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"Good morning," said Fred, Apparating into the dining area of the Pepper Pot half a second behind George.

Crystal scowled, replacing the lid on a tureen of breakfast potatoes. "Who says?"

"We do." George bent to kiss her on the cheek. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"Have you looked at the calendar?" Crystal fussed with the arrangement of the teapot and the cups on the table. "It's the second Friday of the month. A month that started on a Sunday. And you know what that makes it?"

George made a small noise of understanding, but Fred still looked confused. "13 December?" he hazarded. "Payday at the Ministry of Magic? One week to end of term at Hogwarts?"

"Friday the thirteenth." Crystal emphasized each syllable carefully. "Not a good day."

"Oh, that." Fred snorted, pulling out a chair and sitting down. "Load of Muggle rubbish. Why would you even—" He broke off as Crystal huffed indignantly and disappeared through the swinging kitchen door. "What did I say?"

"Do me a favor?" George hooked out his own chair with a foot. "Don't refer to stuff as 'Muggle rubbish' in front of her. She doesn't care for it."

Fred smacked himself on the forehead. "Forgot about that. But still, that's what it is, isn't it?"

"How well did you take it the day she laughed herself into hiccups over the way we look in our dress robes?"

"True point."


With a creak, one of the suits of armor lining the second floor corridor turned its helmet to watch Harry and the Pride pass by. Its breastplate, Harry noted, had been frosted in honor of the season, and a design of a sprig of holly melted into it.

I wonder if the Ravenclaws did that, or if it's just part of the normal castle decorations? More likely just part of the decorations, they're already doing two things, where the Hufflepuffs only did one

"Harry, hurry up!" Meghan called from the end of the hallway. "We'll miss today's country if we're not there pretty soon!"

"On my way." Harry sped up, rejoining the Pride at the top of the last staircase but one. Though he never would have believed it, he'd found himself looking forward to the miniature lectures various members of Ravenclaw House had been delivering over breakfast all month, showcasing the widely differing traditions surrounding the Christmas season around the world.

It helps that they made sure they got at least one food-related tradition every time, so we can all have a sample of whatever it is. Those iced buns yesterday, for St. Lucia's Day up in Sweden, those were really good. He amused himself for a moment imagining Hermione in the costume Amanda Smythe had modeled, a simple white robe with a red sash and a candle-studded crown made of evergreen branches. Wonder how many girls set their hair on fire every year?

And then last week, when Cho had everyone take off their shoe and put it on the table for St. Nicholas's Day, we had no idea what was going on, until suddenly all the shoes were full of sweets, because that's what Dutch kids do instead of hanging stockings

He smiled to himself, letting his eyes drift absently across Ginny, who appeared to be arguing a point from a History of Magic lesson with Luna. I don't know what I was thinking, with Cho. Or maybe I do, because I wasn't thinking at all, just feeling. Second time lucky, though. Luckier than I deserve, some days. And in less than six months—

Hermione, much to his secret chagrin, was already deep into planning for his and Ginny's wedding, though thankfully she had listened to the Pack-parents' gentle suggestions that she abide by the requests of the people actually getting married. By Harry and Ginny's combined and fervent wish, the ceremony itself would be quiet and very private, with only their immediate families and Pride-mates present.

I like Ginny's idea, to have it here at Hogwarts, on top of the Astronomy Tower. Right at dawn, as the sun comes up. Not only is sunrise a strong time for good magic, it will mean there's no possible way we can be undertime on the year, since we started it at midnight last May Day. And at least there's no question who should be in the bridal party

Had he been marrying anyone else, Harry knew, he would have had a harder decision as to who should stand as his best man, but the old tradition that the best man was there not only for moral support to the groom but also to marry the bride should the groom not be able to fulfill his obligations had rather limited his choices.

Besides, I'd rather have that moment to remember with Draco, before… Harry grimaced, glad that he was at the back of the party as they passed through the doors into the Great Hall. Well, before. And there was never really any question who Ginny would choose as maid of honor, even if I had gone with Ron as best man.

His imagination had little trouble painting the picture. He and Draco would naturally wear their dress robes, though they might need new ones, since Harry knew for a fact he'd grown since Padfoot and Letha's magical wedding the summer before, and Draco had outpaced him by an inch or so. The girls, he knew from bits of conversation he probably hadn't been meant to overhear, were already working on Ginny's wedding gown, and on re-tailoring Luna's best robes to look less bridal, since it wasn't proper for anyone except the bride to wear white to a wedding. Dumbledore, as officiant (they hadn't asked him yet, but Harry had a hard time believing his Headmaster would say no), would wear his own best gray and blue, probably the same ones Harry could recall from holidays throughout his childhood in the two Dens…

It doesn't seem like that long ago that we were kids. Our biggest problems were keeping our mouths shut over den-secrets and beating each other to the last piece of cake. He slid into his seat at the Gryffindor table between Neville and Hermione. And now, we're practically grown up—Ron'll be of age in two and a half months, the rest of us won't be too far behind, we're in the middle of a war and I'm getting ready to get married, of all things—

Are we completely mad to do this? To rush into it this way, without any confirmation whether it will or won't help end the war?

Except we do have confirmation. Danger's prophecies have never been wrong before. He spooned eggs onto his plate, only half-hearing the discussion about the platters of golden bread, studded with raisins and colorful squares of fruity-smelling substances, which occupied a prominent place every few feet along the table. Cryptic sometimes, but never wrong. And "lion's line continue must ere elder serpent's fall to dust".

Which is a really long, convoluted way of saying no, we're not completely mad to do this, I've just got nerves. Harry cracked a smile. I think I'm actually more nervous about this than I am about having to face Voldemort again…

Of course, all Voldemort can do is kill me. Screwing up being married to Ginny could wreck the rest of my life.

"Lovely cheerful thing to think about two weeks before Christmas, Harry," he muttered through a mouthful of bacon. "Got any more holiday-friendly thoughts you'd care to share?"

"Arguing with yourself again?" Draco inquired from across the table. "You ought to know by now, you never win."

"Hush," said Hermione absently, peering up the length of the table as a trio of Ravenclaws entered by the door behind the teachers' dais, the first one carrying what appeared to be a large yellow mushroom, the other two each holding covered dishes. "They're getting ready to start."

"In Italy," announced the Ravenclaw in the lead, a fifth year girl Harry didn't know but suspected Ginny would, "Christmas baking often includes a sweet, rich bread filled with raisins and candied citrus peel. This is known as panettone, and is traditionally baked in a cylindrical mold." She lifted the loaf in her hands high above her head, so that everyone could see it. "It's so delicate that it can't be cooled on a standard metal rack—magical chefs usually cushion their racks with charms like the ones used on brooms, and Muggles will often lay the loaves on pillows to cool them."

"Must be what this stuff is," said Ron, picking up a slice of the lightly toasted bread from the platter. "Smells good." He bit into it. "Is good," he said around his mouthful. "What've the other two got? I don't see anything else on the tables…"

"Christmas Eve in Italy," said the Ravenclaw boy who'd entered the hall second in line, swapping with his Housemate and beckoning his friend forward as well, "is marked by the feast of the seven fishes. These can be almost anything a family wants, so long as it comes from the sea, but two which are usually included are fried smelts…" He waved towards his friend's platter, which, its cover removed, proved to contain tiny fish, about as long as Harry's fingers, fried whole to a golden brown. "…and baccala, or dried salted cod." He lifted the cover off his own bowl, revealing a red sauce in which flaky chunks of white fish could just be seen. "This has to be soaked in cold water for several days before it can be cooked, because of the amount of salt used to keep it from going bad."

"And that's why there isn't anything else unusual on the tables." Meghan craned her neck to see. "That looks tasty, but not for breakfast. Maybe we'll get some with dinner."

"Remember," announced the boy who hadn't spoken yet, "there's only twelve days left until Christmas, and only seven until the Ravenclaw Christmas Gala! See you tomorrow, and until then…"

The Ravenclaws lined up across the front of the dais. "Buon Natale," they said in unison, bowed, and left the way they'd come to scattered applause from the rest of the hall.

"What's that mean?" said Ron, glancing at Hermione. "Or is it the same as the rest of them have been?"

"What do you think, Ronald?"

"I try not to think too much. It hurts my head." Ron helped himself to another slice of panettone. "But if I had to guess, I'd say it's the same. 'Happy Christmas', just in Italian."

"And you'd be right." Hermione lifted a slice of her own off the platter as Ron waggled it in her direction. "It looks a bit like fruitcake, doesn't it? Only it's fruitcake people want to eat."

"Yet Muggles believe there's no such thing as magic." Draco intercepted the platter on its way back to its original spot. "A little something good before a double period with Snape—I think I deserve it."

"And I'm going to be out in the cold most of the morning, with Professor Kettleburn," said Ginny, scooping up two slices. "Harry, one for you?" She gave him a brief glare. "So you don't have to go picking bits off mine?"

"Thanks," said Harry, holding out his plate for Ginny to deposit the bread on it. Hermione, he noticed, was methodically breaking bite-sized pieces off her slice and removing the raisins from each one before eating it. Draco, seemingly intent on his conversation with Luna about ways to impress an examiner during a Care of Magical Creatures O.W.L., was nonetheless helping himself to each pile of raisins as Hermione completed it. Neville, apparently reminded by Draco's offhand comment, had his Defense textbook out and was rereading the paragraphs Snape had assigned them on Wednesday, Meghan looking over his shoulder with a small frown on her face, as though trying to reconcile the more complex ideas and spells in the sixth year text with the ones she was learning in her own third year.

The wedding won't change the Pride. Sampling the panettone, he silently seconded Ron's opinion. We'll all still be the same people we are right now. Ginny and I will just be putting a new label on ourselves, making what we always knew we had a little more formal between us. Nothing's really going to change.

Not until 5 June, at any rate.

If he'd ever had any questions about Draco's Sorting, the months since the revelation of Luna's vision would have laid them to rest. Somehow his brother had managed to set aside the sure knowledge of his own death, to concentrate instead on the everyday joys of living without allowing them to be overwhelmed by the fear of what was to come. It was something Harry wasn't sure he could have done himself.

And it's not something I ever wanted him, or any of us, to have to do. He bit a piece of candied lemon peel in half, savagely. We'll make sure to get Lucius but good for it. No more than he deserves, than he's deserved for years.

Now the only question is, what would be most appropriate? Just killing him feels too quick, too clean, for everything he's put Fox through, not to mention the rest of us


"So we're settled?" Draco inquired of Luna as they made their way out of the Great Hall after breakfast. "We both liked the one we found in that book Moony lent me, but it's a six-month brew, so we'll need to get it started right away if it's going to be ready. Even if I get some powdered dragon's teeth from Professor Black, that only cuts about a week off the brewing time."

Luna nodded. "I like it because it makes sense of some of what I saw," she said. "If I'm only agreeing to go with him because that means I can get close to him." Her hand slid across Draco's hip and came away with a gleaming dagger, its green pommel stone resting against her wrist. "Close enough to stab him with this, with its blade dipped in my cauldron before I go." She glanced upward, her eyes glinting dangerously. "We'll let luck decide whether the silver or the potion gets him first…"

We're going to have a damn dangerous range of daggers before we're through. Draco watched Luna as she feinted left, then right, then checked her appearance in the blade before returning it to him. He sheathed it and willed it back to its place under his robes. Basilisk venom in Harry's, and the Imprimatus in mine. Wonder what Neenie and Pearl will eventually have in theirs?

The book in which they had found the Imprimatus Potion had been one of those Moony kept only for reference, a tome of magic which hovered dangerously within the gray area between Light and Dark, and his Pack-father had visibly hesitated before agreeing that Draco could borrow it. Had he known what they were planning to do, Draco was sure the hesitation would have lasted a great deal longer.

Or possibly not happened at all, and the answer would've been a big flat no.

This particular potion, according to the notes which accompanied its list of ingredients and instructions, had originally been intended to allow wizards to subdue and control particularly dangerous magical creatures, whether they were Dark or simply savage. A footnote in tiny text at the bottom of the page had stated that it had even more profound effects on creatures with minds capable of human-style thinking.

Like centaurs, or goblins. Draco grinned briefly to himself. Or werewolves. Handy, that.

Whether it was drunk as a liquid or administered directly into the bloodstream, as Luna planned to do, the Imprimatus worked so quickly that its victim would have only a few seconds to realize what was happening to him, not enough time to fight against it.

Or so we hope. I'm just sorry I won't be able to see his face when Luna whispers to him what we've done

For once the potion reached his brain, always assuming the silver of the dagger didn't kill him first, Lucius Malfoy would lose all capability for rational thought. He would retain his magic, and some rudimentary ability to speak and understand English, but that was all. The parts of his mind which had once been devoted to reasoning and logic would instead be filled with an utter, doglike devotion to the first human he saw after the potion took effect, and he would no more be able to think of disobeying her orders than he would be capable of flying without a broom.

Too bad we can't get him with it before June, but even if we did, I bet the vision would still find some way to come true. Visions are like that.

The thought, somewhat to his bemusement, no longer woke the unreasoning panic in him that it once had. He supposed he'd worn it out through sheer repetition. Dying was still nothing he was looking forward to, but knowing that his death would help to bring about the Pack's greater safety, and that he would be swiftly and thoroughly avenged, helped take some of the sting out of it.

Besides, I have a strong suspicion where I'll end up, and it's somewhere I know at least a few of the other Marauders can go. Warriors too. There might even be work for me to do there, some way I can help everyone who's still fighting

But thinking about that could wait until later, Draco decided. For now, he was going to enjoy every bit of the run-up to Christmas, as much as one could enjoy a Defense class taught by Professor Grumpy.

Though figuring out ways to show him up that he can't take offense at is fun.

Or would be, if he hadn't proven repeatedly that he can take offense at absolutely anything, intentional or not


The Pride ran across Blaise and Colleen in the entrance hall after lunch, Graham Pritchard pouncing at Meghan from behind his Housemate's robes, making her squeal and everyone else laugh. "It seems strange to think about it before we've even had Christmas, but we should already be considering what we're planning for Valentine's Day, shouldn't we?" Blaise asked as the group scattered, Natalie Macdonald waving Graham and Meghan up the marble staircase to join her, Ginny and Luna hurrying towards one of the secret passages which would take them quickly to the fourth floor, the sixth years moving at a more leisurely pace towards the dungeons.

"Well, that depends on how fancy you want it to be." Hermione finger-combed a knot out of her hair. "Obviously, the Ravenclaws went a little on the elaborate side, compared to the Hufflepuffs, but that suits them, suits what they do best. What were you thinking, or hadn't you discussed it yet?"

"We've had several ideas make the rounds, but the one I think will win out in the end comes in two parts." Blaise bent to pick up a quill Colleen had dropped without breaking stride. "The first on the evening of the 14th, a semi-formal dinner for the entire school. Elegant rather than frilly, charming rather than imposing, possibly with a few brief etiquette lessons beforehand for those who might not know how such things are done."

"Showing off what's good about being pureblood," Neville hazarded. "Highlighting the traditions of the wizarding world, the continuity and permanence of it. The things we'll want to hang onto, even though we have to fight against some of the purebloods."

"Yes, exactly." Colleen accepted her quill back with a smile, brushing its feathered end against her fingers. "But then, after the younger students go to bed, we have something a little different in mind…"

"Uh-oh," Ron muttered.


Meghan was laying out a few of the Pack's Christmas traditions to Graham and Natalie, who were discussing how their own Pride might adopt or alter them, when the suit of armor which had watched them pass that morning (Meghan recognized the holly on the breastplate) suddenly began to sing as they walked by it in the opposite direction.

We three kings of Orient are,
Tried to smoke a rubber cigar…

Natalie and Graham both stopped to stare. Meghan completed the line within her mind and gulped. "I think we should hide," she said, suiting action to word behind one of the other suits of armor.

"Why—" Graham started to ask. Natalie snatched his hand and pulled him around the corner as the armor continued singing.

It was loaded, it exploded…

The boom battered at Meghan's ears, and she braced herself against the wall, using her bag to shield her head as pieces of armor rained down. When she finally dared to look, she had to giggle a little bit at how silly the metal boots looked standing there by themselves, without the rest of the suit on top of them.

Graham poked his head gingerly back around the corner. "There are days I love attending Hogwarts," he said, his voice oddly flat to Meghan's hearing. "And then there are days I don't."

"Me too," Natalie agreed, peering around him in awe at the armor-littered corridor. "I wonder what made it do that?"


She was walking around her classroom, dropping a hint here, praising a technique there, when the thought she'd been unable to run down a few weeks before suddenly returned, bouncing in her head as excitedly as a third year on a Hogsmeade weekend. Her foot halted in midair, between one step and the next, her mind whirling with shock as all the implications sank in.

It happened. It truly happened. I never thought it would, and now it has

By an effort of will she hadn't known she possessed, she set her foot carefully down on the stone floor and continued her walk, clearing her face of all undue anxiety. Her students deserved her full attention for as long as they had her, and the person who would be most likely to help her with this realization would not be available until after normal class hours in any case.

It would have to be now. A week before the end of term, with all the excitement of Christmas and the Ravenclaw Gala coming up. If there were ever a time I can't afford to be less than fully in control of myself

But this happening, she reminded her whiny side sternly, was not necessarily a bad thing. Some part of her had been desiring it since a day some months previous, when a man's quiet soliloquy had reshaped her ideas about him, herself, and her entire world.

Still, I ought to know better than most that what we want isn't always what we ought to have, or what we get. She murmured a correction just in time to stop one of her students from irredeemably ruining today's lesson. And that we can want many, often contradictory, things at the same time. And—the only absolute in the whole messy business—that change, even desirable change, is always frightening to some degree.

Frightening or not, the change had happened, creeping up on her so gradually that she would have been hard put to say when one state of mind had ended and another had begun.

And that's assuming there was any such hard and fast boundary, which I'm starting to doubt. This is always where I was headed—the only question is how long it was going to take me to get here. She glanced at the calendar on her desk. Not quite five months. Surprisingly short, for such a large change, though I suppose on some level it was less a change and more a…

She stopped before she could think the final word, smiling to herself. Not here. Not now. The students don't need to know any of this, they have their own troubles and joys, and no need to share in mine.

Always excepting a certain subset of them, of course

Returning to her slow pace around the classroom, she resisted the urge to look at her wristwatch every ten steps, but it was difficult. Even when she'd been attending Hogwarts herself, she had never experienced the end of class taking so long to come. Finally, though, her students (the last class of the day, thank God) finished their work, cleared their workspaces, repacked their bags, and decamped, chattering about the upcoming Gala, their plans for the Christmas holidays, and the possible magical, ethical, and monetary repercussions of an attempt to cross-breed Chocolate Frogs and Peppermint Toads.

She waited until she could no longer hear any of their voices, and another three minutes for good measure, then left her classroom, letting her feet choose the fastest route they knew towards the Headmaster's office. Students, professors, ghosts all greeted her as she hurried through the Christmas-decked halls, receiving smiles and slightly absent nods in return. Finally, she was on the revolving staircase, rehearsing the words she was about to say. Two more turns—one more—her hand was on the door—

"Good afternoon," Professor Dumbledore began, looking up from his scrolls, but she wasn't waiting for him to finish.

"You knew," she said accusingly, stepping into the office and leveling a finger at him. "You knew this was going to happen to me. It's one of the reasons you asked me to take this position, isn't it, to have me under your eye and make sure everything closed up on schedule? You never do anything for just one reason, Albus—" She caught herself up, half-laughing. "And there I go! Calling you by your first name, thinking of certain people by their nicknames and knowing them inside and out, being as ready as any of the students to go home for the holiday—you knew!"

Dumbledore shook his head, his soft smile somehow harmonizing rather than clashing with the gleam of tears behind his half-moon spectacles. "Say rather that I suspected," he said. "Certainly I hoped. But until this moment, I knew no more than you." He rose and came around the desk, holding out his hands to her. "Though I can conceive of no better time of year for it to have happened. Will you wish to have the weekend to yourself, so that you may inform the other parties most directly affected?"

"Yes, I think so." She accepted his handclasp, then laughed under her breath and embraced him. "Thank you," she murmured into his ear, smiling at the familiar fragrance of phoenix, lemon, and wool socks he always seemed to exude. "For whatever you did, or didn't, do. It worked perfectly."

"As always, you are welcome." Dumbledore released her, stepped back, and gestured towards the fireplace. She crossed the office to stand before the flames and dipped her hand into the flowerpot on the mantelpiece as casually as though she had known where the Floo powder was kept in this office for more than a decade.

"Number twelve, Grimmauld Place," she announced clearly, stepping into the green flames, and was gone.


Graham, Natalie, and Maya lurked in a small group outside the doors of the Great Hall, watching as groups of laughing, chattering students finished their dinners and departed for dormitories, library, or other destinations known only to themselves. Finally, though, their quarry came in sight, and they prepared to pounce.

"Selena," said Maya, touching her friend on the shoulder. Selena yelped theatrically and spun to face them, letting out an exaggerated breath of relief when she saw who it was.

"Don't do that to me," she scolded, shaking her finger at them. "I'm jumpy enough as it is, thinking every little noise I hear is Zach crying! Now I have to worry about my own Pride-mates sneaking up behind me?"

"We just wanted to talk to you," said Graham. "About this."

From behind his back, he produced a scorched, slightly twisted gauntlet and laid it in Selena's hands.

"What is it?" Selena asked, frowning at it. "I mean, I can see what it is, but why are you giving it to me? This looks more like something Peeves would do…"

"Except he hasn't been near that corridor in days," said Maya, folding her arms. "I checked with the Bloody Baron and everything. And the human scent on the armor was almost erased by the smoke from the explosion, but not entirely."

"Er." Selena tried for a winsome smile. "It was all in good fun?"

"It was funny," Natalie admitted. "But it was scary too. And if Meghan hadn't known the song and told us to hide, we would have been standing right next to it when it went off."

"What's Harry always talking about at DA meetings, Selena?" Maya shook her friend's arm lightly. "Warding spells. Safeguards. You didn't use any, none at all, and our Pridemates, our yearmates, our friends could have been hurt because of it." She lifted her shoulders and looked Selena squarely in the eye. "You will be more careful next time."

Selena squirmed. "It was just a prank," she complained. "You're being awfully harsh about it."

"What if everything we've done towards the spell-breaking year, all the work we've put in on Sanctuary, every bit of that had just been destroyed because one member of the year hurt others?" Maya gestured to Natalie and Graham, standing side by side, their fingers brushing in a gesture just shy of officially holding hands. "Would you say I was being too harsh then?"

"No," Selena admitted on the tail end of a sigh. "Because you'd be right, just like you're right now. I'm sorry," she told the third years. "You weren't hurt, were you?"

Graham shook his head. "Meghan's ears rang for a little while, but she knew how to fix that," he said. "And I'd like to see what would happen if you set the armor to go off while some other members of our House are walking past."

"Some of the nastier ones, right?" Selena chuckled. "I think I can manage that."

"But with the warding spells, please?" said Natalie hastily. "I don't want you to get in trouble."

"Always practice safe pranks," Maya intoned.

Selena looked levelly at her friend. "Too late," was all she said.

The remaining students in the Great Hall crowded the doors, trying to find out what was so very funny in the entrance hall.


Draco unfolded his portable tripod, settled its feet into place, and hung his second-best cauldron from the hook, tossing a wink at his observer, who was seated on top of her favorite cubicle, watching intently. "Thanks for letting us barge in on you again, Myrtle," he said.

"Oh, it's no trouble." Moaning Myrtle waved a translucent hand airily. "I do like having company now and again. Though I wish Harry would come by occasionally—do you know, I've barely seen him for over a year?"

"He's been busy," said Luna, unpacking ingredients onto the square of canvas she'd brought for this express purpose. "What with the DA, and his Occlumency lessons, and Quidditch practice, all on top of his usual classwork."

"Yes, well, you two are busy too, but you still find a bit of time to come and visit me." Myrtle pouted. "I don't think it's very heroic to ignore your friends that way."

Draco busied himself with the bluebell fire charm Hermione had taught him to keep Myrtle from seeing the look on his face at this.


"What do you think?" Neville asked Ginny, holding out a half-open rosebud.

Ginny pressed her fingers to her mouth, then quickly held out her hand to receive the flower. "Neville, it's perfect! How did you ever—no, never mind, you did it, that's all I need to know," she corrected herself, grinning at the knowing smile on Neville's face. "Are there any more like it yet, or did you just do the one to start with?"

"Just the one, along with about a dozen other types." Neville stroked the edge of the rose's petals proudly. "We were trying all sorts of different techniques, and this is the one that worked the way we wanted."

"Now that we have the steps down, we can grow you a whole bush of them in time for May Day," Meghan chimed in. "And one of the ones that wasn't quite what we thought it would be turned the most beautiful dark red instead, and Luna can carry those!"

"Thank you both, so much." Ginny tucked the flower behind her ear, then flung her arms around her fellow Warriors. "It's just what I wanted for Christmas!"

The rose in her hair, though unmistakably pink, nevertheless had a warm golden heart which meshed with the flaming Weasley red as though it had been grown for that precise purpose.


The scion of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black returned to his family's ancestral domicile fairly late that evening, humming "Here We Come A-Wassailing" under his breath. A glimpse of a triangular, glimmering shape through the front window as it shouldered into sight changed his musical selection to "O Christmas Tree", which triggered a memory from another London address at which he'd once lived.

Fox's first Christmas with us, back at the Crozer Street Den. He was just coming out of his shell, starting to understand that we weren't going to slap him around or ship him back to his father if he made a little bit of trouble, and Harry and Neenie were only too happy to nudge him along the rule-breaking path. Was that the year they toppled the tree playing broomstick chase, or was it the year after? I think it may have been the year after, he wasn't quite up to that yet, not so soon

Besides being Draco's first Christmas with the Pack, it had also been the first one at which Meghan was old enough to be an active participant, though Aletha had been forced to place a Safety Charm around the tree after Hermione had come howling into the kitchen to report that Meghan was sitting underneath the lowest branches and happily smashing ornaments to bits with her bare hands.

I wonder, was she Healing herself from that, unconsciously? Sirius shook his head, mounting the steps to the front door. No, that's right, Ravenclaw Heirs can't Heal themselves—or they can, but only once. It works, but it sets up a feedback loop, burns the power right out of them, and they'll never have it again. So Pearl was just lucky that she didn't get cut by mashing that pair of glass balls into the carpet

He unlatched the door and opened it, stepping into the dimly lit hallway beyond.

Then he froze.

He could smell dinner, wafting up the stairs from the basement kitchen like always. He could smell the clean pine scent of the Christmas tree, the smoke from the charmed candles which illuminated it, the bitter whiff of the mistletoe Moony'd hung over the entrance to the front room. But he could also smell rosemary and clean clothing, sea wind and fresh air, and there was no reason, no reason at all, why those scents should be waiting for him here, unless—

"Sirius," murmured the voice which matched the scents, and a piece of the darkness stirred. "You're home."

"So're you." Sirius undid the leaf pin which fastened his cloak and hung it on its usual hook without looking. "I thought term wasn't over for another week."

"It's not. But I had to come and see you." Aletha moved into the doorway of the front room, where the tree's candles cast a dim, shimmering light across her face. Sirius almost whimpered, but got control of himself at the last second. No matter how beautiful she was, he reminded his whiny side sternly, he had to respect her wishes. She'd gone to Hogwarts to learn about who she was now, to get to know herself without interference from him. It would be wrong to move in closer, to draw her into his arms and slide his fingers through her hair until he was cradling the back of her head in his palm, to send his other hand on a journey of exploration across her shoulders to find the places where the stress of her day had her muscles knottted up—

Or would it? whispered a daring voice deep within his mind. Take a sniff—her scent says "want" as clear as yours does! Maybe, just maybe—

"I thought you should be the first to know," Aletha went on, turning her head for a moment to regard the Christmas tree, then looking back at Sirius. He felt his breath stop short at the look in her eyes—she hadn't looked at him like that since—

Since before this whole nightmare started. Since the moment she was telling me to go ahead and Obliviate her, that she loved me and trusted me enough to put her whole self, everything she knew and remembered and was, into my hands—

His wife stepped forward, joy and incredulity warring for place in her expression.

"I'm back," she said.


"And there we are," said George, tapping the face of his wristwatch. "Midnight. It is no longer Friday the thirteenth, and nothing bad has happened."

"Nothing much happened either," Fred pointed out. "We fed people here, sold them fine pranking products at the shop, Percy came by to test the security charms on the back windows… it was just another day."

Crystal shrugged one shoulder. "Just another day," she agreed. "For us, anyway."

"And who else should we be concerned with?" George slid an arm around her shoulders. "Come on, I'll take you home, if you can promise your dad won't try and do to me whatever it is Muggle dads do instead of hex the boys who bring their daughters home after midnight…"

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Author Notes:

I had originally intended to cover the Ravenclaw Gala in this chapter as well, but I like it the way it is. Hope you do too.

Please don't forget to check out Sing We Now of Christmas whenever you have a little money to spare, and leave me plenty of nice reviews to encourage me to keep up the weekly update thing!

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