A Long Hippogriff Ride to Bethlehem
"But Hermione, there's no place for everyone on the table…" Sirius tried to convince her running his hand down the nape of his neck.
In the great dining hall of Marauder Manor, the table was set for dinner. Well, almost, because the table had been magically enlarged and on top of it there was squeezed so much silverware you could barely see the colour of the tablecloth.
"Right, but the house-elves should have dinner with us," she answered while trying to move the plates to make room for the bread. "It's inhuman that they dine in the kitchen while we're here on a spree. I know…" she cut him with a gesture of the hand when she saw he was about to say something; "…we give them fourteen payments, plus summer vacations and all that, but Christmas is an endearing holiday and it's undignified that us wizards consider ourselves above the elves just because of stupid traditions. I've always tried to be consequent with my ideals, and if I have to make tonight's dinner for everyone myself just so they can rest…"
She couldn't finish the phrase. Sirius had grabbed her by the elbow, making her turn on her place and drop one of the plates, which hit another one with a clinking sound of porcelain. Before she could even blink, Sirius was kissing her with a warm intensity that caused, as always, the tremble of her knees. He moved back a little and looked at her while caressing her cheek, as Hermione wondered why the hell did they even bother with heating charms in the house if Sirius' kisses were simpler and more effective.
"Don't, please, you cooking dinner is more effective than a collective Avada…" she tried to shoot a murderous look, but the effects of his kiss remained. "It's all arranged: this afternoon I spoke to the house-elves, and they're going to spend Christmas Eve with their families. They've left everything ready, heating charm included, and we'll just have to serve it ourselves. Also, there's always Molly if there might be the need to improvise something…"
Hermione looked at him as if he were speaking in Parseltongue. Sirius was very condescending with her in matters regarding the house-elves, but Hermione knew that, in reality, he considered them simpleton beings and way beyond a wizard. She blamed it on the influence the Black heritage had on him and turned a blind eye.
"They have gone home to have dinner?"
Sirius merely nodded his head.
"And you have arranged it?"
Sirius nodded again. He still had her in his arms and didn't give any signs of wanting to let her go. She took out her wand, pointed it at the table, and the spare plates disappeared, leaving the rest more or less tidier.
"It's eight o'clock, and the guests are coming at nine. We have an hour to relax in calm in front of the fire with a Butterbeer…" he proposed while lifting Hermione's chin with a finger and kissing her slowly and lovingly.
She kissed him back with apparent innocence but, to his surprise, Sirius felt how a pair of soft and cold hands undid the buttons of his shirt and caressed the skin of his waist. Not that he had any complaints about Hermione's passion, but she rarely took the initiative.
"Hmmm…" she whispered against his lips. "I'd love to relax in front of the fire, but… I'm in the mood for something more stimulating than a Butterbeer…"
And Sirius showed her he totally agreed with her.
"Merry Christmas, cousin Sirius!"
The guests were arriving at Marauder Manor and the Blacks were playing their parts as hosts. A very smiling Remus Lupin and an absolutely radiant Nymphadora Tonks had just arrived. Tonks was completely dressed in green and red, and though Remus was wearing grey, he had a scarf of about three meters in the same colours as her.
"Hi Tonks, Remus…" Hermione greeted them with a kiss and smiled at seeing Tonks so overwhelmingly content.
"How festive you have come," Sirius teased while taking the coat and the macro-scarf that Remus handed him with a growl.
"Wow, Hermione…" the Metamorphmagus said, moving her host slightly to the side and smiling slyly. "You have a very healthy colour on your cheeks…"
Hermione turned as red as a beetroot.
"Must be Sirius' heating charm"
"That's what you're calling it these days?" Tonks mocked, giving her a pat on her shoulder.
"Pffft… you don't impress me by calling me by my name, Hermione…" the Metamorphmagus answered. "One just has to see the idiotic face you have when you look at Sirius to know you're completely in love with him."
"Look who's talking," Hermione shot back in a low voice. "I still remember this summer, when you were swimming with us in the pool and you were looking at Remus as if you wanted to eat him …"
"He's just too hot a snack." Tonks sighed, shooting a furtive glance at her husband who was chatting with Sirius in a state of the most blissful ignorance.
Hermione rolled her eyes up towards the ceiling. There were two things that were evident: Tonks would never ever change, and that the Marauder's magnetism was a proven fact.
"This is really good" Arthur Weasley was saying, happily digging into a helping of a leg of lamb. "These elves of yours cook wonderfully," before it was too late, he turned to his wife; "not as wonderful as you, Molly, of course, but for being elves they do it very well."
Molly Weasley smiled pleasantly. Sometimes it seemed like her husband was going to put his foot in his mouth but, fortunately, he always managed to leave her in a good place.
"Of course, Molly cooks much better," Harry added with a gesture of his hand. Harry had always felt a little like an adoptive son of Molly's and every son think that his mother's food is insuperable.
"And so, where would we be," Sirius conceded with a diplomatic smile.
"Couldn't you give me some cooking lessons, Molly?" Tonks suddenly asked while Remus suffered from an abrupt coughing fit. "We usually eat at a small home restaurant next to our place, but I would like to make some more homely meals for a chance."
"I thought Remus was the one who did the cooking," Ron said with his mouth full of stew.
"Everybody thinks Remus is the one who does the cooking" Tonks sighed. "I don't know why, as he's incapable of frying a strip of bacon."
"There are many legends surrounding Remus" George pointed out, raising his glass. "That he loves to cook, that he spends all day eating chocolate… Bless you, Remus Lupin, for generating such mythology" he toasted.
"George!" his mother exclaimed horrified.
"Who was in charge of the punch?" Bill asked signalling to the enormous silver bowl resting on a side table, filled with an amber liquid of appetizing appearance.
"The elves left it done," Sirius soothingly answered. "It barely has any alcohol, don't worry Molly."
"Oh, I almost forgot!" Tonks yelled jumping to her feet. "I brought this, it's a gift they gave me some months ago, and I thought it would be excellent with the punch. It's a delicious cider," she explained, taking a crystal bottle stoppered with a cork out of her tunic's pocket. She neared the enormous bowl and poured the content in it, stirring it with the serving dipper. "C'mon, hand me your glasses so I can fill 'em up."
"I don't want punch," Alastor Moody growled and took out his flask.
"C'mon, Alastor, don't be a killjoy" Charlie admonished him patting his shoulder. "It's Christmas, isn't it?"
"Well, I'm not a fan of punch, either" Fleur said, flicking her hair. "In France, we're used to having champagne with dinner, it is way more glamorous…"
"Punch is much better" Ginny replied, emptying the contents of her glass in one gulp. "Besides, it's traditional, very British… we're in Britain, after all…" she pointed out, giving Fleur a defying look.
"Well, c'mon, I too like champagne a lot when I was in France with my parents," Hermione tried to mediate, seeing how Fleur was staring at her sister-in-law with narrowed eyes.
"That's because you're conceited and snooty," Ginny suddenly stated, to everyone's surprise.
"Huh?" Hermione managed to say?
"Ginny!" Molly exclaimed. "Apologize to Hermione right this moment!"
"That's not necessary, Molly" the brunette shook her head in a conciliatory way. "Maybe the elves did overdo it with the alcohol, after all." She added, emptying her glass.
"That girl is way too ill-mannered" Fleur interrupted, extending her glass to Bill so he could pour her more punch. "She's always been that way with me. I think she's just terribly envious of Hermione."
The aforementioned opened her eyes like plates.
"But Fleur, why do you say that?" Bill asked, leaving his fork full of lamb mere inches away from his mouth.
"Yes, why do you say that, snoopy French?" Ginny replied.
"Ginny!" Mrs Weasley roared.
"Ginny, please behave," Mr Weasley intervened.
"Just because Harry always preferred Hermione," Fleur explained, shrugging her shoulders. "He's always been in love with her, since Hogwarts."
Harry choked on the lamb, turned blue and coughed like a madman half-drowning. Sirius shot him an anti-choking spell almost without looking at him, hypnotized as he was with the scene forging in his dining room, and Harry thanked him with a nod of his head, gulping down the glass of punch 'til not a drop remained.
"Harry dated me in Hogwarts," Ginny hissed, her eyes fixed on Fleur's jugular with intent.
"A meaningless error," Fleur specified with a gesture of her hand.
Harry looked at Hermione. Hermione looked at Sirius. Sirius looked at Harry. Alastor was looking at everyone amused.
"Ginny, don't think about opening your mouth or I'll hex you" Sirius warned with a voice that left no room for colour.
"More punch, anyone?" Tonks asked once she had finished hers. "Well, Molly, what about those cooking lessons?"
"I would never waste my time giving cooking lessons to someone so lacking of aptitudes like you."
"But… but… dear!" Arthur exclaimed, putting the lamb to the side.
"Arthur, I know what I'm saying. This girl is a complete disaster… she isn't even capable of correctly performing a spell for heating water, mind my words," Molly insisted stubbornly. "But you can ask Sirius and Hermione's elves for lessons," she proposed.
"Our elves have enough with their work, so that would be labour exploitation. Nobody here gives a damn about the house-elves," Hermione declared. She quickly turned towards Sirius, looking besotted at him. "Well, everyone except you."
"As long as you thank me like you did before, I'm willing to anything to make their lives easier," Sirius answered, regarding her with obvious lust.
"I knew it, I knew it!" Tonks said in a singsong voice. "I told you, Remus, those two had the face of someone who had been getting it on when we arrived."
Remus lightly cleared his throat.
"So, you're saying I was a mistake to Harry…" Ginny charged into an attack once more, her eyes bright. "And where do you get that from, you snob?"
"Ginny, I'm sick to death of you treating Fleur like that, you've always been a spoiled child, but this is just too much," Bill interrupted, pointing at his sister.
"I heard Harry say so once… he was telling Remus…" Fleur picked the worst moment to answer her sister-in-law.
"Is that true?" Ginny didn't miss a second and turned to Remus.
"Well, that's actually true, yes…" Remus responded, shrugging his shoulders while standing up to get more punch. "I also believe that who he really liked was Hermione, but don't think anything wrong, Sirius…"
"How dare you say my daughter was a mistake?" Molly growled turning to Harry. "And even more, compare her to that bookworm…"
"Molly, please…" Arthur admonished her.
"Zip it, fingerling!"
At that moment, Harry was making use of all of his mental self-control, Occlumency ability and a fork with which he was stabbing himself on the thigh to not shout to the four winds that he dated Hermione for three years and that he was still in love with his godfather's wife.
"I honestly don't care," the Animagus replied, shrugging his shoulders. "After all, I'm the one who got her in the end… I'm sorry, Harry, but you can't compete with me…"
"It's the Marauder's Effect," Remus clarified while helping himself to more roast potatoes. "There isn't a woman who can resist us…"
"Why don't you give us a few lessons, the both of you?" Fred pleaded, looking at the former Marauders with admiration. "We can't manage to get any,"
"You were always boasting of the contrary, though," Charlie added in surprise.
"We were lying through our teeth." George clarified.
"Actually, the only Weasley who manages to get anything is Ginny," Ron explained with his mouth full. "It's just that, the one she's interested in, she can't get."
"Ron!" if looks could kill, Voldemort would have had patented the one Ginny was shooting her brother.
"Truth is a bitch, huh?" he irked her.
"I don't think your opinion values much, having been stuck colour Hermione for years without getting even a peck on the cheek." Ginny attacked.
"That's not true, we kissed a couple of times," Hermione clarified, wiping her mouth with the napkin while Sirius shot a murderous look at Ron. "But the thing is that Ron is a lousy kisser and I didn't feel like repeating."
"I'm a lousy kisser?"
"Harry, on the other side, kisses almost as well as Sirius."
The young Potter had bloodshot eyes and was biting down on his tongue and lips in an effort not to speak.
"You have kissed Harry?" the Animagus asked her with tons of underlying jealousy in the question. "And you say that he kisses as well as me?"
"I said almost," Hermione pointed out, once more staring besotted at him. "You are the best."
"Nah… I'm sure Remus surpasses him," Tonks intervened, fawning over her husband. "Especially on the days before the full moon… it's something else."
"My cooking is better than that of some idiotic elves, Arthur!"
"Your cooking is really good, Molly, but my mother cooked even better."
"Well, from now on your mother can do the cooking for you! Ask Voldemort about the spell to create Infer!"
"So, you've kissed Harry?"
"You'd be happy French h…"
"Oh, drop it, spoiled brat"
"Fleur is right, what you are I envious of me"
"I think so, too"
"Envious, me? Of a snob like you? You don't even know what Quidditch is…"
"And there you go again with Quidditch… I do much more interesting things with my wand"
"Not only with your wand, love…"
"And now you tell me you don't like the scarf I gave to you?"
"It's just that it doesn't go with me at all…"
Everyone froze at Alastor Moody's scream. He finished the Firewhiskey of his flask in one gulp, lightly cleared his throat and stood up.
"I don't understand how we managed to defeat Voldemort," he simply said, shaking his head. "Harry, drink this," he said, handing a small crystal vial to the young Potter, whose face had now turned into a bluish colour, his eyes open wide and three holes of half an inch depth in his right thigh. He vehemently drank it and, after a few seconds, he was back to normal. "Alright, now listen to me."
Moody started to pace around the table as everyone lowered their glasses and cutlery on top of it and listened with fear.
"You are all under the effects of a potion… a variant of Veritaserum… the only one who got away more or less unaffected is Harry, and that's because he has great mental control, he's an expert Occlumens and because he has a big secret he doesn't want anyone to know…" the others stared at the young Potter with curiosity. "Most certainly it was on the bottle Tonks brought with her, she might have confused it with the real cider bottle she mentioned. Now, I'm going to give you a little bit of the antidote, and then I'm going to cast a confusing charm on all of you… you'll sort of remember what happened here, you'll remember that you talked trash about everybody here, but you won't remember exactly what happened." He took a deep sigh. "For the good of the Order, mostly… and from now on, there won't be any talking about what happened tonight… and Tonks won't ever get near any drink or food that is to be ingested by any Order member, is it clear?"
"You are too bossy."
"IS IT CLEAR?"
"Yeeesss" they all agreed at once.
Alastor walked to the punch, made it disappear at the tap of an Evanesco and filled the bowl with water, in which he poured some drops of the antidote. While everyone drank their share like obedient children, the veteran Auror sat tiredly in his chair and allowed himself to smile.
After all, it had been the best Christmas Eve of his life.