When I demanded to know what Melanie was doing at Jim's, I'd expected her to start talking, maybe even crying. I never imagined she'd yell, "Smash! Smash! Help me!"
She gaped to see me stretch out the neck of my t-shirt and thrust my hand inside. I pulled out my wand. "Petrificus Totalus!"
Once Melanie was bound by the spell, conscious but rigid, I looked at Remus, who had broken his Disillusionment Charm and stood staring at me. "I had to stick my wand somewhere," I said. "That miniskirt barely had enough fabric to cover my arse!"
He shook his head. "You cursed a Muggle."
Oh, that. "I had to. She planned to sic Smash on us and run!" I glanced at Melanie and said, "You're messy like me, so I figured you were probably sneaky too. If I misjudged you, I'll apologise later."
Remus was still frowning in disapproval. I took a breath to explain further and gasped to feel the sudden drop in temperature. I could see my breath and Remus's as he said, "Duck!"
I dropped to the floor. He hadn't meant a waterfowl was flying at me. A metre away from my head, a chunky paperweight hurtled to the floor. Remus stood with wand outstretched. He said, "Get behind me! I'll deflect anything else he throws at us."
There were numerous potentially lethal objects in the room. I scrambled toward Remus, yelling, "We're not here to hurt Melanie, Smash!"
"Liar, liar, pants on FIRE!"
I couldn't help laughing. It felt like someone was tickling my arse. I laughed harder. What cheek. I turned to see one of the logs from the fireplace smouldering on the floor. I asked Remus, "Flame-Freezing charm with an extinguishing twist? You've got to teach me that."
"I'm a trifle busy at the moment," he replied with a small smile. Remus deflected a vase that shattered against the wall and told the poltergeist, "That looked very expensive, Simon. Wouldn't it be better to talk to us rather than destroy Jim's possessions?"
The poltergeist remained invisible, but his voice was clear. "No, and my name is Smash!"
I heard a scraping sound and pivoted to see a chair hurtling toward us. Inspired by my partner, I used a Freezing Charm, immobilising it mid-air. Remus and I stood back to back, defending ourselves against flying pens, books, and statuary. I hollered, "Do you have shit for brains instead of ectoplasm? We can hold you off all night. This mayhem isn't going to get you anything but grounded to the attic for eternity, Smash."
"Jim will be so disappointed in you," added Remus.
The spectre's voice went up and down like a pubescent kid. Remus nodded gravely. "Yes, Simon, very disappointed, I'm afraid. He trusted you to contact him if anyone broke in, didn't he? You weren't supposed to attack intruders."
"But, but I thought you were going to take Melanie away from Jonas."
I whirled to look over my partner's shoulder. The ghost was visible now, floating near the doorway. Although translucent grey, I got the impression that he'd been a towheaded, baby-faced teenager. Simon couldn't have been more than fourteen when he died. Thin shoulders clad in a MegaMaggot shirt hunched when Remus said, "We came here to find Melanie and learn why she left home. Her mother needs to know her daughter is safe. You remember how mothers worry, don't you?"
"Yeh." Crossing his arms, the ghost said, "I was supposed to open the window and send Lars, the owl, but Mel screamed for me and…I forgot." Looking around the room, his face scrunched. "Man, I'm in so much trouble."
I stepped forward. "I'm an Auror. You can trust me when I say we won't take Melanie while you send the owl."
"I don't know." Smash shook his head doubtfully. "You hexed a Muggle."
I glanced at Remus. He raised a brow. I rolled my eyes. "The Ministry doesn't tell the public, but Aurors are licensed to hex anyone and anything they deem necessary...as long as they don't cause harm."
"Not just in the course of duty?" murmured Remus.
I tried not to smirk. "Whoever wrote the regulation was pretty lax, wasn't he?"
"Cool," Smash said.
I gave him a level look. "Keep that knowledge to yourself, and we'll help you tidy the lounge before Jim gets here."
"Deal!" the poltergeist said with a grin before zooming off.
Remus took my hand and kissed it. I said, "What was that for?"
"Your kind heart."
I shrugged awkwardly. "Kindness, schmindness. I know how it feels to get in trouble for a messy room."
Calling the lounge a mess was an understatement. The room was going to be a challenge to put to rights. I sent the chair back to its original spot and levitated a now headless statue back onto a shelf.
"Did Evan know about your special authorisation?" Remus asked.
I replaced the chipped onyx paperweight back on the corner desk. "No. I didn't trust him not to try and use it for his benefit." It was easier to pick up books by hand. I bent down to gather several. When I straightened, Remus was standing in front of me. I said, "I trust you. It just never came up. You know what I mean, right?"
He kissed me softly. "I know." I dropped the books to hug him. They fell on his feet. Other than a sharply indrawn breath, Remus made no complaint. He held me tight.
"Oh, man, we don't have all day. Can't you guys do that later?"
I pretended to scowl. "Aren't you the one who tried to set my pants on fire? I'd think you'd be grateful we're helping at all."
"Yeh, I am."
I grinned. "Then get your amorphous arse in gear and start cleaning, mate."
Smash zoomed around the room, snickering. "Hehheh…amorphous arse…hehheh."
Remus leaned down to whisper, "He'll be telling the band to kiss his amorphous arse, thanks to you."
"You think?" I smiled and whispered back, "I'm grateful yours is corporeal."
Remus chuckled and used Vanishing Charmsto clear shards of glass. Between the three of us, we quickly tidied the room, although we couldn't restore it to the former condition. A few pieces of pottery and statuary were permanently missing.
"Shouldn't you release Mel?" asked Smash, floating beside the young woman who resembled a life-sized statue. "Jonas is going to kill you if he sees his girlfriend like this. He's pretty mental about her."
"Thanks for the warning," I replied, using a counter spell. Melanie swayed on her feet. I said, "If you run, I'll hex you again, so don't."
She was looking at her hands, flexing her fingers. In a wondering tone, Melanie said, "I was frozen. I couldn't move, but I could hear everything." She smiled briefly. "You didn't misjudge me."
I shot a glance at Remus. I didn't say it, but his smile told me I conveyed, "I knew she was going to run, I knew it!" without words.
Then the front door blasted open.
Melanie shrieked. I jumped. Remus pulled me to stand behind him, keeping his wand at the ready. I didn't need his protection, but I liked the thought behind it and stayed put, although my wand was kept ready too.
Jonas kicked through the remains of the door, bellowing, "Mel!"
She ran forward. "Jonas, I'm here! I'm fine! Why didn't you deactivate the wards?"
The drummer still hadn't put on a shirt. He looked like Tarzan, swinging in to rescue Jane from hostile natives. He wrapped his arms around her and glared at us. "I couldn't remember the runes."
"And he wouldn't wait for me," said Jim, who stepped into the room shaking his head. "First my roses and now the door. Jonas, mate, you two really need to find your own place." He looked around the lounge with a half-smile. "Good job cleaning, Smash."
"I had help," the poltergeist admitted, floating over to his idol. The ghostly boy hung his head. "I didn't send Lars like you told me to. I tried to scare them away first. I'm sorry, Jim."
"Go to your attic. We'll talk about it later."
I spoke up, "Melanie did scream for help."
Jonas growled. "He did a piss-poor job."
"Kiss my amorphous arse, man!" yelled Smash, before zooming over to say, "Thanks." He smiled. "For the help cleaning too. Later."
I had to blink my eyes rapidly to keep from tearing up as the ghost vanished. Simon's smile had been so boyishly sweet. How could his mother bear to leave this house…leave him?
"Here." Jim held out a handkerchief. I mopped up the tears that had escaped. He said, "It was breaking his mum's heart to see her boy and know he'd never grow up." He jerked his head toward Melanie. "She cries over him too. That's why Smash stays invisible most days."
Remus was dividing his attention between the others and me, never lowering his wand. He said, "Molly O'Neill cries over losing her daughter."
Melanie burst into sobs, burying her face against her partner's chest.
Jonas ground out, "Shut the hell up, you know nothing about us." He scoffed, "You don't look like a metal fan, either." He sneered at me. "Nice trousers."
My eyes met Jim's. He rolled his eyes.
Remus said, "I prefer jazz, actually, but I can appreciate your artistry, and if you want us to understand you must first explain."
"I don't have to explain anything! It's none of your damn business."
"Yes it is, Jonas," said Melanie.
"No, luv, it's not. The only thing that matters is you and me."
"The band matters to you," she said, "the way my family matters to me. I just…forgot…how important they were for a little while." Her smile was shaky. "You're good at making me forget."
She caressed his cheek. "You won't lose me. I promise. I need to make them understand why I can't go back, that's all. They can make Mum understand. All right?"
As touching as the scene was, I was getting impatient. "So you're a Muggle and he's a wizard. So what? My dad's from a non-magical family, but only my Gran knows about the wizarding world. The rest of them think our house is powered by electricity, and I'm an enquiry agent. It's not a big deal." I laughed shortly. "Regardless of pure-blood propaganda, do you'd think wizards would even exist if there weren't any Muggles?" I saw Mel's frown and added for her sake, "Non-magical people?"
Melanie shook her head. "Jonas isn't just a wizard, he's—"
We all stared at Remus, who smiled a little, like a professor who had astounded his class. He reinforced the image by explaining, "One of the band's songs, The Beast Inside, is very evocative of what happens on full moons without Wolfsbane Potion."
"How would you know?" demanded Jonas.
"The same way I know you took a shower after the concert but put the same leather trousers back on, presumably for your partner's benefit." He smiled kindly at Melanie. "The way I know Miss O'Neill is wearing the same fragrance as the one contained in the third bottle from the left on her dressing table."
Jonas curled his lip. "What? You're freaking Sherlock Holmes?"
Remus's lips twitched. He said calmly, "No, I'm a werewolf."
"The hell you are, standing there lecturing like some professor."
Jim laughed. "That's because he was one, Jonas. He taught at Hogwarts. Remember the bloke from the paper, Professor R.J. Lupin?" He laughed again. "Remus J. Lupin, am I correct?"
I looked at Jim and shrugged. "I said he was my partner. I didn't say what kind."
"No, you didn't." He walked toward a cabinet Smash had not opened during his attempted assault. "Anyone else need a drink?"
A chorus of voices answered, "I do."
A few minutes later, I was having a beer with the man it had taken sixteen days to find. Melanie and Jonas had made my holidays hectic, to say the least. I sat on the sofa beside Remus and gazed at the couple sharing a chair across from us. I had to ask, "Does he ever wear a shirt?"
Melanie giggled. "Yes."
"Good to know. Now, why the stars do think you can't have a relationship with Jonas and stay in touch with your family?"
She looked sad but resolute. "It's too risky. What if they find out magic is real and werewolves aren't only in horror films?"
"It happens," I said, "But there are steps you can take."
"Jonas told me about those Ministry people who erase memories. What if they accidentally do damage? I can't take that risk."
"Your partner can petition the Ministry for a Muggle Secrecy Act exemption. Your mother and sister would meet with you and Obliviators in a controlled environment. If they respond well and allow Secrecy Spells, they keep their memory. If not, only memories of that time in the Ministry will be erased." I transferred my gaze to Jonas. "Are you willing to do that for Melanie?"
He nodded. Melanie started crying happy tears this time. I looked to Remus for help. He said, "Are you on the Wolfsbane programme, Jonas?"
The musician kept his eyes on his girlfriend while he answered, "Yeah. Since a few months after the attack in the Black Forest three years ago. German beer is good, but wasn't worth the price I paid for drinking too much and wandering into the woods on a full moon." Jonas stroked his partner's hair while she dried her tears. He asked Remus curiously, "How long you been getting hairy, man?"
"I was bitten as a small child."
"Whoa." Jonas gave me a wolfish smile. "Is he your sex symbol of the damned?"
"Not of the damned."
"Heh…I get it."
"I hope you get that life as a werewolf isn't limited to riding out the pain," Remus said with quiet conviction. He took my hand. "There's so much more."
Jonas slowly nodded.
Jim broke the silence that fell. "I'm all for personal happiness, mate, but don't start writing about making out in the middle of the pit."
I snickered. "You could call it 'MegaMaggot Fans in Love'."
The guys laughed. I looked at Remus. He smiled and rose, tugging me to my feet. The others stood as well. Jonas said, "I kicked the door in, but I'm not kicking you out. I…I'm glad you found Mel."
"We're going to tell Rory we found her." I looked at Melanie. "And that you're going to see your mum soon."
"Tonight," she said. "I want to tell Mum I'm sorry for running off." Melanie's resemblance to her sister Jenna became more evident when she stuck out her chin. "Tomorrow, I want you to file that paperwork, Jonas." She held out her hand. I shook it, remembering Debbie telling me about finding Rory's photo album and vowing to shake the hand of the girl who'd dumped him. The gleam in Melanie's eyes told me she remembered too.
While the men were shaking hands, I leaned forward to say in an undertone, "No offence, but if Jonas is going to meet Molly tonight, I'd have him change his trousers and put on a shirt."
Green eyes shifted to survey Remus. "Mum does like younger men."
"Liking is fine. It's the chatting up I object to."
She giggled. Remus and I said goodbye and stepped over jagged pieces of wood to leave. On the pavement outside the house, a cat sat grooming itself beneath a streetlight. I stopped in my tracks. The short red and white striped fur made it look like a feline candy cane.
"Now we know why Jim was late," said Remus.
I shook my head and kept walking. "I saw nothing."
A gust of cold wind made me yelp and cover a spot on my backside. "Ruddy hell, Smash burnt a hole in my trousers!"
Remus burst out laughing. The sound made me smile even though I didn't think it funny when he said, "Perhaps that's why Jonas said they were nice."
I put my hands on my hips. "I suppose you think they're nice as well?"
A wolfish grin looked good on him. "They do make me grateful you're corporeal."
I threw my arms around Remus's neck and kissed him. His hands slid down my back. "Of course, there's only one way to prove humanity for sure."
His fingers on my skin caused me to dissolve into giggles.
Down the street, Mrs. Cravitz shrieked, "Mr. Bigglesworth!"
If I'd thought finding Melanie would mean relaxing, I thought wrong. I had too much shopping to do. I woke early Saturday morning after only a few hours' sleep and ran into the lounge. I needed help. I hastily lit a fire and tossed a handful of glittering Floo powder onto the flames. They turned bright green as I concentrated on the right spell. Warm air ruffled my hair as I called, "Jan!"
My neighbour came into view, her face drawn in concern. "Bon jour Tonks, what—"
"I don't have anything special for Remus, I need a dozen small gift boxes of truffles for friends and relatives, and it's been so long since I had a chocolate éclair I can't remember what they taste like!"
"Come over. I'll put on coffee and warm an éclair."
Alan let me into the flat, smiling sleepily as I stumbled over apologies for waking him. "With Anouk at school this holiday, the house is too quiet for me to rest easy. Now that you're here, I can go back to sleep."
I grinned. "Glad to help."
He ambled back to the master bedroom while I walked through to the kitchen. I drank in the aromas of coffee and chocolate and sighed deeply. "Je t'adore."
"Merci, although I would have been happy with j'amie beaucoup," said Jan, looking elegant as ever in a floral silk robe.
I snorted. "You, I like a lot, mate, but your chocolate and coffee, I adore."
Dark eyes twinkled. "Since you are to become my first customer of the day, I will accept your awkward English praise." She watched me take a euphoric bite and said, "Tell me what you plan to get Remus, and I will reassure you that they will be excellent gifts."
I stared. How did she know? Immediately, my brain supplied the answer. She was French. I took another bite of culinary witchcraft and told her what I'd come up with.
Jan loved my ideas, and suggested a shop where I could find the first item on my list. I accepted her recommendation, and her invitation for Remus and me to return for brunch the following day.
Her approval made me stride confidently into the boutique and head for the men's section. A sales assistant noticed me eyeing the jumpers and said, "Any man who wears one of those will attract every woman in sight."
A vision of Remus surrounded by a bevy of my attractive single cousins flashed into mind. I didn't want to be fighting them off all night! I turned and marched straight out of the shop. Across the street, a bold-patterned jumper seemed to leap out at me from the shop window. I smiled and crossed the road. Inside the tiny shop, a rosy-cheeked blonde witch looked up when I entered and said, "Happy Christmas! I make all the jumpers myself, and guarantee fit and comfort or your money back."
Fifteen minutes later, I bid the proprietor Happy Christmas and Apparated to a rare bookshop on Charing Cross Road. The shop had a cosy, library feel to it. Two assistants were tending customers. I headed for the younger man, calling, "Wotcher, David!"
He looked. I gasped. "You cut your hair!"
David Dunne held up a finger, greeted an approaching customer and directed him to the desired section. I continued to stare. He'd been a werewolf with long brown hair, a bad attitude, and a suspicious neighbour when I'd met him a couple of months earlier. He turned to me now with a smile. "This is grown-out compared to a few weeks back. How have you been?"
"Busy. What did Jenny say about that?"
His eyes crinkled. "About my haircut? She likes the Wizard Scout look. Don't you?"
"Oh…yeah…its fab…erm…is Andrew in his office?"
"Yes, go on back." He called after me, "Should I tell Remus you fancy short hair now?"
I spun around so fast I had to take a step sideways to steady myself. "Don't you dare!"
David grinned. "Happy Christmas!"
I shook my finger. "Keep it up and you'll be getting coal in your stocking." He chuckled. I gave him a last, warning look and pivoted to continue on to the offices.
Andrew Hopkins sat at his desk, contemplating a framed cross stitch hanging on the wall. He waved me to a seat and said, "Domus et placens uxor. Home and a satisfying wife. I have the former, but the latter is something I miss most this time of year."
I looked at the picture of his wife on the desk. Anne had been a striking woman. I nodded. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. We had a good life together." Pale blue eyes warmed as he asked, "How may I be of service, my dear? Do you need a recipe for Turkey Curry?"
I had no clue why he'd ask such a thing, stammering, "Uh, no. I need to find Remus a special book for Christmas."
"What did you have in mind?"
"He said his mother taught Latin. Did she write any books?"
Andrew ran a hand over his silver hair, betraying discomfort. "Hope didn't publish much during her career as a teacher."
My heart sank. "Isn't there anything?"
Slowly, he nodded. "Yes. There's something I've been selfishly holding onto." He rose and gestured for me to precede him. "It's time I let go." Once we exited the office, Andrew led me up to his flat. He went into his bedroom and returned with a slim book. "Fabulae Mirabiles, fairy tales in Latin. Hope had this printed for Anne as a present, for encouraging her to send the manuscript to a publisher. They sent back a letter praising the work but stating the current market was not favourable. As far as I know, this is the only edition."
The front cover showed a little boy opening a book. My fingers traced his face. "He looks like Remus."
"Yes. Anne was the artist."
I opened the book, silently reading the inscription and then looking at the table of contents. "Tres Porcelli! Remus would love to read the Three Little Pigs to Samy and Aashi." I turned to the story and began giggling as I read aloud, "Ergo huffabo et puffabo et tuam domum inflabo!"
Andrew smiled. "It's yours."
I hugged the precious book to my chest. "How much?"
He shook his head. "Some things are priceless."
"I can't just take the book. I've got to give you something in trade. It's only fair." I thought for a moment. "Don't suppose you'd be interested in my collection of Muggle jazz records."
"Ah, no, but thank you for the thought."
I looked around the room. My gaze fell on the mantel. I walked over to the fireplace and took down a framed picture. Softly, I said, "This isn't something I usually tell people, probably because it sounds mental, but after my granddad died my gran asked if I'd use my "gift" while we had tea once. She said it helped her remember the happy times, looking across and seeing him sitting in his favourite chair." I held out the photograph. "Have you eaten lunch? I could make you a sandwich if you'd like."
I swallowed the lump in my throat and prayed Andrew wouldn't be offended by my unspoken offer. He took the frame and gazed down at his wife before handing it back. With a slight smile, he said, "I'd like that very much."
Anne Hopkins had been a woman of regal bearing and casual elegance. I studied her pictures for several minutes until my metamorphosis was smooth and confident. While I fixed sandwiches and a pot of tea, I moved with an unusual grace and poise. During the meal, I leafed through the book of fairy tales, admiring the illustrations, while Andrew made occasional comments about the book and his day.
After lunch, we tidied the kitchen and returned to the lounge in companionable silence. I decided to transform back after I returned home. At the fireplace, I kissed his cheek, hoping my voice wasn't too husky as I said, "Happy Christmas, Andrew."
His smile was bittersweet. "Happy Christmas, my dear."
Remus was waiting when I stepped out of the fireplace. His eyes widened. "What—"
"Let me put these things away and change," I said as I dashed into the bedroom. When I returned, I rushed into his arms and told him about lunch while keeping the book a secret.
"Nymphadora," Remus said on a sigh.
I was glad he didn't tell me I was barmy. I burrowed closer and said, "Remus?"
"I told Jan we'd come to brunch tomorrow. Is that all right?"
He smiled down at me. "Yes. I told Andrew we'd attend his staff Christmas party tonight. Is that all right with you?"
"Did you say I'd bring Turkey Curry?"
I smiled in relief. "Then it's more than all right. It's S'wonderful."
He smiled. S'wonderful was a Sinatra song we loved to slow dance to. His hands cupped my face. "You're s'wonderful, and it's s'marvellous that you care for me."
Remus's kiss was more than s'awfully nice. It was paradise.
It was hard to remember blissful feelings when Christmas Eve rolled around. I was a mess of nerves. When the time came for Remus to Floo to my flat, I was pacing the floor of my bedroom, staring apprehensively at the door. A tap was followed by a soft, "Nymphadora?"
I could hear the amusement in his voice as Remus asked, "Are you coming out?"
"In a minute." Taking a deep breath, I said, "I have to confess something first."
I leaned against the door. "I didn't send you that jumper because I wanted you to look festive for the party."
"You didn't?" he said in a tone of exaggerated surprise.
I rolled my eyes. "You know bloody well I didn't. I sent you that jumper because I didn't want my cousins drooling over you all night."
Remus said, "You accomplished that goal admirably. No one will drool over this jumper, of that I am sure."
"I will!" He chuckled. I smacked the door with a fist. "Ouch! I meant I'll drool over you wearing it, because I know what you look like out of it." He laughed again.
After silence fell, he said, "If you're not coming out because you fear that I'm angry, I'm not. I'm flattered."
I sighed. "I'm not coming out because I wanted you to wear that jumper...so I sent it...but then I felt so guilty about it...that I . . . ."
"What? What did you do?"
He sounded so concerned; I opened the door and showed him. His eyes widened at the sight of my forest green jumper dress with an oversized reindeer head on it. Remus looked down at his identical jumper and said through bursts of laughter, "Let's promise...right now...never to tell Sirius."
There were candles in the windows and an elaborate wreath sparkling with white fairy lights on my parents' front door. Remus gave me a gentle nudge to encourage me to take the step needed to reach the doorbell. My hand was still upraised when the door opened and several cousins squeezed outside to greet us.
"Is this the boyfriend?"
"Matching jumpers? Hilarious! I love your sense of humour!"
The last comment was from Lora, who hugged me and giggled as she kissed Remus's cheek. When the others looked ready to follow suit, I stepped forward and slipped my arm through his. "Remus, these are Lora's sisters, Amy, Liz, and Meg."
He smiled at the girls who ranged from twenty four to eighteen. "This family is blessed with dark-haired beauties."
Remus looked at me while speaking, so I didn't mind sharing the compliment. Warm air drifted out as the front door opened. Mum looked as though she minded us giving the neighbours something to talk about. "Lora Josephine, your mother asked that you assist her in the kitchen."
Lora made a face at hearing her disliked middle name. "Probably needs me to sieve the gravy," she muttered.
"Mum's gravy is always lumpy," Liz told Remus, before saying with youthful frankness, "You must really be in love to wear that gear."
"Awww..." Everyone sighed except my mum, who bestowed one of her rare, wide smiles.
"Come inside and meet the family," she said. Dad met us in the entry and enveloped me in a bear hug before welcoming Remus with a vigorous handshake.
I trailed along as Remus was introduced to Dad's sisters, Bess and Daisy, their husbands and children and the assorted mix of friends and partners my cousins had brought with them. Our matching jumpers were the talk of the party. My cousin Rita asked where I found them, winking at me before saying to her boyfriend, "Don't you think we'd look good in them?"
Everyone around us laughed to hear Paul's horrified, "NO!"
"I might be willing...if the persuasion was exceptional," said Gerald, waggling his brows at his bride-to-be.
Lora smirked. "You said your mum used to make you wear a jumper with reindeer marching across the front every year growing up. I think you'd like it, so you would be the one to have to pull out all the stops to persuade me."
"I could sing you a song," he replied with a meaningful look.
Rita snickered. "Better add 'naked' to that, mate."
Remus drank Wassail the wrong way. I patted his back while he coughed, saying, "Blacks don't have a monopoly on bluntness. The March and Laurence families are just as outspoken."
"So I gathered. It's charming."
I laughed and pulled him away to say hello to Gran. She and Mr. Santini were decorating the tree along with Aunt Daisy and Uncle Nat. My youngest and only male cousin on my father's side, John, held up a white ornament covered in silver glitter. "Did you make this, Tonks?"
"Yes, it's a German Star. I made that fifteen years ago. Dipped it in wax, that's why all the points are still in good shape." Wax and a Sealant Spell, to be precise.
"Can you teach me to make one?"
"Sure, all you need is the right paper."
Gran said, "I told Remus they were your favourite."
I looked at him curiously. His expression was sheepish. "I dropped by for tea one day and asked a few questions about what your Christmases were like growing up."
"He's being gentlemanly, Nym. I talked his ear off."
I bent to hug her. "You look wonderful in red."
"Thank you, dear. You look like an elf in that jumper and those tights, but a lovely one." Gran smiled wickedly. "I'm sure you are Father Christmas's favourite helper."
Mr. Santini chuckled and patted my Gran's arm. I said, "Nice to see you again, sir," with a smile that wasn't entirely faked. He seemed to adore my grandmother, so he couldn't be that bad. I wasn't going to call him Marco or encourage more than friendship, but I no longer planned to do an enquiry on him or search his coat pockets for pills.
The rest of the family joined us in decorating and soon the evergreen looked just the way a tree should. Splendidly packed with ornaments and fairy lights and shining like Christmas.
Mum announced that dinner was served. I whispered to Remus, "A word of caution. Aunt Daisy's mashed potatoes are lumpier than Aunt Bess's gravy." He grinned and slipped an arm around my waist as we followed the others into the dining room.
When the party died down and the family started bidding each other final Happy Christmases before returning to their homes, Remus pulled me aside and said, "Will you give me a half hour before returning to your flat? I want to give you your presents tonight."
I looked at the clock on the mantel. "It'll be Christmas by the time I arrive. That's perfect." I pointed to the mistletoe tied to the chandelier overhead and rose on tiptoes to kiss him. "You're perfect."
"Your reindeer look like they're snogging when you press them together. Please stop. It's disturbing." Mum's dry tone was belied by her smile. She suggested Remus Apparate from the back garden and led the way through the house, saying, "I speak for the entire family when I say I hope we'll be spending much more time together in the future, Remus."
He looked modestly pleased, as if he hadn't heard the countless "finally picked a winner" comments during the evening. "I'll look forward to it."
Mum opened the kitchen door, halting abruptly. I heard her sharp intake of breath and said, "What's wrong?"
"There's a dog outside."
I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed gently. "Go pet him, Mum."
Remus and I stayed in the kitchen. He smiled at me knowingly. I said, "What? They needed a moment of privacy." He lifted a brow. I admitted, "All right, I didn't want him to see our jumpers, although forest green really is your colour." His huff of amusement was so cute I twined my arms around Remus's neck and said, "Let's make our reindeer snog again."
After several lovely minutes, Mum returned, sniffing and wiping the corners of her eyes. "I must tell your father. Happy Christmas, darling, we'll see you tomorrow afternoon for dinner."
I walked Remus outside. We were greeted by grumbling sounds that became a long series of low woofs. I glared at the mongrel laughing his head off and said, "You won't be so smug when you open up a doggie jumper Christmas morning!" Turning on my heel, I marched inside and slammed the door.
A half hour later, I walked out of my fireplace and stared in wonder. Remus had given me a Christmas tree! I stepped forward, reaching out to touch one of the white German Stars decorating the small pine on the table in front of my sofa.
"I made those, but Samyak and Aashi made the red origami bells and helped me dip the stars in wax."
My gaze travelled from tiny enchanted candles making the tree sparkle to the man I loved. "This is the best Christmas present ever."
"It's just part of the present. The rest is in a box under the tree. Open it."
I ran to my bedroom, calling, "I have to get your present." I found it, wished I'd done a fancier wrapping job, and then shrugged and returned to the lounge. "Here."
We knelt on the floor by the tree, holding our gifts. Remus said, "Ladies first."
I giggled and tried not to rip the paper like an overexcited child. My fingers trembled with eagerness, making un-wrapping a chore. I finally gave in and tore the paper off; eagerly lifting the lid of the box to see what was inside.
"Oh, Remus." I tried to say how much I loved it, but I was too choked up.
He said, "It took longer than I thought it would to find the right one. The crushed velvet Renaissance style wasn't quite what I had in mind, and neither was that 'fetish' cloak I kept coming across, whatever the blazes that means. I certainly did not ask." Remus watched me rub the fabric against my cheek and smiled. "In a second-hand shop, the proprietor showed me a Cardinal cloak with hood that had been used in a play set in the eighteenth century. The scarlet colour, double milled woollen cloth and satin lining was just what I had envisioned. Durable yet..." he paused to watch me put it on, "beautiful."
"Je t'aime passionnement," I said fervently, leaning forward to kiss him. I must've got my French right, because Remus kissed me passionately. Something poked me. It was his present, caught between us. I grinned. "Open it, love."
I would never forget Remus's expression when he saw his mother's book. It was a mix of awe and bittersweet joy. He traced the face on the cover with a fingertip, just like I had. "She always said I would be the model because I was a model little boy." His eyes shimmered. "This is my best Christmas present ever, and words cannot express how much it means to me...how much you mean to me. Je t'adore, Je t'aime, I love you, Nymphadora."
He kissed me tenderly. I sighed. "Will you read me a story? I love the way you speak Latin."
Remus opened the book. "Which one would you prefer? Tres Porcelli?"
I giggled. "Maybe next time, but right now I want to hear Little Red Riding Hood."
He huffed in amusement and stood, lifting me to my feet. Within moments, we were snuggled together in an oversized chair. I sat on his lap, my scarlet cloak wrapped around us, gazing dreamily at the Christmas tree while Remus read Larcernella Rubra.
It was the happiest Christmas of my life.
A/N: Victor Barocas is the actual author of Fairy Tales in Latin: Fabulae Mirabiles. I wish I could've read them in school instead of yawning through the Gallic Wars. Maybe my Latin wouldn't be so spotty. (think leopard, lol) Those of you who spotted the Bridget Jones' Diary references, did you know that in the book, Mark Darcy is wearing a horrid bold-patterned jumper, not one with a big reindeer head? 40/16 and Antipodean Opaleye both remarked on the similarities between Tonks and Remus and Jo and Professor Bhaer in Little Women, inspiring me to give Tonks a Muggle Auntie Bess who went Alcott when it came to naming her children. Thanks, guys. :D
Although this week is Christmas, and the end of one story, next week the seasons change and a new story begins! I hope everyone who read and enjoyed my first two Tonks and Remus stories will look forward to Promise of a Spring Moon next Friday. If you're wondering what it's about, here's the summary. April showers bring May...hassles? Bridesmaid blues and big trouble from small favours complicate Tonks' life when all she wants is to bring her love for Remus into full bloom.
The readers who made me 'spring' to check email with a big smile on my face last week were... 40/16 AAMLrox alix33 Arilla Rossi Bardlover Carnivalgirl cupcakeswirl Dipper die Loreley eleen ElspethBates Embellished FemmeDraconis FNP funky-faerie87 GraceRichie Hebi R. Helena Valentine ishandtwofourths katieweasley Lady Bracknell Lerie Lizet M missindependent1127 MollyCoddles moonrae Nethiel Nessime Newbie GK orangepenguin Paloma Polaris 101 petiteloupegarou potteronpotluvhim RahNee Sivaroobini Lupin-Black sunny9847 Quicksilver Foxx Verity Weasley and waterdreamer