Sirius squints at the chandelier, and then sends his cleaning charm at it again because it's still green and black and tarnished and not at all the colour it was intended to be. That seems to do the job on most of it, and so he Conjures some holly and then some mistletoe and moves down the hall to the next one, repeating his actions until that one sparkles and looks festive, too.
He knows this Christmas won't be ideal – that Molly, Arthur, Harry – everyone but him, in fact – had better plans than this, but he's determined to make the best of things, because the last thing they need is him being a sullen bastard on top of everything else.
It doesn't really come naturally to him, making the best of things – he never had to deal with second-hand robes or badly knit jumpers, make his own entertainment – he always had the best of everything, not made the best –
But he'll try.
He moves down the hall, humming to himself – a song he thought he'd left in Azkaban but which apparently he's remembered enough of to piece together, and cleans, trying to do something to lift the oppressive atmosphere, the mood of the place.
He always liked Christmas, before.
He used to go the Potter's –
He stops, mid-thought, as he always does when he thinks of something happy from the past.
At first, he thought it was a reflex, something he'd learned in Azkaban, not to let his thoughts wander to happy memories so the Dementors couldn't take them, but slowly he came to realise that the hesitation was more because he wasn't sure how much it would hurt to let a memory form, and he doesn't like surprises.
But he wants, more than anything, to have stories for Harry – happy stories – and he needs to be able to tell them to himself before he can ever hope of passing them on.
He swallows again, forces himself to finish the thought, and for a second he sees a flash of wizarding crackers and smoke and hears laughter.
Usually, there'd be a full turkey dinner, all the trimmings, and presents round the tree in the afternoon. Mrs Potter would put on the WWN and they'd sing carols, or Christmas hits – whatever was on, and he and James would pretend that they hated it, thought it was stupid and juvenile –
He smiles at the thought. They both loved it really, would try and out-sing each other, drown the other out, and later they'd sneak more mulled wine than they were allowed, put extra brandy butter on their mince pies, and go to bed full and happy and just a little bit tipsy, but not as tipsy as they claimed.
His nostrils twitch at the mouldy smell he can't seem to shift, and so he casts a fresh air charm, filled with mulled wine spices and chocolate and thinks that'll do for now because it almost covers it, if not quite entirely. He'll ask Remus in the morning if he knows of something stronger, because Remus always managed to get rid of that boy smell when they were at Hogwarts.
He presses on, into the drawing room, thinking that some mistletoe in the doorway would be nice and that the fireplace is begging for some pine garland –
Ginny's curled up in the armchair like a cat again.
Even though Arthur's through the worst of it, she's still not back to herself, though she makes a good show of telling jokes, making mischief, ribbing the others about how concerned they were.
But he can tell it's not really a reflection of what's going on inside. Her smile never quite reaches her eyes.
He knows how that feels.
He wonders if she can't get over it because she's the only one here – apart from Harry – who's really felt what Voldemort and his lot are capable of, first hand.
He'd been shocked when he'd heard the story from Molly. So much for such a young soul to bear – but he could say that about all the so-called children in this house, and most of the adults, too.
Not for the first time, he shivers at the thought.
He tries not to think about what their involvement in all this could cost them – will, in all likelihood, cost them. He hopes against hope that there's no horror in the future of the girl curled up on the chair, even though he knows it is just hope, without foundation or basis in reality.
Ginny's eyes fix on him, and she forces a smile, although she doesn't move.
He smiles back – still it feels a bit unfamiliar to interact with people like this again, people he didn't know before. He's fine with Remus, because they had something to return to, and he's doing ok with Harry, he thinks, though he's shocked how much he's grown – but fostering new relationships is harder than he thought it would be.
He wonders if it's because he can't really trust them any more.
He crosses the room and crouches down in front of her, meets her eye. She's a feisty thing – he's known enough feisty girls to see it in her eyes and know what it means – but she's scared, too, worried that something will go wrong again, though the healers say he's on the mend.
"All right?" he says, and she nods, forces another smile.
"Just tired," she says, and he bites his lip against the joke that half-forms on his lips about the beds here not being five wand standard, but better, surely, than a chair.
But he knows that she's tired because she can't sleep, and if she can't sleep, there's no point going through the pretence of going to bed.
He goes to put his hand on her shoulder, and then stops himself. "He'll be fine," he says, instead, and Summons her a Butterbeer from the kitchen. He sets it down next to the chair for her, and she smiles at him faintly, through the darkness.
"Thanks," she says.
She knows everyone thinks he'll be fine –
That's what they keep saying, anyway, but then she's the youngest, and dad could have his head hanging on by a thread and they'd say he'd be fine to protect her from – she's not sure what – the truth, she supposes.
It's always been like this – Ginny needs protecting, because she's the baby and the girl – and she wonders how old she'll have to be before they stop treating her like this.
She knows they do it out of love –
But hasn't she proven herself capable? She dealt with being possessed by Tom Riddle – surely she can be trusted with the truth?
She reaches for the Butterbeer Sirius Summoned for her and takes a sip, longing for a warming sensation to replace the chill in her stomach that she can't shake, however tightly she curls up, however close to the fire she sits.
She's seen him for herself, her dad.
He was deathly pale and they haven't found an antidote, yet –
Evidently, her definition of 'fine' is just a little bit different to everyone else's.
And then there's Harry, too.
She curls up tighter, takes a long slug of Butterbeer, and then closes her eyes, even though her mind is whirring far too much for her to sleep.
He can't be being possessed. It must be something else.
She wonders why that isn't as comforting as it should be.
There's a rustle outside, the sound of someone swearing, and she draws her wand, and goes to investigate.
He knows what people think of him. He knows they sneer at him behind his back, and call him useless, whisper about him being a petty crook, call him loser, waster, low-life –
And they're right, of course, because he is all those things.
Dung has no illusions about himself, delusions of grandeur – or whatever they call it.
But he knows right from wrong, he knows when the greater good is served by overlooking certain laws, and he knows when people need a spot of unexpected kindness.
And that's what he's doing, he thinks, as he casts a cleaving spell.
The tree falls to the ground with an almighty creak and then a thump, and he reduces it in size, pockets it, and runs, wheezing a little, because he's not as light on his feet as he used to be.
In the distance, lights come on at the farm, and he hears shots, and a shout of 'come back here, you thieving bastard!', and then dogs –
As he Disapparates, he thinks that yes, he is a thieving bastard, but at least this time he's doing it for a good cause.
Of course the place is locked up when he gets there, but the curtains twitch, and then the Weasley girl lets him in.
He takes the tree out of his pocket and holds it out to her. "Where'd'ya want it?" he says, and she frowns.
"Shall I go and get – "
"Can't stop long," Dung says, unable to face the thought of questions. "Stuff to do."
"In there, I suppose, then," she says, shrugging, and gesturing to the drawing room.
He yawns. It's unnatural to be at work this late, he thinks, especially when there's only paperwork to be done – not exactly life or death.
Of course, that's not exactly how the goblins see it, and though he appreciates their work ethic and their attention to detail, he could do with a little slack at the moment, or someone to pick up his.
Between taking his dad's shifts for the Order, and his own, he's rather let things build up.
His own fault for not keeping up with things, but that's hardly any comfort.
He stretches, checks the clock, thinks he really ought to call it a night and go home, but he knows he won't be able to sleep, not with the thought that this will all be waiting for him when he gets up in the morning.
He reaches for another file, blinking until the scrawl on it becomes almost legible.
"You are 'ere late."
He looks up, and Fleur raises an eyebrow at him in obvious question. He smiles back. "Yes," he says, rising to kiss her on the cheek. "You too."
"Hmm," she murmurs, but doesn't offer any further details.
"Sorry I haven't been around much. Went to see dad in hospital," Bill says. "I took a long lunch break – so…." He gestures to the pile of work in front of him.
Fleur's face clouds with concern, the tiniest crease appearing on her forehead. In fact, she looks positively anguished on his behalf, and it takes him aback, a little, because until now, she's played her cards pretty close to her chest about what's been going on between them. "Ee eez all right? You said ee waz getting better, no?"
Bill nods. "Hopefully," he says, as cheerfully as he can manage.
"Ee weel be 'ome for Christmas, zen?"
"We don't know yet," Bill says. "I hope so."
"Good," she says. "Christmas eez a time for family."
She smoothes down her jumper, and tosses her long slivery-blonde hair over her shoulder.
"Have you decided yet?" Bill says. "Are you going home, or..?"
"Naturellement," she says, and then rolls her eyes. "Zee thought of what zee Engleesh would do to a turkey…."
She fans herself with her hand a little as if in distress about the very thought, and Bill laughs, feeling a weight he hadn't even really known was there lift a little.
Fleur smiles at him, and takes a seat at his desk, pulls a pile of papers towards her. "Eet weell be quicker with ze two of uz," she says, and without another word, starts to work.
He hears the werewolf in the bed opposite shift, the sheets rustle, again, as he tries to get comfy. He's been at it all night, Arthur thinks, although he's drifted in and out of consciousness himself so he can't be sure – but every time he's woken to take his Blood Replenishing Potion, there's been the same rustle of sheets, the same exasperated, fraught, sigh.
He feels sorry for the fellow – the healers have done their best for his physical wounds, but there's fear, suspicion, even, in their eyes when they talk to him, and they make no effort to disguise it.
It's enough to keep anyone awake at night.
He thinks that he'll ask Molly to ask Remus if he'll come in and have a word with the chap – reassure him that things might not be as bad as they seem. Maybe he'll listen to someone who's been there himself, rather than an old fool who got himself bitten by a giant snake.
Comforted by the thought of doing something for the chap, he turns a little and lets himself drift back to sleep.
He stares, open-mouthed, at the sight in front of him.
He'd come in to see what he could do about some garland before everyone else got up – but when he got to the drawing room –
There's a creak on the stairs, the sound of footsteps, and Sirius knows the gait immediately.
"Remus?" he calls.
"There's a tree in the drawing room."
There's a pause, and then Remus' head appears in the doorway, his eyes searching, his expression that of a man who thinks he's probably miss-heard.
"There's a tree," Sirius says, pointing, "in the drawing room."
Remus' eyes follow his finger, and then widen. "Oh," he says. He thinks for a moment, and then says, "Did you put it there..?"
Sirius rolls his eyes. "Would I be this surprised if I had?"
Remus shrugs in agreement, and comes into the room fully. "That is odd," he says. "I wonder if Molly – but she's been too busy – "
"Dumbledore?" Sirius says, and then answers his own question with a shrug.
Remus nods, regards the tree with one hand on his hip for a moment, and then lets out a short huff of amusement. "I suppose we'd better decorate it, then," he says.
"Oh, that's lovely," she says, beaming at the tree.
Remus scratches his chin, frowning. "I don't know," he says. "I think it still needs something."
Molly moves closer, scrutinising, thinking what a lovely tree it is, and how it takes the sting out of not being at The Burrow, decorating her own, just a little. "Perhaps a spot of tinsel?" she says. She's never been fond of the stuff – not since Ron ate some, egged on by the twins and half-choked – but she knows other people like it, and can't deny it'd be nice to have some sparkle and colour in the room.
Remus taps his lips with the tips of his fingers. "Hmm," he murmurs, his thoughts apparently lost in amongst the tree's branches. "Leave it with me."
Molly smiles. "I just came up to tell you I've made a fruit cake," she says. "Why don't you round up the others, and we'll have a nice cup of tea?"
Remus meets her eye and smiles. "Baking again?" he says, and she nods.
"Need to keep busy," she says.
He offers her one of his achingly kind, understanding smiles. "Well I, for one, am not protesting," he says. "I'm sure everyone will be delighted to stay for a slice after the meeting."
She isn't quite sure what she's doing in the woods after dark with Remus, but he'd pulled her to one side after the meeting and asked if he could borrow her for a while, and since she didn't have anything planned beyond another slice of Molly's fruit cake, she'd said yes.
She pulls her cloak tighter to her, stamps her feet in the snow to try to stave off the cold.
She looks up, ready to make some joke to Remus about him knowing how to show a girl a frosty time, but his eyes are focused up ahead – he's spotted something.
He raises a finger to his lips, motions for quiet, and sets off, creeping through the snowy undergrowth.
She follows, wand drawn and clutched in her mittened hand, just in case, even though he said she wouldn't need it. "There," he whispers, pointing ahead.
Tonks squints into the darkness, and in a bush that sparkles with frost and tiny icicles a dozen feet in front of them are thousands of tiny, glittering lights.
She glances at Remus to find him producing a large glass jar from his pocket. He winces at the small squeal of a scraping noise that escapes as he unscrews the lid.
"What are you doing?" she says.
He swallows, meets her eye. "We're catching fairies for the Christmas tree," he says, leaning in conspiratorially so that his hair falls into his eyes.
"Are we?" she says, and he nods. "What Christmas tree?"
"It appeared this morning," he replies. "Looks a bit bare at the moment."
She nods, then smiles, because that's at best half the story, but before she can question him about the rest, Remus starts edging towards the cluster of fairies.
He frowns, shaking the snow off his numb, red fingers.
It's still not quite right.
He mutters the incantation again, touches the snow and frowns harder. Still too cold.
The door creaks as it opens, and for a second, Harry is framed by the light from his bedroom before the door swings shut behind him.
Harry takes a moment to take Sirius in, crouched on the carpet with his hand in a pile of glittering snow, and then echoes his frown. "Er – what are you doing?" he says.
"Charmed snow," he says, "feel it."
Harry kneels down next to him, and obligingly, if a little gingerly, sticks out his hand. When he touches it and it's not as cold as he evidently thought it would be, he meets Sirius' eye questioningly.
Sirius waves his wand over the snow again, heating it just a little, and Harry watches, fascinated. He tries the snow again, and Harry follows, his eyes widening behind his glasses at the change in temperature. "Still a bit nippy," Sirius says, and tries again and again, inching closer to his desired temperature. "It's a tricky spell, though," he says, just to say something, "too warm, and it melts, too cold and Molly'll have my guts for garters for giving you all hyperthermia."
Harry chuckles. "You know," Sirius says, a little irritated by his own ineptitude, "your mum would have had this done by now."
Harry meets his eye again, a little nervously, and so Sirius looks back at the pile of snow at his feet and tries the charm again.
He swallows, because there's disquiet in the pit of his stomach about whether he wants to – can – tell this story, and whether Harry wants to hear it at all.
He glances back up again, and there's an odd longing in Harry's eyes, and so Sirius clears his throat, fixes a smile on his face, and goes on. "She'd be rolling her eyes at me about now, and telling me exactly which one of Flitwick's lessons this was covered in, and what I'd been doing rather than paying attention."
Harry lets out a snort of laughter that seems grateful, yet tinged with sad hollowness, too. "And then, of course, she'd have fixed it for me," he says. "And given me one of her looks."
"As if to say, 'you weary me, Black, and were I not a prefect, I'd be hexing you right now'."
Harry laughs, and Sirius tries the charm again, this time getting it just right.
"She'd be very proud of you," he says quietly, fisting his hand in the snow. "They both would."
Their eyes lock, and for a moment, Sirius thinks he's said too much, and he and Harry just look at each other.
It's not a moment he wants to race through, but he knows dwelling on what they've lost will do neither of them any good, and it won't do for them to be adding to the snow with tears.
So he does the only thing he can think of – he scoops up a loose handful of snow, and tosses it into Harry's face.
Harry splutters, batting the snow away with his hand, his fringe sopping and his glasses misty – and then retaliates, scooping up a make-shift ball of his own and catching Sirius on the jaw with it. Sirius loses his balance and ends up on his arse, laughing a little and telling Harry he's a good shot, but that doesn't stop him heaving a fistful of snow into the air, and watching as it settles in Harry's hair and on his shoulders.
Before long, they've got a pile of snow each, and snowballs are flying up and down the corridor at will, and Harry's laughing, and he is too –
It's the first time in ages he's had a new memory that'd be worth a Dementor stealing to snack on –
Harry catches him right in the face while he's distracted by his thoughts, and so he falls to the floor dramatically, revelling in the sound of laughter.
He creeps towards the cluster of fairies, Tonks breathing heavily in anticipation at his shoulder. He's not entirely sure why he asked her to come – he hardly needed Auror back-up to capture a jarful of fairies – but he likes spending time with her; in fact, at the minute, he's using more or less any excuse to do so.
They stop, mere steps away from the cluster of fairies, behind a tree.
"What's your plan?" Tonks whispers.
"Ah," he says, "I need one of those, do I?"
Tonks lets out a whispered chuckle, and he thinks, hard.
He's never caught fairies before – but he's tackled a grindylow, boggarts and dementors, and really, how hard can they be?
"How about if I – I don't know – scare them into the air," she offers, "and then you try and snag them in the jar?"
"Good thinking," he says, twitching his eyebrows at her. "Knew I picked the right person for the job."
Tonks sniggers into her mittened hand, and then meets his eye. 'Ready?' she mouths.
He nods, and Tonks' springs out from behind the tree, making some kind of 'rarrrrr' noise he thinks is supposed to be frightening, but is actually quite cute, and makes for the bush, waving her arms wildly and flicking snow up from her boots as she runs.
He stifles a snigger and follows, jar raised.
The fairies take flight, form a swarm around Tonks and buzz at her angrily, shaking their little fists, and while they're distracted, Remus steps closer, swinging the jar.
He puts his hand over the top to inspect his catch, but he's only managed to capture two, which is a very poor show by anyone's standards.
"Did you get any?" Tonks says, waving her arms and swatting at the fairies as they swarm around her. He shakes his head. "You'll have to be quick," she says, gesturing to the air, where a steady stream of fairies have given up their bush, and are heading off to pastures new.
With barely a thought for his personal safety or dignity, Remus takes a brief run and leaps into the swarm, swinging the jar out in front of him. He hears fairies ding on the glass as he captures them –
But he loses his footing as he lands, and goes sprawling in the snow –
As a reflex he covers the top of the jar with his hand, but at his sudden movement there's a ripping noise –
For a moment, he can't quite understand why his bottom is more chilled than it was a second ago.
For another moment, he convinces himself that it's just because his cloak flew up as he leapt and has gathered around his waist, but he knows it's more than that.
He drops his head into the snow, the jar still clutched in his hands, the fairies inside buzzing their wings angrily at him and shaking their tiny fists.
He hears Tonks utter a muffled gasp and then a snigger behind him, and wonders what this looks like from where she's standing – him, sprawled face down in the snow, clutching a jar of angry fairies, his trousers ripped at the seam and his bottom on display. "At least tell me I'm wearing decent pants," he says, and she laughs.
"Nice job, Moony," he says, as he tosses the last of the fairies onto the tree.
They take a moment to settle in amongst the branches, still slightly miffed about the indignity of their capture, and then they puff out their little chests and glow happily out at the room.
"Shame we can't say the same about your trousers."
Remus glares at him, and Sirius sniggers. As rudimentary patches went, he'd not done a bad job, although there was still quite a bit of green and blue-spotted material showing through the gaps.
"Reminds me of when we were at school," Sirius says. Remus raises an eyebrow. "You know, your birthday."
Remus' eyebrow inches higher, and Sirius rolls his eyes. "When you turned seventeen," he says. He turns to Tonks. "He'd had this almighty crush on a girl called Rose for years – and his birthday coincided with a Hogsmeade trip, and so he decided that since he was coming of age, he should at least be able to ask a girl out."
"He cornered her after Potions – startled her a bit, she dropped her books, he bent over to pick them up for her, split his kecks."
Tonks sniggers, then meets Remus' eye. "Did you at least have decent pants on?" she says.
Remus clears his throat, the faintest tinge of a blush on his cheeks. "If memory serves, they bore the legend 'spank me, I've been a naughty boy'," he says.
She starts. "Oh," she says, and Sirius laughs.
"I don't know what you're laughing at," Remus says. "They were yours."
They call everybody into the drawing room to admire the tree.
Molly coos, saying that that's just what it needed, and Fred and George retreat to the corner, talking in hushed whispers about the potential of fairy dust for something called Everyday, Everyway, Sparkle.
Harry and Ron look suitably politely impressed, but Hermione and Ginny smile, and it's the first proper smile anyone's seen on Ginny's face since Arthur was attacked. It's as if the appearance of something as comfortingly normal as a decorated Christmas tree has given her cause to hope everything will be all right after all.
Mad-Eye says that he hopes they were discreet in capturing the fairies and followed all the correct protocols for leaving and returning to headquarters, and Tonks rolls her eyes and tells him that she was constantly vigilant at all times, enough, at least, to get an eyeful of Remus' backside.
Remus colours, and Sirius mutters something about her having not said if she liked what she saw yet, which earns him a terse look from the pair of them.
Bill calls in on his way home from work, says he can't stay long because he's taking someone from work out for dinner to thank them for helping him out, but that he popped in to see Arthur, and he'd put in a request for another slice of the fruit cake Molly brought that afternoon, if there's any left.
Remus smiles and tells Molly it's a good job she made more than one, and Sirius Summons a crate of Butterbeer and insists they all have one, since Arthur being well enough to demand cake is a sure sign of improvement and cause for celebration.
Dung sidles in just in time to claim a Butterbeer, and Molly swipes at his hand until he asks if she liked the tree he brought –
There's a moment of stunned silence while everyone adjusts to the idea of Dung having done something nice and non-profit-making, and then Molly asks – politely – if he came by the tree by honest means. Dung avoids her eyes and tells her that he'd never dream of bringing stolen items into a place with children, and then catches Ginny's eye and winks.
Sirius raises his bottle in toast. "To a speedy recovery, and making the best of things," he says, and everybody clinks their bottles, and, after a moment of reflection, goes back to their little groups.
Harry drags Ron, Ginny and the twins upstairs for a snowball fight, and although Hermione hovers nervously in the doorway for a moment, she soon goes out to join them. Mad-Eye, Dung, Bill, and Molly chat about Arthur's recovery, and Remus and Tonks find a corner and settle back to admire their handiwork with the fairies.
Sirius stands back and watches them all.
He envies the trust – the faith – they have in each other just a little, the ease with which they're fostering new bonds that'll hopefully see them through –
He likes the sight of them all there, though, trying, in spite of everything –
And he's a part of it, in a way he never thought he would be again, and maybe, in time, he thinks, these won't be new relationships to foster and forge, but as old, and familiar and comfortable as the ones he lost.
They've had to make the best of things – a bad lot, really – but it doesn't matter.
In that moment, as he looks at them – hears laughter from the hall and chatter from closer, the clink of glass on glass as Remus knocks his bottle against Tonks' and says they make a great team – he thinks that making the best of things is actually the best of things, after all.
A/N: Apologies for writing Christmas fic in March, but when the Metamorfic Moon prompt gods threw me Sirius and fairies, I couldn't think of anything else…. Reviewers get a Harry Potter character of their choice and a remarkably unseasonable, but possibly very welcome, kiss under the mistletoe ;).