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Chapter Eight

The burrow hummed with activity on Christmas day as Harry, Sirius, Scarlet, Remus and Tonks joined the Weasley's to celebrate together. Molly was at her happiest running around after everybody and filling them till they were stuffed to burst with the best food Scarlet could ever remember tasting. It was now the evening and the guests were weary with food and contentment, that was except for the twins that were as always up to no good.

There were two other guests that did not join the rest to snooze by fire but instead snuck away up to the second floor. Scarlet followed Sirius into one of the older brother's room that was acting as their guest bedroom for the night.

Scarlet wore a festive red dress that now was a matching shade of her flushed skin due to the laughter and alcohol she had consumed today. She had not celebrated a Christmas in over a decade, in fact she had got accustomed to not even knowing when it was Christmas and had almost forgotten the concept until she came here and remembered how joyful it could be. Sirius had looked at his most relaxed. Although over the past months he had almost become the man she had married there was still constant worry over the Order and she knew he missed Harry as much as she did. Still, they had managed to spoil their godson sufficiently today.

Sirius turned around as Scarlet began playing with the hem of her knee-length dress, hitching it further and further up her thigh whilst giving him that face she knew drove his insides crazy. He took a sharp intake of breath and prayed it would stop him ravishing her right there and then.

"That is most distracting."

"Good," She purred.

"You know, I don't remember you being this..." He stopped before he said what instantly came to his mind. Despite the alcohol she would probably still hit him if he called her easy. "This... forward... when you were drunk."

Scarlet laughed, knowing precisely what he was actually thinking.

"Nice save. Come on, you bundled me up the stairs when no one was looking, what exactly were you thinking?"

"Clearly nothing quite so sorted!" He mocked. From under the bed he presented a large brown box and placed on the mattress. "I just wanted to give you your present." She couldn't help but look intrigued yet remained where she was.

"We've already done presents." Her tone was suspicious and Sirius remembered why he'd always been amused by her intoxicated persona.

"We've done presents for this year." He clarified. "These are for the 14 years I missed."

He opened the lid of the box to reveal 14 individual wrapped presents. Scarlet squealed with delight and rushed forward. She took her time, unwrapping each one slowly and individually, being, quite frankly, shocked at his thoughtfulness. The presents included 'Stand by Me' by John Lennon on vinyl and she smiled remembering that night with Harry, it almost felt like another life so much had passed since. There was a necklace with a stark black diamond – her birthstone – it was as striking and individual as she was. There was also a beginners book in magical baking.

Scarlet leaned her head back on Sirius' shoulder and sighed as she finished looking at the last present:

"This is amazing, thank you. You can be quite sweet when you try." She looked over her presents sprawled on the covers. "I don't want to picky but, that old problem with maths may have reared its head again... There are only 13 presents here."

"I wonder how long it would take."

She turned to face him and opened his shirt to reveal his tattooed chest, the old marking over his heart that had been so faded now stood out over the all the rest with reviving black ink. Another word had been added underneath in the same slanted scrawl: forever.

"Scarlet Forever." She repeated, then seemed to turn sombre. "I wish that were true. We've been married for 15 years and spent 14 of them apart. I guess it's more like Scarlet Sometimes."

"No, it's forever. It will be forever and it has been forever, in here." He pointed to his tattoo and the heart that beat beneath. "I told you before, don't you remember? You're the girl on my arm and you always have been."

The scene turned into a lustful haze of open kisses, exploring hands and heavy breathing. That was until raised voices vibrated through the floor boards and interrupted the muted air.

/ / /

Sirius and Scarlet descended the stairs and came to the living where Harry, Arthur, Remus and Tonks were seated. Remus was clearly agitated.

"It comes down to who you trust. I trust Dumbledore's judgment, Dumbledore trusts Snape. Therefore I do!" Lupin had raised his voice and Arthur and Tonks looked increasingly uncomfortable.

"Dumbledore can make mistakes, he said so himself." Harry persisted.

"You are blinded by hate!" Remus roared.

"No..."

"Yes you are!"

"Moony..." Sirius interjected and they all turned in surprise at his presence. "This is all a bit heavy for Christmas day isn't it?" Sirius tried to lighten the ever darkening atmosphere. Lupin did not take any notice and continued:

"People are disappearing daily. We can only trust a handful of people. If we start fighting amongst ourselves we're doomed."

At this Tonks stood suddenly and left, visibly upset, Lupin followed. Arthur and Sirius also departed, deep in thought.

"You alright?" Scarlet asked.

"Yeah, fine." Harry replied briskly.

Scarlet watched as Ginny joined Harry on the sofa with a plate of biscuits, she smiled at the blossoming thing between the two. Catching Harry's eye she winked and turned away.

/ / /

Later that night Harry found his godfather sitting alone outside the front of the house, he was relaxing in an old wooden rocking chair, sipping his drink. He looked peaceful and Harry still revelled in seeing him like this.

"Mind if I join you?"

Sirius turned and smiled, indicating the chair opposite him.

"Thought I'd escape the tension. I'd give you one..." Sirius indicated to the fire whiskey. "But Scar would kill me."

"That's alright."

"I'm sorry about Remus, it's his condition, it..."

"I know, that's Arthur said too."

"Ah yes, saw you two skulking off earlier."

"He was telling about that thing Draco was looking at in Borgin and Burkes, you know what I wrote to you about. He said it was a vanishing cabinet."

"What would Malfoy want with one of those?" Harry shook his head. "What about these meetings with Dumbledore you wrote about? Are they proving... useful?"

Harry paused, unsure of how much to reveal to Sirius. Of course he wanted to tell him all of it but Dumbledore had warned to keep it secret, except for Ron and Hermione. Although not intending to, in the end, he did tell Sirius practically everything.

"I'm looking at memories, Voldemort's past I guess. Dumbledore's given me a... a task of sorts. It's all to do with Slughorn. He's brought him back for a specific reason or a specific memory."

"You shouldn't tell me anymore." Harry looked up, shocked. "Of course I want to know more Harry, I want to help, do it for you even, to protect you. But this is your task; Dumbledore trusts you, alone, with it. The more people know the more danger it poses. Maybe that's something you need to learn about Snape..." Harry looked completely dumbfounded now. "Don't get me wrong I'm not defending the man! If you ask me he's still a slimy git that shouldn't be trusted, but Dumbledore does trust him and Lupin is right – that means we all have too. Perhaps Snivellus has a task just like you. "

"Everything is shrouded is such mystery." Harry mused.

"Dumbledore." Sirius answered in one word and Harry smiled. "He's always been that way. All the things he had Scar doing the first time round, it drove me mad not knowing... Dumbledore is inherently good, Harry, he wants to defeat Voldemort, like we all do. And he's up to something; we just have to hope that it is the answer."

"The answer to what?"

"To ending all of this."

Harry looked down and his voiced cracked with emotion as he spoke:

"I just wish I wasn't so scared."

"The ministry's scared, the Order's scared, I'm scared, shit we're all scared Harry! But you are not alone. We're your family, everybody in there and at Hogwarts, we're your family and we'd die for you."

Harry jumped out of the chair in an explosion of movement.

"Well you're not going to! Not a single one of you is going to die for me. I'm sick of it, of people dying for me, going to prison and institutions for me! Do you think I wanted any of that? That I asked people to do that?"

"Of course you didn't." Sirius replied calmly. "But it happened. And it happened because people love you so much."

"And what exactly have I done to deserve their love?"

Sirius rose and comforted a shaking Harry just as the front door opened and Lupin and Tonks emerged.

"It was delicious Molly, really." Tonks was saying.

"Are you sure you won't stay?" Was the reply. Tonks leaned in to whisper:

"We should get going, really. The first night of the cycle is always the worst." This subtly was not needed however as Remus was transfixed on something out there in the night and was not taking a single bit of notice. Sirius emerged from the shadows, also aware something was fixating his friend.

"Moony?" He asked. When not even a flicker of recognition occurred, Tonks tried:

"Sweetheart?"

At that very moment the familiar swirl of black evil whirled around the house and a trail of burning orange followed it. The whole house was surrounded in a ring of blazing fire, so hot each person took an unconscious step back. The smell of burning grass instantly contaminated the previously pure air and light illuminated the darkness. As the black whirl came to a stop Bellatrix appeared with that sickening grin on her face. She raced through the gap in the fire.

Harry saw her and felt an instantaneous rage. He remembered that night in the Ministry, how she had almost killed Sirius, mocked Scarlet, how she'd gloated to Neville about his parents. Without realising he was doing it at first, Harry ran after her, ignoring the cries from the burrow. He chased those sickening shrieks and laughs through the reeds that surrounded him.

Scarlet and Ginny appeared at the door. Scarlet, Sirius, Lupin and Tonks all fought to contain the growing fire but it was not working. As a slight gap appeared Ginny ran through it, the light pink of her dressing gown immediately lost in the night.

Then everyone was dashing through the thick reeds, as they were frantically trying to find the middle of the maze and the claim the prize first. Yet none of them knew where they were heading and what the prize was.

Sirius stopped for a moment, he could hear the rustle of grass on every side of him but he had no idea who was friend and who was foe. His wand was raised in front of him he darted around every angle of himself but all he could see was the greying, wiry foliage. The distant sound of duelling entered his ears and he was sure he heard Harry yell: 'Stupefy!' Sirius dashed toward the noise.

However before he reached Harry the sound of rustling became much louder and heard a sound he would recognise anywhere; his wife's cry of pain. Sirius could not believe the scene he came across, his wife was, what could only be described as wrestling with his cousin and then she punched Bellatrix causing her to gain a matching bloody nose and mouth to the one Scarlet was sporting.

Both witches were distracted and Bellatrix managed to get away. Sirius stood there smiling; despite everything he couldn't help it. This woman never failed to amaze him.

"You have a wand you know." He laughed.

"Don't pretend to complain about seeing some girl on girl." She said wiping her bloody mouth.

"I'd rather see some girl on Sirius." He joked but then turned sober as he examined her face and ran a gentle thumb over her bottom lip.

"It's fine." She smiled.

They both jumped at the terrible sound of shattering glass that felt like it echoed for miles, the sound of a home being destroyed. They turned in terror to see the tower of burning light where the Burrow should have been standing, where the Burrow was crumbling under its attack.

Everybody scurried back but it was too late. Harry stood and watched the one place that had always felt safe be destroyed in front of his eyes. Yet again his 'family' had paid for their loyalty and love. This was war.