And here we have the next chapter. The Christmas chapter! Not quite in time for Christmas, sorry people. But at least it hasn't been another three years.
As it turned out, Harry ended up doing more relaxing then he had planned. The day before Christmas Eve actually saw him curled up on the couch, wrapped in blankets and sipping tea to soothe his aching throat. He'd spent so much time in the woods caring for his animals that he'd developed a cold from the snowy weather, and it had quickly turned into a nasty case of bronchitis.
Remus had owled Madam Pomfrey, using his old screech owl named Bruiser, and she had agreed that potions weren't the route to use to help Harry get over the sickness. Since he'd never actually had some of the inoculations that most wizarding children had (an oversight on her part that she was going to rectify as soon as possible) the potion treatment for bronchitis would actually be more detrimental than helpful. He'd have to get over it the muggle way.
Harry had managed to spend some time with the new horses before getting sick. They were skittish and didn't like the feeling of having a saddle on their backs, but he had been making some progress with them. Their personalities were vastly different from Roy's easy-going humor, and it was taking him a little while to figure out just how to handle both Pony and Lady Willow adequately.
As for the Familiar Egg, it had hatched the day after he had dropped it off with Ramoth. The little Horntail had been jet black, with the bluest eyes he'd ever seen on a dragon. And he'd known just who the familiar was supposed to go to the moment the little reptile had opened its mouth and given its first keening cry. By Christmas, little Ruth (who Harry had decided would be named after the white dragon of the Pern series just for his own giggles) would be sent to Charlie with strict instructions on how to care for a Familiar dragon, as opposed to a normal dragon.
Right now, though, Sirius and Remus were in town finishing up some last minute Christmas shopping, Sirius under the guise of Padfoot. He'd been in town as Uncle Orion a few times, but he didn't handle the cold as well as his Grim form did, so had opted to stay as a dog. Remus was picking up the final ingredient for the Familiar potions as well, which he had taken over brewing since Harry was waylaid by sickness. Harry was just lounging and binge watching the third season of Star Trek Voyager.
There was a sudden commotion outside that had Samara streaking from the room and Harry startling from the couch. A combination of hisses, shrieks and barks had him tumbling clumsily to the front door. Pulling it open, he was met with Hedwig, curled protectively around something he couldn't quite make out, hissing angrily at the pack of Shuck (the large, black, sickness bringing hellhounds). The canines were trying to attack whatever it was that Hedwig was protecting.
Harry sighed, coughing a little at the end of it, and pulled his blanket tighter around his shoulders. He waded into the snow, absently thinking that he should have probably put on some shoes, as his toes immediately froze. Hopping onto Hedwig's tail, just to protect his cold feet some, he shooed the shucks away, narrowing his eyes when they were reluctant to leave. Eventually they slinked back into the forest and Harry turned his attention to Hedwig.
"What do you have, love?" he asked, wincing as he broke into coughs again.
Hedwig turned and gave him a jaundiced look. "You should be inside, my Harry. You're sick enough as it is."
"And you're not answering my question," Harry murmured back. He readjusted his blanket, shifting from foot to foot. "What are you hiding?"
Hedwig gave a rolling shrug, shifting her wings to show off the little bundle of silver fur she had been protecting. "It is merely a creature the shucks had been hunting. She is but a little thing."
Harry frowned, reaching out to balance himself on Hedwig's wing as he leaned down to see the creature better. "The shucks don't usually hunt, do they? They're scavengers."
"They took offense to the little one being in their territory." Hedwig sounded clearly miffed by that concept, and she shifted, nudging Harry back towards the house. "Come now, darling. Take the babe and get back inside. Your uncles would be rather upset should you make your illness worse."
"Very true," Harry grumbled, reaching down and bundling silver fur into his arms. A little head poked up, nose pink and twitching as large, black tipped ears swiveled in agitation. "Hush, baby," Harry murmured to it, patting Hedwig on her flank and stepping back into the snow. He did a little hop-jig to get back in the house without freezing his feet even more, and quickly shut the door to keep out the cold. Heading back to the couch, he plopped down and then studied the creature he was holding.
It was a little fox cub, probably only not yet six weeks old. One with silver fur, black tipped ears and tail, and large patches of fur missing. Harry gazed at the little kit, frowning. They had some wild, mundane animals in the forest, of course, but he didn't know of any foxes. And the shucks wouldn't have attacked a mundane animal anyway; they only really got territorial over other magical creatures invading their little patch of Haven. "So," Harry murmured, reaching for his tea when he felt another coughing spree coming on. "What are you, exactly?"
The fox watched him placidly while he coughed, brown eyes blinking tiredly. She yawned, showing off her little teeth. There was a tiny burst of magic and Harry jumped, startled again. "Oh," he whispered. "You're a familiar fox." His head tilted to one side and he studied the little fox again, frowning to himself. "Am I going to get every unattached familiar around? Just so I can send them to their person? Because that's going to get old, fast."
The fox cub huffed, jumping from his lap and wandering around the room. Harry rolled his eyes, leaning forward to press play on his computer and resume watching Star Trek. He'd worry about the cub when his uncles got home. It was safe for now, and he was tired and sick and his feet were cold.
Granted, when Remus and Sirius did get home, they nearly stepped on the little fox, startling everyone so badly that Remus dropped the eggs he had gathered from the henhouse, and Sirius's shopping bags went flying. Harry, once the scare was over, burst into laughter, which declined into coughing. Sirius gazed at him in bemusement, holding the little fox by the scruff. "Harry? Who's this?" he asked, once the boy had gotten control of himself again.
Harry shrugged. "It's the twins' familiar," he answered. "She showed up in the shuck's territory and they took offense, so Hedwig had to save her."
"Uh huh," Remus murmured, taking the fox into his arms. "And you're sure she belongs to the twins? Both of them?" It was very, very uncommon for two people to share a familiar, after all. Considering familiars were a miniature version of a soul bond (with True Familiars being a full soul bond), a familiar could only be shared by those that soul bound.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes, both of them." He wasn't going to explain it more than that. He'd already gotten letters from Bill and Charlie asking for advice on what they should get their brothers for Christmas, and he didn't want to be giving away anyone's secrets. "I'm thinking of calling her Janeway."
Sirius laughed, bending down to pick up the tomatoes that had rolled out of the bag he had dropped. "They aren't going to get the reference," he pointed out.
Harry grinned. "They don't have to," he answered. "But someone will, and I'll get a laugh out of it."
"Right," Remus said, rolling his eyes and setting the little fox down again. "I need to finish up that potion for your friends, and then we can send it, your other gifts, Ruth and Janeway out with the owls and Artemis."
Harry stared for a moment. "Owls?" He asked. "I only know of Bruiser."
Sirius's head popped back up. "Oh. Yeah. I got an owl." He looked around the room as though he expected it to be hiding somewhere in there. "Earlier in the school year. He doesn't like anyone much though."
"Probably because you named him Mr. Snufflegus," Remus pointed out. Harry burst into uncontrollable laughter once again, coughing violently afterwards, which prompted Remus to rub his back soothingly. "Sorry," the werewolf murmured. "We'll try to tone down the humor a bit."
"What kind of owl is…Mr. Snufflegus?" Harry asked, curious that they hadn't ever mentioned such an owl before. Granted, he'd been kind of busy with the tournament and ball and his cinema project and all.
"An Eagle Owl," Sirius answered, and Harry was hard pressed not to laugh again. An eagle owl by the name of Mr. Snufflegus. Yeah, he'd be pretty upset at the world too, if it were him. Remus, though, was pressing a hand to Harry's forehead, frowning. He was soon sent up to bed to rest, while they took care of everything downstairs.
Christmas Eve was a chaotic mess of trying to get everything together and ready to send off. Harry had been hoping to have everything ready to go much earlier in the break, but getting sick had really pushed at his willpower to get anything done. So, he struggled to get everything wrapped, packed, and sent off. He smiled, though, at the gifts he'd gotten his friends, hoping they'd like them.
Neville, Luna, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had all gotten a vial of True Familiar potion, with instructions to have their familiars take them in large, open spaces in case they were large, like Hedwig. On top of that, Harry had gotten Neville a compendium of magical plants, with various illustrations and instructions on how to use the plants in potions. Luna had gotten a collection of stuffed animals, all of which obscure magical creatures (as it turned out, Miss Millie liked to sew, and was very willing to make creatures for Harry's friends). Ron had gotten a new chessboard, carved to be two different armies of dragon riders. Hermione had gotten a comprehensive planner, with Harry's own little doodles along the sides and places for her to record her thoughts and happenings through the day. And Ginny had gotten a set of throwing knives, magically dulled to be harmless until she learned how to use them.
Harry hadn't stopped there, though, having gotten Fred books on advanced potion making (since he was a genius when it came to potions) and George books on magical theory (since he loved spell crafting) to go along with Janeway, considering he hadn't known the fox was going to show up. Bill had gotten a very, very obscure book on Sumerian wards that had been lost ages ago and Harry had found in his family vault. Charlie had gotten a set of plush dragons, also sewn by Miss Millie, to go with Ruth. Percy had gotten a high-end set of quills and notebooks, useful for any kind of office job. He'd gotten Mr. and Mrs. Weasley a tin filled with different kinds of teas and cocoas from around the world.
Harry had also gotten gift certificates for the rest of the Quidditch team, for different shops around Diagon alley, as well as some for Daphne, Blaise, and Cedric and the other two Champions. He'd given those out before leaving for home, though, so he didn't have to worry about sending them off.
Remus and Sirius had been terribly difficult to figure out gifts for. Harry had wanted to give them something meaningful, but couldn't seem to think of anything. He knew that the only thing they really wanted was for him to be safe and happy. Oh, and to have Lily and James back. But he was the first, and he couldn't do anything about the second, so he had to settle for something else. It was frustrating, and he didn't know what to do.
He'd thought about just finding them familiars, but he felt that that wasn't meaningful enough. Besides, werewolves couldn't have familiars, and Sirius already had Samara (although both would vehemently deny that if asked). He'd just have to hope that they'd like what he ended up getting for them, when they opened their gifts in the morning.
It was late afternoon when Bruiser, Mr. Snufflegus and Artemis were sent off, boxes and bundles between the three of them. Harry collapsed onto the couch, taking a fitful nap. He'd been having strange dreams and nightmares again, although to be honest they hadn't really ever stopped. Hedwig had been helping to protect his mind from the most persistent of the dark lord's thoughts, but it was still disconcerting.
Remus and Sirius were in the kitchen, already preparing their Christmas dinner. They'd sent some gifts out to the house elf home on the edge of the fields, wishing them a Merry Christmas and inviting them to dinner, but the elves were quite happy to be on their own. To be honest, the elves and humans didn't have much in the way of interaction, with the elves merrily going about their business and the three humans just letting them.
Harry's creatures were getting a Christmas feast as well, as Harry had planned well in advance to get them all special treats for the holidays. They'd already been delivered by Hedwig, when she, Sirius and Remus had all refused to let Harry out into the cold again, being as he was still rather ill. So, with Christmas gifts taken care of, and the lovely smells of a Christmas dinner being prepared, Harry's fitful sleep became more restful.
"Harry, wake up."
Harry blinked awake, rubbing at his eyes a bit to stare up at Sirius, who was grinning down at him. "Hi?" he murmured, pushing himself up on the couch that he was sprawled on.
"Morning cub," Remus smiled. "You slept the night through."
Sirius pulled back a bit, standing even with Remus. He flipped his braid over his shoulder, crossing his arms. "I don't know how you slept through Santa coming and going, Bambi," he said, motioning vaguely to the Christmas tree set up in front of the windows behind them.
Harry blinked at the man. "Santa isn't real," he said absently.
Remus gasped, clasping his hands over Sirius's ears. "Shh," he said frantically. "No one's ever told Padfoot that."
Harry giggled, watching as Sirius pushed Remus away with a good-natured grumble. "Are we going to open the presents or what?" he asked, pulling Harry to his feet and guiding him to the tree. Samara was blinking down at them from among the branches. They'd gone with a real pine, cut from their forest, and decorated it with popcorn strings and candy canes. They didn't really have any other decorations and hadn't actually made the effort to buy them. They figured they could look for some during the summer, when they had more time and they would be cheaper anyway.
Harry plopped down on the ground, thanking Remus when the wolf wrapped his blanket around the boy's shoulders again. The two adults sat next to him, stretching out on the ground. Sirius reached for the gifts piled under the tree, tossing an orange to both Remus and Harry. "Have some fruit while we unwrap. Breakfast will be in a bit."
They decided to go ahead and organize the gifts first, and then open them. So when each of them had a decent pile in front of them (Harry's being the biggest, since he had friends at school while Remus and Sirius were largely unknown to people in general), and their oranges were eaten, they settled. "You first, Bambi," Sirius said with a grin, pointing to a present wrapped in garish red and gold.
Harry grinned at them, pulling the small gift closer. He easily divested it of its paper, staring at the book in front of him. "A guide to Animagi?" he asked. "By RJ Lupin and Orion Gray?" He glanced at his uncles. "Orion Gray? Really?"
Sirius shrugged. "As far as pseudonyms go, that one works just fine." He gestured to the book. "There's a potion that goes along with that, but it's down in the lab." Harry smiled, hugging them both and thanking them for the gift. He'd been looking for books on animagi, but the school library didn't have any, and he hadn't had any time to go to his vault to search there. He definitely hadn't grabbed any from there when he'd been before; he'd checked the house's books twice over.
Sirius and Remus opened their gifts from each other next, thanking each other for the books and prank items. They both hesitated over the gifts that Harry had gotten them, wanting the boy to open a gift next, but Harry was insisting. He looked embarrassed, so they went ahead and opened the gifts.
Remus was struck speechless with the small booklet, explaining the efforts Harry had gone to trying to perfect the Wolfsbane potion. There were definite improvements, but they (he and Snape of all people) hadn't managed that final breakthrough yet. There was a promise that Remus would be one of the first to try the potion once it was at that stage.
Sirius was also speechless. His gift was simply an envelope containing a letter stating that Madam Bones of the DMLE would be willing to look into his case, so long as he provide all memories associated with his charges. The obstruction of justice that came from never giving him a trial frees him of having a "convict" status, since he was never convicted, and he was to be seen as innocent until proven guilty. It was signed by her, Dumbledore and an Auror Shacklebolt as witness. This wasn't a free pass, of course, and there was a warning that he shouldn't be seen in public until a trial was set, but they were giving him a chance.
"I'm sorry I couldn't actually get you anything physical," Harry said, twisting his hands in his lap. "I was trying to get things that you'd actually like." He quieted quickly though when both men nearly bowled him over with fierce hugs. They profusely thanked him, and very carefully set aside the papers he had given them.
They continued with the gift opening soon after that. Remus got a few odds and ends from people he had known before. He and Sirius both got a set of chocolates, teas, and fresh fruit from Miss Millie. A few people in town had given both him and Sirius knick knacks and treats. Sirius got a dog brush from Ron and a collar from Hermione, which had him laughing joyously at the gag gifts.
Harry, though, had gotten quite the haul. The Quidditch team seemed to have pooled their money and gotten him his own snitch, carved with delicate phoenixes. Cedric had gifted him a small, slim dagger, the hilt carved like a Hungarian Horntail. Apparently, the boy had seen the blade and immediately been reminded of Harry. Daphne and Blaise had given him study guides in potions, much to his consternation; he wasn't that bad, thank you.
Hermione had surprised Harry by not getting him a book. Instead she had gotten him a set of self-inking quills, that would help him with his calligraphy. She made a mention of having seen him writing in his grimore and that she thought these would help. Ron had gotten him a book, in a twist of fate. It was a book on tactical plans on the battlefield and how they applied to personal defense. A fascinating book, actually, and Harry had no idea where his friend had gotten it. Ginny had gone the same route as she had for his birthday, getting him a dragon pendent that he could wear on the same cord as the phoenix one. Neville had gifted him with a small set of magical horses, carved from a branch of a whomping willow. (He admitted to not carving them himself, as he didn't have the skills, but his uncle had been willing, since the man tended to whittle anyway.) Luna had gifted Harry with a stack of drawings, each one of animals he had mentioned before but they hadn't gotten around to putting in his or her book yet.
Percy had given him, ironically, a notebook that he could use as a planner. Bill had given him a set of Egyptian runes, and Mrs. Weasley had sent her yearly sweater (Mr. Weasley having sent him some fudge cookies). Fred and George had worked together to write a short little book of stories featuring Harry's adventures through the years at Hogwarts, with George having given the illustrations (comical little people, and Harry portrayed as a tiny little waif with huge eyes behind glasses the size of his head). But Charlie had surprised him by gifting him with a crystal creature, a Hungarian Horntail that matched the crystal animals they had displayed in the dining room. He'd apparently seen it in a little shop in Godric's Hollow and couldn't pass it up after seeing Harry in the tournament. Wouldn't Charlie be surprised when he ended up with his own Horntail.
All in all, it was a glorious morning, and they settled in to have a breakfast of monkey bread and hot chocolate. They wasted the day away, watching movies and playing board games, until a large dinner of turkey and all the sides was set out in the dining room. Samara managed to steal a drumstick, which had Harry laughing and choking.
They feasted, talking of Christmases past and future, put the leftovers away, worked together to clean up the dishes and settled on the couch to watch It's A Wonderful Life. If Harry fell asleep halfway through the movie, snuggled between his two uncles, he was very happy to be there.