Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling invented these characters and settings. Everything else, excluding one bit of dialogue, came from my bizarre imagination. To elaborate, Just Another Guest first wrote, on the GodAwful FanFiction message board, a piece of dialogue I have Snape say. It was inspired by a misspelling of 'angel', and was so brilliant that I begged to use it, shamelessly stole it, and now must proclaim that, alas, I am not clever enough to write something like that. If the 'angle' commentary amuses you, all credit must go to Just Another Guest.

Professor Slughorn was really quite wild about Black parties. There was no one who could throw a party quite like the Blacks, really, and he positively adored going to them. He knew everyone there, of course, and, though it was deeply regrettable the Black matriarch barred the door to several of his hand- picked students because they were Muggle-born, he always had a wonderful time.

He loved the Christmas parties especially. They were always a sight to see! The house-elves would be festively dressed in green pillow cases, with tea cozies adorned with holly on their heads. Even the heads of old house-elves would be decked out rather festively with holly and tinsel wreathes. The refreshments, of course, would be marvelous, and there would always be a box of crystallized pineapple out. And such wine and song! There would usually be dancing, and the Blacks, in a triumphant display of wealth, would pass out elaborate golden Christmas crackers, filled with all sorts of expensive goodies.

He was in an especially jovial mood as he strode out of the fireplace in the main sitting room, several of his students trailing behind him like ink- stained ducklings.

"Ah, my dear Cygnus!" Horace Slughorn boomed jovially. "Wonderful to see you once again. And how's Orion?"

Cygnus Black smiled thinly and shook Professor Slughorn's hand. "Quite well, quite well. He's greeting guests at the front door, with my dear cousin and sister-in-law."

"Walburga's well, then, and her brother Alphard?" Slughorn asked, sticking his hands into the velvet pockets of his smoking jacket.

"As ever," Cygnus replied, with a hint of a smirk. "I see you've escorted some of our guests here." He bobbed his head at the cluster of students staring at him with various attitudes of respect, awe, abject fear, and utter boredom.

"Indeed! I think you'll recall Gwenog Jones- amazing Quiddich player; befriended your daughter Narcissa- and Severus Snape. Such a talent at Potions! Only Lily Evans can match him." Snape scowled at the floor, looking slightly insulted, and Gwenog eyed Cygnus Black warily.

Slughorn happily rattled off names. Cygnus Black nodded at each name, no doubt making sure that they had been on the pre-approved guest list. "Ambrosis Flume- show Mr. Black the chocolate you made, it's quite wonderful-" Ambrosis did so reverently, no doubt fully aware that Mr. Black held a highly influential position at Gringotts and might be willing to bankroll him, "and Barnabus Cuffe, Ludovic Bagman, and of course you'll recall-"

"Dear Professor Slughorn!" cried Walburga Black, sweeping majestically into the room. Her sparkling black robes billowed out behind her as artistically as if she'd enchanted them, which, in all likelihood, she had. She held out one hand, sparkling with jeweled rings, out to Slughorn, who cheerfully bowed and kissed the air over her hand. "We are so pleased to see you here."

Slughorn could not tell if she was referring to her family, or merely herself, but happily ignored it. "Walburga, my dear! You look ravishing, as usual. How have your sons been faring since the end of term?"

Walburga waved her hand airily, and gently adjusted the angle of her black hat. "Quite well. Sirius made himself ill eating Chocolate Frogs, but they are otherwise fine."

Snape looked as if Christmas and his birthday had combined and thrown a mad party full of confetti, champagne, and flaming woodland creatures set loose in the Gryffindor common room.

Slughorn ignored him and twirled the ends of his graying mustache. "I hope he's well, now?"

"As well as can be expected," Walburga replied breezily. "Do come into the hall. The Prewitts just arrived, and the Notts are already here."

Slughorn bowed and promptly offered her his arm. Walburga smiled at him regally and rested her fingertips on his arm. They swept out of the room with the air of triumphant heroes, their picturesque entrance into the hall marred only by the straggling line of Hogwarts students trailing after Slughorn like a malignant shadow.

In the hall, Orion Black, smoothing out his black beard and smiling unpleasantly, was greeting with the Nott heir, Tiberius. The two Black sons were standing at attention beside their father. Sirius, hair flopping elegantly into his eyes, scowled at the floor, hands linked behind his back. Regulus stood in the shadow cast by Sirius, trying not to look as if he was eavesdropping. A slim blonde woman, who Slughorn recognized as Cygnus's wife, Druella, placed a restraining hand on the girl standing next to her and hissed something in her ear. The girl, Bellatrix, narrowed her eyes, and her younger sister Narcissa studiously looked away, seemingly absorbed in fixing her gloves.

"Hallo!" Professor Slughorn called, beaming jovially.

"Professor Slughorn," purred Bellatrix, extending her left hand with a flourish, dislodging her mother's hand in the process. A large diamond roughly the size of a Galleon glinted up at him blindingly.

"Oh, ho!" cried Slughorn, blinking rapidly in the hopes he would be able to see again. "I see congratulations are in order, Miss Black! Who is the lucky gentleman?"

"Hmm? Oh, Rodolphus Lestrange," she replied, slightly distractedly, and with apparent unconcern. She flexed her hand to admire her engagement ring. "The ring's rather flashy, but it's been in the Lestrange family since Merlin's days, so…." She trailed off and studied it a moment. "It'll do." She smoothed out the red velvet skirts of her low-cutrobe and turned her attention to the Notts.

Slughorn nodded and beamed at Narcissa. "Ah! The other Miss Black. You've been well since end of term?"

Narcissa swept her frothy sea-green skirts out into a graceful curtsey. "As always, Professor Slughorn. I'm glad to see you in good health." She glanced up at him questioningly, and slightly nervously, through golden eyelashes. It was quite effective; Slughorn remembered that she'd been close to tears about her Potions grade. Walburga Black, having heard of Narcissa's weakness in the subject from Regulus, had sent her a Howler, declaring that every Black knew their poisons and anecdotes, and if she didn't bring her grade up, something unexpected would slip into her pumpkin juice.

Slughorn leaned forward and stage- whispered, "You've brought your Potions grade up marvelously. Congratulations my dear girl! You'll pass your Potions O.W.L. with flying colors."

Narcissa smiled beatifically and glanced quickly at the students behind Professor Slughorn. Snape cleared his throat.

"Of course! I've escorted some of your friends from Hogwarts here!" Slughorn bowed gracefully to both Mrs. Blacks and began to rattle off introductions.

During his long spiel, several other families, including the Crabbes, Carrows, and Crouches (in a strange show of alliteration), appeared, causing Slughorn to repeat his introductions so many times Severus Snape and Sirius Black had ample time to realize the other was present and covertly attempt to hex each other. Slughorn managed to interpose his massive bulk in between the two and, fortunately, only Ludovic Bagman was hit with a particularly embarrassing hex that made his toenails grow alarmingly. He became stuck to a troll- leg umbrella stand, but fortunately, the entrance of the Malfoys caught everyone's attention and Ludovic was mainly ignored. Slughorn did note, however, that Druella managed to return his toenails to normal whilst appearing to smooth out her skirts, and Walburga Black hexed Sirius into silence.

Slughorn shook his head. Purebloods. If the inbreeding didn't get you, the Machiavellian power struggles would.

"Abraxas!" bellowed Slughorn cheerfully, over the rising din in the hallway. "Glad to see you're still alive!"

"Thank you Horace," Abraxas called back, with traditional Malfoy poise. "Wonderful to see your students have yet to drive you to St Mungo's."

"Perhaps everyone could move to the ballroom?" Narcissa asked, glancing beseechingly at Professor Slughorn. "There's much more room in there and the drinks have been set out." She smiled prettily at Tiberius Nott, who, with a startled, jerky bow, led the way into the ball room.

Slughorn followed, propelling Snape along with him, as Sirius Black had been attempting to nonverbally hex him. 'Ah,' Slughorn thought fondly, 'Interhouse rivalry. How well I remember it! Why, I used to exchange hexes with Albus in my youth. What wonderful fun that was….'

Lost in a reverie, Slughorn entered the ball room, and absently looked around.

Despite himself, he was quite impressed. The Blacks had obviously spared no expense, no doubt eager to erase Andromeda Black's recently announced engagement to a Muggle-born from the minds of the pure-blooded echelons. Twelve Christmas trees that could have rivaled the new groundskeeper of Hogwarts, Hagrid, in height and width were placed in front of red velvet curtains, tied together with golden cords. They were lavishly decorated with glowing golden chains, and enchanted icicles that gleamed like diamonds. Several tables with velvet padded chairs were strategically placed around the room, and glittered like gold, which they most likely were made of. Holly and ever-green garlands were hung artistically around the walls, and the cream-colored walls practically glowed, and in the back… Slughorn was quite sure he would die of happiness. There was a positive flock of large, long table covered in spotless white tablecloths, with multitudes of glinting silver platters full of every food imaginable. One table was exclusively devoted to different kinds of misty, swirling punches, and another filled with different types of mead. House elves, dressed in crisp green pillowcases, beamed at him from behind huge platters of food.

He steered Severus Snape over to the Notts and quickly introduced them, before nabbing Ambrosis Flume and scurrying off to investigate the tables.

'Oh, ho!' he thought, surveying the tables in the acutest of raptures. "Well, Ambrosis, m'dear boy! Have you ever seen anything so exquisite?"

"Uh," answered Ambrosis nervously. "No?"

"Exactly," Slughorn crowed, grabbing a cup of punch. He spent the next few minutes in a deliriously happy state brought on by the smorgasbord laid in front of him. There were at least three different types of prawns, thirty different types of cheese, ten different types of pastries… he had scaled Mount Olympus.

Ambrosis wandered away, leaving Slughorn to the delights of the buffet table.

After several moments had passed, Narcissa Black and Gwenog Jones came rushing up to the table, talking softly to each other, in what only could be nasty commentary on the invited guests.

"My girls, how are you this evening?" Slughorn boomed.

Gwenog and Narcissa nearly jumped.

"Fine, Professor," Narcissa murmured politely, with a practiced and dazzling smile. "Thank you for coming."

"No problem at all," Slughorn replied, adding a spring of parsley to his overflowing plate with a flourish. "And you, Gwenog?"

"Oh, wonderful, professor," Gwenog said, after a moment. Slughorn nodded at them, then happily returned to garnishing his plate of food. There would be time for socializing afterward.

"Who's the blond one, in the corner?" Gwenog asked quietly and somewhat wrathfully. "I said, 'Good evening' to him and he looked at me as if I was something slimy stuck to the bottom of his shoe and walked off. I can't stand rudeness."

"That's not rudeness, it happens to be Malfoy superiority," Narcissa commented snidely. "You dared address Abraxsis Malfoy before being introduced. Quelle horreur!"

"Right cheerful lot of people your family invited," Gwenog stated dispassionately, shaking her head. "Oh look, there's Snape headed our way, scowling as usual."

"At least he's clever," Narcissa murmured, a tad defensively. Slughorn nimbly scooped up his plate and sat at a nearby table, where he beamed happily at his food. It was such a marvelous work of art, it was really a shame… well, almost a shame to ruin it. He summoned a goblet of mulled wine andjoyfully began to eat.

"I do believe I'm being stalked," Snape drawled, almost boredly. Slughorn paused, fork halfway to his mouth. He had noticed, some time in Snape's second year that Snape had begun to affect a drawl, but hadn't before realized that it sounded distinctly like Lucius Malfoy's speech patterns.

Gwenog snorted. "Sirius Black still out to kill you, then?"

"No," Snape said darkly. "There's a girl resembling a dyed boulder that keeps following me around."

Narcissa passed a white-gloved hand over her eyes in mock distress. "Oh Severus, you've gone and drawn the attention of Angleica Goyle. I'm so sorry."

"It's probably because you washed your hair before coming," Gwenog stated dispassionately.

Snape hunched over, slightly defensively. "I still find it hard to believe I have gained the admiration of anyone so grotesque. In fact, I have difficulty believing this 'Angelica' is a living creature, not a mistakenly animated gargoyle."

"The Goyles aren't very different from gravel, when it comes to mental prowess," Narcissa murmured, delicately sipping her punch. "And her name is Angleica. The Goyles misspelled her name on her birth certificate. She has to be put under Imperius in order to behave herself in polite society. Can you believe it, Gwenog?"

Gwenog snorted, and then looked up sharply. "Oy, Cissy. Miss Angleica is headed our way. I'm out of here." With a quick swish of bottle-green dress robes, Gwenog vanished into the crowd, leaving Narcissa and Snape to greet Angleica Goyle.

"'Lo," grunted Miss Angleica.

Narcissa curtsied and faked a smile. "Angleica. It's lovely to see you in good health."

"Yeah," Angleica replied, eyeing Snape. "You're new."

Snape hunched over, gravitating towards Narcissa. "Your powers of deduction are simply astounding."

"Uh," was Angleica's ever-so-eloquent reply. Slughorn attacked a particularly delicious serving of buttered prawn and pretended not to be eavesdropping.

"I write stories," Angleica informed them abruptly.

"How charming," Narcissa replied. There was a hint of a smirk in her voice that Slughorn could only attribute to the Blacks. Only a Black could convey such distain in two words.

Angleica tugged on a frill of her frilly pink robes. "I think they're good. I like having people tell me they're good."

"No doubt good at lowering one's intelligence," Snape muttered, scowling at the ground. Narcissa glanced at him quellingly.

"You should read 'em," Angleica growled.

"I'm afraid I really haven't the time at the moment," Narcissa replied silkily, tucking a blonde ringlet behind her ear. "I'm afraid I shall have to, ah… postpone the pleasure."

"Indefinitely," Snape added, in an undertone. Slughorn finished off his plate and refilled his goblet of wine.

"Be polite, Severus," Narcissa hissed, before turning back to Angleica with a saccharine smile.

"I'm gonna go," Angleica informed them, though she stared steadily at Snape.

"It was quite wonderful talking to you," Narcissa murmured, voice as smooth as poisoned honey.

"Yeah," grunted Angleica. "I'm gonna get food."

"Returning to her natural habitat, I see," Snape murmured, lip curled in distain

"Hunh?" Angleica asked, looking more confused than usual.

Narcissa glanced heavenward, but managed a polite, "Do enjoy yourself Angleica."

Angleica stared at Snape a moment, and then stomped off to one of the numerous buffet tables. Narcissa glanced sideways at Snape, and, golden eyebrows raised, sipped delicately on her glass of punch. "And now you've met your stalker. Lovely person, isn't she?"

"I'm overwhelmed with delight," Snape drawled in reply, raising an eyebrow. "Have years of inbreeding destroyed the mental faculties of pure-blood families, or do they just take fiendish delight in giving their progeny ridiculous names?"

Narcissa choked on her punch and tried to politely disguise it as a lady-like cough before acidly commenting, "Just because the Goyles named their daughter Angleica instead of Angelica doesn't mean we'd all drool and run into walls unless Imperius cursed."

Snape rolled his eyes. "I can just imagine dear Angleica getting married, and then having four lovely children. The first one would be the handsome Richard-Right, always so precise and square; then Olivia-Obtuse, who would constantly fret over her degree obesity; then Amanda-Acute, who suffers from a severe case of anorexia nervosa; and, last, Sally-Straight, who has inherited her darling mother's monotone and figure."

Narcissa would never do something as inelegant as giggle, Slughorn was sure, but she came rather close. She hid her smile behind a gloved hand and glanced at Severus from underneath golden eyelashes.

'Oh, ho!' Slughorn thought, Summoning another goblet of wine and feeling rather amused.

With a rather put-on show of deliberate unconcern, Severus straightened his dress robes and sardonically continued, "Let us merely be glad she doesn't have a sister named Trianglica. Her poor progeny would include the tragically unbalanced Samantha-Scalene, her only slightly- less unbalanced Isadora-Isosceles, and poor Erik- Equilateral, who tries half-heartedly to be a square but can never succeed."

Narcissa was laughing so hard her punch sloshed dangerously up the sides of her cup. She set the cup down, and Severus smirked in triumph. Slughorn, who was on his third goblet of wine, chortled a bit, before he found himself confronted by Angleica Goyle.

"Hi Professor," she greeted him in a low, gravelly monotone. "I know you're well con… compact… Connecticut…." She trailed off and furrowed her massive brow in mild confusion. "You know a lot of people. Maybe you could show them this."

She thrust a sheaf of papers labeled "Angleicas storys" into his hands and glared at the top of his balding head. "I like having people tell me my stories are good," she growled unnecessarily.

Professor Slughorn glanced desperately around the room. There was Lucius Malfoy talking with Tiberius Nott! Slughorn thought longingly of escape and tried to think through the pleasant haze created by two and a halfglasses of wine.

Slughorn quickly flipped through the papers and handed them back to her solemnly. "My dear girl, these… er, 'storys' look to be so impressive that I am not worthy to touch them or pass them on. You'd be better off putting them somewhere safe so that works of such genius are never lost or stolen."

Angleica nodded her head in slow understanding and took the papers. She stowed them behind a frill of her pink party dress, and Slughorn nimbly waltzed out of her way and ambled over to Lucius and Tiberius.

They were in deep discussion when Slughorn approached them.

Lucius shook his head quickly and quietly continued, "Rookwood knows more about Him than I do; all I know is that he's for eradicating Mudbloods."

Tiberius jerked his head over to where the Rookwoods were talking with the Crouches. "Rookwood? Lucius are you-"

"Lucius! Tiberius! Heard of your recent promotions, m'boys." Slughorn, beaming at them both,chortled loudly toannounce his presence.To his credit, Lucius did not flinch. Tiberius, however, did.

Lucius merely turned smoothly to smile politely at Slughorn. "Thank you, sir,"

"It wouldn't have been possible to advance in the ranks so early without your recommendation, Professor," Tiberius replied, with a short, jerky bow.

"Glad to be of service, my dear boy!"

Tiberius smiled thinly. "Yet despite the promotion, my parents still insist on… what was the word? Escorting me to social functions." Tiberius rolled his eyes. "It's apparently not safe for a Ministry-employed, qualified, overaged wizard to travel on his own."

"They don't want their heir dead," Slughorn chortled, wagging his finger at Tiberius. "Dangerous things are happening, boys."

Tiberius twitched a bit nervously, and then downed his glass of punch.

"I'm afraid I disagree, Professor," Lucius drawled, inclining his head. "Before we so much as stepped foot into 12 Grimmauld Place, my parents informed me that, since my career in the Ministry was taking off, I'd best start looking for a wife."

"Not care for their current heir, but their future heirs, then," Slughorn suggested, sipping his wine.

"Mine no doubt dream of little, blond, pure-blood babies crawling all over Malfoy Manor," Lucius agreed, in tones of greatest distain.

Tiberius snorted in mild amusement. "They love you, that's all. They want to make sure you don't end up making little blond boulders with Angleica Goyle. Mine have gotten so increasingly desperate that I think they'll kidnap Narcissa Black and Imperius Curse her into marrying me." He jerked his head at his parents, who had driven off Severus Snape and were conversing loudly with Narcissa Black near the punch bowl.

"She's barely sixteen," Slughorn commented, with slight shock. "She's charming, stunning, and a marvelous hostess, I grant you, but she hasn't taken her O.W.L.s yet. Besides that, her sister, Bellatrix, was just engaged and would not take kindly to being upstaged by another engagement in the family."

Lucius raised his blond eyebrows. "Narcissa's pure-blooded, pretty, and almost of age, which is really all our parents are looking for."

Tiberius glanced heavenward. "They'd marry me off to Amycus's sister if they could."

Lucius curled his lip in disdain. "She's five. And terribly ugly."

"I know." Tiberius shook his head and tried to take a fortifying sip of punch before he realized he'd finished his glass off.

"I suppose you have your eye on someone, then?" Slughorn asked jovially.

Tiberius twitched involuntarily, and would have sent the contents of his glass to the floor if there had been anything in it. "No."

Lucius raised one blond eyebrow in disbelief. With utmost sang-froid, he scanned the crowd and pleasantly remarked, "I do believe the Rosiers came in. It looks like Miss Alhena forgot to dress this evening."

Tiberius jerked around and scanned the crowd.

"Oh, ho!" Professor Slughorn exclaimed, as he had nothing else to say.

"Well, that mystery is solved," Lucius drawled, raising his eyebrows at Tiberius.

"How the hell did you know?" Tiberius asked belligerently. He then remembered he was in the presence of Professor Slughorn and sheepishly added, "Sorry Professor."

"No trouble, my dear boy," Professor Slughorn chortled. "Ah, young love!"

"Still," Tiberius persisted, looking ruffled. "How did you know?"

Lucius assumed an air of superiority (something that was never hard for a Malfoy) and looked heavenward. "Tiberius, we've been friends since our first year! Surely I should know you by now." Lucius paused, and then, smirking, added, "I feel obligated to mention that when your family and the Rosiers last came to dinner, I found you and Alhena in the linen closet-"

"Shut up," Tiberius replied, turning slightly pink. "Why the hell were you looking in the linen closet?"

"Well," Lucius replied, with utmost equanimity, "it was my linen closet. What were you doing inside it?"

Tiberius opened and closed his mouth several times, in a brilliant imitation of a dying fish.

"Oh, ho!" Slughorn cried. "You're a tricky one, Lucius. But Tiberius, m'lad, why is your, ah… relationship with Alhena such a secret? She's of good wizarding stock."

Tiberius shook his head, and said, with withering scorn, "The Blacks beat out the Rosiers any day of the week. My parents want me to marry into the Blacks, and their attempts have yet to be thwarted. Well… except for that unfortunate incident with Andromeda. Seemed to think a Mudblood would be better than me."

"Don't worry, old chap," Lucius replied, in what could be interpreted as a comforting tone. "She was probably just drunk."

"Lucky escape for you," Slughorn commented, with a hiccup. "Andromeda's a sweet girl, but she'd drive you mad. Such a talent at Charms, though! Such a talent!"

Tiberius shook his head. "Couldn't stand the subject myself." He then stumbled across what he thought was a brilliant idea, and, very casually, commented, "Well, Lucius, any witch seem particularly charming to you?"

Lucius curled his lip in distain. "They all appear to trailing beauty charms, Tiberius, if that's what you're thinking."

"Your standards are too high," Slughorn sighed, wagging a finger at Lucius. "Your father wasn't half as fastidious as you, when he was your age."

"When he was my age, he was trying to breed miniature flying horses," Lucius replied dismissively. "I'm pleased to say that the last of those winged beasts finally wandered into the topiary garden and hasn't been seen since."

Slughorn chortled and rested his hands on his widening gut. "Poor Abraxas! Half of them sold to the magical glue factory, the others eaten by shrubbery."

"It's not any great loss; we got fifty galleons a hoof," Lucius drawled boredly.

"That's a rather good price," Tiberius admitted rather grudgingly.

Lucius sighed melodramatically. "Still put out? I'll arrange something for you. Parties are so dull if you don't meddle."

At that, Walburga Black swept grandly into the room and declared, "Let there be music!" At that, there was, and Mrs. Nott, a bewildered Narcissa in tow, seemed to Apparate over to Tiberius.

"Look who we found!" Lucida Nott trilled, with forced surprise. "Narcissa, you remember Tiberius, and Lucius, don't you? Oh, and dear Professor Slughorn!"

Narcissa glanced up at both young men through lowered lashes, with something akin to resignation. "Yes, I do."

"Well, Tiberius, I know you remember Narcissa," Lucida Nott prattled on. "Isn't her gown darling? Oh, is that music I hear? Tiberius, don't you feel like dancing?" The last was more of a barely veiled hint than a question, but Tiberius studiously ignored it.

"No, not particularly, Mother," Tiberius replied, looking at the newly fascinating ceiling.

Lucius, smirking, then drawled, "However, I do. Miss Black, would you care to dance?"

Narcissa looked up sharply, blue eyes wide with surprise. Slughorn supposed she had been expecting to dance with Tiberius, or not at all. "Erm," she replied, pinking delicately, "I would… that would… yes, thank you." Lucius Malfoy, one blond eyebrow raised, offered her his arm. Narcissa, looking vaguely flustered, accepted it, and they swept out onto the dance floor.

"Won't Druella be pleased," Slughorn hummed, tapping out the beat of the song on his stomach. "Her youngest daughter, dancing with a Malfoy."

"They look all right, together, don't they Mother?" Tiberius asked pointedly, "Both blond, blue- eyed, and haughty."

"You're every bit as good as Lucius Malfoy!" his mother sniffed, in a display of misplaced maternal affection. "Besides, it's not like the Blacks can be picky. That Andromeda, marrying a muggle-"

"Muggle-born," Slughorn corrected nervously, setting his glass of wine down ona nearby table. "And what's wrong with that?"

"Throwing over my Tiberius, that's what's wrong! My poor darling!" She patted Tiberius on the cheek, and Tiberius twitched away.

"I'm really fine with it, Mother," Tiberius protested, with another nervous tic. He scanned the room and then colored. "Er... I'm out of punch. I'll just go…."

Moments later, he and Alhena Rosier, who appeared to be missing half of her bodice, quickly appeared on the dance floor to make up the set.

"Ah, young love!" Slughorn laughed a bit before seeing the look of pure venom on Lucida Nott's face. "It's quite funny how… er; dreadful it is, isn't it?"

"Ooh, when I get my hands on him," Lucida threatened vaguely. "He knows he has to marry into the Blacks, since his sister couldn't do better than Edmund Crabbe."

Slughorn clucked sympathetically. "Such a pity!"

"Pray assemble for the waltz!" exclaimed one wizard, waving his wand. Several enchanted instruments rose and began to play.

Walburga appeared and delicately clutched at Slughorn's arm. "Come dance with me, my dear Horace. We have much to discuss."

Slughorn bowed and lead her out. The younger couples had already begun waltzing. Bellatrix was at the center of the ballroom, her red skirts flaring out around her like flames. She was leading Rodolphus around, looking almost disinterested, and Rodolphus, smiling ruefully at either himself or his position, followed.

"My, my," Slughorn commented. "Bellatrix certainly looks well."

"She is the center of attention," Walburga replied, with a sniff. "Of course she looks well. She's moderately happy, in any case. We had to rush her engagement. Rodolphus was delighted, but Bellatrix flew into a rage. Only appeased by a trip to Paris and a new wardrobe. True Black if you ever saw one."

Slughorn nodded and made several insincere compliments about the Black family. They whirled by a smirking Tiberius, who was clearly delighted with his partner, and one of the Prewitt girls waltzing awkwardly with Barty Crouch, Jr.

"Regelus says Sirius has befriended mudbloods," Walburga whispered abruptly. "We knew he'd go wrong in Gryffindor, but he did have a pure-blooded friend; the Potter boy. Better a blood-traitor than a mudblood, but I hear he's befriended both. Regelus says he's got a mudblood girlfriend."

"Well," Slughorn said delicately, "we staff keep out of student love affairs unless they turn violent. Ah, look!" He gestured to where Lucius had bent Narcissa back into a complicated waltz pose. Narcissa blushed faintly, as if someone had spread pink glaze over a snow-bank. With a quick whirl of sea-green skirts and lacy white petticoats, they stood again, and whirled on.

"Narcissa's a natural dancer," Slughorn proclaimed grandly, as Lucius and Narcissa waltzed on elegantly, a perfect, pure-blooded pair.

Walburga nodded. "She is doing better?"

"Quite well," Slughorn hastily assured her. "Slytherin prefect this year, and…." He winked, and thenwhispered theatrically, "This stays between you and me, but she's the top candidate for Head Girl in two years. Dumbledore's ear-marked two Gryffindors to be Head Boy and Girl next year, so he'll have to pick a Slytherin next year. She's learned a great deal about manipulation from you. She's well- liked by everyone. If she has prejudices, you could scarcely tell."

"That's not Black behavior," Walburga growled, glaring at Narcissa's back.

"No, but it helps one rise quickly in popularity," Slughorn assured her quickly. "No one would ever say she wasn't a Black."

"So much shame upon my family," Walburga mused. "But Bellatrix will have a grand wedding."

"If she wishes it," Slughorn replied doubtfully. "You can't force her to do anything she doesn't want to do. It will be the wedding of the year, I'm sure, if everything is up to her standards, and she's... at least amenable to marrying Rodolphus."

Walburga examined him carefully, decided she could trust him, and elegantly adjusted the tilt of her hat. "Then… Bellatrix, to your knowledge, has behaved herself."

"Er… no serious scandals, to my knowledge."

Walburga slipped something into his pocket that felt heavy and expensive and inquired if he knew of any not-so-serious scandals.

Slughorn discovered he did, in fact, know some details, and, in hushed tones, conveyed this information to Walburga. The song ended and Slughorn concluded, "Those are easily fixed though, with the right gifts to the right people. I have some favors I can call in, too…."

"Dear man," Walburga stated, with a smile that did not reach her eyes. She pressed his hand, and presented him with several golden Christmas crackers 'for later'.

Slughorn escaped to the drinks table, and spent a great deal of time sampling all the different types of drinks with a rather glum-looking Cygnus Black, to the point at which he could have happily swallowed petrol and not known it.

An hour later, Slughorn, feeling at peace with the entire world, staggered drunkenly around the room, toasting whomsoever he knew, before spotting the Malfoys, sitting at a table in the far corner of the ballroom.

"Hallo Abraxas," Slughorn slurred, sitting at the table and beaming at him merrily. "What are you doing?"

Abraxas inclined his head. "Spying on my son. Told him earlier he needed to find a gel to marry; the missus wants grandchildren. He left Miss Narcissa sitting over there, and I expect him to return." Abraxas flicked his hand indolently at where Narcissa was sitting, next toa wall and a table with several types of smoking punch.

Mrs. Malfoy, hiccupping drunkenly, downed a glass of champagne and pointed a manicured figure at her husband. "I want babies, Abraxas."

Abraxas looked at her quellingly. "You'll have grandchildren in due time, dear. Lucius knows what his duty is… hush, he's right across from us."

Lucius had evidently returned from one of the refreshment tables, having found the various punches by Narcissa inadequate. He handed Narcissa a glass and kept one for himself. "In any case, you say Gwenog Jones is captain of the Slytherin team?"

"First female Quiddich team in Slytherin's history," Narcissa replied, almost smugly. "I play Seeker."

"Oh, really?" Lucius asked, raising an eyebrow. "Evan Rosier will be terribly shocked to discover he's been replaced by a girl, even if she is a Black."

"No, I want babies," Mrs. Malfoy insisted.

"You won't even get a daughter-in-law at the way things are going," Abraxas drawled, drawing out his wand. "Lucius needs a little…."

"Nudge in the right direction?" Slughorn asked, before laughing. Abraxas had been quite witty, and Slughorn was quite drunk.

"Mistletoe," Abraxas concluded, with an indolent flick of his wand. A spring of mistletoe appeared mysteriously above Narcissa's head. She, however, remained oblivious.

"A Black can do anything a Rosier can do," Narcissa recited, rolling her eyes dramatically. "It was really my father's idea, but I've actually come to like it. You played Chaser, didn't you?"

"You have a good memory," Lucius replied, looking slightly surprised. Narcissa smiled and looked down. Lucius then looked up, saw the mistletoe, and smirked.

Slughorn began to laugh again. "Oh, ho! All Malfoys are just the same, eh?"

"I suppose you'd also remember the decorations here?" Lucius asked airily.

Narcissa looked up from underneath her eyelashes. "Yes; I organized them myself."

"Then I needn't remind you what's hanging by that punchbowl," Lucius drawled, smirking. "You have a fiendish sense of humor. Imagine if Professor Slughorn and Geoffrey Wilkes both wanted a drink at the same time."

Narcissa was momentarily perplexed, and carefully examined the space above the punchbowl, and then, over her head. She pinked delicately. "Oh," she replied, rather startled. She regained her composure remarkably quickly, and then added, "Perhaps I put it there with other intentions in mind." She looked somewhat surprised at her own daring, and recovered by scrutinizing the contents of her cup.

"Clever girl," Lucius said softly, setting down his cup on the table. He helped Narcissa up, and Narcissa, hands trembling, set her cup down on the table.

"Truth be told," Narcissa remarked lightly, straightening her gloves, "I don't actually remember putting it there."

Lucius Malfoy smirked, then asked, almost airily, "Tell me, Narcissa, have you ever been kissed before?"

Narcissa guiltily glanced sideways and wet her lips. "W… would it shock you that I haven't?"

"Quite," Lucius replied, taking her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilting her face up to him. He inclined his head, almost as if he were nodding at an acquaintance, and kissed her.

"Oh, ho!" Slughorn exclaimed, with a happy hiccup.

"Knew he had it in him!" Abraxas declared proudly. "See, dear? You'll have lots of blond- haired, snotty nosed little brats befouling our manor in no time."

"No," Mrs. Malfoy insisted. "I want babies."

Lucius pulled away after what Professor Slughorn would normally have thought was an indecent amount of time, and Narcissa, looking slightly dazed, tentatively pushed back a stray curl of her blonde hair.

"That was quite nice," she remarked, after a moment. "Well, ah… yes, quite nice."

"Only quite?" Lucius asked suavely. "What ever can I do to change your opinion?"

"Er," replied the normally eloquent Narcissa. She glanced at Slughorn's table and flushed. Very delicately she asked, "Mr. Malfoy, how long have your parents and Professor Slughorn been right over there? Watching us?"

Abraxas became very interested in his drink, and Slughorn collapsed onto the table with scarcely suppressed laugher. Oh how funny everything was turning out!

Lucius whirled around, and assumed a faint sneer. "Professor. Mother. Father. What a pleasant surprise."

"I want babies," Mrs. Malfoy repeated.

"Shut up, woman," growled Abraxas.

"Just how long have you been spying on me, Father?" Lucius asked courteously.

"Lucius, Malfoys do not make unfounded accusations!" Abraxas scolded, tone dripping with elegant distain.

"Oh, ho!" Slughorn cried, in an erstwhile attempt to save his friend from further embarrassment. "I've won the drinking contest then, you've stopped drinking!"

Narcissa murmured a frothy, meaningless excuse, and fled.

"Thank you ever- so- much, Father," Lucius replied, with just the right amount of sarcasm. Slughorn buried his head in his arms and tried to smother his laughter. How witty the Malfoys were!

"I want babies," Mrs. Malfoy insisted.

"Well, you've chased away the only passable girl in the room," Lucius explained, his tone vaguely bordering on disrespect. "Unless you have them, Mother, you shan't see any anytime soon."

Slughorn looked up, smiling happily at the world. It was all so funny!

"Lucius," Abraxas said sharply, with a quelling look. "You grow impertinent."

Face mask- like, Lucius clicked his heels together and bowed. "I beg forgiveness, Father."

Mrs. Malfoy suddenly and rather ineptly decided that her desire for babies was too distressing, and began to cry.

Abraxas looked at her in irritation, grabbed her by the wrist and helped her up. "Lucius, behave yourself. I need to… calm your mother."

Lucius bowed, stiffly, and his parents vanished with a slight pop. Slughorn hiccupped and rested the side of his face against the table. His moustache was slightly crushed, but otherwise his position was ideal.

Bellatrix, Rodolphus trailing her like a shawl, swept over to Lucius Malfoy.

"Rodolphus," she purred, trailing one red- painted nail down his jaw-line. "Do go and get me a plate. Small portions, darling, and nothing too messy."

Lucius raised a blond eyebrow with a distain almost impossible to match, and Rodolphus, after clearing his throat importantly, left.

"What do you want Bellatrix?" Lucius asked softly.

Bellatrix glanced over her bare shoulder at Professor Slughorn.

"He's drunk," Lucius explained, bored. "He's liable to pass out soon, and probably won't remember a thing since arriving. It's the only reason why I don't mind the fact that he was spying on me."

"Then he won't remember how you seduced my sister," Bellatrix said smoothly, tugging at her dress so it hugged her curves tighter.

"Did not," Lucius drawled, with a long- suffering air.

Bellatrix jabbed a painted fingernail into Lucius's chest. "Listen Malfoy, I can barely stand you at the moment, and you have always disliked me. It's understandable that you didn't offer for me. But you so much as look at Narcissa in the wrong way and I will break your nose."

"Such sisterly affection," Lucius remarked dryly, "would be much better received if I couldn't see down the front of your dress."

Bellatrix hissed indignantly, "You stay away from Narcissa! I have friends in low places."

"As do I," Lucius said amiably. "Quite done, Bella?"

"No," she snapped, dark eyes flashing.

"What more can be said? You dislike me because I didn't ask you to marry me as everyone expected, and thus you don't want me to even trifle with your sister." Lucius linked his hands behind his back, having clearly, in his opinion, won the argument.

"You missed the point, you stuck- up prig! I know who you're trying to reach, Lucius, and only I can-"

"Only you? You have an enlarged sense of your own importance, when, in fact, you're as negligible as Goyle."

"You'd ask Goyle to help you contact Him? You're a greater moron than I thought-"

The voices began to meld together. Slughorn began to drift off, still vaguely happy.

Suddenly, there was a loud explosion at the other end of the ballroom, and Slughorn awoke from his half- daze with a start. Bellatrix and Lucius paused in their argument. The music stopped abruptly.

"Disgrace!" Walburga howled. "What is this filth doing in my home?"

Slughorn stood on the tipsily on the tips of his toes. Andromeda was at the door, holding a Christmas gift.

Everyone fell silent.

"Happy Christmas, Auntie," Andromeda, voice trembling, greeted her. "I just came to see Bella and Cissy."

"Leave," Walburga hissed, suddenly lunging forward and slapping Andromeda on the cheek with enough force to make her niece stagger backwards. Narcissa darted out from the crowd (Slughorn thought she'd been standing by Gwenog and Snape) and made a move to interpose herself between her aunt and her sister that she hastily checked. Walburga glared at her, and Naricssa, regaining her equinamity, tossed her hair at the assembled guests behind them. Walburga fell silent, but she continued to glare at Andromeda.

Narcissa, face strangely flushed, turned to the attentive audience and snapped, "Well? Why has the music stopped?" For a moment, her beauty faded, and she looked as if she had just stepped in something unpleasant. Slughorn couldn't explain it, and blamed the wine he had ingested.

The music began again; people began moving, chattering as gaily as ever. Narcissa hurried out of the room with Andromeda, slamming the huge double doors in the process, and Bellatrix, face very white, went back to talking with Lucius.

"Swine," Walburga spat, just loud enough to be heard over the music.

There was more laughter, though it was uneasy, and light, frothy talk, full of nothing but air. There were hushed conversations in golden corners, where people darted nervous glances around the room and hesitantly touched each others' forearms; an odd thing to do in a world where every gesture had meaning and people never touched unless it was to dance or greet each other. Everything blended together prettily and Slughorn sat again.

Slughorn expected he must have fallen asleep again, because the next thing he knew there was another explosion, this time closer to him.

"Muffliato," Severus Snape hissed, swinging his wand in an arc at the main party guests.

The thoughts in Slughorn's brain turned fuzzy and ran into each other. He lifted his head, unsure of what was happening, or why Snape was cursing the party.

"C'mon Snivelly," Sirius barked, brandishing his wand. "You have no right to be here."'

"I have more right than your cousin did," Snape snapped, lip curled. He raised his wand. "Stu-"

Sirius paled, and lunged at Snape. He seized him by the front of his robes and they toppled to the floor. Sirius swore at him violently. "You aren't fit to even look at Andromeda, you slimy git!" Sirius grabbed at Snape's wand and flung it at the wall. Unfortunately, Bellatrix was in the way; it whapped her in the back of the head. She stumbled forward, half- full plate flying and shattering onto the wall. Lucius hurriedly stepped out of the way, sneering at the dirty hem of his black robe and the splattered food on the wall. Rodolphus pulled out his wand and whipped around. Bellatrix, looking furious, whirled around in a flurry of crimson skirts, radiating fury. Snape was trying to crawl away, but Sirius grabbed him by the back of his robes and jerked him back.

"Don't try and run, you, you-"

"So witty this evening," Snape snarled, before Sirius punched him in the nose. Snape jammed his elbow in Sirius's ribs, clutching his nose with other hand, and Sirius pushed him to the floor.

"Boish," Slughorn slurred, standing, "Zish ish no time for violence." The room was spinning like a merry-go-round and he decided to sit and enjoy the ride. Lovely, lovely movement, really.

"Contain yourself, Black," Lucius drawled, with a vague undercurrent of irritation.

Sirius told Lucius to do several things that were anatomically impossible, and Slughorn thought Sirius had begun trying to smash Snape's head into the herringbone tiled floor. Snape was not at all pleased with that action, and jammed his bony elbows into Sirius's torso.

Sirius made a gruff barking sound, like a wounded dog, and slammed his forearm against the back of Snape's head.

"Petrificus totalus!" Bellatrix hissed. Sirius froze, and fell on top of Snape. Snape was slammed to the floor again, and the image swirled around Slughorn's mind as if he'd been swishing it around in a particularly fine vintage of port.

"You disgrace our family," Bellatrix hissed, face mask- like and pale with fury. It seemed more unreal to Slughorn than the whirling vortex of colors around her.

"Here, Snape," Lucius said, almost boredly. Slughorn assumed Lucius had helped Snape up, but the spinning room was really too much of a challenge in concentration for Slughorn to see anything. He closed his eyes and rested his head on his folded forearms.

"Damn him," Snape swore.

"You're bleeding," Rodolphus remarked suddenly. Slughorn felt vaguely surprised. He had forgotten Rodolphus could talk.

"Damn him," Snape repeated viciously.

There was clacking sound, like someone in high heels running. "Bellatrix," someone said impatiently. Was it Narcissa? "You don't have to Summon me, you could have just set a house elf, I was with An… oh." A pause. "Hello Mr. Malfoy." Another pause, this one longer than the first, then a muffled gasp. "Oh, Severus! What on earth happened to you?"

"Your cousin," Severus replied moodily. "He's on the floor there."

"No, don't kick him," Narcissa interjected impatiently. There was some sort of odd sound, and then Narcissa, disgruntled, amended, "All right, don't listen to me, then."

"Well this is a rather odd situation," Bellatrix purred. She thrived on chaos, from what Slughorn remembered of her schooldays. "We have a blood traitor and a half- blood. Both are equally disgusting, aren't they?"

"Bellatrix," Lucius broke in impatiently, "I'm sure you remember Severus, as he did half your homework for you seventh year. His merits are exemplarily." A pause, then smoothly, "In fact, I believe He would be most pleased if we-"

"Not a half- blood," Bellatrix snapped, "particularly one as slimy as Snape. Don't look at me like that Rodolphus; He wouldn't like it. I know the Dark Lord."

After a pause, Narcissa murmured, "I didn't hear a word of that. I must've gone temporarily deaf. Come on Severus; let me help you with that-"

"I don't need anyone's help," Snape snarled.

"I'm not Evans," Narcissa replied irritably. "I'm a Pureblood, not some prying mudblood. You just happen to be ruining the antique tile in the midst of all of proper society and I assumed you'd want to find somewhere to bleed in peace." There was a pause. Slughorn remembered the strange, unpleasant look Narcissa had had on her face earlier that evening. Did she look like that, or did she look up from underneath golden eyelashes, like her mother Druella, would have done?

"Fine," Snape replied moodily. "Lend me our handkerchief, will you?"

Narcissa, sounding both relieved and miserable, replied. "Of course Severus, come on. Bella… there's a situation in the hall that needs to be dealt with, and if you came-"

"No." The word sliced through the air. "Tell her never to come back here again, Narcissa, just that, and only that. I'll kill her myself if she does. You know I will. It was foolish of her to suggest it, and even more foolish of you to be deceived like that, by her, of all people. Don't you dare talk to her again either, Cissy. You know what she's done."

There was a pause, andthen Narcissa murmured, "Come on, Severus, let's go. Did Sirius hex you? Finite incantatem." There were rustling and clacking sounds as Narcissa and Snape quickly moved away, out of the plotting and scheming of Bellatrix and Lucius.

A moment passed, then Lucius remarked, "Your sister manipulated Severus remarkably well. She seems to have the Black talent of manipulation and deceit."

"You're not dragging her into this," Bellatrix snarled. "This is a new order Lucius."

"Where the Blacks might not be on top?" Lucius asked loftily. "I dare say it is, which is why it isn't wise to criticize the half-blood Prince like that. He's still half a Prince, and he happens to be very useful."

Bellatrix told Lucius to do several things that were also anatomically impossible.

"Temper, temper," Lucius replied mildly. "The Blacks do say the crudest things. It's remarkable how all that inbreeding limited your store of insults. Reign in your fiancé, Lestrange, or she- oof!"

"Sirius!" Bellatrix shrilled.

Sirius swore at them viciously before spitting out,"I hate you all! Your stupid prejudices; even Narcissa, Bellatrix! She didn't have anything against Evans until you talked to her this summer, and… and Andromeda! She's worth two of you, but she can't even come in!"

"Off me, boy," Lucius snarled. There was a whooshing sound, and a muffled grunt. Slughorn looked up, and saw many swirling Siriuses sprawled on the floor, dark hair falling into his (or was it their?)eyes almost artistically. Sirius clutched at his limp left arm, breathing heavily.

Lucius looked at him icily. "You do not understand your place here."

"Because I don't belong here," Sirius said bitterly. "I'm leaving, for good. Tell Cissy I hope she doesn't turn out as rotten as you all are. Keep the hell away from her, Malfoy."

"Leaving?" Bellatrix asked. Her smile seemed painted on, when Slughorn could focus on it. "What do you mean, Sirius?"

Sirius glared up at her. "James offered to let me stay at his place, and I'm taking him up on it."

There was a moment of absolute silence, and Bellatrix's face darkened. "Blood traitor," she hissed, clutching her wand.

"Better than a Pureblood," Siriusspat back,voice laced with distain. He scrambled up and disappeared into the crowd.

Yes, Slughorn thought woozily. There really wasn't anything to top Black parties. So far he'd witnessed the beginning of two engagements, the dynamics of a new marriage, the splintering of the Black family, and the rise of a rebel. Slughorn rested his head in his arms. The new year was certainly going to be interesting.