A/N

This chapter is something of a filler before we address the more interesting winter break. But not every day can be filled with murder and mayhem.

.

Sweet December

.

Hogwarts – Great Hall – 12th of December – Tuesday, lunch time

.

"Do you think she'll be alright?" Harry asked his friend with a low voice.

Hermione sighed without looking up from her meal. "You asked this already… what… four times?"

Harry shrugged but grinned shortly: "I can't help it, I'm concerned about her."

"You mean you're in love."

"This too. Is it a bad thing?" Harry asked mock serious.

Hermione rolled her eyes and decided to ignore the silly question. "She'll be alright. She has her sister around and some of her friends."

Harry blinked two times. "Mark the calendar, Hermione Granger trusting some Slytherins."

The bushy-haired girl punched his shoulder. "Pansy isn't so bad and Millie neither." More serious she continued. "It's brave to go against her parents' wishes."

Harry nodded, his eyes turning to the Slytherin table. There the Greengrass sisters were sitting together with Draco, Pansy, Mille and Goyle, their friends shielding them from the rest of their house. While Pansy's parents apparently either didn't know or care about their daughter's behaviour, some 'caring friends' obviously informed Millie's parents about her 'traitorous behaviour' these past few weeks, earning her two howlers from her father so far. Instead of driving her away from Daphne or convincing her to follow her housemates' urge to cause trouble, to instigate fights with other houses and be all around a pain in the ass, Millie continued to do what she wanted. She paired up with Pansy most of the time, while Goyle followed her like a lovesick puppy. She defended Astoria and Daphne, stayed loyal to Draco and more than once aided Luna, Ginny or Gabrielle even against her own house.

Harry had to admit: he was impressed.

The most insane part of this? It could have been ultimately Slytherin to behave like this if you noticed some of the results. Padma had offered to tutor her and Millie had found two extremely unusual but very loyal friends in Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot.

Yes, the world had really started to change when Hermione was happy to see Millie. What a weird world we live in.

.

Family quarrel or Death Eater backstabbing?

One week ago a case of murder shocked the world of magical Britain. Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, late lord of House Malfoy, member of the Wizengamot and one of the wealthiest men of Great Britain, was murdered in his own house.

Since then the British Aurors, under the experienced leadership of DMLE chief Amelia Bones and Senior Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt, have been busy investigating the case. With every new day more facts became known, facts that are perhaps even more staggering than the deed itself.

The editors of the MET don't want prejudge. However, it is our duty to inform you, our dear readers, about the known facts so far.

Two and a half year ago Draco, son of Lucius Malfoy, and Astoria, daughter of Cyrus Greengrass, became engaged. Like usual in the more conservative British high society, this was more of a business deal than about emotions. According to friends of both families, Cyrus Greengrass offered Lord Malfoy a healthy amount of money to get the engagement contract, outdoing other, more influential families like the Parkinsons. He did this hoping to gain status, influence and money in the long run, through marrying off his second daughter to the scion of House Malfoy.

However, times and plans change.

As you certainly remember, there has been an important change in the Greengrass family one year ago. Roxanne, wife of Cyrus Greengrass, adopted Harry Potter, her godson. This had unforeseen repercussions on the relationship between the Malfoys and Greengrasses, the most important one being the strain on the young Draco-Astoria couple.

According to reliable sources, Lucius Malfoy started to seriously doubt the engagement since September. This led to a number of quarrels between Lord Malfoy and Lord Greengrass and rumours about the dissolution of the engagement on the yearly Malfoy Winter Ball on the 6th of December as well as a new engagement between Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson. Such a change obviously would have destroyed any plans of Lord Greengrass to enhance his station among his peers and perhaps it has been enough to prompt him to react with violence.

The whole deed is still only partly known to us. Part of the course of events is still nebulous and hazy. However, as far as we know, Cyrus Greengrass left his house on the eve of the 5th of December, used a fireplace in a rented room in a seedy tavern to floo to Malfoy Manor, instigated a fight and murdered his unwilling host right in front of a witness – a witness he tried to murder too, luckily without success.

Not all evidence is publicly known so far, however it was obviously serious enough to prompt Amelia Bones to formally charge Lord Greengrass with murder. He'll stand trial within a week.

Perhaps you ask: what does all this have to do with Death Eaters? Isn't this a simple if tragic family quarrel?

Normally you would have been right and we dearly hope this was the only reason of this brutal deed. However, there is another facet of the case, an even more troubling one. The older among our readers certainly remember the first war against Voldemort more than a decade ago. After his disappearance and supposed death, many of his followers claimed to have been under the Imperious Curse (see page 4 for facts about the curse and the opinion of our curse specialist about the claim). The MET doubted those claims back then and does it now. However, many followers of Voldemort were able to avoid prosecution with this claim – and certainly no small amount of money.

One of those followers was none else than Lord Lucius Malfoy.

According to our sources, Lord Malfoy never changed his worldview after Voldemort's disappearance. He tried his best to diminish the influence of Muggles and Muggleborn on the magical world, supported laws that isolated and limited Goblins, Centaurs, Werewolves and other races. After Voldemort's return five months ago, he apparently decided to follow him again, rising again to the highest rank within his entourage.

However, there have been fights among the members of Voldemort's organization, fights about standing, fights that even caused deaths. Was Lucius perhaps only a victim of one of those fights? Was he a victim of someone daring and ambitious enough to get him killed, using Lord Greengrass as his weapon? We'll never know, as Lord Greengrass keeps silent.

We'll watch the trial with breathless attention.

.

Draco looked up from the newspaper. The MET had, again, been far more correct and worthy of reading than the Daily Prophet. Pansy, sitting across from him, stared at Astoria with a soft smile. His fiancée had stopped reading sometimes ago, and was now sitting at his side, with eyes closed and her head resting against his shoulder.

Engaged to Pansy – Draco snickered. He loved her, but not this way. They had tried to date once, spent some hours alone, snogging, groping. However, it had felt weird and in the end Pansy had stopped him with a broad grin. Since then they had been even closer than before. She had been a really good friend to Astoria, being her confident and her bodyguard. Only this morning she had sent away one of those silly girls, stupid enough to think that anything would change between Draco and Astoria.

"Piss off," Pansy had sent her running. "Draco belongs to Astoria. And should she ever be stupid enough to split up then I'll be there for him."

She hadn't been serious about that part, but it certainly helped. Nobody was stupid enough to risk Pansy's wrath.

Turning to page two, Draco continued to read. The MET followed up with an interview of Roxanne and Narcissa. While Roxanne's interview was only short – mostly about how she hadn't really known her husband, how more facts about him got unearthed in the investigation and she had no intention to support him in this trial – it was his mother's interview that was far more interesting.

It started with a short statement of Kingsley Shacklebolt, how his mother supported the investigation, had shown her mark-less forearm and even allowed an interrogation under Veritaserum about her husbands 'political activities'.

Then it continued with Narcissa's statement:

.

I never doubted that my late husband was an ardent follower of Voldemort and his nutty worldview. This silly 'I-was-under-an-Imperious' explanation? I never believed it. Certainly nobody with a brain did either. He did far too much these past years to prove that he actually believed this nonsense about 'They-don't deserve-to-live'.

Don't get me wrong: I believe in our traditions, in the old ways and the worth of magic. It is as simple as that: every human has the opportunity to rise to his possibilities. He can become a renowned scientist, a successful businessman or an inspiring artist – be he a Muggle or Wizard. However, there is the simple fact that a Muggle can never have magic. Magic will always be on top of everything else. There is no way for him to steal magic from a wizard – another of those incredible stupid ideas of my dear husband.

This doesn't mean however, that Muggles are filthy or unworthy or should be killed out of hand. We are only different. They have feelings, they have families, and they have plans and hopes for the future. We can still live side by side and even gain from each other. In my opinion we shouldn't be too close to each other, as it will only increase tension. There will always be wizards that feel threatened by Muggles. There will always be Muggles that fear magic. However, there will also always be Muggles worthy to be around, to get to know. In these months at Hogwarts I got to know some Muggles, Muggles that I'll certainly miss should they stop to work here.

Petunia Evans – while technically not a Muggle but a Squib – lived her whole live as a Muggle. Her insight, her wisdom and her courage have been inspiring to all of us. Especially her opinion about the worth of family is something worth to think about.

Caren Chentz, our Muggle sciences teacher, is certainly one of the brightest women I ever met. I expect great things from her, things that will change the world of Muggles but can have influence in our world too. Far too long we separated ourselves from the progress in the rest of the world. The Muggles, while certainly not a role model in every aspect of life, achieved so many things, things we shouldn't simply dismiss out of contempt.

Muggles and Wizards aren't the same, but still there should be peace between us.

.

He remembered one of those changes. Caren Chentz had helped Professor Sinistra in modernizing her subject: new books, new astronomy tables and new telescopes. There were even rumours about visits to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Astronomy was nothing similar to what it had been at his parents' school time.

Draco shortly looked up as Pansy's hand entered his field of vision. She pointed towards another article, a second and shorter statement of his mother.

"Read this."

.

Nothing has changed between my son and his fiancée. Yes, what Lord Greengrass did was something outrageous. I certainly hope that he'll get the kiss for this or at least will spend the rest of his lifetime in Azkaban. However, it was Cyrus Greengrass who did this. Astoria is already suffering more than enough under all of this. I won't increase it through following my husband's plans to dissolve the engagement.

Roxanne Pinegrew-Greengrass and I have already spoken about the matter. While the engagement had been a business deal in the beginning, we have no doubt about the seriousness of the emotions between our children right now. They are teenagers in love. They have a right to decide for themselves. We won't force them – neither towards each other not to separate.

Look at our history: Roxanne and I have both been forced into our marriages. We have both been unhappy, the existence of our beloved children being the only bright spot all these years. We have no intention of doing the same to our children.

Should Draco and Astoria decide to split up, we won't force them to stay together. However, should they – as we dearly hope – decide to be true to each other, we'll happily plan their marriage in a few years.

A last word to my son, should he be reading this article:

Draco, you did many stupid things in the past to impress your father and quite a few things this year that impressed me. Don't be stupid now. Astoria has been the best thing that happened to you since entering Hogwarts. Stay at her side now.

.

Draco looked up with teary eyes, his eyes searching for his mother. As he found hers resting on him, he nodded curtly and smiled.

I will.

.

A wee bit later

The students started to depart from the Great Hall, many small student groups still discussing the articles, more or less inconspicuous in watching Draco's and Astoria's reactions. Harry noticed how Ginny left his side and turned towards the Slytherin table. Like many others he followed her with his eyes. Unlike most others he suspected that it wasn't the Greengrass girls whom she wanted to meet. Actually she stopped right in front of Draco Malfoy. Instead of his usual sneer or at least the bland face he used to hide his emotions, he allowed the confusion to be clearly seen. Despite the tolerance Draco and Harry had developed this term, Draco still avoided the Weasleys at all costs. With Astoria at his side, Draco wouldn't dare to insult the girl, as Harry knew. The exact reason for Ginny's move could only be guessed, but Harry was certain: this would be the first conversation between Draco and a Weasley since… ever.

Ginny stood in front of Draco, fidgeting a bit and rubbing her hands. An observant watcher would notice the small comforting smiles from Astoria and Daphne. Millie and even Pansy were only watching interested in what the girl had to say. "I won't pretend that I liked your father, Malfoy. I can't forget what he did in the past."

Draco flinched, knowing full well what she was speaking about. He knew that it had been his father who smuggled the diary into the girl's trunk. He had seen the results, the repercussions – of the deed and of the Dark Lord's wrath. "However, he was still your father. A father you certainly loved." Ginny sighed, struggling with her next words. "I only wanted to say: I'm sorry for your loss and wanted to offer my condolences."

For a long moment Ginny and Draco stared at each other without any sound. Two Slytherins who wanted to interrupt the conversation with some stupid remark, stopped cold as they became targets of Daphne's death glare. After nearly a minute of silent exchange – with Ginny waiting for any response and with Draco wondering why this girl of all students would react like this – Ginny turned around and started to walk away.

"Wait, Scarlet."

Ginny stopped. She frowned, a tiny smile on her lips. Formerly she had only been 'blood traitor' to Draco or 'Weaslette'. Scarlet, the nickname Astoria had started to use on her, she liked far more. It was unexpected to hear Draco use it.

"Thank you." For a moment he stayed silent, until a not so weak dig with the elbow from Astoria nudged him to continue. "I'll miss him. He had his moments, despite…" he bit on his lower lip "despite what he did to you." Another dig, Draco shortly glared at his fiancée. Astoria was unimpressed and only smiled sweetly. "You'll be my death, Tori," he mumbled, before he continued towards Ginny: "I'm happy that Harry was able to rescue you back then." He sighed deeply as under pain and extended his hand: "Truce?" He shortly retracted the offered hand: "But only truce with you, not the rest of your family."

Astoria rolled her eyes, Daphne shook her head, but both had smiles on their lips. It would be a long way to change him properly, but it was a start.

Ginny, who had watched him with a small frown, not expecting this kind of reaction, offered a small grin at last and accepted the hand: "truce."

.

Hogwarts – 14th of December – Thursday afternoon

.

"Hello Gabrielle, why so sulky?"

The small French girl sighed and looked up to the lady in the painting. "Hello Cynthia."

After Daphne had blasted away the painting of the fat lady a few months ago – luckily without the lady being in the painting – as well as the door to the Gryffindor dorm, she had tried to apologize. More than one afternoon she spent with the fat lady, trying to make amendments for her deed, irrespective of how necessary it had been. After a while the fat lady had grudgingly accepted and even offered her name, her real name: Cynthia. Now, with Harry and Hermione taking the lead, most Gryffindors had started to use that name too. Gabrielle belonged to the growing number of younger students that – like Daphne still did – spent time with Cynthia now and then. She had become something like a big sister or aunt to them, helping with homesickness and bad dreams.

"On your way to your detention?" Cynthia asked with a knowing smile.

Gabrielle huffed: "you heard?"

"It was hard not to."

.

A few hours earlier

.

The Slytherin Quidditch team had been in uproar since Terence Higgs, their captain and seeker, had been expelled. For a while everybody expected the old team around Draco to resurface, but the scion of house Malfoy had declined the offer and now, with his father killed and all the fuss about the case, there was even less hope that he would return to the team. Because of this – and because they still denied their girls the chance to be part of the team – the Slytherin team had stayed the same, more or less, with Montague taking Higgs' position. Crabbe, who still was not on speaking terms with his old buddy Goyle, now played on the keeper position of the team. According to rumours he was even worse than in his beater days. More than once the teams of Slytherin and Gryffindor had clashed in the last two weeks. The game between them wouldn't be for another two months, much time for quarrels and insults.

However, those fights weren't the worst. Surprisingly – or perhaps not – the Gryffindor inner-house fights had been far more vicious. Ron, at the very least, had been calmer than before after losing his backup with Percy gone. He had mostly refrained from challenging Katie Bell and played the silent, sneering observer. The same regretfully didn't apply to the rest of his former team. Especially Kirke and Sloper, the worst beaters House Gryffindor had seen in twenty years, had used every opportunity to insult the girls of the team – at least as long as the twins weren't around. Kirke and Sloper were bastards but not stupid enough to challenge the twins openly. Mostly they were following Cormac McLaggen's lead, glaring at the reinstated team around Katie and waiting for a chance to get one of the girls alone – cowardly bastards.

.

Gabrielle had been sitting in the Gryffindor common room, telling Ginny about her plans for Saturday. It would be Hogsmeade again, the last visit before the Christmas break. Her family would be there as well as Charlie, who spent as much time as possible with his girlfriend Fleur. Ginny was happy for him. Ginny was a staunch supporter of the young couple, despite her mother's qualms about the relationship – or perhaps because of them. More than once she had added a few sentences to one of Gabrielle's letters.

Alicia Spinnet wasn't sitting far away, her eyes closed, waiting for her boyfriend. George had promised to meet her here and accompany her to her afternoon class in the greenhouse. He was late – again. Luckily for him, his girlfriend was a patient one. She hadn't expected anything else, not with the twins using every free second to plan their prank shop. For a while it had looked bad for their NEWT, seemed certain that they would get expelled somehow because of Umbridge. However, the bitch was gone and the twins returned to their unusual eagerness to learn. Alicia really loved Daphne and her friends. Their offer to fund the prank shop if the twins did well on their NEWTs had been extremely helpful.

Gabrielle heard the door open behind her back. She didn't have to turn around to know that Cormac McLaggen just entered the stage. A single glance onto Ginny's face was all she needed. There was this twitch of her left eye, something that happened every time the jerk was around.

"Breath, Ginny, breath," she whispered. "He's a git, unworthy your attention. You're a prefect, you're our model." Her voice was steady and soothing like a TV preacher and actually it helped – at least for a few seconds. Ginny hesitantly relaxed and even smiled a bit, if strained. Actually Cormac had been the one reason she hated her new position. Her whole family had been proud, even the twins. Percy had even hugged her for getting the badge one year earlier than him and had given her his old prefect notebook. Only Ron had been a jealous prat – nothing new here. However, there was one drawback. As Gabrielle just announced: Ginny was now a role model for the younger students and even a few of the older ones. Within a month there had been noticeable changes about how the older students cared for the younger ones. Casting curses at dorks like Cormac regretfully was not part of the job description.

"My, my," Cormac's annoying voice broke the silence "look…"

"Shut up, Cormac." Ginny's good intentions instantly flew out of the window. A single glance into his face and she knew that Cormac and his cronies would start trouble again.

In mock hurt Cormac grabbed his chest. "I'm wounded. I only wanted to…"

"You wanted to cause trouble," Ginny interrupted him. "I'm pretty sure: in a second you would have started to insult Alicia with some dumb remarks about being a girl and girls-shouldn't-play-Quidditch. Your usual mental runs we have to endure every day."

Cormac glared at her, his ear tips turning red. Ginny certainly knew him too well.

"It would only be the truth," Jack Sloper interjected, his buddy Andrew Kirke nodding quite eagerly.

"Girls can't play, not really."

"You'd make real good Slytherin dunderheads," Ginny admonished them.

Gabrielle noticed her friend's left hand. It was clenching and unclenching very fast, eager to draw her wand. This can't be good. To put her into this position one year earlier hadn't been without opposition. Even some of the other teachers opposed the move. Ginny had to control her temper, she simply had too.

"Shut up, Weasel," Cormac sneered. "Nobody listens to you. You only got your badge out of pity."

Gabrielle saw how Ginny's shoulders tensed and reacted, reacted faster than even her older friend. Before Ginny's wand was pointed at Cormac's nose, ready to hex him to next Sunday, the older boy was hit by a spell, a well-known and infamous one among the Gryffindors. Everybody feared Ginny's bat-bogey-hex, but Gabrielle's version was certainly not to be laughed at. Being Fleur's sister for a reason, she had been able to learn the difficult spell weeks ago, taught by Ginny at the height of harassment through Ron's group of sycophants.

"Aaaah," with a screech more befitting a six-year-old girl Cormac McLaggen jumped back, stumbling over Kirke's leg, who reacted to late. His arms wildly flailing, the boy tried hard to fight off the bats. Running around in circles, he overlooked a chair that somehow jumped into his path. With a loud crash, followed by an even louder yell of pain, Cormac crumbled to the floor.

Perhaps it had been cruel to laugh despite his tears, but it was too funny, Gabrielle mused.

.

Present

"You know that she had to give you detention," Cynthia admonished her with a warm and caring voice.

Gabrielle sighed heavily. She had been angry when Ginny punished her for hexing a housemate. However, Cynthia was right, naturally. Ginny had to do it. Professor McGonagall would react the same, perhaps even worse. It wouldn't count that she only did it to protect her older friend. Hexing a housemate, even a dork like Cormac, simply wasn't acceptable.

"But detention with Paddoc," Gabrielle groaned. That part had been the worst. Everybody hated detention with the grumpy house-elf. Even Cormac had been content and smiled cruelly. "Couldn't she choose somebody else?"

"She'll have her reasons," Cynthia confidently responded.

"I hope you're right," Gabrielle sighed. "See you later."

.

Her steps slow and heavy, sulk never leaving her face, Gabrielle needed a while to reach her destination. Students weren't allowed to enter the actual kitchen – not that it stopped anybody who knew about the hidden entrance – but since Professor Pinegrew and a few other teachers had started to use Paddoc for 'educational reasons', this other room was well-known and feared among the students: the staff tea kitchen or the 'kitchen-of-hell'.

"Enter," Gabrielle heard a surprisingly deep voice responding to her knock. She opened the door and entered the kitchen, her eyes to the ground. Somehow her feet felt her desire to be away from here. They got heavier by the second.

"Sit down."

Gabrielle looked up and saw a small, empty table with a single chair. For a moment she wondered why there weren't any dirty pans and pots in sight, wondered what cruel work Paddoc had in mind for her. With a depressed sigh she obeyed and sat down, her feet dragging over the ground.

"Wait here, I'll get your… your assignment."

His face was the first hint that something was odd – his face and the grin on his lips. Paddoc didn't grin. Gabrielle was certain that the grumpy house-elf didn't know how to grin. Waiting uneasily she watched the door to the adjacent room, waited for her tormentor's return. When Paddoc became visible again, Gabrielle could only gawk. She actually became a very realistic impression of a fish, her mouth opening and closing several times without a word leaving her throat.

It was a well-hidden secret that Paddoc had more or less adopted Ginevra Weasley since he heard of her plight. Normally he only allowed Winky to see this softer side of him, and even then only grudgingly. Ginny never abused Paddoc's care, only hesitantly accepted the nightly hot chocolate to avoid his tongue-lashing. Today however, she had made an exemption. Knowing that she had to react like a prefect, realizing why Gabrielle had broken the rules, Ginny tried her best to keep up the appearance while not actually punishing her younger friend.

Because of this, Gabrielle Delacour gaspingly watched Paddoc as he presented her today's assignment: the largest cup of vanilla ice cream she had ever seen, complete with strawberries, chocolate crumbles and whipped cream.

"You aren't allowed to leave before the whole assignment is done," Paddoc ordered with a firm voice.

"I'll do my very best," Gabrielle sighed.

She had to thank Ginny later.

.

Hogsmeade – 16th of December – Saturday midmorning

.

Harry

"Tell Charlie we send our greetings."

Harry and Daphne waved goodbye to the small girl, as Gabrielle left to meet her family. The Delacours inclusive Fleur and Charlie would spend the day together, even leaving Britain for a few hours, as they wanted to go Christmas shopping in the magical quarter of Paris. Daphne felt a bit jealous about it. Paris – City of Love, she thought, watching her boyfriend with her cheeks blushing. Noticing her emotions and being the good boyfriend he was, Harry hugged her and kissed her lips. "Let's go."

Daphne nodded, feeling better now. They would meet with Agatha and Remus later, but for now she would enjoy a few hours with Harry. Life can be sweet sometimes.

.

Snape

In utter silence Severus Snape watched another couple. He had been surprised to hear that Penelope Clearwater had forgiven her former – and now again – boyfriend, had given him another chance. Hopefully he would use it in a better way. According to the rumour mill, Percy Weasley had changed completely in his daily work at the Ministry. Yes, he was still a 110% worker, but now he was it in a good way. Searching diligently for ways to help the British Werewolf legislation, looking meticulously for every part of the legal system that wronged the non-pureblood part of the population, he did his best to support the plans of Amos Diggory and Harry Potter.

Potter – Severus sighed deeply. He had hated the boy, hated him for his resemblance to his father, and hated him for his fame, money and behaviour. Especially he hated him for being Lily's son, the son he had wanted to have with her instead.

This too had changed. They still weren't friends and still he was snarky towards the boy most of the time. However he couldn't deny that the boy had grown up. Despite Severus reservations towards Werewolves, he couldn't deny that Potter had shown not only talent and magical power this year, but also the willingness to use them and his reputation in a constructive manner. Dumbledore would only use the Werewolves like Voldemort did: as cannon fodder. Potter instead promised them a future.

Part of the reason behind Severus' change in opinion was certainly the hours he had spent with Lily's painting. Luckily James Potter stayed silent at those opportunities. The men still hated each other, but the prospect to speak with Lily was too appealing. Naturally he had apologized to her – for his treason fourteen years ago as well as for his behaviour towards her son. He had been stunned when Lily on his eight visit – he counted them – had reciprocated the apology:

"I shouldn't have cancelled our friendship, Sev. You hurt me with that insult, yes. I didn't know what to do with you anymore. You were drifting away, spending too much time with your new friends. However, you had been my first real friend. Friendship should survive such a thing. I should have accepted your apology back then. I'm sorry I drove you away."

Penelope and Percy disappeared around a corner. Use your chance well, Mister Weasley. It could be your last.

.

Fred

Fred Weasley bowed deeply while he held open the door of the Three Broomsticks, allowing his friends to leave the inn. The twins had arranged this day as a double date with Alicia and Angelina, a last day together before they had to separate for the Christmas break. Noticing George's crestfallen look, Fred clasped his shoulder: "She'll be fine. She looked good."

"She did, didn't she?" George asked back. Their baby sister had been in the inn with Luna Lovegood, the girls spending the day together with most of their friends gone for today. Fred was right: Ginny had looked good. The twins had been concerned how she would react to the news that Arthur allowed Molly to be at the Burrow for the Christmas feast. She hadn't been happy and the twins had promised not to leave her alone with her mother. It would be hard work. Certainly the Weasley matriarch would try to enforce her infamous Molly-hugs, something Ginny didn't appreciate at the moment.

Fred saw a shadow leave the alley beside the inn, but reacted too late. The person crashed into Angelina, sending her flying away and down to the ground.

"Stupid bitch, be more careful."

Fred knew that voice all too well: "Montague," he snarled. Since the fight between Daphne and Montague two years ago he hated the boy on and off the Quidditch field. Since his return to the team, the boy had behaved even shittier. Not waiting for a reaction, Fred turned his back to the boy and offered his girlfriend a helping hand. He would love to punch the prat in the face, but today was a day for the ladies. He wouldn't spoil it with a single thought about snakes.

"You shouldn't make an effort, Weaselbee," Montague grinned. "She's exactly where she belongs. Your bunch of chaser harpies is no good on brooms – at least not on the flying sort."

Angelina's face turned quite red, half with embarrassment, half with anger. However she put her arm around Fred's waist, the gesture doing much to calm him. A single look towards George and Alicia, who was clinging to his twin's arm, told him that George felt the same. Montague would pay for this.

"Perhaps she could give you a ride tonight, Monty," another voice sounded. Looking over his shoulder Fred detected Derrick and Bole, the Slytherin beaters, as well as Crabbe, who looked a bit uneasy.

"That's an idea. I wouldn't be opposed to a little broom riding with you, missy."

"Piss off."

Fred grinned madly as his girlfriend started to show her real temper. Yes, she was a girl and had manners, but sometimes you had to be a bitch to put idiots in their place.

Montague's face turned into a grimace. He had intended to draw them into a fight, intended to have them draw their wands first. In his mind it had been a good plan. The twins had the typical Weasley temper and usually didn't stand any slight against their girl-bitches. Now, of all times, they behaved. It was their bitches' influence, only another proof that the Weasleys were a family without class. No real pureblood would allow a woman to tell him how to behave.

With a wicked snarl he drew his wand and got his wish. Before he had a chance to curse the damned girl, George Weasley reacted and hit the Slytherin team captain with an Expelliarmus.

Within seconds the alley erupted into a full battle, with curses flying left and right. Within moments the plan to only use lower curses was forgotten. Montague hadn't intended to seriously injure anybody. His Head of House had made it quite clear: he wouldn't endure those incidents anymore. Curses above a certain threshold would result in an expulsion. No, no injuries, but certainly they would be allowed to defend themselves and curse them a tiny bit, only enough to spoil their Christmas. However, his cronies didn't understand his orders or didn't care. While Crabbe stayed with stinging and tripping curses, his teammates upped the fight with slashing and cutting curses. They wanted to draw blood.

For a while it went well for the Gryffindors. Four against four, with Montague struggling to get his wand back and the other Slytherins no real match against the infuriated twins, it went only downhill as the Inn's door opened again and another batch of Slytherins entered the fray. Three of the new arrivals belonged to the Quidditch team as well. While Slytherin at heart, Montague had supposed that they wouldn't agree with his plan to deliberately attack the Gryffindor team members. They hated them, yes, but not enough to go beyond insults. Even worse, the three – under the leadership of Adrian Pucey – had argued more than once against his leadership. Montague knew that they tried hard to convince Draco Malfoy to rethink his decision and accept the captain's badge.

"Help." Montague called out, suppressing a grin. As hoped at least two of the newcomers jumped to help their poor housemates. Only Pucey stayed back, calmly observing the mess like the young couple that had left the Inn too.

"We have to help," the girl whispered. Her boyfriend knew whom she wanted to help and sighed deeply. This would be bad. It was one thing to stop harassing the Gryffindorks. It was something completely different to help them in a fight. Millie had done it before and he had seen – and heard – the repercussions.

"Come," the girl pulled her boyfriend towards the fight, doing her best puppy face to convince him. Pucey observed them with a knowing smile. He didn't like all of this, assumed that it had been Montague to start the fight. However, he wouldn't fight his own housemates. No, he would play neutral Switzerland today.

In between the fight had turned worse for the Gryffindors. While the twins still hold their ground, each of them handling two of the Slytherins, Bole had been able to hit Angelina with a nasty curse, injuring her knee and sending her sprawling to the ground again.

"Fetch Ginny," the boy shoved the girl back, his voice and expression telling her that he wouldn't argue about this. She shortly pressed his arm and hastily returned to the Inn.

Fred just took a hit from Crabbe to protect Angelina from Bole's next curse, as he noticed Derrick pointing his wand at Angelina. He would be too late, but still tried to intervene. Jumping in front of his girlfriend, he saw the whirling blade of magic leave Derrick's wand, slashing through the air towards Fred and Angelina. At the last moment a wooden casket blocked the spell, banished into the path of the curse. The curse made a dent into the casket, but wasn't strong enough to destroy it. This only happened when the casket was moved again, this time to violently crash into Derrick, shattering through the impact and knocking the boy out.

"Crabbe, wand down." This voice Fred hadn't expected to hear, despite the scene in the Great Hall a few days ago. Surprisingly Crabbe obeyed unlike the boy at his side. Bole whirled around to attack Fred's saviour, but wasn't fast enough to avoid the twin's low-powered Reducto that sent him flying.

As fast as the fight had started, it stopped again. The twins and their girlfriends, Montague and the last Slytherins still standing, eyed each other suspiciously as well as the boy who had taken sides in an unexpected manner.

"Draco," Astoria ran towards her fiancée, Ginny and Luna in tow. "Are you alright?"

"Nothing happened," he responded, but pointed towards Angelina who was still on the floor. "Can you help her?"

Hesitantly Astoria nodded and turned to the injured girl. Angelina and her friends watched her uneasily, still not certain why Draco had helped them. However, it soon became clear that healing spells belonged to a Pinegrew family tradition. Astoria certainly knew what she did.

"Traitor," Montague hissed in Draco's direction.

"Shut up, Monty. Be glad if Professor Snape doesn't expel you for this, you and your thick-headed friends." Turning to Crabbe he shook his head: "You're an idiot to leave Goyle for these dunderheads." Ignoring his housemates after that, he went to Astoria's side and waited for her to finish Angelina's treatment.

Fred watched him intensely, a curious frown on his face. "Thank you." Fred didn't offer his hand or his friendship, but still…

Draco only nodded curtly. He wasn't convinced that he had done the right thing, but Astoria wanted to help and that in itself was reason enough – even to do something stupid.

.

Denmark – Ministry of Magic – 16th of December

.

Cornelius

"Calm down, Cornelius. Everything will be alright."

Amelia Bones, head of the British DMLE, glanced towards Brychan Camwy and rolled her eyes. Cornelius Fudge should be excited about this meeting, not nervous and anxious like this. The whole morning he had been babbling about the reactions of the British public and of the darker circles of their pureblood society. Amelia grinned: Voldyshorts wouldn't be happy about this meeting, no he wouldn't.

"You're right, Amelia," Cornelius responded, struggling to calm his nerves. This weekend was important, important for his career, reputation and especially how history would see him. While there had been magical cooperation for a long time, with a number of international agreements and even a political body in form of the ICW, they planned to do something new. New it was at least to him and the magical world. The Muggles knew something similar for a far longer time. Lara Andresen and Markus Lindström, the Danish counterparts of Cornelius and Amelia, had been eager to follow the British idea to invite a number of European colleagues. It was their intention to start a closer cooperation between the Ministries, cooperation in trade but also in crime fighting.

Amelia understood that the far-reaching plans Fudge had in mind would need some years to reach their fruition. However, she hoped that in the shadow of political and financial contracts, it would be possible to convince her colleagues to agree to a short-term deal about mutual support. It was quite simple: she needed man power, experienced Aurors and curse-breakers. Despite the changes she would need at least another year until her own trainees caught up and were more than cannon fodder. She had seen the Spanish and Danish Aurors in action. She needed men and women like that.

Regretfully Germany and the eastern nations had declined the offer. Too strong was the influence of Dark Lords in their societies, too many followers of Grindlewald still holding positions. A few countries like Greece and Norway had announced their interest but wanted to wait and see how the cooperation went off. Italy wanted to follow in a few months. They were at the height of the campaign to elect their next Minister and had no time for anything else. So this left Britain, France and Spain that followed the invitation to Copenhagen.

It's a start.

.

Amelia

"They're like children sometimes."

Amelia grinned at Lindström's words. She liked and respected the man. His country was far smaller, the wizard population a tenth of the British one, but his DMLE had been able to hold the number of violent crimes to a minimum and mostly ban any followers of the current Dark Lords from entering the country. His Auror corps was small but quite professional.

"You have to admit: the chronology of names on the agreement and the succession of subscribing it are immensely important – somehow, somewhere," Adeline Leblanc commented with a hint of a smile. Amelia adored her dry sense of humour.

The DMLE chiefs had left their Ministers an hour ago. Since then they had been haggling about the more unimportant points, like who should be named first. As expected, Fudge was especially anxious to see his name in the first place. Lorenzo Torres and Alexandre Perain, his Spanish and French counterparts, weren't far better. At least it was clear that the weekend wouldn't be for nothing. In the end there would be an agreement and their Ministers would return to their countries with something to show.

Amelia knew that Cornelius had only agreed because he already saw his name in some history books as the founder of some kind of magical EU. It would boost his ego as well as his position. However, as long as he behaved – and a very special book made certain of that – he was allowed to be happy. The important thing was that she got her help.

"Tomorrow I want to discuss the agreement about sending Aurors into other countries. We have prepared something along the lines of the Muggle Interpol, complete with regulations and liaison officers. We wanted to keep it simple for the beginning. We can add details later."

"We all are professionals," Carlos Romero, Amelia's Spanish counterpart, agreed to her proposal. "With that bloody bastard running rampage in Britain and his followers steering up trouble in our countries, we have to stop this soon, before the problems spread into our backyards."

"I propose that each of us sends a small detachment – around a dozen Aurors and curse-breakers perhaps – to Britain before year's end. In addition it would certainly help if we instantly start to exchange information about known and suspected Death Eaters," Amelia's French counterpart continued. "There have already been attempts to sway French wizards to support this Voldemort. Especially the name of this deceased Lucius Malfoy has been mentioned more than once this autumn."

This went even better than Amelia had hoped for. She would have to thank Brychan with the best bottle of Cognac she found in her cellar. Three-dozen experienced Aurors would nearly double her own forces.

The future looks less dark now.

.

Brychan

"You can't be serious."

Brychan watched his boss with a smile. She was running around quite agitated, apparently ready to tear out her hair.

"Why not?" Lindström countered. "I think, Brychan's idea is… interesting."

Amelia growled and glared at the men. "You only want to see the boy-who-lived in action. He won't be happy about this."

"He will," Brychan responded far more serious. "The tournament will be something to gather public support for this and nobody has to know about the second, private part. For Harry and his friends it will be nothing more than an additional training session."

Amelia didn't instantly respond to this. She sat down, nibbled on her sherry and pondered about the idea. Brychan had suggested a small tournament between the four DMLEs, partly to train them, partly to exchange ideas. While he intended to integrate other parts into this tournament – like forensics and curse-breaking – the most direct part would be a number of fights between four-Auror-teams. In addition Brychan had suggested putting Harry and his friends against those teams, too.

"Are they ready for something like this? We're speaking about experienced Aurors. Their families won't be happy about any injury."

This was one of the reasons Brychan liked his boss so much. While Cornelius would be anxious about the press and public, Amelia's mind was only with their families.

"They are. I've seen their training." He drew a purse from his robe, counted some coins and put them on the table. "I'm willing to wager these 100 Galleons on Harry's team."

For a moment Amelia and her colleagues exchanged quizzical looks. With a shrug Amelia pulled her own purse, her colleagues following only seconds later. "We'll see."

.

Summer Manor of Higgs family – 17th of December

.

Francine Higgs was a very unhappy woman at the moment. Six months ago, when her late husband started to speak about his plans, how he wanted to support the Dark Lord and oppose the new Headmaster of Hogwarts, there had already been this bad feeling. Francine more or less shared the ideas and worldview of her husband, if to a lesser and especially less violent extent. In her mind it was enough to keep some distance with Muggleborn and other unwelcome subjects. To actively search them, fight them – that was bad style and unnecessary dangerous.

Regretfully her husband hadn't listened to her advice and paid the price. Sixth weeks ago he had been killed and since then all went downhill. The former friends had left them to the wolves. The DMLE had searched the house of her family, confiscated many books, artefacts and half of the family wealth. She wouldn't have to starve or work, but the future looked far bleaker than before.

The second hit had been the expulsion of her son. At the term's start Francine had implored her son not to bind his future to this ugly, stupid and vicious woman. Like his father he hadn't listened. Like his father he had to pay the price. Umbridge was in the closed ward of St. Mungo's now, while her son had been sentenced to one month of Azkaban and six months house arrest. Francine knew that this had been a surprisingly merciful verdict, a verdict they owed to two Muggle teachers at Hogwarts. Still, the month in Azkaban had been bad enough to her son. The other inmates hadn't been impressed, neither by his deeds nor by his big mouth. Two times he had to be treated because someone roughed him up. One week ago he came back from Azkaban at last, ready to start his house arrest.

Francine sighed. Her son still wasn't willing to learn, and spent his time complaining his fate, cursing the Greengrass family and everybody else. Wards had been placed around to house to render portkeys and apparition impossible. The floo was closed down. Her son had to hand over his wand and was forced to wear a heavy iron chain around his neck, both a reminder of his verdict as an anchor binding him to the house. With her house elves not allowed to serve them at the Summer Manor, he had to care for himself the Muggle way. It was no surprise that he was unable to cope with this. Without his mother he would have to wear the same things all the time and would die of hunger within a month.

Perhaps it was a good thing, this verdict, Francine mused. Perhaps he will learn something – if only to listen to his mother.

She entered the house, stored her bags away and went looking for her son. Today they had to speak about his future. Neither Hogwarts nor Beauxbatons were willing to take him back. Durmstrang – Francine didn't like the idea of Durmstrang. Nott and a few other ex-Slytherins were there, right the people she didn't want to have around her son anymore. Perhaps she should have a look at the Salem Institute.

With a sigh she closed the door behind her, never seeing how one of the packages changed into something completely different. What seemed to be a stack of books seconds ago, now became a small figure, with long ears and big eyes.

Paddoc looked around. He was at the right place. He could feel his target. Oh, yeah, the boy would curse the day he had injured Mistress Daphne and Ciddy. Paddoc would make sure of that.

.

A/N

Cynthia is not my own idea. I saw the idea and name in another story on FFNet.

my Spanish and French readers: any suggestions how to name your Ministers and DMLE chiefs?

According to my knowledge Montague and Higgs should be 6th year, Derrick, Bole and Pucey 7th year in Harry's 5th year. I hope I'm right about that.

Next time: more Paddoc-time. I've discussed his revenge to Higgs with my family, but if you have any ideas about what he intend to do, please write me.