Boxing Day, the day after they had been to St Mungo's Hospital to visit Mr Weasley, seemed a particularly grim day to Harry, although he couldn't really understand this. He was more than sincerely happy and relieved that Mr Weasley was recovering well from the serpent attack, he had come to accept from Ginny's advice that he had not been possessed by Voldemort on that said fatal night, and Christmas had been a relatively cheery affair following the visit to the ward. Sirius, enthused by the unplanned company he could enjoy, had put a great deal of effort into the festivities which had included a marvellous dinner, drinks and music. And Harry was enjoying spending time with his godfather, there was no doubt about that.

Dumbledore's strange distance was a constant nag at the back of his mind but he was slowly becoming used to that, and had made a conscious decision not to be bothered by it at least until he returned to school in the new year in two weeks' time.

Something that bothered him was the encounter they had shared with Neville the previous day who had been visiting his insane parents at the hospital. This was partly because Ron and Hermione had barely stopped discussing it – sympathetically, of course – since they had returned. Ginny, as soon as they had left the hospital, had thankfully not included herself in these conversations. She was close to Neville and probably felt it was his business and not theirs. Harry had merely just come to realise that he and Neville shared more in common than he had really considered before.

Even this, though, couldn't explain how he was feeling today. Sat with Ron and Hermione in the kitchen, he had been completely switched off to their conversation for the last fifteen minutes or so. His copy of Intermediate Transfiguration lay two inches from his face, which he rested on his folded arms atop of the kitchen table. Besides perhaps Snape, only McGonagall could have set them such a mammoth amount of homework for the Christmas holidays. But he hadn't even glanced at the text yet. Hermione of course had finished that essay and was now torn between helping Ron with his and completing Umbridge's homework.

"Why are you even doing that?" scathed Ron, scowling at Hermione's perfectly neat slanted handwriting. "What a waste of bloody time!"

All the homework consisted of was copying out the last five chapters of Defensive Magical Theory.

"Do you want to get on the bad side of Professor Umbridge?" Hermione retorted and smiled smugly as Ron winced, probably remembering the brutal scars Harry had acquired on the back of his hand. "Thought not. Looks like you'd better do it then, Ronald."

Ron grumbled something foul about "homework on Boxing Day" and turned back to his Transfiguration essay.

"Are you all right, Harry?" asked Hermione concernedly.

Harry vaguely heard his name. Guessing what the question had been, he thought he felt rather ill on reflection and definitely run down. His head felt incredibly heavy and his body ached everywhere. Lack of sleep was most likely the underlying factor.

"Fine," he mumbled without moving. "Just knackered."

"Maybe you should go and get some more sleep."

"Yeah," he agreed, "probably a good idea."

And without another word or bothering to gather up his things he dragged himself to his feet and proceeded to climb the musty staircase to his bed.


A knocking on his door woke Remus slowly which was unusual for somebody like him. Normally, the slightest noise or disturbance sent his senses into sharp overdrive. But as he opened his eyes and blinked he felt disorientated and his vision was blurry. The knocking continued until a low male voice called out his name.


Remus sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. Sleep never lasted long enough, ever. These days he just seemed to pass from one phase of exhaustion to the next.

"Come in," he called hoarsely, but made no effort to rise from his bed.

The door opened and Sirius' dark head poked around the door.


"Ah, sorry." Sirius grimaced as he realised he had woken his friend and made to back out of the small, poky room. Smiling slightly, Remus reminisced on a time when this wouldn't have bothered the other man in the slightest.

"It's fine," he objected. His voice was still croaky. "At least make my awakening worthwhile."

"I didn't want to disturb you, Moony," Sirius said as he quickly re-entered and closed the door with a click. He was so thin that he slipped through the crack in the door quite easily.

"It's fine," Remus repeated amiably. "Sleeping in the day is a luxury I really shouldn't become too used to."

"Were you on guard last night?"

Nodding, Remus heaved himself up from the pillows into a sitting position and gestured to the end of the bed for his old friend to sit. He was inwardly slightly saddened as he realised this action was required for Sirius to feel comfortable enough to do this.

"Then you have an excuse, at least," Sirius said grimly.

It wasn't difficult for someone who had once known this man extremely well to detect the hidden bitterness in that statement.

"I suppose," Remus agreed. "Since Arthur's attack, it's important that we stay alert when on guard." He paused. "Dumbledore seems to think this is an ideal time for Voldemort to try and seize the prophecy with it being Christmas."

"Like we can really have a good Christmas," said Sirius, glum.

"I think most of us had quite an enjoyable day yesterday, Sirius, thanks to you. Harry included."

Sirius nodded – more automatically than anything, Remus thought – and twiddled his thumbs as he sat awkwardly on the edge of the bed. The moodiness, bitterness and depression that consumed him was becoming more obvious by the day as Sirius continued to be caged in this old dark house that he had once hated so much.

Sighing, Remus made a mental note to speak to Dumbledore – again – as soon as possible. He knew Sirius, or at least, he had known him well all those years ago. Since the sentence in Azkaban some aspects of his old friend were unrecognisable. But he didn't doubt that the rash Sirius, the adventure-seeking, active Sirius remained present to a strong degree, and this concerned him greatly – particularly when his godson was right at the top of Voldemort's wanted list.

"What's on your mind, Sirius?" he questioned gently after watching the other man for a few moments. "You look troubled."

Sirius looked up and smiled a smile that did not quite reach his dark, sunken eyes.

"There are many things on my mind," he admitted. "With nothing else to do but think, they tend to build up quite a bit."

Suddenly feeling a lot heavier but knowing he had no right in comparison to Sirius' feelings, he swivelled his legs round so that he sat on the edge of the bed next to Sirius and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"It won't always be like this, Padfoot," he consoled, using the old nickname in the hope that it would lighten his friend somewhat. "You just have to be patient."

"And how long will I have to wait!" Sirius exclaimed in a soft snarl. "Until Voldemort's downfall? Until they catch Peter? That could be never!"

"Dumbledore wouldn't let you live out your life here forever," said Remus calmly. "But things are not great right now. We at least need to wait until Fudge is no longer Minister. With him still in office, I detest saying it, my friend, but you don't stand a chance."

"I just…" Sirius exhaled a sharp breath of air and shook his shaggy head. "I just didn't imagine it to be like this. After Azkaban, I thought if the truth was revealed, if I exposed Peter, I'd be free… and could attempt to restart some kind of life. But as it is right now, Remus, I might as well still be locked up on that godforsaken island."

"You have Harry. James would be pleased about that."

"Harry… I'm worried about Harry," conceded Sirius gravely, as if a fresh anxiety had come to the forefront of his mind. "Tonks was here just now. She said she saw him on the staircase. She said he looked like a ghost and barely noticed her say hello."

Remus hesitated before he replied.

"Harry has a lot on his mind right now. For a fifteen year old, he's under stress that any adult would struggle to cope with."

Sirius looked at him gravely. Considering they were for the present away from the topic of the static stance of Sirius' life, Remus removed his hand from his shoulder.

"Do you think he can deal with it?" asked Sirius seriously. "After Azkaban, I find it hard to judge other people's strengths."

Smiling, Remus nodded.

"From teaching him in his third year, I know he's strong, Sirius. He's had to deal with a lot that's been thrown his way. Dumbledore considers him a remarkable man. As long as he has continued support… it will still be difficult for him, but he'll be all right."

Sirius stood then and grinned.

"I suppose he is James' son."

"That he is," Remus agreed. But he secretly wondered if James would ever have coped if he'd experienced the same conditions his son was forced to endure.

Observing that Sirius was about to leave – probably to check on Harry, now – Remus slid back onto the bed and shuffled into a comfortable position on the springy mattress. More sleep was definitely needed. There was only a week and a half to the Full Moon and he was still exhausted as it was from the previous month's cycle.

Through lack of time, Snape had failed to brew the wolfsbane potion to control Remus' lycanthropy for the previous month; Remus had to take himself away from Headquarters to an uninhabited location. This was not something he blamed Snape for, but it was also not something he would tell Sirius lightly. Dumbledore had exhibited confidence that Snape would make the potion for this month's Moon, but he didn't want to count upon it. Moreover, a transformation under the wolfbane's influence wasn't as horrific as a natural transformation, but he was still left drained of energy for a week afterwards nevertheless. Satisfactory and refreshing sleep in itself, whether in the day or night, was always elusive in the life of a werewolf.

"Close the door on the way out, Padfoot," he mumbled, stifling a large yawn.

"Certainly, Moony." Sirius took a stride towards the door but suddenly stopped and swirled round and pulled something out of the inside of his robes. "I forgot!"

"What now?" Remus half-groaned, rubbing his eyes again.

"Tonks didn't have time to hover," said Sirius, and Remus noticed that there was some kind of wicked glint in his eye that resembled the Sirius Black of old, "but she told me to give you this."

He handed him a rather large card in a plain red envelope. Guessing immediately it was a Christmas card, Remus was surprised but somewhat touched as he reached out and took it from Sirius. He had come to know Tonks particularly well since last June but never would have thought she would put in individual effort when it came to other members of the Order.

"She, er – didn't ask me to give anyone else one. Seems you're just the special one."

Even more surprised, Remus glanced up to find that Sirius was smirking – and definitely wasn't hiding it.

"What?" the animagus asked innocently.

Remus shrugged. "Tonks and I are friends."

"Rather large and red card for a friend, I'd say," Sirius pointed out and his smirk became a beam. "Come on, open it!"

"Get out," Remus half-growled, becoming worried that all of Grimmauld Place would soon think something was going on between him and Tonks.

Sirius burst into a barking laugh and left the room – but Remus felt uplifted, as it was very rare he heard that old familiar laugh nowadays.

He was surprised to find that he felt slightly nervous, which was daft, really. But immediately after the door slammed shut he dug a finger beneath the paper flap of the envelope and tore open the seal.