Chapter Twenty-Nine
"Yuletide Kittens"

December 8th, 1991
Hogsmeade - Hog's Head

"Good to see you, boy," Aberforth said with a smile as he poured whisky into a glass. The pleased look on his face was not something that happened very often, considering the way that his skin stretched a bit oddly over his cheeks.

Cassie decided not to be irritated with the fact that she rarely saw Aberforth smile. He had other facial expressions reserved for her. Her attention, instead, was drawn to the man—certainly not a boy—at the bar. His hair was white as snow, not a single strand of red she recalled from their youth. Of course, she had seen him several times as a grown man, but it was hard not to remember who he had been so very long ago. Especially since his photograph awkwardly smiled back at her from several books she owned.

He had been out of Hogwarts by the time she was born, a world traveller and a soldier of war by the time she herself was in Hogwarts. She remembered looking up from her seat in the Great Hall as a student the day that he had shown up at Hogwarts to visit Dumbledore. He had smiled timidly at the gathered students during a very brief introduction before he was whisked away. Cassie had been one of several students who caught him at a good moment in order to get his autograph. Being an avid lover of beasts and creatures herself, her signed copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was on a shelf back at the chateau with a strong Preservation Charm on it.

There were few people who could make Cassie starstruck, and even fewer that she considered a friend, but Newt Scamander was both. "I didn't know you drank whisky," she said, stepping out of the shadows.

Aberforth let out a put-upon sigh and poured her a drink as she sidled up next to Newt. "Leave the lad alone, woman."

"Ignore him, darling. He's so terribly jealous when I flirt with other men." She placed a hand on Newt's arm, cringing internally at the feel of the rough fabric that made up his coat. "And you're not at all a lad. Still handsome as ever, though."

"Still married too," Newt said sheepishly, looking down at the whisky that he'd not yet touched.

"Daggers to my heart," Cassie said affectionately. "Truthfully, how is your dear wife? Enjoying the travelling? Last I heard, you were somewhere in . . . Morocco?"

"Brazil," Newt corrected, his eyes suddenly alight. "I was studying a very rare Fire Slug. Tina stayed home during that trip with the grandchildren. Well, our old home. Pulled up roots and came back to Dorset recently. Haven't quite finished moving in, though."

"How old are they now?"

Remaining just as enthusiastic as he was about Fire Slugs, Newt replied, "Rolf's just gone off to Ilvermorny this year."

"Shame," she said. "The Scamander family went to Hogwarts for centuries. I can't believe you allowed your progeny to be schooled in America."

"It has its charms," Newt said. "And Tina's family all went there. So did our children. Sometimes it's good to begin new traditions. Or, perhaps, resurrect old ones?" He eyed her speculatively. "Your coven is making headlines."

"Always," she said with a grin, sipping from her whisky. "I'm sure you'd love to see some of the things we're working on."

"Of course," Newt agreed. "I hear you've got a man afflicted with Lycanthropy working for your foundation? I'd love to meet him."

"Study him?" Cassie corrected playfully.

"Meet," Newt insisted. "Your sister, on the other hand . . ."

Grinning, Cassie finished her drink and then reached for his. "You of all people should know that dragons can't be tamed. I'll give your Floo to her Healer, if you'd like. He's the one with all the research. Is that why you came back to England? Dragons? I heard about the raid on the breeding reserve in—"

"California," Newt finished, suddenly looking very sad. "It was illegal breeding, don't get me wrong—and the States have laws against creatures still—but that breed was endangered, and they had them all destroyed rather than relocated."

"Those Americans should listen to you more often," Cassie said, a twinge of anger twisting within her.

"To be fair, I've not had much success with people in England listening to me either," he said. "Which is why I'm concerned you think I'll have any affect on your problem. Albus won't take my word for anything if he's made up his mind. I can give you my research on the cerberus, but if you think me talking to him will do much good, then—"

"I know the history, and not just the parts people put in fancy books," Cassie said quickly. "I'm not here to use you as a tool against Albus Dumbledore, I promise. Just the advice of someone who knows more than me about a subject dear to my heart. I'll be very sore if something were to happen to that poor dog."

"Always thought you more of a cat person." He smirked, giving Aberforth a grateful smile when the barkeep poured him a glass of pumpkin juice. "Speaking of which, Mauler had a litter about six months back. We normally don't breed, but she got out one night and took up with a stray. Can't give them to Muggles, of course, because they're half Kneazle and already enormous. Plus, these ones are just as ornery as their mum."

Grinning at the thought of sticking an angry Kneazle kitten in Aberforth's bed, Cassie said, "Oh, honey, I'd take them all off your hands, if you want."

Newt laughed and then sighed, looking up at Cassie. He reached up and gave a friendly tug on one of her blond curls, watching as it bounced right back in place. "It's good to see a friend, Cassiopeia."

"It's good to have you back home, Newton," she said, poking at his shoulder and wondering why his eyes suddenly went a little misty. She never pried, as Newt had always been a bit funny about his private life, and getting the man to open up about anything other than his research or his pets was like prying something shiny out of the grip of a Niffler. "I'm glad you came home. I know Britain took a lot away from you."

Nodding solemnly, Newt whispered, "America took more."

Taking a chance, Cassie licked her lips before asking, "You've never said—"

"I'm glad your coven is doing more to integrate Muggle-borns and create relationships with their non-magical families. In that, I think we've always been ahead of other countries. It's good to see the old ways die out with the birth of new generations."

It was a clear deflection, so Cassie decided not to push. "Now that you're back, you should teach. You're too young to retire, but there's a rumour that old Kettleburn might be looking to do so."

Newt snorted in amusement. "Well, he's younger than me, but I've at least got both my legs. And eyes. And arms. I appreciate the thought, but as much as I love Hogwarts, my time there wasn't always the best of my life. If they're seriously looking for a replacement for Kettleburn, though, I'll let my son know. He'd be good for the job, and he's a little fed up with the Department of Magical Beasts at MACUSA."

"It's settled then," she said matter of factly, causing the man to smile. "You're giving me research and a new litter of Kneazle beasts, and I've given you my never-ending adoration, access to my dragon sister's Healer, and a cherry on top, little Jimmy gets a new job."

Newt chuckled and then softly said, "Your hospitality is almost as good as Aberforth's pumpkin juice." As he stood, he grimaced and rubbed his left knee. "Come to dinner soon. I'll give you the research then, and you can pick up the kittens."

"Better yet," Cassie began, finishing off the rest of his whisky and ignoring the way that one of Aberforth's stupid little goats began affectionately chewing on the end of Newt's scarf, "why don't you come to my sister's for Yule? We're having a little family get together. Just the coven and close friends."

"The kids might be coming to visit," he said thoughtfully.

"There you are then," Cassie raised the empty glass in toast. "We'll have a grand time. Bring that sweet wife of yours and little Jimmy and his brood."

"I'll think about it, thank you. Oh, and it's Jacob."

"Come again?" Cassie asked.

Newt smiled and said, "My son. His name is Jacob."

December 22nd, 1991
Potter Manor

"I feel underdressed," Hermione said anxiously as she and Millie stepped out of the large Floo and into what she assumed was Potter Manor.

It was her first time using that method of travel, but Millie's mother had given her a Stomach Ease Potion to help with the potential nausea of a first trip. Gripping Millie's hand the moment her feet hit solid ground, Hermione quickly caught her balance and hoped that no one noticed her stumbled entrance. The room, which looked like a foyer, was empty save for a large cat pacing back and forth in the corner. The only thing it had in common with Harry's cat was its size. With jet black fur save for a white spot on the end of its tufted tail, it had a face that reminded Hermione of a lion.

"Is that a Kneazle?" After meeting Max on the train, Hermione had devoured her copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in order to learn all the little details she might have missed during her first read through. Having loved cats since she was small, she became fascinated with Kneazles.

"Half, I'd say," Millie muttered as she nervously adjusted her robes.

"Stop," Hermione said, admonishing her friend with a gentle elbow to the arm. "You look fine."

"What if they don't like me?" Millie huffed, running her hands through her hair, which was turning an almost fluorescent green. "Oh, bloody hell."

"Are you doing that on purpose?" Hermione asked, eyes wide.

Millie shook her head. "I'm not a Metamorphmagus, if that's what your asking," she said coolly. "I'm just anxious is all. How terribly does it look?"

"I like it," Hermione said with an affectionate smile as she reached out and touched Millie's hair. "And we do look good in green," she added with a little laugh.

Her own mother had wanted to put her in a yellow dress; having not known whether or not the Wizarding world celebrated Christmas the same way, she had not wanted to default to red or green. Hermione, however, asked for a simple grey dress with a green sash, not wanting to lean heavily on colours attributed to other Hogwarts Houses. Her hair was pulled back into some semblance of a plait, though random curls had fought their way loose like springs out of a broken mattress.

"Why are you so worried?" she asked Millie, stopping to pet the black Kneazle on their way toward the sound of the party. The large cat butted its head against her hand before spinning in a circle, its tail briefly wrapping around her arm. "I thought you were related to the Blacks."

"Distantly. Just enough to maybe, potentially qualify me for eventual acceptance to their coven." Millie took a deep breath and let out a slow exhale, running her hand through her dark hair once more, the ends of which were still green.

"Well, that makes sense, I suppose. I only have one cousin on my dad's side. Mum only has the one brother, and I've never met him since he lives in Canada. No cousins there."

"The Black Coven isn't just family. It's more than family," Millie said, still fidgeting.

Hermione briefly wondered what the older Slytherins, or worse, Professor Snape would say about her obviousness.

"I guess I still don't understand the coven much," she said, her attention focused on the cat that was now rubbing against her tights, creating static in its fur as it moved. "I get the practice in theory, but from what little I've read, it sounds a bit like church. Is it religious? Do they actually worship Morgana?"

Millie blinked, looking as though she had been focusing on something else while Hermione was talking. "What? No. More like a coven uses an idol as their status. Someone to say 'This is who we model ourselves after.' Witches and wizards aren't deified," she said and then scoffed loudly before adding, "Though you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference between respect and worship with some people and Merlin."

"So strange." Hermione grinned, watching as the cat finally darted off to chase after some random sound in the distance. "Just a year ago, Merlin and Morgana were little more than stories to me."

"All legends are built from stories," Millie said with a smile that looked like armour trying to hide her anxiety. "One day, hundreds of years from now, people could be using any of us as an idol."

Grinning, Hermione looped her arm through her friend's and said, "All praise Millie."

The hallway they walked down opened up into a massive area the size of the Great Hall. It was obviously charmed to expand, as the structure of the walls was warped in a way that looked stylish yet not entirely functional. Hermione doubted very much that it was built in such a way. The stone floors were shined, looking like black marble with little flecks of diamonds scattered across it like stars in the night sky. She let out an astonished gasp when one such diamond moved, brushing past her foot with great speed like a shooting star.

"Millie, it's almost like the ceiling at Hogwarts," she said in an excited whisper.

"Stop being such a mop," Millie pleaded through gritted teeth. "You've done actual magic before, remember?"

"Don't be a grump," Hermione said, letting go of Millie's arm so she could twirl around and catch another shooting star moving behind her.

"You must be Millicent."

Almost tripping over her feet, Hermione bolted back around to watch as Millie politely curtseyed in front of an older witch with dark red hair. The woman, like many in the room now that Hermione paid attention to the people instead of the walls and flooring, was wearing a long black dress lined in sparkly green, much like the sash around her waist—or, if she could say honestly, the streaks in Millie's hair.

"Yes, Madam Weasley. It's an honour. Thank you so much for inviting me," Millie said, cheeks turning pink as the older witch smiled and affectionately brushed a strand of hair behind her ear as though they had met before.

"You're family, are you not?" Madam Weasley said. "And I see you've brought a friend."

Smile dropping into her stomach—with what she assumed was a splash—Hermione swallowed nervously, having previously thought that she would hide in the background of the room. "Is that all right, Madam Weasley? Millie's invitation said that . . . and Harry also invited, I mean to say—"

"Calm down, dear," Madam Weasley said with a grin, looking mischievous as she placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "Take a breath."

Doing so, Hermione briefly wondered if she should wait for an order to exhale. She felt silly now, standing in the presence of one of the Black witches. Professor McGonagall was one thing—and Hermione often found herself nervous around the woman as well—but there was something about suddenly having the attention of a witch, and knowing the power behind her, that made Hermione both excited and intimidated at being addressed, and touched, by one.

"You must be Miss Granger," Madam Weasley said. "We've heard very good things about you."

Remembering her initial worries about befriending Harry and the impact it would make, she quickly blurted out, "I didn't mean to imply anything about my friendship with Harry. He's very nice, but I would've been his friend even if he wasn't who he was. Is. Who he is. Or Millie. I'm sorry."

Letting out an amused laugh, Madam Weasley raised a brow. "Whatever for?"

"Umm?" Hermione panicked and looked at Millie whose mouth was hanging open in abject horror at the scene she was making. "I meant only that if Harry's said something about me—"

"Oh, dear," Madam Weasley began, "if we relied on all of our information from eleven-year-old boys, I'd believe our future coven prospects would be limited to Quidditch players and those on the backs of Chocolate Frog Cards."

"Future . . . What?"

"Relax, the both of you," Madam Weasley reached out, squeezing first Millie's and then Hermione's hand. "We have eyes and ears in Hogwarts, and we pay special attention to those who demonstrate skill, talent, and a good respect of magic. You both come highly recommended, and you're only a handful of months into your first year. Now go and enjoy the party. I do believe some children your age are over by the pudding."

When the woman made her way past them to greet another newcomer, Hermione and Millie made eye contact. "Did that—?"

"Yeah," Millie said on an exhale. "Now we just have to keep it up, I guess."

"I need something filled or covered in chocolate," Hermione blurted out.

Millie grabbed her hand and started for the table where the pudding was. "Me too."

After an hour at the party, Hermione still hadn't seen Harry. The children by the pudding table that Madam Weasley directed them to, had been Draco and Theo, who promptly vacated the house in favour of sneaking outside for a quick game of Quidditch. Hermione assumed Harry was likely outside with them, but she thought it would be rude to leave without introducing herself to each member of the Black Coven, and thank them for their hospitality.

She had already been introduced to Madam Crouch by Professor Sprout, who attended as her date. Hermione also met Madam Prewett, Madam Burke, and Mr Lupin's girlfriend, Theia Blishwick, who had made a face when Hermione called her "Ma'am." She lost Millie, who was being extra polite to the Longbottom witches, including—she was told—Neville's grandmother, great-grandmother, and aunt. Alone, Hermione navigated toward Mrs Tonks and her daughter, where she had the pleasure of being introduced to Draco's parents.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Hermione said with a subtle curtsy. "Draco speaks very highly of you both. And he's, of course, the envy of the whole dungeon when your care packages arrive."

"Aren't you a darling?" Narcissa Malfoy said with a smile. "Hermione Granger?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Lucius, dear, this is Draco and Harry's little friend. The Muggle-born."

Hermione noticed that Narcissa's tone did not hold the stiff coldness that some of her own classmates had when they said the word, but Mrs Tonks did not look pleased by the word either way. Hermione appreciated her narrowed eyes, as she was not one to identify herself by her magical circumstances.

Mr Malfoy looked her over, not smiling, but eventually, he let out a breath and said, "You're Slytherin. Well done."

Despite feeling that there was an insult somewhere in the hidden layers of his words, Hermione lifted her chin and smiled. "And very proud."

"As you should be," Mrs Tonks said. "Slytherin is the greatest—"

"Oh please," Nymphadora Tonks said, rolling her eyes. "Spare her the speech. She's already in your little snake club."

"You're just jealous, dear," Mrs Tonks said affectionately, reaching out and tucking a strand of purple hair behind her daughter's ear.

Nymphadora snorted, her nose morphing into that of a pig's snout as she laughed. "Why would I be? I still got to live in the dungeons, but closer to the kitchen."

Hermione laughed, noticing the way that Mr Malfoy cringed at the pig snout. She did her best not to roll her eyes, evidently seeing where Draco got most of his mannerisms. "It was very nice to meet you all. I was wondering . . . I'd meant to say hello to Madam Potter and thank her for her generosity." She glanced around the room. "I've seen her picture before, but—"

"Oh, she's being a fuddy old thing."

Hermione turned and looked up, eyes wide into the face of the blonde standing behind her. The woman was wearing a black dress that was cut low. She looked like she was dressed for a cocktail party . . . or a funeral. Her lipstick was blood red, which matched her nail polish perfectly. At her feet, as though escorting her, sat the black Kneazle Hermione had seen earlier, and another one with brown fur and a white face.

"You'll find her in the kitchens," the woman said to Hermione as though they had already met. "She's being very antisocial considering this is her party."

"It's the family's party," Mrs Tonks corrected.

"Well," the blonde huffed, "it's her house. And she's left the rest of us to play hostess."

Leaning down to pet the brown Kneazle, Hermione's hand was stopped by the woman. "Careful, pet. He'll bite your . . . Oh, never you mind. I thought it was the other one. This sweet girl is good for a cuddle, if you like."

"Thank you, ma'am," Hermione said happily as she leant down and scratched the Kneazle behind its ears, grinning when it began to purr loudly. Something else small across the room moved, catching her attention. Blinking, Hermione stood upright. "It was a pleasure meeting you all." Without another word, she darted across the room, gasping when she saw two little house-elves arguing in a corner.

"Dobby needs to puts on the uniform," a little female elf said—pleaded really—with the taller male elf.

Compared to the female, who was dressed in a clean, white tea towel, the male stood out drastically. He wore a long t-shirt with a band logo printed on the front. It was so large, the shirt looked like a dress on him. Beneath, Hermione could see that he wore bright red wellies on his feet. They looked sized for a child, and likely wouldn't even fit her, but they were massive on the elf's feet.

"Winky needs to mind her—Oh!" The male elf squeaked. "Hello, Missy."

The female elf turned and made eye contact with Hermione, looking absolutely horrified, as though she'd been caught stealing something. "You needing something, Missy? Winky can fetches you some butterbeer."

"Dobby gets it," the male elf said with determination. "Winky steals sips."

Hermione bit her tongue, stopping herself from laughing, when the female elf turned, mouth hanging open in abject horror as she glared at her male counterpart. "Winky. Does. Not!"

The idea of house-elves had perplexed Hermione at first. Reading about them, they seemed like simple creatures, little more than pets. But when some began appearing around the Slytherin common room to clean and to fetch things, at the beck and call of most of the students, Hermione's stomach had twisted when she realised that the creatures were sentient. She'd gotten into an argument with Pansy Parkinson about it, until Greg—of all people—ended up dragging her away before she did something stupid like slap the other girl. Her friends had cornered her, summoning Millie's house-elf, Tuttle. Tuttle was not only well-treated, but well-read, and easily explained to Hermione the simple give-and-take relationship between house-elves and wizards. While she still felt somewhat uncomfortable at the idea that most people she knew were waited on by the creatures, she lost a little sympathy for them when Flora and Hestia Carrow had their personal elves—Baba and Yaga—put beetles in her bed.

"Not to be a bother," Hermione said, interrupting the house-elves argument. "But can either of you direct me to the kitchen? That is, if guests are allowed."

Smiling brightly, the male nodded. "Dobby takes you."

"Dobby changes his clothes," the female said, looking fit to burst into tears.

"I think he looks all right," Hermione said. "Maybe just . . . a belt?" She smiled and removed the green sash from around her waist, gently handing it out toward the elf.

His lips parted, eyes excited, as he reached out. Winky slapped his hand, but he nudged her away, taking the sash from Hermione. "It's the most beautiful belt," he said with a tone of awe. "Dobby treasures it forever." Then, with little fanfare, he wrapped it over his head and tied it in a bow beneath his chin like a bonnet.

"Oh, that is the most fashionable thing, Dobby."

Hermione looked over her shoulder to see a smiling witch in the doorway holding two glasses in one hand, with a bottle of sparkling cider in the other. She looked older than Professor McGonagall, but not so near as old as Professor Dumbledore. Unlike most of the witches in the other room, she had her grey hair cut short, with only a simple black comb pinning some of the strands back from her face. Also unlike the other witches, the woman had an American accent.

When the witch made eye contact with Hermione, her smile widened. "Escaping the crowd?"

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "I was actually looking for Madam Potter."

The woman nodded her head. "Come along then. She's just through here."

Hermione said a silent farewell to the elves. Dobby was busy petting the ends of the sash as though they were made of the finest silk. Winky, on the other hand, was eyeing Hermione suspiciously, looking terrified that she might be given something as well.

As she left one room to follow the older witch down a long hallway, she cleared her throat. "I don't . . . I'm sorry, but I tried to learn all the names of the coven members so that I could introduce myself when we met."

"Oh, I'm not in the coven, dear," the witch said. "Just a friend visiting. Madam Potter and I know each other from years ago."

"Oh," Hermione said, letting out a small sigh. Meeting someone else not in the coven was something of a relief. It seemed like everyone she knew was either related to, a member of, or trying desperately to become a member of the Black Coven. "I'm Hermione Granger, by the way."

The woman stopped as she approached a door, turned, and smiled again. "It's lovely to meet you, Hermione. I'm Tina Scamander."

Hermione's mouth fell open as simultaneously, her feet stuck themselves to the floor in absolute shock and excitement. "Scamander?"

"You read, I gather?" Tina said with a small, amused laugh. "I assure you, he's just as much a creature as the ones he writes about. Sometimes more odd." She stumbled a little, looking down, and Hermione followed her gaze to the largest cat she had ever seen before in her life.

"That's a real Kneazle," she said, heart thudding in her chest at the sight of the animal. "Is it yours?"

"Mhmm." Tina tucked the bottle into the crook of her arm in order to scratch the top of the cat's head, which was not much of a reach. "I have three, actually. You've probably seen Mauler's kittens roaming around here somewhere. She's having trouble letting go, so I said she could tag along."

"She's amazing," Hermione said, her cheeks hurting from smiling so much. She desperately regretted not bringing a camera. Her parents were never going to believe her when she told them all about the party. Nevermind that they looked a bit sceptical about what she'd already told them about Hogwarts.

The door behind Tina opened, and a redheaded woman peeked out. "Did you find the glasses?"

"And a new friend," Tina replied. "Hermione Granger, meet Dorea Potter."