Only 19 chapters to this one but a lot packed in…

Chapter 1

The conspirators of what would largely comprise the fourth and fifth of Hogwarts in September were very pleased with their efforts of combining to get all their holiday assignments done before getting into the swing of holidays. And Gorbrin was delighted to get an owl bringing the results of the OWLs he took early – potions and transfigurations – and found he had an 'O' in both!

It had been decided that the week of hard work would culminate in the arrival of younger siblings due to start Hogwarts next term to be guests at this year's weddings launched from Malfoy Manor and stay on for what such old hands as Gorbrin and Erica called a 'weevil fest' where new weevils would meet each other and so not be total strangers on the train and in the school.

Erica and Gorbrin had both received prefects badges by owl too; and Gorbrin's package had two little tin badges in for he was also to be head of Quidditch in Slytherin House.

Mei Chang of Ravenclaw had been keen to continue the idea of playing a first and second seven to determine the House Quidditch Shield and he certainly meant to back that proposal as House Captain.

He grinned.

A substantial number of the team were actually his siblings, full or step; though the two who were coming up this year, Gennar his full brother and James, who was an adopted Malfoy cousin in actuality, were keen enough but not team material. Gennar was better at Hurley; and Gorbrin realised he had himself a high chance of being picked to be the school Hurley Captain for their first outside fixture against St Jodoc's.

He had needed to get a couple of OWLs out of the way!

The weddings of the year were Hawke Malfoy to Lynx Black-Weasley – their daughter having just turned a year old – and Senagra Konal to Romulus Snape.

The Snapes would be over in force now that Jade had birthed her baby – Gorbrin, now blood group, had helped out with her birth pangs and those of Willow Black, birthing at the same time and had been glad once again that he was born a boy – to support Romulus; and of course both Lynx and Senagra were Prowling Marauders like Jade and Fabian.

Gorbrin liked Fabian; he was practical and down to earth.

And the Snapes would also be bringing Severus' and Krait's first actual child, Lilith, to meet new weevils; she was a precocious child and the decision had been made to put her into school early to stretch her a little and keep her from boredom. Gorbrin thought Lilith more than capable of keeping up with the work; she was more than capable of holding a sensible academic conversation with even someone of his age. It could be disconcerting; but Lilith was an engaging child in between needing to have her ears boxed.

They were society weddings of course; anyone who was anyone attended, showing off their latest offspring if they had them and their best gowns and hats whether they had offspring or not, those nearer the fringes of society trying to be seen talking to anyone with a surname like Malfoy, Potter, Black, Longbottom or even Weasley; and half the people there had gatecrashed.

Madam Flyte-Johnston was one such.

She was an encroaching type for whom Narcissa had issued orders to the family elves that none of the Madams Malfoy would ever be at home, but she seemed to expect to be invited to a society wedding.

Gorbrin disliked her intensely; she was rude to his mother by simply ignoring her existence as though to 'put the jumped up goblin woman in her place'; and she behaved the same to Finn, of whom Gorbrin was very fond. He approached her.

"Madam Flyte-Johnston" he said coldly "You were NOT invited to this affair; I suggest you either leave of your own free will, or I will have you removed."

"Upon my word!" said Madam Flyte-Johnstone "VERY hoity-toity for a jumped up goblin brat!"

"Upon my word, how contumelious you are for one whose presence is not desired by my mothers or my father" said Gorbrin quietly. "Will you leave, or shall I have you dragged away? Dad laid on a couple of half-troll bouncers."

Madam Flyte-Johnstone flounced, muttered something about him being 'above himself' and took herself hastily off.

She believed the look on his face that said he would have her dragged or carried off the premises by half-troll bouncers; and the loss of face and dignity of that would be insupportable even for such a pillar of the community as she was!

She made Gorbrin shake with anger. He did not usually thrust being an adopted Malfoy down people's throats; but she made him want to drawl in his best Draco-like accents doing caddish to the extreme. And if he was above himself as the adopted son of a wonderful man like Lucius, what did that make the wife of a cauldron salesman? Had she been happy to admit the way her husband had become rich, been prepared to accept her origins she would not have been as offensive as she was, being more snobbish than the true gentry pretending a gentility she did not possess and never would if she studied for a hundred years.

There was more gentility in Eglantine Gregg, a part-goblin Madam of a high class escort house, who had worked her way up from being a floor girl in a casino; Eglantine was a very handsome woman and had exquisite manners; and the only reason she might not pass as a lady was her barely restrained east end intonations overlaid with an attempt to 'talk posh'. But Ernestine never pretended to be what she was not, though she did make claims for her girls, all 'naice refained lydies'. And Eglantine was a kind-hearted woman, not like many madams. And she was paying for the daughter of one of her 'naice refained lydies' to go to Hogwarts too, which decision had apparently been approved, supported, and contributed to by all the girls she ran, for the child was said to be rather bright. Gorbrin decided to let her be integrated by her own peer group before giving her too much attention; a fifth year was, after all, rather a scary big person to a new child of eleven.

Not that he was a scary person to a new child of not yet nine; he was well hugged by Lilith, who then salaamed and said

"Oh mighty and Lordly Prefect Person I, a humble weevil greet thy magnificence!"

Gorbrin laughed.

"And that's not going to stop me dropping an impot on you if you misbehave and I catch you at it!" he said.

"Just make it Kipling" said Lilith "Dad made me learn all of 'Modern Major General', Gilbert and Sullivan, you know, for sabotaging the Arithmancy NEWT class a little bit."

"I'm almost afraid to ask."

"Well, it WAS after the exams….. it was the ones that'll be taking NEWT this coming year; and Hermione had had to go off and give birth so she left them an equation; the one that the NEWT people had about the engulfing spell at the Gringott's bank."

"And you changed a term or two?"

Lilith grinned.

"Yes, I made it an equation for the flushing of Gringott's loo if you assumed an evananesco spell on the end" she said.

"You are a horrid brat" said Gorbrin amicably shuddering inwardly at how frighteningly intelligent Lilith was. She certainly DID need school; if only Hogwarts could survive having her!

Another set of guests who WERE invited were the two Grant boys who had been contenders for the Triwizard and their little sisters and parents; Jade had liked Miles Grant and had been impressed that his older brother had cheered him without any signs of jealousy when the Goblet of Fire chose the younger over the older. Such decent boys were worth cultivating, though Miles had decided to take his last year at Hellibore's, simply because he felt that there was little point disrupting his NEWTs for the year in Prince Peak, as well as feeling it perhaps disloyal; though he had taken Jade up on an offer to lend him some of her own class notes to try to improve his chances in the NEWTs he was taking; and both brothers planned to spend a year or so after finishing at Hellibore's at Prince Peak, for their parents had been so impressed by the level of knowledge Jade showed, and by what small Emily and Kate were already doing that they agreed to pay for the extra learning.

Miles' loyalty to the headmaster who let him down was commendable; and Severus would not try to talk him out of it. Hellibore was an old fool but he had seen much that had made him realise his deficiencies; and Severus hoped that he might covertly start to make some changes.

Especially if the Grant boys felt like returning to his academy to teach to a higher level than they had themselves been taught.

And their parents were delighted too that the boys had a chance to mix with the cream of society; even if they found the number of goblins with the surname 'Malfoy' a little disconcerting! Emily and Kate for two did not care; the younger ones had spoken of Quidditch after the wedding, and that was both girls' ruling passion!

The weddings went splendidly; Lynx had Veronica Crouch, who was being raised by her parents, as a bridesmaid and Hawke's four little sisters. Abraxus was his twin's best man; and Myrtle kept tight hold of small Leona Pardis, who was the same age as her twins. Mary, their older sister, was too young at two to appreciate the idea of being a flower girl and was busy chasing Lucius' pure white peacocks with the intention of hugging them. As most people fled from their hissing aggression the poor creatures were lying low and Mary had to seek diversion helping her cousin Ellen Green to get well covered in mud.

Senagra had her own sister to be her bridesmaid and Lydia, Lilith and small Draxana Snape, with Jade acting as Matron of Honour to both brides, her own new son proudly carried by his father who was meeting with many of the English bloodgroup for the first time.

Erich was holding the fort in Austria, ready to call in aid if Odessa actually managed to get themselves together to try anything; though it was felt after the losses they had sustained with the last abortive strikes that this was unlikely. Erich disliked public functions in any case; and preferred to stay away, as well as not wishing any photos of himself to be shown in case the name 'Von Strang' got mentioned, since Jade was to use the name under cover in Durmstrang, using the fact that she was ahead of her chronological age to go for a final year there and see what she could find about recruiting methods; and try to get recruited.

Lilith thought her sister very brave and very noble to leave dear little Ralph Erich, even if he did still look a bit like a pickled plum. Jade and Wulf were very good at doing self contained; unlike Lydia who was having trouble peeling herself off Viktor Krumm.

Not that he seemed to mind.

Grown ups were icky.

Lilith liked the way Jade and Wulf never were icky in front of people; but then Jade was her SPECIAL sister. Jade had been there for her right from the first. And Jade was going into danger; and all Lilith could do was to feed her power through the blood link.

And that she could do and do well.

And she would also be a Marauder and be like Jade – and Lydia – and like Romulus too in his days at school, a New Marauder with Hawke and Abraxus and Kinat. Kinat was Rom's best man; the bride's brother. And that was suitable too. It was an all Marauder thing.

All that was left to do to make the wedding go with a real swing was to drop a few jinxes on the stuffier guests and watch their farts fluoresce or stealthily grow them asses' ears or turn their robes and their robes only invisible. A tricky piece of transfiguration and well worth practising; more skilled than using one of Garjala's automatic robe rollers.

It was what weddings were FOR, practising curses and jinxes after all.

Once the wedding was over Lilith sought out Venus Nightingale; the protégé of Eglantine Gregg.

"Hello" said Lilith "Are you Venus? Cousin Albertine wrote to daddy about you in case any of us were going to be up at the same time as you so we could see if we wanted to be friends."

"Yes, I'm Venus" said Venus "Miss Gregg is very kind."

Her tone was wary; a whore's child at a society wedding, she felt rather out of place, despite the presence of such other people from Obscura Alley like Kazrael gan Tokar here with her older brother and sister, and Michelle Makepeace, the half elf daughter of one of the women who ran the crèche-kindergarten. Michelle was a rather hard-faced girl, determined to use the opportunity of being sponsored to get out from under and shake poverty and the memory of slavery off her feet for good. And the other part goblin, now named Maia Pleiades, had stayed with them for a while in Madam Eglantine's protection, at which time she was known as 'ugly'; but she and others in her situation lived in the Hogwarts orphanage under the exalted protection and patronage of the Noble Black family; and whilst she was more unbending than Michelle, Venus did not feel her exactly a kindred spirit. And she did not quite see what reason this rather posh looking child should have for wanting to be friendly; even if she was some familial connection to Madam Eglantine's daughter.

Lilith smiled cheerily.

"Oh cousin Albertine's a hop out o' kin as you might say, 'cos she's indifferent to potioneering; but she said you were interested, and so one of us might like to get to know you on a mutual interest basis; 'cos it's inborn in most of the Prince line and us Snapes are Princes. And Daddy's the best potioneer ever."

"Oh. Yes, it does fascinate me" said Venus "Madam Eglantine lets me help her brew up cures and things; she says I have a light touch."

"Oh that's excellent!" said Lilith "If you want to be a pre-eminent potioneer of course you'll want to study Arithmancy; and taking an interest in Herbology's a pretty good idea, and chanting can help too. Now Tony Queach has finished his studies at Prince Peak he'll teach chanting full time at Hogwarts so we can have it as a proper class which is pretty good. And he's going to be Professor Queach and I'll have to remember that; like Uncle Sirius being Professor Black."

"I – that must be hard, being related to a professor or knowing one from outside school."

"Not so hard as if I'd stayed at Prince Peak with the headmaster being my dad, and mummy teaching and my brother and lots of people I've known forever" said Lilith.

"I guess if you got into trouble he'd have to punish you harder so you weren't called teacher's pet" said Venus shrewdly.

"EXACTLY!" said Lilith "And what's worse, because he knows me he'd be SURE to guess if it was me and what I was up to if I was being in trouble. And I plan to get into trouble; it's one of the points of going to school, so long as the work gets done too."

"I get into trouble lots" said Venus gloomily "I ask questions people don't like to think about the answers of but I never MEAN to cause trouble."

Lilith grinned.

"You too? They have some odd taboos do grownups. I've got to look out for someone else as well, for David Fraser – he's dad's ward as well as a teacher at Prince Peak – and he was at school with a girl called Lysistrata Attercop, which is almost as bad as Nymphadora Tonks, and her parents died when she was little and her big brother brought her up and her oldest niece is just starting. And she's called Lycidice which is almost as bad."

"Gosh! Some people do have the WEIRDEST names."

"Yes; like Sirius. All the Black family – well most of them – are named after stars. He's named for the dog star and he's a dog animagus too."

"That must be awfully odd, to be an animal some of the time."

"I don't know; I'm a snake animagus you see, so I think of it as quite normal."

"Didn't it feel odd at first though?"

"Well, I'm a bit peculiar because I was born an animagus, 'cos it was in the Voldemort years and mummy had to spend time as a snake when she was pregnant to fight and so it's sort of just natural. I used to give her conniptions changing and wriggling out of my nappy."

Venus giggled.

"A snake with a nappy does seem rather silly."

"Yes; nothing to tie it to. And when I was a terrible toddler I used to coil up and sulk snakily. Snakes sulk well; it's a cold sort of feeling."

"You feel cold?"

"Not physically – well, not if the surroundings aren't cold; but your emotions are sort of …..not. You're logical and not emotional. It can be disturbing; but it can also be useful to think things through without being clouded by feelings" Lilith explained.

"I don't think I'd like that."

"No; and any kind of animagus isn't what everyone might choose, let alone snake. I like snake; I'm descended from Salazar Slytherin you see and I'm hoping to be in Slytherin House. Had you picked?"

"No: I don't know enough" said Venus.

"The advantage of older siblings" said Lilith "I say, you need to know that lots of my older siblings are adopted. Actually, ALL my older siblings are adopted, like Jade who was Matron of Honour to the brides, and Lydia, who'll be in the sixth who was eating Viktor Krumm's face, and Mimi who's a full blood elf. Lydia and Mimi are the only ones in Hogwarts right now. Seaghsron is in the last year at Prince Peak because it was a ladies' academy and Daddy wanted some boys to leaven his lump of females. Jade went too to help lick them into shape; she's left now. SHE's co-winner of the Triwizard; my sister's really, really special!" said Lilith proudly.

"Oh! You must be awfully proud of her!" said Venus, rather hoping that the sister of so famous and wonderful a witch would like to be friends with her. "And she went together with the Hogwarts Champion; do you think they'll get married?"

"Jade and Lionel? Not hardly!" said Lilith "Jade's married to Wulf Luytens; they have a baby. She got married at Yule in the holidays and did the second two tasks being pregnant; ain't a man alive could cope with that! Besides, Lionel has three girlfriends already; he's a secondhand Malfoy. My dad has three wives; it works well enough so long as they all get on but when I pick a husband I'm going to keep him for myself. If I ever marry; which I might not. Grown ups are SOOO soppy!"

"Oh" said Venus, put to rights forcibly. "I say, did you know that my mother is a high class scarlet woman? 'cos if you didn't I'd rather you got being shocked over now before someone thinks it their duty to tell you."

"Well I sort of assumed, 'cos Auntie Eglantine's a Madam" said Lilith who was somewhat better informed on the subject than either of her parents realised. Lilith was an expert on overhearing conversations of her elders that were not intended for little pitchers. "I shouldn't think it would be a very fun job, but I guess there are compensations like going to parties with men and meeting interesting people there, 'cept you're probably not supposed to jinx the boring ones. I think people make an awful lot of fuss about scarlet women; the ones that are treated bad and left with babies didn't ask to be, and if the only job they can get is kissing toads that's pretty not nice to have to do without people making nasty comments. And secondary wives ought to be treated just like that. Like Uncle Lucius' wives and Daddy's and Lionel's. And Garjala's two husbands. And nobody calls Fred and George scarlet men for being shared so it's unfair. Anyway, that's irrelevant; let's go look for Lycidice. I guess we do that by process of elimination; I know Michelle Makepeace, and wish I didn't, and Maia, and Drusilla MacMillan who's a cousin of us Malfoy types, and I've heard about Mohini and Jayashree from Bella and they're Indian anyhow and it's a bit obvious and Roxanne Shacklebolt is black like Kingsley so that leaves those three to guess at"

She pointed them out and dragged Venus with her to find out who was who by explaining that David Fraser had asked her to look out for Lycidice Attercop and who was she.

"That's me" said a pale girl with a cloud of dark hair and blue eyes.

"Oh good" said Lilith "We DO make a striking group with Venus so blonde and pretty and me as red as a Weasley. Do you like potioneering?"

Lycidice shuddered.

"I don't think I do" she said. "I – actually, did Aunt Lyssi's friend warn you, I'm nearly a squib?"

"Gosh, what awfully hard lines!" said Lilith "Well, if you're in need of the extra help you'll be sorted to Rowan House with the Muggle siblings and learn as much as you can; and if you can do enough to be sorted into Hogwarts proper, well, the rest of us will help out, you know! I guess" she added "If the Sorting Hat is equivocal, you'd get more education in Rowan; but I think you'd have more fun at Hogwarts if you're not to proud to ask for help. For what it's worth" she added.

"I want to be part of the MSHG" said Lycidice.

Lilith spent time explaining this to Venus; and introduced them firmly to Gennar and James to whom she referred as 'chalk and cheese'. "You could see James with a long white beard sat at a bench of the wizgamot asking picky questions on a point of law to make sure of being fair; and Gennar being the dashing auror who's got his man because he can't keep his nose out of trouble" she said. James smiled.

"I'm no Marauder" he said in his gentle voice. "So don't try to make me Maraud, Lilith Snape; I've already made a good friend in Heath Barbary as well as getting on with Paris Bullivant; and we shall be sedate while whirlwinds like you cause mayhem around us."

"And as a triangle is a stable shape you'll probably not let us blow you over" grinned Lilith. "Gennar, you and Kazrael will surely Maraud?"

"Rather!" said Gennar.

This involved an explanation of Marauding to Venus and Lycidice, leaving out such details as blooding of course.

Lycidice laughed.

"I think I'd rather be an ally to Marauders than Maraud myself!" she said.

"As it's to fight evil and make things fair I think I'm in" said Venus.

"Great; four of us before we even get to Diagon Alley!" said Lilith happily.

"And me like poor Fabian the only boy" grumbled Gennar.

"Oh well, maybe we'll find another" said Lilith airily. "I can't help your bigotry against our sex" leaving poor Gennar spluttering to have his regret at being outnumbered by girls turned into an accusation of chauvinism.

The adults had been enjoying the wedding too; apart from Potentilla Greengrasse Bullivant who had run into Severus and was being reminded less than kindly of some of her childish Faux Pas when she was stupid enough to emote over how he could bear to part with his precious darling at so young an age, and how hard she found it to give up her darling baby. Potentilla had tried to interfere in Crocosmia's life by demanding that she be given every consideration and Severus had no time for silly women. He appreciated that she had written to the head over consideration for Pericles and Solon, both of whom had blood disorders – now fortunately fully treated by the healers of St Mungo's – but as both Crocosmia and this latest Bullivant offering, Paris, were rudely healthy she had no business fussing about him – or about the children of others and so he told her bluntly.

As her 'darling baby' had been enticed into a scratch game of quidditch and was busy trying to maim Gorbrin with a bludger any arguments about his delicacy DID fall rather flat. Emily and Kate Grant too were predictably in the thick of it and discovering the difference it made to be a part of a school with several houses and a year-long competitive drive; and were both planning to talk to Seagh Snape about raising the game of the Prince Peak first and second sevens!

Molly Weasley was in her element. Bill and Fleur had presented her with another grandchild – 'at LAST' in February and small Flora, the Anglicised version of Fleur, was old enough to be engaging. Hermione too, having waited so long to start motherhood had produced her second child, Sirius Harry, just as the Triwizard was about to be completed; and Garjala was visibly pregnant by Fred [or George]. Ginny had last year had twin girls, whom she duly named Frederica and Georgina and threatened to inflict another Fred and George thereby on Hogwarts in due course. This gave her four daughters in total and Molly was delighted at the idea of having four granddaughters having only ever had one daughter and she as much a boy as the rest, as she often mourned.

George [or Fred] joked that at least the year at Hogwarts taking those surnamed Weasley would have more Weasleys than Malfoys for a change; since he calculated that the year before they went up would have seven kids with the surname Malfoy and the Green twins whose mother was a Malfoy into the bargain and Pris Lockhart's and Prince Victor's daughter who was also of Malfoy descent; and that therefore a Fred and George were NEEDED in such a year, even if only surnamed Potter and only girls.

Ginny had hit him.

She was pregnant again and took full and unfair advantage over him not being able to hit her back!

She was not the only one; two of Severus' wives were expecting too, Sirri looking very pregnant and scandalising the stuffier of the guests and Dione, showing less for being due a whole month later. Ellie too was pregnant for the second time, and David was very protective of her.

The Prince Peak contingent had risked coming to the wedding to catch up with everyone on the principle that there were plenty of watchers now at the school in the persons of free elves, goblins and ex-werewolves who would send for them at need; and Severus estimated that Gerhardt needed time to regroup before he even considered anything else after the debacle of his attacks during the Triwizard.

Lucius enjoyed his parties; whether for adults with all the organisation of a wedding that Narcissa was so good at, and the chance to fuel arguments with the odd throwaway comment; or the children's parties where hopefully alliances might be made that would then transcend house boundaries and erode all the old rivalries and distrusts that had isolated the likes of him and given Tom Riddle his chance to recruit.

Lucius had every intention of doing all he might to prevent another Tom Riddle ever rising again. And he was glad that Jade had taken it on to herself to sniff around Durmstrang to make sure the Odessa were not about to export their blood snob ideals to Britain by more subtle means than had been used to date.

Lucius had learned a lesson about blood snobbery; it was futile, inefficient and really rather childishly stupid. He held that the only blood snobbery that counted was pride in family; and as that was a state of mind as much as blood line the family had to continue to do things to be proud of to enable that pride in descendants. And he was proud of all his children; those he had sired, those who were adopted kin, and those who were his step children. Like Gorbrin; the boy had not only taken two OWLs early but had taken 'O' grades in them! Lucius personally and privately believed that Gorbrin was capable of having taken the lot a year early and achieved 'O' in most if not all; but he respected the boy's caution as well as his ability. He adored all his children; but Gorbrin was one for whom he had a special place in his heart, for Gorbrin was a lad who showed signs of growing into a man who made things happen. Having the Malfoy name to wave helped to make things happen it was true; but not all his children were capable of waving it so efficiently.

And his leadership qualities were recognised in being one of the two prefects in the Fifth; and that he was a goblin was no longer reason to hesitate over that for Dumbledore. Lucius had high hopes of Gorbrin being Head of Slytherin House one day; maybe even elected Head Boy like Draco, the first ever goblin Head Boy. He would be no less proud of the lad if Dumbledore did not make him House Head in due course; but he dreamed dreams for Gorbrin that perhaps the boy did not dare to dream for himself.

Gorbrin himself had been talked into showing Lilith the things he and Erica were making in their Magical Metalworking class.

"Cool" said Lilith "Is it true that you can make metal change size as well? Lydia was saying something about it but we've been rather busy."

"Yes, there's a formula for how much size change you can enchant in" said Gorbrin.

"Oh a – a coefficient of magical expansion?" said Lilith.

Gorbrin laughed.

"Pest that you are, proto-weevil, that's the precise term; are you SURE you haven't been reading Lydia's notes?"

"It seemed logical" said Lilith "No I haven't, but I shall. I was going to suggest it'd be handy to make an innocuous looking knife that turned into a dirty great sword for whacking dark wizards with."

"That is rather a good idea" admitted Gorbrin "May I steal it for one of my finished items?"

"Do" said Lilith "It'll be a few years before they let me do it so it might as well be done and on hand. I guess you're going to build jewellery with the shield charm in for your other piece?"

"Am I so predictable?"

"Of course you are cousin Gorbrin" said Lilith "Boys always are. Malfoys always are. You're a boy AND a Malfoy so that makes you doubly predictable; at least to a girl who's also a Malfoy part time."

Gorbrin laughed. Lilith was a complex little thing who sometimes had a quaint way of putting things.

"Pity you'll be too young for the next Triwizard and too old for the one after" he said.

Lilith's violet eyes glowed with luminous fire.

"You want to lay money on me not getting into the next one?" she demanded.

Gorbrin pulled a face.

"Actually, no" he said. "Stupid comment; consider me suitable chastised…Ow! Oh! EE!" he added pretending to belabour himself about the head. Lilith hugged him.

"You and Draco are born clowns at times" she said. "Is he your special brother like Jade is my special sister?"

"Well he's my only BIG brother" said Gorbrin "Yes, in some ways I suppose he is; and Ian because I understand him; and Cosmo, because. And all of them because. It's good to be part of a big family; YOU know."

Lilith nodded.

"Because love has a strange Arithmancy; the more you divide it the more it multiplies" she said solemnly. "I'm glad you're well hard, Gorbrin; you're one of my favourite cousins because you understand the subtlety of Potioneering, and I expect when you marry Meliandra some stupid people will try to kill you."

Gorbrin blinked. Sometimes Lilith came out with the most profound and adult things. It was good that she was going to Hogwarts; she needed to be stretched to keep her out of mischief but she also needed to associate with ordinary children who weren't the high genius level half at least of her siblings seemed to be.

Gorbrin was totally unaware that he was logged by Professor Dumbledore as 'high stable genius' himself and was expected to take exceptional grades all through his course and have a bright future ahead in his chosen career as Auror.

Associating with Marauders – who tended to be the brightest and the best – was inclined to give a false view of what an average achievement or even an average child was. And Marauders too and their friends and associates spurred each other on.

Even as Gorbrin and friends had helped Albert MacMillan to achieve far more than his parents could have believed for a near squib; and he was on track to pass six or seven OWLs, which was as many as his sister Camellia had achieved; and moreover he planned to take at least three NEWTs. As Camellia had achieved two he had not yet mentioned this to his parents; but as one of them was Arithmancy that required no magical talent only brains – which Albert did not lack – he felt easy about following up his talent in dowsing with Divination as well and was torn between Potioneering – which he enjoyed and was actually fairly competent at – Geomancy, which would give him a job, with the dowsing, as a finder in the Auror's office and metalwork, for which he had also developed a talent. Sense told Albert to go with Geomancy: ambition and the knowledge that his friends would keep him from flagging led him to consider all five in the quiet moments of his soul.

But sense also told him to slog through this OWL year and make a decision after he got his results.

He told himself 'I'll take to NEWT anything I get 'E' in' and left it at that.

It was the holidays now; and the self-help class got a chance to play and have fun tramping, camping and getting tired and dirty in glorious play at Malfoy Manor for several days before returning home and remembering – some of them – that they were on the verge of taking OWLs.

The younger group, Bella and cohorts were too busy bemoaning that they would be fourth years and would have to go to the ball; and Bella was having a small private war with Narcissa – such as sisters do – over the advisability or otherwise of Bella having a ball gown of orange and black stripes. As Narcissa said, sometimes admiring tigers could be taken TOO far and that stripes looked good on tigers but not on ball gowns.

Bella was working up to a compromise of a gown in a glorious tiger orange which would look magnificent with her lustrous black hair but that Narcissa would have vetoed had she opened her bargaining with such; whereas several weeks in the holidays before going to Diagon Alley regretting tiger stripes should wear her older sister down to a point that she'd be prepared to accept almost any compromise.

Bella usually accepted Narcissa's strictures; and as such her rare manipulations of her sister worked all the better.