The Greatest Gift
Dedicated to those who truly understand what it means to have a friend, and to be a friend in return.
Chapter One; Grimoire's Cove
~ A friend notices you getting wistful over something you cannot afford. And gives it to you for Christmas.
The village of Hogsmeade looked very much like it belonged on a Christmas card. Gently falling snow was settling in the streets and on the rooftops of buildings. Brightly coloured fairy lights strung across numerous trees. Wreaths hanging on every door. People, all wrapped up warmly, walked the streets, taking the time to appreciate the feel of Christmas so near.
With one exception.
Sirius Black ploughed through the snowdrifts and crowds, dark eyes darting from one shop window to the next, searching frantically. It was the twentieth of December and he still hadn't finished his Christmas shopping.
Why didn't I do this sooner?He thought despairingly as he eyed the display in Honeydukes window. I leave it later and later every year. Lily's right, one day I'll end up doing all my shopping on Christmas Eve!
The problem was Sirius always got stuck trying to think of something to get for his friends and even after nearly seven years of knowing them, Sirius often had to resort to picking each of their brains in turn, looking for inspiration. Not that he ever got any help from Peter. Picking Wormtail's brain was like snapping a broomstick in half and expecting it to fly. Pointless! He was a good friend, just a bit dim.
Lily had never had a problem getting her friends' presents. It had been long suspected that she did all her shopping over the summer holidays. She often bought them something Muggle related which provided the guys with endless hours of amusement.
Sirius grinned, remembering Lily's last present to him; a box of Muggle jokes and tricks. So simple, yet they caught everybody out. But, as he passed by Zonko's, Sirius had to admit that nothing Muggle could ever beat magic.
Asking James for help rarely got Sirius anywhere. Prongs had some very definite ideas about Christmas. Memories of undignified grovelling came to mind, but James never gave in to Sirius' pleas.
Which left Remus, the only one with any brains to pick. He'd helped Sirius find gifts for Wormtail and Lily earlier that day and had suggested getting a book on advanced Transfiguration for James. 'Find something that'll challenge him! Everything seems a bit too easy now you've done the Animagus Transformation.'
Without a doubt, their greatest achievement. It had been worth all the endless research sessions in the library, the detentions for getting caught there at three in the morning, the repeated failed attempts and severe lack of sleep. (Thank goodness Lily had introduced them to the wonder that was coffee when she did.) It took them three long years before all their hard work paid off.
James, Sirius and Peter.
Stag, dog and rat.
Prongs, Padfoot and Wormtail.
And they'd done it for Remus.
Sirius smiled at the memory of the look on his friends face when they did the first successful change. He'd been, quite literarily, over the moon. He even burst into tears he was so overcome!
Unfortunately, Sirius ruefully reminded himself, the full moon was going to fall on Christmas Day this year. Remus was looking more tired and sickly with each day.
It wasn't fair! Christmas was their time! It was more than a holiday. The swapping of gifts, the food, the decorations, none of it really mattered to them.
It meant more to them than any of that.
Their very first Christmas at Hogwarts had brought the five of them together as a group for the first time. James and Sirius were firm friends already and Peter sort of tagged around after them, but was not really part of the group. Remus was a loner; he kept himself to himself mostly, although he and Lily would often play chess together. Lily was the only first year Gryffindor girl to stay at Hogwarts for the holiday. She'd hung around with Remus and they'd somehow been dragged into a food fight involving James, Sirius and Peter against a group of first year Slytherins that had been throwing unprovoked insults at the whole of Gryffindor house since the start of term. They had all received detention and sparked the beginning of a firm friendship between the five of them.
The following year had brought the unexpected discovery of Remus' lycanthropy. It had been a shock all round but when it came down to it; it didn't affect their friendship. If anything, it made it stronger. That Christmas also launched the beginning of the Marauders. They found that each of them had a shared fascination of jokes, tricks and generally causing magical mayhem.
Lily didn't always approve, but they did make her an honorary Marauder after she'd hidden fireworks under Narcissa Malitia's chair in the Great Hall after she called Lily a Mudblood. It had been quite hilarious watching the stuck-up snob go shooting several feet up into the air in a huge burst of brightly coloured sparks and falling straight into a huge bowl of punch on the teachers table, screaming her head off until that point.
Head of Slytherin house, Professor Scythe, had demanded that whoever was responsible to stand up. Very bravely, Lily owned up.
'You better have a very good reason for this,' Professor Scythe said coldly, assisting a sopping wet Narcissa out of the bowl.
'I do, sir.'
'I thought it'd be a laugh.'
She'd even said it with a straight face. A true Marauder. James had had an obvious crush on the pretty green-eyed redhead from that moment on.
Sirius swept past the Three Broomsticks pub. Glancing in the window, he spotted Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts. Their third year at Hogwarts had been pretty special too. Sadly, Hagrids dog, Fenris, had died just a few weeks before the holiday. Peter had come up with a wonderful idea and on Christmas Day presented Hagrid with a beautiful black boarhound puppy, a joint gift from the Marauders. Hagrid had simply loved it, naming her Holly in honour of the occasion.
About the same time, James had come up with the idea of turning into animals. The theory being that since a werewolf seeks only humans as prey, surely that meant animals would be safe in its company?
The Animagus Project was born.
Pretty ambitious for a group of thirteen-year-old wizards, Sirius thought smugly. And we did it! Shame Lily didn't want to risk it.
Unfortunately their next Christmas wasn't so happy. Lily's elder Muggle cousin, Daphne, had been killed in a car crash. Lily was so miserable that she hardly seemed to notice that it was Christmas. That year was solely devoted to helping Lily get through it, to cheer her up. She had been very grateful to all of them, James especially. Some months later, James asked Lily out on a date. She'd accepted.
But their fifth year Christmas was Sirius' personal favourite. (The Animagus Project had been going really well, although they didn't succeed in the actual transformation until the following February.) Sirius had recently discovered an interest in Muggle motorbikes. He'd become almost obsessed over the summer and couldn't wait till he was old enough to take his test. His father disapproved but it only made him more persistent to learn more about them.
The rest of the Marauders, plus Lily, had taken him to a Muggle town a few miles outside of Hogsmeade, and Lily introduced him to Alfred, an old friend of the Evans family who worked in a garage there, repairing cars and motorbikes. Alfred was more than happy to teach Sirius everything he knew about motorbikes. The two of them had been great friends ever since. Sirius snuck out of Hogwarts every weekend to visit him and get private lessons on Alfred's bike. Definably the best present he'd ever had.
Last year had been James' Christmas. That year he had been elected as Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team and his father, Ian Potter, who was a well know and highly respected Auror, had apprehended a group of Death Eaters at the start of December, earning him the Order of Merlin First Class. James had never been so proud.
Each Christmas the group had stayed at Hogwarts together, sharing everything, renewing their friendship on a stronger foundation with each passing year.
But this year, their seventh and final year, was going to be different. The full moon would emerge on the night of the twenty-fifth, Remus would go through the horrendous transformation, lose all sense of his human self. Sirius and the others would stay with him, no question about that, but still, despite their calming influence on his wolf form, Remus would be completely drained of energy the following morning, spending the next few days in the hospital wing, weak and vulnerable to the slightest infection. It took a lot out of him. It always did.
Sirius angrily kicked his way through a snowdrift. It made him feel even worse that he couldn't find a present for Moony. Anything that might cheer him up after he regained his strength. But in all honesty, what could possibly make the transformation easier on him?
A large snowball smacking into the back of his head interrupted his sombre thoughts. Losing his balance, Sirius fell forward into the snow. Rubbing his sore head, he looked over his shoulder to see Severus Snape, Evan Rosier and Martin Avery right behind him.
'Well, well, well,' Snape sneered down at him. 'Look who we have here; one of the Gryffin-dorks.'
Rosier and Avery roared with laughter, despite hearing that joke about a million times before.
Sirius was unimpressed. He yawned.
'Yeah, hilarious Sev, you couldn't come up with anything new?'
The Slytherin Sneer grew ever wider as the three of them produced several snowballs each from behind their backs. Large and packed with ice and small stones.
While sincerely wishing the rest of the Marauders were here, Sirius wasn't sorry for an excuse to fight Snape, providing Rosier and Avery didn't join in. Fat chance of that. A two year old could see that Sirius wasn't going to win this, especially from his undignified position scrawled in the snow at their feet.
Still, he wasn't completely helpless.
Seemingly bracing himself for the onslaught of snowballs, he crouched slightly, discreetly slipping his wand out of his sleeve. General rule of mischief making and Marauder Law; Always keep your wand handy.
Snape, Rosier and Avery lurched backwards as a huge cloud of purple smoke erupted from beneath their feet. Blindly, they lobbed the snowballs where they'd last seen Sirius. Next moment, the smoke cleared and –
'Where is he?' demanded Snape.
'There!' Rosier pointed at the retreating figure dashing away up the street and into the crowd.
'Well, don't just stand there! Get him!'
Gasping for breath, Sirius weaved his way through the crowd of witches and wizards, dashed past a group of warlocks and slipped among a group of fellow Hogwarts students. Glancing over his shoulder he could see Snape, Rosier and Avery in hot pursuit.
Damn it! They'd seen him.
Breaking through the ranks of the crowd, they threw several snowballs directly at him.
The spell caught the snowballs a metre from smashing into Sirius' face. Like boomerangs, they swerved away and straight back to the Slytherins. Snape was the only one quick enough to cast a Shield Charm to protect himself. Rosier and Avery both ended up with snow plastered all over their faces and flat on their backs on the street.
Smirking, Sirius raced down the nearest alleyway. Another Marauder rule; Do what you can, then leg it! Hey, it was better than hanging around being outnumbered three-to-one.
Pity he couldn't transform here, but Snape already knew too much about the Marauders for their liking, and that was undeniably Sirius' fault.
Last year he'd sent Snape down the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow on the night of the full moon, just as Remus was about to transform. Thank goodness James had had the guts to go after him, otherwise … Sirius cringed … Remus might have killed him, or worse, bitten him, created another werewolf. The last thing Remus would want to happen.
But now Severus knew what Remus was … it was different when close friends know something like that about you, they accepted you for it. Enemies despised you for it. Even though Professor Dumbledore had strictly forbidden Severus to tell anyone, Remus was terrified that he'd tell, people would find out and he'd be forced to leave.
However, Severus bore more of a grudge on Sirius than Remus, hence this attack while he was on his own.
If he played by any rules at all, he'd break themSirius thought as he legged it round a corner, the Slytherins gaining on him.
A decent hiding place was what he needed right about now. Zonko's? Nope, it was back the other way. Honeydukes? Nowhere near it. Dervish and Banges? Opps, just missed it! A small dark shop tucked down an alley caught his eye. Better than nothing.
He made a beeline for it, slipping out of sight behind a crowd of elderly witches emerging from the bakers. He reached the door, shoved it open, sounding a dull bell as he did so, and dashed inside. Peering through the murky window, Sirius could just make out the blurry shapes of his pursuers only just breaking through the crowd, looking every direction for their quarry.
Snape glared around angrily, gestured to the other two and they spread out.
A prickling on the back of his neck told Sirius that someone was watching him. Slowly, he turned and took in his surroundings.
The little shop looked suspiciously like an old abandoned attic. The strong smell of damp mould hung in the air. Fine cobwebs were draped in the far corners. A thin layer of dust lay on what few clear surfaces there were. Odd tables and shelves, haphazardly placed around the shop displayed all sorts of curious trinkets.
And there was no one there.
'Hello?' Sirius called.
Maybe this shop was closed? He hadn't noticed a sign on the door, nor had it been locked. Sirius shrugged. Oh well …
Sirius wandered among the shelves, looking around. Might as well lie low for a bit; wait until Snape called off his minions.
A large display of dark coloured candles threw flickering shadows onto a nearby collection of hideous masks. An old grandfather clock stood in the far corner, its ticking dull as it were tired. Made of near-black wood, the craved design was that of fluttering bats. Jars of foul smelling liquids and powders were crammed onto shelves with some assorted little statues of cats, snakes and spiders.
Sirius cautiously eyed a large obsidian scorpion encrusted with dark green jewels on its tail, back and eyes.
'Welcome,' said a low voice.
Sirius jerked away from the scorpion, spun round and found himself facing an old woman. She was a head shorter than him, rather plump and very wrinkled. Her long scraggly hair was grey-white and her eyes so dark they looked black. Her dark grey robes were stained with what Sirius assumed (or maybe hoped) were potion spots.
'Welcome to Grimoire's Cove.' She said in a low husky voice, smiling toothlessly up at him. 'Can I help you, young man?'
Sirius took an involuntary step back from her.
'Actually … I was just …'
'Running from someone.'
It wasn't a question.
'How did you …?'
'Perhaps this will interest you.'
The old woman grabbed Sirius' wrist with a bony withered hand, (she had a very strong grip he noticed) and almost dragged him to the back of the shop where a number of tall bookcases stood, stuffed with thick volumes and yellowing scrolls bound with black ribbons.
She released his arm and pulled a book from the shelf, holding it out to him. The black embossed cover read; Retribution Rites for the Resentful.
Nursing his sore wrist, Sirius looked from the book back up to the witch. She looked imploringly up at him, still holding the book out.
'Take it.' She hissed.
Hmm, pushy. Even for a sales-witch.
'Thanks … but no thanks, ma'am.' She was really giving him the creeps.
Her smile faltered. Her eyes narrowed.
'It's just that-' He took a hurried step back and bumped into the bookshelf behind him.
'Careful!' she screeched.
A heavy book had tumbled off the top shelf and struck Sirius hard on the head! His vision swam and he dropped to his knees, stunned.
The woman made no move to help him. Instead, she disappeared into a back room, muttering incoherently.
Muttering a few choice words himself, Sirius tenderly rubbed the sore bump on his head, and as soon as his vision cleared, glared at the offending book. It had fallen open beside him. About to shove it away from him, the heading on the page caught his attention. He paused, eyes travelling slowly down the page. He reached out and carefully picked it up.
The old woman was back. This time with her wand in hand. Her grim expression changed to slight surprise as she watched Sirius flipping through the book, thoroughly engrossed.
'Found something, my dear?' she asked.
Sirius looked up, realised he was still on the floor, scrambled up, dusted himself off and held up the book.
'Yeah, how much is this?'
She told him the price.
Sirius gave a low whistle. Very pricey, but …
'I'll take it.'
The old woman's face crinkled into a very satisfied smile.
Five minutes later, Sirius emerged from Grimoire's Cove with the heavy book tucked under his arm.
And from behind the shop window, the old woman watched him go, a cold smile playing across her lips as a pitch-black raven settled on her shoulder.
To Be Continued …
Well, not too bad for something that just fell out of my head. This is going to be a fairly short fic (compared to my other one, anyway) and all eight chapters will be up before Christmas. I plan to update every Tuesday and Friday. Hope you'll like it!
Any similarities with other fics are not intended and purely coincidental.
I do not own Harry Potter so you have no reason to sue me.
All comments and constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.