Title : Christmas in August

Author: Essayel

Rating: PG13

Disclaimer: all usual excuses apply.

Written in response to the following challenge from Roseblade:

"A parody or comedic rendering or even a roast of one of our roosters
during the summer between years four and five involving:

*A spiked punch bowl or glass of wine
*Singing Christmas carols, bonus points for puns created from "The
Christmas Song" that deal with the, ahem, plot
*A bouncing fuzzy animal that is *not* Draco Malfoy
*The line "Oh, no. Not again." (a la Douglas Adams)

Dumbledore's unreasonable cheerfulness is a bonus...if you choose to
use him as the cruel, obscenely cheerful, insane wizard he could be.

Anything goes...no limits, no "real" plots, and no point necessary."


Christmas in August

Mercifully it was still dark and the flickering light of the torches left huge patches of shadow. Toenails clicking on the flagstones as he raced through the corridors and down the stairs, Padfoot kept to the dark as much as he could. Few people were roaming the hallways – most of the students, shocked and worried, had long since been herded back to their dormitories – but some of the staff and prefects were on patrol and should be avoided.

Outside lay the real danger. Fudge and his minions had left the infirmary in high dudgeon but would they have left Hogwarts? While the press and the public were still awaiting news, would the Minister have returned to his office or would he be there still, basking in the warmth of public interest? And then, the greatest danger of all, there was the Dementor that Fudge had unleashed upon the Crouch boy. The dog's hackles raised. The little bastard had deserved to die but not that – never that!

No, getting out of the grounds could be the most difficult part of the journey and he needed some means of concealment. What was simpler than to trot at the heels of a man who was making his way purposefully towards the nearest Apparation point carrying a message from the Headmaster?

At the top of the last flight of stairs Padfoot peered through the banister rails. Bill Weasley, hair blazing in the torchlight was just crossing the hall. Padfoot followed and had just leaped from the last step when he was transfixed by an eldritch shriek.

"Grim! Grim!" a woman's voice howled.

Bill spun around, wand in hand then relaxed. Sibyl Trelawney, presumably on patrol with a couple of embarrassed looking Ravenclaw prefects at her heels, was pointing dramatically at the huge black dog that had sat so quietly at poor young Harry's bedside.

"Miss Trelawney! Professor!" Bill called as he made his way back towards the foot of the stairs. "That's not a Grim, Professor."

Trelawney started and peered at him over her spectacles.

"Oh, why I do believe…Yes, William Weasley!" She looked him up and down with interest and Bill returned her smile with resignation. He was well aware of the effect the right sort of smile could have on ladies of, shall we say, a certain age and so gave it his best shot. In response, Sibyl coloured and put her wand away, then cautiously approached.

"Why of course it's not a Grim," she said indulgently, extending a hand to pat the thickly furred back. Padfoot flinched then stood and took it. "Is he your dog?" she asked.

"Um…ye-es," Bill said slowly, unwilling to betray a confidence then he grinned at the dog's expression and threw caution to the winds. "His name's Snuffles. Not the best name for a dog of this type but – what can I say, I was young."

"Ahh," Sibyl Trelawney gave one of her best misty smiles. "A boy and his dog, what could be sweeter?" She patted the dog again and sighed deeply. "Make the most of him, my dear," she said warningly and Bill stifled a groan. "He's a lovely old thing but.." she shook her head sadly, "this is his last summer. I'm sad to say that my inner eye informs me that he will not make it through the Christmas holidays. I'm so sorry, William, but your dog will definitely die around teatime on Christmas Day, probably by choking, perhaps on a turkey bone." She gave the dog a valedictory pat and turned away beckoning the prefects. As they followed, the boy gave Bill a sympathetic grimace and the girl gave him a sultry glare, deliberately wetting her lips. Bill raised an eyebrow and palmed the Floo address she slipped to him then grinned down at the dog.

"Come on,…Snuffles," he said. "Heel."

*

The grounds were less full than he had feared but he kept close to the Weasley boy's heels, trotting to keep up with the long legged stride. They were challenged at one point by a cold eyed man in civilian robes who had 'hit wizard' written all over him but Bill gave all the right answers and the dog sat demurely beside him, Bill's hand idly gentling his ears.

"All right," the man said, finally. "On your way. Oh… nice dog."

Bill moved off with a softly spoken 'goodnight'.  Although close to three in the morning the sky was surprisingly light, a rich star-scattered ultramarine above shading to a warm turquoise at the fringes of the world, and they could see their way quite clearly. Soon they crossed the boundary of the grounds and plunged into the broken light and shadow of the surrounding Forest. Apart from the soft sound of their feet, silence fell and Bill looked carefully around.

"Right," he said. "We're alone. You can come out now."

Sirius straightened up, meeting the quizzical hazel gaze with a scowl.

"How did you know?" he demanded.

Bill grinned. "Ron told me," he said, studying the rangy longhaired figure in its shabby robes with interest. "Don't be angry with the lad. He was so upset by what happened last year that he had to tell someone and – well – big brothers are useful for that sort of thing."

"And you believe him? About …about Pettigrew?"

"Of course," Bill frowned. "Ron always tells me the truth. Are you still without a wand? Because we're getting close to the Apparation point and I can give you a lift if you like."

Sirius sensed no duplicity in the young man, saw no uneasiness in his eyes but it was too soon for him to begin trusting people. He shook his head slowly.

"No," he said, brusquely, then remembered that that was not how it was done.  "No, thank you, I need to go north first."

"OK," Bill shrugged and turned, anxious to go on his way but Sirius caught his sleeve. "What is it?" Bill asked.

Sirius bit his lip, looking down at his hand. Slowly he released Bill's sleeve, tugging it straight as he did so.

"That woman," he said. "Who was she?"

Bill frowned, his mind already far away, planning exactly how he would break the terrible news to his father, so perhaps he was not as perceptive as normal.

"Her? The noisy one?" he replied. "Sibyl Trelawney…she's professor of Divination. After your time I suppose. She started during my second year I think." He paused and grinned. "Goodbye then and good luck."

Sirius stood under the darkness of the trees and watched the young wizard stride away. Bill wasn't to know how those carelessly spoken words had struck home. He wasn't to know that the Professor of Divination in Sirius time, Emilia Dee, had been a red-hot diviner who didn't loss prophecies around lightly. Sirius raised a shaking hand to cover his eyes.

"Christmas," he whispered. "Oh God… Harry. What am I to do?"

*

"For pity's sake, Dumbledore," Remus hands were shaking as he leaned over the Headmasters desk, "you have to do something!"

The Headmaster steepled his fingers and smiled at Remus.

"Come now, Remus," he said chidingly. "Surely you are exaggerating?"

"I am not!" Remus voice rose to an undignified squeak and he brought it back under control with an effort. "The man is driving me mad. True he was my best friend…fourteen years ago. True he is still one of the best friends I have but he is still driving me absolutely Harpic!"

"Sit down and compose yourself," Dumbledore advised, "and tell me all about it."

"Headmaster!" Snape's voice cut across Dumbledore's last few words. "Do we really have time to waste on this minor matter? Surely we have more important items on our agenda?" He scowled at Remus, deeply resenting the way that his measured report of the frankly rather boring Death Eater activities had been disrupted by the tardy arrival of the distraught Lupin.

"Severus," Dumbledore smiled gently, "a problem shared is a problem halved. I'm sure that Remus would do the same for you."

The taut look exchanged by Snape and the werewolf gave that extraordinary statement the lie but Dumbledore was busy pouring himself another cup of  Ridgeways Imperial Blend and didn't notice..

"Go on, Remus," Bill said encouragingly, well aware that until they calmed Remus down he wouldn't get a chance to make his own report. "What's happened now?"

Remus gathered his scattered thoughts and began. "Well, Sirius turned up at my place a week ago – three weeks is all it took him to get around the old crowd. I wouldn't have believed it possible in the time except I've had complaints from both Arabella and Mundungus and a couple of the others say they are traumatised as well.  Sirius seems to have felt that time was of the essence and that all niceties could be dispensed with. These people are vital to the organisation and pouncing on one in an alleyway, twisting their wand arm up behind their back and snarling "listen or die" in their ear may be quick but is scarcely the way to weld them into a cohesive operating unit. Since he arrived, he has been either sunk in the depths of depression or full of energy. He has double dug my vegetable patch…twice. Last week, while I was away, he put my entire library into alphabetical order…" Remus paused, eyes closed at the horror of it… "and now I don't know where anything is. He wakes me up in the middle of the night with lists of things he wants me to find for Harry, lists of things he wants me to do for Harry, lists of things he wants me to tell Harry and he has this absurd obsession about December. Whenever I say, don't worry there's plenty of time for that, he throws a wobbly and says everything has to be sorted out before Christmas. Now he wants me to get him a lawyer so he can make his Will and that's a good idea because if he wakes me up at three a.m. once more saying "Oh, Remus, on Harry's sixteenth birthday can you make sure he gets laid" I swear that I will do him some kind of lasting damage."

He drew breath to continue but Severus interrupted with a chuckle.

"It sounds almost as though Black is contemplating putting an end to his sorry existence," he said with relish. "Don't interfere, Headmaster, please. There's something exquisitely appropriate about the idea of Sirius Black committing suicide by enraged werewolf."

Remus went white and was on his way out of his chair but Bill's big hand pushed him back against the cushions. He drew two deep breaths and slowly unclenched his fists then nodded his thanks to Bill.

"There may be something in what Snape says," Remus conceded reluctantly. "But why? I saw him just before the final of the Triwizard Tournament and he was fine…concerned for Harry, of course, avid for news of Pettigrew and desperate to clear his name….Snape, don't you start! No, whatever has caused this – this upset has happened since then."

Dumbledore sipped his tea reflectively then set the cup back on the saucer with a click. "So…what happened?" he asked. "Sirius was tense but rational on that awful night when we were dealing with poor Harry. Something must have happened after that. Something to make him view the winter with disquiet."

Silence fell while Remus racked his brains and Severus leaned back in his chair, extended his legs towards the fire and made a mental inventory of his poisons cupboard. At length Remus shook his head.

"No," he said. "I can't think of anything. Sirius has always loved Christmas."

Bill moved a little in his chair and frowned.

"Christmas?" he said. "But that's what…no, surely not."

"What?" Snape demanded. "Come on, drop the other shoe."

Bill hastily described Sirius encounter with Sibyl Trelawney. "But that's ridiculous," he added. "Nobody takes her seriously, everybody knows what she's like."

"Hmmm…" Dumbledore reached for a Garibaldi and dunked it in his tea. "Perhaps, everybody except Sirius. Your year, Severus and Remus, was taught by Professor Dee. A splendid woman, very down to earth, and on one of the rare occasions she told you not to walk under a ladder or to avoid shellfish you had better jolly well take heed."

"But…" Remus began to protest then thought better of it. It was quite likely, he admitted to himself, that Sirius didn't know the full beauty of Sibyl Trelawney's personality and had therefore taken her words at face value!

"Headmaster," he said earnestly. "What shall we do? How much use will Sirius be to the Order and, more importantly, to Harry if he truly believes that he is to die on Christmas Day?"

Snape opened his mouth, caught Dumbledore's eye and shut it again.

"Well," Dumbledore's smile was suddenly both wide and slightly scary, "the first thing that springs to mind is that we ensure that he does!"

Snape straightened in his seat and his delighted, "Yesssss!" cut through the stunned silence.

Remus was too aghast to speak so Bill did it for him.

"Headmaster, did we hear you right? You mean that we should – er – ensure that Professor Trelawney's prophecy  comes true?"

"Yes," Dumbledore confirmed, drawing an excited 'squee' from Snape. "Sirius may not be able to take a very active part in the proceedings of the Order while he is still on the 'Most Wanted' list but his function as support for Harry is essential. We can't afford to have him moping around. Harry is scarcely the most sensitive child when it comes to other peoples' feelings but I remember how Sirius used to broadcast his moods." Remus, currently suffering from the fall out of Sirius depression nodded wearily. "Harry might pick up that his godfather is distressed and I don't want the boy worried," Dumbledore continued, "so we will have to take steps to bring Sirius back into the right frame of mind. I assume I can count upon your support? Bill? Remus?" They both nodded but Snape scowled.

"Headmaster," he drawled, "before I raise a finger to help Black it will be Christmas in August."

"Funny you should say that," Dumbledore said with a smile, his eyes twinkling madly.

*

Remus would have been the first to admit that his home was not much to look at but he kept it clean and sound and, on the whole, was perfectly content with it. Long and low and painted white, it nestled into a fold in the hillside very much, as Sirius had said, like a bead of sweat into a cleavage. Not perhaps the most accurate metaphor but Remus rather liked it. There was one large room downstairs that served as both living room and kitchen, a tiny bathroom tucked into the small space under the stairs and another smallish room where Remus' now alphabetised books led a pampered existence that also doubled as a study. Upstairs, under the eaves, were two bedrooms where Remus could only stand up straight in the middle of the room and Sirius couldn't stand up straight at all. Not a bad retreat for two bachelors who for one reason or another needed to keep their heads down and out of sight. Not a good place, however, to host a large and, Remus suspected, raucous Christmas party. The fact that it was the second week of August and the weather was lovely was only one more problem.

Snape had given in, in the end. Dumbledore had pointed out that if Sirius became too depressed to be of any assistance he, Dumbledore, would be looking for somebody else to assume responsibility for Harry's emotional welfare and Remus would be far too busy on business for the Order to make himself available as and when required.

"The logical choice," the Headmaster had said with relish, "would be someone who is on the premises, as the Muggles say, 24/7. Professor McGonagall would be a possibility but I think that the time has come when Harry really needs a male role-model."

"Headmaster," Snape said hollowly, "you wouldn't!"

"I won't have to," Dumbledore agreed, "because you're going to make me the potions as I requested….aren't you, Severus!"

Snape had bowed his head in unwilling acquiescence and departed, snarling, for his laboratory.

And now, Remus mused, as he watched Sirius rebuilding the dry-stone wall at the bottom of the garden, we are about to taste the fruits of Snape's labours and they were likely to be very sour and wormy – he would have made sure of that!

Remus returned to the front of the house. Sirius would be an hour or so at least, because Remus had bribed his bottom of the garden fairies to kick the stones out of the wall as fast as they were replaced, and that gave him time to get everything ready.

He stooped in front of the kitchen fire and tossed in a good pinch of Floo powder. "Hogwarts, Headmasters Office," he said and a few moments later saw Dumbledore's disembodied head smiling at him from the flames.

"Ready when you are," Remus said.

It was only ten minutes until his sensitive hearing picked up the first of the distant pops as the 'guests' began to Apparate. Anxiously he looked out of the back window but Sirius continued to set the stones back into place without looking round. Remus sighed and opened the door, forestalling Snape who had been about to knock.

"Well," the potions master demanded. "Where is he? And how do you plan to get him to drink this?" He held up a small phial filled with a swirly, sparkling potion, glinting red and green and gold.

"He has been gardening all morning," Remus said. "It's a hot day – he'll be thirsty. But Snape, it doesn't taste as bad as my Wolfsbane, does it? Otherwise I may have to pin him down while you hold his nose."

"Appealing though the thought may be," Snape assured him, "this particular mixture has a pleasant flavour and may be readily mixed with any alcoholic beverage. Butterbeer would be ideal."

"That I have," Remus said with relief and went to the cold box. By the time he had obtained the chilled butterbeer, removed the lid and assisted Snape to pour a carefully measured amount of the potion into the bottle, the other guests were assembling. Dumbledore Apparated virtually silently into the kitchen, the dignity of his arrival only slightly marred by his appearing with one foot in the coal scuttle, while a sort of mobile giggle with several pairs of feet announced the arrival of Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny under Harry's invisibility cloak and supervised by Bill.

"Hey, Remus," Bill said, grinning as he lifted the cloak to let the kids out, then folded the silky material and hung it on the back of the door. "Lovely weather we're having. Pity we can't enjoy it."

Remus nodded, the shade under the apple trees was very inviting and a little further up the valley there was a beck with a pool that was just right for splashing in. There had been a couple of afternoons when he and Sirius had dragged some rugs and a basket full of butterbeer up there and spent the afternoon sunning themselves. On one memorable occasion they had been joined by a couple of hikers, fit, sun-tanned young females striking across country towards Hexham, who had been pleased to share the beer, splash in the pool, accept an invitation to dinner and continue on their way to Hexham the following morning with a couple of carefully applied memory modifying charms securely in place. That was a good memory for it had lightened Sirius mood for a good forty-eight hours.

"Hello," Remus grinned at the kids. "Everybody know what they're doing?"

"Certainly do," Harry said. "How's Sirius? And where is he?"

"He's in the garden," Remus replied, "and today he is feeling energetic. Keep out of sight while I go and give him his potion."

Snape watched him go then turned to Dumbledore. "Can I go now?" he asked. "I've made the potion as you asked, I've helped to transport the children here, surely you can dispense with my services?"

"Severus," Dumbledore said chidingly, "it's Christmas. Be of good cheer. Besides, we need you for the antidote."

Snape, growling, threw himself into a chair. It was going to be a long day.

Meanwhile, Hermione and Ginny had followed Harry to the back of the room and all three of them were peeping through the curtains. Harry squinted against the bright sunlight, following Remus progress between the neat beds of vegetables, the strung beans, the stands of raspberry canes, up to the patch of grass at the top of the garden and the tumbledown wall. There he could just see a dark head bowed over the top of the wall carefully setting another stone in place. Sirius looked well, he thought, his face intent on his job, his hands sure and steady. He looked up at Remus' call and Harry saw the white flash of a grin, then he set both hands on top of the wall and vaulted over.

"Oh….," Hermione moaned.

"Sweet Merlin," Ginny whimpered.

Harry rolled his eyes. It was a hot day; did they expect Sirius to heave stones around in his robes? Faded jeans and rigger boots where a much more suitable get up, especially for a wizard who was naturally olive skinned and who took a tan like that and who had obviously been doing a lot of heavy work lately and had the washboard stomach and well-defined pectorals to prove it. Sirius smiled again as he took the bottle of butterbeer from Remus. He passed the cool glass once across his forehead and then tilted his head back. As one girl, Ginny and Hermione went for their wands.

"Oculamaximus," they both whispered then they watched, mouths agape.

"Oh," Hermione moaned after a moment. "It's just like a Diet Coke commercial."

"Diet what?" Ginny whispered. "Oh, oh, look where that drip is going! Down, down, oooohhh … lucky drip."

Harry had been watching the drip too. He closed his mouth with a snap.

"Huh, girls!" he said, cheeks flaming, and went to help Ron transfigure Remus coatstand into a Christmas tree.

*

Bill helped Remus carry the unconscious Sirius down to the house then, between them, they heaved him up the stairs to his room. Snape offered to help but, after he had twice allowed Sirius head to bounce against the wall, they decided they could manage without him.

"If you're sure," Snape said. "To be honest, I don't envy you the next task. Somehow I don't see Black as a flannel pyjama type of person."

"Can we help?" Hermione and Ginny demanded.

Remus head appeared around the door at the top of the stairs. "Thank you for offering," he replied, politely, "but I'm sure we can manage."

His assurance was belied by the grumble of Bill's voice demanding to know just how the heck Sirius got into those jeans in the first place.

Hermione sighed and she and Ginny continued charming Remus's cottage  into a more Christmassy appearance. Dumbledore looked on, applauding as they transfigured a clump of woodbine that Ron dragged out of the hedge into a passable garland that they strung across the mantel. Then Remus called from upstairs.

"He's beginning to twitch, Snape. Is that supposed to happen?"

Snape calculated for a moment. "I would assume, with the strength of the potion coupled to the alcohol, that he is beginning to experience some of the appropriate sensations. Tell me, is he huddling under the covers? Yes? Well then, Jack Frost is probably nipping at his nose."

"He's moaning."

"Well, obviously that'll be the chestnuts roasting on an open fire. He'll be waking any moment. You'd best get ready."

There was a clatter on the stairs as Bill came down, grinning, then he paused and frowned at Snape.

"Would you usually be here at Christmas?" he asked. "We've got to make everything as normal as possible, I thought."

"Absolutely not," Snape replied, his lip curling in distaste at the very thought of it.

"Good point, Bill," Dumbledore said. "We can't have Sirius suspecting anything. Let me see." He extracted his wand and made a pass with it.

Hermione let out a strangled squeal and Ginny clapped her hands over her mouth.

"Very nice," Harry said, "but, Headmaster, it's Christmas not Easter."

Snape had been gasping his outrage at his sudden immersion in drifts of pale pink fur and turned and bounced, hoppity-hop, across the floor towards the door.

"Oh no you don't," Dumbledore said cheerfully and waved his wand again.

Snape started as the basket of eggs disappeared from his paw and scowled at his wand which was suddenly sporting a large glittery star.

"Eeeewww," Ron said. "For pity's sake, Headmaster…."

"So…not a fairy then," Dumbledore agreed reluctantly. "Although, Severus, you certainly have the legs for it! Something a little more mature perhaps."

The next change stunned everyone and rendered Snape utterly speechless. Dumbledore looked around at their aghast expressions.

"Worse than the fairy?" he asked sadly. "Perhaps you're right. You need real personality to carry it off and the costume is rather bulky. So scrub Widow Twankey. Oh I know."

Snape started again and peered cautiously down at himself. The robes were a sensible black but his wand appeared now to be a parrot headed umbrella.

"Headmaster," Hermione said gently, "are you sure about this? I mean it's better than the fairy outfit and certainly that film is always on the t.v. at Christmas but if we are aiming for normality don't you think that dressing Professor Snape as Mary Poppins is a little outré?"

Dumbledore looked disappointed for a moment then sighed. "Oh very well," he said crossly. "I suppose we'll have to do the obvious!"

Meanwhile, Bill was emptying his pockets onto the kitchen table, re-sizing the boxes, packets and jars and Ron was moving them to cool box, pantry or oven as seemed appropriate.

"Oooh, chestnut stuffing," Ginny sighed, sniffing at one container.

"Yes, Mum's done us proud," Bill smiled. "She said if it's going to be Sirius' last Christmas she wants him to have a proper dinner – not rat like last year."

"Pay attention," Snape demanded. They all turned to face him and Ron hastily stifled a little squawk of laughter. "The subject of this…exercise will be waking shortly," Snape continued, his voice only slightly muffled by his long white beard, "and it is important that we make it as easy as possible for him to believe in this…farce. It is imperative that everybody does their utmost to partake of what is so sickeningly known as Christmas spirit to enable him to maintain his fantasy and so I have prepared another similar potion for each of you that will allow you to share his experience to a certain extent while still remaining cognisant of our true purpose."

"Which means," Dumbledore added happily, "that if you drink the stuff in the bottles you'll see what Sirius sees."

The phials were handed out and the contents consumed.

"Since we really don't want to waste the whole day," Snape added, "Sirius will be on an accelerated time scheme so don't be surprised if he suddenly decides its three in the afternoon and then skips on to bed time … assuming, that is, that he survives that long. Now, be quiet and listen."

They obediently fell silent, apart from Dumbledore who was quietly and enjoyably humming "White Christmas" and waving his wand at the windows, which had developed a good coating of facsimile hoar frost.

From upstairs they heard a thump and a curse, then a glad voice called, "Merry Christmas, Moony."

*

Sirius stood up incautiously and paid the price by cracking his head against a rafter. Not a promising start to what he knew to be his last day on earth but that was no reason to be miserable. If he was to die today, around tea-time by choking on a turkey bone, there was no reason why he shouldn't live life to the full until that point! Shuddering at the bite of the cold air he hastily snatched up his robe and shrugged it on then dragged a package out from under his bed. The door to Remus room was only a step or two away.

"Merry Christmas, Moony!" he said as he plumped down on the edge of the bed and pulled the covers back from Remus shoulders. "Come on, wake up."

"I am awake," Remus said mildly and shifted over to make some space. "What? Presents already?" he said but looked pleased, nevertheless. He accepted the heavy package that Sirius laid across his lap and Sirius smiled and leaned back against the headboard beside him.

"Go on, open it," he ordered.

Remus eyed Sirius a little nervously. He had taken his own batch of potion a few moments previously and was slightly appalled at just how real everything seemed to be. There was a distinct chill in the air, the sky, through the dormer window was overcast and heavy with the threat of bad weather and, although the package was insubstantial, it looked heavy and showed every sign of Sirius' characteristic over-kill style of gift wrapping. "I have something for you as well," he said and passed Sirius the small package that he had been instructed to prepare. It doesn't matter what's in it, Dumbledore had told them all when he briefed them, because Sirius will see what he expects to see.

Remus made unwrapping motions with his hands and his package opened with eerie ease – Sirius-wrapped gifts tended to need more force, either a carefully applied severing spell or the carving knife. Sirius was also busy untying the string around Remus' package and Remus had half an eye on him wondering what on earth Sirius would have expected as a gift from him…he feared that it would be something prosaic like socks. Then the last fold of ghostly paper gave beneath his fingers and he glanced down automatically.

"Good…grief," he breathed and ran reverend fingers over the calf bindings of the book exposed. The Gestae Manibus of Iolo Ddu, written in Latin but with Welsh annotations in the author's own hand. He had first heard of the book twenty years before and had spent five years and all his savings in tracking down an incomplete transcription that had proved to have the all important section on herbal treatments to ameliorate the worst effects of werewolf transformations missing.

 "Oh, Sirius," he said turning to face his friend. The shoulder against his own shrugged a little but Sirius face was shining with glee as he drew something small from the box he was holding. "Hell, Moony," he whooped. "Where did you find this? I thought they'd stopped making them years ago." Remus couldn't see what it was he was holding but was in any case too overcome to try.

"Sirius," he said, lifting the book, "I don't know what to say…"

"Say nothing then," Sirius suggested, gravely. His face had sobered and he was turning the little object over and over in his hands. Now Remus recognised it as a coin –  a base metal token given away with Whizzcrisp breakfast cereal years ago to commemorate the various Quidditch Cup Finals. He vaguely remembered giving one to Sirius early in their first year, one that had completed the set – probably the first gift he had ever given him. Perhaps it had meant more to him than Remus had guessed.

Sirius smiled wryly, almost mesmerised by the bright little disc of metal. "I'm glad you like it, Ree," he murmured, the use of Remus' schoolboy nickname odd upon adult lips. "You know…I don't think I've ever told you how much your friendship has meant to me and I just want you to know…well…Remus, I…" He stopped speaking and there was the kind of agonised pause that always develops when an Englishman tries to express any emotion stronger than friendship. Sirius flushed and took a deep breath but Remus, agonisingly aware as Sirius was not of the half dozen people downstairs surely avidly listening to their conversation, interrupted him.

"Yes," he said, smiling a little wistfully, "me, too. Thank you, Padfoot. This is … a princely gift. I can't wait to read it."

"Hey, you're not spending the day reading," Sirius protested.

"Certainly not," Remus agreed. "Don't you remember – we have guests coming to join us and they will be here very soon!"

Sirius looked confused for a moment then grinned. "Harry?" he asked hopefully. "Brilliant! And who else? No, let me guess. Ron because Harry doesn't go anywhere without Ron if he can help it and Hermione to add a little class. Hell, Moony," he said, his voice carrying lamentably clearly, "she's growing up fast, that little lady…"

"Sirius," Remus hissed but Sirius grinned unrepentantly.

"Don't worry," he said. "I know she's off limits but a man can dream can't he?"

**

Downstairs Hermione gave Ginny a triumphant smile but Ginny merely smirked as the laughing voice upstairs began to extol the virtues of red-headed women while Remus vainly attempted to shush him.

"Hey," Ron whispered angrily to Harry. "Is your godfather some kind of pervert?"

Severus' "yes" clashed with Bill's slightly worried "no" and Ginny flushed.

"Oh, I see," she snarled, "just because a man has eyes in his head and uses them!"

"Quiet," Hermione ordered. "I think they are coming downstairs."

There was a flurry of giggling movement as they all pelted out of the front door into the garden, Severus clumping along grumpily behind them in his highly polished black boots. Once safely outside the children clustered around the windows, peering through the fronds of frost to see what Sirius reaction would be to their attempts at decoration, while Severus chuntered to the Headmaster.

"I feel ridiculous," he was hissing. "This beard itches, the boots pinch."

"Now Severus," Dumbledore replied, "it's traditional. Besides, that colour is really you!"

"What! Headmaster…" Snape's griping continued but was drowned out by the enthusiastic yodel from the house as Sirius hurtled into view, swinging himself around the newel post and landing with a plop on the hearthrug. Robes were not the ideal garments for such activity, riding up considerably and causing Hermione and Ginny to knock heads as they both craned forward.

Sirius shook himself to get his robe straight and looked around a little wistfully.

"The place looks great Moony. Did you do all this last night after I went to bed?"

"No, Sirius," Remus was coming down the stairs very slowly and appeared to be trying to read a very large and invisible book. "You helped me, don't you remember?"

"But I can't have done!" Sirius protested. He frowned and shook his wand out of his sleeve and directed it at the bunches of herbs hanging from the ceiling, transfiguring them into an enormous bunch of greenery. "I'd never have forgotten the mistletoe!"

Outside, Hermione and Ginny punched the air.

Remus laughed, still clutching his book. "All right," he said, "but you transfigure them back afterwards."

"Oh, Moony, don't be such a wet blanket. Come on…give us a kiss!"

"Whoa!" Remus darted around the other side of the table and Sirius gave chase.

"Phew, that's a relief," murmured Ron to Harry. "Now I can stop worrying about Ginny."

Harry scowled at him and returned his gaze to where Remus was struggling, scarlet faced, in Sirius arms. Sirius, laughing, stooped and made a loud "Mmmmwaaah!" noise against Remus cheek.

"Eeewww, yuk, jack it in, Padfoot," Remus protested, scrubbing at his cheek with his sleeve, but he was laughing too. "Harry and the others will be here soon. Do you want to traumatise your godson? Do you want him to think he has a fairy godfather?"

"He can think what he likes," Sirius grinned. He sighed and hugged Remus then let him go. "Hadn't we better get the dinner on?"

Remus darted an embarrassed glance towards the front windows and nodded. "They'll be here very soon," he said loudly and hopefully.

Harry glanced over his shoulder to where Snape and Dumbledore were still arguing with Bill looking on.

"Headmaster," he hissed. "I think Remus wants us."

Dumbledore flapped a hand irritably in Harry's direction.

"But it's traditional," he said to Snape, his tone making it clear that it wasn't the first time he'd said those particular words. Snape folded his arms and glowered.

"I don't care," he replied. "The padding has got to go, likewise this – this face fungus!"

Dumbledore stroked his own luxuriant facial growth and frowned. "Very well," he said. "Am I right in assuming that you will be prepared to accept a compromise? Black is completely out of the question but I can tone down the red and maybe shorten the beard…come on, work with me on this Severus."

Snape eyed him with some misgiving then slowly nodded.

Harry's attention was drawn back to the house by Remus' scandalised howl of, "You want to give Hermione what for Christmas?"  only to be distracted by Snape's murmur of appreciation.

"Oh yes, Headmaster. This is much better." Now clad in a form fitting crimson frock coat similar to, though much shorter than, his normal attire, with thigh boots and with his hair drawn back in a queue Snape looked much happier.

Hermione caught Harry's eye. "Prince Charming?" she mouthed incredulously.

"Possibly," he whispered back. "But I've never seen a principal boy with an ice white goatee before."

Dumbledore beamed at them.

"Well, look at you all," he said, scanning their lightweight summer robes and Hermione's sawn off denims. "This'll never do. You're supposed to have just been for a walk in a winter wonderland not been sunning yourself on the beach at Bognor." He made a pass with his wand, gave a happy smile at the result, then stepped past them and raised his wand like a baton.

"Ah one, ah two, ah one two three…"

*

"Right, stop that, they're here," Remus called, reluctantly setting the ghost of his book aside. Sirius paused, his wand poised over the cauldron, his other hand holding a bottle of  'Cap'n Sparrow's Joculator – the Best Rum ever to Incapacitate a Pirate' draining the last few drops into the mixture within. The mixture 'glooped' and a small puff of purple smoke rose but Sirius attention was on the cacophony at the door.

"What's that?" he said. "Sort of sounds like cats only not as melodic."

"Carol singers?" Remus suggested. "Demanding money with menaces – 'Give us your money or we'll sing all the verses to God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen'."

Sirius set wand and empty bottle aside and went to the door, throwing it open. He winced as the brilliant summer sunshine blinded him but the potion was strong so he didn't see the blue sky and glowing hillsides.

"Come in," he called. "You must be frozen! Harry!" he slung an arm around his godson's shoulders. "Look at you with your face all aglow! And I love the matching Eskimo outfits – whose idea were they?"

Bill, his face almost as red as his hair, was struggling out of his parka, then he stepped out of the doorway and Sirius was face to face with Snape, who, while fairly pleased with his appearance was having to continually suppress a mad urge to slap his thigh.

Sirius drew breath to speak…then stopped…what he was seeing defied belief and his mental defence mechanisms clanged shut on a situation that he was not able to cope with in his delicate condition.

"Er…hi, Merry Christmas," he said and turned back to the kids.

*

Actually, after that, it all went quite well.

In response to Snape's furiously hissed demands, Remus agreed that they have dinner before exchanging presents. But if Snape had hoped that the incident with the turkey bone should happen straight away and save them all some bother he was disappointed.

Molly had sent them a goose.

Afterwards, replete and sleepy, they exchanged their virtual gifts and very informative they were. Dumbledore and Sirius exchanged socks – Sirius's gift to Dumbledore consisted of four pairs, one in each of the house colours and suitably tasselled and fringed, though the red and gold pair was perhaps a little more lavish. His from Dumbledore were a sensible black with built-in hex and curse repelling spells so he would be safe at least from the calf down. They came with a two year guarantee and a pair of matching, fully armoured underpants.

Ron received a bottle of fame and Bill a book (that he opened, grinned, and closed again hurriedly. "Thanks, man, I'll – er – look at the pictures later.").

Hermione opened her package and gasped at the skimpy confections of raspberry pink lace and elastic within. Ginny looked quite put out until she opened hers and found something very similar only in apple green… a shade that almost exactly matched Ron's face

It was Harry's gift though, that reminded Remus of the purpose of the day. The boy unwrapped the ghostly parcel and withdrew a large sphere.

"Hey, a – um – beach ball. Nice one, Sirius. I like the pattern."

Sirius looked a little disappointed for an instant but then he caught Remus eye and shrugged and grinned. Harry was only a child after all, despite the amazing things he had done, and couldn't really be expected to see the significance. But Remus looked at the swirling blue and white patterns on the 'ball', noting the anti-cyclone forming off the coast of Denmark that could mean rain later in the day, and knew that Sirius wanted to give Harry the world and deeply regretted that he might not be there to do so.

Snape, lurking on the sidelines, opened his gift with a scowl then went very quiet. He had assumed that he had not been recognised but such was obviously not the case. Not that it made any difference of course, but the fact that his parcel had contained 'an unreserved apology for just about everything up to and including that business with the pants' did make him regret, just for one moment, that he had soaked the string of the parcel he had prepared for Sirius in a delicate essence of hoar-hound. It had been a nifty piece of potion work designed to work gradually and the slight alteration to the spelling of the main constituent should make bedtimes interesting in the Lupin household for the next week or two. Thus he would wreak a subtle revenge for Lupin interrupting his report and for Sirius' continued existence. Disinclined to see his invention go to waste, he therefore held his peace. A moment later he was wincing as Sirius, too impatient to look for a knife, bit through the string and grimaced at the bitter flavour of the preparation. The potion had been designed to be absorbed through the thicker skin of the hands; absorption through the mouth would be much stronger and the effects consequently more violent. He almost spoke then but at that moment the parcel exploded and by the time the smoke had cleared he had decided he quite liked the idea.

"'Unreserved apology', my arse," he murmured.

Snowballing on the slope above the house could be mimed and a tin tray with a powerful levitation charm made an adequate substitute for a sledge on the short, rabbit-cropped grass. There was a lot of shouting, a lot of laughter and a total lack of success in making 'turf angels'. However, as the afternoon had gone on Sirius' good humour had become rather more strained and Remus had caught him a couple of times looking around at the house, the hillsides and the company as though trying to memorise every single detail. He made Bill laugh, but he became very quiet and thoughtful when Sirius moved on. Remus noticed that shortly after that Bill made a point of making a fuss of Ron and Ginny, the three red heads clustering closely in a demonstration of Weasley familial affection.

Sirius spoke to Dumbledore, chased Hermione and Ginny with a spring of mistletoe culled from the bunch in the house, caught them, fended off Ron's assault good-naturedly and took Harry to one side for a little conversation that had the boy turning pink with pleased embarrassment. Shortly afterwards Harry sidled up to Remus and cleared his throat.

"This is going to work, isn't it Professor Lupin?" he demanded gruffly.

Remus lay a hand on his shoulder.

"I see no reason why it shouldn't," he said, quietly. "Oh, look, look! Sirius is talking to Snape."

The conversation, whatever it was, was rather one sided and somewhat stilted and left Snape with some unaccustomed colour in his cheeks as well, while Sirius flung himself back into the fun with an air of desperation.

After a while the adults went inside to turn on the Wizarding Wireless Network to listen to the Queen's Speech and make some tea.

"Nice speech," Remus commented to Sirius as he chopped vegetables for salad.

"Yes," said Dumbledore, busily magicking  brandy butter into a thick layer under all the lids of the mince pies. "The old dear seems a lot more cheerful since that problem with her annus horribilis has cleared up. I sent her a small jar of the preparation I use myself and had a quite delightful letter of thanks in return."

Sirius made a face then continued piling a plate with cold goose from which he had removed every single bone while Snape palmed an ulna with the intention of slipping it onto Sirius plate later and Bill watched him like a hawk with the intention of slipping it off again. When the kids came back in, looking cool, relaxed and a little damp round the edges due to their lightning trip up to the beck, tea was on the table and they washed their hands and began to pile their plates with enthusiasm. Sirius watched them wistfully then went and helped himself to a large mug of the devil's brew in the cauldron.

"I'm not hungry," he replied to Remus' offer the fill a plate for him.

"Nonsense," Snape said shortly, "you must keep your strength up. Here  have this!" Then he scowled as Bill neatly fielded the plate he was offering, fumbled it, dropped it and consigned the contents, including the bone, to the bin with a word of apology.

"Sorry about that," Bill said to Remus. "Just call me butterfingers."

Remus realising something had been going on looked, shocked, at Snape and passed Sirius another plate.

"Here you go," he said.

Sirius took the plate reluctantly. There wasn't a chair available but that was OK; if he had to go he was determined to die on his feet. He looked up straight into Remus' worried eyes.

"Thanks Moony," he said.

They did their best to pay no attention as he took his first bite, chewed and swallowed but it was a nervy business and Hermione's hands were shaking and Ron knocked over the salad dressing. In fact the situation was so tense that Remus closed his eyes, desperate for it all to be over. With his eyes closed his ears were working overtime and so he was the only one to hear Dumbledore's almost inaudible whisper of, "Constricto trachea."

Remus eyes flew open and he darted forward as Sirius coughed and tensed. He turned to Remus, his eyes watering, his face reddening and, amazingly, he smiled and extended a hand to grip Remus shoulder. Harry took the plate from his other hand, Remus gripped him around the chest, Bill hit him between the shoulder blades with the edge of his hand and Dumbledore unobtrustively lifted the curse.

Sirius drew in a whooping breath…then another.

"Damn, Sirius," Bill said. "You had me scared for a moment there."

"You were scared?" Sirius husked.

"Yeah, I suddenly remembered what that demented woman Trelawney said," Bill laughed. "Remember…she said you'd choke on Christmas Day."

"Sibyl Trelawney?" Remus chimed in with his section of the script. "Lord, Sirius, you don't want to take any notice of what she says. Harry, how many times has she predicted your death?"

"Once a week since year two," Harry replied. "She's a loony."

"But Emilia Dee…," Sirius protested.

"A good old fashioned Seer," Dumbledore agreed, "and you just don't get those in the teaching professions these days, they can make so much better money playing the Stock Exchange. No, when I employed Sibyl, bless her, she was the best available and she certainly covers the curriculum. Her obsession with death and disaster is a relatively small price to pay. Now, who wants pudding?"

The party continued until just short of midnight with Sirius being the life and soul of it and Snape, blown away by disappointment, drank far too much. This was soon noticed and he was subtly encouraged  and plied with more alcohol until it took hardly any effort to persuade him to join Remus in a spirited rendition of "I will Survive". Severus belted out the song with gusto, slapping his thigh rhythmically as an accompaniment. Remus had to close his eyes to avoid forgetting the words and Sirius just sat down and sobbed with laughter.

Eventually, they had to call it a night. Sirius was seated quietly on the heartrug with Harry beside him. From their happy faces and intent expressions Remus surmised that they were  talking about James and Lily, or Quidditch. Either way they were occupied, so he eased across to Dumbledore who was finishing off the last few mince pies.

"Headmaster?"

Dumbledore smiled and dusted the crumbs from his beard. "Molly's mincepies improve upon acquaintance," he said. "Ah, yes. I see that young Sirius is now happy, relaxed and recovered from the distress of the past few weeks. Now all that remains is to make a few modifications to his memory so all this becomes a blur."

"That's rather a pity," Remus said. "We've all had a great time."

"Well, it's either a memory modification spell or we have to tell him that he took a curse to the head on St Stephens Day and spent eight months in a coma."

"I see what you mean. Well, where do you want to do it? Does he need to be lying down?"

"No, no, dear boy," Dumbledore said cheerfully, "I did it while we were talking and it'll take effect overnight while he's asleep. Now, if we can just wake Severus up to administer the antidote to his most excellent potion…hmmm, I don't suppose there's any cake left?"

*

There were several results of that days activities:

The next morning Sirius slept late and awoke with the feeling that he had had a most peculiar dream. Later over breakfast, he watched Remus' slender hands buttering a roll and experienced another really peculiar feeling. He took to having frequent cold baths and going for long walks in the late evening but it did little to help. He swam in the cold waters of the beck and embarked upon a correspondence course in practical potions. He went up to the dry stone wall, kicked it flat and rebuilt it from scratch with the fairies looking on knowingly. He took up tai chi and yoga and read all the back copies of the Journal of Arithmancy but the odd feelings persisted and seemed to be getting worse.

In the last week of August, while shopping with her mother in Cheltenham in preparation for her return to school, Hermione insisted that she was sick of sensible white underwear from Marks and Spencer and instead went to the Lingerie section of John Lewis's Department Store. While queuing up to pay for the sporty little items she had selected, including one delicious confection of raspberry coloured lace, she spotted Peter Pettigrew entering the Men's Clothing Department. At her insistence the CCTV tapes were formally reviewed. That they clearly showed Pettigrew to be alive and in robust health was of far more interest to the Wizarding authorities than the fact that he was shoplifting for boxers.

At Dumbledore's next meeting Snape seemed unusually interested in Sirius' welfare and asked several rather pointed questions. Remus, disquieted, remembered that an exploding parcel wasn't really Severus style and suspected that there might be more to it than that. Over the next few days he noticed that Sirius tended to be wearing rather more around the house than he had formerly, that he favoured heavy concealing robes rather than his jeans, that he would often leave the room hurriedly if Remus entered it, as he often did, in just a towel on a trip between bedroom and bathroom. As an inveterate hoarder of 'useful' items it didn't take him long to find the piece of string and only a little longer to isolate the residual potion. He decided not to tell Sirius for the time being but began to brew a few potions of his own.

His name cleared, on paper if not in open court, Sirius was finally free to leave Remus' little home. Their parting was regretful and formal – a handshake at arms length that left Sirius' groin aching for the rest of the day and Remus vowing retribution. Sirius returned to his former position as an Auror but not on active service. Instead he was seconded to the training establishment that the Aurors shared on the outskirts of Hereford where he taught Muggle Familiarisation and Unarmed Combat to the young recruits. Over the next few months his reputation as a red-hot drill sergeant was only equalled by his reputation in the sack – Snape's potion was almost entirely not to blame.

Christmas came round again. This time, Sirius being persona grata, they celebrated at Hogwarts. Perhaps inevitably Sibyl Trelawney was on her way down to dinner when Remus and Harry pelted into the entrance hall, covered in snow and pursued by a great black dog.

"Grim! Grim!" she shrieked.

"Oh no, not again," Remus moaned. But this time Sirius could speak for himself and Sibyl went into dinner clinging to his arm and simpering up at him admiringly.

"Oh, Mr Black," she said, "I, of course, have always been one of your supporters. Those of us blessed with the inner eye never for one instant believed the dreadful things about you and I can confidently predict a long and happy future for you."

"Really, Sibyl? I may call you Sibyl, mayn't I?" Sirius smiled down at her and she flushed and tittered. Remus caught Sirius eye and shook his head and Sirius grinned and shrugged.

Snape was late emerging from his dungeon and stalked off through the corridors in no good humour. He had no particular desire to join the company for dinner but knew that if he didn't make an appearance Dumbledore would only come down to the dungeon with a plate loaded with the most disgusting sweetmeats and stand over him while he ate them.

"Have another brandied cherry, my boy," he burbled, in a falsetto parody. "You must keep your strength up."

He was approaching the Hall when a dark figure detached itself from the shadows where it had been lurking and stepped into his path. He stopped and eyed Sirius Black with loathing.

"What do you want?" he demanded.

"To thank you," Sirius said gruffly, his eyes gleaming in the candlelight. "Remus and I have never been happier. It took us a while to catch on to what you had done but, just to show that there's no hard feelings…"

His grab lifted Severus from his feet and slammed him back against the wall. The air whooshed from his lungs and, as his mouth opened involuntarily, Sirius kissed him. He rapidly discovered the futility in wriggling – besides, wriggling just brought more of his body into disturbing contact with the rock hard muscles currently pinning him to the wall, so he endured the kiss, seething. Sirius took his time over it but, luckily, one kiss seemed to be the extent of his interest. He gently removed himself from Snape's vicinity, stepping back out of range of fist or knee, then he smiled.

"I won't tell anyone if you won't," he said. "Dinner will be served as soon as we are seated so come on." Then he turned and walked away leaving Snape gaping with utter bewilderment.

Back in the Hall Remus watched Sirius approach and raised his eyebrows interrogatively and Sirius gave him a beatific grin, as he reached up to pop the antidote in his mouth.

"Mission accomplished," he whispered as he took his seat, "though without Snape's potion I don't think I could have done it."

It was a memorable dinner. Snape had expected further humiliation but Sirius and Remus divided their attention fairly equally between each other, the children and the ladies present (Sirius did catch his eye at one point and gave him a wicked look, his tongue tip just visible against his upper lip but when he looked again, just to check, you understand, the vile creature was sharing a joke with Minerva McGonagall). Dumbledore was on good form, with a paper hat balanced over the end of his usual headgear, and pulling crackers left, right and centre. The children, Harry, the sole Gryffindor for once, were well-behaved though a little noisy. The food, astonishingly, seemed to have improved. Snape had seconds of the excellent turkey and thirds of the superb cranberry stuffing and crisp light roast potatoes. Then pudding was served. Normally he would have departed at this point, but today decided to have just a taste. It was utterly delicious. He had another helping and found himself smiling as he watched the brandy butter and cream melt into each other across the rich dark stuff in smooth perfection. He slowly raised his spoon to his mouth.

"It's working," Remus whispered to Sirius, looking anywhere but at Snape.

"Remus, you are a marvel," Sirius grinned.

The potion was a subtle one and had caused Remus a lot of headaches but he had succeeded in brewing it in the end. The thing was, while the potion that Snape had given Sirius had been potentially embarrassing it had not done him any real harm. It would have been easy to hex the man in retaliation or to set a Pedus Concinne charm on him (an old favourite that made the charmed one mince as though wearing four-inch stilettos) but that would have been far too obvious  - they were grown ups now after all. Instead, he had anointed Sirius lips with a balm containing hearts-ease, loose-strife and passiflora, lads-and-lasses, love-in-a-mist and morning glory. Absorbed through the skin, and with no residue to speak of, or analyse, Snape should be strangely contented, should find himself appreciating ordinary things like food and warmth and sunlight. He would smile more often and the action of smiling would release endorphins that would make him even more relaxed and happy. This would make him more attractive, would attract interest and friendship. Might even possibly lead to things like relationships, friendships, desire and fulfilment. As a revenge, Remus thought, it was pretty dastardly.

"Look at him," Sirius murmured. "He's enjoying that pudding so much! Heck, I think I might have some."

Dumbledore eyed them with pleasure as they served themselves from a nearby pudding and passed the bowl along to Harry. Slowly the bowl passed from hand to hand until all the guests had a portion. He was glad they were using it, it was the special one that he had requested the house elves to make to his own recipe. The one with the special ingredients.

"What I really need to finish this meal off," Sibyl Trelawney announced, "is a nice cup of tea!"

"I think I'll join you, " Snape agreed. "I'm partial to African Gold personally."

"I've always preferred Acapulco Gold myself," Remus said innocently and Sirius drew breath to laugh and accidentally inhaled the large golden Galleon that Dumbledore had insisted should be substituted for the usual Sickles, feeling that Sickles weren't quite 'Christmassy' enough. He gasped, turned red and began to choke.

Remus glanced at him and grinned.

Harry laughed.

Sirius turned purple.

Dumbledore laughed too.

"Oh dear," he said. "It looks as though Sirius has found the Galleon."

"Galleon?" Remus leaped to his feet, snatched Sirius out of his chair and locked his arms around him from behind.

"Oh, please!" said Snape looking up from his pudding with distaste and utterly unaware of the situation. "Pas devant les enfants."

Remus scowled at him but gripped Sirius hair pulling his head back to straighten his airway then pulled him back into a close embrace and drove both fists up into his diaphragm.

Harry lunged to his feet his face losing its colour.

"Sirius," he cried and grabbed his godfather's hands. "No…no…Remus, do something."

"I saw this…I saw this," Sibyl Trelawney was on her feet as well. "I said…I said he'd die by choking at around tea time on Christmas Day. I told you so!"

But Remus set his teeth grimly. "Damn you, Padfoot," he snarled, and heaved again.

The funeral was on an icy day in January. They gathered at the chapel, a sad and sombre crowd in their grey and black, apart from the honour guard of Aurors, their navy blue robes enlivened by the scarlet and gold flashes of their rank. They sang the songs, prayed the prayers and watched the deceased laid to rest.

"Ironic really," Snape murmured to Remus, laying a compassionate hand on his shoulder, "that after everything that happened he should be killed by something so simple! So…so stupid."

"I still can't believe it," Remus said, his eyes and nose red from more than the icy air. "Harry's devastated, of course. He relied upon him so much."

Snape sighed, his own eyes suspiciously damp, and looked across to the Potter boy, who was standing at the graveside with his shoulders heaving, his face buried in the comforting warmth of his godfather's shoulder.

Sirius looked up and met Snape's eyes and gave him an embarrassed smile. As well you might, thought Snape. After all he, indirectly and with utterly no malice, was the cause of their present predicament.

Remus' use of the Heimlich Manoeuvre had been quite successful, although he had cracked two of Sirius ribs and caused extensive bruising in the process. A panic-stricken werewolf can put quite a lot of force into such a blow. The Galleon had dislodged from Sirius throat with all the force of Remus thrust plus two lungfuls of air behind it. The coin shot across the table like a bullet, struck Sibyl Trelawney between the eyes and knocked her senseless. She collapsed into Snape's lap, one lax arm flipping a spoonful of cream into the air to splatter all over Professor McGonagall's glasses and Albus Dumbledore had laughed until he had the stroke that killed him.

They were all distraught, of course. Dumbledore had been of enormous importance as a figurehead for the forces of light, mad though everyone agreed that he was. But Harry, though young, was already proving to be a good substitute, with the guidance of the Order of the Pheonix, now led by a coalition of Remus Lupin, Auror Black and Snape.

Dumbledore's death, everyone agreed, was tragic but the person who was most upset was Sibyl Trelawney who had yet again failed to make an accurate prediction.