First Christmas, and Worse
Rating: PG-13 to R (swearing and some mild gore)
Archiving: All FQF will be archived solely at this site until January 30th, 2005. After that, it's yours to do with as you will.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to.
Challenge & Summary: Challenge #19: It's Christmas Day at the Potters, and James and Lily are too sick to celebrate. Remus and Sirius have to help out with Baby Harry. Peter is up to you.
Author Notes: None.
Without opening his eyes, Remus moaned, ignored the inconsiderately loud voice of Mad-Eye and retreated further down the bed.
"Black!" Moody snapped again.
Next to Remus, the warm, hard lines of Remusí companion in the bed shifted. Less than impressed with Mad-Eyeís incursion into his bedroom, Remus wrapped an arm around Sirius and dragged him firmly back under the blankets.
"Let go of him, Lupin! Black, wake up, I need to talk to you."
Sirius slid from Remusí grasp and, reluctantly letting him go, Remus burrowed his head under the plump pillow and made a determined effort to get back to sleep before Moody decided he wanted to talk to him too. He only vaguely registered the dip and roll of the bed, the rustle of Siriusí robes as he dressed before dropping to his knees before the fireplace. Then the low hum of hurried conversation. He was far too busy trying to catch the threads of the dream from which heíd been woken. It had been something rather pleasant as he rememberedÖ
And it was so comfortable, the blankets heavy and snug about him, the faintest trace of sex still lacing the warm darkness, the childish anticipation of Christmas Day which loomed only a few hours away, that Remus almost did fall back asleep. But consciousness began tugging insistently at him when, moments later, he heard the gentle click of the bedroom door shutting and a distant pop of Disapparation.
Sirius had gone.
That realisation woke Remus with the cold sting of a Dementorís presence. Sirius had gone. Moody had needed to talk to him, and Sirius had gone. Moody the Auror.
Not today, Remus pleaded wordlessly. It was Christmas, for crying out loud! Not today.
Greeted by the relatively chill air outside the bed, he pushed the blankets back and hurried over to the recently abandoned fireplace, pulling on his worn dressing gown as he went. He knelt down on the thick carpet and cast around quickly for wherever Lily and James kept the Floo powder. Locating a small pot, he threw a handful of coarse powder onto the dying red embers in the grate.
"Alastor Moody," he said carefully.
The flames roared green and Remus waited with decreasing patience. No answer came.
"Alastor Moody!" he said again, more forcefully.
Just as he was about to Floo to the Ministry in his dressing gown, the grizzled face of the Auror came into view. The old man glared at Remus and in the distance Remus could hear the sounds of sharp, urgent voices.
"What do you want Lupin?" Alastor growled. "I donít have time to be chatting with you!"
"Whereís Sirius gone?" Remus asked evenly.
"I donít have time for this! If youíd been awake youíd have heard! Constant vigilance, Lupin!"
"Moody, please! Where is he?"
The old man paused and considered Remus for a moment. Finally, he appeared to relent.
"Death Eaters seem to have declared Open Season on the Muggles. There have been slaughters up and down the country. Ministry doesnít want to cause a panic so us Aurors are having to make do with what we can. Which isnít nearly enough."
Swallowing hard and keeping his anxiety from showing on his face, Remus raised his eyebrows persistently.
"I donít have enough people to keep an eye on all the sites before Magical Law Enforcement can get there. Blackís gone to keep an eye on one of them. Make sure there are no Death Eaters still hanging around, and that no Muggles stumble onto the scene before we can tidy it up."
"On his own?" Remus demanded.
"Resources are tight Lupin! Especially with the Ministry dragging its heels. Besides, it does Black good to be reminded of what the other side are all about. Stops him getting any ideas."
Remusí brown eyes widened in surprise and outrage, his lips tightening in disapproval.
"Sirius is no traitor, Alastor," Remus stated coldly. "And Iíll thank you to remember that."
Moody raised a vaguely placatory hand.
"Iím not saying he is, but Iím not saying he isnít either. That boyís heritage is as dark as it gets. Iím not prepared to take any chances. Heís on our side right now, and I intend to see he stays there."
"Let me go to him," Remus insisted, deciding that getting to Siriusí side was of more importance than trying to argue the point with a man as stubborn and wilful as Alastor Moody.
Alastor shook his head firmly.
"Iíve no doubts about your competence as a wizard Lupin. But Blackís got far more experience at dealing with Dark wizards than you have. Youíd only be in the way."
"Come on Alastor! Two wands are better than one!" Remus pleaded.
The old man frowned, pushing his thin grey hair back over his shoulder.
"Just tell me where he is. It is Christmas," Remus wheedled desperately.
Ten minutes later, when Remus was dressed and hurrying towards James and Lilyís bedroom, he was still reeling from the discovery that Moody did indeed have festive spirit. Despite James and Siriusí grumbling to the contrary.
He tapped lightly on the door and waited for a response. Shuffling from foot to foot anxiously, Remus knocked a little harder, eager to be on his way to Sirius. As his fingers were finally curling around the door handle and he was preparing to screw his eyes tightly shut just in case James and Lilyís failure to answer was due to them being involved in other activities, the door opened and James looked back at him.
To say James appeared ill was an understatement. The mild sniffle that the former Quidditch chaser had been complaining about last night had obviously become a fully-fledged virus. Jamesí nose was red and swollen, and his eyes were bloodshot and watery. He stared back at Remus for a few minutes before recognition sunk in.
"Remus," he grunted.
Remus wondered if it would sound very sarcastic to wish James a Merry Christmas.
"Sirius hasÖ gone out," Remus explained hurriedly, not wanting to give James cause to worry. "Iím going with him."
"But - "James paused, sneezed explosively and thought for a second "- you said youíd watch Harry."
"Canít Lily do it?" Remus asked.
"Worse than you are?" Remus clarified, peering over Jamesí shoulder into their room, where even the shadows seemed thick with fever.
James nodded and fixed Remus with a bleary, hopeful stare, which was rendered more powerful by the fact that he looked to be at deathís door.
"Canít you take Harry with you? Lily and I are in no state to look after him, and I trust you with him. Please?" James implored.
Remus felt rather trapped. If he admitted that it could be dangerous, James would want to know where Sirius had gone, and maybe even insist on going there too.
He had no choice.
"Of course Iíll take Harry," he crumbled. "Anything I can get you or Lily?"
The other man grinned weakly.
"Not unless you can get Madam Pomfrey here on a house-visit. No, go on. You and Sirius have a nice time."
"Oh, I doubt itíll be that," Remus answered vaguely, turning towards the nursery.
Jamesí hoarse laugh followed him.
"Did tell you that taking Sirius on was like trying to hold a tiger by the tail. If Sirius wants to go on early morning Christmas Day gallivants, thatís the price you have to pay."
Reminding himself that James wasnít well and so it wasnít nice to start a row, Remus allowed the man to retreat to his sickbed while Remus approached the small cot.
The infant was sleeping, curled up like a dormouse on the soft mattress. On the nearby wicker chair there was a thick yellow blanket and Remus picked it up, folded it into a triangle then, ever so carefully, lifted Harry. He wrapped the baby securely in the folds of material and then huddled the bundle into his patched travelling cloak.
Cradling Harry close, and no longer objecting quite so strongly to the overwhelmingly sickly scent of baby-powder and moisturiser that always seemed to radiate from the infant, Remus Apparated to the location Moody had given him.
Before the crack of his arrival had even stopped sounding, Remus found himself looking down a wand.
"Fucking idiot!" Sirius cursed, lowering his wand. "I could have killed you!"
"And if Iíd been from Magical Law Enforcement?" Remus asked calmly, trying to swallow his heart back down.
Sirius shrugged jerkily.
"Iím just jumpy. Sorry," he muttered, turning away.
The night air was still and clear, sharp with a biting ice chill. The pale light of the half-moon made Siriusí pale skin shine, and contrast acutely to his black robes and sweep of black hair loose about his shoulders as he walked towards a building nearby.
Except for Siriusí crunching footsteps on a frosted gravel path, it was silent. Ominously so.
They were the only ones around, the only ones to bear witness to the horror of what the Death Eaters had done.
The gravel path stretched back behind them to a set of security gates that had been blasted from their hinges. In the distance, Remus could see a fragmented line of car lights moving along a road, bright in the night like crystal beads and oblivious to the scene of devastation.
Looking the other way, the gravel path led up to what must once have been an expensive Muggle home. In the driveway stood what was left of a Land Rover, dented heavily in the sides and a mess of fractured glass for a windscreen.
The house itself had been gutted with fire, as Remus could see from the front right corner of the building that had been knocked out, presumably from the blast of a curse. Rubble from the broken wall spread across the nicely trimmed lawn, like stepping-stones to a gaping, grisly peephole.
And in the sky, glowing with a fading emerald light, was the Dark Mark.
Readjusting his grip on his armful, reminding himself that there was at least one precious thing that had so far survived the hatred of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, Remus walked slowly to where Sirius was standing at the missing corner, apparently lost in contemplative fury.
As he came nearer, Remusí stomach roiled in gut-wrenching disgust. Though the cold air had effectively frozen out any odour, at this distance Remus couldnít help but smell the unique scent of burnt flesh. He drew a shuddering breath and moved to stand at Siriusí shoulder. And promptly felt his stomach heave and try to expel whatever it could.
Siriusí black-robed arm was around him instantly, drawing him back and pressing him into the sweet, familiar fragrance of Siriusí skin. But Remus couldnít shake from his mind the image of the three charred, mutilated corpses lying haphazardly inside the wreckage.
"Itís okay. Itís alright."
Blackened, flaking skin. Barely recognisable as humans.
"Deep breaths Remus," Sirius commanded gently, tilting Remusí face into the sterile air of a winterís night.
Thank God it was always Sirius and James that the Order used for tasks like this. Thank God the Order would rather use him for research. Thank God that Sirius, as a Black, had the stomach for horrorÖ
When he was younger, and would wake from his transformations, slick with his own blood and bearing gaping wounds, he would always retch. Even now, on those rare occasions that Prongs, Padfoot and Wormtail couldnít keep him from self-harm, he would awaken to cloying nausea. A hollowness in his stomach, a convulsion inside his throat.
And though he wasnít afraid to serve the Order on the front lines, heíd only ever seen the tidy, peaceful bodies that Avada Kedavra served up. Never torture and maiming, never thisÖ
Remus concentrated on the stars in the perfect black sky, each glittering speck of light, and barely noticed when Sirius stroked tentatively at the curve of Remusí arm.
He did notice though when Sirius tugged the robe back sharply and stared, horrified at the sight of his godson so close to a scene of slaughter.
"What, are you crazy? What the Hell did you bring Harry with you for?"
Gulping down clean air, and pointedly forgetting what was spread out just behind him, Remus fought for his equilibrium. He held Harry closer to him, easing the robe back around the dozy infant, whoíd been uncomfortably roused by the draught.
"James and Lily are too ill to look after him. I said we would," Remus explained, as calmly as he could manage.
"And you bring him here? To see all thisÖ death! He shouldnít have to see things like this Remus! What were you thinking of to bring him into a bloody warzone?"
Feeling his jaw tighten under the onslaught, Remus held Harry tighter still.
"Heís living in a bloody warzone Sirius, thatís what he was born into. None of us can protect him from that."
"No," Sirius snapped, glaring at Remus with a fervour that was usually reserved for anyone who messed with Remus in his presence. He paused, regarding Remus with cold passion. "Give him to me."
Sirius held his hands out, his grey eyes burning. Reluctantly, Remus released his charge. The instant the small body was in Siriusí elegant white hands, the baby was cradled close to Siriusí chest and he was murmuring comforting words into his ear. Words that were ignored by the child, but the warmth of him in the cold was greedily accepted by Harry, who snuggled closer.
Seeming slightly relaxed now that his godson was in his care, Sirius looked back up at Remus, who was suddenly shivering at the cold patch on his side caused by the absence of the baby.
"Iím going to sort it out. Thereís going to be an end to the fighting, Iím going to see to that," Sirius insisted firmly. He nuzzled the babyís soft, thin hair. "You hear me Harry? Your godfatherís going to sort it all out. Youíre not going to have to worry about any of this. Silly prophecy or no."
One of the things that had first attracted Remus to Sirius was the black-haired purebloodís wilfulness. His overriding confidence in himself. And his refusal to accept anything that went against it. When Remus had been young and shy, and painfully clumsy at social interaction, Siriusí easy charm and self-assurance had seemed incredible.
As he grew older though, he saw it as much as one of Siriusí flaws as he did his redeeming qualities. When Sirius got an idea in his head, nothing short of a miracle could shake it. And the last thing he needed was Sirius to start going into battle convinced of his own invulnerability.
"Much as I admire your optimism, Sirius, donít you think you ought to remember that nothing in this war is certain?" he pointed out coolly.
Siriusí eyes narrowed dangerously, a faint flush forming along his high cheekbones.
"You want to talk about optimism? First thing I did when I got here," he snarled, stalking over to the closest of the burnt bodies, "was check for fucking pulses! Forgive me, if in the face of this bloody nightmare, I try to keep a positive outlook! Forgive me if I donít sink into depression and start acting like I think weíre going to lose anyway!"
There was a sudden, sharp pain in Remusí chest and he fought to keep a neutral expression.
"Is that what you think Iím doing?" he asked, his voice low and even.
The night silence was undisturbed for a second. The anger on Siriusí face died slowly, the tightness of his features loosening into a thoughtful expression. However, his grey eyes remained cold slits.
"Do you know how they look at your realism? Why the Aurors donít like to work with you? Like the rest of the Order, youíre less than impressed with the Ministryís war effort. But unlike the rest of the war effort, youíre a werewolf."
Sirius gazed at him levelly.
He was always so calm when he was being cruel. He would be rude and coarse often, but always with a raised voice and a smirk. But when he knew what he was going to say was hurtful, when he had really thought about what he was saying, there was barely a sign of emotion.
Remus wondered if it was a bad sign that Sirius was always so passionate with him. Always so vibrant, so energetic. It was never this reasoned, composed Sirius that said `I love you.`
"Youíre classed as a Dark Creature and youíre not afraid to say you donít like how weíre fighting this war. Itís not a good combination Remus," Sirius went on. "And itís even worse becauseÖ"
He broke off, his grey eyes finally dropping to the ground and his hands closing reflexively tighter about Harry.
"Youíve said everything else," Remus said sensibly. "Tell me why itís even worse."
Sirius frowned, toeing uncomfortably at one of the crumbling bricks near his foot.
"Címon, whatís worse?" Remus prodded with a thin smile.
Taking a deep breath, Sirius looked back up at him.
"And itís worse because for a lover, youíve got the Son of a family of Dark wizards. Youíve got every bad thing going for you. They barely trust me Remus," Sirius admitted in a tired voice. "And Iím one of the reasons they donít trust you at all."
Feeling inexplicably like a vice around his heart had just been released, Remus found himself smiling.
"I hope youíre not suggesting I try and garner popularity at the Ministry by giving up fucking you? Because as much as I want to win the Ministryís next popularity contest, there are some lengths to which I wonít go."
Siriusí mouth quirked into a smile.
"Well, kicking me out of your bed might make you a more popular guy at the Ministry, but it bloody wonít with me," Sirius warned mischievously.
He leant over and dropped a kiss on Remusí cheek, the barest brush of lips but enough to remind Remus precisely how much he meant to him.
"If Harry isnít safe with us, heís not safe anywhere," Remus said gently.
With a heavy sigh, Sirius looked down at his godson, who was beginning to stir.
"I suppose youíre right. You come all this way to find me, and I greet you with a bloody wand in the face and an argument," he muttered ruefully.
"Not much by the way of Christmas spirit," Remus teased him.
Neither of the two wizards could help turning to glance at the ruined house behind them.
"Not much of that going around," Sirius remarked grimly.
In the pause of thoughtful consideration, Harry took the opportunity to announce that heíd woken up by mewling petulantly. Having been the subject of Lilyís tutorials more than once and still not being much the wiser, Sirius frowned. He rocked the child backwards and forwards, hushing it with a stream of soothing gibberish.
Harry was having none of it and began the build-up to a full tantrum, his tiny face screwing itself into tiny red wrinkles. Sirius cast Remus a desperate look.
"Canít we just Silencio him?"
Remus shook his head and held his hands out.
"You canít use a Silencing charm on a baby, Padfoot. Thatís bad parenting. Babies cry because they want something."
Sirius passed Harry over and watched as Remus tried to halt the flow of Harryís intermittent grunts and cries of irritation, with as little success as Sirius had had.
"Bollocks," Sirius said firmly, folding his arms across his chest and sitting down on a pile of rubble. "Babies cry because theyíre brats and know that adults hate crying and will do almost anything to stop it."
Raising his eyebrows doubtfully, Remus held Harry up to point the angry little face at his godfather.
"Are you calling your godson a brat?" he demanded.
"Well, maybe not Harry," Sirius relented. "But he certainly has the potential to be one."
"You were still a brat at eleven," Remus pointed out.
Shooting to his feet, Sirius looked outraged.
"I most certainlyÖ"
The loud crack of Apparation rang like a gunshot through the air. Remus barely had time to turn around, before Sirius had a hand on his shoulder and was pushing him to the ground, wand already out and grey eyes scanning the surroundings.
"Stay here," Sirius hissed, before running silently past him, lean body keeping close to the ground and his white skin the only splash of light in the shadows.
Remus had tremors racing through his every muscle. He crouched over Harry, stroking the childís lips urgently to calm him and keep him quiet. Frowning, he listened intently for any sound that would bring him news of Sirius or the newcomer. But his heart was beating too loudly in his ears.
He wanted to be with Sirius. He didnít want Sirius to face anything without Remus at his side. But he couldnít risk Harry. Sirius would never forgive him. Heíd brought Harry here, and now he had to pay the price for his folly.
"Are all my friends bloody idiots or what?" Siriusí clear voice rang out cheerfully. "Síalright Moony! Look who it is!"
Twisting his body out of his defensive crouch, Remus raised his head and turned around. Sirius was strolling along, wand loose in his hand, beside a heavily robed Peter, who was carrying two large packages and grinning.
"The Ministry said you were here Sirius, and I figured Remus wouldnít let you go off without him on Christmas Day, so I thought Iíd come along. I brought hot chocolate and your Christmas presents," Peter explained, coming over to Remus and Harry. He waved fondly when he saw Harry.
"Christmas picnic courtesy of the Death Eaters, anyone?" Sirius commented, looking between the two of them.
He flourished his wand and intoned:
"Lumos ex Nympha," and sent a shower of multi-coloured lights into the air, that settled about a metre off the ground and flashed different colours.
"Do you like that Harry?" Sirius asked, taking Harry back now that the boy was quiet and intent on the glittering orbs.
He settled himself back down on his pile of rubble and Remus picked a similar perch. Peter, however, craned over Siriusí shoulder and gagged.
"If youíre going to vomit, do it over there," Sirius said nonchalantly, playing with Harryís hands and cooing.
"Donít look Peter," Remus urged him sympathetically. "Come away."
Ashen-faced, Peter plopped down on the ground. He stared at the jagged hole and his mouth worked without producing sounds. Remus watched him in concern. His pale blue eyes were distant and scared, still seeing the monstrosity though heíd turned his head.
"Death Eaters did that?" he asked finally.
"Thatís why theyíre the bad guys," he drawled.
"Sirius," Remus reprimanded him quietly. He turned back to Peter, who didnít seem able to tear his eyes from the devastation. "Does that surprise you?"
For a moment, Peter didnít seem to have heard him, then he turned mindlessly to look at him.
"I had no idea they were so powerful."
"Maybe if you didnít spend so much time trying to climb the ladder at the Ministry, youíd have some idea of what was happening outside its walls," Sirius suggested heartlessly.
"Sirius!" Remus said again, fixing disapproving liquid brown eyes on Sirius.
Having risked Remusí ire once already, Sirius seemed loath to do so again. He offered a apologetic smile to Peter.
"We need you at the Ministry, Wormtail," he admitted. "And you wouldnít be much use to the Order anywhere else. But, youíve got to understand the Death Eaters arenít just the Slytherins we bullied at school. TheyíreÖ well, on the whole, theyíre talented witches and wizards. They mean business."
Peter had listened closely, a strange look on his round face.
"Not just any old wizards then?" he asked jokily, his voice still shaking.
"Voldemort will accept anyone who wants to join his ranks," Sirius explained bitterly. "But he only makes an effort to recruit people he figures are worth his time."
Peter made no response, merely gazed at Sirius intently. Noticing that Sirius was beginning to shift irritably under the scrutiny, Remus made an attempt to cut him off before he could turn nasty again.
"You brought our presents then Peter?" Remus said, leaning over to peer at the two parcels at Peterís side.
With a start, Peter came out of his reverie. He smiled and picked the first of the two up, and handed it to Remus.
"I was going to do this at Jamesí, but when I heard you were out hereÖ"
Remus carefully slid a finger under the line of sellotape that fastened the bright red paper and eased it unstuck, listening to the rips and tears as Sirius shredded the shining gold wrapping paper of his own gift. Peter watched with pleased pride, anticipating their first expressions as the paper came away.
Remus unfolded the sharp line, and revealed the smooth brown face of an expensive briefcase. Gold letters inscribed the words `Remus J. Lupin.`
"You can spell the words to change, as well," Peter burst out, wriggling with excitement as Remus beamed down at the briefcase. "If you want it to say anything else."
"God, mate!" Sirius exclaimed. "You canít afford this! Not on a Ministry salary!"
He was holding up a sleek black leather jacket, delight written all over his face.
"Seeing as youíve got the motorbike and all," Peter explained.
Sirius tore his gaze away from the coat, and frowned at Peter playfully.
"These are guilt-gifts if ever I saw them," he said fiercely. "Having bought plenty of them myself, I know guilt-gifts. So spill it Wormy, what have you done?"
"Nothing!" Peter insisted, eyes wide and ducking back from Sirius.
Swiping Sirius lightly across the back of his head, Remus laid a reassuring hand on Peterís arm.
"What my dear Mr. Padfoot means to say is: we both thank you very much for such lovely gifts."
"Youíre welcome," Peter whispered. "Want some hot chocolate?"
He produced the flask from his robes and held it out to Remus, who took it gratefully. As Remus was pouring out the thick brown liquid, he pretended not to notice the silver hip flask that Peter furtively passed Sirius, and the thin scent of vodka in the air moments later.
The novelty of the fairy lights apparently having worn off, Harry gave a stuttered cry of boredom. Sirius swooped him up into the air, laughing and pulling faces at him. As Harry continued to look annoyed, Sirius set him back down on his lap and whispered loudly in the infantís ear.
"Want Uncle Moony to sing you a song, Harry?"
"I canít sing," Remus objected dryly, as Peter giggled.
"Ignore him, Harry," Sirius went on. "Uncle Moonyís got a lovely voice, especially when heís saying naughty things in your godfatherís ear!"
"Eww!" Peter exclaimed, laughing at Remusí blush.
"Go on Moony, sing for Harry!" Sirius urged.
Having not yet learnt how to say no to Siriusí big grey eyes and half-pout, Remus relented and thought of a song.
He cleared his throat, took a deep breath and began to sing in his pleasant tenor voice,
"Oh, you better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
Iím telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!
Heís making a list,
Heís checking it twice,
Heís gonna find out whoís naughty or nice!
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He sees you when youíre sleeping,
He knows when youíre awake -"
"Iíve always thought that song is creepy, and I wonít have you singing it to my godson," Sirius protested obstinately.
"Itís a Christmas carol," Remus said reasonably.
"Strange old men watching my godson when heís asleep?" Sirius objected.
Rolling his eyes, Remus threw his hands up in surrender. He leant back against the edge of the smashed wall and took a noisy slurp of hot chocolate.
"Fine, you sing something."
Grinning at the challenge, Sirius cocked his head in thought. When precisely the grin started to fade, Remus wasnít sure, but a shadow fell across Siriusí face. Like the onset of winter, Siriusí eyes grew dark and the sharp lines of his face tightened. He sighed and cradled Harry near.
"Lully, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay,
Lully, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day.
This poor youngling for whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay."
While Siriusí voice lacked the clear talent of Remusí, it was pleasingly husky and melodic. He watched Harry as he sang and Remus felt a sudden compulsion to pull him into an embrace and just hold him until the war stopped. To kiss away the tragedy.
"Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day.
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay."
The final mournful note hung in the air for a few moments like a death knell, cold and painful in the last hours of night.
"Way to kill a mood," Peter muttered finally, staring at Sirius uncomfortably.
"I thought you said the prophecy was rubbish," Remus asked, watching Sirius shrewdly.
Sirius shrugged, giving a half-smile and avoiding Remusí penetrating brown eyes.
"And?" he challenged quietly.
"Herodís Slaughter of the Innocents comes about following the prediction that a child will be born who will be his downfall. Itís a coincidence you chose that song?"
Sirius lifted his gaze, and smiled melancholically at his lover.
"I wonít let it come to that," he insisted.
"None of us will," Remus agreed, gathering Sirius into his lap and curving an arm over his loverís chest to hold the infant, smiling at Peter to include him.
"Still," he added, amused, "I think itís a bit off that you can sing about tyrannical kings and slaughters, and Iím not allowed to sing about Father Christmas."
He felt Siriusí laugh against his chest, the tilt of his head as he kissed Remusí jaw.
"You sing whatever you like Moony."
A pale yellow light was just beginning to sweep along the horizon, the stars fading from sight in the first approach of sunrise. It looked like the beginning of a beautiful day.
Peter stretched out and rubbed his hand together. Even with encroaching daylight, the air was bitterly cold, a jagged chill across any bare skin. The ground itself was frosted white, sparkling like clean water in the growing light.
"Some Christmas huh?" he remarked, looking at his two friends.
"Our first Christmas as a couple, Remus, you know that?" Sirius said, upturning his face to peer at Remus. "All the dancing around the issue we did at Hogwarts, and the flirting and complications after, weíre finally spending Christmas together as a couple. Whoíd have thought weíd make it?"
"And we spend it out in the cold next to a Death Eater atrocity," Remus agreed dryly. "Very festive."
Wriggling closer and adjusting Harry so that he was wrapped in folds of cloak, Sirius laughed.
"I donít know what youíre complaining about, myself. Itís perfectly festive. Three wise men, some gifts, inadequate shelter."
He glanced blackly at the devastated house.
"A special baby," Peter added, leaning over to tickle the childís face.
"And letís not forget our guiding star," Remus said softly.
Sirius looked up at him again, brow furrowed. His eyes flickered past Remus to the sky and he made a small moue of distaste.
"What, that ugly thing up there?" he asked. "Itís half-gone now anyway. Just a big green smudge."
"I wasnít referring to the Dark Mark. I was talking about you."
A sweet smile curved Siriusí lips and he playfully blew Remus a kiss.
Several sharp cracks pierced the dawn calm as they sat in comfortable silence. Pushing Harry into Remusí arms, Sirius rose to his feet, tense but controlled and ready.
Seven figures had appeared on the pathway, and were walking quickly towards them. With a furtive sweep of his wand, Peter Vanished the discarded wrapping paper and straightened his robes.
"Itís the Ministry," he said needlessly, the newcomersí distinctive grey robes immediately revealing their identity.
"About time too," Sirius remarked.
He lowered his wand and walked forwards to greet them. Remus watched cautiously, letting Harryís tiny chubby fingers clutch at him. Alastor Moody was at the head and he nodded sharply at Remus and Peter as Sirius briefly outlined the scene.
"Not a bad job," he said tersely, shuffling past Sirius to examine the rubble. He ran a finger along the rough edge of the bricks, surveying the carnage inside. As he stepped back, he glanced at the baby propped up on Remusí lap. His craggy features slid into a determined scowl.
"What are you playing at Lupin? Bringing a child along when it could have been swarming with Death Eaters?" he paused and peered at Harry a little more sharply. "Thatís Potterís boy! He could have been killed! And then where would we be?" he snarled.
Before Remus could answer, Sirius was in front of him.
"Heíd have been no safer left with James and Lily, considering how sick they are," he shot back. "Of course, if youíd have rather we left Harry with two people suffering so badly with Ďflu I doubt they could even lift a wandÖ"
Alastor glared at them both but returned to his perusal of the scene, muttering furiously. The Aurors brushed past them, picking their steps carefully through the debris and into what was left of the house. Remus got up and moved out of their way, turning away as they knelt down by the first of the bodies.
"Time to go home?" he asked Sirius.
Still glowering after the aged Auror, Sirius nodded discontentedly. He cheered a little when Remus held Harry out to him, the frown disappearing as he looked at the two interested green eyes looking back at him.
"Come on Harry, time to go wake up Mummy and Daddy. Make them dish out some presents, huh?" Sirius murmured conspiratorially to the child, who was intent on tugging out Siriusí long hair.
Wrapping an arm around Sirius, who was still enrapt by Harry and attempting to extricate infant fingers, Remus gestured to Peter to come closer.
The Aurors barely spared any of them a look as they Disapparated away.
Back at the Potters, it took Sirius all of about five minutes to drop a kiss on Harryís cheek, deposit the baby with Peter, pull Lily into a bone-crushing hug Ė who was lurching about the kitchen like a zombie, arranging mince pies and trying not to spray them with phlegm as she coughed - and drag Remus back upstairs to bed.
In fact, Remus was out of his clothes and being pulled back under rumpled blankets before heíd even had time to protest. Which he most likely wouldnít have done, but that was beside the point.
"That was a fun outing, thanks Sirius, but can we not make it a Christmas tradition?" Remus suggested, as Sirius wrapped an arm around him and laid his head on his chest.
"Itís not going to be. I told you, come next Christmas, Iím going to have it all sorted."
Smiling, Remus stroked the black hair slithering over his skin.
"Regardless of the prophecy, and Harryís destiny?" he asked.
"I donít believe in destiny," Sirius murmured, in between lazily kissing Remusí nipple. "Iím in charge of what happens to me, no-one else."
"Thatís a remarkably responsible attitude for you to take."
Remus caught his chin and tilted his face up to kiss Siriusí lips lingeringly.
"So, if youíre in charge and all, tell me: whatís next Christmas going to be like?"
Grinning, Sirius leant in for another kiss.
"Better. No James and Lily being sick, no us being left in charge of Harry, no Death Eater slaughters, no ruined houses, and no Voldemort. How does that sound?"
"Iím looking forward to it."
Next Christmas would surely be better.