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The Exchange

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It had to have been a man who coined the term ‘morning sickness’, Lily Potter thought as she escaped outdoors and away from the clouds of cigar smoke wafting through the house in Godric’s Hollow. They couldn’t possibly understand that it lasted not only through the morning, but into the afternoon and evening hours as well in some women. “Morning sickness, my foot,” she muttered against the nausea.

The sound of Sirius’ horribly off-key rendering of ‘Deck the Halls’ followed her outside into the night. James and Peter joined in the chorus, sounding just as awful. She sighed and shook her head. Men would be boys, no matter how old they got.

The winter air this Christmas night soothed her, smelling faintly of snow and evergreen. It settled her tender stomach and refreshed her tired body and mind. She loved Christmas; but the endless hours of preparation, coming on top of all the early symptoms of pregnancy was exhausting. After the party tonight ended she’d finally be able to relax. The cleanup could wait until tomorrow.

Cradling her elbows, she leaned against the porch railing, wincing as James and Sirius vocally mauled ‘O Christmas Tree’. She could hear Peter giggling when they hit a particularly sour note.

“Lily? Are you all right?”

She looked up and smiled as Remus joined her at the railing. “I’ll be fine,” she answered. “Just give me a moment. My stomach didn’t like the cigars.”

He looked stricken. “You should have said something,” he said in mild reproof. “We would have put them out.”

“And ruin James’ fun? He’s so happy about the baby; I couldn’t deny him.”

Remus smiled and held up the badly knitted socks she had given him as part of their Secret Santa exchange. One sock was noticeably longer than the other, and the red and gold stripes were uneven. “I forgot to thank you properly for these,” he said wryly. “They’re wonderfully sturdy and thick. I’m sure they’ll keep my toes nice and toasty on the coldest winter night.”

Lily blushed. “You’re too kind,” she said. “They’re awful, and you know it. I should never have given them to you.”

Remus turned to her. Laying the socks over the railing, he took one of her hands in his own, chafing warmth into her chilly fingers. “I’ll treasure them forever,” he said solemnly. “You made them with your own hands, and I can tell you put effort into their making. The personal touch is always better. Don’t feel guilty.” He paused, his usually serious expression turning into one of amusement. “Think of it as practice for all the little booties you’ll be knitting for Prongs Jr.”

A mental image of lumpy, unevenly striped booties flashed through Lily’s mind and she burst out laughing. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing! I’m hopeless with knitting needles. Look how those turned out!” She indicated the socks with her free hand.

“It takes practice, like learning a new charm, or kissing,” Remus replied amiably. “I imagine your first kiss with James was as perfect as those socks.”

“That’s a rather personal assumption,” Lily said, stiffening slightly. Actually, the socks were less clumsy than the first kiss she’d shared with James; but that was something no one needed to learn. Remus was right. Perhaps, like kissing, her knitting would improve with practice.

“I’ve offended you. Forgive me.” Remus drew back, releasing her hand.

“I’m not offended,” Lily replied past stiff lips. It was growing colder out here. She thought of the roaring fire inside, and perhaps a cup of hot cider in hand, with something close to longing; yet she was reluctant to let this moment with Remus end. Much as she loved James, there was something of the gentleman in Remus that her husband could never match.

“I’ve brought you a gift,” Remus said, breaking into her thoughts.

She looked up at him, surprised. “Those green silk knickers weren’t enough?” she said teasingly. “You realize that in a few months I’ll be too fat to wear them!”

“You’ll never be too fat for this.” Remus reached into a pocket of his coat and brought out a tiara. It was one of the cheap trinkets that had fallen from a Christmas cracker they had pulled earlier, made of silver plastic and white paste stones arranged to resemble diamonds. He set it gently on her head, brushing her hair down with his fingers so that only the ‘diamond’ part could be seen. “There you go. You look like the queen of fire and ice in that. The fiery warmth of the Christmas spirit coupled with snowfall on winter’s coldest night; the best of both worlds.” His fingers brushed her cheek, and she found herself leaning into the caress before she could stop herself.

Remus stepped back, and the moment ended. Lily reached up and touched the tiara, unable to stop the trembling in her fingers. “I’ll treasure this as much as you’ll treasure my socks,” she said shakily. “It’s beautiful.”

He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes, which held a longing equal to what threatened to consume her. “Happy Christmas, Lily,” he said softly.

“Happy Christmas to you, Remus,” she replied. Hugging herself, she said, “I’m freezing. Let’s go back inside. I think most of the smoke has cleared by now.”

“I wish we could say the same about the singing,” Remus said, as Sirius, James, and Peter commenced mangling ‘White Christmas’. He shared a mischievous glance with Lily. “What do you say we go in and stop them from killing more carols?”

“That’s almost the sweetest thing I’ve heard all night,” Lily chuckled.

Raising his voice, Remus shouted, “Behold! I give you The Christmas Queen! Bow before her, you cretins!”

Laughing, Lily turned and reentered the house, followed by her faithful guard and friend.

A moment later, Remus returned to the porch railing to retrieve the socks Lily had knitted for him. He’d wear them the following day.