It was the 21st of December, and Sirius was singing.
"Godric Gryffindor looked out on the feast of Hogwarts,
Where the food lay round about, sinking tables downwards.
Brightly shone the stars that night, through the Great Hall ceiling,
This old Slyth-rin did not like, devoid of Yuletide fee-ee-liiing!"
Warbling the last note to trilling perfection, Sirius performed a neat pirouette as he sent the last of the decorations soaring upwards into the Christmas tree with a flick of the wand. He stepped back and cast an appraising eye over the room. Yes, truly all the joy and merriment of the holiday had been gathered here. Well, as much as he had managed to scrape together the Galleons for, anyway.
There was a cough from the doorway.
Sirius leaped about a foot into the air and whirled around, thoroughly embarrassed. James stood there, smirking.
"Were you born in an owlery?" Sirius snapped. "People in civilised society like to announce their imminent arrivals, you know."
James nodded sadly. "Yes, I’m sure they do. Bu I, alas, am the victim of a substandard upbringing and don’t know any better – take pity on me, my liege! I did, however, just get treated to rather a spectacular song and dance display, so all is not lost just yet."
"You are truly privileged, you know." Sirius drew himself up regally. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
James shrugged. "Dunno. I’m bored, Lily’s been kidnapped by her family, I’m all alone." He sniffed.
"How sad." Sirius said in mock sympathy. "Tea?"
"Yeah, go on then."
They wandered into Sirius’ tiny kitchen, which was awash with food. James blinked in confusion.
"Is there a whole army coming on Christmas Day we don’t know about?" he asked.
Sirius was busying himself with mugs and tea bags. "Hmm? Oh, no, just want to make sure we’ve got enough. You are still coming, aren’t you?"
"Sirius! How many times have you asked already? Yes, of course I am, we all are. I’ll have to run off for a couple of hours to visit my old man, and I don’t think Peter can stay for the evening, but other than that we’re all here."
"Ok, ok. I’m just checking." Sirius brought over two mugs. "It’s not going to be anything very fancy, you know, nothing on the stuff your mum used to cook."
James laughed. "I’m sure it will be absolutely fine - you need to stop fussing!"
"I’m not fussing!"
James looked dubious.
"Alright, maybe I am. But you know, it’s a lot of things to think about, Christmas! I’m beginning to see why everyone gets house-elves." Sirius glanced into the next room, where the tree was twinkling nicely. "Think it’s all coming together, though."
"Well, Lily’s cooking up a storm of pastry delights tomorrow, so she’ll bring those along too. You’re going to have to levitate me out of here, you know, there’s no way I’m walking home after all of this food." James beamed. "This is going to be brilliant, I can tell."
Sirius remained nervous and continued to check small details, until in exasperation James dragged him down the pub.
It was the 22nd of December. Sirius woke up around two in the afternoon, sick as a Kneazle and still in clothes of the night before, though his jeans appeared to have spun themselves around in his sleep. He stank of cigarette smoke and his hair was hard enough to snap after its drenching in cheap lager. He groaned loudly – not that there was anyone to hear his pain – and rammed his head back underneath the pillow.
He woke up some hours later to the sound of his doorbell. Feeling more human, he crashed downstairs and opened the door. Some very angelic-looking but also very startled carol singers looked at him askance for a moment, and Sirius belatedly remembered what he looked like. Attempting to subtly sort his hair out, he smiled in a way he hoped would communicate the idea that he was not in fact a squatter, but really did live here and there was a perfectly good explanation for why he looked like a tramp.
And bless them, the carollers struck up bravely in the face of this terrifying man, though the youngest one took a fair few encouraging nods before she could pipe up with the descant. When they had finished, Sirius gave them far too many Galleons in a rush of embarrassment.
It was the 23rd of December, and Sirius suddenly realised that he had completely forgotten buy any Christmas presents. After banging his head against the kitchen sink for a full five minutes in punishment for this stupidity, he Flooed in a rush to Diagon Alley, only to discover that most of the male Wizarding population had come to exactly the same conclusion.
Cursing himself for not thinking this through, Sirius plunged into the depths of the crowd, desperately trying to come up with good ideas for his four friends. James was easy enough – Sirius headed straight for Quality Quidditch Supplies, where he found a day-by-day Quidditch calendar with legendary players’ facts & stats on each page, and when tapped, played segments of commentary from their most famous matches. Resolutely not buying another one for himself, Sirius pressed on, picking up a pair of novelty antlers from a street vendor as a comedy bonus.
As for Peter, Sirius found just the thing in an enormous jar of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavoured Beans that, when tapped, would produce just the flavour you actually wanted to come to the top. He also couldn’t quite resist a bottle of Sleek-Whiskers from the Magical Menagerie, to help Wormtail with the lady rats.
He went through many ideas for Lily – chocolates, flowers and so on before realising in horror that these were all things he had helped James buy for her in the past. Chuckling to himself, he instead plumped for a subscription to Wizards Rock! because however much Lily integrated into magical culture, she did still insist on listening to the most dire Muggle music, and Sirius was determined to change her ways. This past month she’d been harping on about someone called Magenta Floyd (or something) and really, enough was enough.
Remus, Remus was difficult. Sirius spent about half an hour in Flourish & Blotts before deciding that a book really wouldn’t do at all. He found a teapot that would sing an aria once it had brewed to just the strength that the owner required, with a matching cup that would keep the tea warm indefinitely, if need be. Yet he was still looking for something else, and eventually found the perfect thing in a tiny little astronomy store next to Eeylops Owl Emporium. A large glass ball contained all the stars of the galaxy, moving perfectly in each constellation. Considering all the nights they’d spent stargazing Sirius couldn’t really think of anything better, so his heart sank when he saw the price tag, a sharp reminder that he couldn’t have anything he wanted any more.
The woman from behind the counter spotted him, and bustled over.
"You’re not doing any kind of Christmas discount, are you?" Sirius asked hopelessly.
"Oh, I’m afraid not, dear. But listen, if you can’t afford all that, we do smaller, personalised globes that are much more affordable." She reached behind the display globe and pulled out some parchment. "If you just fill in this form, you can pick up to five constellations, or you can pick a specific date if you’d prefer."
Three days after they’d told Remus they knew about his furry little problems, all four of them had gone down to the grounds after dinner and laid down under the stars. One by one, they’d explained to Remus they didn’t care in the slightest, and after a long silence, Remus had howled at the waxing moon. In delight, the rest of them had joined in, and Sirius rather thought that was where the Marauders had truly begun.
He quickly scribbled the date onto the form, signed in the appropriate places and sat down to wait. He went through the month of January on James’ new calendar, which told him all he needed to know about the winning England team of ’66. After about half an hour, the woman reappeared, with a paper bag and something wrapped beneath layers of tissue paper. After thanking her profusely, Sirius rushed home and proceeded to wrap them all up. He didn’t dare touch the globe, wrapped more neatly than he could ever have managed, so he just affixed a tag reading ‘To Moony. Do you remember? –Padfoot’ and hoping desperately that it would do.
Exhausted by his endeavours, Sirius had an early night that night.
It was Christmas Eve, and Sirius was in a panic. He rolled out of bed and took a quick dash through the flat, trying to work out all the things he needed to do. Once he’d made an extensive mental list, he got to work, unleashing cleaning charms onto every surface and hiding away anything potentially incriminating. He recounted potatoes obsessively and consulted his archaic cookbook – Mrs Peppertine’s Guide To Family Cooking - one more time, just to make sure.
After many hours of frantic effort, Sirius slowly began to realise that there was nothing more he could do today. Oddly perturbed by this, he sat down suddenly on the sofa (magically extended to accommodate an extra person, in readiness for tomorrow) and frowned. The long evening stretched out before him, with nothing but the fairy lights to keep him company, and they were getting tetchy too, insisting on singing ‘Jingle Spells’ wildly out of tune, just to spite him. Feeling suddenly ravenous, he wandered into the kitchen to scavenge when there was a loud crack behind him.
"Prongs, we’ve talked about this!" he yelped.
"It’s Remus, actually."
"Do you not have a family to go to?" Sirius said, turning around in surprise.
"Eh, they can do without me – it’s mostly maiden aunts pestering me about when I’m going to settle down with a nice girl, which is odd coming from them."
Sirius pulled a sympathetic face. "In that case, welcome to my bachelor pad!"
Remus walked into the living room, and his eyes widened. "Sirius, your tree! I didn’t know you had an aesthetic bone in your body!"
Sirius beamed. "Good, isn’t it?"
Remus laughed. "You complete ponce. Is this what you’ve been doing with yourself all week?"
"Just about, yeah."
Remus held out the bottle of wine he was holding. "I think that deserves a festive toast!"
"A most excellent idea." Sirius Accioed two wine glasses in, and they proceeded to have a very merry Christmas Eve indeed.
Some glasses later, and Sirius leaned back in his seat, grinning to himself.
"What?" Remus asked.
"Oh, I don’t know. Christmas is quite nice really, isn’t it?"
"Yes, I think that’s the general idea," said Remus, laughing.
When the church down the street tolled twelve, Remus cleared away their debris and got ready to Apparate home. Half-asleep, Sirius muttered something to himself.
"What was that?"
"Merry Christmas!" Sirius said with considerable delight.
"Good night, Sirius."
It was Christmas Day, and Sirius was thoroughly overexcited. Selecting his favourite shirt – red and gold with a lion on the back that roared when he turned the cufflinks – he practically skipped downstairs. At nine a.m. precisely he put the turkey in the oven as per the instruction of the indomitable Mrs. Peppertine and then descended upon his mountain of vegetables.
By quarter to eleven, Sirius was ready for his guests, and so he sat at the kitchen table twiddling his thumbs. At ten past eleven, James and Lily Flooed in, laden with packages. Lily swooped down on him, kissing him on both cheeks. Sirius took the parcels with a "merci, madame", and James laughed at the pair of them.
They sat in front of the fire with Lily’s freshly baked mince pies and hot mugs of coffee while Celestina Warbeck sang "There’s No Magic In Christmas Without You" and James shook his wrapped present from all angles, trying to work out what it was. Ten minutes later and Peter was at the door, stamping feet against the cold and blowing into his hands – apparently he’d fancied the walk. He was made to warm up by the fire.
Five minutes after that, and Remus far more sensibly Apparated in, and so the party was complete. They gathered around Sirius’ tree, all suitably admiring, which made the fairy lights perk right up and twinkle even brighter. Gifts were brought forth and delved into with much delight.
Sirius found himself in possession of a book called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ from Lily, which was not a technical manual, as he soon discovered. Remus got him the entire Hobgoblins back catalogue in transportable format – now they’d never be more than a wand’s flick away! And from James, the most magnificent leather jacket, so that Sirius’ biker look was complete. He promptly put it on, feeling most handsome indeed, and refused to take it off for the rest of the day.
Sirius could hear Patrick Morag’s excitable tones blaring out the end result of the Cup match of 1921 (the last time the Cannons won) and Peter was happily tapping his new jar and watching the beans rearrange themselves. There was a soft gasp from Remus, and Sirius hurriedly looked around to see him staring at the astronomy ball.
"Sirius…" Remus looked at him, then mouthed a howl.
Sirius beamed and nodded. Success.
At twelve thirty they switched on the radio – supposedly so they could hear the Minister’s Christmas address, but really so James and Sirius could twist each innocuous remark into something depraved, much to Peter’s amusement, Remus’ exasperation and Lily’s embarrassment. At one o’clock, Sirius began bustling around the kitchen, and at two o’clock dinner was served.
They ate for hours, or so it seemed. Sirius kept Summoning in enormous vats of food and despite his friends’ protests each time all was eaten: great steaming mounds of fresh vegetables, plates of glistening roast potatoes, tiny sausages covered in strips of sizzling bacon and copious amounts of wine. The turkey was a true masterpiece, shining as gloriously as the sun (in Sirius’ eyes, at least) and a veritable cacophony of delectable flavours. Then came the Christmas pudding, flames two foot high thanks to a little magical engineering and soaked in brandy, which Lily politely declined on the grounds of being just too full.
Feeling a sense of occasion, Sirius coughed impressively. James hastily tapped a glass with his fork, and the ringing silenced them all.
He held out his glass in salute. "To the best friends in the world."
This was met with raucous cheers and beaming smiles, and Sirius felt a sudden wash of emotion as he looked down the table. Peter was laughing as Remus was charming all of the cutlery on the table to tap-dance whilst James whispered something into Lily’s ear and she blushed. That they had all given up their families to come to his dubiously furnished flat on Christmas Day was really quite something. Flushed with affection, he heaped another pile of pudding onto Peter’s plate.
The fairy lights began to sing, the light began to fade, and James suddenly gasped. "Look! It’s snowing!"
They all rushed to the window and stared out at the perfectly formed snowflakes drifting down in majestic flurries.
"That’s unreal!" breathed Lily. "It never snows like this, this time of year."
Suddenly suspicious, James shot a look back at Sirius, who hastily tucked his wand up his shirtsleeve. "Must be just our luck, then!" he said, winking at James, who grinned. Unable to resist once James had turned his back again, Sirius gave his wand another tweak.
The snowflakes fluttered down to the ledge outside his window, spelling out "Merry Christmas" in elegant writing. They all turned on him with laughter that reminded Sirius, in this sentimental mood, of pealing church bells. This really was a most superior Christmas: better than stuffy events in the Black house, where anything more than a polite smile was undignified, and arguments behind closed doors the norm, better even that the magnificent but somehow cold holidays at Hogwarts, where it was almost impossible to escape the sense of charity pervading the staff.