Ratings/Warnings: PG-13 for language, and slightly Scrooge-like tendencies. ;)
Prompts: Candy canes, and
"So here it is, Merry Christmas
Everybody's having fun
Look to the future now
It's only just begun"
– Merry Christmas Everybody, by Slade
Word Count: 3,840
Summary: It's all Kenny Kringle's fault that Tonks hates Christmas.
Author's Note: Originally written for the LiveJournal community MetamorFic Moon, posted during their Winter Wonderland Advent challenge. Set during OotP. Many thanks to Godricgal for betaing:)
The sodding, sodding wireless.
Bugger it all, Christmas always does this to me, and I know whose fault it is: Kenny sodding Kringle's, that's whose. Him and his Christmas programme on the wireless. He does those mental sentimental Christmas programmes every bloody year, an annual aural torture chamber full of songs and stories and hand-holding and smooches under the mistletoe, tunes and monologues that are all about home and family and traditional bloody traditions, with parents and kids and the family dog and even the sodding house elf, too, and it all sounds so cosy. And friendly. And romantic. And right.
It's the rightness that gets me.
And so I get drunk, every year; drunker and drunker every bloody year.
"And so, when we're gathered round the hearth at Christmas time and consider what's really important, all we have to do is look at our loved ones – "
"Argh," I say to myself, because Dad's asleep in the chair next to me and Mum's insisted on washing the dishes because she says I look tired.
I can't do what other people do and switch over to the Celestina Warbeck special, because she's even worse, with all her "exclusive guests" who are even sappier than she is. Lucinda Unicornucopia? Ugh. Maximillian Chopra-Dinglesmith? Give me a break, please. I've had to wrestle the wireless away from Mum more times than I care to count. My choice is Kenny Kringle or none at all.
Kenny Kringle. Crikey. That can't be his real name. He's not related to Kris, much as he'd like us all to believe it.
Oh, I could turn the wireless off entirely, but Mum has to have something on. It makes the house sound fuller at Christmas time, like we're a normal family, a bigger family, a family whose only offspring has actual prospects.
The dinner conversation was all about who was still single (me) and needed to settle down with a nice bloke (this week it's some wanker named Dennis Troxler, a fellow Mum met through her local Potions club), and that buggering Kringle was no help whatsoever. Nor were that brother-and-sister singer combo, Doug and Delilah; I swear those two are probably secretly married, the way they go on. Mum laps up the scripted soppiness like it's mulled wine, and with every glass she comes up with one more reason why I should let her set up a date for me. And she can always tell when I'm lying, so I can't tell her I've already got a boyfriend. All I can do is smile and tell her no, because I can't bear to argue with her on Christmas day.
But every year there's the niggling thought that Kringle – or his writers – might be right; and even though I know better, it still stings. I realise there's no such thing as home and hearth and happy-ever-after. Not these days, and certainly not for an Auror. Most definitely not for a girl who keeps one foot in her mouth at all times when she's not tripping over it. Not for an overgrown tomboy.
Not for me.
But as soon as I think those things, I see the face of someone I probably shouldn't think about at all, someone I can barely make eye contact with when we're alone together, so I make sure we never are. Because he's so far out of my league that I can't even – oh, here I go with the self-pity again.
"Mum?" I yell. Dad doesn't even budge. I slug back the last of my firewhiskey and set the tumbler on the table between me and my snoring father.
"I've got to go."
"What? Why? It's – " She rushes into the lounge, wiping her hands on a dish towel, and glances at the clock over the mantle. " – eleven o'clock." She wants me to spend the night; I can see it in her face, the lines in her forehead. It's tradition, her worry and my refusals.
Mum takes in my empty tumbler on the table and the bottle of Ogden's Dad and I have been sharing, and she frowns. Her face crumples when I stand up and shrug into the coat I've been sitting on. I smile apologetically. The fire is guttering and she glares at Dad asleep in the chair next to it, his glass barely clasped in his thick fingers. She gingerly removes it and sets it on the table as he snoozes on. She'll nudge him awake to stoke the fire again, to make me stay, so I've got to extricate myself quickly.
"I'm knackered," I lie. It's been a long week, true, but it's this Kenny Kringle business that's killing me at the moment.
"Oh, sweetheart, I know you are," she says. "Why don't you stay – "
"And I've got a morning meeting," I add quickly. I can't bear sleeping in the room that's still got the rock band posters from when I was fourteen up on the walls. After fourth year I was too busy in school and during the summer holidays to bother updating them, and now they just make me feel, well, old. Different. I'm not that kid anymore. Things have changed, me among them.
Mum stands right in front of me and looks me in the face, her eyes focused again on the circles under my eyes; and she tucks my bauble-red hair behind my ear without thinking, even though I've told her time and again not to do that because I'm not a little girl.
She purses her lips quickly, but that doesn't stop her from opening them again and speaking. "Isn't there any way you can cut back on – "
" – my hours? No, you know I can't." I reach for my bag next to the hearth, and when I pick it up it's warm. I hug it to me for protection as I edge towards the front door. "People are depending on me, and there aren't enough of us to go around."
I don't tell her that Mad-Eye practically forced me to come home today, saying there were already more than enough people looking after Arthur in St. Mungo's without me tripping over all the Weasleys and causing a scene.
"You're all overextended," she says, and I nod, trying to resist rolling my eyes. She says this every time I see her, and it's no use arguing … or agreeing, for that matter.
"You're right, Mum," I say, because it's Christmas.
"Well, I understand," she says, pulling me into her gingerbread-scented embrace under the mistletoe. I hold her for a moment and wish I didn't feel the need to escape, but I really have to go. If I don't I'll start to get angry. That's my Christmas tradition. It's not her fault, it's Kenny Kringle's.
"Let me know if you want me to ask about that Dennis Troxler for you. You know, his parents are – "
"No," I say shortly. Her brow furrows and her nostrils flare, but she's silent. I try to soften my goodbye. "Thanks, anyway, Mum. Dinner was scrumptious."
"Kiss Dad for me. Sorry I'll miss the fry up and the Bloody Marys in the morning. I love you."
"You too, sweetheart."
She watches from the door until I've safely rounded the streetcorner, high above the houses on my broomstick.
I've silently let myself into number twelve, because I can't seem to go home to my flat right now, and now I'm gingerly setting my broomstick in the corner behind that sodding troll foot. Perhaps Sirius will still be awake, ready for an audience. He's usually capable of cheering me up; and when he's too morose to do it for me then I – or Remus – do it for him. We've none of us quite got the situation we'd hoped for, and it's nice to wallow in good-humoured company rather than company that keeps asking why I'm not married yet.
But when I descend the stairs to the kitchen, it's not my cousin's face I'm hoping to see, much as I try to kid myself that it is.
It's odd how quiet I can be when I'm just a little sloshed; it's almost as if the alcohol lubricates my path somehow. My hand trails the wooden handrail, smooth from years of use, and my trainers make almost no noise on the steps.
Yes, there's someone down here. The wireless is on, and music is playing.
"Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall?
Are you hoping that the snow will to start to fall?"
I slow my approach, lingering several seconds on each step. Someone's humming along with the repetitive lyrics in a low, pleasant tenor.
"So here it is, Merry Christmas,
Everybody's having fun.
Look to the future now,
It's only just begun."
And then I hear a derisive snort.
It's not Sirius' snort, so there's only one other person's snort it could be, although I don't think I've ever heard him snort before. My heart starts its customary hammering.
I hesitate on the third step from the bottom when a voice, none other than Kenny Kringle's, soothing and sonorous as if he's already been at the mulled wine, pours out of the wireless and into my disbelieving ears.
"Well, that was Slade, with their number one hit, 'Merry Christmas, Everybody.' I'm sure we all remember when we heard that one on the Muggle charts back in 1973, one of the first Wizard-Muggle crossover hits – "
"Unbelievable. Bunch of has-beens," a low voice mutters. My eyebrows rise; I had no idea Remus had any taste in music. What I hear next is louder and I jump a bit: "What's the matter, Kenny, couldn't you get Wizzard on, too?"
There's a silence, during which I hear a glass set down on the table.
"Losing your touch, my friend," he chastises, as if the host is sitting right there with him.
Remus Lupin is listening to the Kenny sodding Kringle show. My face is fixed in a grin for a few seconds before I even realise that I'm smiling.
But my smile evaporates when he speaks again, his words slurring slightly as I hear him pouring another glass of whatever he's drinking. "I can hear you out there, you know. Come on in, the more the merrier."
The pitter patter beneath my breast amplifies to a complete and thunderous kettle drum rhythm section, and for a moment I'm stuck. I look back up the dark stairwell and wonder if I can run back up and out the front door before he knows I've gone. But he's already heard me. So I stick my head around the door and lower my bag to the floor.
"Wotcher," I wave, smiling.
When Remus sees me he leaps up – out of politeness, I suppose – but so quickly he knocks his chair over, which is something I would do, certainly, but never him. Never him. And then he's suddenly lost his balance, and he flails at the table, catching the sideboard with a hand on his way to the ground and knocking a plate off. It crashes next to him and breaks.
All is silent as I stand in the doorway, my hands over my mouth, eyes wide, while Remus and I stare at each other.
"Oh," he says quietly, still somehow managing to look dignified, as if he meant all along to be sitting with legs splayed across a plate-strewn floor whilst hanging onto the sideboard with one hand. "Merry Christmas, Tonks." And he offers a feeble wave in return.
"Are you all right?" I ask through my fingers.
"Yes, fine." He picks himself up, daintily brushes off the seat of his trousers, and walks, a little unsteadily, towards the pantry. "You just startled me. I thought you were Sirius."
He's just turned his back to me, but I think he's blushing. I know I am. Remus Lupin is drunk, and he just fell on the floor. Because of me.
Why am I smiling about that?
"You're listening to Kenny Kringle," I say, trying to enunciate my words carefully; but I'm sure Remus can tell I've been drinking, as well.
"Yes," he says as he returns with the dustpan and broom. Perhaps he's as crap with householdy spells when he's drunk as I am sober. He sighs – somewhat dramatically, in his drunken state, and I shiver with pleasure – as he carefully sweeps the pieces of the demolished plate into the dustpan. "It's an annual torture, but I seem to need to do it to myself every year. It's – "
" – tradition," we both finish. He stands up again with the shards of porcelain in the dustpan and we look at each other. He sways slightly, and I adore that. It's nice to see him a little bit … undone.
"So do I," I confess. "Every year."
We both smile at the same time. The outer corners of his eyes crinkle in that way that makes me feel weak and insatiable, and I wish I were drunk enough to just take his face in my hands and give him the wettest, sloppiest kiss he's ever had.
"Would you like to have a traditional toast with me?" he says, and I can almost feel his voice reverberating in my own chest.
"Does Mad-Eye Moody wear footy pyjamas?" I reply. Remus laughs out loud, because we've all seen Mad-Eye in that ridiculous sleepwear when he's stayed here for the night. Even his clawed foot is covered. Protection from wood lice, he says. I smile back at Remus and we both snicker for a moment.
Suddenly I realise that this is the first time Remus and I have been alone together, not on Order business. Sirius is always here with him, always. But not tonight.
Remus doesn't move for a second, watching me curiously; then he looks down at the dustpan as if he's just noticed he's still holding it. He turns and deposits the contents neatly on the counter for repair in the morning. He must be quite drunk not to try to fix them right now.
He waits for me to sit, so I deposit myself opposite the wireless. Remus brings a pitcher of water with him and sets it next to the single oil lamp on the table. Then, surprisingly, he doesn't sit at the other side, but instead plops down right next to me, making the chair scrape the floor as he settles in. He's close, too close to me, and I can smell his musky and irresistible scent. With one long finger he slides the extra whiskey glass he'd just filled before I came in over to me.
"You might want to cut that with a splash of water," he says, gesturing towards the pitcher. "I thought you were Sirius." He blushes. Is this the second time he's blushed in front of me tonight? "Erm, I just said that, didn't I?"
"No need, I'm not, and you did." I feel my own cheeks growing hot.
Remus' lips contort in a little smirk. "Oh, wait. Secret ingredient. Tradition." He reaches awkwardly underneath his jumper, pulls a tiny candy cane from the breast pocket of his shirt, and deposits it in my firewhiskey.
I raise an eyebrow. "Really?" I say.
"Really," he says, raising his glass and swirling it. I notice the red and white sludge at the bottom of his half-empty tumbler. "Trust me," he winks.
I watch as the firewhiskey eats away my candy cane until it's nothing but shapeless, coloured sugar at the bottom of my glass. We drink together, and the minty-sugary burn is strangely festive. I smile.
Remus smiles at me, his eyes all over my face; and I feel my whole body warming, as if he's a bonfire throwing sparks on me during a cold, cold night.
And I realise I've never seen Remus drunk before. Yes, he's had a few with Sirius and me as we've shot each other looks across the table, looks I can never seem to interpret with any certainty, looks that seem to get more … more meaningful the tipsier he – or I – get. Merlin, If this is the first time we've been alone together, should I be worried that it's also the first time we've been drunk and alone together?
Kenny Kringle drones on.
"As the winter snow continues to fall softly outside – "
"What winter snow?" I snort. Remus chuckles.
" – we're thankful for who we've got with us on the inside."
Our eyes linger on each other for a split second too long, then we both face the wireless again. The drumming in my chest threatens to drown out Kenny's voice.
"Must have been a nice party," Remus comments. Is he fishing to find out where I've been? Something inside me trembles desperately at the thought.
"Mmm-hmm," I nod. "Mum's quite the cook."
"Ah," he nods.
I glance at Remus in time to see his smile widen just a fraction of an inch, as if he's glad there was no Dennis Troxler or another of Mum's various selections of Wanker of the Week there with me. Or maybe he's not relieved at all. Maybe it's just the firewhiskey talking to me again. I try not to look at him too long, but it's very hard to look elsewhere.
Then Remus asks, "Why'd you leave to come over here?"
He turns to me and his eyes capture mine again. The light from the oil lamp and the fireplace finds the golden strands in his hair, and his eyes are the most vivid of blues, like the bottom of a candle flame, hot and untouchable. He's still smiling.
What was the question? Why did I come here? It's best to lie, I think irrationally.
But my mouth has started speaking before I've got a suitable fib ready to offer.
"Because I needed cheering up." I immediately roll my eyes and slap a hand to my forehead. Open mouth, insert foot. "I mean, it's not that I – "
"What a coincidence," says Remus. "So do I." I shoot him a cautious look, but he's not laughing. He takes a sip from his glass and wipes the edge of it absently with his thumb afterwards. "Sirius started drinking before I got home from St. Mungo's, and now he's curled up in bed with all his old photographs of James and Lily."
"Oh," I say. We're quiet for a moment. I watch Remus' face, his far-away eyes, knowing it could easily be him huddled under the covers tonight, because Harry's parents were his friends, too. I glance at the half-empty bottle on the table. Perhaps disappearing under his lonely covers was his intention, too, before I arrived. All of a sudden I want to reach for him and cover him with kisses.
But of course I can't do that. I run a finger around the edge of my glass.
"How's Arthur?" I ask.
Remus looks worried, but he puts on a smile. "He'll be all right. He's … very well looked after."
Not surprising, with Molly and the kids there. Reassured, I smile back; but, thinking of family, there's a twist in my heart again, and it's all Kenny Kringle's fault. "I'm sure Arthur was glad to see another adult male in the bunch, though."
"I suppose." Remus looks away, almost shyly. His eyes darken for a moment, and I wonder what he's thinking, but he doesn't tell me. Then he gathers himself and looks at me again, and it's as if he can read my mind, about all the family business; he seems to know somehow, and I feel warmed from the inside out.
Remus is here, with me, drinking and smiling. And he needs cheering up, so who am I to refuse?
"Do you remember that Kenny Kringle programme from two years ago when he got Dolly Luth-Hickle-Vickson on?"
Remus immediately chuckles. "Oh, Merlin …"
"And Kenny thought she could sing – "
"But the network had to insert an advertising break because – "
" – it was so horrid!" we both finish.
He's covering his ears as if he can still hear that shrieking, screeching soprano. And I can't stop giggling. Great Godric on fire, it's not that funny, but we're both laughing as if it is.
But then Remus, still grinning, leans with one arm across the back of my chair, and we are closer than we've ever been, and he asks me, in a low and husky voice that seems meant for the bedroom rather than for a nasty, dank old kitchen, "Why do you love the Kenny Kringle Christmas programme, Tonks?"
My heart thumps in my throat. His eyes glitter, unwavering, in the light of the oil lamp, and I watch as his grin softens into the merest of smiles. I'm staring at his mouth, the curve of his upper lip.
"I never said I loved it." My voice sounds small to my own ears, and I clear my throat.
"But you said you listen to it every year. You must love it. Even if you think you hate it, there's something …"
"Something …?" I feel breathless and I cannot look away from his face now.
"Something – "
" – right," we both finish.
"That somehow, despite everything – " he begins. He swallows, his eyes searching mine.
"You – " I stop myself. I want to say, You deserve it. I deserve it. But I can't.
He nods. He nods as if he understands, and that smile becomes so intimate, and his voice so quiet, that I think I will faint. "Something right about it."
He cocks his head just a fraction of an inch and he thinks for a moment.
"I hate that," he admits. But he doesn't move away from me and he keeps looking as if he's waiting for me to say something.
"So do I," I whisper.
"But I love it, too," he says almost soundlessly. His expression is somehow wounded and defiant at once, as though he's decided just this moment that he loves that stupid programme and he has to say so to make it real, before he has time to take it back.
I can't seem to agree with him, in words – I mean, it's Kenny sodding Kringle, after all – but he's right, he's right, and I nod helplessly.
And then, as if we'd meant all along to do it this way, our lips meet, our hands on each other's faces, and for the second time tonight Remus falls out of his seat, this time in his haste to move closer to me. He's on his knees in front of my chair and my legs are hugging his torso as he reaches up to me, his fingers in my hair, and he's devouring me with his peppermint whiskey tongue, kissing me as ferociously as I'm kissing him.
Kenny Kringle, the bastard, was right after all.
" – so embrace your loved ones. Never waste a moment in telling them how much you love them. Curl up together next to the fireplace with a warm blanket and hot chocolate and a candy cane, and don't leave until morning. And now, for your listening pleasure, Doug and Delilah have a new song they'd like to sing for you … "
A/N: No, I haven't tried the candy-cane-in-the-whiskey thing, so I have no idea how it tastes. However, if you care to leave a review, there's a certain werewolf who'd be willing to try it with you. ;)