best friend, Lily. Besides, I don’t even fancy him.”

“Why not?!” Aunt Eliza cried shrilly.

I sent her a look, gave a small shake of my head, and turned on my heel, walking away from her. I came to the aisle where all the servicing kits were on display, selected the one that was moderately priced, tucked it under my arm, and headed toward the cashier. I placed the box on the counter and waited for the clerk to ring up my purchase.

“What do you think of this jumper?” Aunt Eliza asked from behind me. I turned around and saw that she was holding up a Puddlemere United jumper, the team’s mascot emblazed across the front in bold lettering. “D’you think it would look good on me?”

I ran my eyes over the jumper, considering my options, but decided upon bobbing my head. “Yeah, I think it would look great,” I replied as she set her purchase next to mine on the counter.

“Ring them up together,” she told the clerk, pulling out her money pouch, jostling the coins inside.

“No!” I cried. “You can’t pay for James’s gift; I want to pay for it.”

Aunt Eliza narrowed her bright blue eyes at me. “I’m paying for it and that’s final.” And with that, she handed the correct sum of money over to the clerk, who took it, bid us a Happy Christmas, and we walked out of the shop.

“Why’d you do that?” I questioned as I took my bag from her arm and looped it around my own. “I had enough money to pay for it.”

“Because I felt like doing it, Ella,” Aunt Eliza explained with a roll of her eyes. “Besides, I’m your aunt, I’m entitled to do things like that unexpectedly. And don’t most teenagers want someone else to pay for everything?”

Before I could respond, however, I swore that I heard someone calling out my name over the noise of the bustling street. I stopped mid-stride, causing a burly looking wizard to slam into my back who nearly knocked me over. The wizard gave a grunt, but didn’t say sorry as he stepped around me and continued on his way. I know Aunt Eliza would’ve said something to him had it not been for the voice calling out my name.

“Eleanor!”

I pushed myself up to my tiptoes, struggling to see over the pointed hats of the witches and wizards scrambling to get their shopping done.

However, it didn’t take very long for me to discover who had been calling out my name as they quickly came into my line of vision. Almost instantaneously, my heart rate started to pick up and my stomach began to do that annoying swooping thing that it always did. I could practically hear the blood pumping through my veins by the time that he reached me.

“Ellie!” he exclaimed happily, a smile pulling back his lips to reveal a row of white teeth.

My heart skipped a beat as I stared into his deep, grey eyes.

“Sirius!” I replied, trying to put as much enthusiasm in my voice without sounding like a stupid idiot. I nearly died when he pulled me into a one armed hug, his hand patting my back softly. The tip of his nose brushed against my cheek as he pulled back from the miniature hug.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked, subconsciously shoving my hands into the pockets of my coat.

“Just finishing some Christmas shopping,” he answered, casually shaking his dark, sweeping locks out of his eyes in such a way that I felt a surge of jealous; damn him and all those other people who had perfect hair. He held up the bag looped around his wrist for emphasis. “What about you?”

“I’m here doing the same, actually,” I said, flushing slightly although I had no idea why. Perhaps it was because this was the first time we had ever talked outside of school. I don’t know, but it just seemed much more personal - which was weird.

Behind me, Aunt Eliza cleared her throat somewhat noisily. I resisted the urge to roll her eyes, her previous comment from last night ringing in my ears. Merlin, tell me she wasn’t checking him out or anything like that! I would die if she was because, well, Aunt Eliza wasn’t exactly the most discreet person when it came to that sort of thing.

“Sirius, this is my Aunt Eliza Kensington,” I said, gesturing toward my aunt with a hand. “Aunt Eliza, this is my friend -,” I put heavy emphasis on the word and sent her a secretive look that warned her to try to suggest otherwise, “Sirius Black.”

A warm, welcoming smile tugged at Sirius’s mouth, which had almost kissed me several weeks ago on that staircase - don’t you dare go thinking that I ever forgot about that. He extended his hand to her. She slipped her hand into his and they shook hands for a few seconds.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Ms. Kensington,” Sirius commented, sounding and looking genuine. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

My eyes went wide. “You have?” Aunt Eliza and I questioned in unison.

Sirius laughed. “Yeah,” he continued. “Ellie has told us some pretty hilarious stories about you.” He winked at me, which caused me to blanch in horror. Of course, he just had to mention the only time I had ever spoken about my aunt, the time I had been completely smashed and he’d had to carry me up the stairs to his room so I could sober up - but I had fallen asleep in his bed. Merlin!

Aunt Eliza raised a brow. “Has she now?” She chuckled to herself, a warm sound that made me feel much better, despite the fact my stomach was still fluttering like mad.

“Oh yeah,” he goaded, smirking. “She told us about the time you all went to the butcher’s. . .”

Aunt Eliza gasped and turned her blue eyes to me, which were wide. “Ella! You didn’t!”

“She did,” Sirius responded before I had a chance to open my mouth. I nudged him hard in the ribs with my elbow and he let out a small gush of air, his eyes momentarily hardening.

“Oh come on!” I exclaimed. “It’s not that bad, Aunt Eliza. I could’ve told them about the time when you-,”

“Eleanor Jane Briggs!” Aunt Eliza shouted, though there was no indication of anger on her face. “Please, spare me the misery of being horribly embarrassed in front of your friend.”

Sirius laughed in his bark like way. “Horribly embarrassed? You’re practically a legend, Mrs. Kensington.”

At these words, Aunt Eliza blushed.

Yes. That’s right.

My aunt actually blushed at the words of a handsome seventeen year old boy! I had never seen her blush in the entire time I had known her, which was basically my entire life. I had been trying to get her to do it for years, but to no avail. And then Sirius comes along, drops one comment, and bam! Her cheeks become all rosy and she’s a school girl once again, giggling like mad.

Circe be damned! Did everyone find him attractive?

“Please,” Aunt Eliza began. “Call me Eliza.”

Sirius smiled at her. “Well then, you’re practically a legend, Eliza.”

My aunt returned his smile and I heard her giggle softly. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and decided that I would take the reigns of the conversation before it got too out of hand and Aunt Eliza tried to snog him in the middle of the street, which would be very frightening indeed not only for the people on the streets, but for Sirius and myself as well.

“So,” I said as soon as I saw Aunt Eliza open her mouth. “What’re your plans for the holidays?”

Adjusting the bag around his wrist, he said, “On Christmas Day, I’m going over to the Potters’ like I always do to open presents. And you know about the New Years Eve party at James’s house as well, so I’ll be there and-.”

“Wait,” Aunt Eliza interrupted, holding up her hands as a sign for him to stop talking; he did. “How come you won’t be at home for Christmas Day?”

I winced - Sirius had told me the story of his home life while we had been preparing our potion one night out of nowhere. It had all started when I had made a comment about him acting very oddly and suddenly, he was telling me his entire life story about his horrid parents and brainwashed brother.

His eyes clouded over and his facial features darkened slightly, but he kept his voice very even and emotionless as possible. “I haven’t lived at home since the end of fifth year.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Aunt Eliza apologized. “I had no idea.”

The darkness left his handsome face and he put on a tight smile. “It’s all right.” He licked his lips and turned his eyes back to me, the smile loosening up and becoming the one I was very familiar with. “But yeah, other than that, I don’t have much else planned. I do have to do some of that homework Flitwick assigned, though.”

“Yeah, that assignment seems a little difficult-,”

I was cut off by Aunt Eliza’s sudden intake of air. I turned my eyes toward her, once again alarmed as I was always was around her. Sirius, too, looked mildly surprised and his eyes flickered over to mine, a singular brow arching in question.

Daaaaaamn him!

“You didn’t mention anything about tomorrow evening - not a single thing about Christmas Eve!” she remarked.

“That’s because I don’t have anything planned,” Sirius answered in a tone of voice that suggested everyone stayed at home by themselves on Christmas Eve.

She shook her head, muttering to herself under her breath. I couldn’t make out the mutterings nor did I even try - I wasn’t even sure I wanted to know what she was talking about.

“No,” Aunt Eliza said, giving a firm shake of her head. “That won’t do. No, it won’t do at all.”

“What won’t do?” we questioned in unison, smirking at each other. Although, I probably didn’t look as scrumptious as upside down pineapple cake.

“You can’t spend Christmas Ever alone, Sirius!” Aunt Eliza exclaimed. “I simply won’t have it. Not while my niece calls you her friend!” Shaking her head to herself once more, she added, “So that leaves only one solution: you have to spend Christmas Eve with us.”

It felt like my stomach had dropped out of my body and onto the floor. My heart had stopped beating and I wondered if I had really heard those words leave my aunt’s mouth or if it was just a figment of my very overactive imagination. Please, please tell me she didn’t just invite Sirius over to our house for Christmas Eve! This couldn’t be happening. No, no way. She didn’t even know him all that well and yet she was inviting into our home for Christmas Eve dinner!

Before I could say anything, Sirius began talking.

“As much as I appreciate the invitation, Eliza,” he began. “I can’t impose on you like that. Not at Christmastime.”

Aunt Eliza made a noise of disbelieve. “Nonsense! You won’t be imposing at all, dear boy. In fact, if you didn’t come, I would be very offended indeed,” she finished with a grave nod of her head. “As it is, I wouldn’t have invited you if I thought you were going to impose upon us.”

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I saw signs of apprehension on his face. He was even fidgeting with the strap of the bag around his wrist; I vaguely wondered what was inside. As soon as he saw my eyes trained upon the bag, he moved it out of sight, concealing it in the fold of his cloak. Oh, it must have been Lucinda’s present.

“Are you sure?” he asked tentatively.

“Of course I’m sure!” Aunt Eliza cried loudly. “I won’t have you spending Christmas Eve alone! Besides, Ella and I haven’t had someone to share Christmas with ever since my daughter Anna le - I mean, ever since she went off to school in Germany.”

Sirius pushed a hand through his hair, a motion that I had only seen him do one other time. He cast me a sidelong glance. “If Eleanor’s okay with it, so I am.”

Aunt Eliza turned her blue eyes to me, narrowing them and daring me to say no to him. Pshaw, she obviously didn’t live inside my head and know that it was damn near impossible for me to deny him pretty much anything. Which was both a good thing and a bad thing. Of course, I wouldn’t murder people for him or commit any crimes, but I would go to lengths to - oh, well, you get the point!

“Of course, I want you to come.” I smiled at Sirius, hoping that it radiated warmth and friendliness. However, I couldn't help thinking that this was only going to complicate things even more.

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