Thanks, as usual, to all readers, favouriteers, followers and reviewers: ragsweas, Arnie1701, Sakura Lisel, geekymom, Gemcatcher, avid reader, AzureAlquimista, and kittenclaws. I apologise for the long delay.

Interestingly, nobody caught the very, very fleeting reference to Snape in the previous chapter.




Nymphadora Tonks was, by all definitions that one would care to consider, a very precocious young girl. As the only daughter of a couple who had defied social norms thoroughly, and one born with one of the rarest magical gifts which she had come into very early, at that, she was spoilt rotten, a little bit. For the first few years of her life, however, while she had always known about magic, she had never really known about her mother's side of the family. They had also shifted around frequently during those years, till late in 1981, when she was seven, and they had to hide from reporters.

It was then that her mum told her about the Black family, about her aunts who had helped some very bad people, about her Uncle Sirius, whom her mother had loved like a little brother but somehow it seemed had gone wrong. She had finally been told why they never met her other grandparents or why they moved around so much – to protect them all from her Aunts.

But then, in August 1984, they found out that her Uncle Sirius was not bad at all – somebody had lied about him and sent him to jail. And through him, she met a new person. This was a person that everybody who knew of magic knew about – Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived. She had been so excited to meet him since then.

But she ended up being thoroughly disappointed. Harry Potter was only a very small boy of four. He came with some of Uncle Sirius' new friends. They were great. They didn't even need to be told that they had to call her Tonks. But Harry Potter, who was supposed to be somebody great if he had defeated You-Know-Who, was just a little boy, one, in fact, who still needed afternoon naps.

Since August she had seen a lot of Harry when Uncle Sirius, once again her favourite and only relative on her mum's side, visited them. Initially unsure what to say to the kid, she had eventually tried to amuse him with all the things she knew to do as a metamorphmagus. That seemed to settle the kid – not that she thought that way. But he was quite cheerful thereafter, and asked far too many questions and was just...a boy!

Thrice, he had even spent time with them over the weekend, while the adults went in a group of three to do something or the other. In that time, she let him play with her toys, she let him read her books, and now he wanted to do everything she did. That was when he became annoying.

"He thinks of you like a big sister, sweetheart," her father had explained with a fond smile.

"But I am not!" she protested.

"Oh but you can be if you want to," he disagreed. "He is your cousin after all. You are the closest he can ever have to a sister."

"But then why does he have to do everything that I do?"

"You do it, so it must be right. He wants to be just like you."

That didn't make sense. Still, she found that when he stuck to her like a burr sometimes when some of her friends from school came home, they found him very cute. He did have his uses.

Whichever way she looked at it though, it seemed she was stuck with him. Little brothers were annoying.

Many, many years ago, or after about seven years yet to come, Ron remembered the look on Harry's face when he had seen the pile of presents. He had been only eleven then, and he had found the idea that Harry was so surprised by there being any presents for Christmas at all very funny. Now he knew that it was everything but funny. Thankfully, their little Harry had learnt to accept them so thoroughly, that he and Hermione were roused out of their sleep on Christmas morning by a boy bouncing with unbridled excitement.

It was an excitement that they strove to be a part of, but weren't really able to, initially. After all, they did have memories of Hugo and Rose waking them much the same way. But they had put on a happy face for Harry's sake through the week, till they had been pulled right in to the fervour, as Sirius made not-so-secret plans with his godson about ways in which they could prank the presents, Remus very seriously wrapping up the gift Harry had made them all, and planning gifts with Sirius and Harry and Harry and Remus, and with the two men for the remaining respective family member.

More than anything, Ron now also longed for the Christmas jumper that would never come. In all the grief at losing his children, he had not forgotten that he had lost his mother as well. Her scrumptious Christmas cooking, the family being loud like no other, the Christmas crackers at the dining table in the Burrow, the way she hung a stocking for each of them even when they were grown-ups, the kiss she would drop on each of their heads, including Hermione and Harry, on Christmas Day at breakfast...he had learnt to cherish it even more, now that he had lost it.

But as easy as it was to get lost in those memories, he knew he had to make more, in the here and now. And that was what they did, as they truly celebrated the first Christmas their son could remember.

Their gifts to Sirius and Remus were modest – a new shirt for Remus, and Sirius got a biker jacket. It was what fit into their combined pay as an accountant and a tutor (Hermione was never one to sit idle. It helped that the teens she was tutoring, the girls especially, found their tutor's son very adorable. Harry soaked it up).

Harry got two new storybooks to read from Remus, a new flowering pet potted plant (which he was to take care of by himself; it was a compromise they had reached. If he showed he could take care of the plant for two whole years, then they would get him the puppy he so very much wanted, but had only thrice spoken of with a very, very piteous "please". It would also help him with Herbology) and his own ink pen from Ron and Hermione, and a very small bicycle from Sirius (a compromise with Hermione who had stood firm against a toy broom) and a magical colouring book from the Tonkses, who were away on a trip they had planned over six months before.

For old times' sake, Ron also threw in a box of Chocolate Frogs. The absolute delight that the kid felt about the amphibian-shaped confections was a joy to watch.

Sirius and Remus had actually pitched in as far as the idea went while getting gifts for them. Remus had scouted the Weasleys and Grangers, and, as incredibly creepy as it sounded, had prepared an album of the time-displaced duo's childhoods. Sirius on the other hand had gifted them a small pensieve.

"We can't get photographs of know, family," he sheepishly explained. "But at least you can tell us about them."

He had received a strong hug from Hermione, rivalling those that Lily was likely to surprise a person with every once in a while. Lily had, in spite of their many fights and the bickering, often just for the sake of the fights themselves, always been family. Hermione was so like her that Sirius couldn't help but be struck by that feeling of being at home. Everyone was being very grown-up and dredging up memories and becoming all emotional, till as usual, the little kid reminded them of the present.

Sirius had told Harry that he should show his present at the very last, and Remus had helped him wrap it. Remus had even promised Harry that no, he hadn't seen the present at all; not a little peek at it. Of course, he had chanced a very fleeting glance at the present that was a drawing but only as long as it took to cast the charm. He had even explained how he had "avoided seeing it" – the obscuring charm. Harry insisted that he was a big boy and didn't play peek-a-boo, but found it immensely amusing that there was a type of magic that did just that, as Remus gave him the closest analogy. That hadn't actually stopped him from glancing at it and wondering why Harry had drawn a balloon-art figure of a centaur next to something that was standing next to an unexplained, unidentified something.

"So what is my darling boy's present to us?" Hermione asked as she made a production of keeping Harry's gift for the last. She enjoyed watching his anticipation and excitement. Already he was so different from her best friend, and she would not have it any other way. She tried not to be irritated at herself for her reaction to the two times he had been equally excited – both times about getting a broomstick.

"I made it myself!" Harry announced.

"You did? Let us see then." She neatly unstuck all the pieces of cello-tape that kept the modest decorative wrapping paper bound neatly around the A4-sized sheet of paper stiffened with another charm to keep it from crumpling.

She smiled at the drawing as the other adults gathered around her. It was a family picture of them standing outside their cottage, now recently expanded. A woman who was very obviously Hermione (with big brown crayon eyes) and a man who was Ron (blue-eyed of course) were holding Harry's hands and they were all smiling. There was Remus with an extra-long arm slung around Ron's shoulders. And there was the sort-of Centaur figure which, now it was obvious, was supposed to be Sirius.

"Did you like it?" Harry asked with honest and innocent excitement when the adults took a moment to laugh at the drawing that portrayed the now slightly red-faced Sirius Black. Harry jostled to Hermione's side and explained, "This is you, this is dad, this is Uncle Remus and this is Uncle Sirius."

"Why do I have four legs and wheels, Harry?"

"You are changing from dog to man and then you will ride the bike."

"Ah..." was all Sirius could say as he attempted to preserve his dignity. Of course the wheels were for the bike, Harry absolutely loved it. And of course he was midway through an animagus transformation. Harry had to show everything he could understand related to Sirius.

Remus was trying not to break out into rib-rattling laughter. From Harry's point of view, after all, it was completely logical.

"Quite the little artist, my little boy is," Hermione proudly praised. She conjured a frame with the wand Remus had made for her. "See, now we will frame it on the wall." She then proceeded to pepper her child with many kisses.

"I actually like Sirius, the amazing wheeled-centaur, a lot," Ron told the younger man with a completely straight face.

"Anyone tell you that you're a bit of a git, lately?"

"Not lately, no," Ron replied brightly. "Hermione doesn't really say such things to me. It takes time to decipher her words when she insults me. Ignorance is bliss."

"Lucky man," Sirius growled, still not sure whether to scowl or smile at his godson's rendition of him on paper.

Ron, Remus and Hermione just burst out into laughter at that. And they were all his heroes, so Harry emulated them, naturally.

It was, however, not only immediate family who got Christmas gifts. On Christmas morning, a very old man in a draughty tower in an ancient castle found an innocent-looking gift-box with no name sitting on his table. The man's immortal companion was eyeing with great distaste. Sighing as he anticipated yet another assassination attempt, he cast every kind of detection spell, none of which returned results about anything malicious whatsoever.

Intrigued, Dumbledore opened the box gingerly. Inside was a pair of thick, woollen socks. With a hint of trepidation, for nobody save his brother Aberforth, and his enemy Gellert Grindelwald truly knew about this. Wondering whether Aberforth had been harmed, or whether Gellert had found a medium through which to bring any new nefarious plans to effect, Dumbledore tested the socks as well. They were as inert as the box was.

With trembling hands, he lifted the socks out of the box. They were surprisingly heavy. They carried something within. One of them contained the mangled and melted remains of a locket – the lost locket of Salazar Slytherin, if the serpentine embedment of emeralds was any indication. A note bearing the word "Fiendfyre" was attached to it. Instantly Dumbledore knew what it was. He heaved a sigh of relief and shock – if such a combination was at all possible. He knew the senders. Harry really did have people who truly loved him looking out for him.

The object in the other sock was enclosed inside its accompanying note. It was a small velvet box again. Now knowing the senders, and also understanding why Fawkes had detested the objects, he was unafraid of it.

In handwriting so perfect, it might as well have been printed, was the note to him. It read, "A part of Tom Riddle had this in its possession before he was temporarily defeated. It is time your search ended and you get your peace. Use it well."

The words almost unravelled any peace that Dumbledore might have had. He opened the box to reveal a completely melted, mutilated golden ring, with an unharmed octahedral stone. With a shaking hand he reached out for it. And then there were only three people he would ever call. Fearing that it could all be a horrendous joke which was unlikely, knowing what they had found it to be, or a failed myth, Albus closed his eyes. If it worked, Albus Dumbledore would face his greatest wish and his greatest fear all at once.

Then a tear trickled into his beard as he heard the voice he had longed to hear for so, so many years call his name.