There was a slight pause filled with rustling and then the door was opened by a large pile of presents and what looked like James Potter’s legs. Remus stared for a moment, realised this must be very rude and moved his gaze slightly to the left of the presents and into the Potters’ tiny flat; next to him Sirius started laughing. “James, you look… different. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Have you finally changed your hair?”
“Come in,” the pile of presents said dismally in James’ voice. It shuffled to one side, revealing the rest of James, wearing a handmade jumper depicting a red-nosed reindeer and a miserable expression.
Sirius grinned and stepped past him into the hallway. “Don’t mind if I do.” He looked around, presumably approving of James’ vastly tasteless attempts to make the place look ‘Christmassy’ and frowned. “Where are the others? Wormtail here yet?”
“Said he’d be late,” James mumbled, leaning against the coat rack. “Lucky bastard. Family thing I think. Lily’s in the kitchen doing… something to the food.”
Sirius beamed. “Ah, then I know where I’m wanted. Excuse me, Prongs, your lady wife awaits.”
James’ face assumed an expression of panic. “Er, no, Paddy, actually I wouldn’t disturb her if I were you, things-
“Too late,” Remus murmured, smiling and shutting the door behind him as Sirius’ exuberant “Lily! Hello! Happy Christmas! The food looks fantastic. Here, let me help” filled the flat.
“We’ll all be down with food poisoning tonight,” James said wearily. “He made me some toast last time I stayed at your house. I was in bed for a week. Moody almost killed me.”
Remus smiled. “As bad as Padfoot’s cooking is, I think it’s only fair to blame our toaster on that occasion. There’s something green in the bottom; it moves sometimes.”
“It moves?” James asked, shuddering slightly. “Why don’t you get a new one?”
Remus raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t we have a shower? Sirius’ uncle wasn’t all that rich, you know, after all he was disowned as well. Besides, I think he’s befriended it.”
“The thing in your toaster?”
Remus shrugged: the shrug of one man who’s lived with Sirius Black to another. “Don’t ask. Where do you want the wine?”
“You brought alcohol?” James asked, brightening. “Thank God and… er-“ he swung dangerously to one side, taking in the brightly coloured room. ‘Over there. On that table.”
Remus laughed. “It’s going that well?”
“Terrible,” James whispered confidentially, shifting the weight of the presents between his arms. “The oven was actually on fire half an hour ago. I had to put it out with my wand before the neighbours saw the smoke and called the fire brigands.”
“Brigade,” Remus corrected gently, laughing slightly. “They’re not quite the same thing. Did you ever go to your Muggle Studies lessons?”
James rolled his eyes. “You know I didn’t and it doesn’t matter; the point is the oven was actually on fire. It was terrifying.”
“You like fires,” Remus pointed out.
“Ah no, I like fires I start and I can control: this wasn’t either… but, er, don’t tell Lily I told you that. She wants everything to be perfect.” He sighed and imitated his wife: “‘We’re going to have a proper muggle Christmas, James, so just try and behave.’ Honestly. And then it wasn’t even me who set fire to anything! How ironic is that?”
“Very ironic,” Remus agreed, as this seemed to be required. “Do you want a hand with those presents by the way?”
“Oh,” James said, having apparently forgotten the very large stack of gifts in his hands. “Er… yer, alright.” He stooped a little so Remus could reach the top of the pile. “I would have just banished them, but, apparently, that’s not muggle enough.”
Remus resisted the urge to point out that, of course, using a banishing charm wasn’t a muggle method of transporting presents and decided, instead, to point out the other obvious flaw in James’ initial strategy. “Why did you have to carry them all at once?”
“Well,” James considered, “why not?”
It was the first Christmas the Marauders had spent outside Hogwarts for seven years; the first Christmas away from the banquets prepared by the house elves, snow falling around the castle and the opportunity to see Dumbledore wearing a silly hat. Things had moved very fast after school was finally over and although Remus was the only one (apart from Lily) who claimed to have actually enjoyed those seven years everything felt very odd now they were out in the real world.
James and Lily had been married early in October whilst they were both still eighteen and had moved into a small, muggle flat in one of the nicer suburbs of London; Peter was already in training to take over his father’s robe-emporium and was living above Diagon Alley with his girlfriend, Isabella and Remus, after thinking carefully about what something like this would mean, had moved into the house that Sirius had bought in sixth year. There were certain undeniable problems with the house, for example, despite Sirius having lived there for almost a year it had no real shower or indeed any hot water, the lights flickered on and off distressingly if you left them on for more than three hours at a time and the smell of cats was still very strong, but it was a house he was allowed to live in with Sirius and Remus had discovered a years ago when he confronted the Mirror of Erised for the second time, that, in fact, now what he wanted most in the world was not just to be normal, but to live with Sirius, loud and untidy and infuriating though he might be. Dumbledore had smiled as the werewolf had flushed and remarked knowingly that love was a funny thing and Remus would do well to treasure it and Remus had left his office wondering, once again, how Dumbledore could possibly know about everything. It just wasn’t fair.
And then the war had started properly and Dumbledore had proved that he didn’t know everything after all; that he was just a very old, very wise, indescribably sad wizard who people expected to work miracles he couldn’t give them because some things really are impossible.
They were all part of the Order of the Phoenix now, which occupied a great deal of the time not taken up by their paying work, but the war had finally reached a temporary lull over December after Voldemort’s latest defeat and, even though Moody assured them that it would be transient and that they should still be as vigilant as possible, it was the general opinion among the Order that it would be a quiet Christmas.
There was the sound of an explosion from the kitchen, a billow of black smoke and a shriek of pain followed by a black dog pelting out into the sitting room. The muggle fire alarms Moody had insisted everyone install, just in case, began wailing and Lily Potter stormed from the kitchen covered in gravy.
“WHERE IS HE?” she yelled over the piercing shrieks of the alarm. “I’M GOING TO KILL HIM. HELP! LET ME HELP YOU, HE SAID!”
Remus had time to look slightly bewildered before the door to the flat opened revealing Peter, who managed to get a meter into the flat, wine in hand, cheerfully oblivious of the chaos raining around him (“The door was open. Sorry, I’m late. Merlin, what is that dreadful noise?”) and was then promptly knocked from his feet by James, desperately trying to pacify his wife and the fire alarms. Doggy laughter could just be heard behind the sofa and Remus reflected with a smile that quiet would always be a relative term.