Disclaimer: I'm not JK Rowling, but I've borrowed some of her wonderful characters for my own devious ends.
This story was originally written for The Christmas Moon Fic Advent at the MetamorFic Moon LJ Community, where I was given the starting prompts of sweets and sledging. It won several awards including Outstanding Contribution, Best Romance, and shared the Members' Choice Award with stories by Wildmagelet and Mrstater. I'll be posting it in three chapters.
We Three Kings
Bearing gifts we traverse to Grimmauld.
I see things that others don't.
One thing I can't see at the moment is Great Auntie Muriel's Apple and Honey Tart recipe because it's covered in flour. I give it a shake and start to peel one of the big green apples, while waiting for the girl looking at the rain running slowly down the kitchen window to tell me what's wrong. She's wearing a long white sweater with black stars over some kind of black stretchy trousers, which are ridiculously tight on her slim legs and, if I don't watch out, Ginny will decide she fancies something similar. And then we'll argue about it, we'll both get upset, and she won't understand.
With their father in hospital there's only me look after the children, only me to keep them safe. So I'm quicker to flare into anger, quicker to shout over the most trivial of things. I try so hard not to. But the fear won't always be silent.
It's the first Christmas Arthur and I have ever spent apart. I thought they would understand when he was hurt - I saw the terror on their faces when they were waiting for news, the realisation that there are some things in this world a flick of the wand can't put right - but now he's getting better, it's all forgotten. I can hear them now. There's laughter and footsteps echoing through the rooms upstairs; they've been hanging garlands of holly, and gold and silver streamers everywhere they can. Mungdungus is supposed to be bringing a tree over, if that daft idiot can be trusted to remember anything he's supposed to, and Sirius wants to conjure magical snow everywhere to impress Harry.
It's lovely to see Sirius so happy, but am I the only one who sees it for what it is? It's the happiness of a child who sees all his presents waiting under the tree and is almost mad with anticipation. But children always get tired and irritable when everything's been opened and discarded, and then their mood swiftly changes for the worse.
As will everyone else's.
Besides all the pretty garlands and magical snow in the world can't make me forget. Nor can I forget the one child who did understand fear, though I didn't realise until it was too late because it was a different kind. Surely Percy will come home now, where he belongs? I sent his Christmas jumper off today – I wasn't sure what to do, whether or not to keep it here for him, but Remus said it was best to make sure he had it early. Just in case things were very busy work-wise at the Ministry. I think Remus was right, now I've thought it through. He usually is about things.
The girl at the window stirs and sighs lightly, almost as though she's heard me thinking his name, and turns around to watch me. Frizzy, blonde-streaked hair today, that's chopped off jaggedly at the shoulders, with black showing underneath. Pale pink lipstick. Huge dark eyes.
Please don't let Ginny decide she wants to look like this. We'd never afford all the hair potions, for a start.
I carry on peeling apples. I feel very short and dowdy in comparison – a middle aged housewife envying a vibrant young girl. All the choices are still out there, waiting for her.
I think she's made a few though, lately. I think that's what this is all about.
"How many apples do you use?" she asks, pretending to be interested.
Part of me can't help but wonder that she's chosen me to talk to. We're not close. Where are her friends? What's her relationship with her Mother like? But then I never talked to my own mother, either, and I'm glad she's here. I need to keep busy, I need to keep occupied; which is why I've already made crusty white rolls and butternut squash and lime soup for lunch, when I could have done ham and beef sandwiches in next to no time at all.
"Four Bramleys," I say, taking the core out of one and starting to slice it, holding it down firmly against the table. "They're the best because they give a bit of tart flavour against the honey and the custard. But I use Cox's on the top; they're that much sweeter, you see, so you get a contrast when you take a bite."
She nods, as though she knows what I'm talking about. "Sounds good."
"Would you like to do some mixing, dear?" I try not to think that asking her to beat egg yolks is like asking Ron not to pull threads in his new jumpers. Anyone would think he did it deliberately.
Her face lights up. "Yes. Yes, I would."
She comes over to the table and I hand her the mixing bowl and edge sideways so there's room for us both. I pass her the red apron, the one I gave Sirius which says Danger Man Cooking on it, and she ducks her head down, though I know full well she's trying not to laugh.
"You want four egg yolks, two whole eggs and the honey in the bowl." I watch her carefully while continuing to slice, in case anything slips and I need to grab it. "If you can heat the cream and saffron in that small cauldron for me, don't let them boil whatever you do, and—" I change my mind about the next bit as I see the glazed look in her eye "—then tell me when you've done that, dear."
"Righty-ho." She grins and starts cracking eggs and breaking them, far too high above the basin, but I try not to look. There's probably shell going in there as well, but I won't think about it.
We work in companionable silence for a while. It's nice. I wasn't sure of her when we first met – she kept messing around with her height and things, and I like to know where I am with somebody. No airs and graces, that's me. Lots of people thought it was funny but it made me uncomfortable, especially when she altered her waistline and I thought she might be having a bit of a joke at my expense. I think she might have realised because she doesn't do it now.
I was probably a bit sharp with her back then, really. I forgot about the job she does and the things she deals with. It doesn't pay to under-estimate Nymphadora Tonks, just because she trips over things occasionally, and is still apologising for breaking my best chopping knife doing Merlin knows what. She certainly didn't want to explain how it happened at breakfast this morning. Perhaps it was when I was going upstairs late last night, and heard her and Remus laughing together in here. All he did was hide behind the newspaper while I was trying to get to the bottom of it.
I wonder what's gone wrong since then. They've looked so happy lately.
"Sorry," she says, seeing me reach automatically for where the knife once was, and then remember and pick the other one up again.
"So you should be." I smile, to take any edge from my words.
"I could buy you a new one for Christmas. A decent one that doesn't break at the slightest thing." She grins, glancing at me cheekily from under the blonde fringe, and I laugh in spite of the fact that it was my favourite knife and I dreamt about the Boggart again last night.
I'd hoped it would stop once Arthur was all right. I'd hoped it would go away.
I look at her. "You're not still Christmas shopping?"
"Haven't had much opportunity." She frowns, her brow wrinkling in consternation, and I make a conscious effort not to look in the bowl. "What with work and then—"
"Yes." I help her out.
"I'm going tomorrow, actually." She flicks another amused glance at me. "With Ron."
"With Ron?" I can't believe my ears. He always seems a bit shy of her. I've never even seen them speak.
She laughs. "Think he wants a bit of feminine advice. I said I was going and he asked if he could come along. Poor lad seems a bit desperate."
"Oh!" I suddenly realise he wants to get me something, and doesn't know who else to ask. Dearest Ronnie. I knew being a prefect would do him the world of good.
I have to turn my head away to blow my nose. Tears come so easily at the moment. Tonks goes over to look at the cream in the cauldron, and gives it a tentative stir in completely the wrong direction, which is almost guaranteed to make it lumpy.
"Anyway—" She pauses and shoots a quick look over her shoulder, checking I'm all right. "I've still got the tricky people to get so perhaps Ron can help me out as well. There's Sirius, Harry… "
She waits, staring fixedly at the simmering cream. Please don't let it boil…
"So what are you getting Remus for Christmas?"
She walks back to the table, looks at the honey pot, and starts to pour it into the bowl. "I forgot my gloves the other night, you know."
I wonder if she's misheard the question. "You did?"
"Yeah." She nods. "We went to see that Muggle Christmas Fair over to the east. After it was closed for the night. They'd got these giant tea cups and saucers that you could sit in, and we used magic to make them spin round and round like crazy things, and it was such fun. It was only afterwards I realised I was freezing. I always feel the cold so much. And Remus blew on my hands to warm them up."
The last line comes out very quietly, as though it's of no importance. But I know exactly what she's saying about the warmth of a man's breath, the way it causes your fingers to stir with a life of their own, and the sensation that goes through you. I've felt it myself with the right man and you never forget it.
I also know how close you have to stand to someone to have them hold your hands like that in the first place.
"And then I realised he didn't have gloves of his own," she says quietly again. "I don't ever remember seeing him with any."
I'm a bit lost as to what to say here. "So is that what you're going to get him for Christmas?" Otherwise I can quickly knit some to go with his jumper, can't I? And Hermione was asking what she could get him the other day, so if she got a pair as well he'd have two lots.
"Well, there's the thing." She bites her lip and I catch her hand to stop her pouring, just before the whole tart is going to need to be rechristened Honey Pie. "What do you buy the man who has—"
I wonder if she's going to say so little.
"—lost the job he thought he'd got this morning?" There's a bitterness to her voice I've never heard before. She slams the pot down on the table. "It's so bloody unfair, Molly."
"Yeah. A crap job. For crap money. Which he was over-qualified for. And they still wouldn't bloody give it him." Her eyes are bright with fury, and I feel mine prick with sympathy in return because my heart bleeds for them both. "And, best of all," she looks at the untouched eggs as though she'd like to smash them on the table, "best of all, he gets to break the glad tidings to a stupid idiot, who is waiting for him in his room with a specially made banner that sings congratulations with rude lyrics that won't shut up when he tries to tell her. But that's okay, because she's too busy trying to open the Firewhiskey to celebrate, to listen to what he's actually saying."
"Oh, Tonks, dear." I want to put my arm around her, but she's very independent, as well as very angry, and I'm not quite sure how she'd react. I'm also trying to absorb the news that she was in his room.
They must be courting then, mustn't they? Should I ask?
"It's not right. It makes me so mad." She's shaking her head.
"I know, dear."
"People are so prejudiced. You weren't happy yourself when you found out about the werewolf." She's looking at me accusingly.
"I don't—" It comes out too loud and shrill, as it always does when I'm on the defensive. I think with horror that she's referring to the time when I barely knew Remus; when all I knew of him was that he was a Dark creature, and I didn't want him anywhere near me or my family. But once you know him, it's impossible to associate him with such an awful thing. There couldn't be a kinder or a gentler man. I can't believe how he can possibly be classed with the rest of them.
It's ridiculous that he can't get a job. But what does she mean? She surely doesn't think that I…
"On the ward. With Arthur." She's still watching me closely.
"Oh!" I try to think of a way to explain that that's completely different. Remus is the dearest of dear friends, but I don't know that, er, that…
She moves restlessly. "What do I do now?"
"I don't—" For a minute I think she means with regard to Remus, and then I realise she's moved over to the cauldron again and is looking at it doubtfully. "Is the cream boiling?"
"Er… Yeah. Sorry."
"You need to beat it into the egg mix."
"Okay." She pours it in and starts to beat it in a way that's going to make her arm ache in a minute or so. It's what she needs. I've treated knitting needles like daggers in the last few days myself, and stabbed a few innocent chair arms with them.
It gives me time to think what's best to say. Most people will think that it was Nymphadora Tonks who fell first for Remus Lupin, but most people will be wrong. I was there at Order meetings when he always contrived to sit next to her. I was there that day when she tried to match her hair to the colour of the single apricot rose that valiantly flowers in the stony garden here, and I saw the look on his face as he watched her. And I was there when she was late back from patrol one night, and he swore at Sirius and was short with me, and I saw him put his hands in his pockets to hide the shake in them when she finally did walk in with Mad-Eye.
Now I'm caught in memories of another couple, long ago. The girl who always fell for the Sirius Blacks of this world, even though they never even realised she breathed the same air as they did. She dreamt of them at night as she kissed her pillow with an open mouth and hugged it to her so she wasn't alone. And all the time there was a young man waiting patiently for her to notice him, who hesitated because he thought he didn't have much to offer, and yet was worth so much more than all the others put together.
When she finally did see him, she couldn't see anyone else.
"Are you and he…?" I don't know how to phrase it, but she seems to understand.
"We talked so much last night, Molly." The dark eyes stare into mine. "Then we got a bit, er, diverted—" She stops and two spots of colour appear in her cheeks, and I want to smile at the shine in her eyes because I can remember what it was like to be diverted in that way, and how it makes your heart sing. She shakes her head in impatience at herself and carries on. "But then he said something about seeing what today brings, and I know he was counting on good news, and now it's all gone wrong! And he's perfectly polite and talking and all that, but he's not really saying anything to me any more. Not anything that matters, anyway."
"Yes." My mind's whirling, trying to think.
"How would you let Arthur know?" She's looking at me intently.
She waves the spoon in the air and half the precious mixture drops off it onto the table. "That the job doesn't matter. That he does. It's taken me long enough to realise and I won't lose the silly bugger before we've even got started. You must have had to let Arthur know you didn't mind being poor."
My mouth is open. This is where she's so disconcerting; talking about our lack of money like that. But there's something in the matter-of-fact way she says it that makes me realise there's no malice in it at all.
She just genuinely wants to know.
I cast my mind back, remembering the day after my parents had snubbed Arthur when I'd surprised him with a picnic hamper. He'd told me once he'd never had parties as a child so we sat down to jam and lemon curd sandwiches, baby tomatoes, little sausages, pineapple and cheese on sticks, followed by raspberry jelly, with the sweetest of mandarins and vanilla ice cream. We ate till we were fit to burst, giggling like children, and I looked at him with the sun glinting on his hair and on his fair, freckled arms, and thought I could never have imagined being so happy.
It all seems a very long time ago now. And Arthur is lying in a hospital bed.
"Do something silly," I say, abruptly. "Make him laugh. Have fun together. Anything. Show him what matters."
"This Christmas present." I'm getting worked up now, because I don't want this to go wrong for them, and I'm not stopping, even while I slide the pastry case out of the way of her wandering elbow. "You can't get him anything expensive, that'll make things worse. What about making him something?"
She looks at me doubtfully. "Like what?"
"You tell me! You've just told me how well you know him! What does he like?"
"Well…" She screws her eyes up thinking, almost like she's going to morph. "You know I'm not Hetty Housewitch, Molly, but I suppose he does like chocolate. And sweets. Cakes, too."
"Brilliant!" I beam at her. "You can make him a cake!"
She pulls a face. "Couldn't I just fight a couple of Dementors to impress him?"
"Tonks, dear." I smile at her because I'm the one in my element here, and I can see how to help her, and I know it will work. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, after all. Remus is no different from any other. And doing it will give me lots to think about, less time on my own. "I'll help you. There's nothing to worry about. We'll pick something easy. What about Apple and Armagnac Layer Cake?"
"No offence, but I think I've had enough of apples." She looks at the ones on the table in front of her, and then looks at me, and those dark eyes are suddenly dancing and alive. She's in her element, too, because she's fighting back. "I want something with icing. Something I can stick sweets on. I want to spell out a message, even if I have to do it in Acid Pops. Got anything like that in your Witch Weekly recipe archives?"
I smile back at her; my mind already on several possibilities. There are four or five I can think of, straight off. Must pick a very simple one, though. There's a lemon cake that I cover in gold icing that's fairly straight-forward.
I like the idea of her giving him a cake of gold. A gift to show him how special he is.
"We'll chat about it in a few minutes."
"Not now?" She has a crease of disappointment wrinkling her brow.
"In a minute or two." I smile to take any possible sting out of my words, but I'm going to have my work cut out with her. It's just what I need and I want them so much to be happy, for something good to happen at this time of year. Arthur's safe, after all, and I must try and enjoy myself. Forget for a little while the things I see that others don't.
I take a deep breath. I've no idea how she's managed this. Thank goodness Muriel isn't around to see it because it would have brought on one of her sciatica attacks immediately.
"First we need to sort out why those eggs are floating on top of that cream, dear."
Reviewers are the nicest of people and will get a late festive bribe by finding out ahead of time who takes up the story in the next chapter. And I could persuade Remus to warm up a few hands as well... Happy New Year!