1) This is a canon-based, but not canon-divergent AU. For those of you looking at your screen, thinking, "What the bloody hell does that mean, Freya?" It simply means it's an AU that takes place in the same basic universe as the Harry Potter series, but without the same background events as the HP series. For instance, maybe the First Wizarding War took place, but Severus managed to get there in time to stop Voldie, that sort of thing. Maybe the Weasleys moved to Romania as a clan to support Charlie's whole dragon-taming thing. Those are examples, only. This story is going to largely be a 'by the seat of my pants' sort of thing, so what does or doesn't carry over from canon events, you and I will learn together!

2) Chapter lengths will vary. Sometimes, they may be over 4k, sometimes they'll be under 2k.

3) The premise of this fic is inspired by an event in the Gordon storyline of the app game Blood in Roses+.

4) There may be some "Muddy Wolfstar" in the course of this fic. Yes, that's my way of saying Remus/Hermione/Sirius.

Separately, but with good timing: Happy Birthday to fncmullin! 😊

Fancast: Tom Hiddleston as Remus Lupin; Jared Leto as Sirius Black; [in case he makes an appearance] Jason Momoa as Fenrir Greyback.

*Please note if my fancasts are not your cup of tea, you're totally free to imagine whomever you prefer in the roles, and no you don't need to tell me who they are 😉.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter, or any affiliated characters and make no profit, in any form, from this work.

Chapter One

Hermione shrugged, shaking her head. "I'm not going."

Groaning, Harry sat down heavily beside her. "You have to go! It's Christmas!"

After a deep, shuddering sigh, she once more shook her head. Giving the bow on the present she'd been tying one, last, fluffing tug, she handed him the brightly wrapped parcel. "Yes, it is Christmas, but no, I don't have to go. It is Christmas at Remus' house, and that man hates the very sight of me."

"Oh, he invited you, so I doubt it's as bad as all that."

Her brows pinched together for a moment before shooting upward. "He invited me because he knows you hardly go anywhere without me, that's one. Two, have you honestly not noticed that he constantly finds an excuse to not be in the same room as me?"

"I'm sure you're just imagining that, Hermione. You're very self-conscious about how other people behave around you, you know."

"So now you're saying I'm paranoid?"

Harry blinked hard to cover an eye roll. If he didn't love this witch like a sister . . . . "No, no. What I'm saying is you might just be misreading simple coincidences, or even just bad timing, because of how sensitive you are to the way others perceive you, being the only Muggle-born in a social circle of wizarding blood, is all."

Her face fell as she stared at him.

His eyebrows crept up over the wire rims of his glasses. "What?"

"You have been spending entirely too much time around me if you can rattle off reasoning like that from the top of your head."

He snickered, leaning close to drop a kiss against her forehead. "C'mon. Please? He's been really lonely since . . . since what happened to him. He needs his family."

Her shoulders drooped. Of all the things she thought when she was in the presence of Remus Lupin—well, with that in mind, she supposed it just as well he didn't like being around her. "I assure you, Harry, that man doesn't think of me as family, nor does he want to."

With a sigh, Harry nodded. Perhaps he could pull Remus aside later and discuss this with him, surely it was a misunderstanding. He just had to make sure Hermione didn't find out about said discussion, or he'd never hear the end of it.

"I will tell you what, if after tonight, you still feel this way, I will never drag you to a social function he's attending, again. Fair enough?"

"Fine, fine, I'll go." Despite her disgruntled pout, she pulled on her Santa hat.

Again, Harry snickered. "You look adorable, it'd be a shame for everyone to miss that."

Glowering, the witch pointed toward the fireplace. "Oh, shut it and get to the Floo, already."

Remus really didn't think it would be so terrible to have Hermione over for the Holiday party. She made Harry happy, and she made Lily and James happy. She made Sirius' flirtatious heart absolutely giddy.

Scowling, he ran self-conscious fingers across the fresh scar just barely hidden by his scruffy facial hair. He had supposed that if she brought a little light to everyone else's day, the least he could do was suffer through her presence for a few hours.

Then, she stepped from the wash of green flames in the fireplace behind Harry.

Her wild golden-brown hair was collected in sloppy braided pigtails down her shoulders and she wore a shade of lipstick that matched the playfully side-tipped Santa Claus hat atop her head. The bright crimson offset her simple black velvet dress a little too nicely, and drew far too much attention to those wide chestnut eyes of hers for his liking.

She smiled around at everyone in the room, somehow managing to catch him off-guard when she met his gaze, despite that he'd been staring at her the entire time.

Swallowing hard as his expression shut down, offering her no way to understand what he might be thinking, he tore his attention from her. Remus turned on his heel and stepped from the room.

He missed the way her smile faltered, forcing a gulp of her own down her throat as she watched him go.

At first, Harry couldn't say he noticed anything odd, but then, it seemed whenever he wasn't distracted by his parents, or his own girlfriend, Hermione and Remus were nowhere near each other by sheer happenstance. Their constantly exhausted and mildly bedraggled host would be greeting new guests, or seeing to something with his house elves, while the witch's focus seemed split between avoiding her ex Viktor's playful—though only half-joking, if Harry's observation meant anything—attempts to catch her under the mistletoe, and keeping up in some bizarre wizarding history trivia Sirius had devised, the sole purpose of which might well be the kisses on the cheek he received as reward when anyone got an answer wrong.

Harry tried not to think too much on the fact that his mother and father were also playing, but then he always did have questions about exactly how close Lily and James Potter were with his godfather.

But then, it happened. Hermione had—giggling and blushing—backed out of the game when Sirius had turned his head quick at the right moment, catching her kiss on his lips, instead of his cheek. Clearly flustered from the handsome wizard's affectionate gesture, she'd wandered down a corridor of the house, fanning her face and sipping her punch.

He tipped his head around the bend in the wall of the parlor to see what she'd gotten up to. She was looking at the framed photographs that lined the walls from the Marauders' Hogwarts days.

Remus had entered the corridor from the other end and taken a few steps, the sound of his footfalls swallowed up by the thick carpeting. When he looked up and saw her there, but before she could notice him, he retreated straight back out the door through which he'd just come.

His shoulders slumping, Harry turned, touching his hand to Pansy's elbow. "Listen, I have to go talk to Remus about something. Will you get me a glass of punch while I'm gone?"

Pansy Parkinson's perfectly arched dark brows shot up as she said, "You do know Christmas punch is lousy with rum, yeah?"

He bit his lip on a grin, nodding. "That why this is your third cup, already?"

The jet-haired witch beamed. "You know me so well."

"Mm-hmm." He kissed the tip of her nose before turning on his heel and heading down the corridor where he saw Remus inexplicably vanish.

He sidled along behind Hermione, but couldn't help glancing over her shoulder to see which photograph she was looking at, now. Her gaze was fixed on a shot of Sirius, Lily, and James laughing at some shared secret, it seemed.

When Harry tipped his head just a bit more over her shoulder to glimpse her expression, he found her pouting thoughtfully. "What?"

She covered her nose and mouth with her free hand, shielding what might just be a mildly-tipsy giggle. "Just . . . you ever wonder if there's something going on with your parents and Sirius?"

His brows shot up. True, he'd had the same thought, but when it was just him, he could play it off as though it were his imagination. "You're drunk."

"Oh, I'm barely buzzed, and where are you going?"

"Just heading to find more rum for the punch."

"Well, then," she said, winking at him and as she lifted her cup, "don't come back empty-handed!"

Harry nodded and continued on his way. "No wonder you and Pansy get along," he said under his breath, seeing as the two barely ever seemed to find anything to talk about when they were sober.

He knew he hadn't actually needed to come up with an excuse, he could simply tell Hermione he was going to speak to Remus about this hating her business. However, he didn't trust the witch not to tag along, or attempt to listen if she knew that's where he was going.

And, if it turned out she was right, he didn't want her getting hurt by having to hear her suspicions confirmed.

Bursting through the door at the opposite end of the corridor, he found Remus seated at the kitchen table. The reluctant werewolf was nursing a mug of something Harry strongly doubted was tea.

"Dear God, am I the only sober person in this house?" the younger wizard asked as he sat down in the chair opposite Remus.

Remus frowned into his mug, his sandy brows shooting up. "Quite possibly. And I'm barely not-sober."

Sighing, Harry shook his head. He folded his hands on the table before he spoke. "Remus we need to talk."

"That doesn't sound good," Remus said with a chuckle. He took a sip and then paused, eyeing Harry over the rim of the mug. "Okay, seriously? Have I done something wrong?"

Harry hated the tone running beneath the other man's words. Every time anyone looked at Remus with even a whisper of what could be imagined as a suspicious glint, he panicked that there was yet another unthinkable thing he'd done during the last full moon that he couldn't remember.

"No, no. It's about Hermione."

Remus hid a sudden frown behind another sip.

At his silence, Harry let out another sigh. "She almost refused to come to the party tonight."

His brows drawing together as he set down his mug, Remus asked, "Why?"

"She thinks . . . ." Harry nodded slow, finally shrugging. "Well, she thinks you hate her—" He was so involved in trying to say what he needed to, he missed the way Remus rolled his eyes, quick, but so hard his lids fluttered."—and after seeing the way you practically ran back in here when you saw her merely standing outside this room, I'm starting to think she might be right."

"I don't hate her." Remus shook his head. There was no way to explain this for Harry to really understand. Yes, the younger wizard was a grown man, now, but there were just some things Remus was positive he still didn't quite grasp, things only made worse by his malady. He also wasn't entirely certain he could bring himself to speak his reasons. "I just . . . can't stand being in the same room as her."

Closing his eyes, Harry nodded. Dammit it to hell, Hermione'd been right, after all. "That sure sounds like hate."

Frowning, Remus reclaimed his mug, speaking into his before downing the rest, "Well it's not, and I'd thank you to leave me alone about it, if it's all the same to you."

Harry winced, not at all familiar with hearing that edge of anger in the older wizard's tone. This really was a sore spot, wasn't it?

Nodding, he got up, rounding the table to clap Remus on the shoulder. "I'll never bring it up again."

Remus fixed his gaze on the far wall, willing himself not to respond as Harry left the room.

"Oh," Pansy said with a giggle. "Oh, you poor, dear thing!"

Harry threw up his hands in exasperation. When he'd returned from the kitchen wearing a dismal expression, she'd asked what troubled him. Of course he'd told her—in a secretive whisper after pulling her to a secluded corner of the parlor.

"What?" he demanded in a hushed voice, disliking her mirth at his expense.

The witch couldn't help but laugh, again, at the bewildered look in his eyes. She had to constantly remind herself how much more experience she had in relationships—and the fragile emotions of wizards, in particular.

"He doesn't hate her."

He sighed, shaking his head. "You didn't see the look on his face. You didn't hear his voice. I've never heard him sound like that, Pans."

"I get that, but just trust me, okay?"

Sipping his punch—which was, in fact, lousy with rum—he arched a brow at her. "Okay, what is it you know that I don't?"

She shrugged, turning her attention to Hermione, who'd somehow allowed herself to be wrangled by Sirius into sitting, perched on his knee as though he were a young, very fit Santa Claus. Well, not that she could really blame the other witch for letting herself be wrangled, per se, after all, Sirius Black was very fit.

"Look, Remus feels something very strongly toward her, that's for sure, but it's not hate. And I can prove it."


Pansy granted him a sagely—if inebriated—grin. "Just get them under the mistletoe."

Harry's eyes shot wide. "Oh, you are mad."

She smirked. "It's part of my charm. And that doesn't sound like trusting me."

At this point . . . he felt rather certain he had an idea what she was getting at. He just didn't think it could be the reality of the situation. "I really don't think that's a good—"

"It's a wizard Christmas party, Harry. Everyone is drinking, or snogging, or both . . . . But we're also British, and the desire to not make a scene can't be underestimated." She started scanning the room, looking for the sprig in question. "We'll have it where everyone will be able to see them, so if he wants to get away from her without causing a scene, he'll have to deal with what he's feeling then and there."

He hung his head, letting out a weary sigh. "Oh, good. Now our plan is backing a werewolf into a proverbial corner. Best. Christmas. Ever." Despite his grumblings, he knew Pansy's idea was probably the only way, and he knew that he couldn't let Hermione go on thinking Remus hated her unless it was actually true.

"Fine, fine. What do we do?"

A wicked smile curved Pansy's lips as she winked at him. "Leave it to me."

Harry thought it was probably the worse idea in the history of time as he watched his girlfriend wander over to Sirius just after Hermione had departed his company. The dark-haired witch cupped her hand, whispering something in his ear.

Something that made Sirius chuckle and balk, at the same. Harry could just hear through the din of the party his godfather's voice as he said, "Oh, that's just evil. We have to do it."

Cringing, Harry pressed his hands to his face. He could not help feeling as though he probably should've kept his big, fat mouth shut.

"Pans, you're completely mad," Hermione said, laughing so hard she had to stop moving and gasp for breath. The other witch had gone on and on in a ridiculous, drunken ramble about swearing she'd glimpsed a bloody sugarplum fairy, of all things.

Everyone knew sugarplum fairies were fast asleep by this time of night.

But the inebriated young woman would not be deterred. After only a moment of halting, she was tugging Hermione around the house, again.

Before she knew it, they were back in the parlor, before the tree—the centerpiece of the entire evening. She didn't even see Remus standing there until she crashed into him, Pansy miraculously managing to avoid the collision.

There was, however, no mistaking how he bared his teeth as he clamped his hands around Hermione's shoulders and set her steady on her own feet.

Pansy, using the haze in her eyes to her advantage, appeared shocked as she looked up over their heads. "Uh-oh. Someone's playing with the mistletoe . . . ."

Seething, Remus looked about for who might be casting the levitation charm on the stupid plant.

Before he could spot the culprit, however, Pansy was tugging a furiously blushing Hermione's arm. Those chestnut eyes were gleaming from the flames in the nearby fireplace and there was no mistaking the way her lower lip trembled as she stared up at him.

No . . . . He couldn't help but scowl. There was no way the flare of color in her cheeks was because of him, it was only because she was being put on the spot like this.

He opened his mouth to speak, to find some excuse to get himself out of this, when Sirius' drunken bellow cut across the room. "Oh, just kiss her already!"

Hermione appeared just as startled as she looked toward the other wizard.

Remus glanced about. Sure enough, at Sirius' shout, everyone had turned their attention on the pair caught beneath the hovering mistletoe.

Impatience pinching his features, he forced a small smile as he turned his gaze to Hermione's. "Sorry about this," he said as he slid his hand around the back of her neck, but when he pulled her close—ready to drop a quick, chaste kiss on her lips—she brought up her hands, pressing her palms against his chest.

"Remus, wait."

He told himself he was imagining it as there looked to be a damp glimmer in her eyes.

"Of all the things you could be about having to kiss me to follow a simple holiday tradition, why are you sorry?"

At the way he frowned, his shoulder slumping, she nodded. There seemed volumes of context in his non-answer that he'd not intended.

"Right," she said, swallowing hard and letting her arms fall back to her sides. "Well, let's get this over with, then."

God, he'd never be able to tell her, would he?

Angry at himself for failing, yet again, he pulled her close. But, when his mouth touched hers, the plan of a quick, chaste kiss was somehow forgotten.

Before he could stop himself, he'd parted her lips with the tip of his tongue to dart between them. There was no way she was truly this eager about returning his kiss—what with how she nipped at his tongue and caressed it with her own—that he thought maybe, just like him, she was angry at being forced this way. That he understood.

What he didn't quite understand was finding her body pressed to his, or how he was cupping the back of her head with splayed fingers. He didn't understand that tiny growl rumbling in the back of his throat, or the feel of her delicate hands, gripping into his shirt at the sides of his waist.

And he most certainly didn't understand the way a chorus of drunken cheers brought him crashing back to the moment. Nor the look of hurt in her eyes as he tore his mouth from hers and pushed her back from him, using only enough force that it was not obvious to their onlookers.

As he turned on his heel and stormed from the room, he couldn't help but wonder when the last time was that he'd been this confused, because he could not seem to remember.

Hermione swallowed hard, but turned a feigned grin on the rest of the party guests.

Harry pinned his girlfriend with a stunned look. "What the bloody hell was that?"

Shaking her head, Pansy looked just as stunned . . . as well as a touch breathless as she managed a murmured, "Wow."

Irritated that Sirius and Pansy's brilliant little scheme had backfired—that had to just be the angriest kiss he'd ever seen in his life—Harry made his way over to Hermione.

"You were right," he said, frowning as he slipped an arm around her shoulders. "I'm sorry, I'll take you home, if you want."

Hermione sighed, shaking her head. No one else seemed to notice what was wrong, probably chalking up the seeming passion of the kiss to all that rum, and she didn't see the point in making a fuss.

"No, it's okay. You should stay with Pansy, I can see myself home."

His brow furrowed and his shoulders drooped. "You're sure?"

"Yeah. Though, next time Pansy pulls me under the mistletoe, it better be to kiss her."

Harry's jaw dropped a little before he could respond. "I am so there for that."

"Me, too!" There went Sirius' drunken bellowing from across the room, again. They always forgot his prolonged times shifted into his Animagus form had sharpened his human hearing, as well.

Hermione snickered, shaking her head. "I'll be fine, really. G'night, Harry. Happy Christmas"

Nodding, he kissed her cheek and saw her to the Floo. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."

She missed Remus watching her from just outside the parlor entryway. His green eyes dimmed a bit, he shook his head. With the jumble of emotions he felt whenever she was near, he knew it was better she thought he hated her.

Better still, perhaps, if she hated him right back.