Author's Notes – I'm back!! I swear I'll update faster now, atleast the next chapter will be up soon … and can you believe it's been almost an year since I've been on this site? Yay! Sigh, this chapter is for tabbyhearts aka musicgoddess681 for cheering me up with so many reviews *huggles*. Guys, I am now on the ADMM boards under the name tabbyphoenix, and I'm having the time of my life there! Any LJ users out here, you can friend me if you want, I'm anya_lee there!

This is for tabbyhearts, for reminding me that I used to write…lol.

Well, enjoy.

Disclaimers – Not mine. That's all I'm saying.

Chapter 14 – The Essence of Childhood

December came soon after the indelible Quidditch victory of the Gryffindor and one morning Hogwarts woke up to find its' surroundings in monotones of black and white. The lake had frozen solid and even Hagrid could be seen walking around in a moleskin overcoat, rabbit fur and beaver skin boots looking something like the European version of the Abominable Snowman dressed in brown instead; thanks to his enormous bulk.

A week before the Christmas holidays were due to begin, classes were more enjoyable than ever, since most of the teachers allowed them to do whatever they wished to in class, with the exception of Professors Binns and McGonagall; but even McGonagall caught the Christmas spirit two days ahead of the vacation when she too decided not to burden them with any assignments over the hols. No one could quite believe their ears and when she did finally manage to convince them that she wasn't joking, the entire class erupted into a loud cheer and Professor McGonagall smiled (well, almost) at their delighted reception.

At about the same time, she had also come around the Gryffindor common room, making a list of the students who were staying over for the holidays. Mia had given her name at once, convinced that Christmas at Hogwarts would be fun (not that she had much choice) and so had Cornelia; though Christopher was going back home for Christmas. Alexannah had been planning to go to France to visit her elder sister, but then her mother had been called to some godforsaken part of the world for medical assistance and so she had to put her name down on McGonagall's list as well, though this was quite grudgingly done.

On the last day of the winter term, Mia, Cornelia and Alexannah accidentally sauntered into to Great Hall after a highly boring History of Magic class and the sight before them left them gawking stupid; it was something neither of them had imagined in their wildest dreams.

The Hall looked glorious, bypassing even the splendid Halloween decorations of October. Festoons of holly and mistletoe adorned the snow covered walls; twelve towering Christmas trees were positioned around the room, presumably by Hagrid and each tree was fabulously decorated, some with tiny, sparkly, realistic-looking icicles, some decorated with blazing candles, some with golden and silver Christmas baubles, others tiny angels and what not. Apparently, this was not all; as Professors McGonagall and Flitwick still looked busy with the beautification; Professor McGonagall trailing more golden and silver baubles across each tree and Professor Flitwick doing tricky charms so that the baubles flashed different colours at regular intervals.

'You would do well to stop staring,' McGonagall called out, having observed the trio staring at the decoration motionless for at least a quarter of an hour.

'It's wonderful,' Mia said softly, her hands absently brushing against the branches of the one of the dozen gigantic trees, her eyes dancing with unstated fervour. 'Spectacular!'

'Yeah,' Cornelia agreed nodding her head in concord as Alexannah continued to stare, dumbstruck.

'Indeed, thank you,' Professor McGonagall replied, eyeing them with a merest trace of amusement. 'I believe you all are staying for Christmas?'

'Yes, Professor,' Mia answered briefly, far too engrossed with the spectacle to answer her question properly.

'Good,' Professor McGonagall replied, flicking her wand at a petite, golden haired snow angel, so it twirled gracefully across the tree, humming a Christmas hymn liltingly as it did so. 'Then, you can always admire the Hall when it's done.'

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The first half of the winter holidays passed enjoyably so and Christmas Eve had finally arrived, much to everyone's delight. Mia had discovered that a very few students were staying at Hogwarts for the holidays. The three of them were, of course, as was Charlie and a surly sixth-year, two Hufflepuffs, three Ravenclaws and three Slytherins including, unpredictably, a very miserable Dolores too, who had been bantering Mia all week about not having a proper family to go back to for Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, Mia spent a happy morning in the Hogwarts library, pouring through dozens and dozens of books that might interest her and keep her entertained for the latter half of the vacation and finally ended up borrowing the thickest of them all. On her way back to the dorm, she was so immersed in reading the book, that she hardly paid any attention to where she was going, absently knocking down a blissfully snogging Hufflepuff couple, upsetting a tearful Maurice Hanson's potion ingredients and finally running head-first into a pensive Professor Dumbledore himself.

'Oh! P-pr-professor Dumbledore, I'm terribly sorry,' she stuttered, a fantastic shade of red flying to her cheeks in embarrassment as she finally attempted to stuff the fat book in her already-filled bag. 'I sort of –'

'It's quite alright, you need not apologize,' Professor Dumbledore replied serenely, peering at her out of his intensely blue eyes, down his long, crooked nose. 'Isn't that a rather thick book you're reading, Miss Bridger, considering it's Christmas Eve?'

'Well, I was sort of bored,' Mia conceded, smiling awkwardly as she pulled out her wand and flicked it at the bag to clear more room for the gigantic paperback.

Professor Dumbledore was, however not listening to her; instead he pulled out something, seemingly from mid-air and offered it to her genially. 'Care for a Sugar Quill?'

'Yeah, sure, thanks,' Mia said, befuddled for a second but nevertheless accepting it with a toothy grin. 'I just happen to love sweets…' she added as Dumbledore conjured one more, presumably, for himself.

'Ah, well so do I,' he said pleasantly and Mia vaguely thought she saw something of a happy smirk flit across his face, however it vanished as soon as it had come, and he raised the quill as though toasting it to her. 'Though some people may not agree …' he murmured and then declared jovially,' Cheers for sweet-lovers!'

'Cheers … well, I've got to run,' she continued, still grinning broadly, '… I promised Alexannah I'd play chess with her … but I'm terrible at it, so I expect she'll win anyway. I'm sure she wants to gloat about it … she knows I'm pathetic … oh, and thanks for the quill, Professor!'

Dumbledore nodded amicably in reply and watched as Mia sped down the passageway, her long auburn hair whipping behind her as she disappeared into the shadows.

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After lunch, the Gryffindors returned back to the common rooms, fed up, having run out of things to do. Charlie and Cornelia were staring jadedly at the falling snow from their perch by the windowsill. Mia was curled up into one of the armchairs, still lost in the ancient writing on the parchment in the book she had borrowed earlier that morning. Alexannah eyed her disdainfully and then, snatched the book out of her hands.

'Give it back!' Mia yelled crossly, tossing a long lock of her auburn hair behind her ear even though she knew perfectly well that it would slither back into her face in about three seconds.

'Aw, Mia, for heaven's sakes! It's Christmas Eve!' Alexannah chided, shoving the book behind her back. 'I can think of a hundred things I'd rather be doing today than reading some prehistoric fairy tale. That too in Runes … hey, wait, when did you learn to read Runes…'

'Prunes?' Cornelia quipped suddenly, sounding utterly befuddled as she turned to them. 'Who reads prunes?'

'Really? Like what?' Mia snapped irately, ignoring Cornelia's slight on prunes as she tried to reach out for the book impatiently. 'Sitting on the couch and burning your retinas by staring at the fire?'

Alexannah flushed at the sharp retort, albeit she did not let her discomfiture show. Instead, she returned evenly, 'Why don't you think of something, then, Wise Girl?'

Mia shot her an fierce I-take-the-challenge sort of a look and slipped back into the couch, shutting her eyes tightly. After a minute or so of unspoken contemplation, her eyes flew open and she jumped out of the couch, startling the dull Gryffindors out of their skins.

'Sorry!' she apologized, smirking viciously at Alexannah. 'I just had a brilliant idea! I'll be right back … don't vanish!'

'We're waiting,' Alexannah said in a bored voice, idly scratching the back of her neck as Mia scampered out of sight, slamming a disgruntled Fat Lady behind her.

'This can't be anything good,' Cornelia muttered sniffily, glaring at a smug Alexannah.

'Nah,' Charlie agreed, leaning snugly against the comfy armchair. 'But she's got mighty good ideas … and anything's better than sitting on this infernal chair doing nothing.'

Sure enough, five minutes later Mia arrived, panting heavily as she slid by the hearth, green eyes alight with mischief as she warmed her hands that had turned a nasty shade of blue from the bitter cold, a clear give-away of her destination.

'Okay,' she called out loudly to a crowd of three Gryffindors, who turned to face her at once with rapt attention. 'The Slytherins are out on the grounds.'

Cornelia couldn't, for the world of her, see how this had anything with what they were about to do, but Alexannah and Charlie seemed to have grasped Mia's impish intent at once.

'Oh, no you don't!' Alexannah whispered, looking taken aback as Mia's face split into a wider grin. 'We'll be in serious trouble!'

'C'mon, Alex, be a sport … good one, Mia, let's do it,' Charlie cried enthusiastically, standing up at once and staring at Mia with something close to admiration. 'Ryan would have given his left foot to be here,' he chortled, clapping Mia on the back in evident praise.

'That's two, yes and one, no,' Mia pronounced, the unaffected grin still plastered on her bright face and Alexannah crossed her arms in indignant protest. 'Cornelia?'

'Do what?' Cornelia asked, frowning in puzzlement as Alexannah stared at her, her azure eyes affixed pleadingly on Cornelia's frame, as though beseeching her not to go on with what Mia had in mind.

Mia smiled mischievously and caught Cornelia's arm, as Charlie hauled an indisposed Alexannah out of the armchair and towards the portrait hole. 'Oh, you'll see.'

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'We are so dead if we're caught,' Alexannah hissed morbidly, pulling her long, bluish cloak more securely over her freezing body as she tightened her grip around the thick bark of the tree. 'I can't believe you of all people would think of something like this, Mia!'

'Hush, Alex,' Mia muttered irately, clapping her hands tightly over a squawking Alexannah's mouth. 'We'll only get caught if you keep talking like this.'

'Um, Mia,' Cornelia called out feebly from behind her, pawing her with an impatient hand from behind. 'What exactly are we doing?'

Mia, Alexannah and Cornelia were standing behind a large beech tree on the shore of the frigid lake, a huge heap of snow obscuring their cloak-clad selves and a bunch of burly-looking Slytherins, Dolores included, a stone's throw away from them.

'Charlie, come on,' Mia muttered fervently, as Cornelia tugged impatiently on the hem of her snow-covered cloak. 'It's about time!'

She inclined her head over Alexannah's shoulders and glanced at the Slytherins, finally spotting Charlie's trademark silky brown hair, heading towards the unfortunate Slytherins.

'Get ready,' she whispered to a mortified Alexannah and a still-befuddled Cornelia.

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Charlie Whitman dug his frostbitten hands into the pockets of his robes, whistling a hymn as piercingly as he could manage, his throat frozen stiff due to the iciness of the afternoon. Spotting the Slytherins immersed in a deep discussion on topics best know to themselves less than a few feet away, he "accidentally" sauntered towards them and ran straight into a mousy-brown haired, squat girl - Dolores Jane Umbridge.

'Oops, dreadfully sorry,' Charlie greeted fake-pleasantly, strident enough for Mia and the others to hear at their perch behind the heap of freshly and laboriously gathered snow. Mia waved him a visible hand to confirm her illicit presence and disappeared into the white again.

'Ah, Whitman, Chaser from Gryffindor, I believe,' Dolores simpered, her voice fluttery as she adjusted the revoltingly pink bow right on top of her curls, which had been knocked off during their supposedly unintentional collision. Charlie smirked inwardly as he thought about what Mia would have to say on her "cutsie-pink" bow.

'You believe?' Charlie questioned her with a authentic imitation of perplexity. 'Of course, I'm Whitman form Gryffindor!'

The boy stole a brief, succinct glance at Umbridge's companions; two hefty, dour fifth-year goons, who seemed preoccupied flexing their well-built muscles, a sure sign of warning to a wary Charlie. He recognized them instantly as the Frye twins, the twosome who had been following Umbridge all over the place like Mary and her little lambs, except that they were neither as meek nor as docile as the biblical ones. A pungent odour of sweat seemed to drift in the vicinity as they moved even closer to a toadish Umbridge. They looked capable of pounding out his individual organs; Charlie did not doubt this for a second, but he had too much respect for Mia's remarkable hexing ability not to do as she had told him to. Should any harm befall on him, he assured himself puckishly, the Frye twins should not live to tell the tale, once Mia had been through with them.

All these thoughts passed in his mind in a mere two seconds, before he added in a fantabulous albeit louder reproduction of Dolores own honeyed simper, 'And you must be the pink toad Umbridge, as Mia tells me.'

Charlie caught a fleeting and most entertaining glimpse of Umbridge's drolly purple face and heard a not-so-far-away Mia yelling 'NOW!' before he was lost in a horde of wands, fists, sweat, delighted yells, screams of protests, jinxes and mostly of all icy, white snowballs flying all around him as he fought to remain in one piece and prevent himself from getting knocked out by the plummeting snow.

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She was sorry for herself.

Minerva McGonagall was not one who revelled in self-pity, and yet now, she felt that sympathy was something she most certainly deserved. She silently vowed to expressly apologize to Albus for all the times she had snapped irately at him for his long-suffering explanations on sweets and confectionery; even his lecturing monologues on the accursed cocoa bean, lemon drops and every other saccharine variety on the planet as he dragged a reluctant version of herself to Honeydukes was nothing compared to the torture she was enduring now.

Deciding that her voice would soon vanish from the lack of use of it, she wondered if she had been merely dragged along on this frigid hike to prevent Horace and Leto's "friendly" tête-à-tête from turning homicidal. Then again, she was still wondering how on earth, the two had actually agreed to go on a walk together. Perhaps, that idiot Rolanda had convinced them that sub-zero temperatures helped to overcome the iciness between staff. Note to self, she thought, rolling her eyes, Transfigure Rolanda into a rat and chase her around the staff room in your animagus form. That should teach her, she sniffed, as Leto yelled rancorously into her ill-fated right ear.

'Horace, I don't know why you're at this again,' the comment aimed at an untroubled Horace ended up resounding in Minerva's ear instead.

About time, Minerva sniggered mutely; finally, Leto was irritated by Horace's ceaseless reiteration of yarns on the illustrious wizards whose minds he had helped hone. Minerva loathingly speculated as to whether she should drop in a line stating that a certain Tom Riddle of Slughorn's teaching was now the most feared and iniquitous Dark wizard of all time. She decided against it, as Leto treated him to another particularly acerbic retort; the Hufflepuff witch seemed to be torturing him enough for the moment.

Praying for respite and sincerely promising to no one in particular that she would docilely submit to Albus' wishes the next time he asked her to accompany him to Honeydukes, she glanced around the snow-carpeted grounds, her keen and well-practised eyes searching for any tell-tale signs of students amidst the wintry shades, at the same time wondering if she was pushing her luck; no student in their right mind would wander about in such frosty weather.

She turned back her attention to Leto and Horace's chinwag that was passing through her exasperated head without leaving the faintest trace of implication behind. Fed up of trying to feebly inject some common sense into their banter which was taking place as though she didn't even exist, she lost her infamous temper and snapped loudly in a most infuriated voice, 'And would you stop? It's Christmas Eve, give it a rest, for now, at least!'

'I will, if he stops preaching and starts to act his age,' Leto retorted acidly, glaring at a remotely unabashed Horace Slughorn.

'Really, Leto-,' Horace began placidly, tightening a ridiculous, baby-blue bonnet with dolphins printed around it around his remarkably egg-like head.

'What's that?' Leto cut across whatever Horace had to say and pointed at a moving mass of snow, ice and colour between a canopy of two tall, intertwined trees overhead.

'It looks – like a huge snowball,' Horace suggested lamely and both Leto and Minerva turned and shot him their best incredulous looks, as though they could not quite believe what he was saying.

'Hark, hark,' Leto leered maliciously. 'How bright, Horace, really … but I'm afraid even a two-year old could have told us as much … it looks like a huge snowball!'

Minerva privately marvelled at what had happened to the typically regal and dignified Leto; there seemed to be something about Horace Slughorn's loquaciousness that bought out the worst in the otherwise stately and august witch.

'Right,' Minerva broke in the icy silence surrounding them with her characteristically brisk air, though she was quite relieved by the reprieve. 'I propose we … investigate?'

'Of course,' Leto nodded and headed off to the stirring pile without further ado.

'Horace?' Minerva queried hesitantly at the older man who was staring plaintively after the retreating witch. 'Are you alright?'

'I'm fine, thank you, Minerva,' Horace said dismissively, waving an airy hand in the air as he strode beside her in Leto's wake.

'Good Lord! What are you doing? Stop! Stop it at once!' Leto's sharp voice drifted through the frosty air. Minerva quickened her stride and Horace followed suit, panting heavily to keep up with her swift gait.

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Professor Minerva McGonagall stood on the grounds of Hogwarts beside her two contemporaries, taken aback, as she eyed the tangled mess on the snowy floor that happened to be her own Gryffindors and some of Horace's Slytherins, wands, snow, undone cloaks, gloves and hats all jumbled in one immense pile on the grounds having a incensed snowball fight. Manual thrashing and spectacular spell work seemed to be taking place simultaneously in the icy blur, punctuated by howls, yells and triumphant cackles from both parties. Clearly, Leto's sharp order seemed to have had little effect on the fiercely duelling and wrestling Gryffindors and Slytherins.

'Wh-what-' sputtered Slughorn, looking aghast as he came to a halt beside Leto's helpless-looking figure.

'Stop this immediately!' Minerva commanded in a thunderous voice most students recognized as dangerous, apprehending that it was unlikely that her shocked Slytherin counterpart would regain control of his paralysed vocal cords before the situation got out of hands.

At her strident instruction, the howling, yelling and duelling seemed to curb instantly and the students hurriedly untangled themselves and slipped into two separate clusters, glaring at each other mutinously with looks that plainly hinted they wished each other the most painful of deaths.

Minerva subjected the Gryffindors to her disbelieving scrutiny and discerned that they seemed to be carefully avoiding each other's eyes as they stood mildly before her. Alexannah Truman was sporting a most spectacular black eye, Mia Bridger had an ugly gash just above her left eye, Charlie Whitman was nursing his limp hand with a gentleness that suggested he had sprained it rather painfully in the tussle and Cornelia Hale was choking unceremoniously on a large chunk of snow, at which Mia hastily pulled out her wand and pointed it to her throat.

'Anapneo,' she mumbled quickly and a bewildered Cornelia ceased coughing immediately as Mia shot her an apologetic glance.

The Slytherins looked as though they had suffered more brutality on the Gryffindors' hands; Umbridge was groping about blindly, a snowy halo revolving around her eyes as she whimpered piteously, the Frye twins, who looked as though they had been jinxed several times were staring at Mia with a sort of wary, unholy fascination.

'Miss Bridger, kindly undo that jinx at once,' Minerva said sternly, gesturing at the snivelling form of Dolores Umbridge, who had tripped on the hem of Frederick Frye's rippling, black robes, and was now flat upon the snow in a position that quite accurately matched that of an enthusiastic sun-bather.

Mia did not ask how Professor McGonagall knew she had been the one who had jinxed Umbridge; she just whipped out her wand immediately and pointed at Umbridge's curly locks with a remorseless stare. 'Terminus.'

The halo immaterialised and vanished into the cold as Mia drew her wand back and stowed it back into her robes, looking remarkably unabashed.

Presently, Dolores seemed to have regained some of her lost composure and stood in what she undoubtedly considered to be a daunting pose as she glanced down accusingly at a silent Mia. 'She bewitched snowballs to follow me around the place, Professor,' she sniffed pathetically, looking up hopefully at an incredibly unsympathetic Professor McGonagall. She continued nevertheless in a injured tone, 'Yes, we were just walking this way, Professor, and they-' she pointed at Mia, whose face was inscrutable as she met Umbridge's condemning glower- 'they showered us with snowballs-'

'In other words, you were having a snowball fight,' Professor Kettleburn said coldly, cutting over the loquaciousness ruthlessly as she eyed the maudlin Slytherin with concealed distaste. 'Miss Umbridge, do stop acting as though you have just been through a horrifying ordeal … I have never known snow to hurt so much.'

'But, Professor,' Umbridge whined; now directing her comments at a scandalized Professor Slughorn in a desperate attempt to earn someone's empathy. 'They weren't content with piling us with snow, they jinxed us as well-'

'Excuse me!' Alexannah said furiously, interrupting Dolores' largely fallacious diatribe and taking a step forward to jab Dolores' in her flabby shoulder. 'But if I recollect clearly, we were simply throwing snowballs until you attempted to jinx Mia-'

'But she isn't hurt-' Umbridge said self-piteously pointing to Mia's unhurt, expressionless figure.

'Yeah, just because she had the sense to block the jinx … which is more than you can say, Umbridge-' Cornelia sneered maliciously at Umbridge's latest assertion.

'No one asked your opinion, Mud-' Dolores snarled, forgoing all efforts at dramatization and attempts to draw sympathy from an insensitive audience.

'Just shut up!' Alexannah hissed viciously, looking like she was raring to slap Dolores hard in the face for what she had just said.

'That's quite enough!' Professor McGonagall said loudly, glaring down at the three of them through her square spectacles, bringing their vehement debate to an immediate end. 'Whose suggestion was this?' she asked, ignoring Dolores' jubilant look as she turned to the Gryffindors once more.

'Mine,' Mia said truthfully, in an utterly flat voice, giving no one the chance to defend her because she knew this was exactly what they had been planning on doing.

'But we joined in too,' Alexannah asserted immediately, glaring at Mia in a way that told her to shut up. McGonagall fixed her with an inquisitive stare.

'No, you didn't,' Mia argued immediately, and for the first time, she sounded irritable as she fully returned Alexannah's glower. 'I forced you to, remember?'

'So,' Professor McGonagall interjected into their heated dialogue loudly and they fell silent as though struck dumb. 'You began a snowball fight on the unsuspecting Slytherins for?'

'It was just innocent fun!' Charlie said defensively, speaking for the first time since the tussle had been stopped.

'Innocent fun!' Dolores shrieked again, sounding piercingly like a child threatening to throw a tantrum in public as she placed her stubby fists on her hips. 'You assaulted us-harmed innocent individuals-you call that a past time?'

'Well, you're the one who started jinxing us, you big lump of frog spawn!'

'That will do, Miss Truman,' Professor McGonagall said sharply. 'I gather what took place is something like this – you were out of things to do, so you thought it amusing to start a snowball fight with the Slytherins who panicked and attempted to jinx you … and as it seems to me … pulverize you as well-' her eyes passed over the gaping gash on Mia's forehead and Alexannah's black eye before she continued – 'and you jinxed them back … and things continued in a such a fashion till Professor Kettleburn interrupted.'

'Well, yes-'

'Miss Umbridge, kindly learn to speak only when you are being addressed to,' Professor McGonagall stated frostily, staring down at her. 'Miss Bridger, if you please-'

'Yes, that is exactly was happened, Professor,' Mia said, looking straight into Professor McGonagall's emerald green eyes; she didn't even look remotely afraid.

'It was just … a bit of fun, Professor,' Cornelia insisted in a small voice, looking at the snowy floor, having no wish to be subjected to McGonagall's startling glower.

'Fun, right! How would you like it if I did that to you?' Dolores sneered spitefully, taking a step forward in Cornelia's direction.

'Oh! Why don't you just do it then, and we'll see, toad face.' Alexannah smirked with the same viciousness lining her voice as she glared contemptuously in Umbridge's direction, pulling her sleeves back in preparation for combat.

'You filthy blood-traitor! How dare you-' Dolores dove at Alexannah in one fierce leap (her flab, admittedly, rather ruined the effect) and then, flew back forcefully; her fall cushioned by an invisible pillow of air.

'The two of you clearly don't understand instructions,' McGonagall snapped severely, stowing her wand back into her robes as Mia pulled Alexannah behind her forcefully with a frantic shake of her head. 'And since the two of you seem bent on disobeying me, I propose you suggest what punishment you would like.'

Silence followed as McGonagall's shrewd judgement rung in their ears – the meaning of which filled their heads with a sense of impending doom, for whatever punishment they chose for the other, the same would go for them.

'You don't have much to say now, I see,' she voiced coolly but Professor Kettleburn's mellow brogue cut through the contiguous tension like a knife.

'Come now, Minerva, it's Christmas Eve, let them off for once…' she pleaded on their behalf, eyeing her comrade for hopeful signs of mercy.

'No, it's fine, Professor,' Mia interrupted, quite audaciously, looking straight up, once more, her hair a dishevelled nest of auburn. 'But I don't think the others should be punished … it was my idea after all,' she emphasized pointedly, surveying the effect this had on the Professors.

Professor Kettleburn flashed her a look of sudden bewilderment mixed with incredulity; she looked just like she had when Mia had transfigured the table; and then, turned to look at Professor McGonagall, whose face was, as usual, devoid of any humane expression.

Minerva was simply contemplating her options, unseeingly eyeing their anxious faces; surely such miscreants were unforgivable, though she had a reason to be rather grateful for their scuffle, else she would still be stuck trying to sort Horace's and Leto's squabbles. There was, of course, another reason …

She sighed, shook her head and then, declared the result of her contemplation to the apprehensive crowd before her, 'Well, I'll let you off for this time-' A collective intake of relieved breath followed the pronouncement '-but if this has anything to do with Christmas spirit, kindly sort yourselves before term ends.'

The Gryffindors stared, shocked for words and then, smiles broke through, shoulders unclenching as Alexannah and Cornelia hugged each other cheerfully, hardly daring to believe that Minerva McGonagall – the strictest teacher in Hogwarts had just let them go scot-free. The Slytherins were scowling malevolently; apparently, they would have preferred the Gryffindor head's previous offer, even if they would have had to be punished in the bargain.

Only Mia looked half-puzzled as she eyed the lithe figures of Professors McGonagall and Kettleburn vanish into a flurry of snow, heading back to the warm shelter of the castle and part of their conversation drifted into her keen ears.

'Remind you of someone, Minerva?' Professor Kettleburn's thoroughly amused voice came as quite a surprise to Mia, who slipped even further into the undergrowth to catch the rest of their conversation, leaving behind Professor Slughorn who was helping Charlie heal his sprained arm. However, the Hufflepuff head's amusement didn't not nearly surprise her as much as Professor McGonagall's half-indignant voice slithered into her ears.

'Shut up, Leto!'

Merlin, Mia thought admiringly, Professor Kettleburn must either be really, really, really brave or really, really, really foolish – no one in their right mind would tease Professor McGonagall otherwise. Going by the current situation, she was inclined to think that the Hufflepuff head was, maybe, more on the foolish side …

Blissfully ignorant of Mia's deep evaluations on her mental equipment, Professor Kettleburn continued to shamelessly needle her annoyed colleague, 'Ah, second year, Dumbledore caught us … ah, in a tight situation, let's say …'

'Leto!' McGonagall protested against her continuing on whatever had happened in their second year, rather half-heartedly, Mia thought, now positively brimming with curiosity as to the two teachers' pasts. She pushed aside the low branches of a leafless sycamore tree hurriedly and trailed the witches with her inquisitive gaze.

'Good old days, really … where was I … um, he let us off after a … ah, similar display of Gryffindorian courage … hmm, I heard Orion Black's ears were never the same again…' she continued in the same ha-I-get-to-pull-your-leg voice which she probably never got to use and McGonagall was obviously not enjoying.

'Oh, they were fine,' McGonagall snapped huffily at her bantering companion, abandoning all lackadaisical protests. Mia could well imagine McGonagall rolling her eyes, as, '…he looked like a rat, anyway … I thought it would enhance the look..' was added to her defensive assertions.

'Minerva!' Leto exclaimed in a mock-scandalized voice, punching her in the shoulder like a young teenager. 'Whatever would your students say if they heard…'

At this point, Mia had to literally stuff her fists in her mouth for the fear of exploding into violent fits of laughter; the mere idea of Professor McGonagall doing something illicit was a complete shock to her; though deeply amusing … well, maybe, McGonagall was a lot more humane than she looked, albeit, she could not help wondering what could change a person's life so drastically… Perhaps she thought, as she watched the two older witches disappear into the Entrance Hall, shaking with silent hilarity, age did change a lot … though the essence of childhood always remained, lingering and longing to be fondly remembered.

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A/N: Thanks for reading, don't forget to review, cause reviews = my life, lol! Update will be soon, I promise!