"Well?" a voice questioned, and, with a jolt, he realized that he was back in the Afterlife. The belt at his waist hung more heavily than it had on Earth, and it took him a moment to process the impatient demand.

He cleared his throat and picked up a coil of chain, hoping to alleviate some of its weight. "It was an eye-opening experience, to be sure," he said, not entirely certain what answer they were looking for. It was always safer to err on the side of giving too little information, rather than too much, he had found.

There was a heavy silence, and he felt that he was being judged, evaluated. As the silence stretched, it occurred to him that, despite his best efforts, he might still be found wanting. It would help, he thought bitterly, if he knew exactly what he was supposed to have learned after mucking around in the lives of four of his past acquaintances. That Lucius Malfoy wasn't an arrogant bastard? The ship had sailed on that man years ago, no matter how craftily he hid his true nature under a façade of acceptance of the new regime in the wizarding world. It was certainly interesting to see some of the more private aspects of Lucius' and Draco's lives, but it hardly excused their actions. The image he now had of the Malfoy men's stoic acceptance of their lot in life, their unflinching practice of sacrifice to keep safe the family, gave him pause. Had he been wrong to keep Abraxas at arms' length so many years ago? Would it have changed anything if he had been more forthcoming with his plans?

And Severus. He shook his head, a queer, unfamiliar feeling settling in his gut as he remembered the sallow child hurling curses with intent that most adults couldn't come close to mustering. Had he been wrong to provide the boy with the means to defend himself? Had he been wrong to look the other way when the Marauders had targeted him?

And Miss Granger. At the thought of the young witch, he straightened his back. No, he had done the best he could with her. Her Muggle heritage, after all, had been a wild card that he'd had to play carefully.

No, he had done the best he could, hadn't he? He'd made the best decisions with the information he'd had.

Hadn't he?

The uncomfortable feeling in his stomach grew stronger, but he pressed his lips together and ignored it, just as he had done so many times when he'd been alive. Guilt, after all, was not a helpful emotion.

"Improvement," a voice said, its tone thoughtful.

"Yes, but not enough," another decided.

He smiled genially, knowing that the frown he felt would get him nowhere.

"Another chance?" a third voice asked doubtfully. "It seems a waste of resources, and yet…"

"And yet," the fourth voice agreed with a sigh. "I agree. All those in favour?"

A chorus of "ayes" assailed him, and as before, the grey mist swirled and enveloped him. Again? he thought, when the familiar walls of Hogwarts become visible. The party was still underway, only this time, the only person who reacted to his presence was—




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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. They are used without permission and not for profit.

Thanks, as always, to The Above and Beyond Team of Miss M and Miss B.

And thank you, readers, for following along this silly tale! A Christmas Carol has been an important part of my Christmas celebrations for many years, and I couldn't resist letting the Harry Potter characters play in that world. Thank you for reading, and may you find yourself blessed this holiday season.

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