Unfortunately, the next update will be delayed a week so I can have time to figure out where the hell this story is going from here. To make up for that, however, I posted a new parody one-shot last night.
Disclaimer: Did the Weasleys open their Christmas presents individually in both book 5 and book 6, despite constantly being depicted as family-oriented? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.
Deck the Halls
"You know we're going to Wizarding Hell for this, right?"
"You suggested we do it," Harry reminded Hermione absentmindedly as his wand danced. The Nott family had ten living members, three elves, and a number of particularly bad-tempered attack dogs; hitting them when they were all absent was impossible, and breaking in while they were awake and aware was suicide. Rather than pass up such a magnificent target, however, they were using the same strategy as when they ransacked the Fudges and draping a sleeping charm over the entire estate.
Having his core nonupled in size due to their little oversight on Luna's birthday was now showing itself to be quite a happy accident.
The two girls scurried around him, taking turns to break down the wards since he was too occupied with chanting to power the wardtap. After nearly an hour, a far cry from their average time, the blue-masked blonde nodded to him. "Okay, that should be it on our end. We're ready to go as soon as you're sure they won't wake up."
"I've been done," he replied, shaking his arms to force some feeling back into them. "I kept reinforcing it in case the wards were connected to an alarm of some kind, but otherwise, they should be down for the count."
The trio sprinted across the yard, vanishing the front door rather than slow their steps. As was their custom, they split apart, each having already claimed a section of the house to pilfer. Tonight, however, they were going to be a little more… thorough.
He surveyed the kitchen and shook his head as the full scope of the situation became clear. "Yellow, how did you even come up with this idea?"
"Did you ever read any Dr. Seuss stories when you were little?"
"Who is Dr. Zoo?"
Hermione's sigh was eloquent. "Seuss, Blue, Seuss. Muggle author of silly children's books."
"Petunia probably read them to Dudley, but I can't say I know any more about them than Blue does," he replied as he summoned an entire cooked goose into one space-extended pouch, chasing it down with a bowl full of cranberry sauce – he hit that with a stasis charm on its way over to prevent spillage – and three loaves of bread. Apparently the elves here had decided to get back at their masters by making the next day's dinner the night before and were just going to leave it out overnight; it was the same kind of passive-aggressive retaliation Dobby had said was customary for them when they disliked or even outright hated their masters. They might not be able to get even directly, but twisting their orders as much as possible? That they could do.
"Well, arguably his most famous book was titled The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I'll read it to you two some time, but for now just know that we're emulating it. I thought it appropriate since we're robbing them on Christmas Eve."
"If you say so." Shrugging, he preceded to vacuum up the wreathes hanging outside the windows before repairing the glass they had shattered as they flew inside. Stealing away all the Notts' Christmas decorations in addition to items of actual value seemed a bit petty to him, but his lover was dead set on doing it, and it was only a little extra effort on his part.
Besides, considering that the Notts had been supporting Voldemort since before he graduated from Hogwarts, they deserved it, anyway.
Theodore rubbed his eyes sleepily as he heard his father screaming from down the hall. This was, unfortunately, not a wholly unheard-of state of affairs; his aunt had more than her fair share of stupid moments, likely a result of being only two generations removed from the Crabbe family. What his uncle Thomas could have possibly been thinking when he married that woman, Theodore hadn't a clue.
His sight no longer quite as bleary, he peered around the room he awoke in and tried to place it. Did I sneak some of mother's firewhiskey again?, he wondered as he threw off the blanket draped over him to stand. It looked to be the same size and general shape as his bedroom, but none of his things – not his broom, not his fine robes, not even his bed – were inside. Perhaps this was what his aunt had done this time; moving all the furniture to one room was exactly the foolish stunt she would pull.
He opened the door and sighed when his place at the end of the hall told him that yes, this was his room. At the other end of the corridor he could see his father, but the older man was not, in fact, yelling at Aunt Beatrice. The target of his wrath was instead one of the house-elves, though the boy did not know if it was Moppy, Pabby, or Gluppy. All elves looked the same, after all, and so long as one of them answered him when he called, which was which was inconsequential.
"Tell me the truth, elf! One of you had to let this bastard in! Who was it?!"
"Gluppy not bes knowing, Master!" the pathetic creature squeaked. "Gluppy bes waking up to fix Master's breakfast, and everythings bes gone!"
The man's foot lashed out and kicked the beast to the side. "Wretched thing. If I don't find out by the day's end who you let in, it'll be clothes for all three of you!" The elf gazed up at him with an odd expression before popping away.
"Why do we even keep those foul things around?" Theodore asked idly.
"It's expected," his father grunted back. "I'd rather chop them up and use them for dog food, but the Ministry takes a dim view of using Muggles to take care of the chores. Time was a man could keep a whole stable of slaves and no one would bat an eye, but hex one Muggle to get him out of your way and the DMLE comes swooping down with a fine for being cruel to the animals."
He nodded and followed the older wizard downstairs, frowning more and more heavily as he took in the decorations, all of them changed greatly since the previous night. In place of holly wreathes hung circles of brambles; the mistletoe his other aunt had insisted be stuck to every lintel was replaced with rotting flowers. Even the silvery tinsel wrapped around the columns was gone, and in its place were long, mud-covered branches that looked as if they had been taken fresh from a swamp.
He wondered to himself, "Who did all this?"
"That's what I want to know," growled his father. "And when I find him, I'll make him regret ever crossing Timothy Nott!"
Theodore tried hard not to roll his eyes. His father could tell himself that he held power, but everyone knew that the person truly in charge was his grandfather Thaddeus.
A door at one end of the foyer opened, and a head of brown hair poked out. "Timothy, Theodore. You need to look at this."
The men simultaneously frowned and followed the woman, Theodore taking a moment to gape in astonishment at the tree in the middle of the room. In place of the majestic pine they had decorated stood a withered old yew, spider webs and dried wasp hives acting as parodies of the decorations that had been in their family for generations. From the mess on the floor, it was apparent that the tree had been recently uprooted, likely from the same marsh the branches had come from.
He turned his attention to where his father and aunt were standing around the hearth. On one corner sat what had caught the woman's attention: a chipped and cracked clay plate covered in moldy biscuits and a glass filled with what looked to be curdled milk. Unlike everything else in the house, this was new; there had not been anything there when he had gone to bed.
"This isn't one of our dishes," Aunt Beatrice observed.
"We can all see that," Theodore's father snapped. "What I want to know is who put it there."
The woman shrugged weakly. "Maybe the answer's in these?" she asked, pointing to the ten bulging burlap sacks hanging from the mantle where their stockings had been, nails forged from a green metal that Theodore would only guess was copper pinning the rough material to the wood. Pulling the bag nearest to her free, she turned it over and jumped back with a gasp when black dust and numerous chips of coal poured out onto the floor. "Timothy… What could this mean?"
"I… I don't know."
Harry could not help but grin as he took in the additional decorations Sirius must have thrown up at the last minute. It was impossible for the man to act according to his name, but the time-traveler had to admit that his inclination to pranks and fun meant holidays would never be boring around him. Unlike the last timeline, when Nagini attacking Arthur had cast a dark cloud over the Yuletide cheer, Sirius had gone all out. The chandeliers were polished and coated with silver tinsel and holly, and the stairway between the ground and first floors had been buried in enough conjured snow that one of the twins had produced a sled for the pair and Ginny to take turns riding down.
What had really surprised him when he first entered the house, however, was the smaller differences that had been made. The threadbare carpet had been replaced with a thick red rug, and the plaque of elf heads that had previously hung on the wall was completely gone. The portrait of Walburga Black was still there, but the curtains were closed and actually nailed to the wall around her so her wailing could not separate them and fill the house with noise.
It seemed that his efforts over the summer to make Sirius remember the few good times he had had with his family had convinced the man to turn this house back into a home.
He entered the sitting room and leaned against the wall for a moment to simply watch the Weasley children and Sirius gleefully rip their presents' wrapping apart while Lupin, the only true adult present, just shook his head at the mess being created. After a moment, the Animagus looked up and waved him over. "About time you got out of bed. If you were still asleep when we got done, we were planning to dump cold water on you."
"Glad I avoided that, then," Harry replied. Waking up in the middle of the night to rob the Notts had left him more tired than staying up until the ungodly hours of the morning would have, and he had been far too comfortable to leave his bed when the rest of the house started their day. "How's the haul?"
A chorus of merry voices fought each other for dominance – and in the process made themselves unintelligible – but the underlying meaning was clear. He dropped next to his godfather and joined the chaos, paper flying as he tossed the various bits of candy the Weasleys had gotten him into a pile at his side. He would have to check the sweets before he ate any of them; between Ginny's crush, Ron's anger, and the twins being the twins, he was sure there was at least one potion there. One eyebrow rose when he noticed an envelope stuck to a wrapped box missing a tag. Who could that be from?
He pulled it closer and hesitantly opened the envelop first; inside was a crisp five-pound note and a scrap of parchment with a single line of writing on it. "For the next time you offer to buy a girl drinks," he murmured to himself, a slight smile forming as he realized who the giver was. In the old timeline, Tonks had given him a working miniature Firebolt that even in his twenties he had quite enjoyed letting fly around the floor and annoy Crookshanks, but it appeared his talk with her about Lupin a week earlier had had unintended consequences. The box was certainly too large for the model he remembered. Opening it revealed a leather jacket similar to the one she had worn when picking him up from the platform, a thank-you gift disguised by the season.
"Ooh, who could this lady be?"
Harry turned to watch as Sirius ripped open a large parcel to reveal a black jumper, a large silver S emblazoned on the chest. It was a struggle not to begin chuckling and thereby give away the surprise. In an innocent voice, he asked, "Who did it say it was from?"
"A Miss Luna Lovegood. Even as a prison escapee, your godfather's still got it." Sirius pulled the sweater on and frowned when everyone started snickering. "What?"
"One, Luna is my girlfriend, so she already knows that you're innocent. Two, she's my girlfriend, so keep your dirty thoughts in your own head where they belong." He surrendered to the inevitable and joined the others in their mirth. "And three, you might want to take a look at yourself."
"What do you— Aaah!" the man shrieked as he futilely tried to tear off the now emerald green jumper, the initial having morphed into a writhing snake when he was not looking. Unfortunately for Sirius, the blonde had added a sticking charm to her 'gift' in addition to the color-change, so everyone not bedecked in Slytherin-themed garb erupted with laughter as he tried everything he could think of to get it off. Harry had to admit that making it shift to still fit Sirius when he changed into Padfoot was a particularly nice touch.
After five minutes, the jumper switched back to its original appearance on its own, and Sirius wasted no time in tugging it off and hurling it across the room. "Your girlfriend is absolutely evil."
"Now, now, Sirius, you of all people should enjoy a good prank."
"Turning me into a mascot for the Snakes is not a good prank!" Sirius huffed as everyone around him continued laughing at his expense. "How did that even get in here in the first place?"
He shrugged nonchalantly, which only served to sharpen the older wizard's attention even more. "I might have had a hand in it."
"You little… I should just take your present back, then, if that's how you're going to thank me."
Quirking an eyebrow, Harry unwrapped the paw print–decorated gift and found himself staring at an untitled book. He flipped to the middle, and immediately a blush formed on his face before he slammed it shut with more force than was strictly necessary. "Sirius Black, do you think you really have any right to complain about what I did after this?"
The Animagus simply grinned back, and he shoved the offending book deep into the folds of his new jacket. He did not want to know why Sirius had given him a magical copy of the Kama Sutra, complete with moving diagrams, nor why each page had copious anecdotes and pieces of advice written in the margins in the dog's distinctive hand.
"From what Tonks was telling me, that's all stuff you might find coming in handy very soon," Sirius answered with a lascivious smirk. "Now where's my present from you? I looked all under the tree, but I couldn't find it anywhere."
"That's because it wasn't there." He pulled a small package from his pocket and slowly handed it over. "I was debating whether you would want it or not, and if I wanted to be the one who gave it to you."
That obviously worried the man, and he cautiously unwrapped the red paper to stare at the leather-bound book. Risking a peek inside caused him to gasp. "This… This is Reggie's journal. Where did you find it?"
"It was in his room when I was here this summer, and I found out I had accidentally picked it up with my things after we got to Hogwarts." The first part was the truth – Harry had finally found it when he had searched the room for some of the young man's leftover belongings and his detection charm had located a hidden compartment in the bed frame – but the rest was most certainly not. "Take a look at the last entry."
Sirius complied, and the words written within drained the blood from his face. Harry had to work hard to suppress a grimace; giving his godfather a lie, even a pretty lie, as a Christmas gift made him feel dirty in a way mere water could not wash away. The journal was Regulus's, but the last entry was not. It was instead the product of numerous hours of practice at forgery, a talent he had never had reason to learn before now. Using his future knowledge as a base, he had constructed a fake note and added it to the end.
Practicing the handwriting, tone, and message itself so often had practically carved it into his brain, and the words rang in his ears despite Sirius's silent reading.
13 March, 1979
I have returned home from the latest meeting of the Death Eaters in great distress; even now, I hesitate to put to parchment exactly what disturbing knowledge I recently acquired. The Dark Lord was boasting to our assembled ranks, as is his habit, and I was nearly ready to ignore his pontificating as I could see several others doing when he mentioned how his power had 'surpassed even Merlin himself'. No one can say that I am unread in the varied and ultimately laughable attempts of men who sought to make themselves the strongest wizard in the world, and so I found myself curious as to exactly what he meant. I wish now that I had not.
I refuse to write down exactly what I fear he has done; let it only be said that, if he speaks the truth, he has violated more than man's laws. Even for those of us who feel that the Dark Arts should be embraced the same as all other forms of magic, there are lines that are not meant to be crossed, lines that the Dark Lord intentionally and blatantly ignored. I joined the Death Eaters because I wanted to protect our way of life, but how can the Dark Lord claim to protect anything when he is willing to watch the world burn to achieve his true goals, whatever they are?
Never have I felt such a fool.
Even as I pen these words, the resolve to do what I now know I must bolsters me and shields me from the terror nipping at my heels and warning me of the consequences if I should fail in my self-appointed task. Rushing headlong into danger without regard to the myriad of ways it could all go wrong is not the Slytherin way, more the Gryffindor impetuousness Sirius always espoused, but it is the very caution I have lived my life by that led me under the sway and pretty words of the monster whose Mark I now shamefully bear. Listening to it would see me shove away these thoughts and do nothing, and that inaction would in turn stain my soul black with so much guilt that nothing I could ever do would see me clean again.
And so, I must prepare myself. Tonight, I will strike at the seat of the Dark Lord's power. Tonight, I will betray my vows of loyal service and the lessons I long learned at Mother and Father's knee. Tonight, I will do not what is sensible or proper or traditional, but what I can only explain as my heart knowing what is right. Let people say what they will about me when I am gone, but I refuse to be known as one who would not take a stand against true Evil.
In the safety of these pages, I must confess that I do not expect to survive to see the morrow; indeed, if the Dark Lord protects his source of strength half as zealously as he lashes out against the Muggles, I am doubtful that I will even be able to reach it in the first place. The smart move would be to wait, to plan, until I was sure that I would succeed, but I cannot. My brother's face haunts me. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to be like him, and as a youth, I wanted nothing more than to not be like him. But I am a man now, and I am forced to wonder if perhaps his way, always so strange to me, was not the right way all along. Should I survive this adventure, I swear to myself that I will go to him and seek absolution for the words I've said and the things I've done. Only after tonight will I feel that I deserve even the slightest forgiveness.
I can only hope that I live long enough to do that.
A soft gasp dragged Harry back to the real world, and he watched with shame roiling in his belly as Sirius closed the journal to protect it from the tears rolling down his cheeks. "Reggie, you fool. You dumb, reckless, brave fool. Why didn't you come to me first? We could have helped you. Maybe you would even be here today if you hadn't run off like that. Acting without thinking was my job, not yours." Reaching out, Sirius grabbed his godson and pulled him to his chest. "Thank you, Harry. Thank you so much. This is the best gift you could have ever given me."
Don't thank me, Sirius. A liar like me doesn't deserve it.
"That meal was absolutely divine. Who did you say gave it to you?"
"Just a friend," Luna deflected, clearing the last scraps of Christmas dinner from the table. She loved her father dearly, but it was only after sharing a home with Harry that she realized that the man's notions of food were often just on this side of edibility. Delicious as the meals prepared by the castle elves were, she had always assumed the tiny beings were simply better cooks than humans could be. Harry, though…
Much as she hated knowing that he had been abused for much of his life, she could not deny that years of cooking for the three Dursleys, equivalent to fixing meals for seven normal people, had turned him into an excellent chef. His menu positively pampered her palate.
Thankfully, neither of her lovers had offered any complaints to her request of taking the Notts' meal so it could feed her and her father, and it was far better than the watercress and plum jam sandwiches he had been planning. She still could not wait until the three of them had their own place again, and while her unofficial husband's cooking was not the only reason, it was certainly a wonderful benefit.
Her hands cleaned the dishes as she reflected on the life she had once had and would have again, and only when they were all returned to their cabinets did she turn her attention again to the shiny green book sitting innocently on her chair in the living room. She had unwrapped it just that morning, curious who had given it to her considering that there was no name on the white-and-red-striped wrappings, and found that it was a cookbook. Not just any cookbook, however, but one filled with recipes for all sorts of biscuits and cakes and custards. The gingerbread men illustrated inside were just begging to be baked.
Literally begging, it turned out. The caption continuously changed, becoming more and more desperate if she stayed on that page. She did not know if following the directions would make them stop or if they would keep demanding until she turned to another recipe, nor was she all that eager to find out just yet.
While having a collection of dessert recipes was a good thing – that was the only aspect of cooking that she could compete with Harry in, as his experience was with proper entrees – it was the anonymity of the sender and the material of the binding that made her wary. The color and pattern were identical to the scales on Nagini, and the feel of the material was what she would expect of snakeskin leather. All in all, it was a wonderful gift.
Except for the slight wrinkle where they had vanished the serpent's corpse after Harry killed her.
'Where do vanished objects go?' 'Into nonbeing; that is, everything'. It was one of the most common riddles to enter the Ravenclaw dorms, one that first-years quickly learned the answer to even though they would not cover vanishing spells until fifth year. It was also wrong, or at least the subject of heated debate between Transfiguration and Charms Masters. Transfiguration theory taught that when a witch vanished something, it disappeared from reality, making Vanishment an opposing discipline to Conjuration. Charms, however, stated that vanishing simply translocated an object to another location, making it essentially a long-range banishing charm. That second theory was the basis of Vanishing Cabinets, which allowed the transportation from one cabinet to its partner, but the first explained why living things could be partially vanished without dying, since while the creature would be half in being and half in nonbeing, it was still whole, unlike what happened when someone splinched herself.
Most wizards and witches, Luna and Hermione included, eventually sided with the Transfiguration camp, though she knew Harry, with his post-education interest in charms, agreed with those experts. This, however, was forcing her to reexamine her position. Even with faery magic – because who other that Santa Claus himself could or would use the skin of a dead Horcrux to make a cookbook and sneak it under their tree? – the idea that objects could somehow be reclaimed from complete nonexistence was foolish. Perhaps vanished objects were just sent into an Otherworld, a humanly inaccessible fae realm similar to the Queen's inter-timestream island? It was something to consider, if nothing else.
Either way, Harry would be insufferable when he found out.
Thanks go to Perfect Lionheart for his suggestion on what to do with Nagini's hide, even if I did mangle it a bit on its way to the digital page.
Has anyone else noticed that Grimmauld Place apparently looked the exact same when Harry returned for the Christmas holidays as it did when he was there during the summer? You'd think that if Sirius could access his vault to buy Harry a Firebolt, he could take some money out and have Lupin or Molly or even Tonks go buy new carpets and chandeliers and things, especially with the redheaded harpy forcing everyone to clean the place.
Dorkchic, Hyena-Sennin, James018, lionmancer, MrPowell, Serial Chick: I checked book 3 again, thinking the cloud thing was just the movies, but no dice. Those are J.K.'s own words.
codyw1, GoodKing0: The heat from last chapter's disclaimer was actually aimed at Tonks, not Lupin. I can't say I know many girls my age who are interested in men old enough to be their fathers, and the couple who are have other issues.
GoodKing0 (again): I'm not going to cut Lupin any slack, because I find him to be an absolutely reprehensible character for the reasons noted last chapter. The fact that he's looked down upon by society means he should value his close relationship with James and Lily, and through them Harry, more, not less. While him never contacting Harry before book 3 can be explained away, the same can't be said for him lying to Harry about his connection to James or him ignoring the boy after his introduction. If Harry can send letters back and forth with a wanted mass-murderer, I think Lupin could easily keep in touch, especially after book 5 and Sirius's death.
Silently Watches out.