An Alternate Chain of Events

Chapter 8 - Christmas

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Chapter Eight- Christmas

Harry, Ron and Hermione, disembarked from the Hogwarts Express, glancing around for their parents.

"There's my mum." Hermione suddenly pointed. "I've got to go. I'll do as much research as I can while I'm away." She took a breath. "Harry, are you sure you can't just ask your father?"

"No." Harry shook his head. "He'd figure out we're snooping and would drag me out of Hogwarts. I'll look through their books though."

Hermione nodded in understanding. "Well, bye you two. See you after the holidays! Merry Christmas!"

"Bye Hermione! Have a nice time in France! Merry Christmas." Harry and Ron replied.

"Seriously mate, you can't even get him to give you a hint?"

Harry shook his head, seriously. "He's too clever. He'd want to know why I'm asking and I'm rubbish at lying."

Ron sighed in commiseration. "Too bad, it'd save us looking through so many books. It's alright for Hermione, she'll find it fun." They continued looking round the busy platform for any sign of collection. "There's my mum." Ron spotted. "See you soon, write yeah? We'll see about meeting up."

"Great." Harry replied enthusiastically. "Have a good Christmas."

"You too." Ron went to join his family, leaving Harry alone.

Surely they couldn't have forgotten he came home for the holidays today? Harry was growing uneasy, the platform was starting to clear out and there was no sign of Lily or James.

"Harry!" A voice shouted. Remus was jogging towards him waving his arms. "Sorry I'm late, got held up!" He gave him a swift hug. "You look well."

"Thanks," Harry replied happily, following him out the barrier. "Thanks for picking me up, but where are mum and dad?"

"They both got held up at work, so I said I'd come." Remus said. "I hear you've had a busy term, your dad mentioned something about a troll . . ."

Harry loved Godric's Hollow when it was covered in snow. The whole village looked so pretty and clean and there was always so much fun to be had. Their little cottage looked like something on the front of a Christmas card, and with a warm feeling, Harry realised that he was very happy to be home.

The first thing Remus did was make them both a hot chocolate in the kitchen, while Harry described the castle. It was filling Remus with warm memories of belonging, the days of Hogwarts were before he realised the trouble his kind had in the outside world.

"You don't look very happy, Remus." Harry said astutely. "Is there something wrong?"

Remus shook his head, smiling wryly. "Just ministry stuff. Very boring."

"Is it actually boring? Or is it like when dad says boring and he just doesn't want to tell me?"

Remus laughed properly, for what felt like the first time in weeks. "Actually boring. Do you want to talk about legislation?"

Harry smiled. "I'm alright thanks."

"So what's your favourite subject?"

"Hmm," Harry considered this. "Well Charms is definitely the most fun. Flitwick is really easy going. Transfiguration and Potions are really hard."

"Yes McGonagall and Severus aren't as relaxed as Flitwick."

"You're telling me." Harry nodded. "Snape's awful to anyone who isn't in his house and McGonagall doesn't favour us at all!"

"She got you on to the Quidditch team," Remus pointed out.

"Yeah but – " Harry paused. He hadn't considered that. Maybe McGonagall favoured her house more than she let on. "Quidditch is the best part of school, other than Ron and Hermione."

"So you swallowed the snitch?"

"It was a complete accident." Harry laughed happily. "But it won us the game."

Remus seemed in a mild mood and Harry was just about to ask him about his conundrum when James and Lily came home, and suddenly he was enveloped in hugs and kisses. Nicholas Flamel had quite flown out of his mind.

On Christmas eve, Harry and his parents were in the living room listening to the wireless when Harry was unceremoniously asked to go to bed.

"It's nine O'clock!" Harry protested.

"It's good to get an early night every once in a while."

"Shut up James," Lily rolled her eyes. "You don't have to go to sleep but we need to wrap your presents."

"Don't you have homework to do?"

"Well yeah, but it's Christmas Eve."

"Why don't you go and write to Ron?" Lily suggested. "Tell him that we'd love to have him over for New Year?"

"Ok." Harry shrugged. After all, he did want his presents.

"And no listening or looking behind door frames!" James called as Harry left the room. He put an impervious charm on the door for good measure.

"Isn't it lovely to have him home?" Lily smiled. She had said this every night for the four nights that Harry had been back.

James laughed and hugged her. "It's bloody wonderful."

Lily always preferred to wrap presents the muggle way. It didn't seem like Christmas without doing it properly. Although this always bemused James, he had learnt not to question it over the years.

"Are you and Sirius going to make up before tomorrow?" Lily asked.

"I don't understand how you're not angry with him too!"

"It's like Remus said, they didn't want to worry us unnecessarily." Lily paused to cut the paper. "And anyway, even if they'd told you in July, what on earth could you have done? The troll would most likely have still gotten in the castle."

"I could have warned Dumbledore!"

"He already knew! That man doesn't miss a trick." Lily smiled at the finished parcel and put it under the beautifully decorated tree in the corner of the room. "I think he did us a favour not mentioning it."

James muttered something incomprehensible. Lily didn't understand. James felt like Sirius had betrayed him by keeping such a vital piece of information from him. James was an only child but ever since they had met on the Hogwarts Express, Sirius Black had been his brother. And now their blood families were gone, they were more a family than ever. Families don't betray each other, not good families.

"He was trying to protect us." Lily tried a new tack. "You know Sirius would lay down his life in heartbeat for us, Harry and Remus. Why can't you believe that he had our best interests at heart?"

James fiddled with a tassel on the end of a cushion. He and Sirius had never had a fight that had lasted this long. And although he was angry, James did miss him. Work had been much less enjoyable recently.

"Why don't you go round?" Lily nudged him, feeling that she was making progress.

"What do I say?"

"I'd start with 'sorry I overreacted' and take it from there." She kissed his cheek and handed him a bottle. "Don't get too drunk or stay out too late."

"You're the best wife in the world." James said in amazement.

"I know." Lily smiled. "Which is why you better have gotten me one hell of a Christmas present."

Sirius was sat drinking alone on Christmas Eve. He'd already written a letter to Lily explaining why he couldn't come round for Christmas dinner tomorrow, but he hadn't sent it. Sirius was miserable. James had been giving him the cold shoulder for weeks now, and no matter how many times Sirius had tried to apologise or explain, James had shrugged it off. He had tried discussing it with Remus.

"I told him that we'd both decided not to tell him for his benefit, that we weren't being deceitful, we trying to avoid worrying them."

"And what did he say?" Sirius demanded.

Remus shrugged. "He says we should have told him immediately."

"Is he speaking to you?"

"He's a bit grumpy but otherwise fine." Remus answered. "Why?"

Sirius looked indignant. "He's completely ignoring me." Sirius ran his hand through his dark hair, adopting a familiar haughty expression. "He hasn't ignored me since I accidentally hexed Lily at Hogwarts, and that didn't even last this long."

"He's just nervous about Harry." Remus tried to console him. Remus knew what the problem was. James and Sirius were his best friends, but they shared a bond that he wasn't a part of. It wasn't malicious on their part, and he had learned to live with long ago. But it was this bond that was making James so angry at Sirius and not him.

"He's being a prat." Sirius moaned. "But, you know, thanks for saying you knew too."

"Thanks for not dropping me in it." They clinked drinks across the dingy table of the even dingier bar they were in. "I'll talk to him."

But there had been no improvement in James's attitude towards him since that conversation. Sirius was beginning to give up hope that James would ever forgive him.

There was a knock at the door. Sirius didn't bother getting up. The knocking got louder.

"If you don't open the door, I'll blow it off the hinges." A familiar voice said.

Sirius padded to the door and found James holding out a familiar bottle.

"Mates?" James asked holding up the bottle.

"I couldn't be more touched if you'd have bought flowers."

James smiled. "We'll save that for the second date."

"Come in you prat."

And just like that, the last few weeks had never happened.

Christmas was its usual happy affair, full of food, laughter and presents. But now that it was over, Remus was beginning to feel nervous. Due to work commitments and other circumstances, he had still not met Lily's colleague. Remus had repeatedly tried to tell James that it was a bad idea and they should call it off, but he was having none of it. So now, on December 27th they were going on a double date, while Sirius watched Harry.

Remus got to the restaurant early. It was a new place that had just opened on Diagon Alley, full of Goblins and locals, Remus was pretty sure that a vampire was lurking in the corner by the toilets but he couldn't be sure. The restaurant had a welcoming feel, full of glowing amber lights from the candelabra and warm Mediterranean colours.

Lily and James arrived ten minutes later. They were usually a happy couple, despite the odd blazing row that you must occasionally expect from two such passionate people, but Remus noted that they seemed to be on particularly exceptional terms.

"Good evening." He smiled as they sat down.

"I'm so glad we're doing this." Lily smiled. She was utterly delighted with herself. James had warned her that Remus was not a project that she could work on, but Lily was convinced a little romance would make his life much happier. She didn't know why she hadn't thought of Veronica before for Remus. They'd make such a lovely couple, she was sure of it. Lily smiled and waved as a new witch came to join them. All three members stood up to meet their new arrival.

"Hello Veronica!" Lily beamed. "So glad you made it! This is my husband James, and this is our friend Remus."

Veronica greeted James pleasantly but when she saw Remus something happened.

"It's lovely to meet you." Remus said, holding out his hand.

"You too." Veronica said, but she wasn't smiling. She had the most curious expression on her face. "I'm sorry but have we met before?"

"I don't think so," Remus replied as they were all seated.

Veronica was sure that she knew his face. It wasn't until half way through their dinner that she realised why.

"So you grew up in Wales?" She said in sudden comprehension. "In Pembroke?"

"Yes," Remus nodded in amazement. "I thought that I'd lost my accent how did you kn-" but then he too realised. "Ronnie Griffin?"

"Remus Lupin!" She said excitedly. "I knew I recognised you."

They stared at each other in wonder.

James and Lily were bemused.

"We were next door neighbours as children." Remus explained.

"But then my family moved to France, the year after-" she broke off awkwardly, not looking Remus in the eye. She was going to say after Greyback, but obviously Remus would know that.

"So you went to Beauxbatons?" He asked, passing over Greyback. He knew she knew, her family had been very supportive at the time.

"Yes." Veronica nodded frantically. "While you went to Hogwarts." She looked at him wistfully. "It's been such a long time."

"I can't believe it." Remus was utterly delighted.

"You look just like your dad. That's why you seemed so familiar."

They continued talking, forgetting that Lily and James were even there.

"Well this is going wonderfully!" Lily whispered.

"You can't take the credit." James pointed out. "They already knew each other."

But Lily shushed him and continued to watch Remus. She couldn't remember the last time that he'd seemed so happy. Things were going to work out so well.

Sirius had taken Harry to watch a meteor shower. It was a much better idea in theory than practice. Sirius hadn't taken the snow into account when he had planned it, the result being that they were quickly so cold they didn't care about the skies.

"It's ok." Harry said, teeth chattering. "But can we just go back and play exploding Snap or chess or something?"

"Sure." Sirius agreed. But on their way they passed a small wizarding pub, the type you often found in magical hamlets like Godric's hollow. "How about a butterbeer first though?"

"Great." Harry trotted along the cobbled pavement towards the small Tudor Inn.

It wasn't very busy. The barkeeper was delighted to have customers and they were served immediately.

"It's always dead after Christmas, 'ere." He sighed. "Everyone's sobering up ready for new year!" The man walked away in a zigzag.

"He means everyone's sobering up except him." Harry smiled. The barman was known around the village as mad mothball Monty. Utterly harmless, but, as the name suggested, mad.

"Shall we drink up and go back?" Sirius suggested. "There's a better atmosphere in your empty house."

Harry smiled and drained his bottle. Sirius was looking behind him as they left the pub, watching mad Monty accidentally light his beard on fire as he attempted to clear the spirits away from the bar with his wand.

"Harry did you see tha-" he had walked straight into somebody. "I'm so sorry." He turned around and his jaw dropped.

"That's ok." The witch replied, brushing down her robes. She looked up. "Sirius." Her tone was surprised but not unpleasant.

"Hi." Sirius gulped. He didn't know what to say. They just looked at each other.

"Come on, it's freezing." Harry moaned coming back through the door. "Sirius?"

Sirius seemed to come to his senses. "Yes. Coming." He said to Harry. "Erm, bye then." He said and left before she could respond.

"Who was that?"

"Someone I knew years ago." Sirius replied. Harry had been a baby when Emilia was around, there's no way he'd remember that she was meant to have been Sirius's wife. He hadn't seen her in six years, what on earth was she doing in Godric's Hollow?

Harry noticed that Sirius was very distracted for the rest of the evening. He let Harry win three games of chess, Harry noted this because he wasn't very good at chess and Sirius never let him win. Harry's pawns were doing a conga around the board, while Sirius's queen was being consoled by his decapitated king.

"Sirius?"

"Yes."

"Do you know who Nicholas Flamel is?" Harry had taken a massive gamble, but he guessed that since Sirius's mind was clearly elsewhere this was his best shot.

"Er-" Sirius said, dragging his mind away from Emilia for a moment. "He's an alchemist."

Harry nodded. Alchemist. That was certainly something to go on.

"Is he very famous?" Harry knew that he was pushing his luck, but Sirius still wasn't paying attention.

"Fairly," Sirius replied. "He made the Philosopher's Stone."

Harry wanted to write to Ron and Hermione immediately, but he thanked Sirius and continued beating him at their games. First thing tomorrow, he was going to look into the matter in more detail. The night had been very successful.

Ron came round on New Year's Eve. He thought Harry's house was marvellous. It was so quiet. His lack of siblings was just wonderful.

Harry's parents said they weren't doing anything to bring in the year, so Lily made a quiet dinner for the four of them.

Lily and James made an effort to get to know Ron, and they found they very much liked him.

"- and then BAM! The game was over. Harry looked like he was being sick but he coughed up the snitch." Ron was describing the game to James. "Malfoy's face when Gryffindor one was the best moment though."

"He's Lucius Malfoy's son?"

"I suppose so." Harry shrugged. "Do you know him?"

"My dad says he's always walking round the ministry with Fudge."

James laughed, humourlessly. "Yes he's very well connected."

"So he's a git?" Harry surmised.

"Yes." James smiled.

"However much of a git he is, no more duelling." Lily narrowed her eyes.

"We didn't actually duel if you remember, mum." Harry replied. "He never showed up."

"That's really not the issue." Lily laughed, despite herself. "However, if it was a choice between Malfoy and a troll . . ." She looked at Harry and Ron significantly.

Harry laughed while Ron went red. "I told you before. We didn't go looking to fight the troll, we went looking for Hermione."

"Is Hermione your girlfriend?" Lily asked.

Ron could feel his ears going red again but Harry looked unperturbed. "No mum. She's our friend."

"Boys and girls can be friends." James pointed out. "We were friends for years before we went out."

Lily looked at him in surprise. "James, you spent the better part of four years asking me out, while I firmly hated you." She shook her head smiling. "I don't know which school you were at, but we weren't friends."

Harry and Ron laughed. James smiled and put his hands behind his head. "I wore you down in the end though."

"It all sounds very romantic, doesn't it?" Lily said to Harry and Ron. "I've told Harry that if anyone tells him he's just like his father at the age to take it as an insult."

Ron laughed. "That's all Snape does."

"Well old Sniv-" Lily glared at him. "I mean Severus." James corrected. "Was never my biggest fan."

Harry nodded. "You can say that again. I've been told I'm arrogant, have a huge ego, and apparently I walk around like I'm above everything. But don't worry, he said he'd expect nothing less from someone raised by 'Potter and Black'. He doesn't mention you at all mum."

"That's because he was always in love with her."

"What?" Harry and Ron exclaimed.

"You're living proof that he lost and I won."

"I'm not a trophy James, I'm a person." Lily said indignantly. "He's massively exaggerating."

"I am not. If anything I'm downplaying it." James insisted. "Oh come on what about the time-"

But Lily cut him off. "How's Hagrid?" She asked the boys.

They shrugged. "Fine I think."

"What's he keeping in the forest these days?" James asked.

"Dunno." Harry replied. "We haven't been in the forest."

Lily shot James a warning glance before applauding Harry for the school rules that he had not yet managed to break.

"What does he normally keep in there?" Ron asked.

Lily and James smiled. "You'll find this out more in third year if you take Care of Magical creatures. But Hagrid likes to keep unusual creatures in there."

"Monsters, some might call them."

"His greatest ambition is to have a pet dragon," Lily laughed.

Harry and Ron looked at each other, they had recently observed Hagrid's liking of monsters.

"Mental." Ron said, hoping his voice was casual, while Harry just nodded along.

They made small chit chat the rest of the way through dinner. Just as they were clearing up and the boys were retreating upstairs, James remembered something.

"Ron, I meant to ask you," Ron turned round to answer. "Did your brothers ever send your sister that toilet seat in the end?"

Later in Harry's room when they were supposed to be going to sleep, the boys stayed awake talking.

"Your parents are so cool." Ron said enviously. What had really struck Ron was how young they were, and how much time they had for just Harry. He was very jealous of that. And he seemed to tell them everything, well everything except about Fluffy, although that topic had come uncomfortably close at points.

"They're alright." Harry laughed, but he was secretly very happy that Ron liked them. "Anyway, never mind that." Harry suddenly started talking in a whisper. "I found out who Nicholas Flamel is and I have a good idea what that dog's guarding."

Ron looked at Harry in amazement. They spoke late into the night about the philosopher's stone and debating the reasons why Snape wanted it so badly.

"We need to tell Hermione." Ron decidedly, wisely. "She'll definitely know what to do."

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