Harry Crow

Disclaimer: Since I'm not the owner of these characters, I may do things with them that you don't like or agree with. Sorry in advance but that's the nature of fan fiction. To do otherwise kind of defeats the purpose of fan fiction, and copying JKR word for word would certainly see a lawsuit heading in my direction.

Chapter 50

Neville was taking a good natured ribbing from the Weasley twins. "Surely you can tell us now, we're on our way there..."

"We hate surprises, Neville, unless it's us that's supplying them."

"Sorry guys, I told you I can't help. The three of them were arranging it all, Padma wanted it to be a surprise for me too!"

"You were serious about that? We thought you were pulling our leg..."

"What do Harry and Padma know about Christmas, they've only celebrated it once!"

"These are the people you let organise our Christmas Party, I'm really disappointed in you, Neville."

"Fred, it may have escaped your notice, but this party is for the first years. You're both invited along to help out."

"We know, and we will..."

"It's just that we never get invited anywhere..."

"...and we intend to make the most of it!"

The rest of the first year Gryffindors were following on behind, and of course listening to every word. Ginny couldn't help but interrupt. "Is it any wonder you two don't get invited anywhere? This is my first Christmas party and if you spoil it with any of your pranks, you'll both be sorry."

"You don't need to worry, Ginny, we'll be on our best behaviour."

"Yeah, Hermione's already passed out that warning. No offence, sis, she's a lot scarier than you."

They reached the doors and found they were the first to arrive, apart from the Ravenclaw trio of course who had set the room up.

Neville led them in and then stopped dead in his tracks, leading to a lot of pushing behind him. The Gryffindors were soon all inside, and all now standing there with wide eyes and open mouths.

Padma nervously approached them, she was watching for Neville's reaction. "Welcome to the party - what do you think of our idea?"

Neville was having trouble getting his mouth to work, it was as if his eyes had commandeered all his brain power to absorb the wondrous sight that currently greeted him.

Two sides of the 'room' had tables along their edge, tables that would hold about six people each. The seating / eating area was separated from the rest of the room by a railing, a railing that had a gap to be used as an entrance. Going through that entrance would lead you onto an ice rink. Harry and Hermione were currently skating around the massive fully decorated Christmas tree that commanded the centre of the rink. There was music playing and snow gently falling as the laughing couple sped toward them, stopping at the railing.

"Well, what do they think?"

"I don't know, Harry, they haven't said a word yet."

Ginny was almost hyperventilating as she tried to answer for the shocked Gryffindors. "A couple of years ago our pond froze enough to let us try skating, it was nothing like this though - this is simply beautiful!"

It was then Neville got his mouth to work, though his brain still hadn't quite caught up yet. "I can't skate - I mean, I've never tried to skate."

This saw Padma smile. "That's why there's a railing around the entire rink, or you could always hold onto me? Oh, and there's a cushioning charm on the ice, we didn't want anyone getting hurt. There are sets of skates at every table, the room will resize them to fit. The idea was to do some skating and then stop for food - followed by more skating..."

At that, the Ravenclaws arrived and Luna emitted a squeal of delight. "I absolutely love skating! Oh, this is just amazing - where are the skates?"

That started a rush to the tables. When falling on your bum didn't hurt, everyone was determined to give ice skating a try. Colin of course had his camera and was soon busy taking pictures - his family would never believe this. The tables and chairs appeared to be made out of ice, yet were warm to the touch. The snow falling on the rink was also amazing, since it didn't build up and appeared to just be absorbed into the ice. The other two houses had now arrived and the room, or should that be ice cavern, rang with the sound of excited laughter.

The rink was filling up fast with skaters moving in a clockwise direction around the sparkling tree to avoid collisions. There were all levels of skating on display, from a few too nervous to leave the security of the railing to those performing spins and turns. Jake, a muggle born Hufflepuff was clearly a very good skater and was soon trying to teach some of the others the tricks he could do.

Henrica had taken one glance at the room, and headed straight back out. She returned with all four heads of house and Augusta. "Well, was it worth leaving dinner to see this?"

Filius was practically bouncing with excitement. "Oh, this is wonderful. Do you think they would allow me to join in?"

This had Henrica laughing. "Filius, I'm sure they would love for you to join them." As he shot off to find a pair of skates, Henrica spoke to the remaining staff. "The minute I saw this, I thought it was far too good to just be used for one night. If we could get some staff volunteers, we could open this every evening until they head home for the holidays."

Minerva thought that was a fantastic idea but wanted to add to it. "What if we made each evening for a specific year group? Watching all the first years mix together is something I'll never tire of looking at. We could probably easily do the same thing for the second years tomorrow, third on Thursday, fourth Friday. If we give fifth Saturday, we can have sixth and seventh on Sunday. Will Harry need to be here to open the room?"

There discussion was interrupted by loud cheering coming from the rink, the students were all clapping and shouting as Filius happily sped around the Christmas tree too.

"Yes, but after people were inside, he could leave. The room will disappear as the last person exits." At that, they were joined by a glowing Harry and Hermione, both of whom were clearly having a great time.

"Good evening, Professors, what do you think of our party? Emma and Dan took the three of us skating in London last Christmas and we loved it - and are planning to take everyone there again this Christmas. Won't you join us? We're just about to eat."

Minerva was delighted, glimpsing a side of Harry she'd never seen before. Here was a young man just enjoying skating with his girlfriend, the serious student who was Centurion Crow was nowhere in sight. "Centurion, we would love to..."

They had barely moved to the nearest table when 'food and drink' appeared. Hermione was bursting to explain their choices. "We wanted to offer something different, so my mum had Dobby bring a selection of party foods to the kitchen. These are the ones the Hogwarts elves could produce."

There were platters of all different foods on the table, from pork pies and sausage rolls to pizza and nachos with a melted cheese dip. There were also jugs of hot chocolate, butter beer and goblin ale to choose from. As the skaters began making their way to the tables, Henrica, Sprout and Slughorn began mingling with the excited students. Augusta and Minerva sat with Harry and Hermione, soon being joined by Neville and Padma - both of whom were just as excited as their best friends.

"Nachos and goblin ale - you three really know how to throw a party!"

"You've had these before, Neville?"

"Oh yes, gran - I mean..."

"It's okay, Neville, this is a party so 'gran' is appropriate."

"Thanks, gran, I first had nachos in Florida - not with goblin ale though."

Minerva then put forward Henrica's idea, and got a very enthusiastic response. "You mean we could do this again tomorrow? Harry, say yes!"

"Hey, Patil, save passing out the orders for your own boyfriend. Harry, say yes!"

"Won't it interfere with our studies, Hermione?" It took a moment for the other three to realise that their legs were being pulled. "Professor McGonagall, I would be delighted to let the rest of Hogwarts try this. Do you want to keep the food part too? I don't know if we could get enough ale for the whole of Hogwarts though."

Since Minerva had just tried her first slice of pizza, she was keen for the rest of the school to sample these different things too. She avoided the hot dogs though, purely on the basis of their name. "That would be excellent, Centurion. I think we can pencil Professor Flitwick in to be here every night."

This had the three Ravenclaws chuckling at their head of house, he was clearly enjoying himself on the ice. "If you'll excuse us, I think we should join him. Are you ready, Hermione?"

Both left, and were soon followed by their two friends, leaving Minerva and Augusta sitting watching their students having a great time. "It really does this old heart of mine the world of good to see Harry behaving in a manner that would be considered normal for someone his age."

"Minerva, I holidayed with them over the summer and know exactly what you mean. Harry and Hermione would run for miles every morning, then start practicing with those swords of theirs. Neville and Padma would join in when they were practicing magical duelling, their concentration levels were frightening for ones so young. Then they would dive into the sea and four kids would suddenly take their place. As you can see, they do know how to relax and have fun. Put yourself down for tomorrow night and you'll see them even more relaxed. This is still Crow's Marauders in here, and they're still watching closely to make sure everyone is having a good time..."

They were joined by the rest of the staff present as all the students were once more making their way back onto the ice, though the head of Ravnclaw would appear to have had enough - for now. A flushed Filius quickly downed a mug of goblin ale before releasing a sigh of contentment. "I haven't had as much fun in years, nor connected as well with my students. Albus' standoffish policy seems to have filtered down through all of us too, and for that I'm ashamed. He hid himself away behind that gargoyle and lost contact with the real world. Look at those faces, that's as real as it gets - they'll remember this evening long after they've forgotten who taught them how to charm things to float. This is what their Hogwarts experience should be about, creating lasting memories and friendships - not students fighting basilisks or trolls."

Filius got no argument from the rest of the staff, they were all too busy watching the first years having the time of their lives. No student was left on their own, hands were offered and accepted with no thought to houses, blood status or even gender - they were too busy having fun.

-oOoOo-

Amelia was also having fun, it wasn't every day you got to shock a goblin into silence. Wearing her broach to Gringotts had once more seen her politely and quickly escorted to Barchoke's office. Understanding the goblin custom of getting right down to business, she had explained her idea to reward his son - leaving the goblin shocked and speechless.

Finally getting his act together, the emotion was clearly decipherable in Barchoke's response. "Amelia, this is a boon we certainly never expected. Hoped for, yes - in the coming decades perhaps... Forgive me, please, but would you consent to meeting the director to pass on this news? I give you my promise here and now that I will do everything possible to turn your idea into a reality. Like you, though, I need to take this higher. To be honest, the director would suspect I'd grown too fond of grog if I took this to him by myself."

Barchoke certainly understood the risk he was taking here. Arriving at the Director's office for a meeting that wasn't prearranged was always a risky business, arriving there with Amelia in tow was tantamount to Barchoke taking his life in his hands. Amelia would be the first ministry official ever to set foot in the Director's office, Barchoke thought the potential gains here were certainly worth the risks.

If Amelia didn't already know how unusual this situation was, the shocked glances from all the goblins they met walking to the Director's office were certainly clues the former auror couldn't miss. With a minimal wait, they were both shown into the opulent office where, after a polite but short greeting, Amelia told Ragnok why she was here.

Even knowing this must be a matter of great importance, otherwise Barchoke would never have dared bring this witch to his office, Ragnok was still shocked at what they were being offered here. Unlike his subordinate though, the goblin leader was determined to get to the bottom of why this offer was being made.

Amelia was actually embarrassed to admit that, due to prejudice in the Wizengamot Chamber, they didn't know if they could reward all the Heroes of Hogwarts equally. She was not prepared for the reaction this caused, a clearly angry goblin leader turned his ire onto Barchoke. In switching to their own language, she also had no idea what was being said - the tone Ragnok used though didn't leave much to the imagination. A bollocking was the same in any language.

""They disrespect your daughter yet you rush in here, flushed and excited like a virgin bride on her wedding night! Do you expect us just to smile as we are shafted by those pureblood morons at the ministry? Surely this witch must have anticipated our reaction? They can't be that stupid - or do they think we are the stupid ones?""

Barchoke had lost all of his excitement, offering an apology and explanation to his leader. ""Your pardon, Director, I was so taken by the implications of the offer that I never looked at the reason behind it. Amelia here is unaware that Hermione is my daughter, I have kept that information away from her to protect her position at the ministry...""

""That was a mistake - this witch should be considered an asset, and a friend.""

Ragnok was once more under control as he spoke to Amelia - in English. "My apologies, Madam Bones. Both for my rudeness in speaking a language you don't understand and assuming you already possessed certain information - information that would explain my outburst. The ministry sees Miss Granger as a muggle born witch, we see her as a child of our nation. You were present the day I awarded her the status of goblin friend, that was before she blood bonded with a certain centurion we all know. She is Harry's mate, therefore a daughter of our nation - and a heroine too! Treating her disrespectfully because of her circumstances would be perceived as an insult by the goblin nation."

It was now Amelia's turn to be shocked. "Blood bonded - so young! Can I ask if this is a goblin tradition?"

"Blood bonding, yes - becoming bonded so young though is certainly not. Them doing so was as big a shock to us as I can see it is to you. Barchoke will gladly show you the memory to explain the circumstances surrounding this unusual occurrence. As you can see, this adds further layers of complexity to a problem that was already far from simple."

Shrugging off her shock, Amelia tried to deal with the situation she now found herself in. "I would like to offer my apologies for any implied slur on Miss Granger, that was certainly never my, or the Minister's intention. Our whole plan to defer attention away from her blood status would still seem like our best option for pushing ahead with what we all would like to achieve from this... I hesitate to use the word 'mess' but this could easily turn into a disaster for all of us."

This drew an answering nod of acceptance from Ragnok. "The ministry offer is a very good one, and I respect the reasons behind it. Our nation too suffers from its quota of bigots, bigots who were put in their place by Miss Granger's heroic efforts - alongside those of her mate and friends. That young couple are becoming more and more the focus of both our societies, finding a way for them to coexist between us could become one of our greatest challenges. We should never forget the couple also have a third option, the pull from the muggle world is certainly a strong one - and that would be a disaster for all of us. We are certainly prepared to work with our friends at the ministry to plot a course that is suitable for all of us, especially the young couple in question."

This saw Amelia relax slightly, the minister would be pleased to know the goblins had the exact same concerns as them. "Director, that is a goal I am happy to work toward. Can I ask if Harry and Hermione's status could become public knowledge? From what you said, am I to understand that this knowledge is known amongst your nation?"

"That fact is certainly well known inside Gringotts. Whether it gets released further than that would be a family matter, something that would need to be discussed between Barchoke and everyone else involved. Do you think releasing that news would help this case?"

"I think so. Blood bonding is an old magical tradition that fell out of favour when the pure blood movement gained preference. Matrimonial matches became more about protecting the bloodlines and joining families than whether the couple were suitable to be married to each other. Having witnessed Harry and Hermione together on many occasions, can I assume they have a strong bond?"

This had Ragnok laughing, and allowed Barchoke to enter the discussion once more. He couldn't believe the foolish error he'd made and needed to recover swiftly. "Amelia, it's the strongest bond anyone here has ever seen. Full body, with an aura that turned golden. Our society moved in the opposite direction to yours, marriage is sacred to us so a strong blood bond is vital. I'll let you see the memory of their bonding later, and try to explain why I didn't tell you. I would need to discuss the possibility of releasing this with both of them, and the Grangers."

That was fair enough, she then floated the idea of a Gringotts branch opening in Hogsmeade - it was well received.

"If the law was changed to allow goblins to live at the branch - that would certainly be something we would like to move forward with. It should also encourage more businesses into the village, possibly even rivalling Diagon Alley someday as a commercial centre."

With all three people in the room realising they basically wanted the same things to happen, the barriers came down and ideas were being put forward on the best way to achieve their common goals. All thought it was a very productive meeting, it was now time to start the negotiating process - officially.

-oOoOo-

Sirius needed all his Gryffindor courage for what he was planning here. All he had to do though was think of the woman who would soon become his wife and he knew this had to be done - however awkward it might prove.

The warming charms on his thickest cloak were struggling to cope with the severe cold, his time at Hogwarts hadn't really prepared him for weather this cruel. He thought Henrica was joking when she told him the sea would freeze over for a couple of months every year in Lulea, he was beginning to believe her - as well as being thankful that they were a month or so away from experiencing that phenomenon.

He had found the house he was searching for without too much trouble, Sirius couldn't remember if he'd ever been inside a house totally made of wood before. The door was soon answered by a blond colossus of a man that looked as if he would give Hagrid a run for his money in an arm wrestling contest. "Hello sir, I'm Sirius Black. Would you happen to be Mr Hobson?"

"Sirius Black! In the name of Thor, what possessed you to go out dressed like that? This isn't London, we're just below the Arctic Circle here - get yourself in man, before you freeze in your fancy britches."

Sirius was hustled into the hall, the homely warmth seeping into his bones within seconds. The house may be wooden but the welcome was certainly gregarious and genuine. "Forget this Mr Hobson rubbish, I'm Lukas." Sirius shook the massive hand that was offered, thankful it didn't crush his fingers. "Let me take that cloak and then we can go through and meet the missus. Moa, we have a visitor - all the way from London too."

He found himself being led into a room that just made you want to kick off your shoes, sit by the fire and never leave - this effect had nothing to do with the stunningly beautiful woman who'd just risen from her chair to greet him. Moa Hobson was clearly Henrica's mother, though she didn't look old enough to have a child that age. Sirius bowed, took the offered hand and kissed the back of it. "Mrs Hobson, it really is a pleasure to meet you."

"Oh, Lukas, we've got a live one here. He knows how to treat a lady too - and my allure didn't effect him in the slightest."

"Yes dear, it would appear our Henrica has chosen well. Sit, Sirius, and tell us all about yourself. You'll stay tonight of course - though the nights are nearly twenty hours long at this time of year." This had Lukas laughing at his own joke, though Sirius didn't quite get it.

He decided to press on with why he was here before agreeing to any sleeping arrangements - they might throw him out the door in the next few moments. He also decided to forego the use of Lukas and Moa, he needed to be formal for this. "Mr and Mrs Hobson, I have come here to ask your permission for your daughter's hand in marriage..."

This saw Lukas leave the room and Sirius thought he'd blown it - only for Henrica's father to quickly return with a tray containing a bottle and three glasses. "Wonderful news like that should be greeted with a glass in your hand to celebrate. Have you ever tried akvavit, Sirius?"

His 'no' was greeted with a smile that was either predatory or signalling a prank was being played here. One taste and Sirius knew it was a prank smile, he also knew that two glasses of this akvavit would certainly see him staying the night - he wouldn't be fit to go anywhere else.

Moa had brought out what was obviously a scrap book. "When Henrica moved to Scotland to teach, we began to get the British newspaper delivered. It comes to us a day late but that is not a bad thing sometimes. We had Henrica's letter saying she was alright just before we got the issue where she faced that basilisk..."

Sirius could see the fear in this beautiful woman's eyes, it was a fear he had shared. "I was at her bedside waiting on the potion to work its magic, this gave me time to think. My thoughts turned to what my life would be like without your wonderful daughter in it, I asked her to marry me within moments of her recovering. We hope to become engaged on Boxing Day, with a wedding date still to be arranged. I have invited family and our friends to stay at my house over the holidays, I would like to extend that invitation to you both too."

The fear was now replaced by tears of delight in Moa's lovely eyes. "She writes all the time and we always knew she was going to be very busy, between working at Hogwarts and Gringotts, but we both miss her so much. We would love the chance to spend the holidays with you both."

"The house will be very busy, and we'll be planning some outings and activities to keep everyone entertained, you would be very welcome additions to the madness that we hope the holidays will be. One thing though, could you not tell Henrica you're coming to London - I would like it to be a surprise for her."

This had a jovial Lukas refilling their glasses and offering a toast. "To Christmas in London - and much holiday madness..."

Moa then offered her own toast, showing both men the picture taken of the soon to be engaged couple at the ministry summer ball. "To Henrica and Sirius, a beautiful couple..."

Sirius couldn't let that go unanswered so offered a toast of his own. "To the beautiful Hobson women, may there one day be many more of them."

That was something Lukas would certainly drink to, before indicating the scrapbook Moa held. "Henrica writes all the time so we feel like we already know you, we want to use this time to fill in the blanks - about you and the rest of the people in those pictures."

The last time Sirius had felt this comfortable in someone's house was when he ran away from home and stayed with James. Lukas and Moa were certainly physically nothing like the Potters, their attitude to life though appeared surprisingly similar. They certainly made him feel just as welcome as that scared sixteen year old boy had felt all those years ago. Sirius had soon kicked off his shoes and told story after story. When Moa then brought out another book with pictures of Henrica growing up, it was his turn to listen as stories of the woman who would be his wife were being offered. The long night passed pleasantly and easily.

-oOoOo-

The skating evenings were proving a massive success, the first years had been making everyone jealous at breakfast before McGonagall stood and announced the schedule for the rest of the school to participate. The most noticeable event amongst the group of friends was Blaise holding Parvati's hand as they skated along during the second year's evening in the room. This was a gigantic boost to Parvati's confidence, and something her friends and family approved of.

Ronald Weasley's detentions were over so he had been allowed to attend. He stood at the railing and laughed at those who slipped. That lasted until the food appeared, eating was far more interesting to him than skating ever would be. Ron actually revelled in having a table all to himself, he didn't have to share the food on it with anybody else.

The Parvati development from Wednesday evening saw Henrica being approached about a couple of things, Bill arrived for their lesson on Saturday morning with an answer from her and Sirius - and a couple of envelopes. Harry made his way over to the Slytherin table to personally deliver them.

If Blaise appeared shocked to receive an envelope, Draco was astonished. Opening that envelope kicked his level of incredulity up a fair few notches. He and Pansy were invited to Lord Black's engagement party on Boxing Day.

Pansy was ecstatic at what this would mean. "Oh, Draco, this is wonderful. Father was really unhappy that I wasn't at the Ministry Summer Ball, we won't make the Christmas one either. Here though is something that will pacify him, I think these invitations will be extremely hard to come by. This will make him think twice about ending our betrothal, Lord Black's interest will ensure that."

"Pansy, we both know who's behind this, and I'll bet he still claims I don't owe him anything."

Both were watching Harry as he left the hall to attend his training.

On entering the room, their training didn't begin immediately. They all understood there were things to be discussed first. Harry started the ball rolling, not happy with some of the news he'd been receiving from his father.

"Assistant Ambassador, I want you to know these changes did not come from us. We are very happy having you for an instructor and will certainly resist any moves to see you replaced for our weekend lessons."

Bill was actually quite touched with the concern these four were showing him, it was time to let them see that concern was misplaced. "Thank you very much for that vote of confidence, I can assure you all I will also resist any moves that would see our weekend lessons halted. What this is though is simply a case of putting Hogwarts needs first, do any of you have the slightest doubt that Remus Lupin will be a better defence teacher than Lockhart?"

The only answer Bill got was four looks that clearly wondered if he'd lost his mind. "Thought not. Now, Hogwarts and the ministry have stuck their neck out in supporting Remus for the job, Gringotts really needs to be seen to be doing the same. On the wizarding side of the divide, like it or not, they see Harry here as the public face of the goblins. Augusta would also look foolish if she championed this change in professor, only for her grandson and his betrothed to still be receiving their timetabled defence lessons from me. You four are treading water in that class anyway, we all know this is where you do your main work in defence. I may ask Remus to help the occasional weekend but you will still be working with me."

This cleared the air somewhat, and allowed Bill to ask the question his boss wanted answered. "How do you two feel about your bond becoming known to the public?"

Again, Harry was first with his answer. "I think it would be hypocritical of me to have a problem with it. I publicly bonded with Hermione to change her status in the nation, and offer her protection. If they think that this news being made public would also offer her protection in the magical community, then it gets my vote."

This had everyone turning to Hermione for her opinion, her answer was a very simple one. "He is mine and I am his, and I really don't care who knows it anymore. Do you know what our parents said to this? Our weekly letter from Crawley usually arrives tomorrow."

This had Bill smiling. "Dan understands why you both bonded, and thinks that, if it will stop his daughter being attacked by witches or wizards, it should be made front page news. As long as it doesn't appear in the Crawley Observer until you two are a bit older, he's fine with that. Emma and Barchoke both agreed with him."

Harry then asked the question that he had really been struggling to comprehend. "Will the ministry really try and award a goblin lands and a title?"

They were all aware that the land in question wasn't by any stretch of the imagination a huge tract of the highlands, it was more the possibility of being able to own and live on his own land - as a goblin - that was responsible for the excited anticipation. The title of Baron was also purely a ceremonial one. Legally being able to own his own Scottish glen as a goblin though was like being offered a kingdom to Harry, worth a lot more than any title the ministry could dream up.

"It certainly looks as if they are going to have a damned good attempt at it, which is why it is so important to support Remus Lupin's appointment. We're all trying to push the joint message that by working together, everyone benefits. What about you, Neville, are you okay with the news of your parents being used like this?"

His answer was also simplicity itself. "Harry helped my family, we're glad of the opportunity to help his - that's what family does."

Bill couldn't help but wish his youngest brother was more like this, or that he would at least one day grow up in a similar vein. The twins and Ginny were friends with these four, and had blossomed from that friendship. Every Sunday, Bill got to witness Fred and George put on their serious heads and work their arses off in his lessons. That Master Pitslay confirmed they performed just as well in their potions class would be a very pleasant surprise to both of their parents when their report cards were issued.

With the discussion over, it was now time to get down to the serious business of defence.

-oOoOo-

Augusta was also getting down to the serious business of defence, the wry smile playing on her lips was there for a specific reason - a reason that just entered her office.

"Ah, Professor Lockhart, please have a seat. The new Hogwarts wards have been minutely examined, and found to be working perfectly..."

"That cannot be the case, they must have overlooked something."

"I'm sorry, Professor, I can assure you that nothing was overlooked. Now, after our last discussion on the matter, and knowing you are a man of your word, I will regretfully accept your resignation. You will be delighted to note though that I was able to find a first rate replacement. Please ensure all your belongings are removed from Hogwarts before Christmas, we're very lucky the new professor can start in the New Year. We of course all wish you well in whatever venture you undertake next."

Augusta resumed her paperwork after that dismissal, knowing full well Lockhart was too shocked to even leave his chair. She carried on working for a few moments before pretending to notice he hadn't actually left yet.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Professor, is there anything more I can do for you?"

"Eh, Madam Longbottom, perhaps I was a tad hasty in indicating I would leave the castle..."

"Hasty? I thought you ran as fast as your legs would carry you - oh I see, you're talking about your decision to resign? Unfortunately that decision has already been made. I can't have two defence professors, I would be left needing to dismiss one of them. Surely it would look better on your résumé if you could truthfully state you resigned from Hogwarts, rather than having to be sacked? You can leave anytime, Professor."

Augusta now allowed some steel to creep into her voice, ensuring Lockhart understood it was time to go - from her office and also the castle. "With the students returning home on Monday, you've taught your last class at Hogwarts."

-oOoOo-

The Patil sisters were currently chatting away, both making a deliberate effort to ensure a gulf was never allowed to open between them again. "I hope you don't mind us pushing for Blaise to be invited to the engagement party? Susan and Hannah will be allowed to invite partners to the party but I didn't think you would be up to asking anyone just yet."

"Oh, Padma, it's worked out brilliantly. Blaise obviously sussed why he was being invited, he asked me earlier if I would be his date for the party. Of course I said yes. Making the dress code include goblin formal wear means we already have that angle covered too."

"Yeah, Fred, George, Roger and Cedric will all be invited tomorrow, and Harry has already arranged an appointment with the goblin tailors for them - and their dates. Sirius really didn't want to invite a lot of people who sat back and did nothing while he rotted in Azkaban, and you know he's a big kid at heart anyway. The party will be family and friends - and a lot of fun."

The Patils didn't celebrate Christmas as such, but this was quickly turning into a holiday they would remember for a long time. Not only were they getting to spend it with friends and family, there were already promises of at least one party, more ice skating in muggle London - and even more shopping too. What was not to like?

-oOoOo-

Augustus Rookwood didn't like what he was doing, but needs must. It was a very fortuitous occurrence that the plinth his thin straw mattress rested on was not made of the same material as the rest of his cell. Attempting what he intended on the black granite that Azkaban was constructed from would have rendered his already perilous attempt at escape clear into the totally hopeless bracket.

As the pain in his mouth became unbearable, he removed his fingers to find traces of blood on them. This saliva / blood mixture was immediately transferred to the very rudimentary wand he was constructing. Lengths of straw from his thin mattress were bound together with hairs he'd pulled from his head. This was then being coated in the mixture coming from his mouth, hopefully over the coming months this process would be able to infuse enough of his magical essence into his very basic construct to allow it to cast a couple of spells.

This 'wand' was never going to allow him to fire curses at anyone, that wasn't its purpose anyway. He needed this wand to open the cell door, along with any others that blocked his way out of Azkaban. It would then hopefully hold together enough to cast a warming charm on himself before he was forced to enter the North Sea. A simple alohomora would suffice to open the doors in Azkaban. With prisoners being denied wands, and dementors waiting in the corridors, the prison's reliance on such a simple spell was perhaps understandable.

Augustus would first need to hack a piece of stone from the plinth before he could even think of making a protection medallion to get him past the dementors. That would then need to be shaped, have runes carefully carved into it, and then be infused with his blood to activate them. He was forced to use what he had available in his cell, conjured tin plates and cups lasted just long enough for the food to be eaten and any liquid drunk. Knives, forks or spoons were never supplied - they certainly weren't stupid enough to provide their prisoners with anything that could be used as a weapon.

That was why his fingers once more returned to his mouth. Augustus needed something that could carve stone, the only thing he had available in Azkaban were his teeth. He reckoned his molars should be best for cutting out a piece of stone while his incisors would be needed to carve out the required runes. Between pulling out teeth as required and the finger scrapes he expected to get working on the stone, Augustus didn't think there would be any shortage of blood for his wand and protection medallion.

He also knew that this was going to take months, months that outside factors ensured he needed to take anyway. While getting out of his cell, past the dementors and out of Azkaban prison itself was going to be an amazingly difficult feat, he then still had the problem of being trapped on an island in the middle of the North Sea. To enter that same sea in December would carry a one hundred percent guarantee of death - he would basically be committing suicide. It was simply far too cold for anyone to survive for any length of time in the water just now.

Augustus knew there was only one narrow window available, during a couple of months of what passed for summer here, to make the attempt. Only then would he have any chance of making landfall - and only then could he begin the task of returning his master to power.

A/N Thanks for reading