Tidings of Little Comfort and Questionable Joy

He remembered his first transformation in vivid detail. Decades had passed but the memory of that first time flared in his veins with each full moon: bones cracking, skin stretching, muscles mutating. Through all the tragedy and hardship he'd known in his life, nothing could ever rival the pain -- the raw, stark, blinding pain -- he felt that first time. Nothing until now, that is, when he had to tell Severus Snape that they would be sharing this Christmas, their first without the horrors of war or the threat of Dark Lords, their first as an open and established couple with --

"Harry Bloody Potter!"

Severus always did have such a way with words. "I hadn't realized that was his middle name. And all these years I thought it was James."


"Now Severus, I told you, terms of endearment like that really should be left in the bedroom." At this Severus turned a really spectacular shade of red. A string of holly around his neck and he'd make the most enchanting Christmas centerpiece.

"When I agreed to participate in these ridiculous customs I didn't know the levels of torture involved."

Remus gave that crooked smile that always seemed to go up Severus's arse sideways, and wondered briefly if a person could shatter their teeth by clenching them as tightly as Severus was doing at that very moment. Really, it was a wonder any words could escape through the wall of bared teeth. "Being as well versed as you are in the fine art of persecution, you know perfectly well spending time with Harry doesn't constitute torture."

"That's a matter of opinion."

"And, of course, only your opinion counts."


Remus recognized when Severus was approaching full-blown tantrum mode. Severus wasn't one for delving into the murky abyss known as 'comfort and joy' very often. It was all he could bear to agree to celebrate the holiday at all, and that took weeks of prodding and coaxing, three bottles of cognac, and one truly inspired blowjob. Remus was now asking him to welcome 'Harry Bloody Potter' into the home they had built together, the place that was their refuge from the rest of the world. Asking that Severus remain cordial to the one he liked to refer to as 'The Boy Who Lived In Hopes of Pissing On My Grave'.

But Remus was asking him, nonetheless.

Too many Christmases alone had taken a toll on Remus. He had nearly forgotten what made that time of year so special, nearly forgotten what it once meant to him. Remus wanted to feel that nervous joy one could only experience on Christmas morning. He wanted a house that smelled of fresh baked cookies and to see mistletoe and tinsel cover the doorways. He wanted to turn off all the lights, and sit in the peaceful glow of a Christmas tree. He wanted be with those he loved the most.

It wasn't often Remus was selfish about anything, but this Christmas he wanted to be with both Severus and Harry. It was a simple enough request. Remus had no choice, he had to play dirty. He had to play the godchild card. "It's not like we were going to be alone anyway, you invited Draco."

Dark eyes narrowed. Remus squared his shoulders, and readied himself to do battle. He obviously hit a nerve, if the twitching eyes and flaring nostrils that faced him were any indication.

Severus might have been somewhat annoyed before, but now he was ready to pull Remus's pancreas out with a spoon. "The boy is alone in the world. Both parents dead, most of his classmates in prison, and he has nothing for company but a house elf with a perverse romantic attachment to a feather duster. Do you think so little of me that I would leave the child to fend for himself at this time of year?"

That was just what Remus was hoping to hear. "I'm not disputing that Draco needs us, that he needs to spend the holiday with people who care about him, but Harry does as well."

"He has family. Why should I suffer because they can't stand him – which, incidentally, I completely sympathize with. In any event, he's nearly a Weasley. Doesn't he spend every holiday with them?"

"This has nothing to do with the Dursleys, and frankly I'm appalled that you would classify them as 'human,' let alone 'family'. And yes, he does usually spend this time with the Weasleys, and he would have again this year, but I asked him here because it was something I wanted. Christmas is about family and I haven't had that in so long. You and Harry are the only people in the world who matter to me. He's coming here because he knows it's important to me. He's putting the past aside because he knows what it means to me. He's doing it because he loves me. Can't you do the same?"

"Don't make him sound noble, Remus. If he's agreed to this at all it's because he knows the mere thought of it will make me break out in hives. He's probably hoping it will all out kill me."

"Possibly," Remus admitted. "But he is coming and whether you like it or not, you will behave, otherwise, I will remind you for the rest of your life of the time when Harry Potter acted like a man and you pitched a fit like an infant who lost his lolly. Shouldn't be too bad. How much time do you have left? Eighty, ninety years?"

Dark eyes narrowed further. "Manipulative, conniving, and fairly cruel. I didn't know you had it in you. I'm sure there's a joke about teaching old werewolves new tricks somewhere but I've no time; apparently I've got two weeks to learn to become jolly. "

With his usual grace, he swooped out of the room and down to his workshop where he spent eighty percent of his time. Remus gave his enigmatic lover a small, sympathetic smile. Severus would stew for a few days but he would get over it. Another couple of rounds of cognac and fellatio would do wonders for his demeanor. Bigger challenges awaited Remus, for the only thing that could possibly be more painful than convincing Severus Snape was convincing Harry Potter.

"Don't ask me to do this, Remus."

Harry Potter stood before Remus Lupin a fully grown man: taller than his father, a perpetual five o'clock shadow darkening his chin, and thin lines at the corner of his eyes that made him look more mature and a bit wiser than one would expect of someone of his tender years. There was very little of the awkward adolescent Remus met all those years ago on the Hogwarts Express left in young Mr. Potter, but if Remus was ever going to convince him to change his holiday plans he had to appeal to whatever remained of that boy. He had to trust that Harry was still that same devoted, loyal person who would sacrifice anything for those he loved. Or, at the very least, he had to find the right buttons to push.

"Christmas is about family, and you and Severus are the closest thing I've got left. He's coming here because he knows it's important to me. He's putting the past aside because he knows what it means to me. He's doing it because he loves me. Can't you do the same?"

"If he agreed to this at all it's because he has some new lethal potion to test out and I'm his favorite guinea pig."

"Possibly," Remus admitted, "but he has agreed. He is willing to move past it all. Do you really want me to remind you for the rest of your life of the time when Severus Snape acted like a man and you pitched a fit like an infant who lost his lolly? Shouldn't be too bad. How much time do you have left? A hundred, a hundred and ten years?"

"Not really: you're much older than I am and will most probably die long before me. I'll have peace then."

Three hours later, they were still discussing Remus's invitation. Harry didn't want to disappoint Remus, but in his estimation the only time the words 'Snape' and 'Christmas' should appear in the same sentence would be if when someone said, "Oh look, there's Severus Snape with a Christmas tree shoved up his incredibly huge nose." Shockingly, Harry managed to be even more stubborn than Severus, and that was saying something. Harry was insistent upon holding onto his hatred like a security blanket, and wrapping it tightly around his indifference. Remus knew his only course of action was to find something that over-shadowed that hatred.

"Draco said you'd never agree to this."

"Draco? Draco Malfoy? What the hell does he have to do with anything?"

"He's spending Christmas with us. The last time we spoke I mentioned that I was going to invite you as well. Didn't want any unpleasant surprises on Christmas day so I thought it was best to let him know well in advance."

"Draco? Draco Malfoy?"

"How many Dracos do you know?"

"What's he been saying about me?"

"Not much, " Remus said with an small shrug. "Mostly that you'd never agree to this. That you could never look past your own petty needs to do something for someone else. He said that you'd use Severus as an excuse, but really that you just couldn't be bothered to do something for anyone, especially someone like me."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? Someone like you?"

"Oh, Harry I know that my condition has never been an issue for you. I know that you would never want to hurt me. Draco is just being…well, Draco. Don't give it another thought."

"Remus, you know that this has nothing to do with that or with you, right?"

There was real worry in Harry's voice and Remus almost abandoned his plan. He hated forcing the people he loved to do anything that would make them unhappy. But Remus had spent a lifetime putting his own needs aside for others; it was time to allow himself this small consideration. "It does have to do with me, Harry. It has to do with me asking you to spend this time with me for no other reason than it is something I truly want. But I understand that you have your priorities and that your hatred of Severus is higher on that list than your love for me. I guess I had hoped that Draco was wrong about how this would turn out. I don't look forward to his 'I told you so'."

"You don't play fair, Remus." He seemed almost amused. "I must admit I'm impressed; I never thought you could be so conniving. All that time alone with Snape has affected you more than I ever could have anticipated. Don't think I don't know what you're doing; I know when I'm being played. But, as we both know perfectly well, l refuse to allow Draco Malfoy to be right about anything, especially when it concerns me. Tell the little ferret that not only am I coming bright and early Christmas morning but that I'm even going to buy him a gift as well."

Remus woke on Christmas morning while it was still dark outside. Careful not to wake Severus, he slid out of bed and bounded down the stairs to begin preparing the holiday meal.

In the kitchen waiting to be roasted was a turkey big enough to feed a third world country or two. There would be leftovers until Easter but he didn't care. He was getting what he truly wanted for Christmas for the first time in decades and nothing was going to spoil today.

He hummed as he dressed the bird and prepared it for roasting. He hand-kneaded the dough the way his grandmother had always insisted on doing it. There was a mountain of bright vegetables that needed to be cut and several pounds of potatoes that needed to be pared and he looked forward to doing all of it. Remus made sure that he had everyone's favorite Christmas fare on the menu. There would be savory stuffing and cranberry gravy for Harry, fruity Christmas pudding with brandy butter for Draco, and wine for Severus - lots and lots of wine.

The turkey was roasting in the oven and the dough was rising on the counter when Severus finally came down.

"Morning, love," Remus beamed. "Happy Christmas."

Severus didn't say much, which was normal most mornings as too many years in a dungeon made for a severe aversion to sunlight, especially at this hour, and being a right bastard made for a severe aversion to congeniality all the time. He was particularly surly this morning, however, which was not a good sign. Instead of making a remark about his lover's incredibly annoying good spirits, he took the cup of black coffee that was offered to him and sat at the table to sneer menacingly at the copy of the Daily Prophet that sat atop it.

"Would you like something for breakfast?"

Severus replied with what was either a "grumph" or possibly a "vrumft", Remus couldn't tell which. "I'll take that to mean, 'Thank you for so generously offering to make me something to eat while you are toiling away at what I'm sure will be a remarkable Christmas meal, but I will only have this coffee so that I may not taint my taste buds until supper.'"

And there was the first raised eyebrow of the day. Remus liked to keep a tally; he gave himself a second helping of dessert if he got a dozen.

"You've been in the cooking sherry again, haven't you?"

"What is it, Severus? Bitter that Father Christmas never brought you that toy guillotine with the assorted Muggle dolls that you asked for when you were ten?"

"I was eight, and no. I know this might be hard for you to fathom but I truly hate this time of year."

"No use for peace on Earth and good will towards men?"

"Peace? Good will? What I see are hordes of people filling the streets, buying up the latest gadget and buying into the latest fad, all which will be fodder for the rubbish heap by New Year's Day. We must endure visits from family we spend the other 364 days of the years industriously trying to avoid. Then there's always those insipid holiday notes from people trying to make their sad lives sound exciting by telling how little Manuela transfigured a thimble to a stained glass window or how young Thurbert shaved for the first time."

"It's better than hearing about little Manuela shaving for the first time. I felt so sorry for her; I know what it's like to have unwanted hair."

"Joke if you like, but Christmas is everything that is wrong in this world. Materialism, gluttony, avarice. Greedy little whelps tearing through packages, barely acknowledging what they've got before they look to see what else they have to open. If you're lucky they might manage a mumbled thank you. Then there's always pretending you actually like the hideous gifts that others bestow upon you while you wonder inwardly what you did to piss them off so that would have earned you this travesty. Christmas is about receiving, being ungrateful for what you've been given, and giving unto others only if you have to."

Ah, nothing quite got the day started like a patented Severus indignant tirade. "Well, that's not what it's about to me, love. To me Christmas is about waking up to the house smelling of cinnamon and chocolate because my mother would have been up all night baking. It's about decorating a tree with my great-grandmother's ornaments made of blown glass from Germany that were over a hundred years old. About my father playing Christmas carols on the piano and all of us singing along, very poorly and very loudly. It is about snowdrifts of wrapping paper covering the parlor floor. It's feeling so full of happiness that I want to laugh all the time. It's running to the window and praying for just a few flakes of snow because nothing is quite like a white Christmas."

"You were always too sentimental by half." Remus could hear the amusement in Severus's voice. He knew for the most part that Severus like to indulge his whimsical lover. He also knew that part of Severus envied that whimsy just a tiny bit.

"And you pretend not to be. You can play the villain all you want but I know you and I both know you love this as much as I do. You just need to allow yourself to feel joy."

"I would feel joy if I weren't expecting certain guests today."

"Christmas equals family, Severus."

"And family equals disaster in the making. It's the simplest of math, Remus."

"I was never good at math, Severus."

Before either could say another word there was a knock at the front door, one so faint they almost didn't hear it. Remus put down his cup and walked over to the door to find Harry Potter on the other side, a bag full of gifts in one hand and three mince meat pies balanced precariously in the other.

"Harry!" Remus beamed. He had been half afraid that Harry wouldn't show up. "Let me help you."

"I've got it, Remus, thanks." He entered the house and placed the bag in the corner before proceeding to the kitchen to place the pies on the counter.

"Please don't tell you me you baked." Remus tried to sound as if he didn't want Harry to go through the trouble, but in reality he was terrified that Harry actually cooked again. He still had nightmares about a particularly 'unusual' roast of some animal that had yet to be determined.

"Fear not, Remus. You can thank Molly for these." Harry poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table across from Severus. "Good morning, Professor." His voice was cordial, but unmistakably cold.

"I haven't been a professor for many years, as you are well aware."

"All right. Good morning, Severus." Remus's blood ran cold. He closed his eyes and waited for the explosion but the only respond that came was a "Good morning, Harry," which elicited a rather violent shudder from its shocked recipient.

What followed was the kind of uncomfortable silence that accompanied funerals of people no one particularly liked. Mercifully, it was interrupted by the sounding of the doorbell.

This time Severus got up to answer. He returned within minutes accompanied by Draco Malfoy.

At first glance one would think that the years had been good to Draco. He looked as well put together as ever. Just as fashionable and as well groomed as he was when the Malfoy name carried its weight in gold. But upon closer inspection one could say that …no, actually, he was rather well put together. Upon closer inspection one would only verify that fact.

"Draco," Remus greeted enthusiastically. "Welcome. Did you have trouble finding your way?"

"Not at all. Severus just said it to look for the most garish house in all of Britain. I thought he was joking, or rather I hoped he was. "

"Oh no, he was right," Remus said proudly. Even he had to admit he went a little overboard with the decorations. It began with some soft fairy light around the house and a few candles in the windows, giving the house a soft warm glow. It ended with a team of life-sized iridescent plastic Hippogriffs pulling a sleigh, a nativity scene with approximately 6,000 pieces, including livestock charmed to walk around the manger, and a light display that could be seen from outer space. It was atrocious, vulgar, and could possibly blind some poor fool who looked directly into it--and Remus loved it.

"Tell me, Draco, how is your house elf?" At Severus's remark, Remus remembered that young Draco's only company these days was a house elf with some relationship issues.

"He's fine. He announced his engagement to Collette this past week."


"He tells me she's expecting. I don't doubt it as the evidence of their trysts is all over the house. The other day I found bits of feathers caked with some foul substance on my bed. On a positive note, the mattress set off pretty colors when I burned it. "

Remus and Harry just exchanged looks. Harry, it seemed, didn't want clarification and Remus wasn't too keen on giving it.

The day progressed as well as could be expected. Remus tried to keep the mood light and festive, but the others seemed unable to oblige. It began quite subtly with the occasional slight or the rolling of an eye. Then began the mocking of Harry's Molly Weasley special Christmas jumper and Severus's "holiday" robes ("They are festive. I wore these when I graded your substandard papers. Some of my happiest times were spent in this robes, failing you."). But then Harry accidentally sat on a gift that was meant for Severus. Remus could see the fury in the way Severus's eyes burned and his jaw locked, and he knew that no amount of oral gratification would fix this.

It only got worse when Harry nearly burned the Christmas tree down after what he claimed was a freak candle mishap involving a snow globe, two glasses of eggnog (Hagrid's recipe), and an Incendio spell gone horribly, horribly wrong. It didn't go unnoticed that Severus was sitting right next to the tree at the time. In his own subtle way Severus retaliated by carefully placing small lightning bolts on the heads of all the gingerbread men before he severed them and hung them from the tree when they were redecorating it.

There was no turning back after that. It was open warfare.

Someone charmed the turkey to attack Severus when he began to carve. It took twenty minutes to finally corner the bird and get it back on the table. Then, somehow, a dozen irate wasps got into Harry's holiday cracker, which he figured out about three seconds after he pulled it. Remus figured Draco had a hand in that one. Harry did as well apparently, for upon drinking his spiced cider, Draco's hair turned Gryffindor colors. (Later, when he went to the bathroom, he found it affected all his hair.)

It was getting out of hand when someone charmed a nutcracker to live up to its name and attacked Severus in an area that Remus was particularly fond of. Draco later apologized because he had made a small miscalculation in the spell.

No one would confess to putting the laxative in Harry's wassail.

By the grace of some generous god they got through dinner and adjourned warily to the parlor. At this point no one was talking at all. Harry slumped in a chair, recovering from his bathroom troubles. Severus was carefully repairing a gash in his favorite robes caused by the possessed poultry. Draco was trying to look disinterested and bored but Remus feared he was plotting his next scheme.

Remus was desperate to gain control of the holiday again, desperate to salvage the rest of the day. "I always loved this part of the holiday, when we were all too full to do anything other than turn off the lights and sit in the glow of a beautifully decorated tree. "

Severus stiffened. "Perhaps Mr. Potter thinks it's not bright enough. Care to set it ablaze again?"

Remus jumped in again, hoping to keep the conversation from getting ugly. "I think I can remember every single Christmas I spent with my family. I remember sneaking around the house, trying to find where my parents hid the presents and using all the family's Floo powder to burn letters to Father Christmas, hoping that the smoke would carry it to the North Pole."

"I said it was an accident and I meant it." Harry's eyes locked with Severus's and it looked as if all hope was lost. Remus's head dropped as he waited for the next insult or malicious remark when help came from a highly unusual source.

"My happiest Christmas memories are of watching older family members get royally pissed throughout the day." Everyone turned to face Draco, who was swirling a snifter of brandy in his hands and talking to no one in particular. "Christmas at Malfoy Manor was legendary. Uncle Willoughby would pinch my cousin Athene's bum and ask her to sit on his lap and tell him if she was a good girl or a naughty girl. My mother would make some comment about how terrible my father was in bed and pass out, usually before dessert was served. Then of course, there were those extra special occasions when she would fall arse over tea kettle, her robes would end up over her head, and the world would remember her disdain for knickers."

Remus had no idea what to do. He was horrified at what Draco was saying as he had little doubt that all of it was true. Part of him wanted to hug Draco and promise him that he would never have to endure such indignities ever again. But then Remus noticed the peculiar look on Draco's face and he wondered if Draco was really as traumatized by these memories as one would think.

The truth of it was that Draco seemed almost nostalgic about his memories, seemed amused by them. "My grandfather would play a few rounds of 'Who's Getting Disinherited This Year' and 'I Can Make My Grandchild Cry in Six Life-Scarring Insults or Less.' I suppose those games were a bit better than my father's favorite holiday pastime: 'How Many Of My Wife's Sisters Can I Squeeze Into A Broom Cupboard?' He outdid himself one year with two sisters, a cousin, and Uncle Willoughby."

Severus's lip upturned softly in a small smile Remus had only seen a few times in all the years he's known Severus. "Christmas with the Snapes was also a test of endurance." Severus's expression held little of the anger that covered it mere moments ago. "My Uncle Eamon used to insist upon making an old fashioned holiday posset which was a rather sickening mixture of milk, spices, warm ale, and bits of oatcake and bread. It was like choking down lumpy cake batter. The only thing more revolting was my Great Aunt Elspeth's fruitcake, which could eat the lining of your stomach if you managed to ingest the vile concoction and not regurgitate right after. I did find out, however, that it turned a simple sleeping draught into a ruthlessly effective canine poison…not that I ever planned on using it on anyone in particular."

Everyone gave an odd little laugh, even Harry who seemed to take the dog joke in stride. "I only ever got one real Christmas gift in all the years I lived with the Dursleys, a remote controlled car that Uncle Vernon got from someone at his office that Dudley didn't want because it wasn't the flashy remote control car he'd seen at some store. The day after Christmas a woman came to the door looking for donations for poor children and Dudley gave her my car out of the kindness of his heart. She went on for hours about how generous he was. I never even open the damned thing. That was a particularly harsh Christmas because it snowed the week after and Dudley and I spent days making snow angels. He made me make them face down. I wouldn't have minded as much if he didn't sit on my head while I did them."

Suddenly laughter began to float through the air and Remus could feel the tension begin to seep out of the room.

"I always loved snow." Draco picked up the conversation right where Harry had left off. "A bit too much, perhaps. I wasn't allowed to play with Cousin Edmond anymore after I showed him how to make anatomically correct snow people. It wasn't my fault he found them so irresistible and began to do unnatural things to them. Poor bastard – I was never really fond of him but what an inconvenient place to get frostbite."

That nearly brought the room to tears. There was something cathartic about bringing out the ghosts of Christmas past, something comforting about laughing about all the prickly moments that were as much a part of the holidays as the gifts or the decorations. There was also something almost therapeutic about sharing these memories with each other, and realizing they had far more in common than anyone would ever suspect. It was a testament to how far they'd come, in their own lives but also in the complex relationship that they shared now. They laughed for hours as the conversation went on and on.

"I was most fond of the stories myself." Severus poured another round of brandy. "'The House Elf That Saved Christmas' and 'The Little Drummer Gnome' were personal favorites – they made the most excellent kindling. Personally, I had a fondness for that Grinch fellow. That sickly skin, those rotten teeth, that antagonistic demeanor – how could anyone resist such a handsome fellow? He had such a promising start. Same with that Scrooge person. I got chills when he spoke of boiling orphans in oil and what not. Then some busybody had to show them the error of their ways and they learned to love Christmas – who writes such rubbish? I liked to read those stories backward so they would have a more realistic ending."

"Don't forget those timeless holiday songs." Draco jumped in as if on cue. "Yuletide music was always so festive at my house. Let's see, there was 'Deck the Hall with Severed Elves Head' – catchy little tune I'd find myself humming for weeks. 'O Little Town of Death and Bedlam' – a classic. And my personal favorite – 'I Saw Mummy Kissing The Minister's Arse.' That one wasn't as seasonal as you might think. We had to sing that song all year round. At least it was better than 'I saw Daddy Sucking-'"

"All right, that's enough. " Remus intervened before the conversation turned a corner he wasn't right ready to visit just yet. He wasn't nearly drunk enough to go down that path. "I think I've waited long enough for the opening of the gifts. I've been a particularly good boy this year and I'm hoping I was duly rewarded."

Remus wasn't really interested in getting gifts. What fascinated him most was seeing what the others brought for one another. He'd been excruciatingly curious since he saw the pile of packages that had accumulated under the tree. To break the ice he gave his gifts first: a set of very rare books for Severus that was the only complete collection in all of Europe; a huge photo album for Harry of pictures from Remus's own school years that he had recently unearthed, containing hundreds of pictures of Harry's parents and Sirius; and a Muggle video gaming system for Draco that would help fill the hours he spent alone in his house. Remus was most concerned about Draco, wondering if he would have any idea what the contraption was but he seemed most excited about it and not just a little surprised. There was a rather genuine "thank you" that Remus wasn't sure he would soon forget.

Draco, seeming to be overcome with an emotion he didn't want to display at present, gave out his gifts next. Remus suspected he wanted to give his gifts before Harry. His gift to Severus had been used as a cushion by Harry earlier that day – a set of antique potion vials. Luckily, nothing was broken. Despite that, Harry seemed to be truly sorry and he apologized over and over to Severus, and even more surprisingly, to Draco. Both men accepted his apology in an act that Remus could only imagine was caused by divine intervention. To Remus, Draco gifted a tailored winter cloak that fit Remus so perfectly he thought Draco must have measured him in his sleep. "How did you manage to get the fit right?"

Draco just looked at him incredulously. "If there is one thing I know, it's how one should wear fine clothes. I can refurbish an entire winter wardrobe in two minutes and twenty two seconds. " Remus wanted to laugh but then he looked at Severus who nodded his head slowly, verifying Draco's claim.

It was then time for Draco to give his last gift. He turned very slowly to Harry and without a word pushed a package in his direction. Harry gave him an odd look and them opened the package and stared at its contents for a long minute before he broke out laughing.

"And what, may I ask, is so funny?" Draco was visibly annoyed the reaction to his gift which turned out to be a new, and as of yet not available to the public, racing broom.

"Just this." He pushed a package over to Draco who opened it to find the exact same broom. Draco's expression was priceless, a mixture of complete awe and pained annoyance. "They told me it was the only one."

"It was." Harry wiped a tear from his eye. "I had to pull a few strings to get that one. I nearly had to promise to wear their insignia on my robes the next time I killed a Dark Lord."

Remus thought that Draco was very pleased by that statement. Whether Draco was more flattered by Harry's words or his actions, Remus couldn't tell. Harry and Draco shared a small smile before Harry turned his attention to Remus. "It took me forever to think of something for you. I hope you like it." He handed Remus an envelope.

Remus broke the official looking seal to find a piece of paper inside, a piece of paper that detailed the Ministry's New Magical Creatures Protection Act.

"Hermione spear-headed it so she really deserves most of the credit. I gave her an idea and she attacked it with the sort of radical vehemence only she is capable of. It was probably my name that got it passed but I figured it didn't matter as long as it was adopted as law. I mean, if saving the world can't get you a little political pull, then what's the point?"

Remus couldn't say a word, he just read the page over and over. It was Severus who answered for him.

"It is a most generous gift, Mr. Potter. And a very well thought out one."

Everyone turned to Severus in astonishment. "Wow. Was that a compliment?" There was real wonder in Harry's voice.

"No. Just an observation."

They shared a small smile as well. Seeing that broke Remus and he ended up grabbing both men and crushing them in a smothering hug. He let go only when Harry began to turn blue.

It was time for Harry's gift to Severus and the room became still and apprehensive. Everyone seemed to tense up a little and no one knew quite what to do with their hands or where to look.

"I do have a gift for you too, Severus. One I've been wanting to give you for sometime." Harry stood up and walked over to where Severus sat. He reached out a hand and quite solemnly said, 'Thank you."

Everyone was stunned silent but no one more so than Severus. Remus could see the look of utter incredulity on his face that clearly said, 'What's the punch line?'

"I'm not sure I understand."

"I'm thanking you. I came to realize no one ever has and it seemed about time that someone did it properly."

Severus seemed confused by the gesture. "Why you? Why now?"

"It should be me, I think. At least me. As for why now – well, Christmas is the time for new beginnings so it seemed oddly appropriate. The truth is, the more I thought about what a gift was supposed to be the more I thought that this was the only one I could really give you." He shrugged. "Christmas does strange things to people."

Harry and Severus remained still both staring at the other and waiting for someone to make a move. Harry seeming to feel the need to explain himself further began talking. "Have you ever heard of Rudolph?"

"What is a Rudolph?"

"It's a song or story or something you hear a lot about at Christmas time. You see, Rudolph had this big red nose -- "

"A nose joke? You're trying to make peace by telling me a nose joke?"

"It's not a joke. He was a reindeer and he had a red nose that glowed."

Severus blinked. "You realized that's impossible. A nose can't actually radiate any sort of light."

Harry sighed. "Are you going to let me do this or not?"

"Please tell me this story of the animal with the radioactive nose and how it altered your perception of me."

"Look, the other reindeers wouldn't play with him, wouldn't have anything to do with him because he was different. They didn't even try to get to know him; they just made assumptions based on prejudices and ignorance. They taunted him and they mocked him and they excluded him from their fun. He was an outcast. He was unwanted. But the time came when he was the only one who could do what needed to be done. Without him all would be lost. And even though the others abused him terribly he did it because it was the right thing to do."

"What exactly did he do?"

"There was a terrible blizzard and the only way that Father Christmas could get out and give presents to the children of the world was for Rudolph to use his nose to light the way for their journey."

Severus sat back for moment and considered Harry's words before replying. "Let me see if I understand what you're telling me: this Rudolph character was tormented all his life for a rather minor physical deformity that he could neither prevent nor avoid. Then his tormentors exploited that very deformity for their own purposes."

"No, you're getting it wrong. Afterwards the others realized that what made him different made him extraordinary. They included Rudolph in their games and in their lives."

"So after they realized that he was a useful tool they welcomed him, probably with promises of acceptance and understanding, with the intention to use him another day. You're right, it's the bloody story of my life."

"Why are you making this so hard?"

Remus was pretty sure they all knew the answer to that one. Severus had an inability to accept any kind of praise as it usually came with a high price. Harry was offering gratitude and not asking for anything in return. It was a foreign concept to Severus.

Harry held his hand out again. "Thank you." Severus stared at it as if he were waiting for Harry to punch him with it. Finally, and very slowly, Severus reached out and grabbed the offered hand.

It was all he could do to keep from hugging both men again, but he knew if he tried Severus would transfigure him into a tea cozy again and one time was enough.

The day may not have gone as Remus had thought it would, but it was better than he ever hoped. When he went to have a closer look at the brooms Draco and Harry had gifted each other, he looked under the tree and was surprised to see that there were gifts still there. Remus was suddenly struck by the preposterous thought that they had to be from Severus.

"I suppose it's my turn." Without getting up from the sofa Severus summoned two identical boxes from under the tree. "Mr. Potter. Draco." The boxes landed on the laps of their intended recipients. They gave each other a quick look before opening them. Inside were what appeared to be brochures, some travel documents, and sun block.

"What is this?" Harry asked aloud, and Draco asked with his eyes.

"Those are your reservations to a little out of the way place I liked to go when I need a little anonymity. The only thing I thought either of you needed was privacy and freedom from the pressures of being…. of being who you are. I can guarantee no one will know who are, or where you're from. More importantly, no one will care."

"And the sun block?"

"My own personal blend. You both are so pale you'll crisp up in an hour without it."

They both thanked him repeatedly and began to leaf through the brochures. While they were distracted Remus pulled Severus aside. "You only got them each one ticket. Are you expecting them to go together?"

"Of course, they will. Those two have been waiting for years to get a few moments alone. Two weeks on a practically deserted island is enough encouragement for anyone. Mark my words, they will be wearing nothing but that sun block for most of that trip. You noticed neither of them questioned that there was only one ticket for each of them."

"You gave them the gift of….each other."

"I gave them a push. It's cruel to make anyone wait decades to find happiness. "

Remus's heart swelled at Severus's words. He grabbed his lover, his love, and pressed their lips together. Instinctively, his arms went around Severus's waist and he pulled him close. A rather pointed "hem, hem" kept him from ripping Severus's holiday robes clean off his body.

"If you both can tear yourselves apart for one minute there seems to be another gift under the tree. "

Sure enough, one box remained and without anyone summoning it, it floated over to Severus's lap. "This is a rather unusual gift, I have to open it and we need to be outside.

Remus was intrigued. Whatever it was, Severus had been working on it for weeks, if not longer. They all followed as Severus went out into the garden and dug a small hole in the dirt. He lifted the top from the box and pulled out three small vials. He poured them into the hole, saying a muffled incantation after each. When he was done, he stood up and stepped back. Within seconds a stream of grey smoke began to rise from the ground and float into the sky. Soon the whole sky was grey and overcast and just when Remus was about to ask what the hell was going on, big fat flakes began to fall.

"Snow." Remus was amazed. "You gave me snow." It was the most amazing thing Remus had ever seen. Within minutes a thin blanket of white powder covered the landscape and clung to the branches of trees. Remus had mentioned his love of snow several times but he wasn't even certain Severus heard him, let alone had the capability to create it. "This is…this is the most incredible thing anyone's ever done for me. I don't know what to say."

The snow piled up quickly, and without needing to be prompted, Harry and Draco ran toward it and began hurling snowballs at one another. Within minutes the air was full of poorly aimed clumps of snow, and two men were laughing like the boys they never were.

Remus turned and put his arms around Severus's slender shoulders. As he looked up into shiny dark eyes, snowflakes began to gather on the long lashes. Remus kissed him softly with a kiss that held the promise of a lifetime to be spent saying thank you in a thousand different ways. Severus wasn't one to say 'I love you' or even 'I like you.' The most Remus could hope for was a 'I don't feel the need to kill you today.' But in his own way Severus was the most loving man Remus had ever known and this gesture said 'I will love you forever' more than any words ever could. "I don't know how you plan to beat this next year."

Severus's eyes went wide. "You mean we have to do this again next year?"

He let out a barking laugh and placed one last kiss on his lover's flushed, wind burned nose just before he threw Severus into the snow and began to make some very unusual snow angels.